interview: Tokyo Sexwale INTERVIEWED BY JOHN CARLINAn activist since high school days, he was in the ANC underground movement and spent twelve years on Robben Island.
The Mandela aura ... tell me how it came about that you wound up at the
Mandela household ...|
We were young, and we were mesmerized by the Mandela aura. But most importantly by the Winnie Mandela presence, because Mandela was absent. My home is not very far from Mandela's original Soweto home. And the high school where the kids died in June 1976, it is just a stone throw from Mandela's house. So there was this perpetual presence of Nelson Mandela, Winnie Mandela.
One day I happened to have been invited by a friend, who used to live with Winnie, to meet Winnie. And that's how I ended up at that house. The next thing that followed was when I was doing my matric, I stayed with Winnie for two years, in the same house ... and was exposed to the Mandela aura, but beyond that, the Mandela reality--you could touch him, his books, his legal gown, his home, where he walked, his house.
Tell me a bit more about the business of touching the Mandela goods ...
You are a young man and you end up in Mandela's house and he is in prison. Here is his house in Soweto. Here are his books, the original law books that he was using, full of dust. Here are some of the works that he used to read--literature, which the police fortunately did not seize. Here is his legal gown--the gown that I was told he was using. It was full of dust, because all these things--the memorabilia, mementos--were kept in a garage. Here is his chair, this is Mandela's bed, here is a doorknob which he used to open every morning as the father of the house. Also here are letters coming from Robben Island for Winnie, and sometimes the tears flow.
... Tell me about what your sense was of Winnie. Describe Winnie's pain and difficulties as you saw it during that time.
The Winnie of that time was vintage Winnie. That's the original Winnie--young, vibrant, very beautiful woman, very pretty woman. She still is, as a grandmother today. She is still vintage, because Winnie has not changed. Except that, of course, along the way, from the days of Brandfort, something did change. Something did go, as she herself said, horribly wrong somewhere. But this was Winnie, the wife permanently waiting, the eternal wife of Nelson Mandela.
... This was the Winnie who used to go to Robben Island from time to time, as a banned person, over weekends, to visit Nelson Mandela. This was the Winnie who brought back news of how he was [doing]. This is the Winnie who would come back very depressed sometimes. Elated, but then covered with depression, because the elation was to meet him ... but in a few days time, she is like a lark again, and there is excitement. Here was the Winnie who would wait for letters to come from Nelson Mandela. [She] would read them, but would chance to give me a page that sometimes would refer to the family, because I was part of the family. This was the Winnie who had to bring up the two children, they were very young, Zinzi and Zeni, sent far away to school in Swaziland. From time to time there is a scare the children would be kidnapped. There is a man seen outside the school, she has to change schools.
This was the Winnie who was tormented, who was harassed. Police would come, knocking, charging into the house, every time--she called it a police station ... This was the Winnie who experienced each time the breaking down of the door, harassment by police. They would come sometimes and take washing on the line, because she used to do washing in the evening. And in the morning you find it all dirtied, thrown into the streets.
There was one moment, I think in exasperation, she made what I can only conclude as a ridiculous suggestion, but it is also a way of fighting back. She said to the police who came that morning, "Why don't you have a key, instead of coming to break the door, I'll give you a key. So that each time you come, you don't wake me up. This is a prison. It's my cell. Open, check what you want to check, and go." And they said, "No, we want to break the door when we come in, to remind you that this is government property," the house and herself.
What was your first experience of Nelson Mandela? ...
Let's talk about the second meeting of Nelson Mandela, before Robben Island.
The army--Umkhonto we Sizwe. There is the other presence of Nelson Mandela.
because he is the founder, the first commander in chief of that army, so when
you joined Umkhonto we Sizwe, you are joining an army of Nelson Mandela. It is
this army which he said, when he closed his fighting words at Rivonia, that
either we live forever on our knees or we perish standing. So he formed this
army and Oliver Tambo had to take matters forwards in exile.
Robben Island. You arrive and there is Nelson Mandela--the tall man amongst all prisoners on Robben Island--figuratively and literally. He was also taller than the jailers. Here is a man who, for 27 years, had to reshape himself, to emerge as ... some people call him, a saint. He is not a saint. He is fallible. And he's quick himself to admit whenever he has been rash, that he is also fallible. But in full glory you find Nelson Mandela towering above Robben Island.When you were in Umkhonto we Sizwe, you were in Mandela's army ... You were fighting to liberate Nelson Mandela. So he is always present whether we are in the German Democratic Republic, the Soviet Union, where I was, in Cuba, Angola, Tanzania and so on. It is about Nelson Mandela. Of course, this is heightened by the anti-apartheid movement world wide--the release of Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners. So even if you are in the underground, there is this presence of Nelson Mandela ...
Then comes Robben Island. Well, even before Robben Island there's a third meeting ... on trial, I became Accused Number One in the [court] where he was tried ... I am sitting in the same spot, where Accused Number One Nelson Mandela sat in 1963, and I'm sitting there, the year is 1977. So it's a marathon trial, and I'm also tried with some of the people who formerly were on Robben Island, but they came out and were re-arrested. This time to be sent back to serve life sentences.
So there is Nelson Mandela again. And you are listening to arguments and cases are cited ... References in this court are references about Mandela. The judgment comes, and the sentencing. You have to stand up and represent the twelve other accused like he did ... You go through those words again, you are in a cell, you have crossed and traversed the spaces where Mandela has passed, inside prison you are sitting on the spot where he sat, and you have to read your statement as well. So there is that presence.
But, of course, the finale is Robben Island. You arrive there and he is splashed in full regalia. There is Nelson Mandela--the tall man amongst all prisoners on Robben Island--figuratively and literally. He was also taller than the jailers. Here is a man who, for 27 years, had to reshape himself, to emerge as ... some people call him, a saint. He is not a saint. He is fallible. And he's quick himself to admit whenever he has been rash, that he is also fallible. But in full glory you find Nelson Mandela towering above Robben Island. You meet him in the position of chancellor of the university of Robben Island.
Describe to me your first impressions ... Finally, you met the flesh and blood man ...
It was fleeting; yet, it was so powerful. I was going to visit a relative ... we are taken down to a place where the visiting booths are, and you are sitting on one side with handsets to listen and the family member on the other side equally with another handset. Of course, next to you sits another warder with a handset and listening.
As I entered--it was a long passage with the chairs and these cubicles--there is somebody sitting there ... I wanted to see who has come to see this prisoner and there's Winnie. And we start waving with Winnie and it transpires that Winnie is seeing Mandela and what a moment, what happiness to see Winnie there, through the window. I last saw her when I left for university, later the army camps in the USSR. The person she has come to visit is Nelson Mandela. And he stands up, "Oooh, how are you? Is this the young man?" ... He knew about me at his house. He had referred to me in one or two letters. He was meeting me for the first time, but had known that I had arrived on Robben Island. It was magic. It was fleeting because I was told, "Move, move, move." I can't talk to this man, can't talk to another prisoner, so I went to sit to face my own visitor. But it was a moment of victory.
Nelson Mandela operated in prison ...
I think he shaped us for the future. When we arrived there, a lot of us are young, our hands are still smelling of gunpowder. We come from little trenches. We are hungry for the enemy, but we live with the enemy and we defy him. We want to cause strikes in prison, we want to take over, we want to run our lives here. But he has been here for quite some time, and he knows that like a caged bird ... eventually it gets tired. Because when you put a bird in prison, it starts fluttering in its own cage. Not realizing that movement is restricted and that's the essence of prison. Not realizing that there is no exit ... that he will get tired.
So he is the first to send letters to educate us to warn the new arrivals how to conduct ourselves in prison. Because if you get tired, you are going to be frustrated. So as you come in, you prepare for a long stay ... The rules that governed our conduct were summarized in a document known as Discipline, Behavior and Conduct. It came from the leadership. It came from Nelson Mandela. It was drafted by other people, but finalized by him. It's how we conduct ourselves in struggle, in general, globally, in various revolutions ... You challenge the authority, but you recognize the fact that he is in power here, so there are limits. You strive to maintain yourself intellectually, knowing that that's the only way you can defeat your enemies. We read a lot. We discussed. But we maintained the principles of the liberation movement. We maintained the cohesiveness, the unity. The whole call of Nelson Mandela was unity. Not just of ANC people on Robben Island, but all organizations. It became, therefore, the hallmark of his own conduct when he became released, because he called on the first day for national unity and I think he'll go down to his grave calling for that.
Let's move ahead in time ... You would have known that Mandela initiated discussions with members of the government ... When the news filtered through to you guys on the island ... how did you respond ...
The first time it came to our attention, was from Nelson Mandela himself. It didn't come as a direct way of talking. This was a series of moves and attempts to try to lock Mandela into their type of discussions. It was their right to do that. But then the key thing was Mandela's response. There were a whole series of things that we saw for several years ... attempts to get Mandela to see their point about how prisoners could be released, and how the situation outside would be resolved.
The factors that were making our enemies, the leaders of apartheid, to begin to want to negotiate or to initiate some kind of discussion with Nelson Mandela, were the pressures of the struggle inside the country; the isolation of South Africa politically, diplomatically, economically and militarily across the world; and more conservative governments and Christian democratic governments, coming to take sides. Not with ANC, but with the fact that the situation cannot [continue] the way it was in South Africa. So these are the factors. The Western world was beginning to realize that the South African situation had to be resolved. So the tension was heightening.
There was an attempt to get Matanzima to come and visit Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. That's the first time this thing was attempted. Matanzima, at that time, was a puppet leader of a Bantustan [in] the Transkei where Mandela originally comes from. Matanzima also happens to be Mandela's cousin. So they wanted Matanzima to visit Nelson Mandela on Robben Island, and begin to have some kind of an exchange with him to say, "Why don't you consider this or that, you may come out of jail." Mandela contacted us--the leadership--throughout the sections to say, "What do we think about the visit of Matanzima to Robben Island," and the answer was a resounding, "No" ... The authorities knew that we had taken that position because Nelson Mandela told them, "I have consulted my people, and I cannot see this man." Even though the man was his relative, we knew he was coming for a political agenda.
Then came moves to try to speak with Nelson Mandela, and I think the first one came with the commissioner of the prison, who intimated to Nelson Mandela that if he could agree to certain conditions, he may be released to serve a sentence, perhaps, in the Transkei with a view to being released ... Mandela rejected that, because leadership was consulted on Robben Island, and we had said, "No."
They realized that Nelson Mandela kept on consulting whenever they made overtures towards him. I think that's the sole reason for removing him first, so that they can isolate him, in Cape Town, at Pollsmoor prison, alone, and then make these overtures. That was a serious underestimation of this man. They thought that the years he has spent in prison have driven him to desperation to want to get out and not to age and die in prison. They were playing on those sentiments, but it was miscalculation. While he was on Pollsmoor, attempts were made to say to him ... can he accept a situation where he can be released completely to Transkei. He had said, "No."
Another move was: Can he accept, then, to be released but leave the country, maybe be sent to Zambia. Mandela said, "No. I want to go back to Johannesburg." Another move was to get Mandela to agree to be released, but he stays in Cape Town with his wife. He's not allowed to travel to the rest of the country without permission. Mandela said, "If I get released to Soweto, [it's] to my house, not to Cape Town."
So all these things were tried and each one of them were communicated back to us about the attempts they were making. But then at one stage we started getting messages--this is after the [government] had now realized it doesn't work. They shifted the rest of the remaining leaders to Pollsmoor, where he was. Even at Pollsmoor, they tried to isolate him, but then he could meet them from time to time ... Now when they had begun to intensify this campaign, they shifted him now from Pollsmoor. Isolate him from other leaders, and put him ... in a house. Now that was a different game. And we got worried. Genuinely worried. Mandela is no longer in prison ... We are asking ourselves questions and debates and threatening our own intellectual unity and physical unity. We are prisoners in prison uniform. Mandela is no longer a prisoner. Yet, he is a prisoner--he is staying in a house, he has a swimming pool, he is surrounded by these beautiful mountains, the most beautiful part of the country in the Paarl. So now doubts were beginning to emerge. Of course, that was the calculation of the enemy that doubts must emerge both abroad in the ranks of the ANC as well as inside the country and on Robben Island. They did achieve the sowing of the seeds of doubt. And the isolation of Nelson Mandela from other leaders ... was a question of suspicion.
Yes, I was one of those who was suspicious of him now. Why does he agree to be taken to [Victor Verster]? ... but some of the people ... they say, "No, he has not agreed. He has been taken because in jail the prison rule does say that you can be shifted and shunted wherever the authorities would like to take you." But then, surely, we hear that he's now wearing civilian clothes ... we are wearing prison clothes. We are in jail. We live under hard conditions. The opposite seems to be happening with him. So suspicions grew.
One bright morning ... we were preparing to play sports, and soccer is our main outlet of frustration, emotion. It's a wonderful day ... we saw the major who was in charge of the prison and he said, "Gentlemen, you are not to tell anybody, you are to move from here. You are going to see Nelson Mandela at Victor Verster" ... there is all these mixed emotions--excitement, consternation, suspicion, what is happening. There is a special boat and 10 of us ... when we get the other side, there are no leg irons. Normally, we have leg irons and hand cuffs. And it's not a prison van. It's a normal combi with curtains. So we all got inside and there's only two warders, guarding all 10 of us ... One of these warders said, "Gentlemen, you are going for a very lovely trip through the garden route ... one of the best in South Africa ... Do me only one favor, relax, watch the land outside, but don't escape, there's no need. We don't want to use these guns unnecessarily ... There is no need to escape ... enjoy the ride."
So we went to see Nelson Mandela for the first time after so many years, when he had left us on Robben Island. Here we arrive, it's a bright sunny day. Place is beautiful ... and there is Mandela waiting for us at the entrance--standing tall. "Hello chaps, how are you?" And all our emotions disappeared, because, you know, just that voice. Just the smell. We are happy to see him so healthy. We forgot every other thing, embraced and we wanted to sing our revolutionary songs, all of us. He started showing us around, "This is where I am," "Oh my God, there's a pool here." So our excitement begins to recede and the suspicions come. There's a pool, it's true, he's in civilian clothes. It's a beautiful house. I remember something very interesting and I thought, "I think you have sold out." He even has two television sets. One in the lounge, one in the kitchen. I say, "I think he has sold out."
So I asked him as he was showing us the house, before we sit down, "You have the other one, now, what about this one?" "Well, this is not a television set," he said. He went on to tell me how this machine can boil water. He took a cup of water--we were all standing there. We had not seen technology for all these years. He has not seen it for many, many years. Puts this cup of water inside there. Presses a few buttons on this thing. Lo and behold, so many seconds hereafter he opens and the water is warm. This machine is for warming water ... It was a microwave. We are seeing it for the first time.
Later we came to sit for lunch with Nelson Mandela and discussions began. Then the truth was revealed. Mandela had done what has never been done in history so far as my short memory is concerned ... When the enemy is cornered, it is time for him to surrender. Mandela had said, "The enemy is not surrendering. We have defeated him morally, internationally, politically. In our own country, it is ungovernable and apartheid is unworkable. All he is left with is his army. Intact." That's what Mandela said. "All the enemy can do is go for a scorched earth policy and ruin the country that we have struggled for so long--in prison, in jail, in other parts of the country, underground, inside the country, abroad. The enemy does not want to blink. To acknowledge that he has been wrong. The question is do we wait for the enemy to acknowledge that he is defeated, or do we proceed and say to the enemy, 'You have been defeated--surrender'." That was the essence of his briefing.
Now to me, this was a juxtaposed situation ... here the situation where the enemy is not surrendering. How long do we prolong the agony? So Mandela decided to go and say to the enemy, "Here is a white flag. I know you are afraid. But raise the flag." He blinked on behalf of the enemy. Therefore, he gave the enemy the chance to retreat ... here is a situation where Mandela had done the unthinkable--so all the rumors faded. All gossip around him selling [out] faded. Mandela had done that which is only executed by global historical statesmen. Go and say to the enemy, "We have defeated you, but we want to give you a chance. Here is a door." De Klerk seized it later ...
Our meeting with him on that day had followed his meeting with the big crocodile, P.W. Botha himself. Mandela had called us from Robben Island to report that fact that he had gone virtually in summing up to the enemy to say, "Here is a white flag. Lift it." It was also in preparation for his next meeting because at that time [Botha] had been removed from power. It was in preparation for his meeting with the new leader of the National Party and government, F.W. de Klerk. So he gave us the briefings of what he said to them about Afrikaner history, about our own history, what had happened down the years, the strife in the country, and the possibility that the problem can be solved. But not the way they wanted it because the last demand they had made of Nelson Mandela--the famous one--that he must renounce violence before he is released--unconditionally. And Mandela had issued the following statements, "Prisoners cannot negotiate. Only free men can," and that was the essence of what he called us there. He closed the door of suspicion, because we thought Mandela was beginning to negotiate in prison. No. On the contrary, Mandela was saying to them, "You better go and talk to Oliver Tambo. Don't worry about me here in jail. You have tried your luck. I have been here. You have wasted all my years. Go and discuss with the genuine leadership of the people. Discuss with Oliver Tambo, discuss with other leaders of the general representatives of our people. Because we, as prisoners, cannot negotiate."
The stage was therefore set for the release of the first political prisoners after his discussions with F.W. de Klerk. Our task was to go back--the 10 of us--to brief the rest of the inmates on Robben Island. Long after us, there were other groups of prisoners who went there to be briefed by him.
On the day of Mandela's release you were on Robben Island.
Yes, I was on Robben Island on that day.I don't know how to describe the emotion. Because the ultimate is happening. Our vision, our dream was not to see and meet Nelson Mandela. Yes, that was part of it. We felt his presence in the country. I came very close to his own family. To his army, Robben Island, to the trials and of course, where he has passed, various prisons. The objective was to release Nelson Mandela. Not to stay with him in jail, not to see him as a saint in jail. Not to play snakes and ladders with him, monopoly, chess ... the struggle was to release Nelson Mandela, and not to play games with him in prison.
... The famous speech of the 2nd of February 1990 by de Klerk earned him a place in history. And I say the context here must be put clearly. De Klerk did not do something miraculous, like he changed the course of history. All de Klerk said was the course of history is changing. The river is flowing down. The release of Nelson Mandela is an episode that is important, but then it was not the question of releasing Nelson Mandela, because according to Mandela himself, it is the unbanning of the people's organization and the freeing of political activities in South Africa that was more important than his own personal and individual freedom.
So when de Klerk took the microphone in the apartheid parliament on that February day and announced Mandela's release, we were sitting in front of television on Robben Island. We were told there is going to be an important announcement that morning, and we waited and watched. And then it came. For him to say, "I have decided to release Nelson Mandela and unban all organizations."
There we were sitting on Robben Island, members of an unbanned organization. There we were sitting on Robben ... amongst ourselves. So it was not about Mandela. It was ourselves. We are unbanned. We are free. The ANC is legal. And all the literature that we had underground on Robben Island, everything that was supposed to be potent material, anti government, anti apartheid government, had to come out. We could hold our fists, our heads high. But then discipline again, we don't have to go rioting. We had to now plan for a disciplined release of our own selves, because he had said as a result he will release all political prisoners. Of course, he covered himself by saying it would be done legally in a staged manner ... but the fact of the matter is that he had raised the flag which Nelson Mandela had said for the future of this country, for the salvation even of only your own people, you have to take this flag and acknowledge defeat.
Then came the famous day when Mandela had to come out ... And for hours we waited for the release of Nelson Mandela. The whole world did. But when it came, even the camera could not stop that kaleidoscope of something being born anew. And Nelson Mandela came out. We had no tears on Robben Island. We had shed one too many in the battle trenches of warfare and so on. In the barricades of change as students, in street warfare, sorry for ourselves at trials, seeing comrades fall--we had no tears. But you could feel them welling. But they didn't come out. There he was. All we could do was to hug one another, and then shout, say anything, "It's done, he's free!"
You are clearly a student of the Mandela style ... What is it that characterizes Mandela's leadership ...
The character Nelson Mandela is a very solid personality. I think he owes it to his early years in stick fighting. As a young Xhosa boy in the Transkei, in the hinterland of the country, where there is poverty, where he is a son of the other wife, and he is not the key personality at home, and has got to fight for his life on a daily basis. It is that Mandela who escaped from home and went to try to search for work in the cities and ended up working as a night watchman, poor security man, lowest job that you can ever have amongst black people on a mine. I think the character of Nelson Mandela [also] comes from being a heavy weight boxer in the townships. Boxing belonged to the tough.
It was by no stroke of chance taking that Nelson Mandela was made the first commander in chief of our army ... when the ANC had decided we are now fighting back, it is this man that they fetched. There is a character of toughness behind this man. The man who never gave up ... the man who turned his back on chieftaincy. He could have sat back, "I am a chief of the Thembus." But it is the man who, in his early days within the ANC, after joining the ANC, challenged the leadership, and was responsible for a very solid Youth League, that saw the young questioning the old ... of improving thinking within the ANC.
The program of action of 1949 of the Youth League was inspired by, amongst others, Nelson Mandela. It was Mandela who could speak openly, could speak freely. He was not always very popular with leadership. But then, in due course, they came to understand his independent mindedness. It is this man, Nelson Mandela, that confronted us at the meetings of the ANC National Executive Committee when we returned from jail or for exile, from underground, after February the 2nd.
I remember there was a time when he felt that de Klerk, with the amount of violence that was unleashed on the democratic forces in South Africa after the unbanning of the ANC and other organizations, he felt that this is a strategy of de Klerk to drown us in our own blood. And that was a strategy to slow down the negotiations process. It was Mandela who had to be restrained by Chris Hani and others at the ANC National Executive [Commitee], when he suggested that we should consider cutting off the negotiations, I mean that was serious. So if you cut off the negotiations, what do we do? Go back to armed struggle? It is that Nelson Mandela. But we had to defeat him, because he was set on saying these people are not serious and it is the NEC that had to say, "No, we can't consider that option. Not now" And of course it's him who said, "Fine. If you believe that, we can still talk with these people," because he was affected by the amount of blood that was flowing throughout the country.
[So he could be emotional ...]
Let me call it the kaleidoscope or the vortex of emotions in Nelson Mandela. I should say that because the task of a leader, such as him, is to epitomize the contradictory feelings and emotions of others in yourself. Whenever he wakes up, he must stand up in public and speak for the nation. Who speaks for him? It is at the NEC that we always saw Nelson Mandela speaking for himself. Because outside the NEC, he has to speak even for factors beyond the ANC--for the whole nation, for the Afrikaner, for the English people, for everybody. I think that there is no twist in him whenever he is with us, in the NEC, for him to speak more for himself. Even his hands hitting the table more--those big hands--all the time. That's the only time when he can say his say, because when he leaves we expect him to represent the collective.
During the times of this unparalleled unleashing of violence throughout the townships, throughout the country, after the unbanning of the ANC and other organizations, Nelson Mandela made it his business to visit each scene of the massacres ... he insisted on visiting the injured in hospitals. He insisted on speaking to them. He insisted on opening the bandages and seeing the wound, and hearing from them how they received those wounds.
But then even for some of us who thought we could stand the sight of death, Mandela demanded to go to the mortuaries. I am not surprised recently when he was president, when there was a massacre in Natal, he insisted that the press must be allowed to photograph all the bodies. It was an explosion of what he had seen before ... So Mandela, therefore, visited most of these places and couldn't say publicly how he felt, but it was during the negotiations process when he thought that de Klerk was taking the matter too far ... The world saw for the first time [at CODESA] the Nelson Mandela that we sometimes see at the NEC, who speaks clearly, frankly, straight forward, no diplomacy. Who gets the ANC working. So he's trapped from time to time in the emotions of being the head of state, the head of the organization, head of the people--the best statesman in the world. He doesn't want to be that. He wants to escape and sometimes do things and say things that he himself as Nelson Mandela would like to say.
... the World Cup final, were you there?
I was sitting with him ... The World Cup, which was won by South Africa rugby, was one of those important moments to cement the various strands of our national feelings. As premier of the province, I was sitting in the presidential suite, and we expected that the president would come. The place was teeming with crowds. When the president came, he was wearing the jersey. I don't know where he got the jersey from. I don't remember asking him, but all of us were looking at the jersey. I didn't even know what number it was until I saw him walking towards the field to hand over that cup. It was crossing of another Rubicon in the country. Only Mandela could wear an enemy jersey. Only Mandela would go down there and be associated with the Springboks ... He showed us that you can let the enemy raise the flag, and you win the war. That was another scene in so many acts of the book Nelson Mandela--for him to go there and be associated with the Springboks in the manner that he did. As president of the country, he could have just ended up in the box and given them the cup. But to stand with them, to move his hands in the air, to wear that jersey, to have that cap, to lift the cap for them and to greet the people. You sit there and you know that it was worthwhile. All the years in underground, in the trenches, denial, self denial, away from home, prison, it was worth it. That's all we wanted to see.
Expand on that ...
Yes, the liberation struggle of our people was not about liberating blacks from bondage, but more so it was about liberating white people from fear. And there it was. Fear melting away. People were shouting--we call him Rolihlahla, we call him Madiba--but on that day it was just, "Nelson, Nelson." You could hear that they don't even know that we call him Madiba ... it was, "Nelson, Nelson." By his first name. Those were the crowds, the rugby crowds. The people who in the past would have been without the soccer jersey, without the rugby jerseys and away from the stadiums, they would have been ... guarding the borders, police stations, railways. Those are the people. But it was, "Nelson, Nelson." We stood there and we didn't know what to say. I was proud to be standing next to this man whom we played snakes and ladder and monopoly together in prison. Look how high he is now. And you are just proud to have supped with the gods at one stage.
[Tell us about Chris Hani's death.]
The Chris Hani episode was a near breaking point for everything that we had put together. For our quest, for reconciliation, our determination to be united people, for everything that we wanted to see--the establishment of democracy, end of war, to silence the guns and let children put roses in the muzzles.
But there was his skull shattered. It was the most unfortunate experience for me, that morning, to have been woken to be told that Chris was shot. I ran there (because of his house was just next to mine), half expecting that, "Look, we have to take Chris to hospital." But when I saw the wounds it was easy to tell he's gone. What do you say at that moment? Mandela was not there. He was in the Transkei and he was only due to arrive that evening by emergency craft. There was a choice. You stand there and you can say in front of the hundreds of television and radio representatives, "To war!" and you would have summarized the feeling of the majority, the overwhelming majority, especially the black South Africans. I mean if you kill Chris, that is the height, the highest height, of provocation. But then Tolstoy, we read him in prison, I transcribed that War and Peace, so you can also say, "For peace, not to war."
We could have ignited a dynamite on that day. By the time Nelson Mandela arrived from the Transkei, there would have been an armed fight. Yes, we were commanders of the army at the time. Yes, people would have followed us ... But there's a twist here. [Chris] was a man of peace, he loved Latin, he loved literature, he studied English, he didn't want to be a commander of any army. He never thought he would be chief of staff of anything. He wanted peace. He came to the negotiations. He was one of the best orators at CODESA .... he wore his suit, he smiled, he was like a teddy bear. People could relate to him. We could all touch him and we all felt confident in his presence. So Chris was a man of peace. How dare we use his death to negate his views. So how can you go to war when the objective of this man is peace?
... By the time Mandela arrived in the evening, those of us who were there on the scene had uttered the correct historical statements. He was proud of us, I can say. And then from there we had to leave this thing because ours was only the scene of death, the immediate scene. His responsibility was to move from there for the whole country, and he excelled. We would only run after him, as we had to convince people from place to place, from small crowd, from hill to crest, from large stadiums to the most little corners in the hinterland of the country-- preaching peace and saying to people, "We can't go to war. Not at this time." But, of course, we used that moment very, very cleverly, specially those who were running the negotiations and elections machinery on the ANC. To say to the enemy--de Klerk and them--now or never. You give us a date for elections on the death of Chris. There must be something. So Chris gave us that date which we wanted. Because without the election date, there was nothing that we could report to the people. So we said the enemy has caved in, and they did cave in ... they realized that look, it's all a mess. They must agree to an election date to appease the nation ...
For us the management of the immediate scene of death, the task was to manage that scene and make sure that no sounds of war leaves from there for the country. So when Mandela arrived that evening, he commended us for the manner in which we handled that situation, because we could have caused hell for him. He might have arrived and found the country burning. But he himself now had to manage not the immediate scene of death, but the wider valley of death, which was the country and the world. Of course, when he mounted the television two days thereafter, it was a struggle to get even de Klerk's government to allow Nelson Mandela to go on television. They thought that, "Well he can be covered on news. He can have a press conference and it will be covered by SABC in the evening" No. Nelson Mandela has got to go there and speak live for the first time to this ... They caved in. Nelson Mandela spoke to the people. It was very clear that night--the president speaks. And that was the end of de Klerk. The rest was to formalize it with an election. The most peaceful because the outcome was known.
What he said that night ...
The speech could have divided the nation. The speech could have been for the ANC, for black people. But Nelson Mandela had to focus, on the fact, in order to unite people, on the fact that this was not a murder of a black person by a white person. The speech had to be that. It was a murder of Chris Hani, the hero of the people, by villains. He happens to be black, they happen to be white. But to crown it all, it was to say that we are able to succeed in capturing, in arresting, apprehending the perpetrators of the murder through the eyes of a white woman. So Chris Hani was assassinated by a white person. That white person was identified by a white woman. But the murderers were arrested by white police. It had nothing to do with black people ...
Nelson Mandela's speech had to traverse those feelings. It was not a black and white issue. It was a murderer against a victim ... It will be appropriate to conclude that Mandela's speech was the necessary cement which was required to keep in check a whole ocean of black anger and black emotion that could have spilled out after that night ... because there was still people hankering for revenge and all sorts of things but it never came.
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