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VERAN MATIC
INTERVIEW WITH ALEX BORAINE - FOR TVB92


Guest: Alex Boraine


Host: Veran Matic

 

- Mr.Boraine, how much has your own personal exeperience of living in South Africa contributed to the idea of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

• I think that being  part of community in South Africa, having worked against the oppressive regime of apartheid meant that I was directly involved in negotiations towards a new democracy. I was very aware that there was a legacy of the past which would make it very difficult for us to continue and consolidate the democracy without dealing with it. So, I decided that perhaps that one of the biggest contributions I could make would be to examine how South Africa could come to terms with its past, how it could be accountable to the past, not to live in the past – but to free us, to tackle the challenges of a future, consolidate the democracy and the culture of human rights.

- When did you start to deal with the issues related to human rights?

• I was a teenager when I became aware that there was something very wrong in my country.... All our schools were separated, we never met black people socially. As I left school and began to move into a larger society I realized that we were very sick society. I decided that we needed to change. I became active in student movements, protesting against racism and oppression...I spent all mu adult life in that kind of struggle.

- Did you have any role models? Namely, it was in South Africa where Ghandi started his own non-violent struggle. Was it related to what you have been doing?

• I, of course, knew about people like Mahatma Ghandi, I read about his bad experiences in South Africa, but I must admit I didn’t consciously followed him as a role model. It was more out of a sense of outrage that other young  people, because they look differently from me, they had different skin color, that they were prejudiced, that they were suffering, I think it was that kind of experience which formed my thinking. But later on when I went on to study in US, during the 1960s and  Martin Luther King, I was lucky enough to meet him during this time, listening to his approach. I think the whole fight for civil rights took on the new dimension. When I went back to SA, I went with a new vigor in that  struggle. If there was I role model, it would be more Martin Luther King, I suppose.

- How much was your work subject to repression? How dangerous it was to do what you did?

• It became more and more difficult, because the security police raided my home and my work place. I was working amongst young people, in teaching, University work. Whenever we had weekend together black and white people, they would come and break it up or raided. As I became more and more prominent in public life, they attacked my home, they shot fire into my office, they followed me everywhere, they called me in for questioning. And it affected my family of course, because at that time my young son also became very involved and he was in prison on two occasions for many months without trial, in isolation. They did everything they could to discourage one or to try someone as enemy of the country, because you dared to take a stand. It wasn’t easy, of course, but there was many other people who had it much worse than I did.

- Many whites probably saw you as a  traitor? How did you cope with it?

• Yes, in many ways they saw me as a traitor. They sent me lot of hate mail, many telephone calls. Many public pronouncements. I was described as an enemy of the state by the Prime Minister of our country. And it wasn't easy, because you become quite lonely,  there were not many whites who took the sort of stand I tried to take, you get pushed into a corener, you're not invited any more, some of your friends are afraid to be friends with you, so you are in some ways persecuted for what you believe. But, I must admit it didn't really trouble me a great deal. I absolutely was sure that the system was evil, that it was wrong and that our cause was just. So, there were enough of us black and white who found strength in each other. It was never easy, but I can't remember ever thinking »I can't go on any longer«. I think, the more the opposition, the greater the determination to change the country was there.

- What was the role fo religion and church in the struggle against apartheid?

• There were two conflicting approaches. There were manyin the government who were very “religious”, who said that God had made us differently therefore the white should live here and the black should live here. That the black should always be the servants of the white, that apartheid was in the Bible. It was blasphemy, in other words. On the other side, there were some very brave and prominent people within the church, leaders like Desmond Tutu, for example, or a man who was an Afrikaaner white named Beyers Naude who had a very great difficulty and took a very brave stand. So you had different people using the same Bible and saying something fundamentally different. I think that SA Council of Churches for example,  and small Jewish community also took very brave stand against apartheid. There was a Moslem community that also refused to obey the apartheid system. But, most of the white S.Africans did nothing. They were informed by a perverted sense of religion which said “you mustn’t talk about politics, you must just go to church and pray”, while other were saying “if you love God, then you must love your neighbour” and your neighbour is whoever is close to you, not color, ethnicity, gender etc. There was a very big clash within a religious community as a whole.

- Was the church reformed or modernized during those processes?

• Yes, I think that a church is in a very different place today than it was then. Even those who defended apartheid in the name of religion have now apologized publicly. We had special hearings at the Truth commission. Some very prominent people in religious leadership got up and apologized for the role they played. Church is much more open today and much more committed to gospel of reconciliation, brotherhood, humanity, rather than narrow bigoted approach.

- When it comes to ascertainment of the truth, how far back in time it should  start? From 19th century, first half of this century, or one should focus only on the most recent events? How did you make decision about this for  South Africa?

• The question of where one starts in one’s search for the truth is a very difficult one. You have to make a judgement call. We have had 300 years of colonialism and racism, oppression by small minority of whites against a very large black majority. We felt that we needed a starting point which was close enough to those who were living today to be aware of that, so without divorcing the past, in other words, accepting that there was a long history, we decided for SA to look at 1960 which was when the ANC was banned, when Mandela was arrested and tried in court and sent to prison for life, when many of black leaders were thrown into exile. It marked a very big difference. Up til then, protests were allowed, marches were allowed. Suddenly, we had cut-off point in 1960, with riots when many blacks were killed by police who opened fire on them. It seemed to us to be a critical point. There were people still living who knew from there own experience what was taking place and who could come to the Commission as witnesses. I think that any country that attempts to come to terms with its past needs to find the point, the crossroads, and work from then towards the present and of course, the future.

- What was the impact of international isolation of South Africa on its citizens to realise that there was no future for their country with apartheid and racism?

• Yes, I think we were enormously helped by international community. Many of them made strong statements in various parliaments and congresses in their countries, sanctions were imposed. I think that more and more South Africans who had accepted apartheid system began to question it, because we seemed to be out of step with the rest of the world. We seemed to be contradicting what many other countries were coming to terms with – namely, there was no room for ethnicity and for racism. We needed to start again. I think that that internal struggle backed by international pressure definitely played a role in bringing about significant transformation and change.

I heard that people were particularly sensitive about international sport sanctions that were imposed. South Africa was not allowed to participate in international sport competitions.

That’s true. SA is very committed to sport, it’s sport-mad, sport-crazy. And many of whites for the first time began to think about what was happening in their country when they couldn’t be in Olympic games, when they couldn’t play football against other countries, couldn’t participate in int.competition, couldn’t play cricket, tennis. It was a very powerful tool. In my own mind I have no doubt that whole lot of whites agreed to change so they can be citizens of the world again in terms of their own sport.

- What were negative effects of international isolation? Was there any feeling of self-sufficiency and self-isolation among people in South Africa?

• I think there is always the downside. The upside was putting the pressure. The downside was that we started to turn very much internally, to think that the world was unfair, that we were a sort of pariah state, that they didn’t undestand our problems. There were lot of whites who hated UN for their statememets, they were very  anti-Great Britain, and finally anti-US, because it very belatedly also took a  strong stand against racism and apartheid. On one hand, isolation made people more obstinate to take on the world, “let the world go to hell, we will be masters of our future and destiny, people didn’t understand us.” Even that began to wear thin, because inevitably people would listen to BBC and it would give a very different point of view, so that the media from outside was very important for the getting some of the truth. Our radio and TV were full of propaganda. I think that breaking that international isolation through the radio waves in particular, was extremely important.

- What are relations between different generations in this? Are young people more willing to accept changes than older generations? In particular, how about new, young immigrants that came for Eastern Europe?

• There’s a definite difference. I feel very strongly that the next generation will be a lot better equipped to deal with ongoing problems of division, difference and inherent racism. The older generation, with some exceptions I hope, have more fixed ways, they long for the old days when whites were dominant in every area od society, they talk about “good old days”, they are very negative in lot of their statements and their approach. But young people who suddenly go to school together, to university, playing sport together, thery have very different approach and attitude. Funny enough, some of the immigrants who have come to SA have shown a strong racism. I think they would have been happier with the previous regime than they are wityh the present open society. I think they feel that their white skin, as opposed to black S.Africans should have given them a better deal. Their approach hasn’t always been very positive, in my judgement.

- You were a co-founder of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. You participated in its work all the way from the very idea about it to the end of its work in practice. What were the circumstances that led to establishment of the Commission?

• I think that when we moved towards negotiation politics, away from the politics of oppression and resistance, we began to write out a new constitution, there were many compromises that had to be made because we were negotiating together, the old and the new, and then we had elections which Mr.Mandela’s party won by very considerable majority, first democratic elections ever in history of SA and it was only in 1994. When we started to look at the future, we realized there was so much past that was intruding, there were lot questions, lot of anger about what happened. People started aksing questions about why did it happen “what happened to my children, who did so many people die.” And lot of such major questions. I visited Eastern Europe during those times – Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary,  former Czechoslovakia, Germany. I began to realize that some of  these countries had been  wrestling with such problems. Then I looked at Latin America and saw their transition. I tried to introduce the debate in SA – how do we deal with our past, how can we be accountable, how can we have get some kind of collective memory where all of us can agree on certain things while yet we have many other disagreements. “Yes, it did happen, this is why it happened – and how can we make sure it does not happen again.” I invited lot of people from various countries to come and share their experiences. And they did.  We learnt a lot from them, we adapted it and adjusted it to our own situation. Then the ANC which was the new party  and Mr.Mandela asked me to write out something for them, which I did. When the election was held and first new Minister of Justice appointed, Mr.Mandela gave him what I had written and said “please, follow it up.” So we worked together as democratically as possible, got as many involved as possible, we introduced the idea of the TRC and of course it took it course and C. was born. Mr.Mandela appointed archbishop Tutu and myself to lead the C. and for the next 2 and half years we went through those hearings and wrote out report. And the rest is history.

- What was the most difficult part in the period that led to establishment of the Commission?

• The most difficult part in the lead-up to the Commission was the fact that the old regime did not want to deal with the past, and the generals in the police and the army and the pokliticians, they said “let’s not worry about the past, let’s just turn the page and move forward”. It sounded very attractive. They were very worried, they were angry about the C., the didn’t really want to face up to the truth and they made a lot of propaganda. They said it’s gonna be a withchunt. And because of my own stand in the past, and of course, because of the Tutu’s stand, of course, they saw us as people who were looking for some sort of revenge. Whereas of course, this was the very last thing we were looking for. We were looking for coming to terms with the past, acknowledging the past, being accountable for it, and building a new society, a transformed society without being haunted by the past. So it was a very difficult time. Some of the newspapers were very opposed to the idea and a lot of prominent Afrikaaner politicians were very negative. But, thanks Goodness, we were able to overcome that, because obviously the vast majority, if not all black S.Africans felt there was need to take account of what had happened and lot of whites said “yeah, let’s deal with it and move on.” So, that was a tough time. But, we were able to convince the majority of people that it was necessary. So we went ahead.

- Has the work of the Commission for Truth and Reconciliation contributed to calming of the situation in South Africa and what were the moments when it produced counter-effects, instability or dramatic situations?

• Yes, I think that the C. has  made a very significant contribution. I think it gave the new government time to try to come to terms with the major problems, social problems which faced the country in terms of education, health, housing, jobs. These things take time. You can’t transform society overnight, But in the interim, you had the C. that every day that was dealing with some of the grievances, the anger , the experiences, the heartbreak. The agony that many people underwent in terms of imprisonment, torture, the death of their loved ones, the autoritharian structure of the state. So, we were dealing with it every day, while the government was trying to come to terms with the many challenges and problems. I think that was the moment of calm. I think also that black S.Afrikans felt that people acknowledges now at long last what they had undergone, that they weren’t forgotten, that they weren’t pushed aside. They had been treated so badly, and suddenly they were appearing as very important people. They were listened to, they appeared on TV and radio every day for 2 and half years. It gave a feeling of “we don’t have to take revenge, we don’t have to worry about that, we made our statement, we’ve appeared, people have acknowledged what we have gone through”. There were times of course, when very vicious accounts have been portrayed that shocked many people, because many of them have never known that this was happening. We had many tense moments during the life of the C., and bearing in mind that it was all in public, so it was happening at the moment, and we couldn’t control that moment, not that we wanted to , but it can be very tense and very tricky. When perpetrators described in detail what to some of the victims, and the victims told the stories of what had happened to them. These are traumatic moments, and it’s very hard to hear it day after day. But, yes, I think the C. was a bridge between the past and the future, through which SA could move little more certainly more calmly and little more peacefully.

- In some local debates here sometimes we hear arguments that the truth jeopardizes the process of reconciliation. Did you have such situations in South Africa?

• We had many people in SA who had asserted, stated that the truth was too painful. That it would make reconciliation very difficult. My own response to that was: “When I go to the doctor, I don’t want him to tell lies. I want him to tell what’s wrong. And even though it may hurt me to know that I am sick, it’s the first stage  towards healing, to acknowledge that there is a problem. Then you can start with the process of the healing which is necessary to bind up the wound. If you say there is nothing wrong, then you are going to die. I think that the body politics and that of society is exactly the same. If we pretend that there is no problem, we are going to be overcome by that and the situation is get even more sick, and even more dangerous, because if you are not aware of the problems then you are never gonna attend to them. I think the beginning of reconciliation is when you come to terms with the truth. When there’s some acknowledgement, some acceptance that mistakes were made, sometimes very serious mistakes that had caused a great deal of hurt. And if you want to reconcile that, there is no use in pretending that it did not happen. You have to face up to it, and the sooner you do that, the sooner the change the healing and the new life can start.

- What was the impact of the Commission’s work on political life in the country? Are political parties in South Africa still divided along racial lines or that changed too?

• There are many changes. Most political parties now have black and white members, leaders.In parliament, in the cabinet. There are majority of blacks in the parliament because majority of population is black, and that reflects the reality. There is still racism, there’s no doubt about that, you don’t change that in short space of time. I think there’s lot of suspicion. I think it’s aggravated by the fact that the really poor in SA are black, and the very wealthy in SA are white. So you have economic disparity which undergoes racial overtones because, the really poor are black and the really rich are white, and you have in between. But, as people develop and get more and more opportunity in economy and education,  so that gap begins to disappear but it will take a very long time, because apartheid and the racism determined your life chances for so many years and it’s gonna take a very long time to overcome that.

- How did you link the work and aims of the Commission with reforms in the society? Was there any direct link between the work of the Commission and economic situation in the country i.e. what was the economic situation afterwards?

• There were very considerable connections, because as the C. we took the view that the moral restoration of the country was one side of the coin, the other side was economic justice. They weren’t separate, they were together. That’s why we had those hearings not only for individuals but also for institutions, that included business and included labour. What we tried to suggest and indeed recommended to government, that the emphasis on delivery of social services and the the narrowing of the gap betwen the rich and poor was fundamental for transformation that had to take place in SA. We went so far to recommend that there should be one-off tax, as a sign of reconciliation,  paid off by those who had benefited from apartheid.  There’s no doubt in my mind that all whites benefited, including myself. Just by virtual fact that you are white meant that you had better chance schooling, social amenities, housing,. Even if you’re opposed it, because of your white skin you benefited. In every authoritarian system you have people who benefit and those who are disadvantaged. So I think that those who benefited ought to be part of the reconstruction and should be willing to make sacrifices in order to restore the balance. So the economics of the country and social realities was very important part of the work of the C.

- What was the result of Commission’s work? You published your findings in five volumes, but how would you summarize results in concise way, in figures or something?

• I think that the result of the C. included the following. First, we were able to tell the truth as it had never been known before. Through the personal experiences of individuals who came day after day and told what had happened to them, it opened the eyes particularly of the whites in SA, who have been sheltered from what was happening or denied it. So the truth challenged the lies that were being told. It also made it impossible for people to deny what had happened in their own country and their own responsibility as far as it was concerned. It was the major contribution. Secondly, there was a healing. I wish I could take the audience outside and us inside to one or more of the hearings in SA, to listen to the stories of the people who having told their story brought about closure, brought about new sense of dignity. The astonishing power of storytelling, accounting of what had happened, as someone said “it’s as if a big stone rolled away from my heart when I finished telling the story.” And another person said (this person was blinded by the police who were firing at the crowd of people protesting). After he finished his story before the C, he said “It’s almost as if I can see again.” So there was a great deal of healing that took place. Because it was part of national event through the media, it meant that the society was participating in this as well. That’s the second area.  I think the third was the determination that what had happened in our country would never be allowed to happen again. That we’ll build safeguards, that there would be a new society vigilant to make sure that the dictatorship we had in the past, autoritharianism, the closed society would open. At least those three things, there were many others, were the probably most important, I think.

- How were the results of the Commission’s work implemented in, for example, educational system in South Africa? Are school history books universal for all races?

• There are a number of implications, and I am not saying it was only the C. that did this, because obviously the new government was determined that things would change. But the C. gave focus to the need. Because history books that our children were reading were very distorted, very one-sided, so new books are coming and are available to everybody. The school system is now equal. It is certainly taking great deal of time, becuse so many of the buildings were inferior and you can’t restore every one of them . Some of the training of teachers was unequal, and it takes time to re-train and train people. But all of that is set in motion. Billions of dollars are now being put in educational system, so every child can have better chance in life and be exposed to the truth about their society. One of the major recommendations of the C. was that C.’s findings, instead of being only available in those 5 volumes which many people can’t afford or have access to, should be summarized and made available as a subject in schools and Universities, so that something of the history of the C. can be taught to help develop what I call human rights culture.

- South African media were also divided into government ones and independent ones. How were government media transformed and what was the role of media in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

• The role of media in SA was critically important. First of all it was used by the government for their propaganda, The news servce was totally controlled by the state. Radio and TV, many newspapers as well. There was some independent voice, thanks goodness. Every attempt was made to control even independent radio. You could not get licenses, couldn’t have independent TV service. Radio stations operated for a while and then they were closed down.  But there was always some protest. Evey now and then some newspaper would have the courage to publish something on the front page that would shock people. Of course, government took steps.. Some people would have blank pages in the newspaper rather than to print what government insisted they should print about the particular event. It was very distorted media. But it influenced many people and it kept the regime going. Because people started to believe the propaganda and the half-truth, half-lies...During the negotiations, then of course the media started to shift. Mandela appeared on radio and TV, and many of black people who never had a chance to appear suddenly became visible, because they have been given access. That began to change and transform the country, because you had a new climate, new ideas, new voices. Then during the C., the media played incredibly important role. Because the hearings were open it meant that TV cameras were there every day, and main news every night took the highlight if the C.’s work for that day.We had live radio for 4 hours every day in the language of the people. It meant that the C. was not just something happening in the corner, like many Cs that work privately or behind closed doors. This was a national event. It went to the furtherest parts of the country. People who could never afford a TV set, who could not read so they never saw it in newspaper – now listened to the radio. So radio in particular was extremely powerful. But of course, the images of TV – to watch someone describing something, to watch the tears flow, to hear the voices and see the faces – it was extremely powerful. So we were very lucky that the media had decided that the C. was not to be an event for just 1 week. They followed the C.’s work everywhere. Everywhere we went, the media was there before, during and after. And still today the media is playing a very important role – it’s transformed the society. It’s extremely important.

- In time of apartheid, South African media were a mouthpiece of hate speech, in a way they actually encouraged racism.  How did media professionals deal with their past and what happened to the people who used to work for government media? Was it also a part of the Commission’s work?

• There’s no doubt that many professionals in the media compromised and they were afraid of the consequences of standing up to the state, so they fitted in. Many of them felt uncomfortable about it, but many of them acted as agents for the state. Either as commentators, broadcasters, research, news readers and so on. Many of them felt very uncomfortable during the work of the C. We had a special hearing on media where we received many submissions. Many people in newspapers admitted they were working for the government. Even that they were paid by the newspaper, they were actually paid by the state – to act as informer, to plant stories, to defend the military, the police...it was an incredible experience to listen to these people coming before the C. and acknowledging they had been a part of the propaganda machine for the regime. Many of them left the media as result of this, they felt they were no longer trusted and found other work. And some people who left the media couldn’t stand lying and being subject to state control, suddenly came back again, picked up their professional lives again, reported on the C. and  also on some other day-to-day activity. So the media has been transformed, and as a result of that transformation it is the system in the country that would be transformed as well.

- You mentioned that openness of media was very important for the work of the Commission. In what way was it important and how did you protect people’s privacy?

• We made it very clear to the victims of the apartheid regime that one was compelled to come to the C. it was all on voluntary basis. We consulted with them , we told them that radio, TV, print media would be there. We said to them “if you prefer then your names would not be mentioned, if you don’t want to appear, we’ll simply take your statements and we’ll take your names out  we’ll publish that as your story without your names.”.  Very few of them did that. Most of them said “ I want the truth to come out, I want people to know what happened to me. Many were very simple ordinary people. What it told to TV people is that they had to respect people. Not to sort of shove camera up their nose during the hearing when someone is upset. Just to be discreet. To bear in mind that people have been suffering. By at large the camera people behaved extraordinaly responsibly. It’s never easy to know when to turn the camera off when someone is broken down,  or crying or whatever. They seemed to have professionalism about them that didn’t intrude on people’s grief and yet made it available to wider community as to what suffering was taking place. We didn’t have any complaints from any of the victims that were appearing before the C. that they were being abused in some way. Lot of people who watched TV or listened to the radio didn’t like some of it, because it was so moving, and they felt almost guilty so they didn’t want to listen any longer. They told us they used switch it off, yet they seemed to know everything, so I assume they used to keep it on but they did not want to acknowledge that they were actually listening or watching. I hope I am right, but I think that the trust between the C. and people who appeared before the C. was such that no one felt their privacy was being invaded.

- Was it possible to achieve such a political and social breakthrough without amnesty and how was it implemented?

• When we were negotiating new dispensation the army and police and former political party was very strong and powerful. They made it very clear that if as the result of negotiations and elections they were going to be prosecuted and sent to prison, then they would simply break off from negotiations and they would make peaceful elections impossible. So in the terms of negotiating the settlement, we had no alternative but to negotiate some form of amnesty. Not a general or blanket amnesty – but an anmesty in exchange for truth. In other words, the perpetrator would have to tell the truth and make clear disclosure and do it publicly. So, individually you couldn’t do it in collective sense, like 50 people or...So we had amnesty hearings. It was made out in my mind that the disclosures by many people from the army, police and politics gave us an insight which we would have never had without their confessions. No questions about it in my mind. It was extraordinary: I thought that only very few would apply for amnesty because it is very hard to stand up in public and say what you’ve done, especially when you were assasinating people, torturing..But we had nearly 7 thousands perpetrators appearing before the C. who sought amnesty on the basis of full disclosure. For some we felt they haven’t made full disclosure, so they didn’t get amnesty. For those who told the truth and came to terms with that truth, they received amnesty. Some of them were cool, others were  moved, some were broken down, some wept, because they felt they were used by the state, they started as very young people working for the police or the army, they had orders, they obeyed, they were told that blacks were enemy, terrorists, they were told to deal with them to eliminate them and so on. This gave them an opportunity to stat anew. Reconciliation was built in to the truth-telling both in terms of victims and perpetrators.

- How did victims react to the work of the Commission and what was their role in it? Did the state take care about reparation for the victims after the work of the Commission had been completed?

• I think one of the greatest successes was the fact that we gave priority to the victims. The first hearings we had was for the victims, not the perps. Very often, the emphasis is on the perps, and victim is forgotten. In this case, victims were No.1, they enjoyed prominence. You know, in SA, for many of these people – son or daughter went missing, and they were trying to find out what happened to them. They would go to the police station, because the last time thrir child was seen in a march or disappear in some area were poice was active – but they were chased away, they were treated like dogs. If they heard their child or parent was in some hospital, they were chased away from there. Sometime even from the morgue, to see if the body is there...Suddenly they were received by the compassion from the C., they are escorted in, everybody stands when they are received at hearing, nobody cross-examines them, everyone is listening, patient, compassionate. This made huge difference to their sense of being part of their own country, sense of being accepted, acknowledged as living human being instead of being trated in this way. So I think it was terribly important. One of the things we recommended to the government was that certain reparation should be made. People had sometimes their little houses burnt down. Very ordinary little houses..or damaged. Or children have been denied access to schooling because of political beliefs of their mothes or fathers who were imprisoned. We proposed some small assistance, scholarships, opportunities to go to school, University, wheelchair for someone who had been very badly tortured, not very big things, but terribly important for them. The new state was very slow in responding. But I am delighted to be able to tell you that last week in thr budget speech, the amount of 1 million $ was made available to reperation for the victims. We are very thrilled about this, it’s taken too long, but at long last it did happen. Up til now, there’s only been emergency relief. Small amounts of money or medicine, or being able to take someone to a clinic or to psychologist because of what they suffered. Now the victims have received larger amount of money, it’s not huge amount, but it’s a symbol of a country caring for its victims. I think it is going to be a very major contribution to the ongoing reconciliation in SA.

- Did the Commission only deal with the crimes committed in South Africa or also with crimes committed outside its borders?

• No, we had to deal with crimes committed outside SA because SA army  and security forces went in neighboring countries – Mosambique, Bottswana, Lesoto, Zimbabwe. Our planes went in and bombed some of these. Many people were killed in Namibia and other parts. We tried to arrange for hearings to take place in those countries, but the countries themselves said no, they would prefer not to do it. So we had those hearings inside SA and its documented in our final report. There is no question that SA destabilized these territories not only in terms of bombing or planting bombs or raiding countries, but in damaging of property, houses. I wish I could say that reparation was offered to those countiries, but of course, enormous amounts of money would have been invlolved indoing that, it was not possible in SA society. We recommended there should be memorials in every one of these societies by which SA would admit its responsibility for the loss of life and destruction of property..

- Was it possible to establish International Tribunal for war crimes committed in South Africa? In time when your Commission was working, International Tribunal for crimes committed in Rwanda and former Yugoslavia was established. Was it also possible for South Africa?

• I often wondered what would have happened if there had been Int.tribunal. One thing was that this whole case was isolated. Nature of negotiations, I think there was no actual war in territory, no genocide. There were many incidents. I think because Mandela became a symbol of reconciliation in the country there was never any thoughts of the Tribunal. They felt SA was dealing with their own situation. The world was relieve it didn’t result in bloodshed and widespread anarchy, in thousands of people being killed. They decided SA was dealing with its own problems. The result of this was that SA was pariah of the world, every door was close because of its policies. Now suddenly it is received in all int. councils, UN, Commonwealth, sporting bodies. Both Mandela and Thabo Mbeki are received everywhere in the world, which I hope would encourage other societies to move away from the pariah state, so they too can be normal members of the int.community.

- You are very well acquainted with the work of other Truth Commissions. How did it function in Chile and Argentina and what were other experiences like?

• We looked at models at every part of the world to see how to resolve our situation and come to terms with our past. We looked very closely at Argentina. They started with trials, they had a C. then they stopped the prosecutions, they published report of the C. that mainly dealt with the disappeared. Chilean C. was much closer to SA model, expect that because Pinochet had granted general amnesty it meant that the military and security establishment was never brought before their C. they were never accountable. Also they had C. operating behind the closed doors and no one knew what was happening until the final report was made available. That of course  came like a bombshell to many people in Chile. In SA C. there was never general amnesty, we could confront Generals, we could subpoena them to appear before the C, the politicians could be subpoenaed, and the proceedings were public. So the people participated in the C from the day 1 to the day N. We certainly learnt much from experiences of other Cs, but obviously you can’t duplicate something exactly, you need to take into account your own circumstances and situation, and borrow and learn from others, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

- Last year an initiative was started about the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of institutions that opposed this idea was the Office of Prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal.  However, these days we see some signs of change in this field. Here in FR Yugoslavia, this idea of Commission is also current. For example, President Kostunica often mentions South African Commission as possible role model. Is co-existence of the Commission and the Hague Tribunal possible?

• I see the two as complementary rather than contradictory. I was at the meeting in Sarajevo by invitation and met with lot of leaders from civil society in Bosbia and have been in very close contacts with some of them while they were writing their legislation to make it possible for the TC. We invited to the conference in Sarajevo members of the Tribunal, and they were openly very critical. I think they were astonished by the response of the people of Bosnia who said they felt something was necessary inside their country, because the Trib. could deal with a handful of people, important but limited. Therefore there ought to be room for both. I am pleased to say that the Trib. now seems to change its mind and that they seem to have agreed that the TC in Bosnia would add up to the work they are doing and not detract from it...So I don’t have doubt in my own mind that while Tribunal has an important role to play, and I don’t suggest that the TC should be a substitite for it, but it could be a very strong addition or complementary to the Tribunal. Also here in Belgrade, in Serbia, I think its very important for something to happen which is local, indigenous, which can be seen and experienced, rather than only from another country or another place. It’s out there somewhere. You need something that is part of the society where these things took place. Obviously Serbia will make up its own mind as to what it should do. But I think it would make a very major contribution to have a TRC here as well.

- Here in Yugoslavia, you will have the opportunity to meet the politicians that are currently leading this country. What will you advise them, how should they establish the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Most of them already stated that they agreed with establishment of such Commission.

• Obviously, I am not here to tell people what to do. I would only give advice if I am asked to. If the leadership asked me that question, obviously I would try and respond. First I would like to say  I think it is terribly important that the process is democratic. It ought to be public discussion and debate. In the media there should be campaign. Politicians should take the people into their confidence. It shouldn’t be seen as something there only for parliament or for politicians. The people ought to be able to be part of it, which is what we tried to do in SA. People were given opporutnity to comment on legislation before it became law. And their advice was listened to very carefully by all of us. So it became a very democratic process. I would urge the leadership of this country to be very courageous – it will be controversial, there will be critics, there will be people who’ll say “you mustn’t do that”. I hope they will have the courage of their convictions to follow through to their committment to transparency, to truth to transformation. Because that is what is involved. It’s not just the concern of digging up the past. It has not to do with guilt so much, as it has to do with building of new future. I think that any society that has been locked in some conflict needs to resolve that, to free itself to move forward. I can only say it, I am biased, but I have seen it work, I know it can help. I would hope that without simply imposing SA model or any other model, but the idea of coming to terms with the past, being accoutable, of starting again is terribly important for this society as any society.

- I think that Yugoslavia is the most complicated case, in comparison with about twenty of other commissions that existed elsewhere in the world and circumstances they worked in. Here, whole story has many layers. In most cases, crimes were committed outside borders of the current Yugoslavia. It means that one part of the work would have to be done on regional level, in cooperation with other truth commissions, in Bosnia and in Croatia – if such a commission is established there too.  What is the moment when one should move from national to regional level, and do you know about such cases in the past?

• It is very, very complicated question, but a very important one. I think you have to do both. I don’t think you could do one without the other, becuse all wouldn’t be involved, it’s integrated conflict and problem. I would say that from the beginning there ought to be regional cooperation, but the national focus.  Because I think there are stories that need to be told about this society, and about that society and one infringes with the other. I would hope very much close relation with what’s happening right now in Bosnia, that there would be exchange of information and sharing of documents and programmes, and not only there but also in Croatia for example. I think you can’t do this separately forever. There has to come time when people begin to realize that we are all victims, we’re all part of this past. If you are going to try to come to terms with that, you can’t isolate one from the other. There may well be room, and maybe wise to start here and then to relate, so that it becomes regional as well as national.

-Finally, in your opinion, what is the most important segment in the process of ascertainment of the truth?

• I find that truth sets people free. Lies does exactly the opposite. If society wants to move into the future it has to be freed, and it is the truth that sets people free towards the new behaviour and new society, new approach and new climate, if you like. That’s why I think it is so important. Not simply  accumulation of knowledge, but the acknowledgement of that knowledge, that this is where we made mistakes, that we went wrong, that’s where things went crazy, if you like.  If you’re going to start building a more decent, more open society, you really have to unlock that with the key, which is truth.

 


© B92, 2002