About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

05 Oct 2000: Seremane, Joe

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POM     It sounds like it's been a pretty hectic week in parliament.

JS     Hectic, we're always running, getting used to it.

POM     When do you expect them to announce the date of the local elections?

JS     I don't know, that's the million dollar question. I will be playing my hide and seek, you don't know what's happening.

POM     What I would like to do, this is just background on yourself, where you came from, your family, how you grew up, just start at the top. Where were you born, who your parents were, how many in the family, what your Dad did and what your Mum did, where you went to school.

JS     That's a long one.

POM     Why don't you start there – where you were born?

JS     OK. Well I was born in the west of Johannesburg in Randfontein, it's a mining area, and that was in 1938. I am the first of eight children born of my Mum and my Daddy. My mother was a domestic worker and my father was – well he started off as a private teacher and then ended up as a mineworker and obtained one of the highest positions in the mine as a clerk dealing with the administrative section. They used to say, if I remember, they called it 'the study department'. That was the top administrative part of the Randfontein Gold Mine and he was the only black person who worked there.

POM     The only black person?

JS     Yes, that's right. I remember I used to go to him at work and see whites and blacks and he was very well respected by many blacks who came there because they used to come to him in the library when they had difficulties, they would come to my Dad, and at work the whites would come to him. He was a wonderful guy, a very polished guy.

POM     Where did you live?

JS     We lived in Randfontein, that was the municipality area, on my Granddad's property. Later on we moved on to the mining property, Robinson, which is just a suburb of  Randfontein and we lived for a very long time there, till 16 years as a child, I turned 16 in the area and I went there at the age of about five so we were there for a very long time.

POM     Did you go, your sisters and brothers, to the local schools?

JS     Yes we went to the local schools but then my sisters were not born. Like I say, I am first of the eight. The last two are girls, the rest have been boys, boys, boys. So I like the colour blue and pink only came very much later when everybody had said no, there won't be any girls in this family, so I hold them very, very dear. Apparently the pattern repeated itself on a micro-scale in my family, I've got three boys and only one girl, of course she died at the tender age of 13. She was the only girl..

POM     Were the schools mixed or did you go to an all-boys school?

JS     Completely segregated schools. My first school was at a Catholic School when I was still in Randfontein, the very first year. There was no school kindergarten or the like, you just went straight into the school and they would just see what to do. The kids who were young were kept aside but kept busy, almost like in formal education, and when you were old enough you were accepted in the school process. So my first one was a Catholic school. I often wonder to this day how we managed to understand the nuns there because they were speaking English and we were just coming straight from home where there was no English, I don't understand. What I remember well, the funny thing about it, there was still a school feeding scheme at the school so they gave us food there.

POM     Now was the Catholic school segregated?

JS     Yes, well, first a couple of things. White suburb you get the schools there for white children, black suburb you get the schools for black children. Even the churches were structured like that according to the racial division.

POM     Did you feel for those first 16 years any kind of feeling of oppression?

JS     Oh 16 is too long, that was already too late. I felt the kind of oppression at the tender age of six or seven, then I began to be very conscious of what was happening. You found circumstances to discover that you were a different breed, it was as if it was a different breed and then you walk on the pavement and you would just be assaulted for no reason and you see your people being pushed around, elderly people being attacked by little young white boys and girls. That shows you that there was already something wrong and you open your eyes and say, "Oh why am I sent to town? I'm not leaving town. Why do our people move in and out of town?" In the morning they are out there in town, they come to town where white people live. I was in the location where labour is located. So we were very conscious, by seven I was very much conscious of what was happening. We started at the playground in the streets, at eight we began to assert ourselves and say we're not going to be allowing these whites to push us around. We knew it was a costly price that we had to pay, sometimes they would take you and wallop you, but we would put up a fight all the time.

POM     Would you question the teachers at school, why blacks were being treated like this?

JS     Well the teachers were part of it, they would come from - they didn't want to say. Teachers sometimes would come later and you would ask, then he would say, no he was late because he had been arrested for a pass, he did not carry a pass. So you knew when he comes in that he's already lost his temper and is seething, complaining about my complaints, and so it goes on. And it sharpened us and the teachers actually showed us history and said this is what is happening in this country and that country and that country and that country.

POM     Did you ask your father about it?

JS     Well not so much, but you see there isn't much interaction with parents, as Africans we just do as we are told. But you could also hear them. One day they're in a good mood and say … you're no good, and they talk about their frustrations from work and you hear all that and you begin to say, well that's the opportunity, why do they do this, it's not that bad. It's very bad, they shouldn't be doing that. And for my sake I'm happy, my parents were very critical, very conscious of what was happening, critical, but I can't remember them inculcating hatred. Yes, condemnation for bad things, they were saying these guys are bad, but never hatred, never they'll kill the whites they know, and condemn them where they deserve condemnation. Coming to think about it, that's how they went about it.

POM     If you can think back, are there any two or three incidences that stand out in your head as a youngster?

JS     Yes. I think I was about nine or ten or so, ten or eleven, Christmas time was a very, very big time, it was a very big event in my life, in our lives as children and of course in the Christian world because most of our people are Christian and religious.  So Christmas was a very big time and as children you got presents and you like it. So at Christmas time the parents will be saving and then they will do shopping for you and try to get the best things, the best food, that kind of thing. But my mother was always opposed to lavish spending. Always of course her husband or herself like that, when they spent they wanted to spend money on useful things that they could utilise for various other functions not just one thing. I don't remember my parents buying me toys, no, no, no, that's wasting. If they bought me something it must be something like a pencil that I'm going to use throughout the year, a book that I may read or an exercise book to write in. Clothing, they weren't buying too fancy stuff. What they bought was based on school requirements for your uniform and them they would go a little far out of that area you lived to go and try to get the best. Randfontein is a very small town and the bigger shops and chain shops you would get at Krugersdorp which was about 20kms away from Randfontein and then the best shops were there. Then we got into a train to get to Krugersdorp, it's on the way to Johannesburg. Then at the time people were regulated in the trains, passengers were ticketed, so they would check whether you have got your ticket, the destination you're going to, and if you haven't got your ticket you pay right in the train. So when they came, and of course at that time the pickpockets are also very active towards Christmas time, so every available thing you have you secured very, very well and then I remember my mother had money and the tickets secured in a bag tied in a piece of napkin, that kind of thing. Then this white guy came, the ticket collector, I remember she was shaking, everybody was shaking, they are very impatient and when he came to my mother for the ticket and my mother had just forgotten where she placed it, she thought she had put it in her purse, she checked there, it wasn't there, so she went back into her bag, her shopping bag for some time and this guy got impatient and gave her a good smack on the face with an open hand on the face, very fierce one, and I jumped up, I was very angry, my mother pushed me down and I said, "What are you trying to do, can't you see this is an elderly person?" The very guy who was assaulting her - I just wanted to jump, about to cry, my mother can't be assaulted like that. I have never seen my father hit anyone and here's this white guy just like that, for no reason. I could see that my mother was looking for the ticket, that's about it, she didn't say anything offensive. Then she drags me down, says, "Sit down, you have got no manners, can't you see this is an elderly person", she was referring to this guy. Well I wanted to throw myself on him and I am just a little boy, nine years old or so. Then she turns to this guy and says, "You know what, you did this to me. I could stand up and hit you and I'm very sure I can hit you flat using my bare head." You know the African women they use their heads, give it a good strike on your head or face, "I can do that, you're just a baby. But I'm not going to do it. You see this boy?" And she pointed at me, "This boy one day is going to settle the score with you. One day, he will grow up, he will settle the score with you." And I didn't understand, neither the contradiction. I mustn't say anything, this is an elderly person. She now tells this guy like nothing, so this woman is not afraid, she is instilling respect in me but at the same time showing me how courageous she is and teaching me how to stand up and actually commits me already that one day I'm going to settle the score with this guy. So that's a beginning.

     And the other time I remember was when I was an activist myself and there was a strike that morning, people were not supposed to go to work and it was a cold winter morning. We were agitating people the previous night - don't go to work, we were writing graffiti on the walls and throwing around pamphlets. The police were searching that day that there was going to be activity, the following morning, and there were rabble-rousers, egging the people on, agitating the people not to go to work.

POM     So you were handing out the pamphlets?

JS     That's right, late at night and the following morning. I just got in early in the morning and I went to bed and they didn't know that I had gone out to go and do activism, so I stealthily walked out at night and came in in the early hours of the morning and it wasn't long, then she was making a lot of noise in the house with cups and everything, then she says, "Come in, come in and have a look", and I went through the curtain and said, "Look at the soldiers." We lived next to a bus terminus, "Look at the soldiers and the police, armed to the teeth." I got mad and said, "These dogs, we'll fix them up one day." Then I went back into bed because I was very drowsy. Then she went on, "Come here, come and help me carry the stuff." We had a little shop at the terminus and I thought there were going to be some bricks. On cold mornings we would sell coffee and tea, and I said, "Oh well they are business people." Then there were business people who had already moved from the mining area to another place called Westonaria in the township Bekkersdal. My father had a little business there so I felt she was going to the business, I mean this coffee and tea. So we carried on, we walked past the police. When we got to the shop we stopped and started selling tea and coffee. They are standing under a slogan that I wrote on the wall there and she is serving them with tea, the lines have been drawn, the blacks are not going to go to work and they are staking a stand for their freedom, protest, and these have come to enforce the law on blacks. And she comes, my mother, mother of a young activist, gives them tea and to me that's a position, what's she doing? But in public she's still my mother and I don't say anything but I'm fed up. She's serving tea and they all say derogatory, "Thank you woman", but they say it in the vernacular, in Afrikaans, "Thank you woman." She says, "Don't ever call me woman, I am not a woman to you, I'm a woman to your father. You call me mother." And of course they felt obliged, here is a kind woman in this hostility, comes and serves them tea and coffee and it was a very cold winter, it was very cold early in the morning. They were obliged, "Oh, thank you mother." "That's OK, now that you've said thanks mother, don't thank me, do me the favour – when you go back home, home in town, tell your mothers that your black mother felt very sorry for you in this cold and she had coffee for you. They must in turn, when this black boy and many other black boys come into town, they must come into town knowing that they will also be received by the white mothers there, must be protected by their white mothers like I am trying to protect you as your black mother." That's what it is.

POM     Your mother must have been quite a person. Was she the big influence in your life?

JS     Yes, a very big influence on my life. My father also had influence but my mother I think more.

POM     What age were you at this point? You were active from the age of eight, nine years of age?

JS     No, no, with this incident I was about 14, 15, thereabouts.

POM     Did you finish school?

JS     I was still attending school, just going to high school and I was operating like an ANC Youth League guy. That was before the time of any other thing, that ANC.

POM     So were you in the ANC Youth League when you were at school?

JS     At that age. When we got back into the house, because now we were only two, then I said, "But Mama, how can you do that? You give those dogs, our enemies, our tea?" She said, "You don't understand my boy. I just want to tell you one thing, you and those guys when you don't pull together you will never be free. I love freedom." Then she revealed, she exposed me, she said, "You think I don't know where you had gone to last night? You had gone out, those slogans, that graffiti on the walls are your work and your friends. I heard you coming in in the early hours of the morning and I could smell the paint. I came in and I saw you had marks of paint on your trousers. They could arrest you for that. But I was proud and proud of you guys. I want to be free. If I were a man I would have run around with you last night doing more slogans, more graffiti, but I have to teach you guys the right way to do it. You are not going to be free and they are not going to be free in spite of the force they have for as long as you people don't do it together. Freedom is a shared thing." I did not understand it, it took me ten to forty years to understand.

POM     So you left school at?

JS     Yes I finished my schooling, then I did my matric and I did a teacher's course and I was out trying to teach. I just taught something like two years and I was arrested.

POM     Now why were you arrested?

JS     For political involvement. I was a member of the PAC and then the organisations were banned already, that was in the sixties. After Sharpeville they banned all these, that's right. So I was picked up early 1963 for continuing to be active politically and many of us were arrested and we were sent to Robben Island. Mandela's group they found us on Robben Island already.

POM     Were you active in an active way, any armed activity?

JS     Yes, yes, yes. By then, I mean when we cut ties with the ANC we felt that the ANC was led by the old guard, the non-violent way. We were already fed up. I often said to people in the sixties we were the 1976 generation but in the sixties. We were now saying stop this useless non-violent action, it's not paying. We'll come non-violently, they mow us down, they shoot us down, what the hell is it? That's nonsense, and they are maintaining their role by force of arms and we can only defeat them by force of arms. That's when we moved over to the PAC when it came into an Africanist Congress. They were saying, come on, the reality, the political analogy is that you've got to engage the regime militarily because they are in power militarily. We were very revolutionist, you can put it that way.

POM     When you were arrested you were arrested as a member of the PAC?

JS     That's right.

POM     And when you were sentenced they sentenced you on what grounds?

JS     Being a member and furthering the aims and objectives of a banned political organisation, namely the PAC. We were about the first or second lot to be arrested, then the system, the regime was comparatively sympathetic or light, kind-hearted, soft. We were given six years. They split one charge into two, three years, three years. Being a member you get three years, furthering the aims three years, six. Now they split it and said it was two things, we can't say three, you get three on each count or on each section of the law. That's six years but in about six months time, same offence they were now making it twenty.

POM     Wow!

JS     Having done the same thing, on the Island after six months they were serving twenty years.

POM     So in a way you were lucky?

JS     In a way lucky, yes. And the ones who were involved in the Sharpeville shootings, the Pass Campaign in 1960 were even luckier because they only got 18 months and the highest was three years. So it became worse by the day.

POM     On Robben Island you were with the PAC group of prisoners?

JS     That's right, yes. Of course we mingled with the ANC, they tried to divide us. I don't know, we were always resisting but together there was also friction amongst us.

POM     Between?

JS     PAC and ANC.

POM     Friction over the way - ?

JS     Funnily enough, now that I'm back in parliament I begin to see the friction is a long thing stemming from ANC's dislike for criticism. They never had the stomach to take criticism at any stage.

POM     How interesting. You're not the first person who has said that to me.

JS     Absolutely. They see themselves as the super-beings, the super-power, the super-organisation that everybody must dance their tune to and everybody must be part of that which is very strange.

POM     So Mandela, was he the big presence on the Island?

JS     Yes, well they were a big presence because now they had to shift because their cream, which consisted of people who moved over to the ANC, young people, flocked there and then reactionary, no reactively they quickly veered now and moved over to arm the revolution when they were condemning it.  The 1960 Pass Campaign took them by surprise, they never thought those young people who formed the ANC would do that. So when they did that and there was that Sharpeville shooting, that second or third day the ANC jumped onto the bandwagon and pretended that they were part of that Pass Campaign. They had rejected it, they said they shouldn't do that, it is suicide they were saying. But when they saw it done and it was done in a very disciplined way which discredited the government more than anything, then they came late, delayed action, they argued and took part in the campaign. They collected the passes and burnt them. That was not the PAC. The PAC's position was that it is state property. Don't give them a chance to pin you down on a little issue like you burned the passes, that's state property. Rather leave those passes at home, go to them and tell them you always arrest us for not having our passes with us, we do not have them, now we've come to give ourselves over. Lock us up. The system should grind to a standstill. But then when the people moved over there these young cops panicked, they thought they were coming with violence, and they started shooting at unarmed people. The ANC came the next day and throughout the country they were making Chief Luthuli … banning the passes, that kind of thing. The differences have always been like that and all these little gestures of differences reinforce the gap between ANC and its legitimate critics.

POM     How were you treated by the regime when you were on Robben Island?

JS     Very bad. The first years were terrible, really terrible, but we took a stand, a very firm stand, we were not allowing … despite what they were doing, and that is one thing good that reduced the tension between the political organisations because we were now bundled up and we had to take a stand together. We were abused and tortured so we took the stand together and I must tell you, I'm not trying to bad-mouth the ANC, most of the cues they got it from us when we took stands in prison. We were saying we are working on the old 1948 programme of action emanating from the ANC, African orientated, that among the things that we want, not only the right to vote, not only liberty, we also maintain that we wanted our human dignity as human beings and for that it was a campaign that we said it is unfolding, nobody is going to in detail tell you what it's all about but you will only have this when your humanity is challenged, you get into action to defend it whether you are armed or not armed, whether you are alone or in a multitude. So that drove us, we took a stand, we were not going to say to these whites in prison, 'Baas', we were going to refuse to say that, that master/servant relationship we are cutting it off and that was the most crucial place to do it where you had nothing, where you were placed in prison, totally at their mercy, that was the point where you say this is the place to really do it, and we stood for it. Many of the ANC, some of them, leaders, we were at variance with them, they said we were provocative, we don't want to look at our reality, we are arrested. We said, no we are quite aware but on that one on the matter of dignity we rather die than crawl on our knees, than sell our human dignity. They had a different way of doing it, we had a different way. But what I'm trying to say is that sort of brought us together, well maybe the old element, common enemy then you stand together, the enemy disappears then you go asunder again.

POM     Was Mandela considered anything special at that point?

JS     The regime had one thing, that blacks can't think, blacks can't think and when they do something they must be under the influence of somebody communist either somewhere in Russia or Moscow or London, but then there were these other little people, agents, called black leaders, they can't think either, they are being manipulated by some hidden master in Moscow or London or wherever. So Mandela was regarded as the agent.

POM     I see, yes.

JS     We think that they are leaders and they are not leaders, they are just middle-men, so they were isolated because they were regarded as influential on us who are totally nondescript, we had no brains, we are just told kill and we run and kill without thinking. That's their mentality, so they isolated them, put them in the segregated section.

POM     So you didn't get to know him in any personal way during that period?

JS     No, no, not very directly but we had a means of communication, that very segregation side was also a prison within a prison. Once you flouted local regulations, prison regulations, they will get you there for a day, two, three or seven or fourteen days, punish you, you get to those single cells where Mandela was kept. Of course now when you get there you begin to talk, "Hey, this is how it is, this is what we hear", and you exchange information and we almost unconsciously drew up a programme. Every day some two, three, up to ten people must get themselves arrested, arrested in the prison sense you know, flout regulations so that they are sent there and so goes communication all the time and they think that we are not in communication.

POM     So you spent six years, six full years?

JS     Yes, no remission.

POM     During that time did you receive letters from your family or any communication?

JS     Yes, we were rationed, there was what they called a class system where you are being reviewed or interviewed from time to time. First six months you get nothing, you get in groups, D group, from D you graduate to C, from C to B and it was very rare for political prisoners to graduate into B and A. So all the groups have little privileges. When you are a D group you get one letter and write one letter in six months time, you get two letters, you write two letters. When you are C you get one letter every three months, you get and write one letter every three months. When you are B every month one letter, when you are A you can even get, I forget now, but I think weekly and sometimes you don't even count how many letters you write. But you go through a period where they sort of break you, like breaking a wild animal, breaking you in.

POM     So what were you classified as?

JS     I was first classified as a D and when I left prison I think I had just been classified B, on my way out, B group. So D and a C for a long time. When I was about to go out I got a B. I received letters, I wrote letters. I've kept the letters, up to this day I'm preserving some of them.

POM     Did you get letters from Timothy?

JS     No. He was so very young then. I remember I got a photo, I was sent a photo. I left him very young, when I got a photo he was like a little boy, seven, eight years.

POM     What age when you got out of prison?

JS     Yes, when I got out of prison he was now a big boy, beginning high school. I remember because when I was released in 1970 I took him to his boarding school twice in Rustenburg, I drove him there with my father's car.

POM     So he used to go to a boarding school in Rustenburg?

JS     That's right, yes.

POM     Would he ask you what had happened to you and where you were?

JS     They all got it. At the time it was very difficult, even in the family we were very selective what you said to your younger brothers and sisters because it wasn't a free state and my philosophy was always that I wasn't going to allow our entire family to get arrested like I was arrested. So I was very selective in the things I was telling them.

POM     But was he aware of all that was going on around him?

JS     Yes, well he was quite aware. The mere fact that you are arrested is enough to politicise everybody, everybody who lived in our neighbourhood began to question and it divided the community. There were those who thought we were served well by being arrested and the others were furious, they said solidarity, we've got this thing under control, fought the system. When I was arrested it was on a Sunday, Sunday afternoon in the township is like a big day, everybody is there watching and I was paraded in handcuffs, walked through the middle and centre of the township down to the Superintendent's office at the entrance and I was paraded - there is our young teacher arrested, and some saw me as a criminal, some saw me as a messiah. So they were split and people were terrified of prison, they said that's the last time. When they heard that we were on Robben Island they couldn't imagine what it means to be in an island. Being inland people they've got – I mean for me it was the first time to get onto a boat, the first time to get into the sea. So you can see how horrifying it is that they wrote us off as dead you know, we will never come back. But when I came back I made it a point again and this time I had to break regulations, I was now deported in Mafikeng, not allowed to go back to the area, but I said to hell, you can send me back to Robben Island, I'm going to ask for permission to go back to my home. And I went there and I walked those streets again, everybody now saw me and the mist fell off, the scales in the eyes of other people fell off them, "He's come back! He's alive and still breathes! He's daring, we learn that he's defied the system. He has come back to his home to come and see his people."

     And I not only did that, I went to the people who were responsible for spying on me and I went straight to them and I told them that, "Guys, no hard feelings, I'm back. We must be free." Can you believe it?  And the policeman who was assigned to watch me I went back to him to go and show him the contradiction because he was given the task of watching every movement of mine, trying to intimidate my parents, "Tell that boy he will get arrested and we will arrest him", but now he never knew, because he's a policeman, he's exempted. I was arrested with his nephew who got the death sentence.  I said, "Do you understand now? Your nephew has been hanged for his political involvement and I am back." And then he confessed, "You know sometimes we didn't understand, we thought that you were a bunch of criminals you guys." I said, "Now you see." He said, "Yes, how could I work against you all?" I knew that he was talking rubbish but I do say that for me in my little heart everybody deserves a second chance in life and I wasn't going to hate him for ever. I went back to him also to take away this thing from myself. It helped me quite a lot. I got into a position where I saw so many people and turned them over through gentle persuasion.

POM     Were your parents alive when you came out?

JS     Yes they were alive and they were very happy.

POM     And most of the family were still at home?

JS     All of them were at home. Well what hit them, they had to live with the thing that I'm not allowed to stay with them, I was first deported to some 100 kms away from them, a place that I don't know, that they don't know.

POM     Sorry, you were deported to where?

JS     To Mafikeng.

POM     That would be 100 kms away from where they were?

JS     100 kms away, in a semi-desert area, not allowed to stay with them.

POM     Now were they living in Mafikeng and you were - ?

JS     They were not living in Mafikeng, they were living in the West Rand on the west of Randfontein.

POM     OK, yes.

JS     So when I got to them it was two years of defiance after being released and deported to Mafikeng, I defied to go and see them but I wasn't running away from Mafikeng. I was just establishing my right to freedom of movement, that I am not going to be restricted by anybody. After serving my sentence why must I still be restricted? I just refused it and many of us did that, we refused it, but many of our leaders conformed.

POM     Did you in the immediate years after you were released, did you have much contact with Timothy?

JS     Well not so much because of the distance, then he was already a teenager. When I got home sometimes he's gone visiting with friends but we did meet just casually as the younger brother. When I fetched him from school we would chat and I would inspire him: you've got to be on your feet guy and there's one thing that you guys must understand, stop squandering your time with no partying and all the nonsense. You've got to learn and prepare to take over this country, not only with guns but after the military conflict we are needing brains to run the country and you young guys have to prepare. We have paid the price, now you prepare the next phase to take over intellectually, prepare yourself, skills and everything and everything you can get, get it. So those were the kind of talks I had with him. Also I was trying to dissuade him from useless township practices, drinking, that's not going to make us free. I said it keeps you from doing the right thing, you think you are free when you have parties and what have you? You're not. Deny yourself all those things then you begin to realise that you are in bondage.

POM     Was he active in any way that you knew at that point?

JS     About his activities? No, no, only when things were happening in 1975 something was brewing and of course now we had already outgrown the student group but I could pick up that there was something happening with these young people who were still at school, the students, but I couldn't put my finger down. One thing I was sure they were well politicised and it wasn't surprising, they were our younger brothers and some of them were children of people who went to Robben Island and they were bound to be politicised and they were bound to react now to whatever events are taking place in the schools, like children of activists they had already been conscientised in their own way. But you couldn't know what they were discussing in their little meetings and I saw that my younger brother was involved and it wasn't a surprise. As I said, well, I hope he does it well, because I never told my parents when I got involved nor did I tell friends of mine who were not converted. In a revolution you don't go about preaching I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that, in the light of the vicious police system. So that is how as far as I did and whilst I was still thinking about it time was running out. I saw it in 1975. My mother died in 1975 in December, I picked that up and in 1976 January I could feel that they are getting militant, very militant this young fellow and he keeps on coming to me, "How did they treat you brother? We're going to show them, we're going to surprise these guys." I said, "OK, OK."  "Now what movement do you think I must belong to?" That's what he said. "No, no, I am a democrat you make up your mind and all I can tell you, these are the political organisations, PAC, ANC and you make up your mind. There are policies, ANC is this, PAC is that. I chose PAC for these reasons, ANC I rejected for this reason. But you make up your mind." That is how even my own self to this day, this is how I interacted with him, "You make up your mind. These are the areas of struggle, politically, here, here, here, here. And this one stands for this, I reject this about them, this one I said I reject this and don't agree with this, and so on, and this is where I am. It's up to you to make up your mind." But the broad spectrum of politics now I have to tell them, I'm very honest with my children, I have to tell them my experiences and I tell them politics is not all heaven. Maybe, think your faith is far much better than your politics so there are things that need to be done in this world.

POM     What were you doing after you came out Joe? What were you working at?

JS     I was banished to Mafikeng straight from prison. When I got there I was given a dirty little peeling house, nothing in it, nothing, and I stayed there for two weeks doing nothing. They wouldn't employ me because they regarded me as very dangerous and I said, "But let me go and teach, I'm a teacher by profession", and they refused point blank that I am going to politicise school children. The second week I told them, "I'm not going  to stay idle here if you can't allow me to go to my home, to go and work, because I know my home they've got a small business I can go and work there and you don't want to hire me, I can go and work in my father's business or please take me back to Robben Island. I just don't want to sit here and do nothing." And they rushed and took me, they panicked and dumped me in the Tswana Territorial Authority, the predecessor to the homeland itself. So I went there but I lasted only 11 months then I was dismissed, summarily dismissed and given 48 hours because of the stances that I took, always challenging. What's your concept of a Bantustan? What kind of independence is this? I'm being cheated here by whites against my will but you say it's my homeland. You indulge in politics. I can't indulge in politics in so-called white SA. Who the hell are you? I was like that, a civil servant. And I said, "You can't come and say you are my boss in my so-called, if it is my space, you can't come and call the tune here, I must call the tune." And these people were rural people, they were saying, "What are you saying? You can't talk like that." I said, "Hey, I am calling their bluff. They are so-called independent black sovereign states and they must see when they come here they are under our command and rule, but it's not so, they are the ruling ones. What kind of nonsense is that?" So for that reason they dismissed me. For a long time I had no work, unemployable, but I lived by buying and selling anything that I could lay my hands on that seemed to make profit.

POM     And then Timothy jumped the border in - ?

JS     When Timothy jumped the border I wasn't there, I had been detained already. Like I said in 1975 December my mother died, January, February there was this tension building up within the students. I could feel there was a movement but I don't know what it is. Of course one would understand, I understood it's exclusive for their generation. In our group we were exclusive, we are not letting in anybody but our peer groups, that's all, our contemporaries, because we reckoned if we brought in older people they won't understand our anger. They will dissuade us, trying to rationalise, trying to be reasonable. We wanted to face revolution and fight, Then when my younger brother, Tim and the like, were preparing for their 1976 even though they didn't know when it's going to happen but they knew that something drastic was going to happen, so they were not allowing us in, we were older than them, would perhaps discourage them, say, "No, no, that's reckless, you can't do that." You see that's how it has been going on for generation to generation, each and every generation was more angry than the previous one. Every subsequent generation got more militant, more angry.

     Then I was picked up in March 1976, I got arrested. Last thing I thought my younger brother, Timothy, either in January – that was the last time I saw him, and on a fleeting moment I was just driving through, I was at Mafikeng –

POM     Sorry, you were driving through?

JS     I mean through at home, on my way from Johannesburg, home in Bekkersdal, then moved over to Mafikeng because they were all in Bekkersdal in Westonaria. I was the only one in the family who lived in Mafikeng because I was deported there. Then when I was arrested, he came in 1976 in March, I was detained in 1976 in March, I never saw June 16th, I never saw that. I only got to know about it in December 1977 from a prisoner who was in detention there. I knew nothing what was happening. Most of the time I was in solitary confinement, completely cut off from society. So that was the last time I saw my younger brother. I never saw him again.

POM     I noticed on the summary of the ANC information that you gave me, they said that Timothy was recruited in some place called Rooigrond.

JS     Rooigrond, yes, that's a fake. Timothy, I was just about to tell you how I understand he got to Mafikeng when I was arrested. Remember 1976, I was married in 1970, we were almost like newly wed with my wife so when this huge serious thing happened in 1976 then Timothy went over to my house knowing that we were targeted, we were being harassed by police, he merely went there to keep company with his sister, his sister-in-law I mean, my wife. That's the only time. Throughout neither the system nor the ANC, they thought he's a Mafikeng guy and he's not a Mafikeng guy.

POM     You say he's not a Mafikeng guy?

JS     No, no, not at all. He just went visiting there. He had this charisma about him. He had just to move in one place for an hour and everybody seems to know him, he attracted people. You could drop him in Dublin, anywhere, he would be as well known as wherever. He was that kind of a guy, some magnet in his personality and a very jovial guy, brilliant guy, gift of the gab, intelligent, very debating and argumentative and sharp and brief.

POM     This place called Rooigrond Centre, does that exist?

JS     Yes, it's just a Bantustan homeland prison. It still exists up to now. Then when they say here he came back it does not make sense. He cannot have had sufficient training there. Let them show me any other person who was so, according to them, so such a well trained spy from that Centre. Nothing. And the guy, they don't say who it is, Mr M, and the only policeman I knew as a likely Mr M unfortunately has passed away, Mathabula. He used to pressure me, there's nothing sophisticated about this guy, he's an old guy, conformist, just being told people behave like this and that, go, you arrest them. You are just like that guy. But he knew I was an activist but I disarmed him in a way because I gave him respect, every human being, to this day I do that, even the most horrible enemy for me, an adversary, I don't deny them their human respect and that sort of puzzles these people, they expect you to – (break in recording)

     And I'm sure if I were there I could have also been hanged because they would have said Mathabula loves you. But they don't understand this respect and my brother and my sisters were not as if they were trained by the same parents. All were taught whether you like a person or not do not be disrespectful. To this day, I mean here in this parliament with these abusive ANC people and they know this thing about my younger brother but I tell you I have not been rude to any one of them. When they abuse you I may retaliate in a cutting fashion but not in an abusive fashion. That's who I am, that's what I am and maybe I'm despised for that, they think I'm a coward. I don't care, but I respect them. That's one thing that is deeply in me, you cannot take away somebody's human dignity because if you do it you are doing it to yourself. That's what it was all about.

POM     How did you end up in the South African Council of Churches?

JS     It was after I was released from detention in 1978. Then I saw a crowd assembled at one Catholic centre. I said these people, the Catholics … in messages … a big place like a conference centre and coming from detention I was longing to get into some political alternative and I was cut off. When I went there it wasn't a political meeting, it was a pastor's meeting, brief meeting, Ecumenical Movement meeting. But when I said to them, "Listen, hey, these church people are talking some things that I've never heard in church. They are concerned for social justice." That was mind-boggling and I got so interested and I kept on asking questions and some were commending, some were challenging, no that's too lame, it's too tame, do something.  And that in itself made them look at me, who is this guy talking so bravely? There were like in the catacombs then, you'd be arrested. I was just talking like that, fiery from detention. We would like to talk to you, we want to interview you. About what? About a job. But then I was unemployable, the Security Police were making sure that I don't get employment. So I went. When I got there they said … (unintelligible)  What does a field worker do for you? We don't know, you're going to write your own job description. We are concerned with social justice and we heard you talk, you must be knowing what social justice is all about. We have to plan and support the people who are being oppressed under the unjust laws of the country, so you go and witness like …

POM     Who was head of the SACC then?

JS     Then I think it was Bishop Tutu. Then I got involved.

POM     So you made your way to - ?

JS     So I worked in that area. I didn't go there, I started at a regional section of the SACC in the Northern Cape and Western Transvaal, that huge area, that was the regional sector of the SACC. So I worked there and I began to see what my job description is, formulated it, even showed the head office that this is what I think a field worker should be doing. And I got revived, revived about the scriptures, I saw now the gospel in different eyes. It was so invigorating to me, so meaningful and more fruitful than my political activism where in my political activism what kept us going was secret marginalisation of others who are not yourself, that kind of thing. But here was a philosophy, a faith, a religion that did the same thing but in a different way, like God, my ways are not ways of the world but I loved justice but I established justice in a different way than you do it. I shall break enmity between people not with hatred but by offering them love. I shall confront my enemy not with hatred but with my embrace. It was new ball game. It gave me so much inspiration and I became less fearful than as an activist. I feared no gun, I feared no-one. I said when the moment comes and I'm faced with a gun and a knife in my ribs, whatever, bayonet, I can only say what a good reward for me that almost like my Christ I die for the truth, the right way of doing things. It's always almost like Christ but not exactly like Him but almost like Him. I fear death like any human being but if I must go for the truth, for what I am doing, serving this council, serving God, then I think I'll have copied the ways of Christ. So it won't be bad and of course I don't have to be worrying about it. I suppose that does not mean be reckless.

     I am just trying to show you how it drove me. Yes I look at it, it's difficult, political partisanship is again stifling, and I knew very well I was getting into some straitjacket again when I had broken out of it, yes, political reality. The other thing is that I'm not just in keeping with what you believe your state should be like. But when you say well, like God does take us from time to time in awkward situations, you don't know for what purpose, so that you must go and be the laughing stock. People one day reflect, why the laughing stock? Why did he take all this abuse and insult? And it could be some entry point into the religion, into the faith, into truth. I don't know. Sometimes you are being tested. Sometimes maybe lack of faith. I don't know. The ultimate judge will be my creator, but I think sometimes when they say 'in silent prayer' and understand I really genuinely pray. You're the first person to tell, like I'm telling you this, I stand in that National Assembly and close my eyes and say, "Once it was so, God, help us to do things the way You would like us to do … atmosphere of this House, but do draw some of us, just a couple of us, even if it's not me, who should do what we must be doing in the way that You would want us to do." I pray. This is how I go about it.

POM     Now you then ended up in Johannesburg, that's where I met you first.

JS     Yes. Well I was formulating this thing and I gave it to the people in the head office there, all of them, some thought I was mad. You know the things you are saying here to me, I want to in my department, you come and do this, come and practise that. We had to negotiate with the Regional Council, they were told, "Please, can you release this guy to come and operate at head office?" Of course they were reluctant but they said, "It's an honour for us, a remote rural component part of the SACC to contribute somebody like Joe to you." And then I went and became the National Co-ordinator of Field Workers. After that the directors, the only one who spotted me and heard me, Dr … went on retirement and they needed a replacement and normally they needed a fully fledged graduate to take the directorships of anything, but then I acted for some time and when they said, "Joe, what kind of person, and … was a very good person" –

POM     I know him, yes.

JS     It's almost like he is the backroom boy of Bishop Tutu, all the wonderful clergy in SA that we know. He is a very modest guy, he does not want publicity, does not want limelight, very, very modest, but a pillar of strength and an inspiration to all these people I've mentioned. He now refuses awards to recognise his work, so you can see what kind of a person he is. So when he vacated and they said, "You worked with him?", and I said, "Yes", he was this type of guy, this is the type of incumbent we want. I also placed the things that I know are needed. I remember one of the directors there, or advisory committee members, were saying, "Joe, you don't want anybody to take this position but you want it for yourself." I said, "No, you said that … can't do it." And they gave it up, they could not get anybody. Then the people said, "But if you're looking for somebody here he is, the very one who rules this thing can do it. Why do you beat about the bush?" Then I ended up being the Director of the Department of Justice and Reconciliation and I started serving at the bottom rung in the rural area when I did not even know what they want and they did not know what they wanted, expected of me. So I ended in there until I resigned.

POM     But you spent a period in Northern Ireland?

JS     Yes when I still in the service of the Council, 1985, yes I went to Ireland to study. That was at the Ecumenical Centre there. I did my Ecumenical and Political -

POM     Where did you do that? At … ?

JS     Yes that's right.

POM     And then you resigned?

JS     I came back, I resigned in 1990.

POM     You and Frank Chikane didn't get on so well together.

JS     Yes, yes, I didn't like their style because to me they were now showing signs of being partisan and I said, no, no, this is now what we were doing all these years. They were doing exactly what the state did with the Dutch Reformed Church, now you are taking the same position, you are the Dutch Reformed Church in the new SA with the government in waiting. You are being discriminatory too now.  Of course on hindsight I begin to connect now my searching for my younger brother. I was in the Department of Justice & Reconciliation, the heartbeat of the Council of Churches, and when all these things were happening my department had everything about what was happening. Then there was this such-and-such taking place in exile and then some parents were getting wind of information that their children are getting hell wherever they are and the SACC was the only voice and instrument to use. Then they went to Lusaka and wherever they were to go and listen to these young people who felt that they were being abused and given a rough deal. I was sidelined from that, it was my department. No information was given to me. Frank Chikane as an extension of the ANC was told, "You keep that …" And I just saw these children abused, battered children, tortured children, in the country. I was busy with all those but suddenly when it came to the big jamboree in Lusaka I was saying, "What's happening? I don't know." They kept me far away from it. But on hindsight I discovered since they have allowed me to go and listen to the accounts of young people who were in exile, cadres, complaining about the treatment they got, certainly not when my brother was dead. My brother was accused, because I was going to meet people who would tell me, "Your brother, your younger brother", by then I think they knew. They kept me out of sight. It had no basis, you know when you do these things in our faith, it had no basis, no justification but rationalisation, that's how they do things. My ways are not the ways of this world. It makes one wonder. They didn't even do anything to dissuade me from resigning and I resigned because I think it was good. If I had discovered in their bag my younger brother is dead, I think I would have done something very embarrassing.  You must still be strong to take the horror that you get later on.

POM     Just one, again, on that statement that you were given, that makes no sense to me. It was like a final briefing before infiltration into the ANC that says he was to deny any - (break in recording)  I don't want to keep you too much longer. You've been very generous with your time. But I was going to ask you – when you left the SACC you then went to?

JS     To Walker Street.

POM     To Walker Street?

JS     Yes, Walker Street, that's the other bit of Christian Institution in Roodepoort, I don't know. Have you heard of that?  I worked for that Walker Street Fellowship Centre which was predominantly a Catholic, I mean Anglican, property but it formed itself along the lines of SACC but a bit more, there was more focus on development and conflict intervention things. I went there and headed the department there called The Social Development Institute which was a component of Walker Street.

POM     How long?

JS     They had funding programmes with donors. They were doing excellent good work. Given the chance I can still go back there. We were taking the angry young people with our experience trying to turn that confrontational anger, energy, into more – teaching them negotiations, into something more constructive, constructive engagement along the lines of non-violent direct action where they dealt with social issues, social analysis, a third way. That was more or less what we did. Because of funding that lasted only for a year, it was very difficult. We couldn't get funds and we had responsibilities to our families you know. Some money was coming, we were never sure when we would get our salaries. I was supposed to work for IDASA but when I went for an interview I discovered that I was still going to be moving around the orbit of people that were also in advisory capacities as ANC and I thought it was not going to be meaningful.

POM     That they were in an advisory capacity to the ANC?

JS     Yes, no to the SACC.

POM     OK.

JS     Then IDASA structured itself that they picked up two or three ANC activists who were also at an advisory level at IDASA. When I went for the interview I could feel I was being scrutinised, "Are you a member of the ANC or not?" And that made me very furious because I was very strong on non-sectarianism and non-partisan. Once you begin to be partisan then I have no time for it. As far as I am concerned it had to be opposed because some don't believe in that. So open to be opposed whereas if it's a social movement that cuts across political affiliations that's the kind of thing that I wanted to work for. I used to say, even to this day, if only there was something called political action management, the solution for this country and the world. Now they take those boxes, that's why there is so much conflict.

POM     So then you went to the - ?

JS     I went to the South African Communication Services, a governmental institution. It's been said I was an infamous information devil of the regime. You understand? Now it's to another extreme, and when I got there and I saw what they were intending, they spotted me because accidentally I met these guys. Like I was spotted by the church people they spotted me too. In the thick and thin of conflict of the eighties in the community, remember there was a strong civic movement in the communities and at that time it was strong, boycotting electricity, and then also internal strife. Then I got in at the point where they were now fighting authority in a very violent way and they were losing the township people and I felt it really my home there. So I was involved in movements of conflict intervention and then we trained, I trained together with a group of activists, of negotiation. So we negotiated and they were solving problems within themselves and the authorities and I made the authorities change also their attitude to say these are terrorists, communists, young blacks, they must just be shot at. I said, "No, no, you cannot solve problems that way. Engage these people over a table and hammer out things", and it worked.

     Then the SA Communications Service was employed by these various local authorities, the personnel, to help in that kind of smooth flow of decision making, of problem resolution. So they were employed by these local authorities so I would come in like an activist there, but I was already involved in the whole thing of non-violent direct action in the SACC already and at Walker Street too.  So after working hours I go to the community, even in working hours, that was part of my job, I would tell them I'm getting to negotiations. So I was in the activist field at the townships engaging the local authorities but taking a lead, of course with the support of one cadre who was a very good guy, a priest in Bekkersdal. These South African guys met me, saw me and said, "We would like you to help us now and again in some of our projects countrywide. We would like you to address people, we would like you to help us. We want to change attitudes of this country from being so confrontational to a new society of togetherness, of people working together, black and white. We are the government, we think that times are changing, the writing is on the wall, the conflict must be broken." I heard of their … and many people don't want to give them credit for that. So I said I know this thing is the government and I never, ever thought that I would be a civil servant. I hate it. I said, but they are doing … they have the resources. Who are they? They can't change my mind. I'm going to do it my way. And they said you have broad parameters, this is what we want to achieve, a normalised society. It's fragmented with hostility, you draw up how do you want to go about it. Of course we have got experts who will guide you now and again. And when I got there I felt so recognised, so happy, the job was so fulfilling that it shocked me when I compared it with the atmosphere that I left under Chikane at the SACC because this was of the enemy. Sometimes I would sit and cry on my desk that how could my brothers do this to me when these enemies respect me, so much respect my word. At the SACC every time I give them proposals they were sneered at and chucked away simply because I was giving them. I would challenge these guys, I would question them and they became so enthusiastic about it that I moved from the regional office, I was shuttling between the regional office and the national office and countrywide to be like I'm the trouble-shooter to bring about change and transformation because I wasn't afraid to address them and it was a black man telling them, no more talking nicely, telling them that you either change or perish. Drop your arrogant racist ways but also being truthful that my people are also weak in this aspect, help them to overcome this kind of weakness. That was my job. And when people criticised me they said, "You shouldn't have been there, you're selling out." I said, "Yes, well it's so nice to say it from a distance. If you were closer you would see it differently maybe." But all the same I feel I do not want to work for the big national jamboree that will give us mandates to – if you believe in your liberation we are going to take over, it's quite clear we're going to win and it's time to move in and you move in whilst these guys are there who have the experience of running these things. They're bad but they have the experience so you see how they do it, that was my feeling.

     You won't believe, I was abused by people telling me how I was just a token black. It was not a fight and we went on but still to 1990 then they began to say, "Oh no, we begin to see what you're doing." Now I had to say I'm not one, I'm not an employer, they were all coming back to me now. I said, "But I don't employ people. Even if I did there is always a limit, you can't take more than so much." Now today they call it the DCIF(?), that's the SA Communication Service and we laid the ground and they won't to this day admit the good things that they found there and they are not performing like it was performing. They are inexperienced and too full of themselves, they think they know everything and you've got a mixture of people, some are trained, some are not and they have got all sorts of clashing ideologies that's why they limit their potential. They could do better. And those who remained are key people right now from that school, that crop of us. Whilst I was serving there I was appointed to the commission in 1994. I had already stayed more than two years there and it was the most fulfilling job.

POM     The commission was?

JS     No, not the commission, the Communication Service. I went to the commission very reluctantly, I didn't want to go but the minister begged me like nobody's business until my own people said, "Can't you listen to a minister? He's requesting you, begging you for the sake of your country." I said, "OK, there I go", and so it happened. All I did, nobody to this day is saying I set up – there was nothing in the commission. I set up various structures and walked around, preached the whole thing that this restitution is not revenge, it is actually a step towards reconciliation and this is how we have to handle the land issue.  And more and more farmers were understanding, more and more people were becoming more tolerant. Out of the blue like a bolt I was said to be the one who was causing all sorts of troubles and I had to go. The minister didn't think like me. I have no hard feelings against him. I only feel sorry for him, he was manipulated by those who had ambitions to take over. Now he seems to me very sad and I said, well that's the way of the world. But as for the minister, I crossed swords with him because he was abusing, trying to make me the bad guy and I had to retaliate, I said it was rubbish, I did nothing. I said pull out your records, you have got minutes, show me anywhere in the minutes for three years where there was anything said against me or anything that I said that caused trouble. I said, nothing, this thing of yours is just out of the blue.

POM     But this is when you were also raising a lot of questions about Timothy?

JS     That's right. It came exactly shortly after that so that you could see that maybe it was an underhand way of doing things to punish me for having spoken. And I read it as such, partly I said, "Well they can't – if they think the salary will silence me then it's black money to me, I might as well leave, I don't care."

POM     Why the Democratic Party?

JS     I came to the Democratic Party - In 1994 like I am from the oppressed people, we all think that we must win and I wanted, I played that way hard until the last day when I was in the queue to go and vote when I saw the overwhelming turning up of people who were just waiting, quite clearly every one of us was going to vote ANC because it was better for it to have organisation. These others were weak, they were in disarray, they were going to win, vote this one and not because it's policies are way out. Farmers, they won't even consider these policies, it was not a question of let's win so that we have the vote first time in our lifetime in principle. So I was there and when I saw the turnout I went back into my own political understanding and history to say this is how we are going to be, it's going to be of our parents and not democracy. There must be an effective opposition. I had already done a little analysis, gave it to the papers in 1990 or 1991, no-one of them touched it. They said the organisation, the ANC, are respected for this but here are …  You know what I said under the Nationalists? They must learn to change their racist, arrogant, oppressive ways but they are not completely useless. With the conflict that's raging, their sickness and their …  even though it's Calvinist but it can save this country because a people without faith can never, never, ever bring about that social order as far as I was concerned. So then I admired that, that's the first thing. The second thing, they have got some kind of funny sincerity, when they decide to do a thing they do it very faithfully or they reject it completely. They are not in between, not the Afrikaners. They tell you to hell with you all, they would have started. And I think these were good qualities needed in a situation where people had been at war. Once they accepted they are part of - humanitarian, other people also belong to that and this is their country they will give the best they can do. That's a good quality I picked up from them which I put in my analysis and I also said, you know the Democratic Party, the illustrious example that was given by Helen Suzman through thick and thin, being the voice of people. She could have been comfortable but she fought and made a leadership, had the opportunity of visiting in prison to highlight the situation and that's why they could not be killed in prison. She publicised the whole thing throughout the world and on the basis of liberal democracy, and I highlighted that and I decided no, no, no, when things are like this I think they are the ones who can be the effective opposition that a democracy needs. That's why I joined. I had already seen the rot of the ANC, the rot of the PAC and the good of them too and in that same analysis and I said when the old vanguard goes and Mandela goes, who will be in the scene? Can you believe I feel vindicated? I put at the top Thabo Mbeki, he is the President today. Among the first ten I put Thabo Mbeki right at the time, that I understand quite clearly, I remember quite clearly he was right at the top. Is he not at the top today? Then I had Trevor Manuel amongst the first five.

POM     Is that right?

JS     The minister. I had Valli Moosa among the first five. I had Terror Lekota and of course I remember very well that Terror would be good if he stops playing to the gallery. He has a thing of trying to please rabble-rousers. I put that thing, this one is going to be a good leader and he will be able to do that.  When he presided in the National Council of Provinces, such a wonderful guy, even-handed in his dealings with everybody and you know he's the only one who went straight to Tony Leon and said, "Tony, in this guy Joe you've got a good guy." Openly, and he regretted that the ceremony wasn't conducted in my office, I would have wanted a wider audience so that I must pay homage to Joe, I know Joe's input, I know how solitary, he was doing very dangerous missions for all of us.

POM     That's nice.

JS     He's that kind of a guy. Even today when I listen to him trying to use the viciousness of parliament, I think that is so shallow. To this day I melt when I see this guy, in my heart, with love and admiration. I just ignore the nonsense they do because the crowd expects them to do that.

     Just yesterday the Minister of Finance he had delivered and I said, "I have to give credit where credit is due", I wrote him a note and I said, "Honourable Minister, you are as sharp as ever." Oh, then I became sarcastic, I said, "You take up so much time you really can …" Then I said, "And you owe me, and one thing before we can really say you're the best minister, you owe us a cut in our income tax, 35% cut." I mean I am just trying to say – but they were hurling abuse yesterday but I just can't …  I am happy that I can still do some of these things in spite of what is happening.

POM     One last thing, Joe, and it's again from the statement of the ANC talking about Timothy and it says, when he got his briefing, supposed briefing before he went in to infiltrate, "Was to deny any involvement in political activity at home which showed serious interest in ANC politics; was to avoid detailing his family background to the ANC."

JS     What did they expect?

POM     If he crossed the border to join the ANC and he said, oh I've no background in the ANC, I've no background in the struggle, they would have said who is this guy? He'd be more likely to say I've a brother who spent six years on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, and they'd say, OK, this person must be real.

JS     I don't think he would hide that otherwise if I wasn't in the struggle maybe he would have never even gone there. How do they say he was denying it?

POM     That's right.

JS     And he didn't know my affiliations, my younger brother never knew my affiliation. These things were kept secret even from your own people because you are avoiding to be betrayed, accidentally you could be betrayed. My best girl friend did not know, she was shocked when she heard that I was arrested for political activism. She couldn't understand, at what time were you active? We were selecting our times so well that during the day we looked so normal like everybody, went to parties, but we knew that when the sun set we were back in the township. For instance, let me make an example with my parents, my father never professed to be an ANC member or anything but I know when we were in Robinson, that's the mining area, he was highly involved with these mine trade unionists, he was very highly secretive. I only got to interpret this when I got politicised myself, that, hey, this guy must have been involved in some political cell, trade union cell. And when you speak names then that little place, the JB Marks, the Kotanes, came to my area and where they went to, to Chief Zibi(?) he was just staying next to home, and my father would go there and I would … because I loved reading at a young age. They were reading Manchester Times. At the time I didn't understand what those things were, publications. It was only years afterwards that I said those people were hard, dyed-in-the-wool, trade unionists, never declared it to anybody and he went away that quiet, as a true revolutionary. They had to do underground work and not declare it to anybody, and they went down that way. If the Kotanes were there, maybe they would indicate and say that guy Edward Seremane was actually this, but you could see that all the time he was suppressing something in him. And of course their actions with my mother, they just – they really behaved like fearless. When they had confrontational altercations with whites they would … for me that was food for activism, what they were saying. That's the simple truth, they wouldn't betray their loyalties if they had any political loyalties but in simple, hard terms, interpreted in human dignity, equity, justice, and said to themselves that they are not inferior to anybody.

POM     Well they would be proud of you, Joe.

JS     Well I hope so, I hope so.

POM     I know I am.

JS     You see it's a long way. Now here am I. Where to from here? I don't know. Now I'm facing other difficulties, the only black in white … Will it ever end for me? Lord, when are you going to … your will … where I don't want to be?

POM     He's probably not going to do that.

JS     Well in a few years I'll be quiet.

POM     Oh I don't think so.

JS     I'm just eagerly waiting for your book. I must get it before I die.

POM     I'll write it before that.

JS     You know at my age we die off anytime out of heart failure, so three months ago was my 62nd birthday in August and nobody believes when I tell them – they don't believe. I say, you see you guys, one day you'll try and come and visit me and I'll be dead. I'm not young. I want to get done, let's get them done as soon as possible before I go.

POM     OK. When I come back you'll get a transcript of this and then I have to go through – I have a list of questions on all the transcripts to make, that they all make sense and all of that and we'll have to spend some time at that.

JS     I really agree with you. You and I will die before this thing is ended.

POM     No, no, no.

JS     You'd better do it now even if it's still going. Now you've got more than ten years. Cut if off there and say the second version or continuation – this is the first one, because it's very useful. I can tell you the younger generation is getting lost, they are not getting information, education, sharing the experience. They think they are the first ones to come up with anything and it's so detrimental. One day we will talk about the pain I feel when I look at our youth, it's very painful, but I can't (forget) the day I ever went to Robben Island because I say, for what did we go? This liberation instead of giving us life seems to be giving us death. You look at the deterioration and the rot that's taken root in our young people. If I were to buy life I would like to buy an extra forty years to see what they will be doing, just be quiet and look at them, not interfere, just want to see what kind of world or country are they going to create. It's scary, it's very scary. I cannot understand a people who have lost so much of humanity that they have no respect for humanity, the right of other people to exist, they are so egocentric that when they want to have a party they must just sit in the middle of the road and have the party. The other people can go to hell. Ordinary, rational people can go to hell. What kind of a society is this one? We parents, how can we … of our own siblings who were so broken down one would feel castrated, I must use a crude word, but we dare not tell them what's wrong, what's right. The kids call the tune and we comply. They threaten us, we seize up. Some are trying to terrify parents, if you don't buy me that thing I'm going to hang myself, I'm not going to school, and they do it. Then we get terrified. Thank God, I've said to one of my boys who's had to do that, I said the mothers were running around and he had threatened that he was going to commit suicide because, I don't know what he wanted that was not was given to him, and I got there when they were panicking, they didn't know where he was. They were crying he is going to commit suicide. I looked for him. When we got him I said, "Come here." He said, "I'm going to kill myself." "Oh is that so?" And I went to the garage, I pulled out a nylon rope and I cut it. I said, "There's a rope now, kill yourself. Kill yourself. Who cares? Take it. Next problem. Hang yourself." And felt exonerated, that you killed yourself. "You can't be so cruel." I said, "Now I'm going to fight you … you aren't … leave him alone." Then nothing happened.  "You know, Dad, you are a funny guy."  And I said, "This guy makes me realise how stupid I am." "You, you are very cold", he said to me. I can't tolerate this stupidity. I said, "If you're this stupid then you rather get away from me, kill yourself. I will cry afterwards but you're stupid. How can you want to destroy your life for a little thing, a suit, or whatever you wanted? You're not doing it for me, it's the world that's going to deal with you."

     Now I'm just trying to say you don't do this kind of thing, we get blackmailed by our own children. So these are the problems and this is why I say the more information they get the sooner the better. Maybe they will get out of the road, do things better than us. That's the essence of life. This generation must do better than the previous one, not deteriorate.

POM     On that note let us say good night and God bless and I will see you in six or seven weeks.

JS     You too. OK, I'm looking forward to it.

POM     You take care of yourself.

JS     Good bless you, God give you strength and be successful in your venture. Thanks a lot.

POM     OK Joe. I love you. Bye bye.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.