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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

09 Sep 2002: Maharaj, Mac

POM     To start with, one thing I had intended to ask you, it's like a follow up, you had mentioned that when Joey did her essay you had said to her, "Go and fill it out when you have time. What was the rest of what you didn't have time to say in the time span you had?" Did she ever do that?

MM     She's busy with her exams at the moment. She did this just a few weeks ago and both Zarina and I said to her she should work on completing it. Even if she kept it for herself it would be a good exercise and we did not even suggest to her that she had any obligation to show it to us, she should just do it as an exercise for herself. We thought that she was writing very beautifully, she's got a very good style in writing, and we thought that she had started something that would give her a chance to look back and put it down in a structured form and just that exercise would be good for her. That's how we've left it but she's busy with her exams right now and if she gets down to it, it will be only when she's finished.

     That's about my daughter and that piece, and in fact when I'm away you will find my son's essay is on the wall. That's an essay that he wrote after his experience in England, how his interruption in his schooling and how alienated he felt in England and how his greatest sense of achievement was that the teacher was not understanding that he did not have a concept of multiplication. He had forgotten because there was a huge interruption in his schooling when my wife met her accident and here he goes to Britain and the teacher keeps saying 'two times two' as his example, and my son is not understanding that there's a concept of multiplication, not of addition, because two times two is four, and the teacher keeps on belittling him and how one day it all fell into place, the concept of multiplication. I think it's a stunning essay just showing you how a teacher and a student can be completely communicating past each other, but it was rooted in his life, that he had been studying in Zambia, my wife meets the accident, he's out of school, she relocates in Britain, she can't get him into a school for six months because they wanted to put Joey in one school and Milou in another and my wife said, "No, both my children must go to the same school, I can't manage, I'm a single parent and I'm ill, plus I'm studying at Sussex and bringing them up. I can't cope with getting two children off at the same time to two different schools." So she kept him out of school for six months while she fought the education authorities. Now he was left alone, nobody to look after him during the whole day, and when he resumed school at that age, he is now eight, nine years old, and the teacher is assuming that he knows and when the teacher finds that he can't cope he doesn't say, "What is the problem?" he just belittles him saying, "You're stupid", and he has to grapple with that problem. So you will find it on the wall, you can read it.

POM     What is he doing now?

MM     He's just given up university, pulled out, he was studying mathematics and physics, and he's gone out into the bush to do a course on a field guide because he's passionate about animals and plants and wild life, so he's there at a six weeks course which will take him up to about level three of field-guiding.

POM     That's what he wants to do?

MM     At the moment. We will see what happens.

POM     How much time had he left to complete his studies?

MM     No, he had just started but I just found it after he and I had been in the bush four months ago, we came back, both of us were down with tick bite fever and then when I recovered I noticed that he was not going to varsity. So I went up to him and I said, "What's happened?" He says, "No, I had a discussion with Mum and she told me – whatever you do, son, do what you are passionate about." And he says, "Right now I'm not passionate about maths and physics, I'm passionate about wild life and I've investigated and there's a course going on in the bush at Phalaborwa and I want to register for it and go and study there." So he's studying. So I asked him the other night, Friday night I phoned him, "How's it going?" "Fine." "Are you enjoying yourself?" "Yes." He says, "Yes, I'm really enjoying myself." I said, "What do you mean? What are you doing?" He said, "We're having a good drink, it's Friday evening." So I said, "Don't come back an alcoholic."

POM     You're sounding a bit like when the family called you back and said they'd heard about your womanising and your drinking and whatever.

MM     No, but I didn't call him to line.

POM     Another thing that just struck me. This question of domestics, it just struck me when I saw yours. In most other countries they don't exist yet they exist here and in a free SA they continue to exist but in many respects they are second class citizens. They do menial work, they are there to do what you want when you want them to do it. Is there not some kind of devaluation, maybe I'm using the wrong word but you know what I'm getting at, that this should be something that the government or whomever, society, should try to say this is not good for people, they get trapped in their lives with little opportunity and we must restructure our own society to find jobs for them or whatever, some kind of phased activity so that we're not a society, a free society where when you're middle class on you have somebody who picks up after you in the house?

MM     I think it's a crucial question but I don't think it is yet ripe for addressing in a holistic way. I think it is not only treating them as an underclass in every way but I think it's one of the features of a colonial society, from India to Ghana you will find that colonialism brought in its wake and entrenched where it may have existed already like in Indian society maybe in the upper aristocratic classes, it became embedded in the ordinary life of people and of course one can rationalise it easily by saying while there is unemployment and jobs, but remember even in Zambia it's there, Mozambique it's there. So I am saying in colonial society it became endemic. Possibly the undertone of that is imitating what was thought to be the way of life of the colonial settler. Here now, right now the SA government has passed a law setting up a minimum wage and conditions. It's very controversial whether it will work. There's normally a theoretical resistance to minimum wage on the basis that it raises the market price and all it creates is a further underclass. I think it's a feature not just of South African middle class but you will find it in Soweto and it's not talked about, not talked about. But it happens. Read Long Walk to Freedom, Madiba had a domestic in Soweto.

     But what happens in the discussion in SA today is that many, many Africans would say, "No, no, no, that's a relative, some relation, some remote relation of the family and we are giving this person an opportunity to be in the urban area and to earn a bit of money." Be that as it may, I think their condition is extremely varied. On the one side if you interviewed many of them those who are employed with benevolent employers, in the condition of unemployment, will say, "Oh no, no, my employer is very good to me. My employer even sends my child to school now that it's opened up." If mine had a child of school going age the child would be going just round the corner in Hyde Park as against to a school in Orange Farm. Under apartheid African women were not allowed to be in the urban areas. You couldn't come as a family and many, many women managed to come with a work permit to say that they were domestics working for a white family but because the domestic was given accommodation at the back and the husband or boy friend living in the urban area would quietly be staying in the back yard and got accommodation, shelter.

     Now it therefore comes to raising the question: are we building not a caring society as Maggie Thatcher used it, we have an enormous agenda task of restoring dignity to our people and one would immediately say that to serve as a domestic worker has an in-built tendency to deny them dignity.

POM     There's the element of the servant/master.

MM     Yes. Relationship. Society has got to be made conscious of that problem so that it is addressed not just as an employer being benevolent but as the domestic also standing up. But at the moment in SA, why I say I don't think that the time is appropriate to deal with this holistically, is that even with the minimum wage all an employer has to say is I'm not giving you a job and there will be ten other people coming for a job. So how we get about that concept of creating the environment because you can't bestow dignity to a person, you can create the environment where you can take hold of your dignity and you can do the most menial job, such as a garbage porter as I was in England, and yet have a sense of your own inner dignity. I think that's the problem. If you talk to employers, even with the minimum wage, I mean if you put me with my back against the wall I would say, "Wait a minute, I'm paying mine well above the domestic minimum level, I'm providing a decent servant's quarters." I have sent mine to do courses. Just recently my wife was talking to her to say can we send you for a course to train as a top class chef, saying that even if one day you're not working for us we'll pay for you to go to a course. All that is from a benevolent perspective when you're addressing the question of dignity.

     You go to England, I remember, I've lived in England, we couldn't afford a domestic because in England there's an hourly rate. Now I knew some friends who were top doctors, they had somebody who came in for three hours certain days, but I said that the treatment was different from the treatment in SA. Sure when I have guests or my family want to eat together we would eat together and you wouldn't force the person to sit at that table, but on the other hand if like now I felt like a cup of tea I could be sitting in my kitchen having a cup of tea with my domestic in England. It doesn't happen here. And those who have tried it have tried the opposite extreme. I remember in my own way we said, "Come and sit with us at the table and eat." And the person sat at the table unable to get into the conversation, not because the person was not articulate but what interests did the person have in what my children were discussing with me? No interest in that. And what interest did we have in her personal life? Nothing. So you found an inhibition and it became painful to sit around the table.

     Now people would try that, to adjust, but I think that the essential question is the master/servant relationship. In England on the other hand, as in the US, the middle classes are busy employing Puerto Ricans and Filipinos to look after their kids and getting them their permits but that's the upper class/middle class phenomenon. Here the problem is in a colonial society, it is even a lower middle class phenomenon. It is almost an upper working class phenomenon also where husband and wife are working and you're coming back home at ten o'clock at night, you provide accommodation and conditions are atrocious because they are expected to be working from five, six in the morning to nine, ten at night. They are actually your surrogate mothers and fathers to your children and yet they are in a totally subservient position because they are trapped. If they said, "I'll leave this job", then they've got to get out of the urban area and out back into the rural area.

     It's quite a complex problem, how is society, which has developed value systems created by a colonial and colonising relationship, how does it break out of those bonds?

POM     What I found interesting when I was at the Racism Conference, the two Racism conferences, was that this issue of racism was looked upon in many ways, it wasn't looked upon in the terms of master/servant relationships that existed right there among the very people who were condemning racism of every calibre, didn't realise that they were in a sense perpetuating it themselves.

MM     As I say in Britain, I had one doctor couple, both of them are now dead, very old but he was a leading specialist in the medical world and he was living in the heart of London in a very, very posh place, and I remember visiting his wife about ten o'clock in the morning and there was the domestic help who came in two to three hours a day and herself, the two of them were sitting at a table drinking a cup of tea and chatting. Now at the beginning you didn't notice that this was master/servant relationship because you saw them sitting at the table and you thought they were friends. Then the friend introduces me to this person and says, "This is Daisy, she comes and works for me for three hours a day." But Daisy's conduct was different from the conduct of a servant here, very different.

     So you can't just look at the phenomena in a formal sense and that's why I put the words, 'a feature of colonial society' because we aped what the coloniser was doing and imbued that and translated it into the relationship and the institution.

POM     Even though the coloniser has long given it up.

MM     And so sometimes you will find whites in SA claiming, "No, but I pay my domestic much better. I'm funding their schooling. I'm doing this, I'm doing that."

POM     It doesn't alter the nature of the relationship. If I do that, as I snap my fingers, I expect –

MM     You jump.

POM     I have seen this among people who have been very involved in the liberation movement treat their domestics like a kind of a-

MM     Saturday night I had my grandniece and her husband and their three kids over for dinner. One of her kids is about four years old, a little girl, and I like her a lot, she always comes to me and hugs me and everything. I walked into the kitchen area and there Zanella was leaving but Zanella was there just checking is everything in order before she knocked off and I said to this little girl, "Say hello to Zanella", and she wouldn't, she was too shy. I didn't pursue the matter but what I detected was that at her home she doesn't have to greet the domestic and maybe the domestic doesn't greet them too, you're just taken for granted. But it's a human relationship. My children have grown up in Zambia, when they get up and they see the domestic help or anybody else in the house, they would say hello, good morning. And here was this little girl, they had all come in, none of them said hello and I had to sit back and say what is this? And when I said to the little girl, "Greet", she wouldn't, she was too shy. I could dismiss it as shyness, I think it was more than shyness, that even at that level you're not treating each other as human beings.

POM     Equals.

MM     As equals, at that level all human beings are equal. You may walk into government and here's your president and you would regard it as normal protocol that before he even greets you, you greet him, and all those formalities as you go into business. A CEO walks in, you greet. But all that is disappearing in much of the corporate sector. In much of the corporate sector the CEO - and they won't wait for you to greet. Madiba won't wait for you to come to greet him, he would greet you. But there is embedded in it a relationship, he jokes about it. He says, "I'm a powerless ex-president now." Well that's a joke but behind that powerlessness is an enormous power that's sitting as the former president. When he phones me, last night he phoned me and asked me some information, you were here – was it you? Oh Beata was here. He wanted the name of the Secretary General after –

POM     U Thant, you rang me.

MM     And then we ended up with his saying to me, "Don't lose your sleep over the rest of the things." So I joked back, "Whatever you raise I never lose my sleep." But the fact that he phoned me, I said to him, "I'll come back to you shortly, I'll find out." There's no obligation on me. I can turn round and say because of my respect for him and he can turn round and say, because he knows that he will probably get the answer from me, and he will do all the polite things, but the question is if I sat back and said would I do this for somebody else? No, oh, is it Madiba alone, just because it's Madiba? No, I think there's an element that he was also the president, I think it's there. You would do it wouldn't you? You don't even know a name from a bar of soap but if he phoned you now and said, Padraig, who was the president of Colombia in 1920? Oh Madiba, I don't know but I'll come back to you in half an hour. But that's to shift it to a more complex area.

     No, I think that the master/servant relationship institution has a huge unhealthy historical baggage to it, such that the current realities are there and they cannot be denied, that they do not allow for the person to appropriate the dignity for which we have created conditions.

POM     But in an unconscious way do you not think that they also must affect the way people treat and make decisions about other things?

MM     Sure.

POM     They're kind of – the fact is that even though the constitution says all men are free they're not.

MM     I say I use the words: don't allow yourself to become a victim in your thinking. You have to set the pace of the relationships even in a master/servant relationship. What would I do if I was one? And I've worked at menial jobs even in England. Just take this greeting question, I would confidently greet whoever I meet, child and adult, not just retreat, I would confidently take the initiative because thereby I am creating the conditions that if one day I didn't greet, you have to greet me. And for children that you are minding I would teach them when any adult walks in, greet, because I myself am greeting the kids, they have to greet me.

     Padraig, I'm saying that, yes, it is a problem but unravelling that means that just as you've got to locate to race in the context of diversity and unity and with the framework of tolerance, you've got to address the question of the conditions to restore dignity to all our people and then you are able to locate the question a little bit out of the emotive area and the rationalisation area so that you can address it and you have to make all these things the possession of the people who are at the receiving end. They have to have a primary role in articulating a way forward and that way forward is to assert a dignity in a way that says there are temporary solutions but there's a long term goal that we are all tied to. Even the solutions today must begin to consciously address the question of the dignity of the person.

POM     But this matter is not talked about. In other words I will go back to the Racism conference, every kind of racism since slavery was discussed but this question of, I won't call it a form of slavery because that would be wrong, but this form of domestic help and the employer is not talked about in the way you have talked about it now, that it is an element of a master/servant relationship, that it is not a legacy of apartheid because black people who were, as you said, maybe even back to Soweto, if they can afford to in any way to have a maid they do.

MM     Even when they can't afford to they have one because it was imprinted on us as a normal thing to order your life by colonial relations, because at the heart it is a colonial relationship. That's what it is at heart and how you unravel –

POM     But you can't blame the colonists for it any longer.

MM     No, no you can't blame the colonists any longer because it is like saying you've walked into the halls of power and you say I want to change the power relationships, but you retain the chandeliers and all the trappings, you've only touched at the hem of the problem, you've not gone down to examine what is the dehumanising element and you are saying you want to create a society where the dehumanising elements are steadily removed through a consciousness, not through an edict. Because when you come by edict the institution just remains, it just goes under cover. So I can't afford a domestic but I will still employ one because what would I do? I will give the domestic lower pay. And there would still be in SA society a person who would be willing to work as a domestic for no pay, just for accommodation and for one meal a day, it will be there. For as long as it's there the demand for it will adjust itself and just go under cover. That's one of the arguments against a minimum wage. And what we have done is often we change the word to disguise the problem: squatter camps, we say let's call it an informal settlement; servant, we say we call it domestic worker, no, no, let's call it domestic help. That's to assuage the employer's conscience.

POM     You're a service provider, that's a new one I've heard.

MM     Yes, it assuages your conscience, it's not addressing the problem. But if you debated it with some of them who are of the champion in this change of terminology they will say, no I'm changing the terminology to create the condition. That's just arguing in circles because what you are addressing is that you need to change the relationship and the debates around terminology deflect you from the core relationship that you want to change. It's a problem, it's not being discussed, that's why I started off by saying I am not so sure our country is ready to address this question. Not sure, because we still need to do a lot of work to grow up to structure debates in such a way that you don't deny the emotions that go in the debate but you do learn to cut across in the debate and park the emotions in different places so that when we debate racism if I see you do something and I say, 'Padraig, that's bloody racist', you shouldn't take it personally and that does not make you innately and at your core a racist. It says this particular act you're committing is racist in its core relationship.

     Now we had this out in prison, I've been over it many times with you I think, where I say we had time, we'd first react to it and say, "Oh you're calling me a racist!" No, no, no, comrade, I'm saying this particular act, unconsciously your conduct is racist. Now let's talk about that, but because we had time, we were locked up, you can't leave each other. We could come back after all the emotions and say, OK, OK, this particular way I conducted myself, you were not accusing me of being a conscious racist, you were merely saying we come from this society, we don't always scrutinise our actions and you see the way you conducted yourself last week with me was racist, and you may then debate that particular incident and I may have been wrong, but you may have been wrong but we have stripped the emotion that I'm making a general judgemental position about you as a person.

     In my home it happens on sexism, mother, daughter and my son often tackle me. It's now reached a stage as they have grown up they sometimes just say, "Agh, what sexist nonsense you talk!" And they don't even want to argue it, they won't even deign to give me the respect of arguing the thing. But that's the atmosphere you want because some of the problems are so embedded that to merely characterise it as an apartheid hangover is too shallow a characterisation but beneath it all is we are saying, I believe, even if you are in that position in this society do not see yourself as a victim, see yourself as having some capacity to have a say of your life even if you have to conclude that conditions in society are such that you have perforce to do that job, do it in such a way that you assert and do not compromise your dignity. For example, if my dog walked in and crapped here and my daughter is sitting here, what would I expect her to do? If she just shouted for the domestic to say, "Come and clear this", I'd say, "It's your pet, it's a tiny thing, clean it yourself. Do it." And if somebody said, "But we have a servant." I'd say, "Yes we have a servant but do we have to make the servant our beck and call for everything?" What I am saying to my child is, don't turn round and use the servant in such a way that every little thing, that you just drop your socks here, you say come and pick it up. That's crap.

POM     That happens among people who would regard themselves as being a part of the struggle and who see themselves as being part of the people who have been instrumental in bringing about the new SA.

MM     It's not necessarily a thing that goes with people who were in the struggle because those privileges that come from a master/servant society you can so easily slip into yourself. You can easily slip into it. My wife would say, "Zanella, bring me a cup of coffee." We've talked about it. I say, and I hear her saying it, "I'm going down to the kitchen, I'll make the coffee." I won't even say I'm going to make it, I'll go and make it and take it up to her. Other days I'm very busy, I'm rushing off and I look at her and I say, "Oh you're busy, OK, I'm going to ask Zanella as I'm walking out." But I have a habit, and that doesn't make me a better person, that I would get up in the morning, I want to make my coffee myself. So that first few rounds of coffee is my job, nobody must interfere, not even Zarina because if she makes it it's not right, it's got too little coffee or too much. And she's like that, it's got a little too much milk or too little milk, so get up and make it yourself, don't ask me to make it. But you see the interaction between her and me is of an equal. I can't claim the interaction with the domestic is of an equal, I can't claim that because it's also in the domestic's mind too.

POM     They jump.

MM     That's the victim. It's from a practice, it becomes a victim and then it becomes one of powerlessness. Then I'm saying I'm not so sure it is ready. We have tried to create domestic workers' unions in SA. They have ended up as powerless unions. I'm not so sure because the first thing that we attack, there hasn't been a perceptible shift post-1994 which says – yes I'm in a domestic union because our wages and working conditions are important. But in the working conditions one of the crucial conditions is the inter-personal relations of how I am treated and spoken to. I don't think we've put it down as an agenda item. What we've done is what is the easiest at the mechanical level. What are your hours of work, what are your wages? And we just say you need accommodation, we don't say what quality of accommodation. And that's where it's stuck at the moment.

POM     The other thing, and it will occur later on because I want to get back to your years in college, but since it has been so much in the media is the SA relationship with Zimbabwe over the whole land issue, over the violence that's occurring there, the elections that were there which if similar elections had been held in this country in 1994 and somebody called them, was it legitimate but not fair or whatever, you would have gone crazy. This hands off, 'quiet diplomacy' which seems to have gotten nowhere. I don't know if you saw the interview I did with Morgan Tsvangarai in the Mail & Guardian where he talks about what he sees Mbeki's policy as. (a) How do you see it, (b) how do you see it in relationship to NEPAD and (c) is there an element of he's 78 and the bugger can't last for ever? What does it say about SA?

MM     Look, it can become a very big question and I can't claim to be able to comment on all aspects of it because some of the aspects I have not even followed closely. However, it's a worrying thing because have we got a right –

POM     Mac is away on a little business so I am here in his house and I am going to record some of the writings that adorn one of their rooms. The first is written by AmilcarMaharaj when he was in Crawford College in 1997. It is called Standard Six English Essay: The Satisfaction of Achieving. It reads: -

     "When I was young, about nine years or so, my mother, sister and I had moved to my place of birth and my mother's land of maturity. The move to England was abrupt caused by the injuries my mother had suffered during her car crash that are untreatable in the southern parts of Africa. It is possible that the wounds could have been treated and the damage halted if my mother was moved from the hospitals in Zambia and Zimbabwe to a more modern hospital in South Africa, yet despite my mother's employers, the UN at the time, insisting that she moves, she had no choice but to remain outside of SA for that period. It was because of a compound of complicated circumstances including most importantly the fact that my father had been commanding MK's underground activities for the past four years.

     When we moved to England after seven years of my growth in Zambia a deep, aching, emotional wound was opened. The culture shock that me and my sister experienced was like no other. The discomfort was eased during a period of four days when my father came to help us settle into a new country. There was sheer joy about seeing his face, an image I had lost completely by this point. As soon as he had come he was gone and I was left to deal not only with a new culture but a new education system.

     I am in Grade 9, I remember telling the school authorities. After several assessments they decided I was suitable for Grade 1 in their schooling system. My admission to the school I was promised entrance to never came and this flared at the beginning of a six-month court battle between my mother and the Brighton County Council. During those six months I was left alone each day at home feeding and caring for myself. Because of my social isolation in Zambia (for political and security reasons) I had no social skills and spent each day locked in my house, caught in my own imaginings.

     When finally my mother won the case and I was admitted to the school that lay across the road for the past few months, I had completely lost all the knowledge that I had learned before. Catching up was made more difficult considering that I had just learnt my father had now been arrested back in SA. I would go to class and strain to remember systems and processes I knew I had known before. In Math I could remember that I had been good at multiplication but I could not remember what the process was. The teacher attempted to re-teach it to me, telling me that two times two is four. He tried several times refusing to believe that I had known the processbefore. After periods of intense concentration I finally crashed the code to multiplication. I remember the feeling of sheer elation knowing that with all the pressures around me I had been able to understand and solve this foreign problem completely on my own. Airs of confidence and self-understanding flowed through me. These were short-lived but I know that when I solved that problem I had learned an important lesson about myself. I believe that multiplication was the greatest single achievement of mine.

     Soon after that I was moved to my unseen home, South Africa, new cultures, new education systems, more challenges."

     This letter was written from 38 Gordon Road, Brighton, East Sussex on 22 November 1990. It is written by Zarina to the Anti-Apartheid Movement in London. It says: -

     "Dear Comrades and Friends,

     I wish to thank you profoundly for the solidarity you have already shown me. Thank you also for the opportunity to convey to the British people my gratitude for their support to secure Mac's release.

     Elsie Nair, whose husband Billy is one of Mac's co-accused, has asked me to tell you he is in hospital recovering from a heart by-pass operation. He is in police custody in intensive care. Problem. My husband Mac is similarly in hospital as another Section 29 detainee. This was first brought to my attention by ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela who recently visited him in hospital. Comrade Mandela has just told me on the phone that Mac had reported to him at that visit in the presence of a senior police officer that he had been roughed up for refusing to give them any information about Operation Vula. According to Madiba he is in traction for his neck (and in leg irons)!!! This worries me because his neck was first damaged under torture during his first term of imprisonment in 1964 when he similarly refused to co-operate. Are they trying to paralyse him now that he is right back in the hands of his unrelenting torturers of the past? Our anxieties and fears for his very life know no bounds. In and out of detention, in and out of hospital, in and out of South Africa itself, the line between life and death of opponents of apartheid, of patriots like ourselves, is a very thin one indeed.

     My young son, only eight years old, already understands this. The other night I was consoling him when he yearned to be with his father. I said we would see Dad soon, probably over Christmas. His answer tore my heart to shreds, 'Mum', he said, 'It's not a question of when we will see Dad again, it's a question of whether we will ever see him again.'

     Such is the feeling of uncertainty, emptiness and pain of families of all political detainees and prisoners still held contrary to the Pretoria Minute.

     We draw strength from your support in the fate and the future of our country. Thank you once again for everything. Forward to victory! A luta continua."

     (Break in recording)

MM     She (Zarina's mother) was Coloured, her father was Indian, and they met while he was selling ties for the death of King George, he went around door to door selling these ties.

POM     1950s.

MM     1947/46. And that's where he met her and he ended up eloping with her. She was due to be married to an Afrikaner farmer.

POM     Here? In this country?

MM     In the Cape.

POM     To be married to an Afrikaner?

MM     She was very fair skinned because she came from a background Scottish, Italian background, St Helena and then SA, so the mother had all that background and she was growing up in a convent college before apartheid, an orphan. He meets her and he elopes with her. This is the eloping marriage. He's Moslem, she's Catholic. Comes and settles down in Johannesburg with him, has all the children.

POM     How many children?

MM     Quite a big bunch. But then she's very unhappy and when the Group Areas Act want to move them from Fordsburg to Lenasia her son is by that time just starting at Wits University and the other children are in school at Fordsburg, and their mother says, "If I have to travel 22 miles a day, my children have to travel, I might as well go away 6000 kms." So she said, "Right, I'm packing up and going to England." Father says, "You go, I have nothing to do with you. I won't even give you a penny." She says, "Fine." That's her sister I think. She packs up, she goes off to Britain, she starts working in restaurants, Playboy Club, a closet, cloakroom attendant, got no education, brings up the rest of the children, educates them in Britain and then she decides at 56 she's going to hitchhike. She takes her nephew, her grandchild, a young lad of about 15, and she says, "Come, let's go hitchhiking in Europe." And they go through Italy because of her passion for Italy. She talks about the young man with the guitars, and they're hitchhiking. But she developed cancer in the UK and my wife had to look after her and she died. This worked on her, I met her after the mother's death and when I met her and settled down with her every night she was having nightmares. It was always about her mother and ten years later –

POM     Was it her mother dying?

MM     The pain, dying, all that. And all you would know is she would have nightmares, she would be tossing in bed and calling for her Mum. Sometime later before I leave for Vula I come back from one of my trips and she's written this poem and from that moment her nightmares were gone. It's almost like she had to get it out of her system and come to terms with her mother. So this is after she's been diagnosed as cancer-ridden and then she's died and then she says: -

     No match the mercury and chemotherapy,

     Your courage all and only pit against the panther's prowess.

     Panther because the mother, self-read, she was a great reader of novels, and I think that the panther was an imagery, the panther of death. There was some novel that she had read and the Mum would often talk about the panther. And so all these are derived from that background.

     But since then she doesn't have that nightmare, you won't find her now – when I met her there were days when in her sleep she would be so agitated that literally her whole body would lift off the bed and when she wakes up. "What's happened? What's happened?" "You just had a bad nightmare." "What? I can't remember." "But", I said, "In your sleep you were calling for Ma, Ma, Mummy." Nightmares about her mother.

POM     Her father, is this her great-grandfather? Right?

MM     That's a Scotsman.

POM     He's the grandfather?

MM     That would be my wife's grandfather.

POM     Your wife's grandfather was a Scot and his wife was?

MM     A Coloured with Italian blood. She was a St Helenian I think.

POM     And he was living in Cape Town.

MM     Yes, Western Cape.

POM     And this is?

MM     Her mother I think.

POM     Zarina's mother, who would have been a mixture of -And then Zarina's mother marries the Moslem.

MM     She's got Italian, Scottish, St Helenian, Filipino blood. That's her father, her mother. Must be an aunt there. Then there was a stage when she packed up and went to -

POM     This is in Cape Town is it?

MM     I don't know where that would be.

POM     1954.

MM     1954, that would be Jo'burg, Cape Town.

POM     Her Ode to her Mother.

     The panther of death scruffily it is welcome

     But expression piercing the eye of fate with such poignancy

     Pointed at you.

     Yet that was like a beginning

     Mother, your eyes hollowing

     But the crow's feet or laughter lines as you preferred

     Like rays of a rising sun

     Melted the chill of that long night of silence

     … the darkness of my despair.

     Six days she has no more

     They had confided not reckoning the warrior in you

     While your wisdom would stud the whispers

     Strip the cloak of compassionate conspiracy

     Demanded the nakedness of truth.

     Warrior Joe wrestling back your life from death

     With your strongest weapon backed by wit and radiation     

     Vision of yet another battle,

     Yourself, the final victor, matter of tactics, of treatment.

     No match the mercury and chemotherapy

     Your courage all and only pit against the panther's prowess

     Pouncing powerfully leap by leap

     Devouring mercilessly piece by piece.

     And in this the coldest winter of your life

     Together with grandson in his spring

     You savoured your last autumn.

     Life yet reflecting its past against all odds

     And orders across continents far flung jaded you,

     Journeyed forth to bid your children bye,

     Children for whom you had reached for horizons     

     Beyond the Fordsburg ghetto,

     Beyond your standard two,

     Your endless double shifts,

     Beyond apartheid law.

     The years of unremitting pain,

     The nauseating guinea pig tests

     Piercing your nerves, depleting your veins,

     The yawning months and soulless …

     Dwindling into dwarflike shape

     That's permeating pungent breath.

     All these much less a threat than the knowing, lurking, loneliness

     Six thousand miles away from home

     Even in death inconquerable

     Such was your greatest mother.

     Powerful stuff.

MM     You know what the mother did? The doctor said, "You've got six months to go." She gave up everything, she just wrote – two sons were in Toronto, one was in Ethiopia, Zarina was in London, the one daughter was in France. She wrote to each one, she said, "I'm coming to visit you." And to each one, "You, can you pay my fare?" And she went on her journey. And she came back and she lived for another two years and it is Zarina's belief that when she was then in the Royal Marsden dying and there was no hope, she then, Zarina believes, that she persuaded the specialist to pull the plug on her life and stop the treatment and give her something to get rid of herself, because she called Zarina the day she died and she went through with her, talking as a child, saying, "Look I want this." What Zarina inherited, I will show you, she had very little possessions, but she distributed to each child and she dictated recipes to Zarina. She had never taught her to cook, she was a fantastic cook. And when Zarina left the hospital, two hours later she got a message her Mum's passed away. So she believes between the doctor and the nurse there was an agreement that she struck.

POM     Is this her here?

MM     That's the father and the mother.

POM     This is in 1962.

MM     So the father came over to London, tried to get back into her life, died of cancer also. At one stage she took him back, then she kicked him out and eventually when he got cancer and he was dying, her mother nursed him till his death, but she didn't resettle with him.

MM     Her inheritance. This table and this chair.

POM     Wow!

MM     Which Zarina has taken from London to Mozambique to Lusaka to here.

POM     Beautiful pieces of furniture.

MM     I just want to say on the Zimbabwean question, I am not sure whether the debate has gone in the right way. I think there's been a huge amount of emotion but for me it has thrown up a couple of key problems that any country post-independence has to grapple with. I think in the African colonial countries the issue of land has been a crucial question and I know that in our transition we had a hell of a time negotiating it at the World Trade Centre against the issue of the inviolability of property rights and against the need for social and economic rights to be recognised. So we tried to create a balance and a mechanism. But I think that the reality is that as in SA where 86% of the land was owned by the white minority, it's an untenable situation.

POM     That's the arable land?

MM     Yes. 86% of the entire land of SA was owned by the white minority. So the redistribution of the land is a crucial one to address the power relations in that economy but the second issue, the one that I don't think has been sufficiently put up at the forefront as a key consideration, just as redistribution of land and economic power is key, all transitions have tended when they try to address fundamental transformation issues in the economy, have tended to the economy going down first and then taking years to come up, productive level to what they were before the transition started. That is the whole productive capacity contracts and I think it is necessary – I just go over my readings. The Soviet Union 1917, the productive capacity went so down that it took from 1917 to somewhere around 1930 to bring it up to the same level of output as it was at 1913 before the war. And yet the premise of movement forward of society is that the productive forces are developing, they create certain relations and they become a fetter of those relations, a constraint. You're supposed to move forward so that your economy can keep growing because your capacity needs to grow.

     So I think that we need to grapple with the transition by saying one of the key criteria used is the redistribution. The second key criteria is to do the redistribution in such a way that you do not let the productive capacity diminish. That is, productive capacity must also continue to grow because it is supposed to be an overall long term to the benefit but a short term effect where the productive capacity diminishes so far that you need decades, two decades, to catch up to the original level, what does it mean for capacity to deliver on the lives of the people to make it better? Zilch.

     I think if you put those two, there may be other criteria that you have to put in, as key parameters, then you realise that the way in which Zimbabwe is doing it is bringing down the productive capacity.

POM     It had been a growing economy and not a contracting economy.

MM     No, it had become a contracting economy. Now it's a collapsing economy. That means to say even if you got redistribution right by whatever means, you have not solved the problem of improving the lives of the people for the next two decades and you're a beggar case. Now I think that when you bring just these two parameters into the equation of a rational debate to fashion a way forward, once you are in political power then you realise that you've got a responsibility beyond just redistribution. You have a responsibility to ensure that there is growth, you have a responsibility to ensure that there's a redistribution taking place and therefore you are creating a more equitable society. I think Zimbabwe is a one paradigm, one issue approach.

     At the moment the emotion – I was not happy when the other day Mugabe spoke at the World Summit to find heads of state were applauding him because he simply grabbed the emotional issue of anti-colonialism. None of them were saying - my own experience tells me you've got to balance this question of getting growth going, sustained growth with redistribution. You can't address the one to the exclusion of the other.

POM     This is one of the questions I asked Tsvangirai. Did Mugabe when he refocused the issue and said this is a neo-colonial issue, they're back, the Brits are back at it trying to interfere in our affairs again and they do this all over southern Africa and that's what neo-colonialists do. Then he tapped into something in the subconscious, collective African mind that went, 'Yeah.'

MM     Well he tapped into a demagogic issue because he's tapped into it to say I'll do it my way, but he's saying I'll do it my way on land. He's not saying to the people, but if we don't do it the right way the growth goes down and therefore you may have the land but you've got no growing economy and therefore you have an increasing impoverishment. So I think in a demagogic way he taps into it but the disappointment is the applause because all those heads of state have got decades of experience behind them. We can turn round and say and debate whether he didn't latch on to this as a survival mechanism to remain in power but if it is a survival mechanism it's not a survival perspective that sits with the idea of what legacy do I leave the country with. And it is a mechanism, this anti-colonialism is now being abused to inculcate a victimhood and in the liberation from that victimhood it is not making you responsible for your life. It is just leaving it at redistribution. It is not saying what are you going to do with the land now? I can't allow the agricultural output to go down. I know in that argument people will say more people now who have access to the land will at least feed themselves. Right? But even if that argument is valid, until they produce a surplus going into the market that economy is not growing because it cannot feed the urban masses.

     I think that there is need for, again, a level of putting the issues in such a way that they have a capacity to grapple with real issues and recognise that in any issue there is an equation, there's not a single factor. Therefore the debate has got to be more and more focused in a rational way so that people take responsibility for their lives.

POM     That's on land but if you couple that with what were by observers generally regarded as being not free and not fair –

MM     Well that's why all those issues, including the media, raised the question whether his redistribution programme coming so late in the day after the Lancaster House Agreement is not just an issue demagogically latched on, real as it may be, but as a mechanism for his survival in political power.

POM     Why then is SA so slow to declare what its policy is, if it has indeed any policy at all?

MM     I think Mugabe in that equation is also saying that any of you in southern Africa who don't agree with me, any of you countries in southern Africa who don't agree with me, I am going to address this emotive issue, this real issue of land distribution in such an emotional way that because I am aware that you have not resolved it in your own countries yet it is going to create a constituency for me in your own backyard. If that is so SA's vulnerability to that approach is that our own transformational issues, while moving in a proper way, are not moving with the requisite speed. So we have a real problem here which Mugabe thinks he will cultivate a constituency here. So his attitude is: I'm going to survive, the price of my survival is – I don't care if the economy goes down in Zimbabwe, but I don't care if your economies go down too. I don't care if there is instability in all your countries because I am saying you people accept my leadership role. Because that was the second sensitive point, not just a survival in Zimbabwe politics but he had developed ambitions that he was the leader of southern Africa.

POM     Which in a sense he was before Mandela came on the scene and just blew him out.

MM     And SA became liberated with a larger economy and more developed economy and here he was saying, "Kaunda is out of power, Nyerere is retired, I am the unqualified head of southern Africa", and he did not take kindly to the diminishing of his role on the international stage in the face of Mandela, nor did he take kindly to the power of the SA economy in relation to the Zimbabwean economy. I think that those are the factors that are in play there.

POM     Van Zyl Slabbert said to me, "If there was an attempt to invade farms here, the farmers would not respond the way farmers did in Zimbabwe. You would have a war on your hands."

MM     That's true.

POM     The outcome would be very different.

MM     No, I think that the SA transition if it had a lesson for us, if it has a lesson in it, it was managing a transition from an autocratic system to a democratic system had to take into account the real power sources in the economy and to find a way forward which didn't compromise the end state but had a recognition – there's phases that you've got to go through to the end state. That's why I'm impatient when people say, "Oh the constitution and Kempton Park was too much of a compromise. What are these sunset clauses?" Well the five years are up, this guarantee of the jobs for the civil servants. Big deal. No, but don't start blaming the five years now for what you're supposed to do post those five years. Get moving with your lives. That's how we live our lives even as individuals. We don't sit down and look at the constraints into which we are born and sit down and keep moaning about it. The ones who are successful, who say OK, that's the constraints, but this is what I want to do and get down to doing it. Maybe even if they fail in achieving that they at least die fulfilled because they have tried.

POM     But farmers here if the landless invaded a farm and began to –

MM     They would fight back.

POM     They would fight. Which is very different from the Zimbabwean farmers who fled.

MM     Because the Zimbabwean farmer also expected Britain to resolve the problem. The Zimbabwean farmer was constantly, the white farmer was living on the basis that if that day comes I will be compensated by Britain. That's how they lived their lives.

POM     And that was part of the Lancaster House deal?

MM     Lancaster House deal, that Britain was supposed to provide a fund to pay for the redistribution so that where farms were repossessed the owner would be repaid and the farmer lived in that dream, Mugabe lived in it. The only problem with Mugabe is that while he blames Britain correctly, and so does Thabo, the issue for me is that in relation to understanding Mugabe is why did he do nothing about it for the last 20 years?

POM     Why does he take one of the richest farms there is and give it to his wife?

MM     Yes. Even when you can dismiss some of those things, Padraig, as anomalies, to me what are the key parameters? And I am saying the one parameter that has never surfaced as a key focus, whatever the old order has developed at the level of productive capacity, that is the total output of your economy, you must watch that one that it doesn't go down. If it is going down in any sector you have to ask why, how far down does it go, for how long and when does it pick up and surpass the level of its productive capacity that it had in the old order? I think that's a key consideration and what other countries experiences have taught us is that you can do fantastic things for good motives but if your economy goes down to a certain level and if it needs two, three decades to recover, then what you have denied is the generation post-freedom, you've denied them the opportunity to have a better life and you cannot argue for the progress of human society if the key aspect of that progress rests on the productive capacity of the economy.

POM     Well you could bring the same arguments to bear on AIDS.

MM     Sure.

POM     Here you have a situation where still the President, the government, is perceived as being of not – that there is no government policy, that in fact business is stepping in to take the place of government. Now when I was at the Barcelona conference I knew that an award had been made to KwaZulu-Natal and I asked Richard Beecham a question, because I was there as a media person saying, "What's going to happen to that grant?" And he said, "Well there were some complications. The government said it hadn't followed the proper protocols but the award will be made to KZN." And I said, "Are you sure of that?" And he said, "I have it on tape. I guarantee that." Here you have two months later the Minister of Health going to Geneva to have this –

MM     To have the rules changed.

POM     Have the rules changed, protocols put aside and the money not allocated while people are dying.

MM     But again, Padraig, what are the lessons for us? The lesson comes out, business is now saying we're going to do things on AIDS. That means to say that business which watches its bottom line is saying we are already feeling the pinch on our bottom line and we see that pinch increasing, so just pure good business sense tells us we have to do something. And it's saying there are certain things that government must do, but it says we can't do everything that government is supposed to do but we will start doing things. Now on top of that comes another signal that the international donor agencies on AIDS are saying we will no longer be constrained by only supplying aid on AIDS through the governments, we will now even look at channelling it through other institutions, which includes business. What does that say? It says if you are in the leadership of a country you should be reading the signals that are coming through and when you read those signals you've got to strip out of the signals. First you strip out the atmospheric noises, then you strip out the myriads of little other real noises that are coming through in the system and then you say to yourself, which are the key noises here that are interrupting my getting this message over this air? And you devise a formula to address that.

     Zarina worked on satellite communications at General Electric, that was her first job. I'm not a mathematician but the paper that she published was a very simple one which said in satellite communications there's a time delay, because of distance, for the signal to reach, there's atmospheric noises that come into it that clutter the message, and at that stage they were taking to try and decipher the message, they were taking each error and trying to eliminate the error. She does her work at GE and she comes up with a paper and a formula, an algebraic formula, to deal with the errors in bursts, a cluster of errors. So she says algebraically out of these discreet interferences you can go along trying to remove each interference one by one and it will be a low and laborious process but all of them are caused by the atmospheric condition so I can take them in a bunch and use a mathematical formula to eliminate them. That doesn't mean I've eliminated every interference but I've removed batches at a time and therefore I can decipher the message quickly. It's now called the 'Error Burst Correction Device'.

     So all I'm saying is that when I extrapolate from that, you want to tackle those errors that can be tackled as a group rather than one by one and when business is signalling it's a real problem that it has to do something. When donors are signalling that they're not going to necessarily just give it to the governments, when everything else, your statistics from schools are saying it's decimating your teachers, when you see the orphans, in that burst of signals you have to say, guys, we've got to get this programme moving from government side. Don't have that side start fighting now, who do you as a donor give the money to? No, let me get my work going, let me deal effectively with this problem and the more effectively I deal with it the more Padraig will realise that it's more beneficial to give the money to me.

     As against that I can take up a position that I'm going to fight a defensive war, now fight Padraig, why are you giving to Anglo? Now fight this donor, why are you giving it there? All it's doing is it's immobilising and absorbing my energy whereas I should be saying, what are the elements of the treatment? First prevention, second treatment where still the person contracts it. Then in that treatment how to prolong the life, how to improve the quality, what to do with the orphans. So it comes from awareness, to treatment, to counselling, etc. Put it in place. After all they had taken a decision to set up pilot sites and say let's speed it up because the more we speed it up the more we will get assistance.

POM     But the site in KZN filled all of those things. It should be going on, it's voluntary, it's done by an organisation that didn't ask government for aid when it started and it was singled out by the Global Fund as being one of the key, in KZN with the highest rate of prevalence of HIV/AIDS, was picked out on pure merit.

MM     I can give you an example then in the land redistribution. If you said that the redistribution is necessary, the production levels must be maintained, you could easily turn round and rapidly do a survey of the commercial farmers. What they are producing, compare it in terms of climate location and production per hectare and say – these non-productive farms if we redistributed those at least it will grow something for people to eat but these commercial ones, the high producers, fine, as a condition that you've got to maintain your production level. The next ones you either catch up with those production levels or you will be falling into the net of the redistribution ones. Those may not necessarily be parcelled out to 1000 people in small plots. Those, they need to be broken up into larger plots but sub-plots of the current one. So you are saying I am doing it in a way that must address the maintenance of the production level.

POM     Do you know where, I don't know whether the government here has ever looked at it, it is what they did in Ireland. My mother worked in a department called The Land Commission which was headed by a minister who was in the cabinet and whose function was to look at all the land that was owned by the English, mostly non-productive, they weren't farming it, they were being held as major estates.

MM     Similar to the aristocracy.

POM     Yes. Find a way of paying them compensation for their land, taking that land and then taking farmers in the far west of Ireland who had only five acre allotments and moving them onto these farms where they could give them a 50 acre allotment.

MM     Because they already had experience of running the five acres.

POM     So then you had a farm, so they moved them, gave them 50 acres, so move a number of them out of the west. Then if you'd moved ten with five acres you would say to one guy, now you can have those ten plots so you have 50 acres here too. I had an uncle who had land in ten or eleven different locations, a field here, a field there, all two or three miles apart, so the whole day was spent just walking to the field and the cows, my brother and I would have to get the cows and take the cows back to where the cows were. That was four miles each way twice a day. That was miles!

MM     But you see the problem, this is why I'm not even despondent. I may be critical. I'm saying where do we pause at times and think through because on our land policy you will see a disjuncture between the end of Derek Hanekom's term and the takeover by Thoko Didiza. Some of the disjuncture that took place was she was unhappy with his land policy but she was unhappy at a theoretical level because she argued that Derek's policy was not just too slow but it was guided by giving land, accompanying agricultural advisory services, and she thought that that's too slow. She felt, set about immediately –

     I'm not pronouncing on the rightness or wrongness, I'm saying both ministers have acted from good intentions but when you come on the scene surely there must be a stocktaking periodically, not just by you as an individual, but a stocktaking of how far are we on this project. And the parameters that you will be testing it by – are we getting people who were landless, who were small farmers to become bigger farmers, those who were landless to get land? What's the speed with which we are achieving it? What are the obstacles there? But secondly, what's our total agricultural output? Is it growing or not growing?

POM     What are they doing with the land?

MM     Yes, what are they doing with it.

POM     Do they have the skills to work the land?

MM     And if they haven't got it, are we skilling them? What happens when you give the land to me and I take it and sell it and I come back and say I'm landless.

POM     Well this kind of comes around in a peculiar way to another issue we had talked about that was Selby Bakwa's last report to parliament on the lack of delivery and he implied that the civil service at senior levels had been stocked too quickly by people who did not have the experience, not that they weren't educated, they might have had doctorate degrees but didn't know how to work the bureaucratic systems of government to get things done.

MM     Moving and the management.

POM     And there was that article by the Malaysian Prime Minister, did you see that article?

MM     Yes I saw that article.

POM     Which should at least make one pause.

MM     All I'm saying is it's all there, these experiences, and you've got to constantly ask yourself strategically have we set our strategy unless the facts are so overwhelming that we have to re-examine our strategy but if the strategy is right then you have to ask yourself, what are the blockages in the system in realising the strategy? And then out of the blockages you've got to say what are the key blockages. I have no problem with Selby's report because it's saying delivery but I'm saying that the current administration came in on the basis that the first five years we were there was laying the basis for delivery and it said now we're going to deliver.

POM     Thabo said he would have every minister in every two weeks for an accountability session.

MM     So now it's two years more down the line and if the evidence is that delivery is not picking up, if it is picking up let's have a report, let's share it so that everybody buys in and then says, yes, delivery is happening but it's not happening fast enough. Otherwise the report says delivery is not happening, the blockages are too formidable. Nothing wrong with saying when we started off we had good intentions, now we realise that there were obstacles in-built in the system which we could not have detected, or we didn't, but now we see the obstacles and now we're going to address them and we promise you the following targets will be set for the coming year and if we don't reach those targets I promise you there will be a ruthless re-examination and I will share the results of the examination with you because that to me is accountability.

POM     Or perhaps I might even fire a minister or two.

MM     Yes. Firing is the tip of the iceberg.

POM     But that won't happen.

MM     Will not, signs are at the moment it won't happen. That's what the signs say. Those are the worrying things in this situation. That doesn't mean it will not happen. There's enough reason to extrapolate from the current record that it won't happen but if there's a recognition that I'm not finding the obstacles and when I see the obstacles and I'm failing to unblock them with my team, then you've got to do something about your management team. You have to do it. That's any business, any institution has to do that.

POM     Desmond Tutu over the weekend gave a rip-roaring commencement address at the University of Pretoria where in my mind it was very under-reported. I've got to go and find a copy of the full text but he lit into the government.

MM     For AIDS and –

POM     On AIDS, on democratisation, on delivery, on using voices based in the country. It came close to being a call on the people to wake up and make your voices heard, things are not going the way they should.

MM     Well that's a positive in SA society that you have two people of impeccable background and record and impeccable standing beyond the country, in Madiba and Tutu, and both of them are being fairly outspoken. It's a phenomenon that is a plus.

POM     A huge plus but what happens when they die?

MM     That huge plus is not confined to them because of their background and their stature, because what you are telling me, and even Madiba has said it before, he has complained about the lack of debate in the country but he's gone further, he's complained about the lack of debate in the ANC. He's done so publicly. Now what it means is if there is no adequate response to that or if they die at the time when there's no adequate response certainly there's a message for others too, not just for government, there's a message for others to say you have to take responsibility to create that space. Isn't that the legacy that they're leaving behind? They're not just saying I'm criticising, I'm creating the space, they are simultaneously saying to the extent that my criticism helps to create a space, people have got to stand up and debate.

POM     Then you look at Jeremy Cronin and what happened.

MM     I'm saying part of the problem is how you debate because if you succumb to the same emotional level of debate, where have you gone? Again, I'm not making a judgement call here, I haven't read Jeremy's full speech, it's on the Internet but I haven't read it, I've read the summaries in the papers, the 'Zanufication', very emotional term and he backed off. How do you raise a debate? Don't make it emotional because all that happened is there are people here who support Mugabe. You saw it in the ANC, Dumisane Mokanyo(?) from KZN was openly praising Mugabe. So what you've done is you've boxed him into a position where he's going to be unrelenting against you. He's not going to say, 'I'm unrelenting because you're making me feel bad on Zimbabwe.' He's going to say, 'My permanent enemy, whatever Jeremy says I don't want to agree with.' Why? Because you've used a sound bite which you think encapsulates a description of the problem. Have you described the problem? I say rather be calm, describe the problem, the labels will come, the catch phrases will come later. Try and initiate debate in a structured way that is conducive to people debating and resolving.

POM     We've talked about this, darkness at noon and the…to have him publicly humiliated was not a proper response to what may have been on his part whatever.

MM     Yes.

POM     Too emotive description of the problem. The response was so heavy-handed it became the issue, not what he had said.

MM     And I'm saying what you say, say it with careful thought, at least apply yourself with some foresight. Ask yourself why am I making these observations? Do I intend it to have certain complications?

     You heard the one phone call I had. It says I have been asked to give this message, to write a message. I have been required to do a message, I've been given guidance, don't be too controversial, that means to say the person who wants the message is saying be a little bit careful how you couch it, don't go overboard, and then the person phoned me and said, "No, have you got any ideas?" Now I put it very sharply but I kept saying I'm putting it sharply but you have to address these problems in a very delicate way. But at least find a way to put it on the agenda because in that vein those you are addressing, it's not yet ready even by the principal's guidance, and by my judgement, it's not yet ready to be frontally put. All that what is he saying, he says exercise a bit of foresight that what you say must fall on the ground so that it's just not falling on stony ground. Make sure that there's a chance for it to begin to germinate and if you're throwing 100 seeds ask yourself whether even 20 of those seeds will germinate and survive and become plants. I think that's the responsibility you have in this country. It's unavoidable. If you want to be part of the process of change and I would not quibble with somebody else who says, no, no, I disagree with you, the way to bring about change is for me to frontally get up and fight, I say, well if that's the strategic approach you want to adopt show me how it's going to be viable. And the problem about that is, how do you in a post-colonial world where the record is clear that the party which has been identified with fighting for that liberation usually endures for 20 – 30 years in power? Because there is no other credible voice with that record. So any other voice that comes up with any level of stridency is simply pushed aside, it doesn't matter what legitimate point you are raising because you've been labelled, you've been stereotyped and of course, let's face it, that's how science operates.

     Science says in biology, this is a plant, it's got a root system, got a stem, got leaves. Now I can't call everything plants, I have to make sense of this diversity. Yes, they are all plants but wait a minute, these are edible, these are not edible and it starts defining them by their characteristics from leaf to stem system to roots and creates categories because to handle the 100,000 different plants cannot allow you to operate without creating certain generalisations and those generalisations have been created with certain commonalities. So, to grapple with a myriad things you create those categories but, don't forget, you've only created the categories in order to understand the plant world better. Don't become a victim of those categories.

     Now in social society, in societal movements, you also create categories but don't become trapped. Take the way Jeremy was dismissed, white, middle class. Listen to Blade's answer that Karl Marx and Engels were white and middle class. Any meeting of whites at that category level? You've used the wrong categories. There is such a thing as a white middle class but for the debate that was at stake over Jeremy to use that label was irrelevant to the debate. So you've used your categories wrong.

POM     Well that same thing, and I think we've talked about this and Caryl is late and you should be preparing for your meetings. So I will finish, you get on your way and I will just wait for her. Was this tendency to say that if you are not for transformation as the government sees it then you're anti-democratic?

MM     Yes.

POM     Not that you've a different point of view but that you're actually anti-democratic.

MM     Isn't that a convolution of categories? That's what it is. And science can show you that while it creates categories to create understanding whenever they convolute the categories that scientist goes off on the wrong track. Walter Sisulu puts it the other way in his essay in Reflections. His opening paragraph says in the movement of society and its development there are no intractable problems. He says what we know from science is if you detect and come across an intractable problem, go back, have you asked the question correctly? And he says if you've asked the question correctly the answer falls out.

POM     I love this for a man with a Standard 4 education. How is he by the way?

MM     They say he's OK. I haven't seen him.

MM     Who said that? That's an ABC lesson of science, methodology. ABC. And we call ourselves people who want to address the issues of society in as scientific way as possible. We can't replicate everything of science, we can't create a laboratory with human beings. Fair enough. But still the basic lesson, and if the problem is becoming intractable, stop, have I posed the question correctly? So, same thing happens, if the results on production are not coming right, if redistribution is not happening and if the two are happening but they are cutting across each other, have you got your parameters right? The answer must be no. Somewhere there's a mistake happening and that's how I see it.

     All I am saying is I don't have answers. I do realise that to get movement forward from this great vantage point that we have achieved in SA, where we are so much looked on by the whole world and by our own people, where we have such a massive goodwill in our country, that we should be mindful that that increases the responsibility.

     You made a statement in the introduction about the responsibility of leaders and something of the foot soldier. What was it? You made a nice comment.

POM     The duties.

MM     The duties of the foot soldier. Well, if it wasn't mutually exclusive, there are responsibilities also on the foot soldier but it was saying, I'm sharply delineated that one's responsibilities attach to duties, the other one is responsibility.

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.