Work in Progress
II. EXCERPTS & INTERPRETATIONS
1. Greek, Egyptian, and Hebrew traditions
2. Arabic, Assyrian and Persian traditions
3. Latin, Spanish and Latin American traditions
4. Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia traditions
5. Far East tradition
6. African tradition
7. German tradition
8. English tradition
9. French tradition
III. VARIA 1 / VARIA 2
II. EXCERPTS & INTERPRETATIONS
5. FAR EAST TRADITION
Wikipedia: Geschichte der Post
Rafael Capurro: The Dao of the Information Society in China
Rafael Capurro: In Search of Ariadne's Thread in Digital Labyrinths
Martin Heidegger: Aus einem Gespräch von der Sprache
Tadashi Takenouchi: Capurro’s hermeneutic approach to Information Ethics
Rafael Capurro - Makoto Nakada: A Dialogue on Intercultural Angeletics
Rafael Capurro: Die Lehre Japans: Theorie und Praxis der Botschaft bei Franz-Xaver
In Buddhism, Bodhisattva (/ˌboʊdɪˈsʌtvə/ BOH-dih-SUT-və) is the Sanskrit term for anyone who, motivated by great compassion, has generated Bodhicitta, which is a spontaneous wish and a compassionate mind to attain Buddhahood for the benefit of all sentient beings. Bodhisattvas are a popular subject in Buddhist art.
Origins and outlines
In early Buddhism, the term bodhisattva was primarily used to refer specifically to Gautama Buddha in his former life. The Jataka tales, which are the stories of the Buddha's past lives, depict the various attempts of the bodhisattva to embrace qualities like self-sacrifice and morality.
According to the Jataka tales, the term "bodhisattva" originally referred to the pre-enlightened practitioner of austerities that surpassed Śrāvakayana and Pratyekabuddhayana by far and completed Bodhisattvayana. Mount Potalaka, for example, is one of Bodhisattvayana. The term for practitioners who have not yet reached Bodhisattvayana was not fixed, but the terms Śrāvaka-Bodhisattva (聲聞菩薩) and Pratyekabuddha-Bodhisattva (縁覚菩薩) had already appeared in the Āgama scriptures of early Indian Buddhism.
Mahayana Buddhism did not place much emphasis in honoring Śrāvakayana and Pratyekabuddhayana since they were classified as part of the Hinayana, but praise of the general Bodhisattvayana was commonplace. Because Hinayana was disliked and the terms Śrāvaka-Bodhisattva or Pratyekabuddha-Bodhisattva were not widely used, while usage of the general term "bodhisattva" had grown in popularity. Nevertheless, "bodhisattva" retained an implied reference to someone on the path to become an arhat or pratyekabuddha. In contrast, the goal of Mahayana's bodhisattva path is to achieve Samyaksambodhiṃ.
Harro von Senger: 36 Strategeme. Lebens- und Überlebenslisten aus drei Jahrtausenden.
Frankfurt am Main 2011, 339-342
24.15 Buddhas Gleichnis vom brennenden Haus
"Also habe ich gehört. Einst wohnte der Buddha in der Stadt Rajagrha [Hauptstadt des Landes Magadha in Indien] auf dem Geierberg [...] Scharen übersinnlicher Wesen und zahllose Jünger umgaben ihn [...] Zu jener Zeit erhob sich der Welterhabene und sprach [...]
So beginnt das Lotos-Sutra, auch die "Bibel Ostasiens" genannt. Es ist die bedeutendste Schrift des über den ganzen Fernen Ostens verbreiteten Mahajana-Buddhismus. In der Zeit zwischen 200 v. und 200 n. Chr. in Indien entstanden, verdankt es seine herausragende Stellung der unvergleichlichen Anziehungskraft, die es jahrhundertelang auf buddhistische Fromme ausgeübt hat. Ich stütze mich im folgenden auf die vollständige deutsche Übersetzung des unter dem Titel Miao Fa Lianhua Jing überlieferten chinesischen Textes von Margareta von Borsig (Sutra von der Lotosblüte des wunderbaren Gesetzes. Darmstadt 1993).
Die Reden des Lotos-Sutra sind dem zur höchsten Erleuchtung gelangten Buddha in den Mund gelegt. Vor dem Hintergrund einer mythischen Szenerie entfalten sich in den 28 Kapiteln des Sutra grandiose Bilder. Parabeln veranschaulichen den Lehrgehalt, darunter das im dritten Kapitel wiedergegebene Gleichnis vom brennenden Haus. In diesem Gleichnis erzählt Buddha, wie an jeder Seite eines riesigen Gebäudes gleichzeitig Feuer ausbricht und auf das ganze Bauwerk übergreift. Darin befinden sich die noch kleinen, unverständigen Söhne des unermeßlich reichen Hauseigentümers. Sie sind vergnügt in ihr Spiel vertieft, begreifen und merken nichts, erschrecken und fürchten sich nicht. Sie streben nicht danach zu entkommen. Der Vater warnt die Kinder und ruft ihnen zu: "Kommt schnell heraus!" Aber die Kinder nehmen die Worte des Vaters nicht auf. Sie sind nicht erschrocken und fürchten sich nicht, und sie denken nicht daran herauszukommen. Auch wissen sie nicht, was mit "Feuer" gemeint ist oder was mit "Haus" und wovon er meint, sie würden es verlieren. Sie laufen weiter im Spiel hin und her, und das ist alles.
Da überlegt sich der Vater: "Wenn ich und die Söhne das in Flammen stehende Haus nicht sofort verlassen, ist unser Tod unausweichlich." Er weiß, welche kostbaren und seltenen Dinge seine Söhne gern haben, und so ruft er ihnen zu: "Verschiedene Wagen mit Ziegen, mit Hirschen und Ochsen stehen außerhalb des Tors. Ihr könnt mit ihnen spielen. Ihr sollt nun schnell aus diesem brennenden Haus herauskommen. Ich will jedem das, was er will, geben." Als die Kinder von den kostbaren Dingen hören, von denen der Vater spricht und die ihren Wünschen entsprechen, kommen sie eifrig und beherzt, indem sie sich gegenseitig stoßen und einer dem anderen zuvorkommen will, balgend aus dem brennenden Haus.
Als der Vater es erreicht hat, daß alle Kinder unversehrt herauskommen, und er nun sieht, daß sie sich in dem Viereckhof auf die Erde setzen, da ist sein Herz ruhig und von Freude übervoll. Nun sagt jeder der Söhne zum Vater: "Vater, bitte gib uns nun diese schönen Dinge, die Wagen mit Zigen, Hirschen und Ochsen, die du uns vorhin versprochen hast!" Nun gibt der Vater jeder Sohn einen völlig gleichen Wagen. Dieser Wagen ist groß und breit und mit vielen Juwelen ausgeschmückt. [...] Nun steigt jeder Sohn auf einen großen Wagen. Sie haben etwas erhalten, was sie noch nie zuvor besaßen und auch im stillsten nicht erhofft hatten.
"Um der Lebewesen willen, die im Leid verblendet
Predige ich das Nirwana.
Dieses geschickte Mittel wende ich an
Und veranlasse sie, in des Buddhas Geisteskraft
Früher predigte ich noch nicht zu ihnen:
Ihr müßt es erlangen, den Buddha-Weg zu vollenden.
Daß ich es noch nicht predigte, war,
Weil die Zeit der Predigt noch nicht gekommen war;
Nun ist gerade diese Zeit gekommen,
Und unverbrüchlich predige ich das
Zunächst verspricht Buddha, dem in der Parabel der Vater entspricht, den Menschen, die mit ihrem irdischen Sinnen und Streben den Kindern im brennenden Haus gleichen, "Wagen mit Ziegen, Hirschen und Ochsen". Das ist ein Bild für das in Aussicht gestellte Nirwana. Mit der Verheißung der völligen Auflösung des Ichs verlockt Buddha die, oder zumindest einige, Menschen, sich von ihren Illusionen und irdischen Wahrvorstellungen (s. 19.4) zu befreien, also gleichsam das brennende Haus zu verlassen und jenen Zustand der Weltentrücktheit zu erlangen, der ihnen an sich erlaubt, ins Nirwana einzugehen. Aber in diesem Augenblick erhalten die so herangereiften Menschen nicht, wie versprochen, "Wagen mit Ziehen, Hirschen und Ochsen", also das sofortige Nirwana, sondern jeder einen gleich großen, breiten, juwelen-geschmückten Wagen. Damit ist die sogenannte Bodhisattvaschaft gemeint. Ein Bodhisattva steht in der letzten Stufe zur Erleuchtung, verzichtet aber darauf, ins Nirwana einzugehen, um sich wieder der Welt widmen zu können und andere Wesen, die nicht die Fähigkeit haben, sich mit eigener Kraft aus dem irdischen "brennenden Haus" zu retten, von seinem hohen geistigen Stand aus zu helfen. Während Jahrtausenden oder Jahrmillionen verzichtet also ein Bodhisattva auf das ursprünglich angestrebte persönliche Zielt – den Eintritt ins Nirwana –, um von seinen fortwährend neu aufgeäuften Verdiensten, die er für sich selbst nicht mehr benötigt, schwachen Wesen auf dem Weg zum Nirwana hin beizustehen.
Das Gleichnis vom brennenden Haus zeigt einen Buddha, der anfänglich nur die halbe Wahrheit sagt. Er setzt dem Menschen zunächst nur das eine Ziel, ins Nirwana einzugehen. Dies ist ein echtes, kein vorgegaukeltes Ziel. Erst nachdem er die Menschen unmittelbar vor dieses Ziel hingeführt hat, eröffnet er ihnen sein bislang geheimgehaltenes Ziel, nämlich sie dazu zu bewegen, als Bodhisattvas den Wesen und Menschen zu dienen. Bis zu einem gewissen Grade verhällt lsich Buddha wie in der Bezugsgeschichte 24.1 der König von Jin gegenüber dem Fürsten von Yu. Nur in bezug auf eines seiner beiden Ziele läßt er die Katze aus dem Sack. Wie der Fürst von Yu erfahren auch die von Buddhas "geschicktem Mittel" (fangbian) Betroffenen erst später, daß das Gegenüber noch ein zweites Ziel verfolgt. Im Unterschied zum König von Jin, fügt aber Buddha niemandem irgendeinen Schaden zu. Buddhas Anwendung des Doppelziel-Strategems kann daher als reines Dienststrategem qualifiziert werden. Der Zeck heiligt hier die Mittel. Dies geht aus folgendem Zwiegespräch Buddhas mit seinem Jünger Sariputra hervor, in dem der im Gleichnis geschilderte Vorgang allerdings nicht unter dem Aspekt einer Listanwendung, sondern unter dem engen Gesichtspunkt der Lüge analysiert wird:
"Sariputra! Was ist nun deine Meinung? Ist dieser Vater deshalb, weil er seinen Söhnen in ganz gleicher Weise einen großen Wagen von kostbaren Juwelen gab, nun irgendwie falsch und lügnerisch oder nicht?" Sariputra sagte: "Nein, von aller Welt Verehrter! Dieser Vater bewirkte, daß seine Söhne der Feuergefahr entkamen, und bewahrte ihren Körper und ihr Leben ganz heil. Dies ist keine Falschheit und Lüge. Was ist der Grund dafür? Schon weil er ihnen Leib und Leben ganz bewahrte, erlangten sie ein schönes, kostbares Ding. Er rettete sie mit einem geschickten Mittel aus dem brennenden Haus. Von aller Welt Verehrter! Selbst wenn dieser Vater ihnen nicht einmal den kleinsten Wagen gegeben hätte, wäre er nicht falsch und lügnerisch. Warum ist es so? Dieser Vater hatte ja diesen Gedanken: 'Ich will mit dem geschickten Mittel erreichen, daß diese Kinder herauskommen.' Dieser Beweggrund ist nicht falsch und lügnerisch; um so weniger, da der Vater, im Bewußtsein, daß sein Reichtum unermeßlich ist, seine Söhne reichlich zu beschenken wünschte und also jedem gleichermaßen einen großen Wagen schenkte."
von Senger: 36 Strategeme.
Frankfurt am Main 2011, 15-17
Das Strategem der offenen Stadttore
Reichskanzler Kong Ming, auch Zhuge Liang genannt, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zhuge_Liang war mit 5000 Soldaten nach Xicheng gezogen, um den dort lagernden Proviant nach Hanzhong zu überführen. Da trafen auf fliegenden Pferden Boten ein, mehr als zehn an der Zahl, einer nach dem anderen. Sie berichteten, der feindliche General Sima Yi aus dem Reiche Wei rücke mit einem Heer von 150 000 Mann, einem Hornissenschwarm gleich, gegen Xicheng vor. Zu diesem Zeitpunkt stand dem Reichskanzler Kong Ming kein einziger General mehr zur Seite. Nur noch ein Stab ziviler Beamter befand sich bei ihm. Von den mitgeführten 5000 Soldaten hatte die eine Hälfte Xicheng bereits mit Proviant verlassen. In der Stadt waren nicht mehr als 2500 Soldaten zurückgeblieben. Als die Beamten diese Nachricht vernahmen, wurden ihre Gesichter fahl vor Schrecken. Reichskanzler Kong Ming begab sich auf die Stadtmauer und hielt Ausschau. Tatsächlich, da stiegen am Horizont Staubwolken zum Himmel auf. Das Heer des feindlichen Generals Sima Yi näherte sich mit einem großen Aufgebot an Soldaten. Reichskanzler Kong Ming befahl: "Flaggen und Banner von der Stadtmauer herunternehmen und verbergen! Jeder Soldat auf seinen Posten! Wer diesen eigenmächtig verläßt und seine Stimme laut erhebt, der wird enthauptet. Die vier Stadttore sind weit zu öffnen. Bei jedem Stadttor haben 20 Soldaten, als einfache Leute verkleidet, die Straße zu kehren. Wenn das Heer des Sima Yi herankommt, handle niemand selbstherrlich. Ich habe mein besonderes Strategem [ji]."
Darauf warf sich Kong Ming einen Umhang aus Kranichfedern über, setzte sich einen nach oben gewölbten seidenen Hut auf und begab sich in Begleitung von zwei Knappen und mit einer Wölbbrettzither auf die Stadtmauer, um sich auf einem Beobachtungsturm unmittelbar vorne bei der Brüstung hinzusetzen. Er entzündete Duftkräuter und begann auf der Wölbbrettzither zu spielen. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gayageum
Unterdessen gelangten Späer der Vorhut des Generals Sima Yi zur Stadtmauer und erblickten all dies. Keiner der Späher wagte sich weiter vor. Eilends kehrten sie zu Sima Yi zurück und erstatteten Bericht. Sima Yi lachte ungläubig. Dann hieß er seine Truppen halten. Er selbst ritt auf fliegendem Pferd weiter, um von fern auf die Stadt zu schauen. Wahrhaftig! Dort erblickte er den Reichskanzler Kong Ming, wie er auf dem Spähturm der Stadtmauer saß, mit heiter lächelnden Gesicht, die Wölbbrettzither spielend, dazu die Schwaden de brennenden Duftkräuter. Zu seiner Linken ein Knappe, der mit beiden Händen ein kostbares Schwert umfaßte, zu seiner Rechten ein Knappe mit einem Haarwedel.
Im Stadttoreingang und davor etwa 20 gewöhnliche Leute, die mit gesenkten Köpfen gleichmütig die Straße kehrten. Als Sima Yi dies alles erblickte, stiegen große Zweifel in ihm auf. Er kehrte zu seinem Heer zurück, befahl Vor- und Nachhut, die Stellungen auszuwechseln und zog in Richtung auf die nördlich gelegenen Berge von dannen. Sein zweiter Sohn Sima Zhao meinte unterwegs: "Bestimmt hat Zhuge Liang keine Soldaten und daher diese Szene vorbereitet. Vater, warum zieht Ihr da die Truppen zurück?"
Sima Yi entgegnete : "Zhuge Liang pflegt vorsichtig und bedachtsam zu sein. Noch nie hat er ein Wagnis auf sich genommen. Weit geöffnet waren heute die Tore de Stadt. Das ließ mit Sicherheit auf einen Hinterhalt schließen. Wären meine Truppen in die Stadt eingedrungen, so wären sie bestimmt dem Strategem [ji] zum Opfer gefallen. Was weißt du chon! Ein schneller Rückzug war angezeigt."
Und so zog das gesamte Heer des Sima Yi davon. Kong Ming sah die feindlichen Truppen in der Ferne verschwinden. Er lachte und klatschte dabei in die Hände. Keiner aus der Reihe der Beamten, der nicht verblüfft gewesen wäre. Sie fragten Kong Ming: "Sima Yi ist doch ein berühmter General des Staates Wei. Heute führte er 150 000 ausgesuchte Soldaten hierher, erblickte Euch, den Reichskanzler von Shu-Han, und zog sich dann eilends zurück. Weshalb?"
Kong Ming erwiderte: "Dieser Mann ging davon aus, daß ich vorsichtig und bedachtsam zu sein pflege und mich auf keine Wagnisse einlasse. Als er eine solche Szene sah, vermutete er, Soldaten lauerten in einem Hinterhalt. Daher trat er den Rückzug an. An sich scheue ich waghalsige Unternehmungen, heute aber suchte ich bei einem solchen Zuflucht, weil ich keine andere Wahl hatte."
All die Beamten beugten voller Staunen ihr Haupt und riefen aus: "Die Strategeme des Reichskanzlers vermögen selbst die Geister der Verstorbenen nicht zu ergründen. Wäre es nach uns gegangen, so hätten wir einfach die Stadt aufgegeben und wegeilen sollen."
Kong Ming sagte: "Ich hatte nicht mehr als 2500 Soldaten. Hätten wir die Stadt aufgegeben und die Flucht ergriffen, dann wären wir bestimmt nicht weit gekommen. Sima Yi hätte uns gefangengenommen.".
In späterer Zeit entstand ein Gedicht, das diese Tat preist:
"Eine mit Jadesteinen geschmückte
Fuß lang, bezwang die auserlesenen Truppen, damals, als Zhuge
Liang in Xicheng
den Feind zur Umkehr bewegte. Bis auf den heutigen Tag zeigen die
auf die Stelle. Hier haben 150 000 Mann ihre Pferde gewendet."
Wikipedia: Zhuge Liang
Some books popularly attributed to Zhuge Liang can be found today. For example, the Thirty-Six Stratagems, and Mastering the Art of War (not to be confused with Sun Tzu's The Art of War) are two commonly available works attributed to Zhuge Liang. Supposedly, his mastery of infantry and cavalry formation tactics, based on the Taoist classic I Ching, were unrivalled. His memorial, the Chu Shi Biao, written prior to the Northern Expeditions, provided a salutary reflection of his unwavering loyalty to the state of Shu. The memorial moved some readers to tears. In addition, he wrote Admonition to His Son (諸葛亮誡子書) in which he reflected on his humbleness and frugality in pursuit of a meaningful life.
Wikipedia: Thirty-Six Stratagems
The Thirty-Six Stratagems is a Chinese essay used to illustrate a series of stratagems used in politics, war, and civil interaction.
Its focus on the use of cunning and deception both on the battlefield and in court have drawn comparisons to Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Zhang Yingyu's The Book of Swindles, a late-Ming-dynasty work focused on the realms of commerce and civil society, shares some thematic similarities.
Trickster (engl. Gauner,
Betrüger und Schwindler)
Figuren in der Mythologie oder Literatur genannt,
die mit Hilfe von Tricks die Ordnung im
(göttlichen) Universum durcheinanderbringen.
WIKIPEDIA: GESCHICHTE DER POST
In China wurden Briefe bereits in sehr weit zurückliegender, vorchristlicher Zeit durch staatlich bestallte Kuriere befördert, die, je nach der zurückzulegenden Strecke, zu Fuß oder beritten die Zustellung vornahmen. Der Grundstein hierzu wurde während der Tschou-Dynastie (1122–256 v. Chr.) gelegt. Zu dieser Zeit unterstanden der Direktion 80 Boten sowie 8 Hauptkuriere, für die im Abstand von etwa 5 km Verpflegungsquartiere und in größeren Abständen Übernachtungsquartiere eingerichtet wurden. Dieses System wurde während der Zeit der Qin-Dynastie (221–207 v. Chr.) und vor allem während der Han-Dynastie entscheidend ausgebaut. Die Relaisstationen gewährten den Kurieren Unterkunft und Verpflegung auf Staatskosten und sorgten für Pflege oder Ersatz der Pferde. Die Leiter dieser Stationen erhielten vom Staat volle Steuerfreiheit als Gegenleistung für ihre Bemühungen.
Keynote address at
The International Conference on China’s Information Ethics, Renmin
University of China, Beijing, October 28-29, 2010 (PowerPoint). See
my Chinese homepage. Chinese translation by Junlan Liang (
Direct and indirect speech in the "Far West"
Direct and indirect speech in the "Far East"
BibliographyAbstract: This paper deals with the distinction between direct and indirect speech in the “Far East” and the “
(Transl. by Pak-Hang Wong, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics)
“Fishing-stakes are employed to catch fish; but when the fish are got, the men forget the stakes. Snares are employed to catch hares, but when the hares are got, men forget the snares. Words are employed to convey ideas; but when the ideas are apprehended, men forget the words. Fain would I talk with such a man who has forgot[en] the words!” (Chuang Tzu 26, 11)
Kami (Japanese: 神, [kaꜜmi]) are
the spirits or phenomena that are worshipped in the religion
be elements of the landscape, forces of nature, as well as beings and
qualities that these beings express; they can also be the spirits of
dead persons. Many kami are considered the ancient ancestors of
entire clans (some
ancestors became kami upon their death if they were able to embody the
and virtues of
kami in life). Traditionally, great or sensational leaders like
the Emperor could
be or became kami.
In Shinto, kami are not separate from nature, but are of nature, possessing positive and negative, and good and evil characteristics. They are manifestations of musubi (結び), the interconnecting energy of the universe, and are considered exemplary of what humanity should strive towards. Kami are believed to be "hidden" from this world, and inhabit a complementary existence that mirrors our own: shinkai (神界, "the world of the kami"). To be in harmony with the awe-inspiring aspects of nature is to be conscious of kannagara no michi (随神の道 or 惟神の道, "the way of the kami").
Though the word kami is translated multiple ways into English, no one English word expresses its full meaning. The ambiguity of the meaning of kami is necessary, as it conveys the ambiguous nature of kami themselves.
das ich in dem schönen Spruch fand, den Sie in Ihrem Vortrag
"...dichterisch wohnet der Mensch..." aus Sophokles anführten, und
das Sie mit "Huld" übersetzten. Darin spricht eher das wehende
Ankommen der Stille des Entzückens.
das ich in dem schönen Spruch fand, den Sie in Ihrem Vortrag
"...dichterisch wohnet der Mensch..." aus Sophokles anführten, und
das Sie mit "Huld" übersetzten. Darin spricht eher das wehende
Ankommen der Stille des Entzückens.
THE INFORMATION SOCIETY AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF "ANGELETICS"
would like to briefly discuss the relationship between Capurro’s
approach and the Japanese perspective. Capurro is interested in
distinctions between mono and koto, or between “reality
“actuality (Wirklichkeit)” as proposed by Bin Kimura (1931- ), a noted
psychoanalyst and a thinker. Mono and koto are concepts of Japanese
which mean “things” and “events”, respectively. Kimura relates the word
“reality” to the “essence” of something and “actuality” to what is
He mentions that in Japanese they use mono and koto, where mono refers
things in there being while koto refers to what is happening. The world
whole of what is happening, not of the things. Also the existences or
activities of “I” and “you” are not mono but koto, that is, they are
“substances” in Japanese. Capurro thinks this is important for our
about the question of what he calls “information metaphysics” vs.
ontology,” the conflict between information-as-thing (Michael
and information-as-event (Capurro’s concept to denote the “eventuality”
Heideggerian terms of the phenomenon), or between information as mono
koto. Capurro says that Heidegger's criticism of the “Ges ell” and what
calls the “Information Gestell” would look only to information as mono
(things), but this is exactly what the book culture was. Libraries are
mono. What the Internet brings is information as koto (events) and this
main thought concerning “message”, because a message is basically koto.
makes no sense to think of messages as “things” with some
agree with Capurro when he says that messages are basically koto. The
of information is particularly problematic, and this is why he thinks
must switch to the concept of “message” which is more dynamic. t It is
that Kimura has a similar viewpoint of the hermeneutic approach because
work is based on Heidegger. On the other hand, Kimura also depends on
philosophy of Kitaro Nishida (1870-1945), who is called the first
The future relationship between Capurro’s hermeneutic approach and Japanese thought will be interesting. The interaction between them is expected to bear fruitful outcomes in the development of information ethics.
Munich 2011, pp. 67-84.
In: Rafael Capurro & John Holgate (eds.): Messages and Messengers Angeletics as an Approach to the Phenomenology of Communication.
the Phatic Function
ON THE PHATIC FUNCTION
MN This is a very important and serious problem for us. I don’t know about prostitution, but it is true that young Japanese girls as well as young boys in high school, in junior-high school or even in elementary school, are under great influence from mobile phones and the internet in various ways. It is easy to talk about the ‘bad influence’ of this new sort of CMC or communication, but what is important in these cases is to see why younger generations (and also older generations) are so much interested in communication using these new tools. I think that one of the attractive characteristics of mobile phones for boys and girls is that they provide them with means with which they can communicate among themselves without being disturbed by their parents or family members. Another aspect of the attractiveness of mobile phones seems to be the “phatic function” (Jakobson 1960).
According to Kiyokazu Nishimura, a Japanese scholar dealing with media, aesthetics and dramatic expression such as Kabuki (classical Japanese dance-drama), mobile phones give to young and old generations a sense of connection with friends, peer groups, etc. The participants want to get connected all the time or they want to feel the potential connection with others by sending e-mails or by just keeping their mobile phones on (Nishimura 1999). In my view, we need to create some sort of shared field among the participants in which various aspects of communication such as persuasion, transmission of information, greeting and so on can take place. In direct or face-to-face communication, we use various sorts of facial expressions such as eye contact or gestures while on the phone we use verbal expressions such as ‘can you hear me?,’ ‘isn’t it?,’ ‘right?,’ and so on. These utterances and facial expressions have nothing to do with the content or essence of the communication, but at the same time they are indispensable when communication itself occurs.
In my view, in order for communication to take place, we need a shared field or Ba (= place). In order to keep or create this Ba, we need such utterances and facial expressions that can be seen as meta-communication. They determine or characterize the nature of communication taking place in accordance with or under the influence of this ‘meta-communication.’ In my view, using mobile phones or being engaged in communication via SMS provides the participants with a certain sort of phatic function or meta-communication. We need a certain sort of meta-communication when we talk with each other or are engaged in interactive actions. We always say such things, ‘this is just a joke,’ ‘honestly speaking,’ ‘are you teasing me?’ These utterances are something that determines the situations within which a variety of deeds, interactive actions, or talks can occur.
The concept of Ba as used by Kitaro Nishida or Bin Kimura means a place where the subject and the object or mono (things, objects) and koto (events, human interpretation of objects and experiences) encounter. Take for instance the following poem (haiku) by Matsuo Basho (1644-1694):
Furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto
An ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the splash of water
With this poetic expression, we experience some sort of oneness (Ichinyo) of the poet, frog, old pond, sound of jumping frog, Basho’s ears, our own ears. In this case, Ba is the place where these mono, koto, kotoba (words, expressions) come together. In the case of communication by mobile phone or the internet, Bamight be considered as the place where meta-communication and communication come together (Nakamura 1998; Kimura 1994).
According to Ervin Goffman, otters’ play is dependent
upon some kind of phatic function or meta-communication: ‘this is just
playing, so never bite me seriously’ (Goffman 1974). Of course, the
phatic function is not dependent on speech in this case. According to
Nishimura, and I think so too, we are now facing serious confusions at
the level of meta-communication. For example, we can't live alone, but
we have to live by sacrificing others to live a better life, or as
Fromm pointed out, we need freedom and on the other hand we fear
freedom and escape from freedom (Fromm 1941). In the case of younger
It is true that we need a sense of connection or of sharing the situations in a various ways, so that people don’t have much difficulty in understanding a kind of phatic function, and in some cases they seem to seek new sorts of phatic function or meta-communication to keep their communication active all the time. In my own view, Japanese web-sites are full of information or utterances that remind us of the younger generations’ need for a simple form of meta-communication. Japanese web-sites are full of blogs whose titles are: ‘You see, I’m here’ (Boku ha koko ni iruyo). Mobile phones are a token of a need for easy meta-communication. In this sense, we Japanese face the situation which might be called phatic overload. In the cases of the prostitution of young girls, some people prefer to use terms such as enjyo-kousai, which means ‘aid-receiving friendship.’ But who gives aid for what and who receives what? This might be referred to as distorted phatic overload which is motivated by simple greed, in one way, and by a sense of poverty of communication or human relations, in another.
Lovely puppets attached to mobile phones of school girls
symbolize this complicated situation in
OVERLOAD, BEING-IN-THE-WORLD and BA
The intention of sending a message to a receiver is
mostly represented as being the sender and the receiver originally
separated from each other and connected by a medium. This is clearly
portrayed in Claude Shannon’s communication scheme (
The word information, in this theory, is used in a
special sense that must not be confused with its ordinary usage. In
particular, information must not be confused with meaning. In fact, two
messages, one of which is heavily loaded with meaning and the other of
which is pure nonsense, can be exactly equivalent, from the present
viewpoint, as regards information. It is this, undoubtedly, that
MN Phatic overload is just what I wanted to stress. Nothing is being said, no clear content or reference, at least on the surface level, exchanging utterances such as ‘can you hear me,’ but just the fact of being in communication with another person. They always want to know whether they are in communication or not and they always feel constant anxiety about not keeping in contact with the outer world. The phatic function is closely related with the use of mobile phones, blogs or SMS that provide them (us) with moods (or illusions) enabling them (us) to have a feeling as if we were always in contact with the outer world. In the case of Boku ha koko ni iruyo, ha and yo mean ‘isn’t it?`’ Therefore, Boku ha koko ni iru-yo means ‘I'm here, you see’ or ‘isn't it?’ ‘Here’ seems to be their position(s) immersed in some sort of ‘moods’ in the dimension of their being-in-the-world with others.
In my view, this ‘here’ = Ba = place reflects several aspects of Japanese cultural and existential situations:
(1) strong orientation toward a life in which meanings can be shared with others;
(2) emptiness of human existence sometimes leading to suicide or metal illness;
(3) explicitly and implicitly shared contexts in which various types of phatic function as well as communication can be realized;
(4) Ba interpreted as ‘in-between’ (Aida) combined with Mu (nothingness).
I want to add an explanation to Ba as the fourth aspect. As I explained above, Baas discussed by Kitaro Nishida or Bin Kimura means the place where the ‘subject’ and the ‘object’ or mono (things, objects) and koto (events, human interpretation of experiences) encounter each other. In my view, these remarks show typical cases of Japanese ways of understanding the world pre-ontologically and existentially.
The following views reflect these ways of understanding the world, i.e., Ba. According to Toshihiko Izutsu, Dougen, a famous Zen-Buddhist priest (1200-1253) of the Kamakura period, tried to bring Being – which is dried up by the process of articulation of beings or by grasping the essence based on the process of articulation of beings – into a state of ‘articulating beings without grasping the essence.’ He, Dougen, also tried to bring Being into its original fluency (Izutsu 1991). Izutsu interprets Basho’s haiku from the same perspective. Words, frog, pond, the sounds, the poet, and the readers of Basho’s haiku, are gathered in the situation of a changing process of articulation and inarticulation. Words, people, events, things and experiences are related to one another as a fluid or active process of interchange of articulation and non-articulation of things. Yujiro Nakamura, a Japanese philosopher who attempts to combine traditional Japanese thoughts with modern Western thought, suggests that Kitaro Nishida tried to regain the meanings of beings based on Mu (nothingness) or ‘predicative substrata’ (‘substratum’) which contrasts with subjective substrata. In this sense, Mu is understood not as mere emptiness but as the source of beings (Yu) on which articulations of beings are founded. According to Nakamura, the oneness of Mu and Yu, or the oneness of subjects and objects, the oneness of events (Koto) and words (Gen) needs Ba (or Bamen = place, field) where a ‘coming together’ of subjects and objects, events (Koto) and words (Gen) is possible. This Ba or Bamen includes, as Nakamura stresses, citing the work of Motoki Tokieda, a Japanese linguist (Tokieda 2008), things, scenes, subject’s attitudes, subject’s feelings, and subject’s emotions (Nakamura 2001).
The traditional Japanese self-understanding is based on a
place of secret inner minds which seem to be sustained by traditional
emotional sensitivity (mono-no-ahare). People can share the
meanings of this traditional emotional sensitivity, but the sadness
coming from it is confined to each person. This is a kind of fragile
relationship between persons with fragile minds that underlies the
desire to share the same meanings of existence in this world whilst at
the same time keeping apart from each other. Most of my graduate
Japanese Ba seems to reflect the plurality of the Japanese life-world, culture and society. To put this another way, we might say that Japanese people live in mental situations leading them to constant pursuit of the meaning of life and human relations as well as to meta-communication or shared cultural, existential contexts determining their life, human relations and ways of communication. Tsuji’s research provides us with interesting data on these problems (Tsuji 1999). This research, done in 1999, is based on samples of Japanese university students. His interpretation of these data can lead to misunderstandings in some ways. I try to interpret the data as follows:
1. Students with an orientation toward strong and constant friendship and with an orientation toward moderate, not strong but also not weak, i.e. constant, friendship in good balance are characterized by less use of certain sorts of phatic expressions such as te-yuka. (= what I would say). For example: ‘Are you ill? Do you have a cold? ‘Well, what I would rather say (te-yuka), is that I’m a bit tired’ (toka-iu-kanji). Or: ‘Did you enjoy that movie?’ ‘Well, I’d say, that movie is kind of (toka-iu-kanji) not so good or not so bad.’
2. Students who seem to want to know ‘what is a good friendship’ or who want to keep a sense of a related situation via mobile phones or face-to face contact tend to use more frequently such phatic expressions, te-yuka and toka-iu-kanji.
3. Students who have contradictory attitudes toward communication by mobile phone, that is to say, students with views such as ‘phones can make the distance of human relations or friendship shorter compared to face-to-face communication’ have at the same time these views: ‘When I use phones, I feel it easier to talk with friends about a lot of things with which I have difficulty in face-to-face situations.’ and ‘I feel talking with friends over the phone a comfort because I can cut the communication whenever I don’t want to continue it.’
In my view, these findings about phatic communication in Japan suggest the fact that we should take into account the Japanese Ba or Japan’s cultural and existential situation when we move on to the interpretation of concrete problems related with intercultural angeletics.
In order to understand some problems related with Japanese phatic communication and with intercultural angeletics, we should take into consideration, using this as an example, the Japanese orientation toward or the pursuit of the meaning of good communication, good human relations and good human living. The expression Boku ha koko ni iru yo which we see in Japanese society today as a theme of private blogs, words of popular songs and so on, seems to reflect this orientation toward or pursuit of meaning. It seems that mobile phone use symbolizes people’s wondering, ‘what are good human relations and good communication for?’ Under such circumstances, Japanese people are likely to be motivated to use mobile phones or communication via blogs which are characterized by ambiguous meanings, that is to say, indirect and mediated communication on the one hand, and communication rendering human relations direct and lacking in distance on the other. The devices which make human communication meaningless and at the same time meaningful through a variety of occasions for phatic communication without concrete message-exchange – for example, te-yuka and toka-iu-kanji – mean a lot of things and also nothing at all. I discussed the meanings of Japanese blogs, Japanese popular songs, the Japanese sense of privacy (as subject matter for communication via SMS or blogs) in my papers (Nakada 2009, 2008; Nakada and Capurro 2009).
I think that our thinking in the ‘
1) metaphysical (theocentric) angeletics: God as sender - angels/poets as messengers - humans as receivers;
2) anthropocentric and technocentric angeletics: humans as senders - technical media as messengers - humans as receivers technical (artificial) and/or human senders - technical (digital) media as messengers - technical (artificial) and/or human receivers;
3) ontological angeletics: Being as sender - ‘here’ of Being as ontic-ontological messenger, sender and/or receiver - Being as receiver.
The ontological conception is the only one that thinks the original relation or encounter (“Ereignis”) between Being and “being here” or Ba. To speak about Being as ‘sender’ and ‘receiver’ could be misunderstood as a kind of ontic phenomenon separated from the “here” or Ba. I shall try to explain this issue later.
As you know, in Being and Time (Heidegger 1976), Heidegger called the original relation between understanding and pre-understanding of the “here” of Being the “hermeneutic circle” (Heidegger 1976). But given the fact that existential understanding is not primarily a theoretical, but a practical activity concerning all kinds of relations happening in the shared world-openness, it would be better to speak of an ‘angeletic circle’ or a relation between message and messenger, as Heidegger proposed in one of his late writings (Heidegger 1975). Each interpretation is based on a process of message transmission. Which means that hermeneutics presupposes angeletics. Hermes is first and foremost a messenger, no less than an interpreter and translator. Of course, a philosophical angeletics is no less ambitious than twentieth century hermeneutic philosophy. We should also make a distinction between an ontic or empirical science of messages and messengers, and a philosophical angeletics. As an empirical science, angeletics is not necessarily reduced to the phenomenon of human communication but can include also all kinds of messages and messengers in the natural sciences.
Let me further explain what I understand by angeletic philosophy and, correspondingly, by a philosophical angeletics, using other Heideggerian themes, without going into a detailed textual analysis or exegesis of Heidegger. But perhaps I should use the term ‘angeletic thinking’ instead of ‘angeletic philosophy’ insofar as thinking is a possible historical response to the call of Being (Heidegger 1971), whereas philosophy in the Greek tradition is a doctrine or teaching about the forms (idea, eidos) of beings qua beings. From this perspective, thinking is originally angeletic, whereas philosophy is ‘in-formational’ (Capurro 1978). Heidegger explains this inversion and transformation of the relationship between subject and object into Being and Dasein by saying that, while modern subjectivity has a “representation” (“Vorstellung”, ‘idea’, ‘image’) of a tree, thinking exposes itself to the “call” (“Ruf”) of a tree itself that, so to speak, “introduces itself” (“der Baum stellt sich uns vor”) (Heidegger 1971, 16-17). This second experience is possible because we and the tree have a common ground, namely the earth (“die Erde”) which is not in our heads but in the world (ibid.). As Jean-Luc Nancy, following Heidegger, remarks, philosophy and particularly hermeneutics can be understood as the presentation of a message. The task of thinking is of the kind of being a messenger (Nancy 2001, 94-95; Capurro 2002).
As you know, Heidegger’s so-called ‘turn’ (“Kehre”) has to do with the view that (human) existence (Dasein) is addressed by Being instead of conceiving Dasein as ‘projecting’ or casting his/her being. Of course, both perspectives are closely related and already addressed in Being and Time (Heidegger 1976). But for Heidegger, human existence or, to put it in more neutral terms, the structure he calls Dasein or the Here of “Being” that seems to be characteristic only of a particular kind of beings, namely ourselves, is derivative not only with regard to knowledge but also in its very possibility of being. This can be expressed in simple terms by saying that we human beings are finite beings and are aware of our givenness as well. We know that we were born and that we will die, as well as of the “in-between” (“Zwischen”) of our lives (Heidegger 1976, 374).
Heidegger uses the term “Es gibt” (‘there is,’ ‘it gives’) in order to express what we can call the ontological angeletic phenomenon (Heidegger 1976a). Being is the original sender and receiver whose encounter (Ereignis) with Da-sein or ‘Ba’as messenger enables a world, that is to say, an ethos or cast of living to emerge. But the expression ‘there is’ or ‘it gives’ makes it clear that Being is not any kind of subject, especially not a divine one, sending and receiving messages. (Sheehan 2001) It is in original unity and difference with its Here. And vice versa: the messenger that receives the message of/from Being is in itself – or as him/herself in the case of human Dasein, the only one we know about – a ‘disclosure’ (aletheia = truth) or messenger of Being. The message is the world.
Dasein announces its facticity with the phatic dialogical (!) function: ‘You see, I’m here’ (Boku ha koko ni iruyo). In his late writings, on several occasions Heidegger uses a tautological style such as “language speaks” (“die Sprache spricht”) to underscore the self-referential phenomenon of Being that cuts off, so to speak, the monologue of the (human) subject, especially when such monologue is conceived entirely as an inter-subjective dialogue, leaving aside its ontological dimension. In the ‘Dialogue with a Japanese’ he makes a distinction between “speaking about” (“Sprechen über”) and “speaking from” (“Sprechen von”), that is to say, between language as a tool for conversation vs. language as the messenger of Being. In the last sentence of the Tractatus Wittgenstein uses this distinction but he seems not to be aware of it: “What we cannot speak about, we must pass over in silence” (“7 Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.”) (Wittgenstein 1975, 85). Wittgenstein is phatically speaking “from” Being – the standard English translation says “about” instead of ‘from’ – by saying that it is not possible to speak “about” – literally “over” it – because Being is not an object (and of course it is not a subject), or it is an ‘object’ or “la Chose” (or “l’a-chose”) in the Lacanian sense (Lacan 1986). It ‘is’ or ‘it sends itself’ as the in-between of Da-sein letting messages pass through. In contrast to language as a tool, poetic language allows us to speak “from” Being in a kind of relation where the messenger hears what language ‘dictates’ (Latin dictare, German dichten) or sends to him/her. Humans as the Here of Being are messengers of Being, letting beings be what they are. Heidegger calls humans “messengers” (“Botengänger”) (Heidegger 1975, 155). He writes:
The messenger must already come from the message. But he must also already have gone toward it. (“Der Botengänger muß schon von der Botschaft herkommen. Er muß aber auch schon auf sie zugegangen sein.”). (Heidegger 1975, 150, my translation RC)
The usual German term for messenger being Bote, “Botengänger” seems to underline the pure dynamic fact of bringing the message. It is the opposite of the kind of messengers we call ambassadors (Botschafter). There is an original unity and difference between Being and Dasein beyond or prior to any ontic separation of sender, message, messenger and receiver. Unity and difference between Being and Dasein mean nothing more and nothing less than that we cannot not interpret or ‘cast’ the meaning of Being by casting or projecting – Heidegger calls it “Entwurf” – not only what beings are, but primordially and practically our own existence. I think that today this double-bind casting of Being is done from a perspective of the digital. I call it therefore digital ontology (Capurro 2010) following basic insights of the Australian philosopher, Michael Eldred (Eldred 2009/2011).
Humans as messengers are then not primarily, as we believe especially since modernity, senders and/or (digital) receivers of messages, but are originally messengers of Being, the message itself being the world as a casting of Being arising from the encounter between Being and Dasein. This inverted relationship with regard to anthropocentric modernity allows us a heteronomous relation to Being, becoming who we are, that is to say, in Lacanian terms, a divided or “crossed-out” (“barré”) subject (Lacan 1971, II, 168) or a subject characterized by the finitude of its being addressed by the Other (Lacan 1971, 108) that can annihilate him/her. Loneliness and anxiety are moods through which, as Heidegger taught us, we discover the truth, that is to say, the finitude of being-in-the-world-with-others. We receive and pass on – and sometimes try to bypass – the message of Being because we are originally the Here of its disclosure.
Although we mostly live immersed in the given openness of everyday existence, exchanging messages and maintaining communication through the phatic function, we have the potentiality to grasp a given (historical) disclosure of Being as a possible one, that is to say, to change its truth. For this it is necessary that the message of Being is perceived as such — as a gift of the ‘it gives’. An example of this at the level of an ontic region is the so-called paradigm change in science where the pre-ontological messages (facts) that are supposed to prove or falsify a theory are re-interpreted when the theory, with all its biases, pre-conceptions and pre-suppositions, its instruments, institutions, traditions, etc., is put into question (Kuhn 1970). The radical questioning of a given world-openness by a messenger of Being that makes explicit this ontological or structural relation between Being and messenger, can lead to strong opposition from the defenders of the status quo and – to condemnation of the messenger, as in the case of Socrates. This opens the debate as to which are the ethical criteria for making a distinction between a messenger of Being and its opposite (a charlatan), with all degrees in between. One important criterion for this difficult ethical task that is always endangered by manipulation and self-deception is whether the messenger maintains critically the openness of Being or proclaims an absolute truth. Another criterion is whether other messengers also remain critical with regard to the alternative casting of Being as passed on to them, or whether they develop from there, say, a political ideology, a mere worldview or a theoretical dogma (I thank Michael Eldred for an enlightening e-mail exchange on this issue).
MESSENGERS AND MESSAGES
Your remark about the inverted relationship between message and messenger is very interesting in this sense, but some Japanese poets such as Basho seem not to invert the relations message and messenger, facts and expressions, mono (the objects or beings) and koto (language, expressions, objects expressed by words). They rather try to see the not-divided situations that consist of ambiguous beings of objects and words, mono and koto, person (artist or audience) and objects. In this sense, they don’t ask where the separated things and phenomena come from, but how is the unity of objects and persons, mono to koto and so on? This is my personal understanding.
Now, I feel that we are close to the core questions of mediated and aesthetic expressions as well as of communication itself. Don’t you think so? There are no scholars around me who are interested in this kind of ontological/hermeneutical discussion/thinking but luckily some of my students seem to be fond of my talks related to phatic function or ontological explanation of CMC or computer mediated communication. The theme of the thesis of one of my undergraduate students is “ontological views on the use of the mobile phone.”
I wonder how we as messengers can send this kind of discussion to a broader range of possible receivers. I wonder also how we can relate this kind of discussion to the problems of information ethics and robo-ethics in an academic or theoretical as well as in a practical way in order to address difficult matters such as youth's wrong-doings as an expression of the loss of identity, or the loss of sense of fundamental relations between human beings, the poverty of meaning in our minds and so on.
I am also thinking about comparing the phatic function in
different cultures. Some of my graduate students come from various
countries. For example, I think it will be very interesting to ask the
Hideo Kobayashi says that if we try to make good use of active wisdom, we have to get rid of selfishness. This means that the interpretation of some poems or novels can't be separated from the (imaginative) relations between authors and readers. In this sense, we can learn how to use active wisdom through active and/or imaginative human relations such as the relations between Confucius and his disciples. As some scholars suggest, even ‘fake’ interaction with robots might have some real influence upon human beings as their partners. According to an interesting experimental survey done by Mariko Narumi and Michita Imai, the artificial voices of robots with a friendly and sympathetic tone are found to influence subjects’ behaviour. The subjects influenced by the utterance of robots such as ‘Why don’t you have a piece of this cake?” tend to eat a piece of cake offered by robots. Narumi and Imai explain the results of this research thus: “We human beings tend to attribute the friendly voice of a machine to the imagined inner minds or emotions of the robot.” (Narumi and Imai 2003)
I remember having heard a story about nodding robots.
Even nodding robots enable people to communicate more easily, for
example, when speaking on the telephone, even if the nodding robots are
just showing fake agreement. It is strange that some autistic patients
can communicate with robots more easily than with human beings in some
cases, according to studies on human-robot-interaction (Feil-Seifer and
Mataric 2008). In my view, we can explain these phenomena in such a
way. Human communication consists of different levels and in many cases
patients with, for example, agnosia, autism or schizophrenia,have
difficulty dealing with or understanding information or meanings at the
meta-level of communication. I gained this insight from Bin Kimura
(Kimura 1994) and Masakazu Yamazaki (Yamazaki 1988); fake communication
with robots might enable patients to deal with the meanings at the
meta-level more easily because this sort of communication has a simple
structure. So in this sense, the distinction between fake and real is
not so important. Hideo Kobayashi did not study Heidegger or Gadamer
but he knew that these questions regarding the relations between texts
and readers are important. If we don't forget this ‘truth,’ classical
literatures or classic works will remain alive in our minds, said
Kobayashi. I think that he learned this through his own dialogue with
the classics of
ON LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER
Let us take an example from your tradition such as The Tale of Genji or Genji monogatari (Murasaki Shikibu 2010). In the middle of the tale we read about Princess Asagao, daughter of Prince Momozono, brother of the Emperor, who has been courted in vain by Prince Genji, her cousin, from his seventeenth year onward. Genji is now thirty-three years old. Lady Fujitsubo, the Emperor’s consort, loved by Genji, and Asagao’s father have both died. In Chapter 20 Murasaki Shikibu tells the story of the problematic relationship between Genji and Asagao. At the beginning of Chapter 21 she writes:
From Genji came a note in which he said: “Does it not give you a strange feeling to witness a Day of Cleansing in which you take no part?” And remembering that she was still in mourning for her father, he added the poem: “Little thought I that, like a wave in the swirl of the flood, you would come back so soon, a dark-robed mourner swept along time’s hurrying stream.” It was written on purple paper in a bold script, and a spray of wisteria was attached to it. Moved by all that was going on around her she replied: “It seems but yesterday that I first wore my somber dress; but now the pool of days has grown into a flood wherein I soon shall wash my grief away.” The poem was sent without explanation or comment and constituted, indeed, a meager reply; but, as usual, he found himself constantly holding it in front of him [self] and gazing at it as though it had been much more than a few poor lines of verse. When the end of the mourning actually came, the lady who acted as messenger and intermediary in general was overwhelmed by the number of packages from the Nijo-in [Genji’s palace] which now began to arrive. Lady Asagao expressed great displeasure at this lavishness and, if the presents had been accompanied by letters or poems of at all a familiar or impertinent kind, she would at once have put a stop to these attentions. But for a year past there had been nothing in his conduct to complain of. From time to time he came to the house and enquired after her, but always quite openly. His letters were frequent and affectionate, but he took no liberties, and what nowadays troubled her chiefly was the difficulty of inventing anything to say in reply. (Murasaki Shikibu 2010, 398-399)
Genji’s letter is written in prose and a direct style
while the poem that usually accompanies a letter is full of indirect
messages including the purple paper on which it is written, the bold
script, a spray of wisteria and, of course, the poem itself. Cultures
in the “Far East” as well as in the “
Princess Asagao is in trouble. Should she answer or not? Should she continue a formal and, at least for her, meaningless phatic communication? She writes a “meager reply” that is brought to Genji by a messenger, a lady, without “any explanation or comment”. Genji “as usual” does not know what to think about it and holds the message “constantly ... in front of him [self] and gazing at it as though it had been more than a few poor lines of verse.” Later on, Genji sends a lot of gifts including letters and poems but he must be careful of “taking no liberties”, otherwise she would stop the communication. Both Asagao and Genji express through messages and messengers different kinds of loneliness and other forms of emotional perception of the Ba of their time. But, of course, it is Murasaki Shikibu herself who gives such an answer by writing this story.
Of course, an in-depth interpretation of this and many other examples in this wonderful tale presuppose an analysis of the structure or Ba of Japanese society during the Heian period (794-1192), particularly of the mores and values governing communication with regard to gender roles, possibilities of transgressing such mores and roles, the role of messengers, the different kinds of messages, including their materiality and calligraphy. Some of the moral dilemmas arising from such mores and values are made explicit by Murasaki Shikibu, such as Asagao’s doubts about continuing the communication and Genji’s concern about not transgressing certain limits when sending her gifts and messages. The historian of the Heian period, George Sansom, calls such mores “rules of taste” (Sansom 1958).
This connection between ethics and aesthetics seems to be characteristic of Japanese culture to the present day. With regard to the The Tale of Genji Sansom writes:
The irresistible amorist is a pessimist at heart, weighed down by a sense of misfortune, by the weight of an unhappy karma. At the age of thirty we find him haunted by the impermanence of worldly things, and on the point of embracing a monastic life. […]. Throughout the story, even in its saddest episodes, there runs a thread of delight in beauty. All the love talk is interspersed with enjoyment of colour, shape, and perfume, and a continual exchange of poetic messages. Calligraphy plays almost as great a part as the tones of a lover’s voice in arousing tender emotion. […] In this world of the senses, the words for good and beautiful are almost interchangeable. (Sansom 1958, 186-191)
In other words, The Tale of Genji is
an example of how messages coming from both humans and nature were
passed on through messengers. And, more radically, how Japanese Ba during
the Heian period was experienced as such a place where messages pass
through. In this sense, we can say that the Here of Being or the
structure of a culture is at best understood if it is conceived and
lived as a place where messages pass through instead of being blocked.
This is one of the lessons of Chinese Taoism. (Jullien 2005) As you
know, Japanese society during the Heian period was profoundly
MN According to the anthropologist, Masao Yamaguchi, Genji lives on two
levels in this world. One is the level of fixed moral rules and the
other one is chaos, where such rules are invisible and can be violated
(Yamaguchi 1983). In my view, as son of the emperor, Genji belongs to Ikai (i.e.,
a different world, a different form Seken) or
the level of chaos, where he, perhaps unconsciously, goes beyond fixed
mores or Seken, that is to
say, the traditional Japanese life-world (Nakada 2008, 2009). In his
pursuit of love affairs, he violates, on the one hand, fixed mores and,
on the other, through the connection between ethics and aesthetics, his
life reproduces the cultural norms. I believe
that this dualism between chaos (Ikai) and mores (Seken)
reflects another dualism in Japanese cultural identity, namely, between
an aspect influenced by ancient
One of the difficult questions is, indeed, how to analyse this story from an angeletic perspective and how to relate this Ba or phatic communication to an angeletic perspective. We are very close to the core of problems from which our mutual understanding and some misunderstanding arose. I think that our dialogue itself is a realization of an angeletic relationship and shows the importance of intercultural angeletics.
We thank Michael Eldred (
Masakazu: Engi suru seishin [Drama-playing
and human mind].
Dieser Beitrag wurde in: R. Haub, J. Oswald (Hrsg.): Franz Xaver - Patron der Missionen. Festschrift zum 450 Todestag, Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner (2002) S. 103-121 veröffentlicht (alle Bilder im folgenden Beitrag erschienen in diesem Band). Eine kürzere Fassung erschien in: Geist und Leben, Juli/August 2002 (4), S. 252-264. Der Online-Version sind Bilder und im Anhang Auszüge aus verschiedenen Quellen hinzugefügt.
Über die Reise von Yamaguchi zu Ôtomo Yoshishige nach Bungo, die etwa fünf bis sieben Tage in Anspruch nahm, berichtet Schurhammer:
"Xaver reist fast Mitte September mit 2 christlichen Fidalgos, sowie Bernardo und Matheus von Yamaguchi ab, seinem Brauch gemäß zu Fuß, ein Bündel mit dem Altarstein, Meßkelch und den Ornamenten auf dem Rücken, die er als heilige Dinge nie einen anderen tragen ließ, um sich in einem Hafen der Provinz Suwô nach Bungo einzuschiffen. Er war bereits 2 Tage unterwegs und seine Füße waren angeschwollen, da er ein Jahr lang nicht mehr gewandert war, als er einige Portugiesen traf, die ihm entgegengeritten waren. Duarte da Gama hatte sie mit einem Fahrzeug übers Meer zur Gegenküste von Suwô geschickt, den Pater abzuholen, und sie waren von dem Hafen eine halbe Meile landeinwärts geritten, bis sie ihn trafen. Da er das angeborene Reittier ablehnte, begleiteten sie ihn zu Fuß bis zum Hafen, wo er ihr Fahrzeug bestieg und mit ihnen nach Bungo zum Hafen von Figi fuhr, wo er das Portugiesenschiff Duarte da Gamas traf und sich von den beiden japanischen Fidalgos verabschiedete, die ihn im Namen aller Christen Yamaguchis bis dahin begleitet hatten." /28/Hervorheben möchte ich dabei Xavers "angeschwollene Füße", die zu jenen körperlichen Strapazen gehören, die er bei der Verbreitung seiner Botschaft teilweise freiwillig auf sich nahm: Sein Leib war Teil seiner Botschaft. Der Lohn dafür war die Genugtuung ("placer"), die er empfand, als er die "Heiden" in Disputationen überzeugen und bekehren konnte (Doc. 96, S. 4419).
Er bewundert das asketische Leben der Japaner, ihr sparsames Essen, "wenngleich nicht so ganz beim Trinken, und sie trinken Reiswein, denn es gibt kein Weinbau in diesen Gegenden" (Doc. 90, S. 370). "Sie töten und essen nicht das, was sie züchten, manchmal essen sie Fisch und Reis und Getreide, wenngleich wenig" (Doc 90, s. 381). Die Leute sind gesund und werden alt: "Wir leben in diesem Land körperlich sehr gesund. Möge Gott, dass es unseren Seelen auch so geht!" (Doc. 90, S. 381-382) Japan ist ein kaltes Land und es gibt keine Betten (Doc. 110, S. 467). "Diejenigen, die in diesen Ländern leben, sind diskret und scharfsinnig. Aber es gibt nur Reis zu essen. Auch etwas Getreide und Gemüse und andere Dinge von wenig Substanz. Sie machen Reiswein und es gibt keinen anderen, und dieser ist teuer und wenig. Und die größte Herausforderung sind die ständigen und offensichtlichen Todesgefahren." (Doc. 97. S. 423). Xaver hält vor allem Flamen und Deutsche als besonders geeignet für die Japan-Mission, sofern sie nämlich wegen mangelnder Sprachkenntnisse in Spanien oder Italien nicht predigen können und – mit einem kalten Klima besser auskommen (Doc. 97, S. 423). Nach zweieinhalb Jahren hatte Japan sein Haar gebleicht /29/. Über die Begegnung mit Ôtomo Yoshishige schreibt Schurhammer:
"Yoshishige wünschte ein Freundschaftsbündnis mit dem König Portugals zu schließen. Er hörte den Pater mit Interesse an, als er ihm vom christlichen Glauben sprach. Er gab ihm gern die Erlaubnis, in seinem Lande zu predigen, und ließ ihm eine Wohnung in Okinohama anweisen, wo das Schiff Duarte da Gamas vor Anker lag und die Portugiesen ihre Waren verkauften, und ließ es an Aufmerksamkeiten aller Art nicht fehlen und ihn aufs beste mit allem versorgen. Zur sofortigen Annahme des christlichen Glaubens und dessen strengen Sittenvorschriften konnte er sich freilich noch nicht entschließen. Mußte er ja auch fürchten, dadurch seinen immer noch recht unsicheren Thron zu gefährden, da manche seiner mächtigen Vasallen einen solchen Schritt zum Anlaß nehmen konnten, sich gegen ihn zu erheben." /30/Fast dreißig Jahre später, als er im Jahre 1578 zum Christentum konvertierte, erzählte Yoshishige wie er 1545 von einem portugiesischen Kaufmann namens Diego Vaz beeindruckt war:
"Da fragte ich ihn, ob er zu den Kamis und Hotokes (= den shintoistischen und buddhistischen Göttern) bete. Er aber lachte und sagte, er bete nur den Schöpfer des Himmels und der Erde an, den Erlöser der Welt. Diese Worte habe ich nie vergessen, und es schien mir, wenn er als Kaufmann und Laie trotz aller Geschäfte sich täglich die Zeit zum Gebet nehme, dann müsse es etwas Wichtiges sein um die Verehrung seines Gottes." /31/Von Paul wußte Xaver, dass die Japaner ihr "Gesetz" von Indien über China bekommen hatten, worüber er Ignatius einen langen Bericht ("muy larga información") schreiben will (Doc. 70, S. 282). Am 5. November 1549 erzählt er von einer Begegnung in Kagoshima mit einem Weisen /32/ namens "Ninxit" (Ninshitsu), der im Gespräch unschlüssig war, ob die Seele unsterblich ist oder nicht: "einmal sagt er mir ja, andere Male wiederum nein". Dazu bemerkt Aoyama:
"Der Begriff "Seele" ist in den Zen-Sekten nämlich von dem des Christentums sehr verschieden. Das absolute Wesen, das der Welt und der Seele innewohnt, wurde bei den japanischen Zen-Mönchen verschieden benannt: "Kokoro" (das Herz), "Ware" (das Ich) usw. Man machte aber dabei einen klaren Unterschied zwischen diesem Absoluten und dem Ich im gewöhnlichen Sinne, welches man oft auch "Shôga" (das kleine Ich) nannte und von dessen egoistischen Neigungen man sich zu befreien suchte. Im religiösen Gespräch der Zen-Mönche konnte darum häufig dasselbe Wort zwei voneinander verschiedene Wesen bezeichnen, wie das Wort des hl. Paulus "Ich lebe - nein nicht mehr ich, sondern Christus in mir"." /33/Xavers Übersetzer Paul, war bei einer solchen gelehrten Diskussion offensichtlich überfordert. Xaver fürchtete, dass die anderen Gelehrten nicht so sind wie dieser "sein Freund, der wunderbar ist". Alle, Priester und Laien, wundern sich aber, so Xaver, dass sie von so weit her kommen ("que son más de seis mil leguas"), "bloß um über diese Dinge über Gott zu sprechen, und wie die Leute ihre Seelen retten können, indem sie an Jesus Christus glauben, und indem wir sagen, dass wir in diese Länder kommen, weil es Gottes Wille ist" (Doc. 90, S. 372). Ein Grund für die Echtheit dieser Freundschaft findet Aoyama in der folgenden von Br. Almeida tradierten wunderbaren Anekdote, die er in Kagoshima von Ninshitsus Schülern erfuhr und welche auch nicht nur die Identität und die Differenz, sondern auch das gegenseitige Nicht-Verstehen zwischen Christen und Zen-Buddhisten versinnbildlicht:
"Jene Bonzen (in Fukushô-ji) haben den Brauch, daß sie sich in einem Jahre 100 Tage lang für eine oder zwei bestimmte Stunden in Betrachtung versenken, was sie Zazen nennen... In ihrer Körperhaltung zeigen sie eine solche Bescheidenheit, Sammlung und Ruhe, als wären sie in göttlicher Beschauung verzückt. Als P. Magister Francisco einmal mit diesem alten Bonzen, dem Oberen des Klosters, durch den gemeinsamen Raum schritt, wo alle Bonzen (gerade) damit beschäftigt waren, ihre Betrachtung zu halten, fragte der Pater Ninjit: 'Was tun diese Ordensleute hier?' Da lächelte jener und antwortete ihm: 'Die einen berechnen, wieviel sie die vergangenen Monate von ihren Gläubigen eingenommen haben; andere überlegen, wo sie bessere Kleider und Behandlung für ihre Person bekommen können; andere denken an ihre Erholungen und ihren Zeitvertreib; kurz, keiner an etwas, das irgendwelche Bedeutung hätte." /34/Das Interesse der Gebildeten an den Missionaren mag auch darin begründet gewesen sein, wie Aoyama bemerkt (S. 76), dass diese nicht aus Europa, sondern aus Tenjiku (Indien), der Heimat Buddhas, kamen. "Die Leute bewunderten Paul", so Aoyama, "weil er als erster Japaner Indien gesehen hatte." (S. 48) Das Interesse der Herrschenden lag sicherlich auch an den von den Portugiesen mitgebrachten Waren und Waffen sowie an der Möglichkeit, durch den neuen Glauben, sich Machtverhältnisse zu sichern. Am 5. November 1549 berichtet Xaver aus Kagoshima von seinem Vorhaben, die "Grundsätze des Glaubens" durch Paul ins Japanische übersetzen und drucken zu lassen, denn "die wichtigsten Leute können lesen und schreiben" und "wir können nicht überall hinfahren" (Doc. 90, S. 387). Sie verfertigten eine lateinische Transkription, die des Japanischen nicht kundigen Missionare auf Straßen laut vorlesen konnten (Doc. 96, S. 405-406). Schurhammer schreibt:
"Eine gewisse Methode war bereits festgelegt. Der Katechismus, das in Kagoshima verfaßte Buch, von dem die Neubekehrten in Yamaguchi bereits Abschriften in sino-japanischer Schrift hergestellt hatten, diente als Grundlage für den Unterricht. An dessen Lesung schlossen sich Ansprachen und an diese Disputationen an, bei denen der sprachgewandte Bruder Fernández als Dolmetscher diente. Mit Hilfe von Auszügen, welche die Neubekehrten aus den buddhistischen heiligen Büchern machten, hatte man die Hauptlehren der einzelnen Sekten und ihre Überlieferungen über das Leben ihrer Hauptgötter Shaka und Amida kennengelernt und bestimmte Fragen für jede Sekte zusammengestellt, die man deren Anhängern bei deren Besuch vorlegte, sowie die Argumente, die ihre Irrtümer widerlegten. Für den Gottesnamen war der Ausdruck Dainichi durch das lateinische Deus ersetzt worden, um Mißverständnisse bei den Buddhisten zu vermeiden. Was aber die von den abendländischen so verschiedenen Sitten und Gebräuche Japans betraf, war Xaver für weitgehende Anpassung. 'Wenn etwas', so legte er Torres ans Herz, 'keine Beleidigung Gottes ist, dann scheint es das Vorteilhafteste zu sein, nichts zu ändern, falls eine Änderung nicht mehr zum Dienste Gottes gereicht.' Und das wollte er verstanden wissen von der Kleidung, dem Essen und ähnlichen Dingen, die in sich indifferent waren, deren Änderung aber Ärgernis geben konnte." /35/Die Nutzung des lateinischen Ausdrucks Deus sollte also zur Unterscheidung zwischen dem wahren Gott der Missionare und dem falschen Gott der Shingon-Sekte, dem als Erzeuger der Welt angebetenen "Dainichi", dienen. In Wahrheit aber, so berichtet Xaver am 29. Januar 1552 aus Cochin, klang der lateinische Ausdruck wie "Dayuzo", was soviel wie "große Lüge" bedeutet. Ein gutes Argument, um sich dem neuen Gott nicht anzuschließen und um darüber zu spotten (Doc. 96, S. 413-414) und ein Beispiel auch dafür, wie eine angebliche Lösung des angeletischen Dilemmas, des Übersetzers-Dilemmas also, auch und gerade in prinzipellen Fragen, sich ins Gegenteil verkehren kann: Anstelle einer Unterscheidung findet eine Äquivokation statt. Für einen nicht nur im christlichen Glauben, sondern auch in der abendländischen Prinzipien-Metaphysik wurzelnden Missionar war dies der Weg der Dialektik. Nach jeder Predigt gab es, wie Xaver mehrmals betont, "sehr lange Disputationen" (Doc. 96, S. 407). Der Weg des Herzens führte zwar, wie im Falle der Freundschaft mit Ninshitsu, zu einer gemeinsamen menschlichen Ebene, ohne aber von hier aus die Perspektive des Anderen annehmen zu können.
Auf Xavers Wunsch verfertigte Fernández die spanische Übersetzung des Protokolls einer solchen Disputation, die er im Auftrag von P. Torres in japanischer Sprache aufgeschrieben hatte. Hier ein kleiner Auszug, der teilweise auch in einem Brief Xavers zu finden ist (Doc. 96, S. 408-409):
"Zuerst kamen viele Zen-shû, Patres und Laien. Wir fragten sie, was sie täten, um Heilige zu werden. Sie antworteten lachend: es gebe keine Heiligen; es sei also gar nicht notwendig, sich seinen Weg zu suchen. Denn nachdem jenes große Nichts ins Dasein getreten sei, könne es nichts anderes tun, als sich wieder ins Nichts zu verwandeln.Eine solche Disputation setzt gegenseitige Kenntnisse etwa der griechischen Metaphysik und ihrer scholastischen Umdeutung, der christlichen Schöpfungslehre, der Buddhistischen Auffassung des Nichts, des Ignatianischen "Principio y Fundamento" usw. voraus, will sie mehr als eine sophistische Übung sein. Die "Bonzen", so Xaver, widmen sich der Meditation und manche kommen dabei sogar auf den Gedanken eines "Prinzips". Da sie aber keine Bücher und folglich auch "keine Autoritäten" darüber haben, teilen sie dies den anderen nicht mit (Doc. 96, S. 416). Diese Bemerkung ist nicht nur interessant bezüglich der dem Buch beigemessenen Bedeutung als Medium und Legitimationsinstanz, sondern auch bezüglich des Hinweises auf die eigene Suche eines Denkweges, der unter Umständen dorthin führt, wo der Andere sich befindet. Allerdings wird dies hier von Xaver nur einseitig wahrgenommen.
Aoyama berichtet, dass im 16. Jahrhundert, die Japaner nicht so sehr die Kraft und die Intelligenz des Menschen hochschätzten, "sondern das zartsinnige Gefühl der Liebe und das Leiden um der Liebe willen. Die duldenden Shintô-Gottheiten [...] wurden vom Volk hoch verehrt. Nach dem Glauben des damaligen Volkes verdienten diese Gottheiten durch ihr Leiden bzw. durch ihren leidvollen Tod das Glück ihres Sohnes und wurden durch diesen Sohn wieder vom Leiden befreit oder ins Leben zurückgebracht. In den zeitgenösischen Gemälden ist das Leiden bzw. der leidvolle Tod dieser Gottheiten aus tiefer Verehrung ihres Leidens sehr ausdrucksvoll und schmerzvoll dargestellt." /37/ Kein Wunder also, dass die einfachen Leute während einer Straßenpredigt anfingen zu weinen, als es beim Leben Christi um seine Passion ging, wie Xaver berichtet (Doc. 96, S. 406).
Über Xavers bottom-up-Methode schreibt Aoyama: "Xaver predigte häufig auch dem gewöhnlichen Volk vor dem Haupteingang des Fukushôji-Klosters. Vermutlich las er dabei bloß aus seinem Katechismus vor, den er im Winter 1549 bis 1550 mit seinem Dolmetscher Paul auf japanisch verfaßt hatte, und ließ Paul dem Volk das Gelesene erklären." /38/
Jenseits seines missionarischen Selbstverständnisses und auch dessen seiner Zeit lag aber wohl der Gedanke, nicht bloß mit Buddhisten zu disputieren, um sie zu bekehren, sondern etwa mit ihnen zu meditieren und sich einer anderen kategorialen Erfahrung des Göttlichen zu öffnen, ein Weg, den Spätere in unterschiedlicher Weise gegangen sind. Ich denke dabei zum Beispiel an Enomiya Lasalle, Teilhard de Chardin, David Steindl-Rast, Karl Rahner, Hans Küng oder – Pedro Arrupe /39/. Xaver selbst hat von Japan nicht nur viel gelernt, sondern er hat Freunde gewonnen. Er schreibt den europäischen Mitstreitern aus Cochin am 29. Januar 1552:
"Über Japan gibt es so viel zu schreiben, dass es kein Ende nehmen würde. Ich fürchte, dass das, was ich geschrieben habe, Viele ärgern wird, weil es viel Lesen bedeutet. Ich tröste mich aber damit, dass diejenigen, die sich wegen des Lesens ärgern, sich diesen Ärger entledigen können, indem sie nicht mehr lesen. Womit ich Schluß mache, ohne abschließen zu können, indem ich meinen geliebten Patres und Brüdern über so große Freunde schreibe, wie dies die Christen in Japan sind." (Doc. 96, S. 420)Eine von Br. Almeida überlieferte Episode zwischen Xaver und Ninshitsu besagt, dass Xaver ihn gefragt hätte, welche Zeit ihm als die bessere erscheine, die Jugend oder das Alter, in dem er bereits stehe:
"Nachdem er ein wenig nachgedacht hatte, gab er zu Antwort: die Jugend. Nach dem Grund befragt, sagte er, dann sei der Körper noch frei von Krankheiten und Beschwerden, und man habe noch die Freiheit, ungehindert zu tun, was man begehre. Darauf erwiderte ihm der Pater: 'Wenn Ihr ein Schiff sähet, das vom Hafen ausgefahren ist und das notwendigerweise zu einem anderen gelangen muß, wann könnten sich dann die Passagiere mehr freuen, wenn sie noch mitten im offenen Meer sind, den Winden, Wellen und Stürmen ausgesetzt, oder wenn sie sich schon dem Hafen nahe sehen und anfangen, durch die Barre einzulaufen, um darin von den früheren Schiffbrüchen und Stürmen auszuruhen?' Darauf antwortete Ninjit: 'Pater, ich verstehe Euch sehr gut, ich weiß wohl, daß natürlicherweise der Anblick des Hafens angenehmer und freudiger ist für jene, die in ihn einzulaufen haben. Da ich aber bis jetzt noch nicht im klaren bin und mich noch nicht entschlossen habe, welcher Hafen der bessere ist, so weiß ich nicht, wie und wo ich landen muß." /40/Der öfter in Seenot geratene Xaver wirft eine metaphysische Frage auf, die ein ebenfalls mit dem Meer und den Häfen vertrauter Japaner lebensweltlich beantwortet. Es wäre nämlich fatal, so scheint Ninshitsu anzudeuten, man würde einen fahrenden Kaufmann, die Vorstellung von einem idealen und absolut sicheren Hafen näher bringen wollen, während er in Wahrheit die Erfahrung macht, dass das Loslassen von dieser Idee, seine Existenz als erfahrener weil fahrender und heute wohl auch surfender Kaufmann erst möglich macht. Mit anderen Worten, er möchte die Güter und ihre Sicherheit nicht gegen das Leben, gegen Nichts also, umtauschen – auch im Alter nicht.
Welchen Nutzen haben diese Erfahrungen und Überlegungen im Hinblick auf die Herausforderungen des gegenwärtigen interkulturellen Dialogs vor allem auf der Basis der digitalen Weltvernetzung? Diese ist weder ein böser Dämon noch ein bloßes Werkzeug marktwirtschaftlicher Zweckrationalität. Sie öffnet die Möglichkeit einer Abschwächung der massenmedialen Herrschaftsstrukturen des 20. Jahrhunderts. Die Frage ist nur: Was haben wir uns zu sagen?
Eine Theorie der Botschaft kann einen Beitrag zur Kritik heutiger techno-missionarischer Ambitionen leisten. Sie versteht sich dabei auch als Teil einer affirmativen Medienphilosophie, die ein vielfältiges Gelingen des Menschseins in einer weltumspannenden message-Kultur anvisiert. Eine Kernfrage dieser Kultur wird sicherlich sein, inwiefern wir uns dem Wort des Anderen öffnen auch und gerade, wenn wir meinen, eine universale und/oder sogar heilige Botschaft zu besitzen.
28. Georg Schurhammer: Franz Xaver, S. 265.
6. AFRICAN TRADITION
Wikipedia: Ubuntu Philosophy
Rafael Capurro: Information Ethics for and from Africa
Nelson Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
WIKIPEDIA: UBUNTU PHILOSOPHY
Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù]) is a Nguni Bantu term meaning "humanity". It is often also translated as "humanity towards others", but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity".
In Southern Africa, it has come to be used as a term for a kind of humanist philosophy, ethic, or ideology, also known as Ubuntuism propagated in the Africanisation (transition to majority rule) process of these countries during the 1980s and 1990s.
Since the transition to democracy in South Africa with the Nelson Mandela presidency in 1994, the term has become more widely known outside of Southern Africa, notably popularised to English-language readers through the ubuntu theology of Desmond Tutu. Tutu was the chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and many have argued that ubuntu was a formative influence on the TRC. However, this view is challenged and contextualized by Christian B. N. Gade in A Discourse on African Philosophy: A New Perspective on Ubuntu and Transitional Justice in South Africa. One of Gade's key findings is that former TRC commissioners and committee members question the importance of ubuntu in the TRC process. Another is that there are several differing and historically developing interpretations of ubuntu, some of which have evident political implications and reflect non-factual and creative uses of history.
Ekpe, also known as Egbo (Ibibio: Leopard), is a secret society flourishing chiefly among the Efiks of the Cross River State, the Oron, of Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria, Arochukwu and some parts of Abia State, as well as in the diaspora, such as in Cuba and Brazil. The society is still active at the beginning of the 21st century, however, now it plays only a ceremonial role. There are two distinct but related societies, the primary one in the Cross River, Arochukwu, Akwa Ibom areas, and the secondary one among the Southern and Eastern Igbo groups. It is general belief amongst the Efik native tribe, although hardly ever substantiated, that the members of the Ekpe society invented the Nsibidi.
Ekpe is a mysterious spirit who is supposed to live in the jungle and to preside at the ceremonies of the society. Members of the Ekpe society are said to act as messengers of the ancestors (ikan). The economics of the society is based on paying tribute to the village ancestors. Only males can join, boys being initiated about the age of puberty. Members are bound by oath of secrecy, and fees on entrance are payable. The Ekpe-men are ranked in seven or nine grades, for promotion to each of which fresh initiation ceremonies, fees and oaths are necessary. The society combines a kind of freemasonry with political and lawenforcing aims. For instance any member wronged in an Ekpe district, that is one dominated by the society, has only to address an Ekpe-man or beat the Ekpe drum in the Ekpe-house, or blow Ekpe as it is called, i.e., sound the Ekpe horn, before the hut of the wrong-doer, and the whole machinery of the society is put in force to see justice done. Ekpe members always wear masks when performing their police duties, and although individuals may nonetheless be recognized, fear of retribution from the ikan stops people from accusing those members who may overstep their limits. Formerly the society earned a bad reputation due to what the British viewed as the barbarous customs that were intermingled with its rites.
Social importance is attached to the highest ranks of Ekpe-men, called Amama. At least in the past, very large sums, sometimes more than a thousand pounds, were paid to attain these upper levels. The trade-off is that the Amama often control the majority of the community wealth. The Amama often appropriate hundreds of acres of palm trees for their own use and, with the profits they earn, ensure that their sons achieve comparable rank, which has the effect of limiting access to economic gain for other members of the community. The Ekpe society requires that its initiates sponsor feasts for the town, which foster the appearance of the redistribution of wealth by providing the poor with food and drink.
Art and ceremonies
The Ekpe-house, an oblong building like the nave of a church, usually stands in the middle of the villages. The walls are of clay elaborately painted inside and ornamented with clay figures in relief. Inside are wooden images to which reverence is paid.
At Ekpe festivals masked dancers perform. Some of the older masks show horns and filed teeth. Non initiates and women are not allowed to come in contact with the masked dancers.
Ekpe in the diaspora
Eshu (Yoruba: Èṣù, also known as Echú, Exu or Exú) is an Orisha in the Yoruba religion of the Yoruba people (originating from Yorubaland, an area in and around present-day Nigeria). As the religion has spread around the world, the name of this Orisha has varied in different locations, but the beliefs remain similar.
Name and role
Eshu partially serves as an alternate name for Eleggua, the messenger for all Orishas, and that there are 256 paths to Eleggua—each one of which is an Eshu. It is believed that Eshu is an Orisha similar to Elugga, but there are only 101 paths to Eshu according to ocha, rather than the 256 paths to Eleggua according to Ifá. Eshu is known as the "Father who gave birth to Ogboni", and is also thought to be agile and always willing to rise to a challenge.
Both ocha and Ifá share some paths, however. Eshu Ayé is said to work closely with Orisha Olokun and is thought to walk on the shore of the beach. Eshu Bi is a stern and forceful avatar, appearing as both an old man and young boy, who walked with Shangó and Oyá (the initial two Ibeyi), and Eshu Bi protects both of these, as well as all other small children. Eshu Laroye is an avatar believed to be the companion of Oshún and believed to be one of the most important Eshus, and the avatar of Eshu Laroye is thought to be talkative and small.
The name of Eshu varies around the world: in Yorùbáland, Eshu is Èṣù-Elegba; Exu de Candomblé in Candomblé; Echú in Santería and Latin America; Legba in Haitian Vodou; Leba in Winti; Exu de Quimbanda in Quimbanda; Lubaniba in Palo Mayombe; and Exu in Latin America.
known by various forms and names in Afro-Brazilian religions. They
include Akessan; Alafiá; Alaketo; Bará, or Ibará;
Elegbá, or Elegbará, Inan;
Lalu, or Jelu; Laroiê; Lon Bií; Lonã; Odara;
Olodé; Tamentau, or Etamitá;
Tlriri; and Vira, a feminine manifestation of Exu. The most common
praise-names of Exu are Exu-Agbo, the protector and guardian of houses
terreiros; Exu-Elepô, the god of palm oil; Exu lnã, the
god of fire; Exu Ojixé,
a messenger god.
A shrine dedicated to Exu is located outside of the main terreiro of a Candomblé temple, usually near the entrance gate. It is, in general, made of rough clay or a simple mound of red clay. They are similar to those found in Nigeria.
Ritual foods offered to Exu include palm oil; beans; corn, either in the form of cornmeal or popcorn; farofa, a manioc flour. Four-legged male birds and other animals are offered as sacrifice to Exu. In each offering made to an orixá, a part of the food is separated and dedicated to Exu.
Eshu is described as a "black devil-god" in the character list of Aimé Césaire's Une Tempête, and is mentioned briefly by the Master of Ceremonies in the Introduction. He appears as a bawdy trickster to foil the colonialist Prospero in Act 3, Scene 3.
In Jamaican-Canadian Nalo Hopkinson's 2000 science fiction novel Midnight Robber, eshu is a name for the individual AI that runs each household in the far-future Cockpit County on the Carib-colonized planet of Toussaint.
worship of Esu. Roots and Rooted.
Eleguá is also known as the Regla de Ocha in Cuba, where is the orisha and "owner" of caminos, or roads and paths. All ceremonies and rituals in Santeria must first have the approval by Eleguá before progressing. He is the messenger of Olofi. He differs somewhat from Exu, who in this case is seen as his brother, by having dangerous and less aggressive characteristics. Eluguá moves silently; in contrast, Exu "breaks through". Manifestations or associated orishas of Eleguá includes Akefun, Aleshujade, Arabobo, Awanjonu, Lalafán, Obasín, Oparicocha, and Osokere.
a pataki (story) in Santeria in which Olodumare gives
Eleguá the keys to the
past, present, and future; for this reason, Eleguá is often
depicted holding a
set of keys. A figure of Eleguá may be placed in the
house behind the
In Afro-Brazilian religion Elegbara is one of the titles of Exu.
C.L. (1989). Ìgbàgbọ́ àti ẹ̀sìn
Yorùba (in Yoruba). Ibadan:
Keynote address at the African Information Ethics Conference Pretoria (South Africa), 5th to 7th February 2007. Published in the International Review of Information Ethics (IRIE) (2007). Reprinted in: Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology (59 (7): 1-9, 2008.
and written traditions of philosophy have a long and rich past, going
back as far as 3000 BC with the Egyptian Maat-Philosophy of ancient
Egypt, the Afro-Hellenic tradition of Greek and Roman Antiquity and the
early Middle Ages (Amasis, Plotinus, Philon, Euclid, Apuleius,
Tertullian, Augustine), the Afro-Islamic tradition (Al-Farabi,
Averroes, Ibn Battuta), the colonial break with contributions in the amharic language
(Zara Yoqob, WaldaHawat, Amo,
Hannibal), the anti-colonial philosophy (DuBois, Garvey,
Césaire, Senghor), the ethno-philosophy of the 70s (Kagame,
Mbiti), Afrosocialism (Nkruma, Nyerere), universalistic theories
(Houtondji, Wiredu, Towa), and contemporary representatives of
different schools such as hermeneutics (Okere, Ntumba, Okonda,
Serequeberhan, Kinyongo), Sage-philosophy (Oruka, Kaphagawani, Sogolo,
Masolo) (Oruka/Masolo 1983), and feminism (Eboh, Oluwole, Boni, Ngoyi),
to mention just a few names and schools. These traditions have been
recently analysed by Jacob Mabe in his book on oral and written forms
of philosophical thinking in
Department of Philosophy at the
Is there a specific African philosophic and ethical perspective with roots in African languages, social experiences and values as analyzed for instance by John Mbiti, (1969), Chyme Gyekye (1996), Mutombo Nkulu (1997), Luke Mlilo and Nathanael Soédé (2003) and Jean-Godefroy Bidima (2004)? Yes there is, if we follow Mogobe Ramose’s contribution to this reader (Coetzee/Roux 2002) that bears the title “Globalization and ubuntu” (Ramose 2002), but also, for instance, Kwasi Wiredu’s contribution on the “conceptual decolonization in African culture” through an analysis of African languages and terminology (Wiredu 1995; Weidtmann 1998). I am not making a plea for ethnophilosophy as criticized for instance by Houtondji (1983), but for a dialogue between both cultures and languages, and the global and the local as envisaged in the 2004 symposium of the International Center for Information Ethics (Capurro, Frühbauer, Hausmanninger 2007). My position is related to Wiredu’s and Oladipo’s interpretation as a “third way in African philosophy” (Oladipo 2002) as well as to Oruka’s “sage philosophy” (Oruka 1990). My view aims at a critical analysis of the oral and/or written African traditions, as analyzed for instance by Anthony Appiah in his article for the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Appiah 1998). I explicitly acknowledge modern reason without assuming that its manifestations are inviolable, particularly when they serve the purposes of colonialization. I locate ethical discourse between the particular and the universal. My aim, following the Kantian tradition, is universality, but I am aware, with Aristotle, that moral and political utterances are contingent, subject to different interpretations and applications based on economic interests and power structures. They are also objects of a critical analysis that envisages the good and seeks a humane world free from the dogmatic fixations of norms that merely reflect, implicitly or explicitly, particular points of view. In other words, ethics reflects on the permanent flow of human life and its modes of empirical regulation that make possible, on the basis of mutual respect, manifestations of humanity in unique and multiple forms. We are all equal, and we are all different.
Ramose, ubuntu is “the
central concept of social and political organization in African
philosophy, particularly among the Bantu-speaking peoples. It consists
of the principles of sharing and caring for one another.” (Ramose 2002,
643). Ramose discuses two aphorisms “to be found in almost all
indigenous African languages,” namely: “Motho ke motho ka batho”
and “Feta kgomo tschware motho.” The first aphorism means that
“to be human is to affirm one’s humanity by recognizing the humanity of
others and, on that basis, establish humane respectful relations with
them. Accordingly, it is ubuntu which
constitutes the core meaning of the aphorism.” The second aphorism
means “that if and when one is faced with a decisive choice between
wealth and the preservation of life of another human being, then one
should opt for the preservation of life.” (Ramose 2002, 644). Following
this analysis we can ask: what is the role of ubuntu in
African information ethics? How is the intertwining of information and
communication technology with the principles of communalism and
humanity expressed in aphorisms such as “Motho ke motho ka batho”
which can be translated as “people are other people through other
people”? What is the relation between community and privacy in African
information society? What kind of questions do African people ask about
the effects of information and communication technology in their
One of the few detailed analysis of the relationship between ubuntu and information ethics, or more precisely, between ubuntu and privacy was presented by H. N. Olinger, Johannes Britz and M.S. Olivier at the Sixth International Conference of Computer Ethics: Philosophical Enquiry (CEPE 2005). They write:
“The African worldview driving
much of African values and social thinking is “Ubuntu” (Broodryk,
2004). The Ubuntu worldview has been recognized as the primary reason
the authors, Ubuntu ethical
principles have been applied in
emphasise the specificity of the Ubuntu worldview
as a community-based mindset, opposed to Western libertarianism and individualism but
close to communitarianism. The Nigerian
philosopher Simeon Onyewueke Eboh has written a profound study on
“African Communalism” (2004). Olinger, Britz and Olivier remark
critically that the population of southern
translate the aphorism “Umunto ungumuntu ngabanye abantu” (Nguni
languages of Zulu and Xhosa) as “A person is a person through other
persons” (Olinger/Britz/Olivier 2005, 293). According to Broodryk
(2002), Ubuntu is an African worldview “based on values of intense
humanness, caring, respect, compassion, and associated values ensuring
a happy and qualitative human community life in a spirit of family.”
This means that personal privacy – being a key
ethical value in Western countries – might
be considered as less important from an Ubuntu-based
perspective, even if we accept that there are several conceptions of
privacy in both the West and the East (Ess 2005, Capurro 2005). In a
comparative study of ethical theories in different cultures, Michael
Brannigan addresses African Ethics with the utterance “To Be is to
Belong” (Brannigan 2005). An analysis of this thesis could lead to a
foundation of African information ethics based not upon the abstract or
metaphysical concept of Being of some classical Western ethical
theories, but upon the experience of Being as communal existence. The
task of such an analysis would be to recognize the uniqueness of
African perspectives as well as commonalities with other cultures and
their theoretical expressions. This analysis could lead to an
interpretation of ICT within an African horizon and correspondingly to
possible vistas for information policy makers, responsible community
leaders and, of course, for African institutions.
A value-based reorientation implies personal awareness, an understanding of information, effective interactions between leaders and their communities without limitations of time and space, and mutual confidence in representative leadership.
already mentioned study on “Ethics and the Internet in West Africa”
(Brunet/Tiemtoré/Vettraino-Soulard 2004) the authors identify
six types of ethical issues related to the development of the Internet
There is no
such thing as a morally neutral technology. This is not to say just
that technologies can be used and misused, but to express the deeper
insight that all technologies create new ways of being. They influence
our relation with one another, they shape, in a more or less radical
way, our institutions, our economies, and our moral values. This is why
we should focus on information technology primarily from an ethical
perspective. It is up to the African people and their leaders to
question how to transform their lives by these technologies. African
educational and research institutions should also reflect critically on
these issues. In their
analysis of the impact of “new technologies” on “ancient Africa” Willy
Jackson and Issiaka Mandé point to the problem that the
development of the information society in
Jolliffe, senior lecturer in computer science at the
moral responsibility of African academics is to enrich African
identities by retrieving and re-creating African information and
communication traditions. From this perspective, cultural memory is an
ethical task if we want to create a humane community based not
just on the number of people but on the relations between them, as the
German Egyptologist Jan Assmann remarks following Friedrich Nietzsche
in his Genealogy of Morals (Assmann
2000, Nietzsche 1999, vol. 5, 294-300). Cultural memory must be
re-shaped again and again to build the core of a humane society. This
means no more and no less than basing morality on memory and
communication, thereby establishing information ethics at its core. The
function of cultural memory is not just to express what belongs to the collective memory
of a community, but to engage the will of its members to connect
themselves through the task of creating it. Cultural memory is connective.
It is related to our myths and to our dreams. We remember Nietzsche’s
ambiguous warning: “You want to be responsible for everything! But not
for your dreams!” (Nietzsche 1999, vol. 3, 117). I call this warning
‘ambiguous’ because Nietzsche, no less than Sigmund Freud, was well
aware of the limits of human will and our tendency to repress or forget
what we consider painful. The Egyptian god Thot is a symbol of cultural
memory as a social task. He is the god of wisdom and writing as well as
messenger of the gods, particularly of the sun god Re, and is
associated with the goddess Maat, the personification of justice. Thot,
the Greek Hermes, was represented as an ibis- (or a baboon) headed man
with a reed pen and a palette, known in the Western tradition through
Plato’s criticism of writing in his Phaedrus.
I think that
retrieving the African cultural memory with regard to information and
communication norms and traditions is the main information challenge
for African information ethics. It should recognize the different
strategies of social inclusion and exclusion in the history of African
societies, including traumatic experiences such as slavery and
apartheid. Since the emergence of the Internet, this challenge is
discussed under the heading of the digital divide. But African
information ethics implies much more than just the access and use of
this medium. The problem is not a technical one, but one of social
exclusion, manipulation, exploitation and annihilation of human beings.
It is vital that thought about African information ethics be conducted
from this broader perspective.
[my emphasis throughout the text, RC]
As readers will discover, this book has a
long history. I
began writing it clandestinely in 1974 during my imprisonment on Robben
Without the tireless labor of my old comrades Walter Sisulu and Ahmed
for reviving my memories, it is doubtful the manuscript would have been
completed. The copy of the manuscript
I kept with me was discovered by the
authorities and confiscated. However, in addition to their unique
calligraphic skills, my co-prisoners Mac Maharaj and Isu
Chiba had ensured that the original manuscript safely reached its
I resumed work on it after my release from prison in 1990.
See: - Mac Maharaj on Mandela,
and South Africa (Alec Russell 2015)
- Mac Maharaj on Mandela,
and South Africa (Alec Russell 2015)
A COUNTRY CHILDHOOD
The only rivalry
between different clans
or tribes in our small world at Qunu was that between the Xhosas and
amaMfengu, a small number of whom lived in our village. AmaMfengu
When I was a boy,
amaMfengu were the most
advanced section of the community and furnished our clergymen,
teachers, clerks, and interpreters. They were also amongst the first to
Christians, to build better houses, and to use scientific methods of
agriculture, and they were wealthier than their Xhosa compatriots. They
confirmed the missionaries’ axiom, that to be Christian was to be
and to be civilized was to be Christian. There still existed some
toward amaMfengu, but in retrospect, I would attribute this more to
than tribal animosity. This local form of tribalism that I observed as
was relatively harmless. At that stage, I did not witness nor even
violent tribal rivalries that would subsequently be promoted by the
My father did not subscribe to local prejudice toward amaMfengu and befriended two amaMfengu brothers, George and Ben Mbekela. The brothers were an exception in Qunu: they were educated and Christian. George, the older of the two, was a retired teacher and Ben was a police sergeant. Despite the proselytizing of the Mbekela brothers, my father remained aloof from Christianity and instead reserved his own faith for the great spirit of the Xhosas, Qamata, the God of his fathers. My father was an unofficial priest and presided over ritual slaughtering of goats and calves and officiated at local traditional rites concerning planting, harvest, birth, marriage, initiation ceremonies, and funerals. He did not need to be ordained, for the traditional religion of the Xhosas is characterized by a cosmic wholeness, so that there is little distinction between the sacred and the secular, between the natural and the supernatural.
While the faith of
the Mbekela brothers
did not rub off on my father, it did inspire my mother, who became a
In fact, Fanny was literally her Christian name, for she had been given
church. It was due to the influence of the Mbekela brothers that I
baptized into the Methodist, or
The schoolhouse consisted of a single room, with a Western-style roof, on the other side of the hill from Qunu. I was seven years old, and on the day before I was to begin, my father took me aside and told me that I must be dressed properly for school. Until that time, I, like all the other boys in Qunu, had worn only a blanket, which was wrapped around one shoulder and pinned at the waist. My father took a pair of his trousers and cut them at the knee. He told me to put them on, which I did, and they were roughly the correct length, although the waist was far too large. My father then took a piece of string and cinched the trousers at the waist. I must have been a comical sight, but I have never owned a suit I was prouder to wear than my father’s cut-off pants.
On the first day of school, my teacher, Miss Mdingane, gave each of us an English name and said that from thenceforth that was the name we would answer to in school. This was the custom among Africans in those days and was undoubtedly due to the British bias of our education. The education I received was a British education, in which British ideas, British culture, British institutions, were automatically assumed to be superior. There was no such thing as African culture.
Africans of my generation — and even today — generally have both an English and an African name. Whites were either unable or unwilling to pronounce an African name, and considered it uncivilized to have one. That day, Miss Mdingane told me that my new name was Nelson. Why she bestowed this particular name upon me I have no idea. Perhaps it had something to do with the great British sea captain Lord Nelson, but that would be only a guess.
My later notions of leadership were
profoundly influenced by
observing the regent and his court. I watched and learned from the
meetings that were regularly held at the Great Place. These were not
but were called as needed, and were held to discuss national matters
such as a
drought, the culling of cattle, policies ordered by the magistrate, or
decreed by the government. All Thembus were free to come — and a great
did, on horseback or by foot.
On these occasions, the regent was surrounded by his amaphakathi, a group of councilors of high rank who functioned as the regent’s parliament and judiciary. They were wise men who retained the knowledge of tribal history and custom in their heads and whose opinions carried great weight.
Letters advising these chiefs and headmen of a meeting were dispatched from the regent, and soon the Great Place became alive with important visitors and travelers from all over Thembuland. The guests would gather in the courtyard in front of the regent’s house and he would open the meeting by thanking everyone for coming and explaining why he had summoned them. From that point on, he would not utter another word until the meeting was nearing its end.
Everyone who wanted to speak did so. It was democracy in its purest form. There may have been a hierarchy of importance among the speakers, but everyone was heard, chief and subject, warrior and medicine man, shopkeeper and farmer, landowner and laborer. People spoke without interruption and the meetings lasted for many hours. The foundation of self-government was that all men were free to voice their opinions and equal in their value as citizens. (Women, I am afraid, were deemed second-class citizens.) A great banquet was served during the day, and I often gave myself a bellyache by eating too much while listening to speaker after speaker. I noticed how some speakers rambled and never seemed to get to the point. I grasped how others came to the matter at hand directly, and who made a set of arguments succinctly and cogently. I observed how some speakers used emotion and dramatic language, and tried to move the audience with such techniques, while other speakers were sober and even, and shunned emotion.
At first, I was astonished by the vehemence — and candor — with which people criticized the regent. He was not above criticism — in fact, he was often the principal target of it. But no matter how flagrant the charge, the regent simply listened, not defending himself, showing no emotion at all.
The meetings would continue until some kind of consensus was reached. They ended in unanimity or not at all. Unanimity, however, might be an agreement to disagree, to wait for a more propitious time to propose a solution. Democracy meant all men were to be heard, and a decision was taken together as a people. Majority rule was a foreign notion. A minority was not to be crushed by a majority.
Only at the end of the meeting, as the sun was setting, would the regent speak. His purpose was to sum up what had been said and form some consensus among the diverse opinions. But no conclusion was forced on people who disagreed. If no agreement could be reached, another meeting would be held. At the very end of the council, a praise-singer or poet would deliver a panegyric to the ancient kings, and a mixture of compliments to and satire on the present chiefs, and the audience, led by the regent, would roar with laughter.
As a leader, I have always followed the principles I first saw demonstrated by the regent at the Great Place. I have always endeavored to listen to what each and every person in a discussion had to say before venturing my own opinion. Oftentimes, my own opinion will simply represent a consensus of what I heard in the discussion. I always remember the regent’s axiom: a leader, he said, is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.
At first, they shooed me away and told me I was too young to listen. Later they would beckon me to fetch fire or water for them, or to tell the women they wanted tea, and in those early months I was too busy running errands to follow their conversation. But, eventually, they permitted me to stay, and I discovered the great African patriots who fought against Western domination. My imagination was fired by the glory of these African warriors.
The most ancient of the chiefs who regaled the gathered elders with ancient tales was Zwelibhangile Joyi, a son from the Great House of King Ngubengcuka. Chief Joyi was so old that his wrinkled skin hung on him like a loose-fitting coat. His stories unfolded slowly and were often punctuated by a great wheezing cough, which would force him to stop for minutes at a time. Chief Joyi was the great authority on the history of the Thembus in large part because he had lived through so much of it.
But as grizzled as Chief Joyi often seemed, the decades fell off him when he spoke of the young impis, or warriors, in the army of King Ngangelizwe fighting the British. In pantomime, Chief Joyi would fling his spear and creep along the veld as he narrated the victories and defeats.
He spoke of Ngangelizwe’s heroism, generosity, and humility. Not all of Chief Joyi’s stories revolved around the Thembus. When he first spoke of non-Xhosa warriors, I wondered why. I was like a boy who worships a local soccer hero and is not interested in a national soccer star with whom he has no connection. Only later was I moved by the broad sweep of African history, and the deeds of all African heroes regardless of tribe.
Chief Joyi railed against the white man, who he believed had deliberately sundered the Xhosa tribe, dividing brother from brother. The white man had told the Thembus that their true chief was the great white queen across the ocean and that they were her subjects. But the white queen brought nothing but misery and perfidy to the black people, and if she was a chief she was an evil chief. Chief Joyi’s war stories and his indictment of the British made me feel angry and cheated, as though I had already been robbed of my own birthright.
Chief Joyi said that the African people lived in relative peace until the coming of the abelungu, the white people, who arrived from across the sea with fire-breathing weapons. Once, he said, the Thembu, the Mpondo, the Xhosa, and the Zulu were all children of one father, and lived as brothers.
The white man shattered the abantu, the fellowship, of the various tribes. The white man was hungry and greedy for land, and the black man shared the land with him as they shared the air and water; land was not for man to possess. But the white man took the land as you might seize another man’s horse.
I did not yet know that the real history of our country was not to be found in standard British textbooks, which claimed South Africa began with the landing of Jan Van Riebeeck at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652. It was from Chief Joyi that I began to discover that the history of the Bantuspeaking peoples began far to the north, in a country of lakes and green plains and valleys, and that slowly over the millennia we made our way down to the very tip of this great continent. However, I later discovered that Chief Joyi’s account of African history, particularly after 1652, was not always so accurate.
At the beginning
of 1942, in order to
save money and be closer to downtown
At the beginning
of 1942, in order to
save money and be closer to downtown
The WNLA compound
was a multiethnic,
polyglot community of modern, urban
Because the WNLA
was a way station for
visiting chiefs, I had the privilege of meeting tribal leaders from all
The queen took
special notice of me and
at one point addressed me directly, but she spoke in Sesotho, a
which I knew few words. Sesotho is the language of the Sotho people as
the Tswana, a large number of whom live in the Transvaal and the
THE STRUGGLE IS MY LIFE
Since the turn of the century, Africans owed their educational opportunites primarily to the foreign churches and missions that created and sponsored schools. Under the United Party, the syllabus for African secondary schools and white secondary schools was essentially the same. The mission schools provided Africans with Western-style English-language education, which I myself received. We were limited by lesser facilities but not by what we could read or think or dream.
Yet, even before the Nationalists came to power, the disparities in funding tell a story of racist education. The government spent about six times as much per white student as per African student. Education was not compulsory for Africans and was free only in the primary grades. Less than half of all African children of school age attended any school at all, and only a tiny number of Africans were graduated from high school. Even this amount of education proved distasteful to the Nationalists. The Afrikaner has always been unenthusiastic about education for Africans. To him it was simply a waste, for the African was inherently ignorant and lazy and no amount of education could remedy that. The Afrikaner was traditionally hostile to Africans learning English, for English was a foreign tongue to the Afrikaner and the language of emancipation to us.
ROBBEN ISLAND: THE DARK YEARS
several days after my
meeting with Bram and Joel, we were taken to the head office. The head
was only about a quarter of a mile away and was a simple stone
resembled our own section. Once there, we were lined up to have our
fingerprints taken, which was routine prison service business. But
waiting, I noticed a warder with a camera. After our fingerprints had
taken, the chief warder ordered us to line up for photographs. I
motioned to my
colleagues not to move, and I addressed the warder: “I would like you
produce the document from the commissioner of prisons authorizing our
to be taken.” Photographs of
prisoners required such authorization.
several days after my
meeting with Bram and Joel, we were taken to the head office. The head
was only about a quarter of a mile away and was a simple stone
resembled our own section. Once there, we were lined up to have our
fingerprints taken, which was routine prison service business. But
waiting, I noticed a warder with a camera. After our fingerprints had
taken, the chief warder ordered us to line up for photographs. I
motioned to my
colleagues not to move, and I addressed the warder: “I would like you
produce the document from the commissioner of prisons authorizing our
to be taken.” Photographs of
prisoners required such authorization.
It was always valuable to be familiar with regulations, because the warders themselves were often ignorant of them and could be intimidated by one’s superior knowledge. The warder was taken aback by my request and was unable to offer any explanation or produce anything in writing from the commissioner of prisons. He threatened to charge us if we did not consent to have our photographs taken, but I said that if there was no authorization, there would be no pictures, and that is where the matter remained.
As a rule, we
objected to having our
pictures taken in prison on the grounds that it is generally demeaning
seen as a prisoner. But there was one photograph I did consent to, the
I ever agreed to while on
One morning, a few
weeks later, the chief
warder, instead of handing us hammers for our work in the courtyard,
each needles and thread and a pile of worn prison jerseys. We were
to repair the garments, but we discovered that most of these jerseys
frayed beyond repair. This struck us as a curious task, and we wondered
had provoked the change. Later that morning, at about eleven o’clock,
gate swung open, revealing the commanding officer with two men in
commanding officer announced that the two visitors were a reporter and
from the Daily Telegraph in
Although these men were our first official visitors, we regarded them skeptically. Firstly, they were brought in under the auspices of the government, and second, we were aware that the Telegraph was a conservative newspaper unlikely to be sympathetic to our cause. We well knew that there was great concern in the outside world about our situation and that it was in the government’s interest to show that we were not being mistreated.
The two journalists walked slowly around the courtyard, surveying us. We kept our heads down concentrating on our work. After they had made one circuit, one of the guards plucked me by the shoulder and said, “Mandela, come, you will talk now.” In those early days, I often spoke on behalf of my fellow prisoners. The prison service regulations were explicit that each prisoner was permitted to speak only for himself. This was done to negate the power of organization and to neutralize our collective strength. We objected to this role, but made little headway. We were not even permitted to use the word we when we made complaints. But during the first few years, when the authorities needed one prisoner to speak on behalf of others, that individual would be me.
I talked to the reporter, whose name was Mr. Newman, for about twenty minutes, and was candid about both prison and the Rivonia Trial. He was an agreeable fellow, and at the end of our talk, he said he would like the photographer to take my picture. I was reluctant, but in this case relented because I knew the photograph would only be published overseas, and might serve to help our cause if the article was even the least bit friendly. I told him I would agree provided Mr. Sisulu could join me. The image shows the two of us talking in the courtyard about some matter that I can no longer remember. I never saw the article or heard anything about it. The reporters were barely out of sight when the warders removed the jerseys and gave us back our hammers.
The men from the Telegraph were the first of a small stream of visitors during those early months. While the Rivonia Trial still resonated in people’s minds, the government was eager to show the international community that we were being treated properly. There were stories in the press about the inhuman conditions on the island, about how we were being assaulted and tortured. These allegations embarrassed the government, and to combat them they brought in a string of outsiders meant to rebut these critical stories.
We were briefly
visited by a British
lawyer who had argued for Namibian independence before the
On the day of Mr. Hynning’s visit we were called into the courtyard. The American arrived in the company of General Steyn, the commissioner of prisons, who rarely made appearances on the island. General Steyn was that unusual thing in the prison service, a polished and sophisticated man.
His suits were always of a fine quality and a fashionable cut. He was courtly, and referred to us as “gentlemen,” even doffing his hat to us, something no one else in the prison service ever did. Yet General Steyn oppressed us by omission rather than commission. He basically turned a blind eye to what was happening on the island. His habitual absence emboldened the more brutal prison officials and gave them carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. In his most gracious manner, the general introduced our guest and said, “Gentlemen, please select your spokesman.” A number of the prisoners called out my name. General Steyn nodded in my direction, and I stood up. In contrast to General Steyn, Mr. Hynning was a heavyset, unkempt man. I thanked him for visiting us and said we were honored by his presence. I then summarized our complaints, beginning with the central and most important one, that we were political prisoners, not criminals, and that we should be treated as such. I enumerated our grievances about the food, our living conditions, and the work detail. But as I was speaking, Mr. Hynning kept interrupting me. When I made a point about the long hours doing mindless work, he declared that as prisoners we had to work and were probably lazy to boot.
When I started to
detail the problems
with our cells, he interjected that the conditions in backward American
were far worse than
Mr. Hynning perspired a great deal and there were those among us who thought he was not altogether sober. He spoke in what I assumed was a southern American accent, and had a curious habit of spitting when he talked, something none of us had ever seen before.
Finally, I had
heard enough, and I
interrupted him, “No, sir, you misunderstand the points that I am
took offense that I was now contradicting him, while General Steyn
listened without comment. Under the circumstances, it was difficult to
tempers down. The men were angered by Mr. Hynning’s remarks and annoyed
had been permitted to see us at all. Normally, a visit of any kind
spirits but the visit of Mr. Hynning was demoralizing. Perhaps that is
authorities wanted. To meet someone with so impressive an affiliation
little understanding was depressing. Hynning finally just turned and
away without so much as a good-bye. We were not sorry to see him
go. We discussed Mr. Hynning for years
afterward and many of the men imitated the way he spoke to comic
never heard about him again, and he certainly did not win any friends
In jail, all prisoners are classified by the authorities as one of four categories: A, B, C, or D. A is the highest classification and confers the most privileges; D is the lowest and confers the least. All political prisoners, or what the authorities called “security prisoners,” were automatically classified as D on admission. The privileges affected by these classifications included visits and letters, studies, and the opportunity to buy groceries and incidentals — all of which are the lifeblood of any prisoner. It normally took years for a political prisoner to raise his status from D to C.
We disdained the classification system. It was corrupt and demeaning, another way of repressing prisoners in general and political prisoners in particular. We demanded that all political prisoners be in one category. Although we criticized it, we could not ignore it: the classification system was an inflexible feature of prison life. If you protested that, as a D Group prisoner, you could receive only one letter every six months, the authorities would say, Improve your behavior, become a C Group prisoner, and you will be able to receive two letters every six months. If you complained that you did not receive enough food, the authorities would remind you that if you were in A Group, you would be able to receive money orders from the outside and purchase extra food at the prison canteen. Even a freedom fighter benefits from the ability to buy groceries and books.
classifications generally ran
parallel to the length of one’s sentence. If you were sentenced to
you would generally be classified as D for the first two years, C for
two, B for the following two, and A for the last two. But the prison
authorities wielded the classification system as a weapon against
prisoners, threatening to lower our hard-won classifications in order
control our behavior.
Though I had been
in prison for nearly
two years before I was taken to
Every six months, prisoners were called before the prison board to have their classifications evaluated. The board was meant to assess our behavior in terms of prison regulations, but we found that it preferred to act as a political tribunal rather than a mere evaluator of behavior. During my first meeting with the board, the officials asked me questions about the ANC and my beliefs. Although this had nothing to do with the classification system, I was vain enough to answer and think that I might convert them to my beliefs. It was one of the few times we were treated as human beings, and I for one responded. Later I realized that this was simply a technique on the part of the authorities to glean information from us, and I had fallen for it. Shortly afterward, we agreed among ourselves not to discuss politics with the prison board.
As a D Group prisoner, I was entitled to have only one visitor, and to write and receive only one letter, every six months. I found this one of the most inhumane restrictions of the prison system. Communication with one’s family is a human right; it should not be restricted by the artificial gradations of a prison system. But it was one of the facts of prison life.
Visits and letters were restricted to “first degree” relatives. This was a restriction we not only found irksome but racist. The African sense of immediate family is far different from that of the European or Westerner. Our family structures are larger and more inclusive; anyone who claims descent from a common ancestor is deemed part of the same family.
In prison, the only thing worse than bad news about one’s family is no news at all. It is always harder to cope with the disasters and tragedies one imagines than with the reality, however grim or disagreeable. A letter with ill tidings was always preferable to no letter at all.
But even this
miserable restriction was
abused by the authorities. The anticipation of mail was overwhelming. Mail call
took place once a month, and sometimes six months would go by without a
To be allowed one letter in six months and then not to receive it is a
blow. One wonders: What has happened to my wife and children, to my
my sisters? When I did not receive a letter I felt as dry and barren as
Afterward, I would protest through the proper channels, and sometimes get it. When letters did arrive, they were cherished. A letter was like the summer rain that could make even the desert bloom. When I was handed a letter by the authorities, I would not rush forward and grab it as I felt like doing, but take it in a leisurely manner. Though I yearned to tear it open and read it on the spot, I would not give the authorities the satisfaction of seeing my eagerness, and I would return slowly to my cell as though I had many things to occupy me before opening a letter from my family.
During the first few months, I received one letter from Winnie, but it was so heavily censored that not much more than the salutation was left. The island’s censors would black out the offending passages in ink, but they later changed this when they realized we could wash away the ink and see what was underneath. They began to use razors to slice out whole paragraphs. Since most letters were written on both sides of a single piece of paper, the material on the other side would also be excised. They seemed to relish delivering letters in tatters. The censorship delayed the delivery of mail because warders, some of whom were not proficient in English, might take as long as a month to censor a letter. The letters we wrote were censored as well; they were often as cut up as the letters we received.
At the end of August, after I had been on the island less than three months, I was informed by the authorities that I would have a visitor the following day. They would not tell me who it was. Walter was informed that he, too, would have a visitor, and I suspected, I hoped, I wished — I believed — that it would be a visit from Winnie and Albertina.
From the moment
Winnie learned we had
been brought to the island, she had been trying to arrange a visit. As
person, Winnie had to receive a special dispensation from the minister
justice, for she was technically not permitted to communicate with me.
with the help of the authorities, visiting
Visits did not
seem to be planned in
advance by the authorities. One day, they would contact your wife and
have permission to visit your husband tomorrow.” This was enormously
inconvenient, and often had the effect of making visits impossible.
member was able to plan a visit in advance, the authorities would
deliberately delay issuing a permit until after the plane had departed.
most of the men’s families lived far from the
The visiting room for noncontact visits was cramped and windowless. On the prisoner’s side, there was a row of five cubicles with small square pieces of glass that looked out on identical cubicles on the other side. One sat in a chair and looked through the thick, smudged glass that had a few small holes drilled into it to permit conversation. One had to talk very loudly to be heard. Later the authorities installed microphones and speakers in front of the glass, a marginal improvement.
Walter and I were
called to the visitors’
office in the late morning and took seats at the far end of the room. I
with some anxiety, and suddenly, filling out the glass on the other
side of the
window was Winnie’s lovely face. Winnie always dressed up for prison
and tried to wear something new and elegant. It was tremendously
not to be able to touch my wife, to speak tenderly to her, to have a
moment together. We had to conduct our relationship at a distance under
eyes of people we despised.
I could see immediately that Winnie was under tremendous strain. Seeing me in such circumstances must have been trying. Just getting to the island itself was difficult, and added to that were the harsh rituals of the prison, the undoubted indignities of the warders, and the impersonality of the contact.
Winnie, I later discovered, had recently received a second banning order and had been terminated from her job at the Child Welfare Office as a result. Her office was searched by the police shortly before she was fired. The authorities were convinced that Winnie was in secret communication with me. Winnie loved her job as a social worker. It was the hands-on end of the struggle: placing babies with adoptive parents, finding work for the unemployed and medical help for the uninsured. The banning and harassment of my wife greatly troubled me: I could not look after her and the children, and the state was making it difficult for her to look after herself. My powerlessness gnawed at me.
Our conversation was awkward at first, and was not made easier by the presence of two warders standing directly behind her and three behind me. Their role was not only to monitor but to intimidate. Regulations dictated that conversation had to be in either English or Afrikaans — African languages were forbidden — and could involve family matters only. Any line of talk that departed from the family and verged on the political might mean the abrupt termination of the visit. If one mentioned a name unfamiliar to the warders, they would interrupt the conversation, and ask who the person was and the nature of the relationship. This happened often, as the warders were generally unfamiliar with the variety and nature of African names. It was frustrating to spend precious minutes of one’s visit explaining to a warder the different branches of one’s family tree. But their ignorance also worked in our favor: it allowed us to invent code names for people we wanted to talk about and pretend that we were referring to family members.
That first visit was important, for I knew that Winnie was anxious about my health: she had heard stories that we were being physically abused. I quickly informed her that I was fine and she could see that I was fit, though a bit thinner than before. She, too, was thinner, something I always attributed to stress. After a visit in which Winnie’s face looked drawn or tense, I would urge her to put on a bit of weight. She was always dieting, and I was always telling her not to. I inquired one by one about all the children, about my mother and sisters, and Winnie’s own family.
Suddenly, I heard the warder behind me say, “Time up! Time up!” I turned and looked at him with incredulity. It was impossible that half an hour had passed. But, in fact, he was right; visits always seemed to go by in the blink of an eye. For all the years that I was in prison, I never failed to be surprised when the warder called, “Time up!” Winnie and I were both hustled from our chairs and we waved a quick farewell. I always felt like lingering after Winnie left, just to retain the sense of her presence, but I would not let the warders see such emotion. As I walked back to the cell, I reviewed in my head what we had talked about. Over the next days, weeks, and months, I would return to that one visit again and again. I knew I would not be able to see my wife again for at least six months. As it turned out, Winnie was not able to visit me for another two years
At weekends, during our first year on the island, we were kept inside our cells all day except for a half hour of exercise. One Saturday, after returning from exercise in the courtyard, I noticed that a warder had left a newspaper on the bench at the end of the corridor. He had become rather friendly to us, and I assumed that he had not left the newspaper there by accident.
Newspapers were more valuable to
political prisoners than gold or diamonds, more hungered for than food
tobacco; they were the most precious contraband on
We regarded it as
our duty to keep
ourselves current on the politics of the country, and we fought long
for the right to have newspapers. Over the years, we devised many ways
obtaining them, but back then we were not so adept. One of the
going to the quarry was that warders’ sandwiches were wrapped in
they would often discard these newsprint wrappers in the trash, where
secretly retrieved them. We would distract the warders’ attention,
papers out of the garbage, and slide them into our shirts.
One of the most reliable ways to acquire papers was through bribery, and this was the only area where I tolerated what were often unethical means of obtaining information. The warders always seemed to be short of money, and their poverty was our opportunity.
When we did get hold of a paper, it was far too risky to pass around. Possession of a newspaper was a serious charge. Instead, one person would read the paper, usually Kathy or, later, Mac Maharaj. Kathy was in charge of communications, and he had thought of ingenious ways for us to pass information. Kathy would go through the paper and make cuttings of relevant stories, which were then secretly distributed to the rest of us. Each of us would write out a summary of the story we were given; these summaries were then passed among us, and later smuggled to the general section. When the authorities were particularly vigilant, Kathy or Mac would write out his summary of the news and then destroy the paper, usually by tearing it into small pieces and placing it in his ballie, which the warders never inspected.
When I noticed the newspaper lying on the bench, I quickly left my cell, walked to the end of the corridor, looked in both directions, and then plucked the newspaper off the bench and slipped it into my shirt. Normally, I would have hidden the newspaper somewhere in my cell and taken it out only after bedtime. But like a child who eats his sweet before his main course, I was so eager for news that I opened the paper in my cell immediately. I don’t know how long I was reading; I was so engrossed in the paper that I did not hear any footsteps. Suddenly, an officer and two other warders appeared and I did not even have time to slide the paper under my bed. I was caught black-and-white-handed, so to speak. “Mandela,” the officer said, “we are charging you for possession of contraband, and you will pay for this.” The two warders then began a thorough search of my cell to see if they could turn up anything else.
Within a day or
two a magistrate was
brought in from
The isolation cells were in our same complex, but in another wing. Although just across the courtyard, they felt enormously distant. In isolation, one was deprived of company, exercise, and even food: one received only rice water three times a day for three days. (Rice water is simply water in which rice has been boiled.) By comparison, our normal ration of pap seemed like a feast.
The first day in
isolation was always the
most painful. One grows accustomed to eating regularly and the body is
to being deprived. I found that by the second day I had more or less
to the absence of food, and the third passed without much craving at
deprivation was not uncommon among Africans in everyday life. I myself
without food for days at a time in my early years in
As I have already mentioned, I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There is no end and no beginning; there is only one’s own mind, which can begin to play tricks. Was that a dream or did it really happen? One begins to question everything. Did I make the right decision, was my sacrifice worth it? In solitary, there is no distraction from these haunting questions.
But the human body has an enormous capacity for adjusting to trying circumstances. I have found that one can bear the unbearable if one can keep one’s spirits strong even when one’s body is being tested. Strong convictions are the secret of surviving deprivation; your spirit can be full even when your stomach is empty. In those early years, isolation became a habit. We were routinely charged for the smallest infractions and sentenced to isolation. A man might lose his meals for a sidelong glance or be sentenced for failing to stand when a warder entered the room. Some PAC prisoners, who often flouted the rules simply for the sake of doing so, spent a great deal of time in isolation. The authorities believed that isolation was the cure for our defiance and rebelliousness.
The second time I was charged and spent time in isolation occurred shortly after the first. As I have mentioned, we were having great difficulty making our complaints heard. The remoteness of the prison made the authorities feel they could ignore us with impunity. They believed that if they turned a deaf ear to us, we would give up in frustration and the people on the outside would forget about us.
One day we were working at the lime quarry when the commanding officer came to observe us, accompanied by a gentleman whom we at first did not recognize. One of my colleagues whispered to me that it was Brigadier Aucamp from the Head Office, our commanding officer’ commanding officer. (He is not to be confused with the Aucamp of Pretoria Local, who looked after us during the Rivonia Trial.) The two men stood at a distance, watching us.
Aucamp was a short, heavyset fellow in a suit rather than a military uniform. He normally came to the island on biannual inspections. On those occasions, we were ordered to stand at attention at the grille of our cells and hold up our prison cards as he walked by.
I decided that Aucamp’s unexpected appearance was a singular opportunity to present our grievances to the man who had the power to remedy them. I put down my pick and began to walk over to them. The warders immediately became alarmed and moved toward me. I knew that I was violating regulations, but I hoped the warders would be so surprised by the novelty of my action that they would do nothing to stop me. That proved to be the case.
When I reached the two men, the commanding officer said bluntly, “Mandela, go back to your place. No one called you.” I disregarded him and addressed Aucamp, saying I had taken this extraordinary action because our complaints were being ignored. The C.O. interrupted me: “Mandela, I order you back to your place.” I turned to him and said in a measured tone, “I am here already, I will not go back.” I was hoping that Aucamp would agree to hear me out, but he studied me coldly and then turned to the warders and said calmly, “Charge him.”
I continued to
speak as the guards led me
away. “Take him back to the cells,” the C.O. said. I was charged and,
again, I had no defense. The punishment this time was four days in
There was a lesson in what I had done, a lesson I already knew but had
disobeyed out of desperation. No one, least of all prison officials,
to have his authority publicly challenged. In order to respond to me,
would have had to humiliate his subordinate. Prison officials responded
better to private overtures. The best way to effect change on
The most important person any prisoner’s life is not the minister of justice, not the commissioner of prisons, not even the head of prison, but the warder in one’s section. If you are cold and want an extra blanket, you might petition the minister of justice, but you will get no response. If you go to the commissioner of prisons, he will say, “Sorry, it is against regulations.” The head of prison will say, “If I give you an extra blanket, I must give one to everyone.” But if you approach the warder in your corridor, and you are on good terms with him, he will simply go to the stockroom and fetch a blanket.
I always tried to be decent to the warders in my section; hostility was self-defeating. There was no point in having a permanent enemy among the warders. It was ANC policy to try to educate all people, even our enemies: we believed that all men, even prison service warders, were capable of change, and we did our utmost to try to sway them.
In general we treated the warders as they treated us. If a man was considerate, we were considerate in return. Not all of our warders were ogres.
We noticed right from the start that there were some among them who believed in fairness. Yet, being friendly with warders was not an easy proposition, for they generally found the idea of being courteous to a black man abhorrent. Because it was useful to have warders who were well disposed toward us, I often asked certain men to make overtures to selected warders. No one liked to take on such a job.
We had one warder at the quarry who seemed particularly hostile to us. This was troublesome, for at the quarry we would hold discussions among ourselves, and a warder who did not permit us to talk was a great hindrance. I asked a certain comrade to befriend this fellow so that he would not interrupt our talks. The warder was quite crude, but he soon began to relax a bit around this one prisoner. One day, the warder asked this comrade for his jacket so that he could lay it on the grass and sit on it. Even though I knew it went against the comrade’s grain, I nodded to him to do it.
A few days later, we were having our lunch under the shed when this warder wandered over. The warder had an extra sandwich, and he threw it on the grass near us and said, “Here.” That was his way of showing friendship. This presented us with a dilemma. On the one hand, he was treating us as animals to whom he could toss a bit of slop, and I felt it would undermine our dignity to take the sandwich. On the other hand, we were hungry, and to reject the gesture altogether would humiliate the warder we were trying to befriend. I could see that the comrade who had befriended the warder wanted the sandwich, and I nodded for him to take it.
The strategy worked, for this warder became less wary around us. He even began to ask questions about the ANC. By definition, if a man worked for the prison service he was probably brainwashed by the government’s propaganda. He would have believed that we were terrorists and Communists who wanted to drive the white man into the sea. But as we quietly explained to him our nonracialism, our desire for equal rights, and our plans for the redistribution of wealth, he scratched his head and said, “It makes more bloody sense than the Nats.”
Having sympathetic warders facilitated
one of our most vital tasks on
Communication between sections was a serious violation of regulations. We found many effective ways around the ban. The men who delivered our drums of food were from the general section, and in the early months we managed to have whispered conversations with them in which we conveyed brief messages. We formed a clandestine communications committee, composed of Kathy, Mac Maharaj, Laloo Chiba, and several others, and their job was to organize all such practices.
One of the first techniques was
engineered by Kathy and Mac, who had noticed that on our walks to the
the warders often tossed away empty matchboxes. They began secretly
them, and Mac had the idea of constructing a false bottom to the box
placing in it a tiny written message. Laloo Chiba, who once trained as
tailor, wrote out minuscule coded messages that would be placed in the
Joe Gqabi, another
MK soldier who was
with us, would carry the matchboxes on our walks to the quarry and drop
a strategic crossing where we knew the general prisoners would pass.
whispered conversations at food deliveries, we explained the plan.
Designated prisoners from F and G would pick up the matchboxes on their walks, and we retrieved messages in the same fashion. It was far from perfect, and we could easily be foiled by something as simple as the rain. We soon evolved more efficient methods.
We looked for moments when the warders were inattentive. One such time was during and after meals. We helped ourselves to our food, and we worked out a scheme whereby comrades from the general section who worked in the kitchen began placing letters and notes wrapped in plastic at the bottom of the food drums. We sent return communication in a similar way, wrapping notes in the same plastic and placing them at the bottom of the mounds of dirty dishes that were routed back to the kitchen. We would do our best to create a mess, scattering food all over the plates. The warders even complained about the disarray, but never bothered to investigate.
Our toilets and
showers were adjacent to
the isolation section. Prisoners from the general section were often
to isolation there and would use the same set of toilets we did, though
different times. Mac devised a method of wrapping notes in plastic and
taping them inside the rim of the toilet bowl. We encouraged our
comrades in the general section to be charged and placed in isolation
they could retrieve these notes and send replies. The warders never
In order not to have our notes read or understood by the authorities if they were found, we devised ways of writing that could not easily be seen or deciphered. One way was to write messages with milk. The milk would dry almost immediately, and the paper would look blank. But the disinfectant we were given to clean our cells, when sprayed on the dried milk, made the writing reappear. Unfortunately, we did not regularly receive milk. After one of us was diagnosed with an ulcer, we used his.
Another technique was to write in tiny, coded script on toilet paper. The paper was so small and easily hidden that this became a popular way of smuggling out messages. When the authorities discovered a number of these communications, they took the extraordinary measure of rationing toilet paper. Govan was then ailing and not going to the quarry, and he was given the task of counting out eight squares of toilet paper for each prisoner per day.
But even with all these ingenious methods, one of the best ways was also the easiest: getting sent to the prison hospital. The island had one hospital, and it was difficult to segregate us from the general prisoners while we were there. Sometimes prisoners from the different sections even shared the same wards, and men from Section B and prisoners from F and G mingled and exchanged information about political organizations, strikes, go-slows, whatever the current prison issues were.
Communication with the outside world was accomplished in two ways: through prisoners whose sentences were completed and who were leaving the island, and through contact with visitors. Prisoners who were leaving would smuggle out letters in their clothes or baggage. With outside visitors, the situation was even more dangerous, because the risks were also borne by the visitor. When lawyers visited us, warders were not permitted in the room and we would sometimes pass a letter to the lawyer to be taken out. Lawyers were not searched. In these meetings, we could also communicate by writing as we had during the Rivonia Trial. Because the room was bugged, we might say, “Please tell . . .” and then pause and write “O.T.,” meaning Oliver Tambo, on a piece of paper, “that we approve of his plan to cut down the size of the . . .” and then write, “National Executive.”
Through a plastic-wrapped note hidden in our food drums, we learned in July of 1966 that the men in the general section had embarked on a hunger strike to protest poor conditions. The note was imprecise, and we did not know exactly when the strike had started or exactly what it was about. But we would support any strike of prisoners for whatever reason they were striking. Word was passed among us, and we resolved to initiate a sympathetic strike beginning with our next meal. A hunger strike consists of one thing: not eating.
Because of the time lag in communications, the general prisoners probably did not learn of our participation for a day or so. But we knew that the news would hearten them. The authorities would be telling them that we were not participating in the strike, that we were gorging ourselves on gourmet meals. This was standard operating procedure; in a crisis, the authorities inevitably started a disinformation campaign to play one section against the other. In this case, while the ANC unanimously supported the strike, some PAC men in the general section did not.
During the first day of our strike, we were served our normal rations and refused to take them. On the second day, we noticed that our portions were larger and a few more vegetables accompanied our pap. On the third day, juicy pieces of meat were served with supper. By the fourth day, the porridge was glistening with fat, and great hunks of meat and colorful vegetables were steaming on top. The food was positively mouthwatering.
The warders smiled when we passed up the food. The temptation was great, but we resisted, even though we were being driven especially hard at the quarry. We heard that in the main section, prisoners were collapsing and being taken away in wheelbarrows.
I was called to the Head Office for an interview with Colonel Wessels. Such sessions were delicate, as my fellow prisoners knew that the authorities would attempt to influence me to call off the strike. Wessels was a direct man and demanded to know why we were on a hunger strike. I explained that as political prisoners we saw protest to alter prison conditions as an extension of the anti-apartheid struggle. “But you don’t even know why they are striking in F and G,” he said. I said that did not matter, that the men in F and G were our brothers and that our struggle was indivisible. He snorted, and dismissed me.
The following day we learned of an extraordinary course of events: the warders had gone on their own food boycott, refusing to go to their own cafeteria. They were not striking in support of us, but had decided that if we could do such a thing, why couldn’t they? They were demanding better food and improved living conditions. The combination of the two strikes was too much for the authorities. They settled with the warders and then, a day or two later, we learned the authorities had gone to the general section and asked for three representatives to negotiate changes. The general prisoners declared victory and called off the hunger strike. We followed suit a day later.
* * *
That was the first and most successful of the hunger strikes on the island. As a form of protest, they did not have a high success rate and the rationale behind them always struck me as quixotic. In order for a hunger strike to succeed, the outside world must learn of it. Otherwise, prisoners will simply starve themselves to death and no one will know. Smuggled-out information that we were on a hunger strike would elicit newspaper stories, which in turn would generate pressure from advocacy groups. The problem, particularly in the early years, was that it was next to impossible to alert people on the outside that we were waging a hunger strike inside.
For me, hunger strikes were altogether too passive. We who were already suffering were threatening our health, even courting death. I have always favored a more active, militant style of protest such as work strikes, go-slow strikes, or refusing to clean up; actions that punished the authorities, not ourselves. They wanted gravel and we produced no gravel.
They wanted the
prison yard clean and it
was untidy. This kind of behavior distressed and exasperated them,
think they secretly enjoyed watching us go hungry. But when it came to
decision, I was often outvoted. My colleagues even jokingly accused me
wanting to miss a meal. The proponents of hunger strikes argued that it
traditionally accepted form of protest that had been waged all over the
by such prominent leaders as Mahatma Gandhi. Once the decision was
however, I would support it as wholeheartedly as any of its advocates.
during the strikes I was often in the position of remonstrating with
some of my
more wayward colleagues who did not want to abide by our agreement.
want my food,” I remember one man saying. “I don’t see why I should go
I have served the struggle for many years.”
Comrades would sometimes eat on the sly. We knew this for a simple reason: by the second day of a hunger strike, no one needs to use the toilet. Yet one morning you might see a fellow going to the toilet. We had our own internal intelligence service because we knew that certain men were weak in this regard.
In the midst of the July 1966 hunger strike I had my second visit from my wife. It was almost exactly two years after the first visit, and it nearly did not happen at all. Winnie had been under constant harassment since her first visit in 1964. Her sisters and brother were persecuted by the police, and the authorities attempted to forbid anyone in her family from living with her. Some of this I learned at the time, much of it I found out later. Some of the nastiest items were known to me because when I would return from the quarry, I often would find neatly cut clippings about Winnie that had been anonymously placed on my bed by the warders. In small and spiteful ways, the authorities did their best to make Winnie’s journeys as unpleasant as possible. For the previous two years, her visits had been stymied by local magistrates and by the repeated bannings that prevented her from traveling. I had recently heard through counsel that Winnie had been informed by the police that she could visit me only if she carried a pass. Winnie, who had been protesting the government’s policy regarding women’s passes since the 1950s, rightly refused to carry the hated document. The authorities were clearly attempting to humiliate her and me. But I thought it was more important that we see each other than to resist the petty machinations of the authorities, and Winnie consented to carry a pass. I missed her enormously and needed the reassurance of seeing her, and we also had vital family matters to discuss.
governing each of
Winnie’s visits were long and complicated. She was barred from taking a
or car and had to fly, making the trip much more expensive. She was
take the shortest route from the airport to
I had also learned from a newspaper
clipping that a Special Branch officer broke into our
This second visit
was for only half an
hour, and we had much to discuss. Winnie was a bit agitated from the
We reviewed the
education of the
children, the health of my mother, which was not very good, and our
critical issue was the education of Zeni and Zindzi. Winnie had placed
girls in a school designated as Indian, and the authorities were
principal on the grounds that it was a violation of the law for the
accept African pupils. We made the difficult decision to send Zeni and
to boarding school in
To get around the restrictions on
nonfamily matters, we used names whose meaning was clear to us, but not
warders. If I wanted to know how Winnie was really doing, I
might say, “Have
you heard about Ngutyana recently; is she all right?” Ngutyana is one
Winnie’s clan names, but the authorities were unaware of that. Then
could talk about how and what Ngutyana was doing. If the warder asked
was, we would say she was a cousin. If I wanted to know about how the
mission of the ANC was faring, I would ask, “How is the church?” Winnie
discuss “the church” in appropriate terms, and I might then ask, “How
priests? Are there any new sermons?” We improvised and
managed to exhange a great deal of information that way.
As always, when the warder yelled, “Time up!,” I thought only a few minutes had passed. I wanted to kiss the glass good-bye, but restrained myself. I always preferred for Winnie to leave first so she would not have to see me led away by the warders, and I watched as she whispered a good-bye, hiding her pain from the warders.
After the visit, I replayed all the details in my mind, what Winnie wore, what she said, what I said. I then wrote her a letter going over some of what we had discussed, and reminding her of how much I cared for her, how unshakable our bond was, how courageous she was. I saw my letters to her both as love letters and as the only way I could give her the emotional support she needed.
Soon after the
visit, I learned that
Winnie had been charged for failing to report to the police on her
The state did its
utmost to harass me in
ways they thought I would be powerless to resist. Toward the end of
Transvaal Law Society, at the instigation of the minister of justice,
motion to strike me off the roll of practicing attorneys as a result of
conviction in the Rivonia Trial. Apparently they were not discouraged
earlier unsuccessful attempt to remove my name from the roll because of
conviction in the
I found out about
the Law Society’s
action only after it had been initiated. The Transvaal Law Society was
extremely conservative organization, and they were seeking to punish me
time when they assumed I would be unable to defend myself. It is not
easy for a
I informed the
authorities that I planned
to contest the action and would prepare my own defense. I told prison
that in order to prepare adequately, I would need to be exempt from
the quarry and would also require a proper table, chair, and reading
work on my brief. I said I needed access to a law library and demanded
My strategy was to overwhelm the prison authorities and the courts with legitimate requests, which I knew they would have a difficult time satisfying. The authorities always found it distressing when I wanted to defend myself in court because the accompanying publicity would show that I was still fighting for the same values I always had.
Their first response was, “Mandela, why don’t you retain a lawyer to defend you? He will be able to handle the case properly. Why put yourself out?” I went ahead and applied to the registrar of the Supreme Court for the records, documents, and books that I would need. I also requested a list of the state’s witnesses and summaries of their prospective testimony.
I received a letter stating that before the court would grant my requests they would need to know the nature of my defense. This was extraordinary. To ask the nature of a lawyer’s defense before the trial? No defendant can be compelled to reveal his defense before he is actually in court. I wrote back to tell them that the nature of my defense would become clear to them when I filed my papers — and not until then.
This was the
beginning of a flurry of
correspondence between me and the registrar as well as the state
was representing the Law Society. I would not back down on any of my
The authorities were equally intransigent: I could not be taken off
detail, I could not have a table and chair, and under no circumstances
be able to go to
I continued to bedevil the Law Society and registrar with demands, which they continued to deflect. Finally, several months and many letters later, without any fanfare and with just a cursory notification to me, they dropped the entire matter. The case was becoming more than they had bargained for. They had reckoned I would not have the initiative or wherewithal to defend myself; they were mistaken.
I was able to read in detail about the official reactions to my opposition to the Law Society’s actions because we were receiving a daily newspaper just as if it were delivered to our door. In effect, it was. The warder who supervised us at night was a quiet, elderly Jehovah’s Witness whom Mac Maharaj had befriended. One night, he wandered over to Mac’s cell and told him that he wanted to enter a newspaper contest that required an essay. Would Mac, he wondered, be willing to assist him in writing it? The old warder hinted that if Mac helped him, there would be a reward. Mac agreed, and duly wrote the essay. A fortnight later, the old man came to Mac very excited. He was now a finalist in the competition; would Mac write him another essay? The warder promised Mac a cooked chicken in return. Mac told the old warder that he would think about it.
The next day, Mac
came to Walter and me
and explained the situation. While Walter encouraged Mac to accept the
appreciated his reluctance to do so, because it would appear that he
getting special treatment. That night, he told the warder he would
essay in exchange for a pack of cigarettes. The old warder agreed, and
following evening presented Mac with a newly bought pack of cigarettes.
The next day, Mac
told us that he now had
the leverage he wanted over the old warder. How? we asked. “Because I
fingerprints on the cigarette pack,” Mac said, “and I can blackmail
Walter exclaimed that that was immoral. I did not criticize Mac, but
he would blackmail him for. Mac raised his eyebrow: “Newspapers,” he
Walter and I looked at each other. I think Walter was the only man on
That night Mac told the warder that he had his fingerprints on the pack of cigarettes and that if the old man did not cooperate, he would expose him to the commanding officer. Terrified of being fired and losing his pension, the warder agreed to do whatever Mac wanted. For the next six months, until the warder was transferred, the old man would smuggle that day’s newspaper to Mac. Mac would then summarize the news and reduce it to a single small piece of paper, which would circulate among us. The unfortunate warder did not win the contest, either.
It would be hard to say what we did more of at the quarry: mine lime or talk. By 1966, the warders had adopted a laissez-faire attitude: we could talk as much as we wanted as long as we worked. We would cluster in small groups, four or five men in a rough circle, and talk all day long, about every subject under the sun. We were in a perpetual conversation with each other on topics both solemn and trifling.
There is no prospect about prison which pleases — with the possible exception of one. One has time to think. In the vortex of the struggle, when one is constantly reacting to changing circumstances, one rarely has the chance to carefully consider all the ramifications of one’s decisions or policies. Prison provided the time — much more than enough time — to reflect on what one had done and not done.
We were constantly engaged in political debates. Some were dispatched in a day, others were disputed for years. I have always enjoyed the cutand-thrust of debating, and was a ready participant. One of our earliest and longest debates concerned the relationship between the ANC and the Communist Party. Some of the men, especially those MK soldiers who had been trained in socialist countries, believed that the ANC and the party were one and the same. Even some very senior ANC colleagues, such as Govan Mbeki and Harry Gwala, subscribed to this theory.
The party did not
exist as a separate
Over time, the
debate concerning the ANC
and the party grew progressively acrimonious. A number of us proposed
to resolve it: we would write to the ANC in exile in
Another recurrent political discussion was whether or not the ANC leadership should come exclusively from the working class. Some argued that because the ANC was a mass organization made up mainly of ordinary workers, the leadership should come from those same ranks. My argument was that it was as undemocratic to specify that the leaders had to be from the working class as to declare that they should be bourgeois intellectuals. If the movement had insisted on such a rule, most of its leaders, men such as Chief Luthuli, Moses Kotane, Dr. Dadoo, would have been ineligible. Revolutionaries are drawn from every class.
Not all debates were political. One issue that provoked much discussion was circumcision. Some among us maintained that circumcision as practiced by the Xhosa and other tribes was not only an unnecessary mutilation of the body, but a reversion to the type of tribalism that the ANC was seeking to overthrow. It was not an unreasonable argument, but the prevailing view, with which I agreed, was that circumcision was a cultural ritual that had not only a salutary health benefit but an important psychological effect. It was a rite that strengthened group identification and inculcated positive values.
continued for years, and a
number of men voted in favor of circumcision in a very direct way. A
working in the hospital who had formerly practiced as an ingcibi
set up a secret
circumcision school, and a number of
the younger prisoners from our section were circumcised there.
would organize a small party of tea and biscuits for the men, and they
spend a day or two walking around in blankets, as was the custom.
One subject we
hearkened back to again
and again was the question of whether there were tigers in
I maintained that
while there were no tigers
to be found in contemporary Africa, there was a Xhosa word for tiger, a
different from the one for leopard, and that if the word existed in our
language, the creature
must have once existed in
That spring, we had felt a certain thawing on the part of the authorities, a relaxation of the iron-fisted discipline that had prevailed on the island. The tension between prisoners and warders had lessened somewhat. But this lull proved to be short-lived and came to an abrupt end one morning in September. We had just put down our picks and shovels on the quarry face and were walking to the shed for lunch. As one of the general prisoners wheeled a drum of food toward us, he whispered, “Verwoerd is dead.” That was all. The news quickly passed among us. We looked at each other in disbelief and glanced over at the warders, who seemed unaware that anything momentous had occurred.
We did not know how the prime minister
had died. Later, we heard about the obscure white parliamentary
stabbed Verwoerd to death, and we wondered at his motives. Although
thought Africans were beneath animals, his death did not yield us any
Political assassination is not something I or the ANC has ever supported. It is a primitive way of contending with an opponent. Verwoerd had proved to be both the chief theorist and master builder of grand apartheid. He had championed the creation of the bantustans and Bantu Education. Shortly before his death he had led the Nationalists in the general election of 1966, in which the party of apartheid had increased its majority, winning 126 seats to the 39 achieved by the United Party, and the single seat won by the Progressive Party.
As often happened on the island, we had learned significant political news before our own guards. But by the following day, it was obvious the warders knew, for they took out their anger on us. The tension that had taken months to abate was suddenly at full force. The authorities began a crackdown against political prisoners as though we had held the knife that stabbed Verwoerd.
The authorities always imagined that we
were secretly linked with all kinds of powerful forces on the outside.
spate of successful guerrilla attacks against the South African police
The punishment against us was never enunciated as an official policy, but it was a renewal of the harsh atmosphere that prevailed upon our arrival on the island. The Quiet One was replaced with a man who was a vicious martinet. His name was Van Rensburg and he had been flown to the island on twenty-four hours’ notice after the assassination. His reputation preceded him, for his name was a byword among prisoners for brutality.
Van Rensburg was a big, clumsy, brutish fellow who did not speak but shouted. During his first day on the job we noticed he had a small swastika tattooed on his wrist. But he did not need this offensive symbol to prove his cruelty. His job was to make our lives as wretched as possible, and he pursued that goal with great enthusiasm.
Each day over the next few months, Van Rensburg would charge one of us for insubordination or malingering. Each morning, he and the other warders would discuss who would be charged that afternoon. It was a policy of selective intimidation, and the decision on who would be charged was taken regardless of how hard that prisoner had worked that day. When we were trudging back to our cells, Van Rensburg would read from a list, “Mandela [or Sisulu or Kathrada], I want to see you immediately in front of the head of prison.” The island’s administrative court began working overtime. In response, we formed our own legal committee made up of myself, Fikile Bam, and Mac Maharaj. Mac had studied law and was adept at putting the authorities on the defensive. Fiks, who was working toward a law degree, was a bright, resourceful fellow who had become the head of the prisoners’ committee in our section. The job of our legal committee was to advise our comrades on how to conduct themselves in the island’s administrative court.
Van Rensburg was not a clever fellow, and while he would lord it over us at the quarry, we could outwit him in court. Our strategy was not to argue with him in the field, but to contest the charges in court where we would have a chance to make our case before slightly more enlightened officers. In administrative court, the charge would be read by the presiding magistrate. “Malingering at the quarry,” he might say, at which Van Rensburg would look smug. After the charge had been read in full, I always advised my colleagues to do one thing and one thing only: ask the court for “further particulars.” This was one’s right as a defendant, and though the request became a regular occurrence, Van Rensburg would almost always be stumped. Court would then have to be adjourned while Van Rensburg went out to gather “further particulars.”
Van Rensburg was vindictive in large ways and small. When our lunch arrived at the quarry and we would sit down to eat — we now had a simple wooden table — Van Rensburg would inevitably choose that moment to urinate next to our food. I suppose we should have been grateful that he did not urinate directly on our food, but we lodged a protest against the practice anyway. One of the few ways prisoners can take revenge on warders is through humor, and Van Rensburg became the butt of many of our jokes. Among ourselves we called him “Suitcase.” Warders’ lunch boxes were known as “suitcases” and normally a warder would designate a prisoner, usually his favorite, to carry his “suitcase,” and then reward him with half a sandwich. But we always refused to carry Van Rensburg’s “suitcase,” hence the nickname. It was humiliating for a warder to carry his own lunch pail.
One day, Wilton Mkwayi inadvertently
referred to “Suitcase” within Van Rensburg’s hearing. “Who is
One day at the
quarry, we resumed our
discussion of whether or not the tiger was native to
Kellerman arrived on the scene a few minutes later to find us in much the same state as we had been before. Kellerman was relatively new to the island, and was determined to set the right tone. One of the warders then reported to Kellerman that Andrew Masondo and I had not been working, and we were to be charged with malingering and insubordination. Under Kellerman’s authority, we were then handcuffed and taken to isolation. From that point on, Suitcase seemed to hold a special grudge against me. One day, while he was supervising us at the quarry, I was working next to Fikile Bam. We were off by ourselves, on the far side of the quarry. We worked diligently, but since we were both studying law at the time, we were discussing what we had read the night before. At the end of the day, Van Rensburg stood in front of us and said, “Fikile Bam and Nelson Mandela, I want to see you in front of the head of prison.”
We were brought
before the lieutenant,
who was the head of prison, and Van Rensburg announced, “These men did
the whole day. I’m charging them for defying orders.” The lieutenant
we had anything to say. “Lieutenant,” I responded, “we dispute the
have been working and, in fact, we have evidence that we have been
it is essential to our defense.” The lieutenant scoffed at this. “All
you men work
in the same area,” he said. “How is it possible to have evidence?” I
that Fiks and I had been working apart from the others and that we
exactly how much work we had done. Suitcase naively confirmed that we
off by ourselves, and the lieutenant agreed to have a look. We drove
Once there, Fiks and I walked to the area where we had been working. I pointed to the considerable pile of rocks and lime that we had built up and said, “There, that is what we have done today.” Suitcase had never even bothered to examine our work and was rattled by the quantity of it. “No,” he said to the lieutenant, “that is the result of a week’s work.” The lieutenant was skeptical. “All right, then,” he said to Suitcase, “show me the small pile that Mandela and Bam put together today.” Suitcase had no reply, and the lieutenant did something I have rarely seen a superior officer do: he chastised his subordinate in the presence of prisoners. “You are telling lies,” he said, and dismissed the charges on the spot.
One morning in early 1967, during Suitcase’s tenure, we were preparing to walk to the quarry when Suitcase informed us that an order had come down from Major Kellerman forbidding us to talk. Not only was conversation banned on our walks; henceforth, there would be no conversation permitted at the quarry. “From now on, silence!” he yelled. This command was greeted by profound dismay and outrage. Talking and discussing issues were the only things that made the work at the quarry tolerable. Of course, we could not discuss it on the way to the quarry because we were ordered not to talk, but during our lunch break the ANC leadership and the heads of the other political groups managed secretly to hash out a plan.
While we were
our plan, Major Kellerman himself appeared and walked into our lunch
was highly unusual; we had never had such a high-ranking visitor in our
shed. With a cough of embarrassment, he announced that his order had
mistake and that we could resume talking at the quarry, just as long as
it quietly. He then told us to carry on and spun on his heel and was
were glad the order was rescinded, but
suspicious as to why.
That afternoon, I discovered that my cell had been moved from number 4, near the entrance of the passageway, to number 18, at the back. All of my belongings had been dumped into the new cell. As always, there was no explanation. We guessed that we were to have a visitor and I had been moved because the authorities did not want me to be the first among the prisoners to talk to whoever was coming. If each prisoner in turn voiced his complaints, the authorities could yell “Time up!” before a visitor reached cell 18. We resolved that in the interest of unity, each individual along the passageway would inform any visitor that while everyone had individual complaints, the prisoner in number 18 would speak for all.
The following morning, after breakfast, we were informed by Suitcase that we would not be going to the quarry. Then Major Kellerman appeared to say that Mrs. Helen Suzman, the lone member of the liberal Progressive Party in Parliament and the only voice of true opposition to the Nationalists in Parliament, would be arriving shortly. In less than fifteen minutes, Mrs. Suzman — all five feet two inches of her — came through the door of our passageway, accompanied by General Steyn, the commissioner of prisons. As she was introduced to each prisoner, she asked him whether or not he had any complaints. Each man replied the same way: “I have many complaints, but our spokesman is Mr. Nelson Mandela at the end of the corridor.” To General Steyn’s dismay, Mrs. Suzman was soon at my cell. She firmly shook my hand and cordially introduced herself.
Unlike judges and magistrates, who were
automatically permitted access to prisons, members of Parliament had to
permission to visit a prison. Mrs. Suzman was one of the few, if not
members of Parliament who took an interest in the plight of political
prisoners. Many stories were circulating about
As this was Mrs.
Suzman’s first visit to
Normally, I would not complain about an individual warder. One learns in prison that it is better to fight for general principles than to battle each individual case. However callous a warder may be, he is usually just carrying out prison policy. But Van Rensburg was in a class by himself, and we believed that if he were gone, it would make a disproportionate difference for all of us. Mrs. Suzman listened attentively, jotting down what I said in a small notebook, and promised to take these matters up with the minister of justice.
She then made an inspection of our cells, and talked a bit with some of the other men. It was an odd and wonderful sight to see this courageous woman peering into our cells and strolling around our courtyard. She was the first and only woman ever to grace our cells. Van Rensburg was exceedingly nervous during Mrs. Suzman’s visit. According to Kathy, while Mrs. Suzman and I were talking, Van Rensburg apologized for all his past actions. But his contrition did not last long, for the next day he informed us he was reinstating all the charges against us.
We later learned that Mrs. Suzman had taken up our case in Parliament, and within a few weeks of her visit, Suitcase was transferred off the island
I never imagined the struggle would be either short or easy. The first few years on the island were difficult times both for the organization outside and those of us in prison. After Rivonia, much of the movement’s underground machinery had been destroyed. Our structures had been discovered and uprooted; those who were not captured were scrambling to stay one step ahead of the enemy. Virtually every one of the ANC’s senior leaders was either in jail or in exile.
In the years after
Rivonia, the ANC’s
External Mission, formerly responsible for fund-raising, diplomacy, and
establishing a military training program, took up the reins of the
as a whole. The External Mission not only had to create an organization
exile, but had the even more formidable task of trying to revitalize
underground ANC inside
But elsewhere the
imperialism was on the march. In the middle to late 1960s, armed
being fought throughout southern
That year, a group
of MK soldiers who had
been training in
In August, as the
accompanied by ZAPU troops, moved southward, they were spotted by the
army. Over the next few weeks, fierce battles were fought and both
sustained casualties. Finally, our troops were overpowered by the
numbers of the Rhodesian forces. Some were captured, and others
We heard of this months later by rumor, but did not learn the full story until some of the men who had fought there were imprisoned with us. Though our forces were not victorious, we quietly celebrated the fact that our MK cadres had engaged the enemy in combat on their own terms. It was a milestone in the struggle. “Justice” Panza, one of the commanders of the Luthuli Detachment, was later imprisoned with us. He briefed us on the detachment’s military training, political education, and valor in the field. As a former commander-in-chief of MK, I was terribly proud of our soldiers.
We organized a small memorial service for the chief in Section B and permitted everyone who wanted to speak to do so. It was a quiet, respectful service, with only one sour note. When Neville Alexander of the Unity Movement rose to speak, it was apparent that he had come not to praise the chief but to bury him. Without even perfunctory regrets at the man’s passing, he accused Luthuli of being a patsy of the white man, mainly on the grounds that the chief had accepted the Nobel Peace Prize.
Apart from its
Neville’s speech was entirely contrary to the climate of cooperation
organizations we were trying to create on the island. From the moment I
on the island, I had made it my mission to seek some accommodation with
rivals in the struggle. I saw
Yet from the beginning, relations with the PAC had been more competitive than cooperative. Some of the PAC men had already been on the island, and saw our arrival as an encroachment on their territory. We heard from some of our men that the most senior PAC prisoners had expressed regret that we had not been hanged.
In 1962, when I
had first been on the
island, the PAC had greatly outnumbered the ANC. In 1967, the numbers
reversed. Yet this seemed to harden the PAC in their positions. They
unashamedly anti-Communist and anti-Indian. In the early years, I had
with Zeph Mothopeng, who had been on the PAC’s National Executive
Zeph argued that the PAC was more militant than the ANC, and that in
the ANC should follow the PAC’s lead. The PAC
maintained that negotiations with the authorities were a betrayal, but
not stop them from taking advantage of the benefits that resulted from
negotiations. In 1967, I held talks with Selby Ngendane on the question
unity. Outside of prison, Ngendane had been violently opposed to the
Charter, but in prison, particularly when sent to our section, Selby
We eventually wrote separate letters to our respective organizations in
general section advocating the idea of unity. The ANC also worked well
Makwetu, who later became president of the
insecurity occasionally had
comical results. At one point, an order came from
The PAC often refused to participate in meetings that had no overt party affiliation. When we called meetings to discuss our grievances and later had news sessions to discuss what we had learned from the paper, the PAC boycotted these gatherings. I found this greatly annoying. The PAC, we learned, were ignorant of changes in their own organization on the outside. At the time, the PAC members on the island refused to believe our claims that the exiled PAC had opened its doors to whites and Indians as members. That was heresy. Yet we had read in the paper that the white activist Patrick Duncan had become a member of the PAC executive. The PAC members derided this at the time as ANC propaganda.
From its inception, we decided the High
Organ would not try to influence external ANC policy. We had no
reliable way of
evaluating the situation in the country, and concluded it would neither
nor wise for us to offer guidance on matters about which we were
Instead, we made decisions about such matters as prisoners’ complaints,
strikes, mail, food — all of the day-to-day concerns of prison life. We
when possible, convene a general members’ meeting, which we regarded as
to the health of our organization. But as these meetings were extremely
and thus infrequent, the High Organ would often take decisions that
communicated to all the other members. The High Organ also operated a
system, with each cell consisting of three members.
In the first few years on the island, the High Organ also acted as a representative committee for all the political prisoners in our section. In 1967, we organized a petition demanding better treatment that was signed by virtually everyone, including members of the PAC, the Unity Movement, and the Liberal Party, represented by Eddie Daniels. This arrangement was acceptable to all until Neville Alexander complained that the High Organ was neither democratic nor truly representative, and that some other body ought to be created.
turned into a prisoners’ committee composed of people from all
parties. There was fear among the other organizations that the ANC
attempt to dominate it, and the committee’s rules were crafted so that
powers were purely consultative and its decisions not binding. Even so,
still difficult to agree on a common approach to problems. We suggested
Fikile Bam, a member of the Yu Chi Chan Club, preside over meetings.
committee leadership would rotate. Eventually the committee became
Ulundi, and acted as a disciplinary committee for all political
The High Organ was the source of some controversy because of its ethnic composition: all four permanent members were from Xhosa backgrounds. This was a matter of coincidence rather than design; the senior ANC leadership on the island, the only four to have served on the National Executive Committee, happened to be Xhosa. It would not have been proper to take a less senior comrade and put him on the High Organ simply because he was not a Xhosa. But the fact that the High Organ was Xhosa-dominated disturbed me because it seemed to reinforce the mistaken perception that we were a Xhosa organization.
I have always found this criticism to be vexing and based on both ignorance of ANC history and maliciousness. I would refute it by noting that the presidents of the ANC have been Zulus, Basotho, Pedis, and Tswanas, and the executive has always been a mixture of tribal groups. I recall once working in our courtyard on a sunny afternoon, while some men from the general section were working on the roof above me. They shouted at me, “Mdala! [Old man!], why do you only talk to Xhosas?” The accusation stung me. I looked up and said, “How can you accuse me of discrimination? We are one people.” They seemed satisfied by that, but their perception stuck in my mind. From then on, whenever I knew I would be walking in front of men from the general section, I would try to converse with Kathy or Eddie Daniels, or someone who was not a Xhosa.
We subsequently decided that there should be a fifth, rotating member of the High Organ. This member was usually not a Xhosa; Kathy, for example, was the fifth member of the High Organ for more than five years. Laloo Chiba also served for a time, and in the end, the criticism died a slow and unremarkable death.
I did not by any means dominate the High Organ, and in fact, a number, of proposals that I felt strongly about were rejected. This is as it should be, but I sometimes found it frustrating. There were two issues regarding the authorities about which I could never persuade my colleagues. Prison regulations stated that prisoners must stand in the presence of a senior officer. I advocated that we should remain seated, as it was demeaning to have to recognize the enemy when he did not recognize us as political prisoners. My comrades believed this was a trivial matter and the negative consequences of resistance would outweigh any benefits.
The second issue was rejected by the High Organ on similar grounds. The warders called us by either our surnames or our Christian names. Each, I felt, was degrading, and I thought we should insist on the honorific “Mister.” I pressed for this for many years, without success. Later, it even became a source of humor as my colleagues would occasionally call me “Mr.” Mandela.
Some of the warders began to engage us in conversation. I never initiated conversations with warders, but if they addressed a question to me, I tried to answer. It is easier to educate a man when he wants to learn. Usually, these questions were posed with a kind of exasperation: “All right, Mandela, what is it you really want?” Or, “Look, you have a roof over your head and enough food, why are you causing so much trouble?” I would then calmly explain our policies to the warders. I wanted to demystify the ANC for them, to peel away their prejudices.
In 1969 a young
warder arrived who seemed
particularly eager to get to know me. I had heard rumors that our
people on the
outside were organizing an escape for me, and had infiltrated a warder
island who would assist me. Gradually, this fellow communicated to me
that he was
planning my escape. In bits and pieces he explained the plan: one
would drug the warders on duty at the lighthouse to allow for the
landing of a
boat on the beach. He would furnish me with a key to get out of our
that I could meet the boat. On the boat I was to be equipped with
gear, which I would use to swim into the harbor at
He must have
gotten the message, for he
was soon transferred off the island. As it turned out, my mistrust was
justified, for we later learned that the warder was an agent of the
State Security (BOSS),
The term of a
commanding officer was
usually no more than three years, and we had been through several by
Whenever a new commanding officer was appointed, I requested a meeting with him. I did this in order to impress upon him the seriousness of our cause and also to evaluate his character. I requested a meeting with Colonel Badenhorst and was turned down. He was the first commanding officer to spurn such a meeting.
We felt the effects of his regime before we ever saw him. A number of the newer regulations regarding study and free time were immediately rescinded. It was obvious that he intended to roll back every privilege we had won over the years. Our old warders were transferred off the island and replaced by Badenhorst’s handpicked guards. They were younger, coarser men who enforced every niggling regulation, whose job was to harass and demoralize us. Within days of Badenhorst’s appointment, our cells were raided and searched; books and papers were confiscated; meals were suspended without warning; and men were jostled on the way to the quarry.
Badenhorst attempted to turn back the clock to the way the island was in the early 1960s. The answer to every question was always no. Prisoners who requested to see their lawyers were given solitary confinement instead. Complaints were completely ignored. Visits were canceled without explanation. The food deteriorated. Censorship increased. About a week after Badenhorst arrived, we were working at the quarry one morning when, without introduction or fanfare, Badenhorst and his driver pulled up in the commander’s car. He got out and surveyed us from a distance. We paused to look at our new commander. Badenhorst returned my glance and called out, “Mandela, Jy moet jou vinger uit jou gat trek” (You must pull your finger out of your arse). I did not care for this expression at all, and without thinking, I started advancing toward Badenhorst. He was still a distance away, and before I got close he had returned to his car and driven away.
From his car, Badenhorst radioed a command to his staff, and within minutes a truck had arrived to transport us back to Section B. We were commanded to be silent in the truck, and when we arrived at the courtyard, we were ordered to stand at attention. Badenhorst appeared in front of us, pacing back and forth. He seemed incapable of uttering a sentence without including an oath or swearword. “Jou ma se moer,” was his favorite expression. “Your mother is a moer” — moer being a vulgar term for an intimate part of a woman’s anatomy.
In his guttural voice, he told us he was disgusted to have observed our laziness at the quarry. As a result, he said, he was arbitrarily dropping all of our classifications by one notch. Though we despised the classification system, most of the men had by that time risen to at least C level, where they were permitted to study. D level prisoners were not allowed to study. The authorities rued the fact that they had allowed us study privileges, and Badenhorst was determined to rectify that mistake.
Later, after my
anger abated, I realized
that Badenhorst’s crude remark to me at the quarry was a calculated
one. He had
been brought to
In late May of 1971, a number of men from
SWAPO (the South-West African People’s Organization), an ally of the
fighting for independence in
Late on the night of May 28, we were awakened by shouts and fierce knocking on our cell doors. “Get up! Get up!” the warders yelled. We were ordered to strip and then line up against the wall of the courtyard. The warders were obviously drunk and were yelling and taunting us. They were led by a sadistic fellow named Fourie, whom we privately called Gangster.
It was a bitterly cold night, and for the next hour, while we stood at attention naked and shivering, our cells were searched one by one. Warders kept up their abuse for the entire time. Toward the end of the hour, Govan experienced severe chest pains and collapsed. This seemed to scare Fourie, and he ordered us to return to our cells.
The warders searched high and low, and found nothing. But the search seemed only an excuse for Fourie’s sadistic impulses. Only later did we learn that Fourie was reputed to have molested prisoners in the general section. The following day we discovered that the warders had brutally beaten some general prisoners before they came to us, and afterward, assaulted Toivo ja Toivo, who hit back and knocked down the warder who was beating him. Toivo was severely punished for this.
We filed a formal complaint about our treatment, but it was ignored. The incident stands out in my memory, but it was by no means unique; incidents like it were the rule rather than the exception during Badenhorst’s command. We were determined not to let conditions deteriorate entirely under Badenhorst. We smuggled messages to our people on the outside to agitate for his dismissal. At the same time, we resolved to create a delegation among ourselves to see Badenhorst. We discussed this for months and gradually decided on its composition; Walter and I represented the ANC, and each of the other parties had two representatives as well.
Badenhorst agreed to meet us, and at our parley we threatened work stoppages, go-slows, hunger strikes — every weapon at our disposal — unless he reformed his ways and restored many of the privileges that he had rescinded. He merely said he would take what we said under consideration. We regarded this confrontation as a victory, for he was wary of us and knew that we had alerted people on the outside of our complaints. These efforts soon produced a response.
A few weeks later,
we knew an important
visit must be imminent because when it rained that day at the quarry we
allowed to take shelter instead of continuing to work. The following
were informed that a troika of judges were coming to the island. The
authorities asked us to nominate a spokesman to express our grievances,
As I was preparing for my meeting with
the judges, I was informed by a reliable source that a prisoner in the
section had recently been severely beaten by a guard. The three judges
Justices Jan Steyn, M. E. Theron, and Michael Corbett of the
General Steyn introduced me to the judges and explained that I had been selected to represent the other prisoners. The judges then indicated that as a matter of course they would talk with me privately. I replied that I had nothing to hide and that in fact I welcomed the presence of General Steyn and the colonel. I could see that they were taken aback by my statement, and I added that it would be only proper for them to have the opportunity to reply to my charges. The judges reluctantly acquiesced.
I began by recounting the recent assault in the general section. I told them the details that had been reported to me, the viciousness of the beating, and the cover-up of the crime. I had barely begun to speak when I noticed Badenhorst shifting uncomfortably. When I had finished describing the incident, Badenhorst interjected in a gruff, aggressive manner: “Did you actually witness this assault?” I replied calmly that I had not but that I trusted the people who had told me of it. He snorted and wagged his finger in my face. “Be careful, Mandela,” he said. “If you talk about things you haven’t seen, you will get yourself in trouble. You know what I mean.”
I ignored Badenhorst’s remarks and turned to the judges and said, “Gentlemen, you can see for yourselves the type of man we are dealing with as commanding officer. If he can threaten me here, in your presence, you can imagine what he does when you are not here.” Judge Corbett then turned to the others and said, “The prisoner is quite right.” I spent the remainder of the meeting enumerating complaints about our diet, work, and studying. Inwardly Badenhorst must have been fuming, but outwardly he seemed chastened. At the end of the session, the judges thanked me, and I bade them good-bye.
I have no idea what the judges said or did after the meeting, but over the next few months, Badenhorst seemed to have his hands tied. The harshness abated, and within three months of the judges’ visit, we received word that Badenhorst was to be transferred. A few days before Badenhorst’s departure, I was called to the main office. General Steyn was visiting the island and wanted to know if we had any complaints. Badenhorst was there as I went through a list of demands. When I had finished, Badenhorst spoke to me directly. He told me that he would be leaving the island, and added, “I just want to wish you people good luck.” I do not know if I looked dumbfounded, but I was amazed. He spoke these words like a human being, and showed a side of himself we had never seen before. I thanked him for his good wishes, and wished him luck in his endeavors.
I thought about this moment for a long
time afterward. Badenhorst had perhaps been the most callous and
commanding officer we had had on
The aggressive young warders departed with Badenhorst as well, and we quickly resumed our customary behavior at the quarry and in our section. Willemse may have been a reasonable man, but when he saw that we spent more time at the quarry talking than working, he was shocked. He had been on the island for only a few weeks when I was summoned to his office for a meeting. “Mandela,” he said frankly, “you must help me.”
I asked him how. “Your men are not working. They don’t listen to orders. They only do what they want to do. This is a prison. There must be some discipline. It is not only good for us but good for you. We must have some order or they will bring back someone like the previous head of prison.”
What the colonel said made sense. I listened and told him that his request was a legitimate one, but before I could respond to him, I would need to meet with all my men. At that time, a meeting of all prisoners in the single cells was something that was expressly forbidden. By asking him to permit such a meeting, I was asking him for a significant extension of the rules. He knew this as well as I did, and he wanted some time to consider it.
Within days, I received a communication from Willemse saying he would allow it. All of us met one afternoon in the courtyard, without guards watching over us. I told the men what Willemse said, and noted that by compromising a bit now, we would be making our conditions better in the long run. We decided that we would at least appear to be working, but what work we did would be at a pace that suited us. From then on, that is what we did, and we heard no more complaints from the commanding officer.
During the early
part of Willemse’s
tenure, in 1971–2, there was a steady influx of captured MK soldiers.
had seen combat, and were well informed about the state of the exile
While I was never happy to see ANC men imprisoned, I was keen to
debrief them after
they arrived. I was extremely eager to know about Oliver, about the
camps, about MK’s successes and failures. The men were
extremely militant, and they
did not take to prison life easily. One of the first of these men was
April, an MK officer who had trained under Joe Slovo and had fought
Jimmy regaled us with war stories, but I also took him aside and asked him about MK’s problems. As I was founder of MK and its first commander-in-chief, Jimmy and the others were more candid with me than they were with the others. He told me stories of discontent in the camps, and of abuses by MK officers. I asked him to keep the matter to himself, and I managed to smuggle a letter out to Oliver suggesting that some reforms must be made in the camps.
One day, I was at the Head Office meeting with Colonel Willemse when I saw Jimmy outside the office of another official. He turned to me and said in some agitation, “They are refusing to give me my letter.” “On what ground?” I replied. “They claim it contains matter which I am not allowed to see,” he said. I entered the office to discuss the matter, but before I could even open my mouth, Jimmy had barged in and loudly said to the official, “Give me my letter!” Jimmy began to push me aside to get to the officer’s desk and take the letter himself. At this point, the official took the letter and moved behind me as if for protection from Jimmy. It might have been a comical scene in a film, but at the time it was nerve-racking. I turned to Jimmy and said quietly but sternly, “Please don’t do this. Calm down. I’ll sort out this matter and see to it that you get your letter. Now, please leave.”
My speech had the
intended effect, and
Jimmy left the office. I then turned to the officer, who was extremely
It was, for me, an odd position. I was not opposing the authorities but
between my own people and the men I had so long fought against. The
of those who were coming to the island put me in this position more and
frequently. While we were encouraged by their radicalism, these men
made our day-to-day life more burdensome. Within a week, the officer
instead of walking to the
quarry, we were ordered into the back of a truck. It rumbled off in a
direction, and fifteen minutes later we were ordered to jump out. There
front of us, glinting in the morning light, we saw the ocean, the rocky
and in the distance, winking in the sunshine, the glass towers of
The senior officer
explained to us that
we had been brought to the shore to collect seaweed. We were instructed
up the large pieces that had washed up on the beach, and wade out to
seaweed attached to rocks or coral. The seaweed itself was long and
brownishgreen in color. Sometimes the pieces were six to eight feet in
and thirty pounds in weight. After fishing out the seaweed from the
lined it up in rows on the beach. When it was dry, we loaded it into
of the truck. We were told it was then shipped to
The work did not
seem too taxing to us
that day, but in the coming weeks and months, we found it could be
strenuous. But that hardly mattered because we had the pleasures and
distractions of such a panoramic tableau: we watched fishing ships
stately oil tankers moving slowly across the horizon; we saw gulls
fish from the sea and seals cavorting on the waves; we laughed at the
penguins, which resembled a brigade of clumsy, flat-footed soldiers;
marveled at the daily drama of the weather over
In the summer, the water felt wonderful, but in winter, the icy Benguela currents made wading out into the waves a torture. The rocks on and around the shore were jagged, and we often cut and scraped our legs as we worked. But we preferred the sea to the quarry, although we never spent more than a few days there at a time.
The ocean proved to be a treasure chest. I found beautiful pieces of coral and elaborate shells, which I sometimes brought back to my cell. Once someone discovered a bottle of wine stuck in the sand that was still corked. I am told it tasted like vinegar. Jeff Masemola of the PAC was an extremely talented artist and sculptor, and the authorities allowed him to harvest pieces of driftwood, which he carved into fantastic figures, some of which the warders offered to buy. He constructed a bookcase for me, which I used for many years. The authorities told visitors that they had provided me with it.
The atmosphere at
the shore was more
relaxed than at the quarry. We also relished the seaside because we ate
extremely well there. Each morning when we went to the shore, we would
large drum of fresh water. Later, we would bring along a second drum,
would use to make a kind of
or what we call parlemoen, was my favorite dish. Abalones are mollusks
tenaciously to rocks, and one has to pry them loose. They are stubborn
creatures, difficult to open, and if they are the slightest bit
they are too tough to eat. We would take our catch and pile it into the
drum. Wilton Mkwayi was the chef among us and he would concoct the
it was ready, the warders would join us and we would all sit down on
and have a kind of picnic lunch. In 1973, in a smuggled newspaper, we
read about the wedding of Princess Anne
and Mark Phillips, and the story detailed the bridal luncheon of rare
delicate dishes. The menu included mussels, crayfish, and abalone,
us laugh; we were dining on such delicacies every day.
One afternoon, we were sitting on the beach eating our stew when Lieutenant Terblanche, who was then head of prison, made a surprise visit. We quickly pretended to be working, but we had not fooled him. He soon discovered the second drum containing a mussel stew bubbling over the fire. The lieutenant opened the pot and looked inside. He then speared a mussel, ate it, and pronounced it “Smaaklik,” Afrikaans for “tasty."
In the struggle,
Our university grew up partly out of necessity. As young men came to the island, we realized that they knew very little about the history of the ANC. Walter, perhaps the greatest living historian of the ANC, began to tell them about the genesis of the organization and its early days. His teaching was wise and full of understanding. Gradually, this informal history grew into a course of study, constructed by the High Organ, which became known as Syllabus A, involving two years of lectures on the ANC and the liberation struggle. Syllabus A included a course taught by Kathy, “A History of the Indian Struggle.” Another comrade added a history of the Coloured people. Mac, who had studied in the German Democratic Republic, taught a course in Marxism.
Teaching conditions were not ideal. Study groups would work together on the quarry and station themselves in a circle around the leader of the seminar. The style of teaching was Socratic in nature; ideas and theories were elucidated through the leaders asking and answering questions.
It was Walter’s course that was at the heart of all the education on the island. Many of the young ANC members who came to the island had no idea that the organization had even been in existence in the 1920s and 1930s. Walter guided them from the founding of the ANC in 1912 through to the present day. For many of these young men, it was the only political education they had ever received.
As these courses became known in the general section, we began to get queries from our men on the other side. This started what became a kind of correspondence course with the prisoners in the general section. The teachers would smuggle lectures over to them and they would respond with questions and comments.
This was beneficial for us as well as for them. These men had little formal education, but a great knowledge of the hardships of the world. Their concerns tended to be practical rather than philosophical. If one of the lectures stated that a tenet of socialism is “From each according to his ability and to each according to his need,” we might receive a question back that said, “Yes, but what does that mean in practice? If I have land and no money, and my friend has money but no land, which of us has a greater need?” Such questions were immensely valuable and forced one to think hard about one’s views.
For a number of years, I taught a course in political economy. In it, I attempted to trace the evolution of economic man from the earliest times up to the present, sketching out the path from ancient communal societies to feudalism to capitalism and socialism. I am by no means a scholar and not much of a teacher, and I would generally prefer to answer questions than to lecture. My approach was not ideological, but it was biased in favor of socialism, which I saw as the most advanced stage of economic life then evolved by man.
In addition to my informal studies, my legal work continued. I sometimes considered hanging a shingle outside my cell, because I was spending many hours a week preparing judicial appeals for other prisoners, though this was forbidden under prison service regulations. Prisoners from all different political stripes sought my help. South African law does not guarantee a defendant the right to legal representation, and thousands upon thousands of indigent men and women went to prison every year for lack of such representation. Few Africans could afford a lawyer, and most had no choice but to accept whatever verdict the court handed down. Many men in the general section had been sentenced without benefit of counsel, and a number of them sought me out to make an appeal. For most of these men, it was the first time they had ever dealt with an attorney.
I would receive a smuggled note from a prisoner in F or G asking for help. I would then request the particulars of the case, the charge, the evidence, and the testimony. Because of the clandestine nature of these exchanges, information would come slowly in bits and pieces. A consultation that would last no more than half an hour in my old Mandela and Tambo office might take a year or more on the island. I advised my “clients” to write a letter to the registrar of the Supreme Court asking for a record of their case. I told the prisoner to inform the registrar that he had limited funds and would like the record at no charge. Sometimes the registrars were kind enough to supply that material gratis.
Once I had the record of the case, I could put together an appeal, usually based on some judicial irregularity such as bias, incorrect procedure, or insufficient evidence. I drafted a letter to the judge or magistrate in my own handwriting, and then sent it to the other side. Because it was a violation of regulations for me to prepare a man’s case, I would instruct the prisoner to copy the document in his own hand. If he could not write, and many prisoners could not, I told him to find someone who could.
I enjoyed keeping my legal skills sharp, and in a few cases verdicts were overturned and sentences reduced. These were gratifying victories; prison is contrived to make one feel powerless, and this was one of the few ways to move the system. Often I never met the men I worked for, and sometimes, out of the blue, a man who was serving us pap for lunch would whisper a thank-you to me for the work I had done on his behalf
THE OPPRESSION of my wife did not let up. In 1972, security policemen kicked down the door of 8115 Orlando West. Bricks were hurled through the window. Gunshots were fired at the front door. In 1974, Winnie was charged with violating her banning orders, which restricted her from having any visitors apart from her children and her doctor. She was then working at a lawyer’s office, and a friend brought Zeni and Zindzi to see her during
her lunch hour.
For this, Winnie was
charged and then sentenced to six months’ imprisonment. She was put in
Kroonstad Prison, in the
In 1975, Zindzi turned fifteen. The plan was for her mother to alter Zindzi’s birth documents to show that the girl was turning sixteen, not fifteen, and therefore able to see me. Birth records are not kept in a very uniform or organized way for Africans, and Winnie found that it was not hard to modify her documents to show that Zindzi was born a year earlier. She applied for a permit, and it was approved. A few weeks before Zindzi’s scheduled visit in December, I had a previously arranged visit with Winnie’s mother. When I was seated across from her in the visiting area, I said to her, “Well, Ma, I’m very excited because I’m going to see Zindzi.” My mother-in-law, who was a former teacher, regarded me with some surprise and then said in a rather peevish way, “No, Zindzi cannot come and see you because she is not yet sixteen.” I realized immediately that no one had told her about our gambit. There was a warder behind each of us, and I decided I would simply gloss over what she had said, and mumbled, “Ah, well, Ma, it is nothing.”
But my mother-in-law is a stubborn woman and she did not let it pass. “Well, Mkonyanisi” — an affectionate term for son-in-law in Xhosa, which is what she always called me — “you have made a serious error because Zindzi is only fifteen.” I widened my eyes in a gesture of alarm and she must have gotten the message because she did not mention Zindzi again. I had not seen Zindzi since she was three years old. She was a daughter who knew her father from old photographs rather than memory. I put on a fresh shirt that morning, and took more trouble than usual with my appearance: it is my own vanity, but I did not want to look like an old man for my youngest daughter.
I had not seen Winnie for over a year, and I was gratified to find that she looked well. But I was delighted to behold what a beautiful woman my youngest daughter had become and how closely she resembled her equally beautiful mother. Zindzi was shy and hesitant at first. I am sure it was not easy for her finally to see a father she had never really known, a father who could love her only from a distance, who seemed to belong not to her but to the people. Somewhere deep inside her she must have harbored resentment and anger for a father who was absent during her childhood and adolescence. I could see right away that she was a strong and fiery young woman like her own mother had been when she was Zindzi’s age.
I knew she would
uncomfortable, and I did my best to lighten the atmosphere. When she
said to her, “Have you met my guard of honor?,” gesturing to the
followed me everywhere. I asked her questions about her life, her
and her friends, and then tried to take her back to the old days that
barely remembered. I told her how I often recalled Sunday mornings at
I dandled her on my knee while Mum was in the kitchen making a roast. I
recollected small incidents and adventures in
The one tragic note of the visit was when I learned from Winnie that Bram Fischer had died of cancer shortly after being let out of prison. Bram’s death affected me deeply. Although the government left no fingerprints on Bram’s body, it was the state’s relentless harassment of him that brought on the final illness that took him too soon. They hounded him even after death — the state confiscated his ashes after his cremation. Bram was a purist, and after the Rivonia Trial, he decided he could best serve the struggle by going underground and living the life of an outlaw. It burdened him that the men whom he was representing in court were going to prison while he lived freely. During the trial, I advised Bram not to take this route, stressing that he served the struggle best in the courtroom, where people could see this Afrikaner son of a judge president fighting for the rights of the powerless. But he could not let others suffer while he remained free. Like the general who fights side by side with his troops at the front, Bram did not want to ask others to make a sacrifice that he was unwilling to make himself.
underground while out on bail
and was captured in 1965, and sentenced to life imprisonment for
commit sabotage. I had tried to write him in prison, but regulations
prisoners from corresponding with each other. After he had been
cancer, a newspaper campaign calling for his release on humanitarian
had influenced the government. It was just a few weeks after the
authorities released him, still under house arrest,
to his brother’s house in
In many ways, Bram Fischer, the grandson of the prime minister of the Orange River Colony, had made the greatest sacrifice of all. No matter what I suffered in my pursuit of freedom, I always took strength from the fact that I was fighting with and for my own people. Bram was a free man who fought against his own people to ensure the freedom of others. A month after this visit I received word from Winnie that her most recent request for a visit had been turned down by the authorities on the absurd grounds that I did not wish to see her. I immediately made an appointment with Lieutenant Prins, who was then head of prison, to lodge a protest.
Prins was not what one would call a sophisticated man. When I went in to see him I explained the situation evenly and without animosity. But I said the situation as it stood was unacceptable and my wife must be permitted to visit. Prins did not appear to be listening, and when I had finished he said, “Ag, Mandela, your wife is only seeking publicity.” I told him that I resented his remark, and before I had even finished, he uttered something so offensive and uncomplimentary about my wife that I immediately lost my temper.
I rose from my chair and started to move around the desk toward the lieutenant. Prins began to retreat, but I soon checked myself. Instead of assaulting him with my fists, as I felt like doing, I pummeled him with words. I am not a man who approves of oaths or curses, but that day I violated my own principle. I finished by telling him that he was a contemptible man without honor, and that if he ever repeated those same words I would not hold myself back as I had that day.
When I had
finished, I turned and stormed
out of his office. As I was leaving, I saw Kathy and Eddie Daniels
I did not even greet them as I walked back to my cell. Even though I
silenced Prins, he had caused me to violate my self-control and I
a defeat at the hands of my opponent. After breakfast the following
two warders entered my cell and said I was wanted at the Head Office.
reached the office, I was surrounded by a half-dozen armed warders. Off
side was Lieutenant Prins and in the center of this circle was a
officer who was the prison prosecutor. The atmosphere was tense.
“Well, Mandela,” the prosecutor said, “I hear you had yourself a nice time yesterday, but today will not be so pleasant. I am charging you for having insulted and threatened the head of prison. It is a grave charge.” He then handed me the summons. “Do you have anything to say?” he asked. “No,” I replied. “You can speak with my attorney.” I then asked to be taken back to my cell. Prins did not say a word. I knew immediately what I would do: prepare a countersuit charging everyone from the lieutenant all the way up to the minister of justice with misconduct. I would indict the prison system as a whole as a racist institution that sought to perpetuate white supremacy. I would make the case a cause célèbre, and make them regret they had ever charged me in the first place.
I asked George Bizos to represent me, and a meeting was soon arranged. Before George’s visit I informed the authorities that I would be giving him written instructions. They asked me why and I replied frankly that I assumed the consultation room was bugged. The authorities then refused permission for me to give a written statement; I must make an oral one. I told them that they had no right to withhold permission, and the fact that they did only confirmed my suspicions.
The truth was that the authorities were
afraid George would leak a written statement to the press. This was
of our strategy. They were also concerned that I was using George as a
to communicate with Oliver in
brave and resourceful men,
were always hatching plans and discussing possibilities. Most were far
dangerous, but that did not stop us from considering them.
We had made certain advances. Jeff
Masemola, our master craftsman, had managed to make a passkey that
most of the doors in and around our section. One day, a warder had left
on the desk in the office at the end of our corridor. Jeff took a piece
and made an imprint of the key. Using that outline, he took a piece of
and filed it into the shape of the key. This key gave us access to some
of the storerooms
behind our cells as well as to the isolation section. But we never used
leave our section. It was the sea, after all, that was the uncrossable
In 1974, Mac had
an idea how to cross
that barrier. He had recently been taken to the dentist in
When Mac returned,
he met with a few of
us and urged us to make appointments at the dentist. We did so, and
that a day had been arranged for Mac, Wilton Mkwayi, me, and one other
to go to
Mac led us over to
the window and pointed
out the street that was our escape route. But something about the
bothered Mac as soon as he saw it: we were in the center of
considered the most practical
escape plans, Eddie Daniels hatched the most imaginative ones. During
years, airplanes were not permitted to fly over the island. But by the
mid-1970s, we noticed that not only were planes flying over our heads,
helicopters on their way to and from the tankers that sailed off the
Eddie came to me with a plan that would involve the organization using
helicopter, painted with the
military colors, to pick me
up on the island and then deposit me on the roof of a friendly foreign
See: Mac Maharaj on Mandela, Zuma and
South Africa (Alec Russell 2015)
See: Mac Maharaj on Mandela, Zuma and
South Africa (Alec Russell 2015)
celebrations were bare-bones
One of the issues that always concerned us was how to keep the idea of the struggle before the people. During the previous decade, the government had silenced most of the radical press, and there remained a prohibition on publishing the words or pictures of any banned or imprisoned individuals. An editor could go to jail and his newspaper be shuttered for publishing so much as a snapshot of me or my colleagues.
One day, Kathy, Walter, and myself were talking in the courtyard when they suggested that I ought to write my memoirs. Kathy noted that the perfect time for such a book to be published would be on my sixtieth birthday. Walter said that such a story, if told truly and fairly, would serve to remind people of what we had fought and were still fighting for. He added that it could become a source of inspiration for young freedom fighters.
The idea appealed to me, and during a subsequent discussion, I agreed to go ahead.
When I decide to do something, I like to start immediately, and I threw myself into this new project. I adopted a rather unorthodox work schedule: I would write most of the night and sleep during the day. During the first week or two, I would take a nap after dinner, awake at ten o’clock, and then write until it was time for breakfast. After working at the quarry, I would then sleep until dinner, and the process would begin again. After a few weeks of this, I notified the authorities that I was not feeling well and would not be going to the quarry. They did not seem to care, and from then on I was able to sleep most of the day.
We created an assembly line to process the manuscript. Each day I passed what I wrote to Kathy, who reviewed the manuscript, and then read it to Walter. Kathy then wrote their comments in the margins. Walter and Kathy have never hesitated to criticize me, and I took their suggestions to heart, often incorporating their changes. This marked-up manuscript was then given to Laloo Chiba, who spent the next night transferring my writing to his own almost microscopic shorthand, reducing ten pages of foolscap to a single small piece of paper. It would be Mac’s job to smuggle the manuscript to the outside world.
The warders grew suspicious. They went to
Mac and said, “What is Mandela up to? Why is he sitting up late at
Mac merely shrugged his shoulders and said he had no idea. I wrote
completing a draft in four months. I did not hesitate over choosing a
phrase. I covered the period from my birth through the Rivonia Trial,
with some notes about
I relived my
experiences as I wrote about
them. Those nights, as I wrote in silence, I could once again
sights and sounds of my youth in Qunu and Mqhekezweni; the excitement
of coming to
Mac ingeniously hid the transcribed version of the manuscript inside the binding of a number of notebooks he used for his studies. In this way, he was able to safeguard the entire text from the authorities and smuggle it out when he was released in 1976. The arrangement was that Mac would secretly communicate when the manuscript was safely out of the country; only then would we destroy the original. In the meantime, we still had to dispose of a five-hundred-page manuscript. We did the only thing we could do: we buried it in the garden in the courtyard. Surveillance in the courtyard had become careless and sporadic. The warders usually sat in an office at the northern end talking among themselves. From that office, they could not see the southern end next to the isolation area where there was a small garden. I had casually inspected this area on my early morning walks, and it was there that I decided to bury the manuscript.
In order not to have to dig a great hole, we decided to bury the manuscript in three separate places. We divided it into two smaller segments and one larger one, wrapped each in plastic, and placed them inside empty cocoa containers. The work would have to be done quickly, and I asked Jeff Masemola to fashion some digging tools. Within a few days I was equipped with several sharp iron stakes.
One morning, after breakfast, Kathy, Walter, Eddie Daniels, and I drifted over to the garden at the southern end of the courtyard where we appeared to be having a political discussion. We were each hiding portions of the manuscript in our shirts. At a signal from me, we dropped down and began digging. I dug in the center, near a manhole cover that led to a drainpipe. When I reached the pipe, I carved out a space beneath it, and it was there that I placed the largest of the three containers. The others dug two shallower holes for their portions.
We finished just in time to line up for our march to the quarry. As I walked that morning, I felt a sense of relief that the manuscript was safely hidden. I then thought no more about it. A few weeks later, just after our wake-up call, I heard a sound in the courtyard that made me uneasy: it was the thud of picks and shovels on the ground. When we were allowed out of our cells for wash-up, I walked to the front of the corridor and managed to peer out the door and around the corner. There, at the south end of the courtyard, was a work crew from the general section. To my alarm, they were digging in the area where the manuscript was buried.
The authorities had decided to build a wall in front of the isolation section because they had discovered that the prisoners in isolation were able to communicate with us in the courtyard. The work crew was digging a shallow trench for the concrete foundation of the wall.
While washing up I managed to inform Walter and Kathy about the digging outside. Kathy thought that the main part of the manuscript, which was buried under the pipe, would probably be safe, but that the other two were vulnerable. When the drums of breakfast porridge were wheeled into the courtyard, the warders commanding the work crew ordered the men out of the yard. This was done to prevent any fraternization with the political prisoners.
With our bowls of porridge in hand, I led Walter and Kathy over to the south end of the courtyard as though I wanted to confer with them privately. The beginnings of the trench were already perilously close to the two smaller containers. At the same time, we were joined by Eddie Daniels, who immediately recognized the problem. There was only one thing to do: as inconspicuously as possible, the four of us began digging in the area where the two smaller pieces of manuscript would be. We managed to unearth the two containers rather quickly, and covered the area again with soil. To rescue the chunk of manuscript under the pipe would require more time, but we were confident that they would not find the manuscript because they would not dislodge the pipe in order to build the wall.
We hid the
manuscript in our shirts as we
walked back to our cells. Eddie was not going to the quarry that day,
gave the containers to him, instructing him to destroy them as soon as
possible. At great personal risk, Eddie agreed to do so. I breathed
knowing that we had salvaged the two containers, and tried not to dwell
remaining piece of manuscript as I worked that day.
When we returned
from the quarry that
afternoon, instead of washing up, which I normally did, I strolled over
far end of the courtyard. I attempted to appear as casual as possible,
was alarmed by what I saw. The prisoners had dug a trench that ran
the wall of the isolation section and had actually removed the pipe
They could not help but have uncovered the manuscript.
I must have flinched or reacted in some way that was noticeable. Unknown to me, I was being watched by a number of warders, who later said that my reaction confirmed that I knew a manuscript had been there. I returned to the corridor to wash up and told Walter and Kathy that I suspected the manuscript had been discovered. Eddie had meanwhile successfully disposed of the other two pieces.
Early the next
morning, I was summoned to
the office to see the commanding officer. Next to him stood a high
official who had just arrived from
I did not reply. The commanding officer then reached behind his desk and produced a sheaf of papers.
“This is your handwriting, is it not?” he demanded. Again, I remained silent.
“Mandela,” the commander said in some exasperation. “We know this is your work.”
“Well,” I replied, “you must produce some proof of that.” They scoffed at this, and said they knew the notations in the margin were made by Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada. Again, I said that they must furnish evidence if they were going to impose any penalties.
“We do not need evidence,” the commander said. “We have the evidence.”
Although he did
not impose a penalty that
day, a short while later, Walter, Kathy, and I were called before
the deputy commissioner of prisons, who told us that we had abused our
privileges in order to illegally write the manuscript. For that
study privileges were being suspended indefinitely. As it turned out,
study privileges for four years. After Mac was released in December, he
the notebooks overseas to
From there, the trail grows cold. I heard
In 1976, I received an extraordinary visit: Jimmy Kruger, the minister of prisons, a prominent member of the prime minister’s cabinet, came to see me. Kruger was not only influential about prisons policy but he was critical to the government’s handling of the liberation struggle.
I had an inkling
as to why he had come.
The government was then engaged in a massive effort to make a success
separate development policy, and “quasi-independent” homelands. The
of separate development was the
As it turned out, that was precisely what Jimmy Kruger was proposing as well. He was a stout, blunt man, not nearly as polished as I would have expected from a cabinet minister. I approached the meeting as another opportunity to present our grievances, and at first he seemed content to listen. I began by reminding him of the letter we had sent him in 1969, which had gone unanswered. He merely shrugged. I then detailed the poor conditions on the island, reiterating once more that we were political prisoners, not criminals, and expected to be treated as such. But Kruger scoffed at this, saying, “Nah, you are all violent Communists!”
I then began to
tell him a bit about the
history of our organization and why we had turned to violence. It was
that he knew almost nothing about the ANC, and what he did know was
from the propaganda of the right-wing press. When I told him the
was far older than the National Party, he was dumbfounded. I said that
considered us Communists he should reread the Freedom Charter. He
looked at me blankly.
He had never heard of the Freedom Charter. I found it extraordinary that a
cabinet minister should be so uninformed. Yet I should not have
Nationalist politicians routinely condemned what they didn’t
raised the question of our release and reminded him of the case of the
Afrikaner rebels, who had resorted to violence though they were
represented in Parliament, could hold
meetings, and could even vote. Even though General de Wet and General
led a force of twelve thousand and occupied towns and caused many
were both released soon after their convictions for high treason. I
the case of Robey Leibbrandt, who set up an underground organization
Second World War to oppose
Kruger waved all
of this aside. “That is
ancient history,” he said. He came armed with a specific offer. Despite
reputation for brusqueness, he made his proposal in a deferential
stated the matter simply: if I recognized the legitimacy of the
respectfully until he had
finished. First, I said, I wholly rejected the bantustan policy, and
nothing to support it, and second, I was from
As diligent as we were in gathering news and information, our knowledge of current events was always sketchy. Happenings in the outside world were muffled by the fact that we heard of them first through rumor; only later might they be confirmed by a newspaper account or an outside visitor.
In June of 1976,
we began to hear vague
reports of a great uprising in the country. The whispers were fanciful
improbable: the youth of
On June 16, 1976,
schoolchildren gathered in
The events of that
day reverberated in
every town and
Mass funerals for
the victims of state
violence became national rallying points. Suddenly the young people of
Bantu Education had come back to haunt its creators, for these angry and audacious young people were its progeny.
In September, the isolation section was
filled with young men who had been arrested in the aftermath of the
Through whispered conversations in an
adjacent hallway we learned firsthand what had taken place. My comrades
were enormously cheered; the spirit of mass protest that had seemed
through the 1960s was erupting in the 1970s. Many of these young people
left the country to join our own military movement, and then smuggled
themselves back home. Thousands of them were trained in our camps in
These young men
were a different breed of
prisoner than we had ever seen before. They were brave, hostile, and
aggressive; they would not take orders, and shouted “Amandla!”
opportunity. Their instinct was to confront
rather than cooperate. The authorities did not know how to handle them,
they turned the island upside down. During the Rivonia Trial, I
remarked to a
security policeman that if the government did not reform itself, the
fighters who would take our place would someday make the authorities
us. That day had indeed come on
In these young men we saw the angry revolutionary spirit of the times. I had had some warning. At a visit with Winnie a few months before, she had managed to tell me through our coded conversation that there was a rising class of discontented youth who were militant and Africanist in orientation. She said they were changing the nature of the struggle and that I should be aware of them.
The new prisoners were appalled by what they considered the barbaric conditions of the island, and said they could not understand how we could live in such a way. We told them that they should have seen the island in 1964. But they were almost as skeptical of us as they were of the authorities. They chose to ignore our calls for discipline and thought our advice feeble and unassertive.
It was obvious that they regarded us, the Rivonia Trialists, as moderates. After so many years of being branded a radical revolutionary, to be perceived as a moderate was a novel and not altogether pleasant feeling. I knew that I could react in one of two ways: I could scold them for their impertinence or I could listen to what they were saying. I chose the latter.
When some of these men, such as Strini Moodley of the South African Students’ Organization and Saths Cooper of the Black People’s Convention, came into our section, I had them give us papers on their movement and philosophy. I wanted to know what had brought them to the struggle, what motivated them, what their ideas were for the future.
Shortly after their arrival on the island, the commanding officer came to me and asked me as a favor to address the young men. He wanted me to tell them to restrain themselves, to recognize the fact that they were in prison and to accept the discipline of prison life. I told him that I was not prepared to do that. Under the circumstances, they would have regarded me as a collaborator of the oppressor.
These fellows refused to conform to even basic prison regulations. One day I was at the Head Office conferring with the commanding officer. As I was walking out with the major, we came upon a young prisoner being interviewed by a prison official. The young man, who was no more than eighteen years old, was wearing his prison cap in the presence of senior officers, a violation of regulations. Nor did he stand up when the major entered the room, another violation.
The major looked at him and said, “Please, take off your cap.” The prisoner ignored him. Then in an irritated tone, the major said, “Take off your cap.” The prisoner turned and looked at the major, and said, “What for?” I could hardly believe what I had just heard. It was a revolutionary question: What for? The major also seemed taken aback, but managed a reply.
“It is against regulations,” he said. The young prisoner responded, “Why do you have this regulation? What is the purpose of it?” This questioning on the part of the prisoner was too much for the major, and he stomped out of the room, saying, “Mandela, you talk to him.” But I would not intervene on his behalf, and simply bowed in the direction of the prisoner to let him know that I was on his side.
This was our first exposure to the Black Consciousness Movement. With the banning of the ANC, PAC, and Communist Party, the Black Consciousness Movement helped fill a vacuum among young people. Black Consciousness was less a movement than a philosophy and grew out of the idea that blacks must first liberate themselves from the sense of psychological inferiority bred by three centuries of white rule. Only then could the people rise up in confidence and truly liberate themselves from repression. While the Black Consciousness Movement advocated a nonracial society, they excluded whites from playing a role in achieving that society. These concepts were not unfamiliar to me: they closely mirrored ideas I myself held at the time of the founding of the ANC Youth League a quarter-century before. We, too, were Africanists; we, too, stressed ethnic pride and racial self-confidence; we, too, rejected white assistance in the struggle. In many ways, Black Consciousness represented the same response to the same problem that had never gone away.
But just as we had
outgrown our Youth
League outlook, I was confident that these young men would transcend
the strictures of Black Consciousness. While I was encouraged by their
militancy, I thought that their philosophy, in its concentration on
was exclusionary, and represented an intermediate view that was not
mature. I saw my role as an elder statesman who might help them move on
more inclusive ideas of the Congress Movement. I knew
also that these young men would eventually become frustrated because
Consciousness offered no program of action, no outlet for their protest.
Although we viewed the ranks of the BCM as a fertile ground for the ANC, we did not attempt to recruit these men. We knew that this would alienate both them and the other parties on the island. Our policy was to be friendly, to take an interest, to compliment them on their achievements, but not to proselytize. If they came to us and asked questions — “What is the ANC policy on the bantustans?” “What does the Freedom Charter say about nationalization?” — we would answer them — and a great many of them did come to us with questions.
I myself contacted some of these men
through smuggled notes. I spoke with some who were from the
Terror’s nickname comes from his prowess on the soccer field, but he was just as formidable in a debate. He disagreed with some of his colleagues on the issue of racial exclusiveness and inched closer to the ideas of the ANC. Once on the island, Terror decided that he wanted to join us, but we discouraged him — not because we did not want him but because we thought such a maneuver would create tensions in the general section.
But Terror would not take no for an answer and publicly switched his allegiance to the ANC. One day, not long afterward, he was assaulted with a garden fork by disgruntled BC members. After he was treated, the authorities charged the attackers and planned to put them on trial. But in the interest of harmony, we advised Terror not to lodge a complaint. He agreed, and refused to testify against those who had hurt him. The case was dropped. Such a trial, I felt, would only play into the hands of the authorities. I wanted these young men to see that the ANC was a great tent that could accommodate many different views and affiliations.
After that incident, the floodgates seemed to open and dozens of BC men decided to join the ANC, including some of those who had planned the attack on Terror. Terror rose to the top of the ANC hierarchy in the general section, and was soon teaching ANC policies to other prisoners. The courage and vision of men like Lekota confirmed to us that our views remained potent, and still represented the best hope for unifying the liberation struggle as a whole.
Political feuding continued in F and G. We learned of a clash among the ANC, the PAC, and the BCM in the general section. A number of ANC people had been beaten. A large number of ANC members were charged by the authorities, and a trial was set for the island’s administrative court.
The ANC men brought in an outside lawyer to handle the case. Although I had not witnessed the fight, I was asked to be a character witness. This was a troubling prospect. While I was more than willing to give testimonials for my comrades, I did not want to take any action that would heighten the bitterness between the ANC, the PAC, and the BCM.
I regarded my role in prison not just as the leader of the ANC, but as a promoter of unity, an honest broker, a peacemaker, and I was reluctant to take a side in this dispute, even if it was the side of my own organization. If I testified on behalf of the ANC, I would jeopardize my chances of bringing about reconciliation among the different groups. If I preached unity, I must act like a unifier, even at the risk of perhaps alienating some of my own colleagues.
I decided not to testify. This disappointed some of my colleagues, but I thought the issue was serious enough to risk their displeasure. It was more important to show the young Black Consciousness men that the struggle was indivisible and that we all had the same enemy
This victory was the combined result of our own unceasing protests and simple logistics. The authorities normally preferred to have a ratio of one warder for every three prisoners. Even before the arrival of the post-Soweto prisoners, there was a shortage of warders, and the rebellious young men required even greater supervision. They were so bold that each man seemed to require his own warder. If we remained in our section, we required less supervision.
The end of manual labor was liberating. I
could now spend the day reading, writing letters, discussing issues
comrades, or formulating legal briefs. The free time allowed me to
became two of my favorite hobbies on
To survive in prison, one must develop ways to take satisfaction in one’s daily life. One can feel fulfilled by washing one’s clothes so that they are particularly clean, by sweeping a hallway so that it is empty of dust, by organizing one’s cell to conserve as much space as possible. The same pride one takes in more consequential tasks outside of prison one can find in doing small things inside prison.
Almost from the
beginning of my sentence
The authorities supplied me with seeds. I initially planted tomatoes, chilies, and onions — hardy plants that did not require rich earth or constant care. The early harvests were poor, but they soon improved. The authorities did not regret giving permission, for once the garden began to flourish, I often provided the warders with some of my best tomatoes and onions.
While I have
always enjoyed gardening, it
was not until I was behind bars that I was able to tend my own garden.
experience in the garden was at
I began to order books on gardening and horticulture. I studied different gardening techniques and types of fertilizer. I did not have many of the materials that the books discussed, but I learned through trial and error. For a time, I attempted to grow peanuts, and used different soils and fertilizers, but finally I gave up. It was one of my only failures. A garden was one of the few things in prison that one could control. To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it, offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom. In some ways, I saw the garden as a metaphor for certain aspects of my life. A leader must also tend his garden; he, too, plants seeds, and then watches, cultivates, and harvests the result. Like the gardener, a leader must take responsibility for what he cultivates; he must mind his work, try to repel enemies, preserve what can be preserved, and eliminate what cannot succeed.
I wrote Winnie two letters about a particularly beautiful tomato plant, how I coaxed it from a tender seedling to a robust plant that produced deep red fruit. But, then, either through some mistake or lack of care, the plant began to wither and decline, and nothing I did would bring it back to health. When it finally died, I removed the roots from the soil, washed them, and buried them in a corner of the garden. I narrated this small story at great length. I do not know what she read into that letter, but when I wrote it I had a mixture of feelings: I did not want our relationship to go the way of that plant, and yet I felt that I had been unable to nourish many of the most important relationships in my life.
Sometimes there is nothing one can do to save something that must die. One unanticipated result of ending manual labor was that I began to gain weight. Though we were doing barely enough labor at the quarry to work up a sweat, the walk there and back was enough to keep me trim.
I have always believed that exercise is not only a key to physical health but to peace of mind. Many times in the old days I unleashed my anger and frustration on a punching bag rather than taking it out on a comrade or even a policeman. Exercise dissipates tension, and tension is the enemy of serenity. I found that I worked better and thought more clearly when I was in good physical condition, and so training became one of the inflexible disciplines of my life. In prison, having an outlet for one’s frustrations wasabsolutely essential.
Even on the island, I attempted to follow my old boxing routine of doing roadwork and muscle-building from Monday through Thursday and then resting for the next three days. On Monday through Thursday, I would do stationary running in my cell in the morning for up to forty-five minutes. I would also perform one hundred fingertip push-ups, two hundred sit-ups, fifty deep kneebends, and various other calisthenics.
In my letters to
my children, I regularly
urged them to exercise, to play some fast-moving sport like basketball,
or tennis to take their mind off whatever might be bothering them.
While I was
not always successful with my children, I did manage to influence some
more sedentary colleagues. Exercise was unusual for African men of my
generation. After a while, even Walter began to take a few turns around
the courtyard in the morning. I know that some
of my younger comrades looked at me and said to themselves, “If that
can do it, why can’t I?” They too began to exercise.
From the very first meetings I had with outside visitors and the International Red Cross, I stressed the importance of having the time and facilities for proper exercise. Only in the mid-1970s, under the auspices of the International Red Cross, did we begin to receive things like volleyball equipment and a Ping-Pong table.
At roughly the
same time we finished
working at the quarry, one of the warders had the idea of converting
courtyard into a tennis court. Its dimensions were perfect. Prisoners
general section painted the cement surface green and then fashioned the
traditional configuration of white lines. A few days later a net was
put up and
suddenly we had our own
I had played a bit
of tennis when I was
Once manual labor
ended, I had much more
time for reading, but the books I had been using were now
my studies were canceled, I was still in the midst of pursuing my LL.B.
But the suspension of study privileges had an unintended benefit, and that was that I began to read books that I would not otherwise have read. Instead of poring over tomes about contract law, I was now absorbed by novels.
I did not have an
unlimited library to
choose from on
From the first, I
tried to read books
One book that I
returned to many times
was Tolstoy’s great work, War and Peace. (Although
the word war was
the title, this book was permitted.) I was particularly taken with the
of General Kutuzov, whom everyone at the Russian court underestimated.
defeated Napoleon precisely because he was not swayed by the ephemeral
superficial values of the court, and made his decisions on a visceral
of his men and his people. It reminded me once again that to truly lead
people one must also truly know them
THE WAKE of the
Winnie picked up where she
left off, and the authorities were dismayed about her popularity with
This time Winnie was not being arrested,
or detained, or interrogated; she was being banished to a remote
Brandfort is about
two hundred fifty
miles southwest of
circumstances saddened and
angered me. At least when she was home in
I had passed
through this township once
on my way to
Once again, I felt as though Winnie and I were in prison at the same time. Life in Brandfort was hard, as I learned from Winnie’s letters. They had no heat, no toilet, no running water. The township had no shops and the stores in town were hostile to African customers. The whites for the most part were Afrikaans-speaking and deeply conservative.
Winnie and Zindzi were under constant police surveillance and intermittent harassment. Within a few months Zindzi — who was not banned — was upset by the security police’s intimidation. In September, with the help of Winnie’s lawyers, I brought an urgent application for an interdict against the local Brandfort security police to restrain them from harassing my daughter. Affidavits filed before the judge described policemen bursting into the house and threatening Zindzi. The judge ruled that Zindzi could receive visitors in peace.
Winnie is a resilient person, and within a relatively short time, she had won over the people of the township, including some sympathetic whites in the vicinity. She supplied food to the people in the township with the help of Operation Hunger, started a crèche or nursery school for the township’s children, and raised funds to create a medical clinic in a place where few people had ever seen a doctor.
In 1978, Zeni, my
daughter and my first child with Winnie, married Prince Thumbumuzi, a
King Sobhuza of
George met with
the prince in his office
and then arranged to consult with me on
George reported how much the two children loved one another and the bright prospects of my future son-in-law. His father, King Sobhuza, was an enlightened traditional leader and also a member of the ANC. As George relayed to me some of the requirements made by the young man’s family, he was at pains to point out that the boy was a Swazi prince. I told George to tell the young man that he was getting a Thembu princess.
There was a tremendous advantage in Zeni’s becoming a member of the Swazi royal family: she was immediately granted diplomatic privileges and could visit me virtually at will. That winter, after she and Thumbumuzi were married, they came to see me, along with their newborn baby daughter. Because of the prince’s status, we were allowed to meet one another in the consulting room, not the normal visiting area where one is separated from one’s family by thick walls and glass. I waited for them with some nervousness.
It was a truly wondrous moment when they came into the room. I stood up, and when Zeni saw me, she practically tossed her tiny daughter to her husband and ran across the room to embrace me. I had not held my now-grown daughter virtually since she was about her own daughter’s age. It was a dizzying experience, as though time had sped forward in a science fiction novel, to suddenly hug one’s fully grown child. I then embraced my new son and he handed me my tiny granddaughter whom I did not let go of for the entire visit. To hold a newborn baby, so vulnerable and soft in my rough hands, hands that for too long had held only picks and shovels, was a profound joy. I don’t think a man was ever happier to hold a baby than I was that day.
The visit had a more official purpose and that was for me to choose a name for the child. It is a custom for the grandfather to select a name, and the one I had chosen was Zaziwe — which means “Hope.” The name had special meaning for me, for during all my years in prison hope never left me — and now it never would. I was convinced that this child would be a part of a new generation of South Africans for whom apartheid would be a distant memory — that was my dream.
I do not know
whether it was the upheaval
inside the prison after the
I had one
recurring nightmare. In the
dream, I had just been released from prison — only it was not
But not all my dreams of release were so dark. In 1976 I wrote to Winnie of a happier vision.
Nolitha was the one person who was not a member of the family whose photo I kept. I revealed the secret of her identity to my daughter Zindzi in another letter from 1976.
By the way, has Mum
ever told you about
Nolitha, the other lady in my cell from the
But in prison no privilege comes without some accompanying impediment. Though I was permitted to receive pictures and to keep the album, warders would often search my cell and confiscate pictures of Winnie. Eventually, however, the practice of seizing pictures ceased, and I built up my album so that it was thick with pictures of my entire family.
I do not remember who first asked to borrow my photo album, but it was undoubtedly someone in my section. I happily loaned it, and someone else asked, and then someone else. Soon it became so widely known that I possessed a photo album that I was receiving requests from men in F and G.
The men of F and G rarely received visitors or even letters, and it would have been ungenerous to deny them this window on the world. But before long I found that my precious photo album was in tatters, and that many of my irreplaceable photographs had been removed. These men were desperate to have something personal in their cells and could not help themselves. Each time this happened, resolved to build up my album once more.
Sometimes men would just ask me for a photograph rather than the album. I recall one day a young BC fellow from the general section who was bringing us food took me aside and said, “Madiba, I would like a photograph.” I said fine, I would send him one. “When?” he said rather brusquely. I replied that I would try to send it that weekend. This seemed to satisfy him, and he began to walk away, but suddenly he turned round and said, “Look, don’t send me a photograph of the old lady. Send me one of the young girls, Zindzi or Zeni — remember, not the old lady!"
In 1978, after we had spent almost fifteen years agitating for the right to receive news, the authorities offered us a compromise. Instead of permitting us to receive newspapers or listen to radio, they started their own radio news service, which consisted of a daily canned summary of the news read over the prison’s intercom system.
The broadcasts were far from objective or comprehensive. Several of the island’s censors would compile a brief news digest from other daily radio bulletins. The broadcasts consisted of good news for the government and bad news for all its opponents.
broadcast opened with a report
about the death of Robert Sobukwe. Other early reports concerned the
of Ian Smith’s troops in
That year, we learned via the intercom
that P. W. Botha had succeeded John Vorster as prime minister. What the
did not tell us was that Vorster resigned as a result of press
revelations about the Department of Information's misuse of government
funds. I knew little about Botha apart from the fact that he had
aggressive defense minister and had supported a military strike into
I had recently read an authorized
biography of Vorster (this was one of the books the prison library did
and found that he was a man willing to
pay for his beliefs; he went to prison
for his support of
But even without our expurgated radio
broadcast, we had learned what the authorities did not want us to know.
of the successful liberation struggles in
In keeping with
the increased openness on
the island, we now had our own cinema. Almost
every week, we watched films on a
sheet in a large room adjacent to our corridor.
had a proper screen. The films were a wonderful diversion, a vivid
the bleakness of prison life. The first films we saw were
We were intrigued
by The King and I, for
to us it depicted the clash between
the values of East and West, and seemed to suggest that the West
had much to learn from the East. Cleopatra proved
controversial; many of my comrades took
exception to the fact that the queen of
Later, we also saw
local South African
films with black stars whom we all knew from the old days. On those
little makeshift theater echoed with the shouts, whistles,
cheers that greeted the appearance of an old friend on screen. Later,
permitted to select documentaries — a form that I preferred
and I began to skip the conventional films. (Although I would never
movie with Sophia Loren in it.) The documentaries were
the state library and usually selected by Ahmed Kathrada, who was our
librarian. I was particularly affected by a documentary we
saw about the great naval battles of World War II, which showed
footage of the sinking of the H.M.S. Prince
One of the documentaries we watched
concerned a controversial American motorcycle group, the Hell’s Angels.
film depicted the Hell’s Angels as reckless, violent, and
antisocial, and the police as decent, upstanding, and trustworthy. When
film ended, we immediately began to
discuss its meaning. Almost without
exception the men criticized the Hell’s Angels for their lawless ways.
Strini Moodley, a bright, young Black Consciousness member, stood up and
accused the assembled group of being out of touch with the times, for
bikers represented the
I was not interested in the Hell’s Angels, but the larger question that concerned me was whether we had, as Strini suggested, become stuck in a mind-set that was no longer revolutionary. We had been in prison for more than fifteen years; I had been in prison for nearly eighteen. The world that we left was long gone. The danger was that our ideas had become frozen in time. Prison is a still point in a turning world, and it is very easy to remain in the same place in jail while the world moves on. I had always attempted to remain open to new ideas, not to reject a position because it was new or different. During our years on the island we kept up a continuing dialogue about our beliefs and ideas; we debated them, questioned them, and thereby refined them. I did not think we had stayed in one place; I believe we had evolved.
It took fifteen years, but in 1979, the authorities announced over the intercom system that the diet for African, Coloured, and Indian prisoners would henceforth be the same. But just as justice delayed is justice denied, a reform so long postponed and so grudgingly enacted was hardly worth celebrating.
All prisoners were to receive the same amount of sugar in the morning: a spoonful and a half. But instead of simply increasing the African quota, the authorities reduced the amount of sugar that Coloured and Indian prisoners received by half a spoonful, while adding that amount for African prisoners. A while before, African prisoners had begun to receive bread in the morning, but that made little difference. We had been pooling bread for years.
Our food had
already improved in the
previous two years, but not because of the authorities. In the wake of
In the Summer of 1979, I was playing tennis in the courtyard, when my opponent hit a cross-court shot that I strained to reach. As I ran across the court, I felt a pain in my right heel that was so intense I had to stop playing. For the next few days I walked with a severe limp.
I was examined by
a doctor on the island
who decided I should go to
normal circumstances I and
the other men would relish a visit to
On the docks, we were met by more armed guards and a small crowd. It is a humiliating experience to watch the fear and disgust on ordinary citizens’ faces when they watch a convict go by. My inclination was to duck down and hide, but one could not do that.
I was examined by
a young surgeon who
asked if I had ever before injured my heel. In fact, I had when I was
The surgery went
well, and when it was
over, the doctor was explaining to me how to care for my heel. He was
interrupted by the head warder, who said that I had to
My first night in a proper hospital turned out to be quite pleasant. The nurses fussed over me a good deal. I slept very well, and in the morning, a group of nurses came in and said that I should keep the pajamas and dressing gown that I had been given. I thanked them and told them that I would be the envy of all my comrades.
I found the trip instructive in another way because in that hospital I sensed a thawing in the relationship between black and white. The doctor and nurses had treated me in a natural way as though they had been dealing with blacks on a basis of equality all their lives. This was something new and different to me, and an encouraging sign. It reaffirmed my long-held belief that education was the enemy of prejudice. These were men and women of science, and science had no room for racism.
My only regret was that I did not have the opportunity to contact Winnie before I went into hospital. Rumors had appeared in newspapers that I was at death’s door and she had become quite concerned. But when I returned, I wrote to her to dispel her fears.
1980, we were granted the right to buy
newspapers. This was a victory, but as always, each new privilege
within it a catch. The new regulation stated that A Group
were granted the right to buy one English- language newspaper and one
Afrikaans newspaper a
day. But the annoying caveat was that any A Group
prisoner found sharing his newspaper with a non–A Group prisoner would
newspaper privileges. We protested against this
restriction, but to no avail. We received two daily
One story I was certainly not able to read was in the Johannesburg Sunday Post in March 1980. The headline was “FREE MANDELA!” Inside was a petition that people could sign to ask for my release and that of my fellow political prisoners. While newspapers were still barred from printing my picture or any words I had ever said or written, the Post’s campaign ignited a public discussion of our release.
The idea had been
The previous year
I had been awarded the
Jawaharlal Nehru Human Rights Award in
Bombs exploded at
power stations in the
eastern Transvaal, at police stations in Germiston, Daveyton, New
elsewhere, and at the Voortrekkerhoogte military base
The Free Mandela campaign had its lighter
side as well. In 1981, I learned that the students at the
The campaign for
our release rekindled
our hopes. During the harsh days of the early 1970s, when the ANC
sink into the shadows, we had to force ourselves not to give
to despair. In many ways, we had miscalculated; we had thought that by
1970s we would be living in a democratic, nonracial
Like my father
before me, I had been
groomed to be a counselor to the king of the Thembu. Although I had
different path, I tried in my own fashion to live up to the
responsibilities of the role for which I had been schooled. From
prison, I did
my best to remain in contact with the king and advise him as
best I could. As I
grew older, my thoughts turned more and more often to the green hills
A group of Thembu
chiefs requested an
urgent visit with me, which was approved by the authorities, who were
willing to countenance visits by traditional leaders —
that the more involved I was in tribal and
The government promoted the power of traditional leaders as a counterpoint to the ANC. While many of my comrades thought we should disavow those leaders, my inclination was to reach out to them. There is no contradiction between being a traditional leader and a member of the ANC. This spurred one of the longest and most delicate debates we had on the island: whether or not the ANC should participate in governmentsponsored institutions. Many of the men considered this collaborationist. Once again, I thought it necessary to draw a distinction between principle and tactics. To me, the critical question was a tactical one: Will our organization emerge stronger through participating in these organizations or by boycotting them? In this case, I thought we would emerge stronger by participating.
I met with the chiefs in a large room in the visiting area, and they explained their dilemma. Although their hearts were with Sabata, they feared Matanzima. After listening to their presentation, I advised them to throw their support to Sabata against Matanzima, who was illegally and shamefully usurping power from the king. I sympathized with their situation, but I could not condone Matanzima’s actions. I asked them to convey my support to Sabata and my disapproval to Matanzima.
Matanzima had also
proposed a visit to
discuss Sabata and family matters. As my nephew, he had actually been
requesting such a visit for a number of years. Although
claimed to want to discuss family matters, such a visit would have
consequences. From the moment of Matanzima’s first request,
the matter to the High Organ and the ANC men in our section. Some
shrugged their shoulders and said, “He’s your nephew; he has
to visit.” Raymond, Govan, and Kathy, however, insisted that although
visit could be explained away
I understood and in large part agreed with their arguments, but I wanted to meet with my nephew. I have always had perhaps too high a regard for the importance of face-to-face meetings and of my own ability in such a meeting to persuade men to change their views. I was hoping I could convince Matanzima to modify his policies.
Eventually, the ANC men in our section decided not to object to a visit. In the interests of democracy, we then consulted with our men in F and G on the matter, and they were adamantly opposed. Steve Tshwete, who was one of the leading ANC figures in the general section, said such a visit would help Matanzima politically and was therefore out of the question. Many of them noted that Matanzima had already tried to coopt my approval by making Winnie’s father, Columbus Madikizela, the minister of agriculture in his government. This was bad enough, they said, without Madiba agreeing to see him. I bowed to the views of the membership in the general section and regretfully informed the authorities that I would not accept a visit from my nephew.
In March of 1982, I was told by the prison authorities that my wife had been in a car accident, and that she was in hospital. They had very little information. and I had no idea of her condition or what her circumstances were. I accused the authorities of holding back informaion, and I made an urgent application for my attorney to visit me. the authorities used information as a weapon, and it was a successful one. I was preoccupied with my wife’s health until I was visited on March 31 by Winnie’s attorney and my friend Dullah Omar.
Dullah quickly eased my mind about Winnie. She had been in a car that overturned but she was all right. Our visit was brief, and as I was led back to Section B my mind was still dwelling on Winnie, and I was plagued by the feeling of powerlessness and my inability to help her.
I had not been in
my cell long when I was
visited by the commanding officer and a number of other prison
was highly unusual; the commanding officer did not generally
calls on prisoners in their cells. I stood up when they arrived, and
commander actually entered my cell. There was barely room
for the two of us.
There was a
commotion in the corridor
when the other men learned we were leaving, but we had no time to say a
goodbye to our comrades of many years. This is another
one of the indignities of prison. The bonds of friendship and loyalty
other prisoners count for nothing with the authorities.
Within minutes we were on board the ferry
At the docks, surrounded by armed guards, we were hustled into a windowless truck. The four of us stood in the dark while the truck drove for what seemed considerably longer than an hour. We passed through various checkpoints, and finally came to a stop. The back doors swung open, and in the dark we were marched up some concrete steps and through metal doors into another security facility. I managed to ask a guard where we were. “Pollsmoor Prison,” he said.
TALKING WITH THE ENEMY
Security Prison is
located on the edge of a prosperous white suburb of green lawns and
called Tokai, a few miles southeast of
Pollsmoor had a modern face but a primitive heart. The buildings, particularly the ones for the prison staff, were clean and contemporary; but the housing for the prisoners was archaic and dirty. With the exception of ourselves, all men at Pollsmoor were common-law prisoners, and their treatment was backward. We were kept separately from them and treated differently.
It was not until the next morning that we got a proper sense of our surroundings. The four of us had been given what was in effect the prison’s penthouse: a spacious room on the third and topmost floor of the prison. We were the only prisoners on the entire floor. The main room was clean, modern, and rectangular, about fifty feet by thirty, and had a separate section with a toilet, urinal, two sinks, and two showers. There were four proper beds, with sheets, and towels, a great luxury for men who had spent much of the last eighteen years sleeping on thin mats on a stone floor.
It was greatly
disorienting to be uprooted
so suddenly and without explanation. One must be prepared for
movements in prison, but one does not ever get used to them.
Though we were now on the mainland, we felt more isolated. For us, the
had become the locus of the struggle. We took solace in each
company, and spent those early weeks speculating on why we had been
transferred. We knew the authorities had long resented and
the influence we had on younger prisoners. But the reason seemed to be
strategic: we believed the authorities were attempting to
the head of the ANC on the island by removing its leadership.
A few weeks
arrived, we were also joined by a man we did not know who had not even
At first, we were skeptical of this new arrival, and wondered if he could perhaps be a security plant by the authorities. But we soon saw that this was not the case. Patrick was a bright, amiable, undaunted fellow with whom we got along very well. It could not have been easy for him bunking in with a group of old men set in their ways who had been together for the previous two decades.
were now in a world of concrete. I
missed the natural splendor of
I was visited by
Winnie shortly after
arriving at Pollsmoor and was pleased to find that the visiting area
better and more modern than the one on
It was far easier
for my wife and family
to get to Pollsmoor than
At Pollsmoor I got to know Gregory better and found him a welcome contrast to the typical warder. He was polished and soft-spoken, and treated Winnie with courtesy and deference. Instead of barking, “Time up!” he would say, “Mrs. Mandela, you have five more minutes.”
The Bible tells us that gardens preceded gardeners, but that was not the case at Pollsmoor, where I cultivated a garden that became one of my happiest diversions. It was my way of escaping from the monolithic concrete world that surrounded us. Within a few weeks of surveying all the empty space we had on the building’s roof and how it was bathed in sun the whole day, I decided to start a garden and received permission to do so from the commanding officer. I requested that the prison service supply me with sixteen 44-gallon oil drums that I had them slice in half. The authorities then filled each half with rich, moist soil, creating in effect thirty-two giant flowerpots.
I grew onions,
cauliflower, beans, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, beetroot,
tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and much more. At its
height, I had a
small farm with nearly nine hundred plants; a garden far grander than
the one I
Some of the seeds I purchased and some — for example, broccoli and carrots — were given to me by the commanding officer, Brigadier Munro, who was particularly fond of these vegetables. Warders also gave me seeds of vegetables they liked, and I was supplied with excellent manure to use as fertilizer.
Each morning, I put on a straw hat and rough gloves and worked in the garden for two hours. Every Sunday, I would supply vegetables to the kitchen so that they could cook a special meal for the common-law prisoners. I also gave quite a lot of my harvest to the warders, who used to bring satchels to take away their fresh vegetables.
At Pollsmoor, our
problems tended to be
less consequential than those we experienced on
Winnie was concerned, and I soon learned
thatthere were press reports that I was having a toe amputated. Because
of the difficulty of communication information from prison often
becomes exaggerated in the outside world. If I had simply been able to
telephone my wife and tell her that my foot was fine, such confusion
would not have happened. A short while later, Helen Suzman was
permitted to visit, and she inquired about my toe. I thought the best
answer was a demonstratioon. I took off my socks, held my bare foot up
to the glass, and wiggled my toes.
We complained about the dampness in our cell, which was causing us to catch colds. Later, I heard reports that South African newspapers were writing that our cell was flooded. We asked for contact with other prisoners, and in general made the same basic complaint that we always had: to be treated as political prisoners.
In May of 1984, I
found some consolation
that seemed to make up for all the discomforts. At a scheduled visit
Winnie, Zeni, and her youngest daughter, I was escorted down
the visiting area by Sergeant Gregory, who instead of taking me to the
visiting area, ushered me into a separate room where there
a small table, and no dividers of any kind. He very softly said to me
authorities had made a change. That day was the beginning of
what were known as “contact” visits.
He then went outside to see my wife and daughter and asked to speak to Winnie privately. Winnie actually got a fright when Gregory took her aside, thinking that I was perhaps ill. But Gregory escorted her around the door and before either of us knew it, we were in the same room and in each other’s arms. I kissed and held my wife for the first time in all these many years. It was a moment I had dreamed about a thousand times. It was as if I were still dreaming. I held her to me for what seemed like an eternity. We were still and silent except for the sound of our hearts. I did not want to let go of her at all, but I broke free and embraced my daughter and then took her child into my lap. It had been twenty-one years since I had even touched my wife’s hand.
At Pollsmoor, we
were more connected to
outside events. We were aware that the struggle was intensifying, and
efforts of the enemy were similarly increasing. In 1981, the
South African Defense Force launched a raid on ANC offices in
In August of 1982,
activist Ruth First
was opening her mail in
MK’s first car
bomb attack took place in
May of 1983, and was aimed at an air force and military intelligence
the heart of
The killing of civilians was a tragic accident, and I felt a profound horror at the death toll. But as disturbed as I was by these casualties, I knew that such accidents were the inevitable consequence of the decision to embark on a military struggle. Human fallibility is always a part of war, and the price for it is always high. It was precisely because we knew that such incidents would occur that our decision to take up arms had been so grave and reluctant. But as Oliver said at the time of the bombing, the armed struggle was imposed upon us by the violence of the apartheid regime.
Both the government and the ANC were working on two tracks: military and political. On the political front, the government was pursuing its standard divide-and-rule strategy in attempting to separate Africans from Coloureds and Indians. In a referendum of November 1983, the white electorate endorsed P. W. Botha’s plan to create a so-called tricameral Parliament, with Indian and Coloured chambers in addition to the white Parliament. This was an effort to lure Indians and Coloureds into the system, and divide them from Africans. But the offer was merely a “toy telephone,” as all parliamentary action by Indians and Coloureds was subject to a white veto. It was also a way of fooling the outside world into thinking that the government was reforming apartheid. Botha’s ruse did not fool the people, as more than 80 percent of eligible Indian and Coloured voters boycotted the election to the new houses of Parliament in 1984.
Powerful grassroots political movements were being formed inside the country that had firm links to the ANC, the principal one being the United Democratic Front, of which I was named a patron. The UDF had been created to coordinate protest against the new apartheid constitution in 1983, and the first elections to the segregated tricameral Parliament in 1984. The UDF soon blossomed into a powerful organization that united over six hundred anti-apartheid organizations — trade unions, community groups, church groups, student associations.
The ANC was
experiencing a new birth of
popularity. Opinion polls showed that the Congress was far and away the
popular political organization among Africans even though
it had been banned for a quarter of a century. The anti-apartheid
struggle as a
whole had captured the attention of the world; in 1984,
Desmond Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (The authorities
send Bishop Tutu my letter of congratulations.) The South
government was under growing international pressure, as nations all
globe began to impose economic sanctions on
The government had
sent “feelers” to me
over the years, beginning with Minister Kruger’s efforts to persuade me
The government was
testing the waters. In
late 1984 and early 1985, I had visits from two prominent Western
Lord Nicholas Bethell, a member of the British House of
the European Parliament, and Samuel Dash, a professor of law at
I met Lord Bethell in the prison commander’s office, which was dominated by a large photograph of a glowering President Botha. Bethell was a jovial, rotund man and when I first met him, I teased him about his stoutness. “You look like you are related to Winston Churchill,” I said as we shook hands, and he laughed.
Lord Bethell wanted to know about our conditions at Pollsmoor and I told him. We discussed the armed struggle and I explained to him it was not up to us to renounce violence, but the government. I reaffirmed that we aimed for hard military targets, not people. “I would not want our men to assassinate, for instance, the major here,” I said, pointing to Major Fritz van Sittert, who was monitoring the talks. Van Sittert was a good-natured fellow who did not say much, but he started at my remark.
In my visit with Professor Dash, which quickly followed that of Lord Bethell, I laid out what I saw as the minimum for a future nonracial South Africa: a unitary state without homelands; nonracial elections for the central Parliament; and one-person-one-vote. Professor Dash asked me whether I took any encouragement from the government’s stated intention of repealing the mixed-marriage laws and certain other apartheid statutes. “This is a pinprick,” I said. “It is not my ambition to marry a white woman or swim in a white pool. It is political equality that we want.” I told Dash quite candidly that at the moment we could not defeat the government on the battlefield, but could make governing difficult for them.
I had one
not-so-pleasant visit from two
Americans, editors of the conservative newspaper the
I had been warned by the authorities that the government was going to make a proposal involving my freedom, but I had not been prepared for the fact that it would be made in Parliament by the state president. By my reckoning, it was the sixth conditional offer the government had made for my release in the past ten years. After I listened to the speech on radio, I made a request to the commander of the prison for an urgent visit by my wife and my lawyer, Ismail Ayob, so that I could dictate my response to the state president’s offer.
Winnie and Ismail were not given permission to visit for a week, and in the meantime I wrote a letter to the foreign minister, Pik Botha, rejecting the conditions for my release, while also preparing a public response. I was keen to do a number of things in this response, because Botha’s offer was an attempt to drive a wedge between me and my colleagues by tempting me to accept a policy the ANC rejected. I wanted to reassure the ANC in general and Oliver in particular that my loyalty to the organization was beyond question. I also wished to send a message to the government that while I rejected its offer because of the conditions attached to it, I nevertheless thought negotiation, not war, was the path to a solution. Botha wanted the onus of violence to rest on my shoulders and I wanted to reaffirm to the world that we were only responding to the violence done to us. I intended to make it clear that if I emerged from prison into the same circumstances in which I was arrested, I would be forced to resume the same activities for which I was arrested.
I met with Winnie
and Ismail on a Friday;
on Sunday, a UDF rally was to be held in
I gave Ismail and
Winnie the speech I had
prepared. In addition to responding to the government, I wanted to
publicly the UDF for its fine work and to congratulate
Bishop Tutu on
his prize, adding that his award belonged to all the people. On Sunday,
February 10, 1985, my daughter Zindzi read my response to a
crowd of people who had not been able to hear my words legally anywhere
Zindzi was a dynamic speaker like her mother, and said that her father should be at the stadium to speak the words himself. I was proud to knowthat it was she who spoke my words.
I am a member of
the African National
Congress. I have always been a member of the African National Congress
will remain a member of the African National Congress until
the day I die. Oliver Tambo is more than
a brother to me. He is my greatest friend and comrade for nearly fifty
If there is any one amongst you who cherishes my freedom,
Oliver Tambo cherishes it more, and I
know that he would give his life to see me free. . . . I am
surprised at the conditions that the
government wants to impose on me. I am not a violent man. . . . It was
then, when all other forms of resistance were no longer open
to us, that we turned to armed struggle.
Let Botha show that he is different to Malan, Strijdom and Verwoerd.
renounce violence. Let him say that he will dismantle
apartheid. Let him unban the people’s
organization, the African National Congress. Let him free all who have
imprisoned, banished or exiled for their opposition to apartheid.
In 1985 after a routine medical examination with the prison doctor, I was referred to a urologist, who diagnosed an enlarged prostate gland and recommended surgery. He said the procedure was routine. I consulted with my family and decided to go ahead with the operation.
I was taken to
Although we did
not discuss politics, I
did bring up one sensitive issue, and that was the status of my wife.
August, shortly before I entered the hospital, Winnie had
I spent several days in hospital recuperating from the surgery. When I was discharged, I was fetched at the hospital by Brigadier Munro. Commanding officers do not usually pick up prisoners at the hospital, so my suspicions were immediately aroused. On the ride back, Brigadier Munro said to me in a casual way, as though he were simply making conversation, “Mandela, we are not taking you back to your friends now.” I asked him what he meant. “From now on, you are going to be alone.” I asked him why. He shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve just been given these instructions from headquarters.” Once again, there was no warning and no explanation.
Upon my return to Pollsmoor I was taken to a new cell on the ground floor of the prison, three floors below and in an entirely different wing. I was given three rooms, and a separate toilet, with one room to be used for sleeping, one across the hall for studying, and another for exercise. By prison standards, this was palatial, but the rooms were damp and musty and received very little natural light. I said nothing to the brigadier, for I knew the decision had not been his. I wanted time to consider the ramifications of the move. Why had the state taken this step?
It would be too strong to call it a revelation, but over the next few days and weeks I came to a realization about my new circumstances. The change, I decided, was not a liability but an opportunity. I was not happy to be separated from my colleagues and I missed my garden and the sunny terrace on the third floor. But my solitude gave me a certain liberty, and I resolved to use it to do something I had been pondering for a long while: begin discussions with the government. I had concluded that the time had come when the struggle could best be pushed forward through negotiations. If we did not start a dialogue soon, both sides would be plunged into a dark night of oppression, violence, and war. My solitude would give me an opportunity to take the first steps in that direction, without the kind of scrutiny that might destroy such efforts.
We had been fighting against white minority rule for three-quarters of a century. We had been engaged in the armed struggle for more than two decades. Many people on both sides had already died. The enemy was strong and resolute. Yet even with all their bombers and tanks, they must have sensed they were on the wrong side of history. We had right on our side, but not yet might. It was clear to me that a military victory was a distant if not impossible dream. It simply did not make sense for both sides to lose thousands if not millions of lives in a conflict that wasunnecessary. They must have known this as well. It was time to talk.
This would be extremely sensitive. Both sides regarded discussions as a sign of weakness and betrayal. Neither would come to the table until the other made significant concessions. The government asserted over and over that we were a terrorist organization of Communists, and that they would never talk to terrorists or Communists. This was National Party dogma. The ANC asserted over and over that the government was fascistic and racist and that there was nothing to talk about until they unbanned the ANC, unconditionally released all political prisoners, and removed the troops from the townships.
A decision to talk
to the government was
of such import that it should only have been made in
I was now in a kind of splendid
isolation. Though my colleagues were only three floors above me, they
well have been in
After I had been in my new cell for a few days, I asked the commanding officer to arrange such a meeting. He did so, and the four of us discussed the issue of my transfer. Walter, Kathy, and Ray were angry that we had been separated. They wanted to lodge a strong protest, and demand that we be reunited. My response was not what they expected. “Look, chaps,” I said, “I don’t think we should oppose this thing.” I mentioned that my new accommodations were superior, and maybe this would set a precedent for all political prisoners. I then added somewhat ambiguously, “Perhaps something good will come of this. I’m now in a position where the government can make an approach to us.” They did not care too much for this latter explanation, as I knew they would not.
I chose to tell no
one of what I was
about to do. Not my colleagues upstairs or those in
Within a few weeks of my move, I wrote to Kobie Coetsee to propose talks about talks. As before, I received no response. I wrote once more, and again there was no response. I found this peculiar and demoralizing, and I realized I had to look for another opportunity to be heard. That came in early 1986.
At a meeting of
the British Commonwealth
In February, I was visited by General Obasanjo to discuss the nature of the delegation’s brief. He was eager to facilitate a meeting between me and the full group. With the government’s permission, such a meeting was scheduled for May. The group would be talking with the cabinet after they saw me, and I viewed this as a chance to raise the subject of negotiations.
The government regarded my session with the group as something extraordinary. Two days before the meeting I was visited by Brigadier Munro, who had brought along a tailor. “Mandela,” the commander said, “we want you to see these people on an equal footing. We don’t want you to wear those old prison clothes, so this tailor will take your measurements and outfit you with a proper suit.” The tailor must have been some kind of wizard, for the very next day I tried on a pinstriped suit that fit me like a glove. I was also given a shirt, tie, shoes, socks, and underwear. The commander admired my new attire. “Mandela, you look like a prime minister now, not a prisoner,” he said and smiled.
At the meeting between myself and the Eminent Persons Group, we were joined by two significant observers: Kobie Coetsee and Lieutenant General W. H. Willemse, the commissioner of prisons. Like the tailor, these two men were there to take my measure. But, curiously, they left shortly after the session started. I pressed them to remain, saying I had nothing to hide, but they left anyway. Before they took their leave, I told them the time had come for negotiations, not fighting, and that the government and the ANC should sit down and talk.
Eminent Persons Group had come with
many questions involving the issues of violence, negotiations, and
international sanctions. At the outset, I set the ground
rules for our
discussions. “I am not the head of the movement,” I told them. “The
head of the
movement is Oliver Tambo in
I told them that
my release alone would
not stem the violence in the country or stimulate negotiations.
After the group finished with me, they
planned to see both Oliver in
In May, the
Eminent Persons Group was
scheduled to see me one last time. I was optimistic as they had been to
ANC bases in
Once again, I felt
my efforts to move
negotiations forward had stalled. Oliver Tambo and the ANC
had called for
the people of
In every outward way, the time seemed inauspicious for negotiations. But often, the most discouraging moments are precisely the time to launch an initiative. At such times people are searching for a way out of their dilemma. That month I wrote a very simple letter to General Willemse, the commissioner of prisons. In it, I merely said, “I wish to see you on a matter of national importance.” I handed the letter to Brigadier Munro on a Wednesday.
That weekend, I
was told by the
commanding officer to be prepared to see General Willemse, who was
Willemse is a direct fellow and we got down to business immediately. I told him I wanted to see Kobie Coetsee, the minister of justice. He asked me why. I hesitated for a moment, reluctant to discuss political matters with a prison official. But I responded with frankness: “I want to see the minister in order to raise the question of talks between the government and the ANC.”
He pondered this
for a moment, and then
said, “Mandela, as you know, I am not a politician. I cannot discuss
issues myself, for they are beyond my authority.” He then paused, as
if something had just occurred to him. “It just so happens,” he said,
minister of justice is in
The general then
telephoned the minister
and the two spoke for a few moments. After putting down the phone, the
turned to me and said, “The minister said, ‘Bring him
Minutes later, we left the general’s residence in his car bound for the
minister’s house in
his official residence in the city,
Coetsee greeted me warmly and we settled down on comfortable chairs in
lounge. He apologized that I had not had a chance to change
out of my
prison clothes. I spent three hours in conversation with him and was
struck by his sophistication and willingness to listen. He asked
knowledgeable and relevant questions — questions that reflected a
with the issues that divided the government and the ANC. He asked me under
what circumstances would we suspend the armed struggle; whether or not
for the ANC as a whole; whether I envisioned any
constitutional guarantees for minorities in a new
After responding in much the same way as I did to the Eminent Persons Group, I sensed that Coetsee wanted some resolution. What is the next step? he asked. I told him I wanted to see the state president and the foreign minister, Pik Botha. Coetsee noted this on a small pad he had kept beside him, and said he would send my request through the proper channels. We then shook hands, and I was driven back to my solitary cell on the ground floor of Pollsmoor Prison.
was greatly encouraged. I sensed the
government was anxious to overcome the impasse in the country, that
now convinced they had to depart from their old positions.
ghostly outline, I saw the beginnings of a compromise. I
told no one of my encounter. I wanted
the process to be under way before I informed anyone. Sometimes it is
to present one’s colleagues with a policy that is already
a fait accompli. I knew that once they examined the situation
colleagues at Pollsmoor and in
Although I did not get a direct response from Kobie Coetsee, there were other signs that the government was preparing me for a different kind of existence. On the day before Christmas, Lieutenant Colonel Gawie Marx, the deputy commander of Pollsmoor, wandered by my cell after breakfast and said quite casually, “Mandela, would you like to see the city?” I was not exactly certain what he had in mind, but I thought there was no harm in saying yes. Good, he said, come along. I walked with the colonel through the fifteen locked metal doors between my cell and the entrance, and when we emerged, I found his car waiting for us.
We drove into
After an hour or so, Colonel Marx stopped the car in front of a small shop on a quiet street. “Would you like a cold drink?” he asked me. I nodded, and he disappeared inside the shop. I sat there alone. For the first few moments, I did not think about my situation, but as the seconds ticked away,
I became more and more agitated. For the first time in twenty-two years, I was out in the world and unguarded. I had a vision of opening the door, jumping out, and then running and running until I was out of sight. Something inside was urging me to do just that. I noticed a wooded area near the road where I could hide. I was extremely tense and began to perspire. Where was the colonel? But then I took control of myself; such an action would be unwise and irresponsible, not to mention dangerous. It was possible that the whole situation was contrived to try to get me to escape, though I do not think that was the case. I was greatly relieved a few moments later when I saw the colonel walking back to the car with two cans of Coca-Cola.
As it turned out,
that day in
One day I went to the gardens with a captain, and after walking in the fields we strolled over to the stables. There were two young white men in overalls working with the horses. I walked over to them, praised one of the animals, and said to the fellow, “Now, what is this horse’s name?” The young man seemed quite nervous and did not look at me. He then mumbled the name of the horse, but to the captain, not me. I then asked the other fellow in turn what the name of his horse was, and he had precisely the same reaction. As I was walking back to the prison with the captain, I commented on what I thought was the curious behavior of the two young men. The captain laughed. “Mandela, don’t you know what those two chaps were?” I said I did not. “They were white prisoners. They had never been questioned by a native prisoner in the presence of a white officer before.”
Some of the younger warders took me quite far afield, and we would walk on the beach and even stop at a café and have tea. At such places, I often tried to see if people recognized me, but no one ever did; the last published picture of me had been taken in 1962.
These trips were instructive on a number of levels. I saw how life had changed in the time I had been away, and because we mainly went to white areas, I saw the extraordinary wealth and ease that whites enjoyed. Though the country was in upheaval and the townships were on the brink of open warfare, white life went on placidly and undisturbed. Their lives were unaffected. Once, one of the warders, a very pleasant young man named Warrant Officer Brand, actually took me to his family’s flat and introduced me to his wife and children. From then on, I sent his children Christmas cards every year.
As much as I
enjoyed these little
adventures, I well knew that the authorities had a motive other than
diverted. I sensed that they wanted to acclimatize me to
In 1987, I resumed contact with Kobie Coetsee. I had several private meetings with him at his residence, and later that year the government made its first concrete proposal. Coetsee said the government would like to appoint a committee of senior officials to conduct private discussions with me. This would be done with the full knowledge of the state president, Coetsee said. Coetsee himself would be head of the committee, and it would include General Willemse, the commissioner of prisons; Fanie van der Merwe, the director general of the Prisons Department; and Dr. Niel Barnard, a former academic who was then head of the National Intelligence Service. The first three individuals were associated with the prison system, so if talks foundered or were leaked to the press, both sides would be able to cover up and say we were discussing prison conditions and nothing more.
The presence of
Dr. Barnard, however,
disturbed me. He was the head of
That night I considered all the ramifications. I knew that P. W. Botha had created something called the State Security Council, a shadowy secretariat of security experts and intelligence officials. He had done this, according to the press, to circumvent the authority of the cabinet and increase his own power. Dr. Barnard was a key player in this inner council and was said to be a protégé of the president. I thought that my refusing Barnard would alienate Botha, and I decided that such a tack was too risky. If the state president was not brought on board, nothing would happen.
In the morning, I
sent word to Coetsee
that I accepted his offer. I knew that I had three crucial
that I needed to address: first, I wanted to sound out my colleagues on
floor before I proceeded any further; second, it was
communicate with Oliver in
W. Botha laying out my views and those of the ANC on the vital issues before the country. This memorandum would create talking points for any future discussion. I requested a meeting with my colleagues, and to my surprise, the authorities summarily refused. This was remarkable, and I assumed it reflected a great deal of nervousness about the prospect of secret talks between myself and the government. I took my complaints to more senior officials.
Finally, the request was approved, with the proviso that I could see my colleagues one by one, not together. I met them in the visiting area. I had resolved to leave out a few details; I would seek their counsel about the idea of having talks with the government without mentioning that an actual committee had been formed. Walter was first. I told him about my letter to the commissioner of prisons and my meeting with Coetsee. I said that I had discussed with Coetsee the idea of beginning talks with the government and that the government seemed interested. What were his views on the matter?
I have been through thick and thin with Walter. He was a man of reason and wisdom, and no man knew me better than he did. There was no one whose opinion I trusted or valued more. Walter considered what I told him. I could see he was uncomfortable, and at best, lukewarm. “In principle,” he said, “I am not against negotiations. But I would have wished that the government initiated talks with us rather than us initiating talks with them.” I replied that if he was not against negotiations in principle, what did it matter who initiated them? What mattered was what they achieved, not how they started. I told Walter that I thought we should move forward with negotiations and not worry about who knocked on the door first. Walter saw that my mind was made up and he said he would not stop me, but that he hoped I knew what I was doing.
Next was Raymond Mhlaba. I explained the entire situation to him as I had to Walter. Ray was always a man of few words, and for several moments he digested what I had said. He then looked at me and said, “Madiba, what have you been waiting for? We should have started this years ago.” Andrew Mlangeni’s reaction was virtually the same as Ray’s. The last man was Kathy. His response was negative; he was as resolutely against what I was suggesting as Raymond and Andrew were in favor. Even more strongly than Walter, he felt that by initiating talks it would appear that we were capitulating. Like Walter, he said he was not in principle against negotiations, and I responded exactly as I had with Walter. But Kathy was adamant; he felt I was going down the wrong path. But, despite his misgivings, he said he would not stand in my way.
Not long after this I received a note from Oliver Tambo that was smuggled in to me by one of my lawyers. He had heard reports that I was having secret discussions with the government and he was concerned. He said he knew I had been alone for some time and separated from my colleagues. He must have been wondering: What is going on with Mandela? Oliver’s note was brief and to the point: What, he wanted to know, was I discussing with the government? Oliver could not have believed that I was selling out, but he might have thought I was making an error in judgment.
In fact, the tenor
of his note suggested
that.I replied to Oliver in a very terse letter saying that I was
talking to the government about one thing and one thing only: a
meeting between the National Executive Committee of the ANC and the
South African Government. I would not spell out the details, for I
could not trust the confidentiality of the communication. I simply said
the time had dome for such talks and that I would not compromise
the organization in any way.
Although the ANC had called for talks with the government for decades, we had never been confronted with the actual prospect of such talks. It is one thing to consider them in theory, and quite another to engage in them. As I was writing my response to Oliver, I was also beginning to draft my memorandum to P. W. Botha. I would make sure that Oliver saw this as well. I knew that when Oliver and the National Executive read my memo, their fears that I had gone off the road would be allayed
The first formal meeting of the secret working group took place in May 1988, at a posh officers’ club within the precincts of Pollsmoor. While I knew both Coetsee and Willemse, I had never before met van der Merwe and Dr. Barnard. Van der Merwe was a quiet, levelheaded man who spoke only when he had something important to say. Dr. Barnard was in his mid-thirties and was exceedingly bright, a man of controlled intelligence and self-discipline.
The initial meeting was quite stiff, but in subsequent sessions we were able to talk more freely and directly. I met with them almost every week for a few months, and then the meetings occurred at irregular intervals, sometimes not for a month, and then suddenly every week. The meetings were usually scheduled by the government, but sometimes I would request a session.
During our early meetings, I discovered that my new colleagues, with the exception of Dr. Barnard, knew little about the ANC. They were all sophisticated Afrikaners, and far more open-minded than nearly all of their brethren. But they were the victims of so much propaganda that it was necessary to straighten them out about certain facts. Even Dr. Barnard, who had made a study of the ANC, had received most of his information from police and intelligence files, which which were in the main inaccurate and sullied by the prejudices of the men who had gathered them. He could not help but be infected by the same biases.
I spent some time in the beginning sketching out the history of the ANC and then explaining our positions on the primary issues that divided the organization from the government. After these preliminaries, we focused on the critical issues: the armed struggle, the ANC’s alliance with the Communist Party, the goal of majority rule, and the idea of racial reconciliation.
The first issue to arise was in many ways the most crucial, and that was the armed struggle. We spent a number of months discussing it. They insisted that the ANC must renounce violence and give up the armed struggle before the government would agree to negotiations — and before I could meet President Botha. Their contention was that violence was nothing more than criminal behavior that could not be tolerated by the state.
I responded that the state was responsible for the violence and that it is always the oppressor, not the oppressed, who dictates the form of the struggle. If the oppressor uses violence, the oppressed have no alternative but to respond violently. In our case it was simply a legitimate form of self-defense. I ventured that if the state decided to use peaceful methods, the ANC would also use peaceful means. “It is up to you,” I said, “not us, to renounce violence.”
I think I advanced their understanding on this point, but the issue soon moved from a philosophical question to a practical one. As Minister Coetsee and Dr. Barnard pointed out, the National Party had repeatedly stated that it would not negotiate with any organization that advocated violence: therefore, how could it suddenly announce talks with the ANC without losing its credibility? In order for us to begin talks, they said, the ANC must make some compromise so that the government would not lose face with its own people.
It was a fair
point and one that I could
well understand, but I would not offer them a way out. “Gentlemen,” I
is not my job to resolve your dilemma for you.” I simply
told them that
they must tell their people that there can be no peace and no solution
The ANC’s alliance
with the Communist
Party seemed to trouble them almost as much as the armed struggle. The
Party accepted the most hidebound of 1950s cold war ideology
and regarded the
First of all, I
said, no self-respecting
freedom fighter would take orders from the government he is fighting
jettison a longtime ally in the interest of pleasing an
then explained at great length that the party and the ANC were separate
distinct organizations that shared the same short-term
overthrow of racial oppression and the birth of a nonracial
This discussion went on for months. Like most Afrikaners, they thought that because many of the Communists in the ANC were white or Indian, they were controlling the blacks in the ANC. I cited many occasions when the ANC and the CP had differed on policy and the ANC had prevailed, but this did not seem to impress them. Finally, in exasperation, I said to them, “You gentlemen consider yourselves intelligent, do you not? You consider yourselves forceful and persuasive, do you not? Well, there are four of you and only one of me, and you cannot control me or get me to change my mind. What makes you think the Communists can succeed where you have failed?”
They were also concerned about the idea of nationalization, insisting that the ANC and the Freedom Charter supported blanket nationalization for the South African economy. I explained that we were for a more even distribution of the rewards of certain industries, industries that were already monopolies, and that nationalization might occur in some of those areas. But I referred them to an article I wrote in 1956 for Liberation in which I said that the Freedom Charter was not a blueprint for socialism but for African-style capitalism. I told them I had not changed my mind since then.
The other main
area of discussion was the
issue of majority rule. They felt that if there was majority role, the
of minorities would be trampled. How would the ANC protect
rights of the white minority? they wanted to know. I said that there
organization in the history of
The meetings had a
positive effect: I was
told in the winter of 1988 that President Botha was planning to see me
the end of August. The country was still in turmoil. The
government had reimposed a State of
In 1987, the ANC celebrated its
seventy-fifth anniversary and held a conference at the end of the year
Although violence was still pervasive, the National Party had never been stronger. In the white general election of May 1987, the Nationalists won an overwhelming majority. Worse still, the liberal Progressive Federal Party had been replaced as the official opposition by the Conservative Party, which was to the right of the Nationalists and campaigned on the theme that the government was too lenient with the black opposition.
Despite my optimism about the secret talks, it was a difficult time. I had recently had a visit from Winnie and I learned that 8115 Orlando West, the house in which we had been married and which I considered home, had been burned down by arsonists. We had lost invaluable family records, photographs, and keepsakes — even the slice of wedding cake Winnie was saving for my release. I had always thought that someday when I left prison I would be able to recapture the past when looking over those pictures and letters, and now they were gone. Prison had robbed me of my freedom but not my memories, and now I felt some enemies of the struggle had tried to rob me of even those.
I was also
suffering from a bad cough
that I could not seem to shake, and I often felt too weak to exercise.
continued to complain about the dampness of my cell, but
nothing had been
done about it. One day, during a meeting in the visiting area with my
Ismail Ayob, I felt ill and vomited. I was taken back to my
examined by a doctor, and I soon recovered. A few days later, however,
I was in
my cell after dinner when a number of warders and a doctor
The physician gave me a cursory examination, and then one of the
me to get dressed. “We are taking you to hospital in
I was taken to
While sitting on a table in the examining room, I was looked at by a young and amiable doctor who was also a professor at the university medical school. He inspected my throat, tapped my chest, took some cultures, and in no time pronounced me fit. “There is nothing wrong with you,” he said with a smile. “We should be able to release you tomorrow.” I was anxious not to be diverted from my talks with the government, so I was pleased with his diagnosis.
After the examination, the doctor asked me if I would like some tea. I said I would and a few minutes later, a tall young Coloured nurse came in with a tray. The presence of all the armed guards and warders so frightened her that she dropped the tray on my bed, spilling the tea, before rushing out.
I spent the night in the empty ward under heavy guard. The first thing the next morning, even before I had breakfast, I was visited by an older doctor who was head of internal medicine at the hospital. He was a no-nonsense fellow and had far less of a bedside manner than the cordial young physician of the night before. Without any preliminaries, he tapped me roughly on my chest and then said gruffly, “There is water in your lung.” I told him that the previous doctor had done tests and said I was fine. With a hint of annoyance, he said, “Mandela, take a look at your chest.” He pointed out that one side of my chest was actually larger than the other, and said that it was probably filled with water.
He asked a nurse to bring him a syringe, and without further ado he poked it into my chest and drew out some brownish liquid. “Have you had breakfast?” he said. No, I replied. “Good,” he said, “we are taking you to the operating theater immediately.” He told me I had a great deal of water on my lung and he wanted to draw it out right away.
In the operating room I was given anesthesia, and the next thing I recalled was waking up in a room with the doctor present. I was groggy, but I concentrated on what he said: he had removed two liters of water from my chest and when the liquid was analyzed, a tuberculosis germ had been discovered. He said it was in the very early stages of the illness, and that the germ had done no damage to the lung. While full-blown tuberculosis normally took six months to cure, he said, I should be better in two months. The doctor agreed that it was probably the damp cell that had helped cause my illness.
I spent the next six weeks at Tygerberg recuperating and receiving treatment. In December, I was moved to the Constantiaberge Clinic, a luxurious facility near Pollsmoor that had never had a black patient before. My first morning there, I had an early visit from Kobie Coetsee, who was accompanied by Major Marais, a deputy commander responsible for looking after me. We had barely exchanged greetings when the orderly brought in my breakfast.
Because of my recent illness and my history of high blood pressure, I had been put on a strict low-cholesterol diet. That order had apparently not yet been conveyed to the clinic’s kitchen, for the breakfast tray contained scrambled eggs, three rashers of bacon, and several pieces of buttered toast. I could not remember the last time I had tasted bacon and eggs, and I was ravenous. Just as I was about to take a delicious forkful of egg, Major Marais said, “No, Mandela, that is against the orders of your physician,” and he reached over to take the tray. I held it tightly, and said, “Major, I am sorry. If this breakfast will kill me, then today I am prepared to die.” Once I was ensconced at Constantiaberge, I again began to meet with Kobie Coetsee and the secret committee. While I was still at the clinic Coetsee said he wanted to put me in a situation that was halfway between confinement and freedom. While he did not spell out what this meant, I had a notion of what he was talking about, and I merely nodded. I would not be so naïve as to consider his proposal to be freedom, but I knew that it was a step in that direction.
In the meantime, the clinic was extremely comfortable and for the first time I actually enjoyed a hospital convalescence. The nurses — who were white or Coloured, no black nurses were permitted — spoiled me; they brought extra desserts and pillows and were constantly visiting, even during their time off.
One day, one of the nurses came to me and said, “Mr. Mandela, we are having a party tonight and we would like you to come.” I said I’d be honored to attend, but that the authorities would undoubtedly have something to say about it. The prison authorities refused permission for me to go, which nettled the nurses, and as a result, they decided to hold their party in my room, insisting they could not have their party without me.
That night, a dozen or so of these young ladies in party frocks descended on my room with cake and punch and gifts. The guards seemed befuddled, but they could hardly consider these vivacious young girls a security risk. In fact, when one of the guards attempted to prevent some ofthe nurses from entering my room, I jestingly accused him of being jealous of an old man receiving so much attention from such beautiful young ladies.
In early December 1988, security on my ward was tightened and the officers on duty were more alert than usual. Some change was imminent. On the evening of December 9, Major Marais came into my room, and told me to prepare myself to leave. Where to? I asked him. He could not say.
I packed my things
and looked around for
some of my loyal nurses; I was disappointed at not being able to thank
bid them farewell. We left in a rush, and after about an
hour on the road we entered a prison whose name I recognized: Victor
Located in the lovely old
I was ushered into the house by Major Marais and found a spacious lounge, next to a large kitchen, with an even larger bedroom at the back of the house. The place was sparsely but comfortably furnished. It had not been cleaned or swept before my arrival, and the bedroom and living room were teeming with all kinds of exotic insects, centipedes, monkey spiders, and the like, some of which I had never seen before. That night, I swept the insects off my bed and windowsill and slept extremely well in what was to be my new home.
The next morning I surveyed my new abode and discovered a swimming pool in the backyard, and two smaller bedrooms. I walked outside and admired the trees that shaded the house and kept it cool. The entire place felt removed, isolated. The only thing spoiling the idyllic picture was that the walls were topped with razor wire, and there were guards at the entrance to the house. Even so, it was a lovely place and situation; a halfway house between prison and freedom.
That afternoon I
was visited by Kobie
Coetsee, who brought a case of
The cottage did in fact give one the illusion of freedom. I could go to sleep and wake up as I pleased, swim whenever I wanted, eat when I was hungry — all were delicious sensations. Simply to be able to go outside during the day and take a walk when I desired was a moment of private glory. There were no bars on the windows, no jangling keys, no doors to lock or unlock. It was altogether pleasant, but I never forgot that it was a gilded cage.
The prison service
provided me with a
cook, Warrant Officer Swart, a tall, quiet Afrikaner who had once been
Warrant Officer Swart baked bread, made home-brewed ginger beer and assorted other delicacies. When I had visitors, which was increasingly often, he would prepare gourmet meals. They always praised the food and I daresay my chef was the envy of all my visitors. When the authorities began to permit some of my ANC comrades and members of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM) to visit me, I accused them of coming only for the food.
One day, after a delicious meal prepared by Mr. Swart, I went into the kitchen to wash the dishes. “No,” he said, “that is my duty. You must return to the sitting room.” I insisted that I had to do something, and that if he cooked, it was only fair for me to do the dishes. Mr. Swart protested, but finally gave in. He also objected to the fact that I would make my bed in the morning, saying it was his responsibility to do so. But I had been making my own bed for so long it had become a reflex.
We also traded off in another respect. Like many Afrikaans-speaking warders, he was keen to improve his English. I was always looking for ways to improve my Afrikaans. We made an agreement: he would speak to me in English and I would answer in Afrikaans, and in that way we both practiced the language at which we were weakest.
I would occasionally ask him to make certain dishes for me. I sometimes requested samp and beans, which I used to eat as a boy. One day, I said to him, “You know, I would like you to cook me some brown rice.” To my astonishment, he said, “What is brown rice?” Swart was a young man, and I explained to him that brown rice was the unrefined rice kernel, and we used to eat it during the war when white rice was unavailable. I said it was far healthier than white rice. He was skeptical, but managed to find me some. He cooked it and I enjoyed it very much. But Mr. Swart could not abide the taste and vowed that if I ever wanted it again, I would have to cook it myself.
Even though I was not a drinker, I wanted to be a proper host and serve wine to my guests. I would occasionally take a sip of wine in order to make my guests feel comfortable, but the only wine I can stomach is a South African semisweet wine, which is actually very sweet.
Before my guests came I would ask Mr. Swart to get a certain type of Nederburg wine, which I had tasted before and knew was a semisweet. One day, I was expecting my friends and lawyers for lunch, Dullah Omar, George Bizos, and Ismail Ayob, and asked Mr. Swart to purchase some Nederburg wine should George Bizos, not a Muslim, want some with his meal. I noticed that he grimaced when I said this, and asked him what was wrong.
“Mr. Mandela,” he said. “I always buy that wine for you because you ask me to, but it is cheap stuff and not very nice.” I reminded him that I did not like dry wines and I was sure George could not tell the difference anyway. Mr. Swart smiled at this and proposed a compromise: he would go out and buy two bottles, a dry wine and my Nederburg, and then he would ask my guest which wine he preferred. “Fine,” I said, “let us try your experiment.”
When all four of us were seated for lunch, Swart came out holding the two bottles and turned to the guests and said, “Gentlemen, which wine would you like?” Without even looking at me, George pointed to the bottle of dry white. Warrant Officer Swart just smiled
The meetings with the committee
continued, and we stalled on the same issues that had always prevented
moving forward: the armed struggle, the Communist Party, and
rule. I was still pressing Coetsee for a meeting with P. W. Botha. By
this time, the authorities permmitted me to have rudimentary
communications with my comrades at Pollsmoor and Robben Island and also
the ANC in Lusaka.
Although I knew I was going out ahead of my colleagues, I did not want to go too far ahead and find that I was all alone. In January 1989, I was visited by my four comrades from Pollsmoor and we discussed the memorandum I was planning to send to the state president. The memorandum reiterated most of the points I had made in our secret committee meetings, but I wanted to make sure the state president heard them directly from me. He would see that we were not wild-eyed terrorists, but reasonable men.
“I am disturbed,”
I wrote to Mr. Botha in
the memorandum, sent to him in March, “as many other South Africans no
are, by the specter of a
On the question of
violence I wrote that
the refusal of the ANC to renounce violence was not the problem: “The
that the government is not yet ready . . . for the sharing
political power with blacks.” I explained our unwillingness to cast
SACP, and reiterated that we were not under its control.
“Which man of honour,”
I wrote, “will desert a lifelong friend at the insistence of a common
and still retain a measure of credibility with his people?”
I said the
rejection of majority rule by the government was a poorly disguised
preserve power. I suggested he must face reality. “Majority
internal peace are like the two sides of a single coin, and white
At the end of the letter, I offered a very rough framework for negotiations.
Two political issues will have to be addressed; firstly, the demand for majority rule in a unitary state, secondly, the concern of white South Africa over this demand, as well as the insistence of whites on structural guarantees that majority rule will not mean domination of the white minority by blacks. The most crucial tasks which will face the government and the ANC will be to reconcile these two positions.
I proposed that this be done in two stages, the first being a discussion to create the proper conditions for negotiations, the second being the actual negotiations themselves. “I must point out that the move I have taken provides you with the opportunity to overcome the current deadlock, and to normalize the country’s political situation. I hope you will seize it without delay.”
But delay there
was. In January, P. W.
Botha suffered a stroke. While it did not incapacitate the president,
weaken him and, according to his cabinet, made him even more
February, Botha unexpectedly resigned as head of the National Party,
his position as state president. This was an unparalleled
situation in the country’s history: in the South African parliamentary
the leader of the majority party becomes the head of state.
Botha was now head of state but not of his own party. Some saw this as
positive development: that Botha wanted to be “above party
order to bring about true change in
pressure continued to intensify. Political detainees all across the
held a successful hunger strike, persuading the minister of
law and order
to release over nine hundred of them. In 1989, the UDF formed an
the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) to form
Mass Democratic Movement (MDM), which then began organizing a
“defiance campaign” of civil disobedience to challenge
apartheid institutions. On the international front, Oliver held talks
also had its tragic
side. As the violence in
That July, for my seventy-first birthday, I was visited at the cottage at Victor Verster by nearly my entire family. It was the first time I had ever had my wife and children and grandchildren all in one place, and it was a grand and happy occasion. Warrant Officer Swart outdid himself in preparing a feast, and he did not even get upset when I permitted some of the grandchildren to eat their sweets before their main course. After the meal, the grandchildren went into my bedroom to watch a video of a horror movie while the adults stayed outside gossiping in the lounge. It was a deep, deep pleasure to have my whole family around me, and the only pain was the knowledge that I had missed such occasions for so many years
ON JULY 4, I was visited by General Willemse, who informed me that I was being taken to see President Botha the following day. He described the visit as a “courtesy call,” and I was told to be ready to leave at 5:30 A.M. I told the general that while I was looking forward to the meeting, I thought it appropriate that I have a suit and tie in which to see Mr. Botha. (The suit from the visit of the Eminent Persons Group had long since vanished.) The general agreed, and a short while later, a tailor appeared to take my measurements. That afternoon I was delivered a new suit, tie, shirt, and shoes.
Before leaving, the general also asked me my blood type, just in case anything untoward should happen the following day. I prepared as best I could for the meeting. I reviewed my memo and the extensive notes I had made for it. I looked at as many newspapers and publications as I could to make sure I was up to date. After President Botha’s resignation as head of the National Party, F. W. de Klerk had been elected in his place, and there was said to be considerable jockeying between the two men. Some might interpret Botha’s willingness to meet me as his way of stealing thunder from his rival, but that did not concern me. I rehearsed the arguments that the state president might make and the ones I would put in return. In every meeting with an adversary, one must make sure one has conveyed precisely the impression one intends to. I was tense about seeing Mr. Botha. He was known as die Groot Krokodil — the Great Crocodile — and I had heard many accounts of his ferocious temper. He seemed to me to be the very model of the old-fashioned, stiff-necked, stubborn Afrikaner who did not so much discuss matters with black leaders as dictate to them. His recent stroke had apparently only exacerbated this tendency. I resolved that if he acted in thatfinger-wagging fashion with me I would have to inform him that I found such behavior unacceptable, and I would then stand up and adjourn the meeting.
At precisely 5:30 in the morning, Major Marais, the commander of Victor Verster, arrived at my cottage. He came into the lounge where I stood in front of him in my new suit for inspection. He walked around me, and then shook his head from side to side. “No, Mandela, your tie,” he said. One did not have much use for ties in prison, and I realized that morning when I was putting it on that I had forgotten how to tie it properly. I made a knot as best I could and hoped no one would notice. Major Marais unbuttoned my collar, loosened and then removed my tie, and then, standing behind me, tied it in a double Windsor knot. He then stood back to admire his handiwork. “Much better,” he said.
We drove from
Victor Verster to
Pollsmoor, to the residence of General Willemse, where we were served
by the general’s wife. After breakfast, in a small convoy,
we drove to
Tuynhuys, the official presidential office, and parked in an
where we would not be seen. Tuynhuys is a graceful,
We took an elevator to the ground floor and emerged in a grand, wood-paneled lobby in front of the president’s office. There we were met by Kobie Coetsee and Niel Barnard, and a retinue of prison officials. I had spoken extensively with both Coetsee and Dr. Barnard about this meeting, and they had always advised me to avoid controversial issues with the president. While we were waiting, Dr. Barnard looked down and noticed that my shoelaces were not properly tied and he quickly kneeled down to tie them for me. I realized just how nervous they were, and that did not make me any calmer. The door then opened and I walked in expecting the worst.
From the opposite side of his grand office, P. W. Botha walked toward me. He had planned his march perfectly, for we met exactly halfway. He had his hand out and was smiling broadly, and in fact, from that very first moment, he completely disarmed me. He was unfailingly courteous, deferential, and friendly.
We very quickly
posed for a photograph of
the two of us shaking hands, and then were joined at a long table by
Coetsee, General Willemse, and Dr. Barnard. Tea was served
and we began to talk. From the first, it was not as though we were
tense political arguments but a lively and interesting
tutorial. We did not discuss substantive issues, so much as history and
African culture. I mentioned that I had recently read an
article in an
Afrikaans magazine about the 1914 Afrikaner Rebellion, and I mentioned
had occupied towns in the
The meeting was not even half an hour, and was friendly and breezy until the end. It was then that I raised a serious issue. I asked Mr. Botha to release unconditionally all political prisoners, including myself. That was the only tense moment in the meeting, and Mr. Botha said that he was afraid that he could not do that.
There was then a brief discussion as to what we should say if news of the meeting leaked out. We very quickly drafted a bland statement saying that we had met for tea in an effort to promote peace in the country. When this was agreed upon, Mr. Botha rose and shook my hand, saying what a pleasure it had been. Indeed, it had been. I thanked him, and left the way we had come.
While the meeting was not a breakthrough in terms of negotiations, it was one in another sense. Mr. Botha had long talked about the need to cross the Rubicon, but he never did it himself until that morning at Tuynhuys. Now, I felt, there was no turning back.
A little more than a month later, in August 1989, P. W. Botha went on national television to announce his resignation as state president. In a curiously rambling farewell address, he accused cabinet members of a breach of trust, of ignoring him and of playing into the hands of the African National Congress. The following day, F. W. de Klerk was sworn in as acting president and affirmed his commitment to change and reform.
To us, Mr. de Klerk was a cipher. When he became head of the National Party, he seemed to be the quintessential party man, nothing more and nothing less. Nothing in his past seemed to hint at a spirit of reform. As education minister, he had attempted to keep black students out of white universities. But as soon as he took over the National Party, I began to follow him closely. I read all of his speeches, listened to what he said, and began to see that he represented a genuine departure from his predecessor. He was not an ideologue, but a pragmatist, a man who saw change as necessary and inevitable. On the day he was sworn in, I wrote him a letter requesting a meeting.
In his inaugural
address, Mr. de Klerk
said his government was committed to peace and that it would negotiate
other group committed to peace. But his commitment to a new
was demonstrated only after his inauguration when a march was planned
Even as de Klerk became president, I
continued to meet with the secret negotiating committee. We were
Gerrit Viljoen, the minister of constitutional development, a brilliant
with a doctorate in classics, whose role was to bring our discussions
constitutional framework. I pressed the government to display evidence
good intentions, urging the state to show its bona fides by releasing
political prisoners at Pollsmoor and
On October 10,
1989, President de Klerk
announced that Walter Sisulu and seven of my former
But my gratitude paled compared to my unalloyed joy that Walter and the others were free. It was a day we had yearned for and fought for over so many years. De Klerk had lived up to his promise, and the men were released under no bans; they could speak in the name of the ANC. It was clear that the ban on the organization had effectively expired, a vindication of our long struggle and our resolute adherence to principle.
De Klerk began a systematic dismantling of many of the building blocks of apartheid. He opened South African beaches to people of all colors, and stated that the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act would soon be repealed. Since 1953 this act had enforced what was known as “petty apartheid,” segregating parks, theaters, restaurants, buses, libraries, toilets, and other public facilities, according to race. In November, he announced that the National Security Management System, a secret structure set up under P. W. Botha to combat anti-apartheid forces, would be dissolved.
In early December, I was informed that a
meeting with de Klerk was set for the twelfth of that month. By
this time I was
able to consult with my colleagues new and old, and I had meetings at
cottage with my old colleagues, and the leaders of the Mass Democratic
and the UDF. I received ANC people from all of the regions, as well as
from the UDF and COSATU. One of these young men was Cyril Ramaphosa,
general secretary of the National Union of Mine Workers and one of the
of the new generation of leadership. I also had visits from colleagues
But I said that
the spirit of that speech
had not been much in evidence of late. The government’s policies were
by many as a continuation of apartheid by other means. The government,
had spent too much time talking with black homeland leaders and others
the system; these men, I asserted, were the agents of an oppressive
the mass of black South Africans rejected.
I reiterated my
proposal that talks take
place in two stages. I told him I fully supported the guidelines the
adopted in the Harare Declaration of 1989, which put the onus on the
to eliminate the obstacles to negotiations that the state itself had
Those demands included the release of all political prisoners, the
all bans on restricted organizations and persons, the end to the State
On the morning of
December 13, I was
again taken to Tuynhuys. I met de Klerk in the same room where I had
with his predecessor. Mr. de Klerk was accompanied by Kobie Coetsee,
Willemse, Dr. Barnard, and his colleague Mike Louw. I congratulated Mr.
Klerk on becoming president and expressed the hope that we would be
work together. He was extremely cordial and reciprocated these
From the first I
noticed that Mr. de
Klerk listened to what I had to say. This was a novel experience.
Party leaders generally heard what they wanted to hear in discussions
black leaders, but Mr. de Klerk seemed to be making an attempt to truly
One of the issues
I emphasized that day
was the National Party’s recently introduced five-year plan, which
the concept of “group rights.” The idea of “group rights” was that no
ethnic group could take precedence over any other. Although they
rights” as a way of protecting the freedom of minorities in a new
I added that it
was not in his interest
to retain this concept, for it gave the impression that he wanted to
apartheid without abandoning it; this was damaging his image and that
National Party in the eyes of the progressive forces in this country
the world. An oppressive system cannot be reformed, I said, it must be
cast aside. I mentioned an editorial that I had recently read in Die
Burger, the mouthpiece of
the National Party in the
Mr. de Klerk, I saw that day, does not react quickly to things. It was a mark of the man that he listened to what I had to say and did not argue with me. “You know,” he said, “my aim is no different than yours. Your memo to P. W. Botha said the ANC and the government should work together to deal with white fears of black domination, and the idea of ‘group rights’ is how we propose to deal with it.” I was impressed with this response, but said that the idea of “group rights” did more to increase black fears than allay white ones. De Klerk then said, “We will have to change it, then.”
I then brought up
the question of my
freedom and said that if he expected me to go out to pasture upon my
was greatly mistaken. I reaffirmed that if I was released into the same
conditions under which I had been arrested I would go back to doing
those things for which I had been imprisoned. I made the case to him
best way to move forward was to unban the ANC and all other political
organizations, to lift the
Again, he listened
carefully to what I
had to say. My suggestions certainly came as no surprise to him. He
would take all that I said under consideration, but that he would make
promises. The meeting was an exploratory one and I understood that
going to be resolved that day. But it was extremely useful, for I had
measure of Mr. de Klerk just as I did with new prison commanders when I
Robben Island. I was able
to write to our people
On February 2, 1990, F. W. de Klerk stood
before Parliament to make the traditional opening speech and did
other South African head of state had ever done: he truly began to
the apartheid system and lay the groundwork for a democratic
It was a
breathtaking moment, for in one
sweeping action he had virtually normalized the situation in
On February 9,
seven days after Mr. de
Klerk’s speech opening Parliament, I was informed that I was again
Tuynhuys. I arrived at six o’clock in the evening. I met a smiling Mr.
in his office and as we shook hands, he informed me that he was going
release me from prison the following day. Although the press in
Mr. de Klerk’s announcement nevertheless came as a surprise to me. I had not been told that the reason Mr. de Klerk wanted to see me was to tell me that he was making me a free man. I felt a conflict between my blood and my brain. I deeply wanted to leave prison as soon as I could, but to do so on such short notice would not be wise. I thanked Mr. de Klerk, and then said that at the risk of appearing ungrateful I would prefer to have a week’s notice in order that my family and my organization could be prepared for my release. Simply to walk out tomorrow, I said, would cause chaos. I asked Mr. de Klerk to release me a week from that day. After waiting twenty-seven years, I could certainly wait another seven days.
De Klerk was taken
aback by my response.
Instead of replying, he continued to relate the plan for my release. He
that the government would fly me to
De Klerk was again
nonplused. But this
time my objections caused a reaction. He excused himself and left his
consult with others. After ten minutes he returned with a rather long
face and said,
“Mr. Mandela, it is too late to change the plan now.” I replied that
was unacceptable and that I wanted to be released a week hence and at
De Klerk again excused himself and left the room. After ten minutes he returned with a compromise: yes, I could be released at Victor Verster, but, no, the release could not be postponed. The government had already informed the foreign press that I was to be set free tomorrow and felt they could not renege on that statement. I felt I could not argue with that. In the end, we agreed on the compromise, and Mr. de Klerk poured a tumbler of whisky for each of us to drink in celebration. I raised the glass in a toast, but only pretended to drink; such spirits are too strong for me.
I did not get back to my cottage until
shortly before midnight, whereupon I immediately sent word to my
awoke on the day of my release after
only a few hours’ sleep at 4:30 A.M.
11 was a
numerous matters that had to
be discussed and resolved with very little time to do so. A number of
from the reception committee, including Cyril Ramaphosa and
Trevor Manuel, were at the house bright and early. I wanted initially
address the people of Paarl, who had been very kind to me
incarceration, but the reception committee was adamant that that would
not be a
good idea: it would look curious if I gave my first speech
prosperous white burghers of Paarl. Instead, as planned, I would speak
the people of
One of the first
questions to be resolved
was where I would spend my first night of freedom. My inclination was
the night in the
The prison service supplied me with boxes and crates for packing. During my first twenty or so years in prison, I accumulated very few possessions, but in the last few years I had amassed enough property — mainly books and papers — to make up for previous decades. I filled over a dozen crates and boxes.
My actual release
time was set for 3 P.M., but
Winnie and Walter and the other passengers from
the chartered flight from
Warrant Officer James Gregory was also there at the house, and I embraced him warmly. In the years that he had looked after me from Pollsmoor through Victor Verster, we had never discussed politics, but our bond was an unspoken one and I would miss his soothing presence. Men like Swart, Gregory, and Warrant Officer Brand reinforced my belief in the essential humanity even of those who had kept me behind bars for the previous twenty-seven and a half years.
There was little time for lengthy farewells. The plan was that Winnie and I would be driven in a car to the front gate of the prison. I had told the authorities that I wanted to be able to say good-bye to the guards and warders who had looked after me and I asked that they and their families wait for me at the front gate, where I would be able to thank them individually.
At a few minutes after three, I was telephoned by a well-known SABC presenter who requested that I get out of the car a few hundred feet before the gate so that they could film me walking toward freedom. This seemed reasonable, and I agreed to do it. This was my first inkling that things might not go as calmly as I had imagined.
By 3:30, I began to get restless, as we were already behind schedule. I told the members of the reception committee that my people had been waiting for me for twenty-seven years and I did not want to keep them waiting any longer. Shortly before four, we left in a small motorcade from the cottage. About a quarter of a mile in front of the gate, the car slowed to a stop and Winnie and I got out and began to walk toward the prison gate.
At first, I could not really make out what was going on in front of us, but when I was within one hundred fifty feet or so, I saw a tremendous commotion and a great crowd of people: hundreds of photographers and television cameras and newspeople as well as several thousand wellwishers.
I was astounded and a little bit alarmed. I had truly not expected such a scene; at most, I had imagined that there would be several dozen people, mainly the warders and their families. But this proved to be only the beginning; I realized we had not thoroughly prepared for all that was about to happen.
Within twenty feet or so of the gate, the cameras started clicking, a noise that sounded like some great herd of metallic beasts. Reporters started shouting questions; television crews began crowding in; ANC supporters were yelling and cheering. It was a happy, if slightly disorienting chaos.
When a television crew thrust a long, dark, furry object at me, I recoiled slightly, wondering if it were some newfangled weapon developed while I was in prison. Winnie informed me that it was a microphone.
When I was among
the crowd I raised my
right fist and there was a roar. I had not been able to do that for
twenty-seven years and it gave me a surge of strength and
joy. We stayed
among the crowd for only a few minutes before jumping back into the car
was lush and well cared
for, but what surprised me was how many white families were standing
road to get a glimpse of our motorcade. They had heard on
radio that we were taking an alternate route. Some, perhaps a dozen,
raised their clenched right fists in what had become the ANC
salute. This astonished me; I was tremendously encouraged by these few
souls from a conservative farming area who expressed their
solidarity. At one point, I stopped and got out of the car to greet and
one such white family and tell them
As we entered the
outskirts of the city, I
could see people streaming toward the center. The reception committee
organized a rally at the Grand Parade in
The drive to
The driver was even more anxious than Winnie and I, and he was clamoring to jump out of the car. I told him to stay calm and remain inside, that others from the cars behind us would come to our rescue. Allan Boesak and others began to attempt to clear a way for our vehicle and push the people off the car, but with little success. We sat inside — it would have been futile to even attempt to open the door, so many people were pressing on it — for more than an hour, imprisoned by thousands of our own supporters. The scheduled beginning of the speech had long passed.
Several dozen marshals eventually came to the rescue and managed slowly to clear an exit path. When we finally broke free, the driver set off at great speed in the opposite direction from City Hall. “Man, where are you going?” I asked him in some agitation. “I don’t know!” he said, his voice tense with anxiety. “I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” he said, and then continued driving without any destination in mind.
When he began to calm down I gave him directions to the house of my friend and attorney Dullah Omar, who lived in the Indian area of the city. We could go there, I said, and relax for a few minutes. This appealed to him. Fortunately, Dullah and his family were home, but they were more than a bit surprised to see us. I was a free man for the first time in twenty-seven years, but instead of greeting me, they said with some concern, “Aren’t you meant to be at the Grand Parade?”
We were able to sip some cold drinks at Dullah’s, but we had only been there a few minutes when Archbishop Tutu telephoned. How he knew we were there I do not know. He was quite distressed and said, “Nelson, you must come back to the Grand Parade immediately. The people are growing restless. If you do not return straightaway I cannot vouch for what will happen. I think there might be an uprising!” I said I would return at once.
Our problem was the driver: he was deeply reluctant to return to the Grand Parade. But I remonstrated with him and soon we were on our way back to City Hall. The building was surrounded by people on all sides, but it was not as dense in the back, and the driver managed to make his way through to the rear entrance. It was almost dusk when I was led up to the top floor of this stately building whose halls had always been filled with shuffling white functionaries. I walked out onto the balcony and saw a boundless sea of people cheering, holding flags and banners, clapping, and laughing.
I raised my fist to the crowd and the crowd responded with an enormous cheer. Those cheers fired me anew with the spirit of the struggle. “Amandla!” I called out. “Ngawethu!” they responded. “iAfrika!” I yelled; “Mayibuye!” they answered. Finally, when the crowd had settled down a bit, I took out my speech and then reached into my breast pocket for my glasses. They were not there; I had left them at Victor Verster. I knew Winnie’s glasses were a similar prescription and I borrowed hers.
and fellow South
Africans. I greet you all in the name of peace, democracy and freedom
I stand here before you not as a prophet but as a humble servant
of you, the people. Your tireless and
heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today. I
place the remaining years of my life in your hands.
I spoke from the heart. I wanted
all to tell the people that I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man
became a leader because of extraordinary circumstances. I
immediately to thank the people all over the world who had campaigned
release. I thanked the people of
I told the crowd
in no uncertain terms
that apartheid had no future in
I said I hoped
that a climate conducive
to a negotiated settlement could soon be achieved, ending the need for
armed struggle. The steps to achieving such a climate, I
been outlined in the ANC’s 1989 Harare Declaration. As a condition to
negotiations, I said, the government must immediately end
I told the people that de Klerk had gone further than any other Nationalist leader to normalize the situation and then, in words that came back to haunt me, I called Mr. de Klerk “a man of integrity.” These words were flung back at me many times when Mr. de Klerk seemed not to live up to them.
It was vital for me to show my people and the government that I was unbroken and unbowed, and that the struggle was not over for me but beginning anew in a different form. I affirmed that I was “a loyal and disciplined member of the African National Congress.” I encouraged the people to return to the barricades, to intensify the struggle, and we would walk the last mile together.
It was evening by
the time my speech was
finished, and we were hustled back into our cars for the trip to
Court. As we entered its pristine environs, I saw hundreds
of black faces
waiting to greet me. When they saw us, the people burst into song. When
greeted Archbishop Tutu, I enveloped him in a great hug;
here was a
man who had inspired an entire nation with his words and his courage,
revived the people’s hope during the darkest of times. We
led inside the house where more family and friends met us, but for me,
wonderful moment was when I was told that I had a telephone
My dream upon
leaving prison was to take
a leisurely drive down to the
was scheduled to hold a press
conference the afternoon after my release, and in the morning I met
number of my colleagues to talk about scheduling and
strategy. A small
mountain of telegrams and messages of congratulations had arrived, and
to review as many of these as possible. There were telegrams
all around the world, from presidents and prime ministers, but I
in particular from a white
Before I went to prison I never held such a press conference as I did that day. In the old days there were no television cameras, and most ANC press conferences were conducted clandestinely. That afternoon, there were so many journalists, from so many different countries, I did not know whom to speak with. I was pleased to see a high percentage of black journalists among the throng. At the press conference I was once again keen to reassert a number of themes: first, that I was a loyal and disciplined member of the ANC. I was mindful of the fact that the most senior ANC people would be watching my release from abroad, and attempting to gauge my fidelity from a distance. I was aware that they had heard rumors that I had strayed from the organization, that I was compromised, so at every turn I sought to reassure them. When asked what role I would play in the organization, I told the press that I would play whatever role the ANC ordered.
I told the reporters that there was no contradiction between my continuing support for the armed struggle and my advocating negotiations. It was the reality and the threat of the armed struggle that had brought the government to the verge of negotiations. I added that when the state stopped inflicting violence on the ANC, the ANC would reciprocate with peace. Asked about sanctions, I said the ANC could not yet call for the relaxation of sanctions, because the situation that caused sanctions in the first place — the absence of political rights for blacks — was still the status quo. I might be out of jail, I said, but I was not yet free.
I was asked as
well about the fears of
whites. I knew that people expected me to harbor anger toward whites.
But I had
none. In prison, my anger toward whites decreased, but my
for the system grew. I wanted
From my very first press conference I
noticed that journalists were as eager to learn about my personal
relationships as my political thoughts. This was new to me; when I went
to prison, a journalist would never have thought of asking questions
one’s wife and family, one’s emotions, one’s most intimate moments.
While it was understandable that the press might be interested in these
I nevertheless found their curiosity difficult to satisfy. I am not
and never have been a man who finds it easy to talk about his feelings
public. I was often asked by reporters how
it felt to be free, and I did my best
to describe the indescribable, and usually failed.
After the press conference, Archbishop
Tutu’s wife telephoned us from
The following morning we flew by helicopter to the First National Bank Stadium in Soweto. We were able to make an aerial tour of Soweto, the teeming metropolis of matchbox houses, tin shanties, and dirt roads, the mother city of black urban South Africa, the only home I ever knew as a man before I went to prison. While Soweto had grown, and in some places prospered, the overwhelming majority of the people remained dreadfully poor, without electricity or running water, eking out an existence that was shameful in a nation as wealthy as South Africa. In many places, the poverty was far worse than when I went to prison.
We circled over
the stadium, overflowing
with 120,000 people, and landed in the center. The stadium was so
people sitting or standing in every inch of space, that it
looked as though it would burst. I expressed my delight to be back
but I then scolded the people for some of the crippling
urban black life. Students, I said, must return to school. Crime must
brought under control. I told them that I had heard of
criminals masquerading as
freedom fighters, harassing innocent people and setting alight
rogues had no place in the struggle. Freedom without
freedom without the ability to live in peace, was not true freedom at
Today, my return to
That night, I returned with Winnie to number 8115 in Orlando West. It was only then that I knew in my heart that I had left prison. For me, 8115 was the centerpoint of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography. The house had been soundly rebuilt after the fire. When I saw the four-roomed house, I was surprised by how much smaller and humbler it was than I remembered it being. Compared to my cottage at VictorVerster, number 8115 could have been the servants’ quarters at the back. But any house in which a man is free is a castle when compared to even the plushest prison.
That night, as happy as I was to be home, I had a sense that what I most wanted and longed for was going to be denied me. I yearned to resume a normal and ordinary life, to pick up some of the old threads from my life as a young man, to be able to go to my office in the morning and return to my family in the evening, to be able to pop out and buy some toothpaste at the pharmacy, to visit in the evening with old friends. These ordinary things are what one misses most in prison, and dreams about doing when one is free. But I quickly realized that such things were not going to be possible. That night, and every night for the next weeks and months, the house was surrounded by hundreds of well-wishers. People sang and danced and called out, and their joy was infectious. These were my people, and I had no right and no desire to deny myself to them. But in giving myself to my people I could see that I was once again taking myself away from my family.
We did not sleep
much that night, as the
singing continued until the early hours, when members of the ANC and
were guarding the house begged the crowd to remain quiet
and allow us to rest. There were many in the ANC who advised me to move
home a few blocks distant, in Diepkloof extension, that
Winnie had built while I was in prison. It was a grand place by
RESPONSIBILITY was to report to
the leadership of the ANC, and on February 27, when I had been out of
little over two weeks, I flew to
While the members of the executive were pleased that I had been freed, they were also eager to evaluate the man who had been released. I could see the questions in their eyes. Was Mandela the same man who went to prison twenty-seven years before, or was this a different Mandela, a reformed Mandela? Had he survived or had he been broken? They had heard reports of my conversations with the government and they were rightly concerned. I had not only been out of touch with the situation on the ground — since 1984 I had not even been able to communicate with my colleagues in prison.
I carefully and soberly explained the nature of my talks with the government. I described the demands I had made, and the progress that had been achieved. They had seen the memoranda I had written to Botha and de Klerk, and knew that these documents adhered to ANC policy. I knew that over the previous few years some of the men who had been released had gone to Lusaka and whispered, “Madiba has become soft. He has been bought off by the authorities. He is wearing three-piece suits, drinking wine, and eating fine food.” I knew of these whispers, and I intended to refute them. I knew that the best way to disprove them was simply to be direct and honest about everything that I had done.
At that session of the NEC I was elected deputy president of the organization while Alfred Nzo, the organization’s secretary-general, was named acting president while Oliver was recuperating. At a press conference after our meeting, I was asked about a suggestion made by Dr. Kaunda, the president of Zambia and a longtime supporter of the Congress, that the ANC should suspend armed operations inside South Africa now that I had been released. I replied that while we valued Mr. Kaunda’s wisdom and support, it was too soon to suspend the armed struggle, for we had not yet achieved the goal for which we took up arms; it was not the ANC’s job, I said, to help Mr. de Klerk placate his right-wing supporters.
I began a tour of
I enjoyed my travels immensely. I wanted
to see new — and old — sights, taste different foods, speak with all
people. I very quicklyhad to acclimatize myself to world radically
different from the one I had left. With changes in travel,
communication, and mass media, the world had accelerated; things now
happened so fast it was sometimes difficult to keep up with them.
Winnie tried to get me to slow down,
but there was simply too much to do; the organization
wanted to make sure we took advantage of the euphoria generated by my
After my last stop in Africa, I flew to Stockholm to visit Oliver. Seeing my old friend and law partner was the reunion I most looked forward to. Oliver was not well, but when we met we were like two young boys in the veld who took strength from our love for each other. We began by talking of old times, but when we were alone, the first subject he raised was the leadership of the organization. “Nelson,” he said, “you must now take over as president of the ANC. I have been merely keeping the job warm for you.” I refused, telling him that he had led the organization in exile far better than
I ever could have. It was neither fair nor democratic for a transfer to occur in such a manner. “You have been elected by the organization as the president,” I said. “Let us wait for an election; then the organization can decide.” Oliver protested, but I would not budge. It was a sign of his humility and selflessness that he wanted to appoint me president, but it was not in keeping with the principles of the ANC.
In April 1990, I
When I emerged from prison, Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the head of the Inkatha Freedom Party and the chief minister of KwaZulu, was one of the premier players on the South African political stage. But within ANC circles, he was a far from popular figure. Chief Buthelezi was descended from the great Zulu king Cetywayo, who had defeated the British at the Battle of Isandhlwana in 1879. As a young man, he attended Fort Hare and then joined the ANC Youth League. I saw him as one of the movement’s upcoming young leaders. He had become chief minister of the KwaZulu homeland with the tacit support of the ANC, and even his launching of Inkatha as a Zulu cultural organization was unopposed by the organization.
But over the years, Chief Buthelezi drifted away from the ANC. Though he resolutely opposed apartheid and refused to allow KwaZulu to become an “independent” homeland as the government wished, he was a thorn in the side of the democratic movement. He opposed the armed struggle.
He criticized the 1976 Soweto uprising. He campaigned against international sanctions. He challenged the idea of a unitary state of South Africa. Yet, Chief Buthelezi had consistently called for my release and refused to negotiate with the government until I and other political prisoners were liberated.
Chief Buthelezi was one of the first people I telephoned after my release to thank him for his long-standing support. My inclination was to meet with the chief as soon as possible to try to resolve our differences. During my initial visit to Lusaka, I brought up the idea of such a meeting and it was voted down. While I was at Victor Verster, Walter had been invited by the Zulu king, Goodwill Zwelithini, to visit him in Ulundi, KwaZulu’s capital, and I urged him to accept. I thought it was an excellent opportunity to influence the head of one of the most respected and powerful royal families in the country. The visit was tentatively approved by the NEC provided Walter went to the king’s palace in Nongoma; it was thought that going to Ulundi would suggest recognition of the authority of the homeland.
When I returned from Lusaka I telephoned both Chief Buthelezi and the king, and explained that Walter would be coming to see the king, not in Ulundi but at Nongoma. The king said he would not accept Walter coming to see him anywhere else but in the capital. “I am the king,” he said. “I have invited him to see me in Ulundi, and he has no right to say I will see you elsewhere.” “Your Majesty,” I said, “we are facing a wall of opposition from our membership who did not want Mr. Sisulu to go to KwaZulu at all. We managed to get this compromise approved, surely you can bend as well.” But he could not, and he refused to see Walter.
Relations deteriorated after this, and in May, I persuaded the ANC of the need for me to make a visit to the king and Buthelezi. The king approved, but a week or so before the visit I received a letter from him saying I must come alone. This proved to be the last straw, and the NEC would not give in to such a demand. I told the king that I could not come unless I was accompanied by my colleagues; the king regarded this as another slight and canceled the visit.
My goal was to forge an independent relationship with the king, separate from my relationship with Chief Buthelezi. The king was the true hereditary leader of the Zulus, who loved and respected him. Fidelity to the king was far more widespread in KwaZulu than allegiance to Inkatha. In the meantime, Natal became a killing ground. Heavily armed Inkatha supporters had in effect declared war on ANC strongholds across the Natal Midlands region and around Pietermaritzburg. Entire villages were set alight, dozens of people were killed, hundreds were wounded, and thousands became refugees. In March 1990 alone, 230 people lost their lives in this internecine violence. In Natal, Zulu was murdering Zulu, for Inkatha members and ANC partisans are Zulus. In February, only two weeks after my release, I went to Durban and spoke to a crowd of over 100,000 people at King’s Park, almost all of whom were Zulus. I pleaded with them to lay down their arms, to take each other’s hands in peace:
“Take your guns,
your knives, and your
pangas, and throw them into the sea! Close down the death factories.
war now!” But my call fell on deaf ears. The fighting and
dying continued. I was so concerned that I was willing to
go to great lengths to meet Chief Buthelezi. In March, after one
horrifying spasm of violence, Iannounced on my own that I
Chief Buthelezi at a mountain hamlet outside of Pietermaritzburg. On a
level, my relations with Chief Buthelezi were close and
respectful, and I hoped to capitalize on that. But I found that such a
was anathema to ANC leaders in
They considered it
dangerous and vetoed
my meeting. I did go to Pietermaritzburg, where I saw the burned
remains of ANC
supporters and tried to comfort their
grieving families, but I did not see Chief Buthelezi6
In March, after much negotiation within our respective parties, we scheduled our first face-to-face meeting with Mr. de Klerk and the government. These were to be “talks about talks,” and the meetings were to begin in early April. But on March 26, in Sebokeng Township, about thirty miles south of Johannesburg, the police opened fire without warning on a crowd of ANC demonstrators, killing twelve and wounding hundreds more, most of them shot in the back as they were fleeing. Police had used live ammunition in dealing with the demonstrators, which was intolerable. The police claimed that their lives were endangered, but many demonstrators were shot in the back and had no weapons. You cannot be in danger from an unarmed man who is running away from you. The right to assemble and demonstrate in support of our just demands was not a favor to be granted by the government at its discretion. This sort of action angered me like no other, and I told the press that every white policeman in South Africa regarded every black person as a military target. After consultation with the NEC, I announced the suspension of our talks and warned Mr. de Klerk that he could not “talk about negotiations on the one hand and murder our people on the other.”
But despite the suspension of our official talks, with the approval of the leadership, I met privately with Mr. de Klerk in Cape Town in order to keep up the momentum for negotiations. Our discussions centered primarily on a new date, and we agreed on early May. I brought up the appalling behavior at Sebokeng and the police’s unequal treatment of blacks and whites; police used live ammunition with black demonstrators, while they never unsheathed their guns at white right-wing protests.
The government was in no great rush to begin negotiations; they were counting on the euphoria that greeted my release to die down. They wanted to allow time for me to fall on my face and show that the former prisoner hailed as a savior was a highly fallible man who had lost touch with the present situation.
Despite his seemingly progressive actions, Mr. de Klerk was by no means the great emancipator. He was a gradualist, a careful pragmatist. He did not make any of his reforms with the intention of putting himself out of power. He made them for precisely the opposite reason: to ensure power for the Afrikaner in a new dispensation. He was not yet prepared to negotiate the end of white rule.
His goal was to create a system of power-sharing based on group rights, which would preserve a modified form of minority power in South Africa. He was decidedly opposed to majority rule, or “simple majoritarianism” as he sometimes called it, because that would end white domination in a single stroke. We knew early on that the government was fiercely opposed to a winner-takes-all Westminster parliamentary system, and advocated instead a system of proportional representation with built-in structural guarantees for the white minority. Although he was prepared to allow the black majority to vote and create legislation, he wanted to retain a minority veto. From the start I would have no truck with this plan. I described it to Mr. de Klerk as apartheid in disguise, a “loser-takes-all” system.
long-term strategy to
overcome our strength was to build an anti-ANC alliance with the
Freedom Party and to lure the Coloured
Afrikaans-speaking voters of the
The first round of talks with the government was held over three days in early May. Our delegation consisted of Walter Sisulu, Joe Slovo, Alfred Nzo, Thabo Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Joe Modise, Ruth Mompati, Archie Gumede, Reverend Beyers Naude, Cheryl Carolus, and myself. The setting was Groote Schuur, the Cape Dutch-style mansion that was the residence of South Africa’s first colonial governors, among them Cecil Rhodes. Some of our delegation joked that we were being led into an ambush on the enemy’s ground.
But the talks, contrary to expectation, were conducted with seriousness and good humor. Historic enemies who had been fighting each other for three centuries met and shook hands. Many wondered out loud why such discussions had not taken place long before. The government had granted temporary indemnities to Joe Slovo, the general secretary of the Communist Party, and Joe Modise, the commander of MK, and to see these two men shaking hands with the National Party leaders who had demonized them for decades was extraordinary. As Thabo Mbeki later said to reporters, each side had discovered that the other did not have horns.
The very fact of the talks themselves was a significant milestone in the history of our country; as I pointed out, the meeting represented not only what the ANC had been seeking for so many years, but an end to the master/servant relationship that characterized black and white relations in South Africa. We had not come to the meeting as supplicants or petitioners, but as fellow South Africans who merited an equal place at the table. The first day was more or less a history lesson. I explained to our counterparts that the ANC from its inception in 1912 had always sought negotiations with the government in power. Mr. de Klerk, for his part, suggested that the system of separate development had been conceived as a benign idea, but had not worked in practice. For that, he said, he was sorry, and hoped the negotiations would make amends. It was not an apology
for apartheid, but
it went further than
any other National Party leader ever had. The primary issue
discussed was the
definition of political prisoners and political exiles. The government
for a narrow definition, wanting to restrict the
number of our people who
would qualify for an indemnity. We argued for the broadest possible
and said that any person who was convicted
of an offense that was
politically motivated should qualify for an indemnity. We could not
agree on a
mutually satisfactory definition of
crimes, and this would be an issue that would bedevil us for quite a
the end of the
three-day meeting, we
agreed on what became known as the Groote Schuur Minute, pledging both
a peaceful process of negotiations
and committing the
government to lifting the State of
When it came to constitutional issues, we told the government we were demanding an elected constituent assembly to draw up a new constitution; we believed that the men and women creating the constitution should be the choice of the people themselves. But before the election of an assembly, it was necessary to have an interim government that could oversee the transition until a new government was elected. The government could not be both player and referee, as it was now. We advocated the creation of a multiparty negotiating conference to set up the interim government and set out the guiding principles for the functioning of a constituent assembly
ALTHOUGH I HAD
WANTED to journey to Qunu
immediately after my release from prison, it was not until April that I
able to go. I could not pick up and leave whenever I wanted;
had to be arranged, as well as speeches prepared for local
April, the ANC and General Bantu Holomisa, the military
I went first to Qunu and the site where my mother was buried. Her grave was simple and unadorned, covered only by a few stones and some upturned bricks, no different from the other graves at Qunu. I find it difficult to describe my feelings: I felt regret that I had been unable to be with her when she died, remorse that I had not been able to look after her properly during her life, and a longing for what might have been had I chosen to live my life differently.
In seeing my village again after so many years, I was greatly struck by what had changed and what had not. When I had been young, the people of Qunu were not political at all; they were unaware of the struggle for African rights. People accepted life as it was and did not dream of changing it.
But when I returned I heard the schoolchildren of Qunu singing songs about Oliver Tambo and Umkhonto we Sizwe, and I marveled at how knowledge of the struggle had by then seeped into every corner of African society.
What had endured was the warmth and simplicity of the community, which took me back to my days as a boy. But what disturbed me was that the villagers seemed as poor if not poorer than they had been then. Most people still lived in simple huts with dirt floors, with no electricity and no running water. When I was young, the village was tidy, the water pure, and the grass green and unsullied as far as the eye could see. Kraals were swept, the topsoil was conserved, fields were neatly divided. But now the village was unswept, the water polluted, and the countryside littered with plastic bags and wrappers. We had not known of plastic when I was a boy, and though it surely improved life in some ways, its presence in Qunu appeared to me to be a kind of blight. Pride in the community seemed to have vanished.
That month, I had
another homecoming: I
returned to Robben Island in order to persuade twenty-five MK political
prisoners to accept the government’s offer of amnesty and
the island. Though I had left the island eight years before, my
prison were still fresh and untinged by nostalgia. After all
years of being visited by others, it was a curious sensation to be a
But that day, I did not have much opportunity to sight-see for I met immediately with the men protesting the government offer of amnesty. They maintained that they would leave only after a victory on the battlefield, not the negotiating table. They were fiercely opposed to this particular settlement, in which they had to enumerate their crimes before receiving indemnity. They accused the ANC of retreating from the Harare Declaration demand for an unconditional, blanket amnesty covering political prisoners and exiles. One man said, “Madiba, I have been fighting the government all my life, and now I have to ask for a pardon from them.”
I could sympathize with their arguments, but they were being unrealistic. Every soldier would like to defeat his enemy on the field, but in this case, such a victory was out of reach. The struggle was now at the negotiating table. I argued that they were not advancing the cause by remaining in jail. They could be of greater service outside than inside. In the end, they agreed to accept the government’s offer.
In early June, I was scheduled to leave on a six-week tour of Europe and North America. Before going, I met privately with Mr. de Klerk, who wanted to discuss the issue of sanctions. Based on the changes he had made in South Africa, he asked me to mute the call for the continuation of international sanctions. While we were mindful of what Mr. de Klerk had done, in our view sanctions remained the best lever to force him to do more. I was aware that the European Community and the States were inclined to relax sanctions based on Mr. de Klerk’s reforms. I explained to Mr. de Klerk that we could not tell our supporters to relax sanctions until he had completely dismantled apartheid and a transitional government was in place. While he was disappointed at my response, he was not surprised.
The first leg of the trip took Winnie and me to Paris, where we were treated in very grand style by François Mitterrand and his charming wife, Danielle, a longtime ANC supporter. This was not my first trip to the European mainland, but I was still entranced by the beauties of the Old World.
Although I do not want to stint on the loveliness of the City of Light, the most important event that occurred while I was in France was that the government announced the suspension of the State of Emergency. I was pleased, but well aware that they had taken this action while I was in Europe in order to undermine my call for sanctions.
After stops in Switzerland, Italy, and the Netherlands, I went to England, where I spent two days visiting with Oliver and Adelaide. My next stop was the United States, but I would be returning to England on my way back to South Africa, which is when I was scheduled to meet with Mrs. Thatcher. As a courtesy, however, I phoned her before I left, and Mrs. Thatcher proceeded to give me a stern but well-meaning lecture: she said she had been following my travels and noting how many events I attended each day. “Mr. Mandela, before we discuss any issues,” she said, “I must warn you that your schedule is too heavy. You must cut it in half. Even a man half your age would have trouble meeting the demands that are being made on you. If you keep this up, you will not come out of America alive. That is my advice to you.”
I had read about New York City since I was a young man, and finally to see it from the bottom of its great glass-and-concrete canyons while millions upon millions of pieces of ticker tape came floating down was a breathtaking experience. It was reported that as many as a million people personally witnessed our procession through the city, and to see the support and enthusiasm they gave to the anti-apartheid struggle was truly humbling. I had always read that New York was a hard-hearted place, but I felt the very opposite of that on my first full day in the city.
following day I went up to Harlem, an
area that had assumed legendary proportions in my mind since the 1950s
watched young men in Soweto emulate the fashions of Harlem
dandies. Harlem, as my wife said, was the Soweto of America. I spoke to
crowd at Yankee Stadium, telling them that an unbreakable
umbilical cord connected black South Africans and black Americans, for
together children of
After journeying to Memphis and Boston, I went to Washington to address a joint session of Congress and attend a private meeting with President Bush. I thanked the U.S. Congress for its anti-apartheid legislation and said the new South Africa hoped to live up to the values that created the two chambers before which I spoke. I said that as freedom fighters we could not have known of such men as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson “and not been moved to act as they were moved to act.” I also delivered a strong message on sanctions, for I knew that the Bush administration felt it was time to loosen them. I urged Congress not to do so. Even before meeting Mr. Bush, I had formed a positive impression of him, for he was the first world leader to telephone me with congratulations after I left prison. From that point on, President Bush included me on his short list of world leaders whom he briefed on important issues. In person, he was just as warm and thoughtful, though we differed markedly on the issues of the armed struggle and sanctions. He was a man with whom one could disagree and then shake hands.
From the United States I proceeded to Canada, where I had a meeting with Prime Minister Mulroney and also addressed their Parliament. We were due to go to Ireland next, and before crossing the Atlantic, our plane, a small jet, stopped for refueling in a remote place above the Arctic Circle called Goose Bay. I felt like having a walk in the brisk air, and as I was strolling on the tarmac, I noticed some people standing by the airport fence. I asked a Canadian official who they were. Eskimos, he said.
In my seventy-two years on earth I had never met an Innuit and never imagined that I would. I headed over to that fence and found a dozen or so young people, in their late teens, who had come out to the airport because they had heard our plane was going to stop there. I had read about the Innuit (the name “Eskimo” was given to them by the colonists) as a boy, and the impression I received from the racist colonialist texts was that they were a backward culture.
in talking with these bright young
people, I learned that they had watched my release on television and
familiar with events in South
But it did not interfere with our meeting, except that she chided me like a schoolmarm for not taking her advice and cutting down on my schedule. Even though Mrs. Thatcher was on the opposite side of the ANC on many issues, such as sanctions, she was always a forthright and solicitous lady. In our meeting that day, though, I could not make the slightest bit of headway with her on the question of sanctions.
WHEN I RETURNED to
Mr. de Klerk’s lifting the State of Emergency in June seemed to set the stage for a resumption of talks, but in July, government security forces arrested about forty members of the ANC, including Mac Maharaj, Pravin Gordhan, Siphiwe Nyanda, and Billy Nair, claiming that they were part of a Communist Party plot called Operation Vula to overthrow the government. De Klerk called for an urgent meeting with me and read to me from documents he claimed had been confiscated in the raid. I was taken aback because I knew nothing about it.
After the meeting I wanted an explanation and called Joe Slovo. Joe explained that the passages read by Mr. de Klerk had been taken out of context and that Vula was a moribund operation. But the government was intent on using this discovery to try to pry the ANC from the SACP and keep Joe Slovo out of the negotiations. I went back to Mr. de Klerk and told him that he had been misled by his own police and that we had no intention of parting ways with the SACP or dropping Joe Slovo from our negotiating team.
In the middle of July, shortly before a scheduled meeting of the National Executive Committee, Joe Slovo came to me privately with a proposition. He suggested we voluntarily suspend the armed struggle in order to create the right climate to move the negotiation process forward. Mr. de Klerk, he said, needed to show his supporters that his policy had brought benefits to the country. My first reaction was negative; I did not think the time was ripe.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that we had to take the initiative and this was the best way to do it. I also recognized that Joe, whose credentials as a radical were above dispute, was precisely the right person to make the proposal. He could not be accused of being a dupe of the government or of having gone soft. The following day I told Joe that if he brought up the idea in the NEC, I would support him.
When Joe raised the idea in the NEC the next day there were some who firmly objected, claiming that we were giving de Klerk’s supporters a reward but not our own people. But I defended the proposal, saying the purpose of the armed struggle was always to bring the government to the negotiating table, and now we had done so. I argued that the suspension could always be withdrawn, but it was necessary to show our good faith.
hours, our view prevailed. This was a controversial move
ANC. Although MK was not active, the aura of the armed struggle had
meaning for many people. Even when cited merely as a
device, the armed struggle was a sign that we were actively fighting
As a result, it had a popularity out of proportion to what
had achieved on the ground.
On August 6, in Pretoria, the ANC and the government signed what became known as the Pretoria Minute, in which we agreed to suspend the armed struggle. As I was to say over and over to our followers: we suspended armed action, we did not terminate the armed struggle. The agreement also set forth target dates for the release of political prisoners and the granting of certain types of indemnity. The process of indemnity was scheduled to be completed by May 1991, and the government also agreed to review the Internal Security Act.
Of all the issues that hindered the peace process, none was more devastating and frustrating than the escalation of violence in the country. We had all hoped that as negotiations got under way, violence would decrease. But in fact the opposite happened. The police and security forces were making very few arrests. People in the townships were accusing them of aiding and abetting the violence. It was becoming more and more clear to me that there was connivance on the part of the security forces. Many of the incidents indicated to me that the police, rather than quelling violence, were fomenting it.
Over the next few
months, I visited
townships all across the violence-racked Vaal Triangle south of
comforting wounded people and grieving families. Over and over
again, I heard the same story: the police and the defense force were
destabilizing the area. I was told of the police
confiscating weapons one day in
one area, and then Inkatha forces attacking our people with those
weapons the next day. We heard stories of the police
members to meetings and on their attacks.
In September, I gave a speech in which I said there was a hidden hand behind the violence and suggested that there was a mysterious “Third Force,” which consisted of renegade men from the security forces who were attempting to disrupt the negotiations. I could not say who the members of the Third Force were, for I did not know them myself, but I was certain that they existed and that they were murderously effective in their targeting of the ANC and the liberation struggle.
I came to this
conclusion after becoming
personally involved in two specific incidents. In July of 1990, the ANC
received information that hostel dwellers belonging to the Inkatha
Freedom Party were planning a major attack on ANC
On July 22,
busloads of armed Inkatha
members, escorted by police vehicles, entered Sebokeng in broad
rally was held, after which the armed men went on a rampage,
murdering approximately thirty people in a dreadful and grisly attack.
visited the area the next day and witnessed scenes I have
never before seen
and never hope to see again. At the morgue were bodies of people who
hacked to death; a woman had both her breasts cut off with a
machete. Whoever these killers were, they were animals.
I requested a meeting with Mr. de Klerk the following day. When I saw him, I angrily demanded an explanation. “You were warned in advance,” I told him, “and yet did nothing. Why is that? Why is it that there have been no arrests? Why have the police sat on their hands?” I then told him that in any other nation where there was a tragedy of this magnitude, when more than thirty people were slain, the head of state would make some statement of condolence, yet he had not uttered a word. He had no reply to what I said. I asked de Klerk to furnish me with an explanation, and he never did.
The second incident occurred in November, when a group of Inkatha members entered a squatter camp known as Zonkizizwe (Zulu for “the place where all nations are welcome”) outside the city of Germiston, east of Johannesburg, and drove ANC people out, killing a number of them in the process. Inkatha members then proceeded to occupy the abandoned shacks and confiscate all the property. Residents of the area said that the Inkatha members were accompanied by the police. Once again, in the wake of this tragedy, the police and the government took no action. Black life in South Africa had never been so cheap.
Again, I met with Mr. de Klerk and his minister of law and order, Adriaan Vlok. Again, I asked Mr. de Klerk why no action by the police had been taken in the aftermath of these crimes. I said the attackers could easily be found because they were now occupying the shacks of the people they had killed. Mr. de Klerk asked Mr. Vlok for an explanation and then Vlok, in a rather rude tone, asked me on whose property the shacks were located, the implication being that these people were squatters and therefore had no rights. In fact, I told him, the land had been made available to these people by the local authorities. His attitude was like that of many Afrikaners who simply believed that black tribes had been killing each other since time immemorial. Mr. de Klerk again told me he would investigate and respond, but never did.
During this time, the government took another action that added fuel to the flames. It introduced a regulation permitting Zulus to carry so-called traditional weapons to political rallies and meetings in Natal and elsewhere. These weapons, assegais, which are spears, and knobkerries, wooden sticks with a heavy wooden head, are actual weapons with which Inkatha members killed ANC members. This gave me grave doubts about Mr. de Klerk’s peaceful intentions.
Those opposed to negotiations benefited from the violence, which always seemed to flare up when the government and the ANC were moving toward an agreement. These forces sought to ignite a war between the ANC and Inkatha, and I believe many members of Inkatha connived at this as well. Many in the government, including Mr. de Klerk, chose to look the other way or ignore what they knew was going on under their noses. We had no doubts that men at the highest levels of the police and the security forces were aiding the Third Force. These suspicions were later confirmed by newspaper reports disclosing that the South African police had secretly funded Inkatha.
As the violence continued to spiral, I began to have second thoughts about the suspension of the armed struggle. Many of the people in the ANC were restive, and in September, at a press conference, I said that the continuing violence might necessitate taking up arms once more. The situation looked very grim, and any understanding that had been achieved with the government seemed lost
In December of 1990, Oliver returned to South Africa after being in exile from his native land for three decades. It was wonderful to have him near. He returned for an ANC consultative conference in Johannesburg, which was attended by over fifteen hundred delegates from forty-five different regions, home and abroad.
At the meeting, I spoke in tribute to Oliver as the man who had led the ANC during its darkest hours and never let the flame go out. Now, he had ushered us to the brink of a future that looked bright and hopeful. During the twenty-seven years that I was in prison, it was Oliver who saved the ANC, and then built it into an international organization with power and influence. He took up the reins when most of its leaders were either in prison or in exile. He was a soldier, a diplomat, a statesman.
Although I criticized the government for its orchestrated campaign of counterrevolutionary activities, it was Oliver’s address that created a storm. He opened the meeting with a controversial speech in which he called for our sanctions policy to be reevaluated. The ANC, he maintained, faced “international marginalization” unless it took the initiative to deescalate sanctions. The European Community had already begun to scale back sanctions. The countries in the West, particularly the United Kingdom and the United States, wanted to reward Mr. de Klerk for his reforms, believing that this would encourage him to go further. We felt this was the wrong strategy, but we had to recognize international realities.
Although Oliver’s speech had been discussed and approved by the NEC, his proposal was met with indignation by ANC militants, who insisted that sanctions must be maintained unchanged. The conference decided to retain the sanctions policy as it was. I myself was the target of complaints by those who charged that the negotiators were out of touch with the grass roots and that we spent more time with National Party leaders than our own people. I was also criticized at the conference for engaging in “personal diplomacy” and not keeping the rank-and-file of the organization informed. As a leader of a mass organization, one must listen to the people, and I agreed that we had been remiss in keeping the entire organization informed about the course of the negotiations. But I also knew the delicacy of our talks with the government; any agreements that we arrived at depended in part on their confidentiality. Although I accepted the criticism, I believed we had no alternative but to proceed on the same course. I knew that I had to be more inclusive, brief more people as to our progress, and I proceeded with that in mind.
Each day, each weekend, the newspapers were filled with fresh reports of new and bloody violence in our communities and townships. It was clear that violence was the number one issue in the country. In many communities in Natal and on the Reef around Johannesburg, a poisonous mixture of crime, political rivalries, police brutality, and shadowy death squads made life brutish and untenable. As long as the violence was not dealt with, the progress to a new dispensation would remain uneven and uncertain.
To try to arrest the spiral of violence, I contacted Chief Buthelezi to arrange a meeting. We met at Durban’s Royal Hotel in January. Chief Buthelezi spoke first to assembled delegates and media and in the process opened old wounds rather than healing them. He catalogued the verbal attacks the ANC had made on him and criticized the ANC’s negotiating demands. When it was my turn to speak, I chose not to respond to his remarks but to thank him for his efforts over many years to secure my release from prison. I cited our long relationship and underlined the many matters that united our two organizations rather than divided us.
Progress was made during our private talks, and Chief Buthelezi and I signed an agreement that contained a code of conduct covering the behavior of our two organizations. It was a fair accord, and I suspect that if it had been implemented it would indeed have helped to staunch the bloodletting. But as far as I could tell, Inkatha never made any effort to implement the accord, and there were violations as well on our own side.
The violence continued between our two organizations. Each month people were dying by the hundreds. In March, Inkatha members launched an attack in Alexandra Township north of Johannesburg in which forty-five people were killed over three days of fighting. Again, no one was arrested. I could not sit idly by as the violence continued, and I sought another meeting with Chief Buthelezi. In April I went down to Durban and we again made strong statements and signed another agreement. But again, the ink was no sooner dry than it was drenched in blood. I was more convinced than ever that the government was behind much of the violence and the violence was impeding the negotiations. Mr. de Klerk’s failure to respond put our own relationship in jeopardy.
In April, at a two-day meeting of the National Executive Committee, I discussed my doubts about Mr. de Klerk. The NEC believed that the government was behind the violence and that the violence was upsetting the climate for negotiations. In an open letter to the government, we called for the dismissal of Magnus Malan, the minister of defense, and Adriaan Vlok, the minister of law and order; the banning of the carrying of traditional weapons in public; the phasing out of the migrant-worker hostels, where so many Inkatha members lived in the townships around Johannesburg; the dismantling of secret government counterinsurgency units; and the appointment of an independent commission to probe complaints of misconduct on the part of the security forces.
We gave the
government until May to meet
our demands. Mr. de Klerk responded by calling for a multiparty
violence to be held in May, but I replied that this was
pointless since the government knew precisely what it had to do to end
violence. In May, we announced the suspension of talks with
the government.In July 1991, the ANC held its first
annual conference inside
Cyril Ramaphosa was elected secretary-general, evidence that the torch was being passed from an older generation of leadership to a younger one. Cyril, whom I met only upon my release from prison, was a worthy successor to a long line of notable ANC leaders. He was probably the most accomplished negotiator in the ranks of the ANC, a skill he honed as secretary-general of the National Union of Mine Workers.
In my speech I expressed my appreciation for the great honor that had been bestowed on me, and spoke of how difficult it would be to follow in the large footsteps of my predecessor, Oliver Tambo. Though we were then at loggerheads with the government, negotiations in and of themselves, I said, constituted a victory. The mere fact that the government was engaged in negotiations at all was a sign that they did not have the strength to sustain apartheid. I reiterated that the process would not be smooth, as we were dealing with politicians who do not want to negotiate themselves out of power. “The point which must be clearly understood is that the struggle is not over, and negotiations themselves are a theater of struggle, subject to advances and reverses as any other form of struggle.”
But negotiations could not wait. It was never in our interest to prolong the agony of apartheid for any reason. It was necessary, I said, to create a transitional government as soon as possible. The conference underlined one of the most important and demanding tasks before the ANC: to transform an illegal underground liberation movement to a legal mass political party. For thirty years, the ANC had functioned clandestinely in South Africa; those habits and techniques were deeply ingrained. We had to reconstruct an entire organization, from the smallest local branch to the national executive. And we had to do so in a matter of months during a period of extraordinary change.
A large part of the ANC and Communist Party leadership had been in exile. Most of them had returned for the conference in July. They were unfamiliar with present-day South Africa; it was a newfound land for them as well as me. There was, however, an extraordinary crop of young leaders of the United Democratic Front and COSATU who had remained in the country, who knew the political situation in a way that we did not.
These organizations had in some measure been surrogates for the ANC inside South Africa during the 1980s. The ANC had to integrate these men and women into the organization as well. We faced not only logistical problems but philosophical ones. It is a relatively simple proposition to keep a movement together when you are fighting against a common enemy. But creating a policy when that enemy is across the negotiating table is another matter altogether. In the new ANC, we had to integrate not only many different groups, but many different points of view. We needed to unite the organization around the idea of the negotiations.
In the first seventeen months of legal activity, the ANC had recruited 700,000 members. This was an impressive number, but there was no room for complacency. A proportionately low number of these members were from the rural areas, the regions where the ANC had historically been weakest. At the same time, the National Party was throwing open its doors to nonwhites and was busily recruiting disaffected Coloureds and Indians.
Ever since my release from prison, the state had continued its campaign to discredit my wife. After the alleged kidnapping of four youths who were staying in the Diepkloof house and the death of one of them, Winnie had first been vilified by a whispering campaign and was then charged with four counts of kidnapping and one of assault. The continuing aspersions cast on her character were such that both Winnie and I were eager for her to have her day in court and prove her innocence of the charges.
My wife’s formal trial began in February in the Rand Supreme Court in Johannesburg. I attended the trial on the first day, as did many senior figures in the ANC, and I continued to attend as often as I could. I did this both to support my wife and to show my belief in her innocence. She was ably defended by George Bizos, who attempted to demonstrate that Winnie had no involvement with either the kidnappings or the beatings.
After three and a half months, the court found her guilty of kidnapping charges and being an accessory to assault. The judge, however, acknowledged that she had not taken part in any assault herself. She was sentenced to six years in prison, but was released on bail pending her appeal. As far as I was concerned, verdict or no verdict, her innocence was not in doubt
On December 20,
1991, after more than a
year and a half of talks about talks, the real talks began: CODESA —
Convention for a Democratic South Africa — represented the
first formal negotiations forum between the government, the ANC, and
South African parties. All of our previous bilateral
been laying the groundwork for these talks, which took place at the
Centre, a modern exhibition center near
The opening of such talks was an historic occasion, certainly the most important constitutional convention since that of 1909 when the British colonies of the Cape and Natal and the former Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State agreed to form a single union. Of course, that convention was not a tribute to democracy but a betrayal of it, for none of the representatives there that day were black. In 1991, the majority of them were.
Our planning delegation, led by Cyril Ramaphosa, and including Joe Slovo and Valli Moosa, had been engaged in weekly discussions with the government on the issues of elections, the constitution, a constituent assembly, and a transitional government. Delegates from twenty different parties including the homeland governments had already agreed on the ground rules for the convention.
The optimism at the opening of the talks could not be dampened even by a few spoilers. The PAC decided to boycott the talks, accusing the ANC and the National Party of conspiring together to set up a multiracial government. This occurred despite the formation, a month before, of the Patriotic Front, an alliance of the ANC, the PAC, and the Azanian People’s Organization around a declaration of common goals. The PAC feared democratic elections because they knew such a vote would expose their meager popular support. Chief Buthelezi also boycotted the talks on the
grounds that he
was not permitted three
delegations: for Inkatha, the KwaZulu government, and King Zwelithini.
argued that the king should be above politics, and that if
included then every tribe in
African states like Zimbabwe and Angola, which required outside mediators, we in South Africa were settling our differences among ourselves. Mr. de Klerk talked about the need for a transitional, “power-sharing” government on a democratic basis. The National Party’s chief delegate to the talks, Dawie de Villiers, even offered an apology for apartheid.
In my own opening remarks, I said that with the dawn of CODESA, progress in South Africa had at last become irreversible. Governments, I said, derive their authority and legitimacy from the consent of the governed, and we had assembled to create such a legitimate authority. I said that CODESA marked the beginning of the road to an elected assembly that would write a new constitution, and I did not see any reason why an election for such a constituent assembly could not occur in 1992. I called on the government to usher in an interim government of national unity to supervise such an election, control the state media and the military, and generally oversee the transition to a new, nonracial, democratic South Africa.
On the convention’s first day, the lion’s share of the participating parties, including the National Party and the ANC, endorsed a Declaration of Intent, which committed all parties to support an undivided South Africa whose supreme law would be a constitution safeguarded by an independent judiciary. The country’s legal system would guarantee equality before the law, and a bill of rights would be drawn up to protect civil liberties. In short, there would be a multiparty democracy based on universal adult suffrage on a common voters’ roll. As far as we were concerned, this was the minimum acceptable constitutional threshold for a new South Africa. Inkatha refused to sign on the grounds that the phrase an “undivided” South Africa implied that a federal system was off-limits.
The convention created five working groups that would meet in early 1992 to prepare the way for the second round of CODESA scheduled for May 1992. The groups would explore the question of creating a free political climate, the future of the homelands, the restructuring of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, the examination of various constitutional principles such as federalism, and the creation and installation of an interim government. The parties agreed that decisions would be taken by “sufficient consensus,” which was never defined, but in practice meant an agreement between the government and the ANC and a majority of the other parties.
The first day of CODESA 1 was uneventful, until it came to a close. The night before the convention I had been negotiating with Mr. de Klerk on the telephone until after eight in the evening. Mr. de Klerk asked me whether I would agree to permit him to be the final speaker the next day. Though I was scheduled to give the concluding remarks, I told him that I would take up the matter with our National Executive Committee. I did so that evening, and despite their misgivings, I persuaded them to permit Mr. de Klerk to have the last word. I did not see the issue as a vital one, and I was prepared to do Mr. de Klerk the favor.
At the end of the
session, all seemed
well; I spoke about the importance of the talks and I was followed by
Klerk. He proceeded to underline the historic significance
the occasion and discuss the need for overcoming mutual distrust. But
de Klerk did a curious thing.
He began to attack the ANC for not adhering to the agreements that we had made with the government. He began to speak to us like a schoolmaster admonishing a naughty child. He berated the ANC for failing to disclose the location of arms caches and then rebuked us for maintaining a “private army,” Umkhonto we Sizwe, in violation of the National Peace Accord of September 1991. In intemperate language, he questioned whether the ANC was honorable enough to abide by any agreements it signed.
This was more than I could tolerate and I would now be damned if I would permit Mr. de Klerk to have the last word. When he finished, the meeting was meant to be over. But the room had grown very quiet; instead of allowing the session to end, I walked to the podium. I could not let his remarks go unchallenged. My voice betrayed my anger.
I am gravely
concerned about the behavior
of Mr. de Klerk today. He has launched an attack on the ANC and in
doing so he
has been less than frank. Even the head of an illegitimate,
regime, as his is, has certain moral standards to uphold. He has no
because he is the head of such a discredited regime not to uphold
moral standards. . . . If a man can come
to a conference of this nature and play the type of politics he has
very few people would like to deal with such a man.
I said it was unacceptable for Mr. de Klerk to speak to us in such llanguage. I reiterated that it was the ANC, not the government, that started the initiative of peace discussions, and it was the government, not the ANC, that time and again failed to live up to its agreements. I had told Mr. de Klerk before that it served no useful purpose to attack the ANC publicly, yet he continued to do so. I noted that we had suspended our armed struggle to show our commitment to peace, yet the government was still colluding with those waging war. We told him that we would turn in our weapons only when we were a part of the government collecting those weapons.
I added that it was apparent the government had a double agenda. They were using the negotiations not to achieve peace, but to score their own petty political gains. Even while negotiating, they were secretly funding covert organizations that committed violence against us. I mentioned the recent revelations about million-rand payoffs to Inkatha that Mr. de Klerk claimed not to have known about. I stated that if a man in his position “doesn’t know about such things, then he is not fit to be the head of government.”
I knew I had been harsh, but I did not want to capsize the whole ship of negotiations, and I ended on a more conciliatory note.
I ask him to place his cards on the table face upwards. Let us work together openly. Let there be no secret agendas. Let him not persuade us that he would be the last speaker because he wants to abuse that privilege and attack us in the hope that we won’t respond. I am prepared to work with him in spite of all his mistakes.
CODESA convened the following day for its final session, and both Mr. de Klerk and I took pains to show that no irreparable harm had been done. At the beginning of the session, he and I publicly shook hands and said we would work together. But much trust had been lost, and the negotiations were now in a state of disarray.
Six weeks after the opening of CODESA 1, the National Party contested an important by-election in Potchefstroom, a conservative university town in the Transvaal, traditionally the party’s stronghold. In a stunning upset, the Nationalists were defeated by the candidate of the right-wing Conservative Party. The Conservatives resolutely opposed the government’s policy of negotiations with the ANC, and were composed mainly of Afrikaners who felt that Mr. de Klerk was giving away the store. The election result seemed to cast doubt on Mr. de Klerk’s policy of reform and negotiations. The National Party was alarmed; these were their own voters in their own heartland rejecting their policies.
Mr. de Klerk
decided to gamble. He
announced that as a result of the by-election in Potchefstroom he would
nationwide referendum for March 17 so that the white people
The ANC opposed the referendum on the principle that it was a vote that excluded all nonwhites. At the same time, we were realistic: we certainly did not want white voters to rebuff Mr. de Klerk’s efforts to pursue negotiations. Though we disdained the election on principle, we urged whites to vote yes. We saw such a vote as a signal of support for negotiations, not necessarily for de Klerk. We watched Mr. de Klerk’s campaign with interest and some consternation. He and the National Party conducted a sophisticated, expensive,
American-style political campaign accompanied by extensive newspaper and television advertisements, bumper stickers, and colorful rallies. We saw this as a dress rehearsal for the campaign Mr. de Klerk would wage against us. In the end, 69 percent of the white voters supported negotiations, giving de Klerk a great victory. He felt vindicated; I think the margin even swelled his head a bit. His hand was strengthened, and as a result, the Nationalists toughened their negotiating positions. This was a dangerous strategy.
On April 13, 1992, at a press conference in Johannesburg, flanked by my two oldest friends and comrades, Walter and Oliver, I announced my separation from my wife. The situation had grown so difficult that I felt that it was in the best interests of all concerned — the ANC, the family, and Winnie — that we part. Although I discussed the matter with the ANC, the separation itself was made for personal reasons.
I read the
between myself and my
wife, Comrade Nomzamo Winnie Mandela, has become the subject of much
speculation. I am issuing this statement to clarify the
position and in the hope that it will
bring an end to further conjecture.
As I later said at my daughter Zindzi’s wedding, it seems to be the destiny of freedom fighters to have unstable personal lives. When your life is the struggle, as mine was, there is little room left for family. That has always been my greatest regret, and the most painful aspect of the choice I made.
“We watched our children growing without our guidance,” I said at the wedding, “and when we did come out [of prison], my children said, ‘We thought we had a father and one day he’d come back. But to our dismay, our father came back and he left us alone because he has now become the father of the nation.’ ” To be the father of a nation is a great honor, but to be the father of a family is a greater joy. But it was a joy I had far too little of.
In May of 1992, after a four-month interruption, the multiparty conference held its second plenary session at the World Trade Centre. Known as CODESA 2, the talks had been prepared by secret meetings between negotiators from both the ANC and the government as well as talks between the ANC and other parties. These meetings culminated in a final session between me and Mr. de Klerk the day before the opening of CODESA 2, the first time the two of us had met since before CODESA 1.
Only days before CODESA 2 was to begin, the government was hit by two scandals. The first involved the revelation of massive corruption and bribery at the Department of Development Aid, which was responsible for improving black life in the homelands, and the second was the implication of high government security officials in the 1985 murder of four UDF activists, the best known of whom was Matthew Goniwe. These revelations were added to the recent evidence implicating the police in murders in Natal and suspicions that the Department of Military Intelligence was conducting covert operations against the ANC. These two scandals coming together undermined the credibility of the government and strengthened our hand.
Over the previous months, the government had made numerous proposals that fell by the wayside. Most of them, like the idea of a rotating presidency, sought to preserve their power. But through negotiations over the past months, the ANC and government teams had put together a tentative agreement involving a two-stage transitional period to a fully democratic South Africa. In the first stage, a multiparty “transitional executive council” would be appointed from the CODESA delegations to function as a temporary government in order to “level the playing field” for all parties and create an interim constitution. In the second stage, general elections would be held for a constituent assembly and legislature in which all political parties winning 5 percent or more of the vote would participate in the cabinet. Half the members of the assembly would be elected on a national basis and half on a regional one, and the assembly would be empowered both to write a new constitution and to pass legislation. An independent commission would preside over the election and make sure it was free and fair.
Yet there were many matters on which the ANC and the government could not reach agreement, such as the percentage of voting necessary in the assembly to decide constitutional issues and to agree on a bill of rights. Only days before CODESA 2, the government proposed a second body, a senate, composed of regional representatives, as a way of ensuring a minority veto. They also proposed that before all this, CODESA 2 first agree on an interim constitution, which would take months to draw up.
All of this bargaining was going on behind the scenes and by the time CODESA 2 opened on May 15, 1992, prospects for agreement looked bleak. What we disagreed about was threatening all that we had agreed upon. Mr. de Klerk and I had not managed to find a consensus on most of the outstanding issues. The government seemed prepared to wait indefinitely; their thinking was that the longer we waited, the more support we would lose.
The convention was deadlocked at the end of the first day. At that time, the two judges presiding over the talks told Mr. de Klerk and me to meet that evening to attempt to find a compromise. We did meet that night over coffee, and though we did not find a way out of the impasse, we agreed that the negotiations must not founder. “The whole of South Africa and the world is looking at you and me,” I told Mr. de Klerk. “Let us save the peace process. Let us reach some kind of agreement. Let us at least fix a date for the next round of talks.” We decided that we would each speak the following day in a spirit of constructive compromise.
The next afternoon we spoke in the reverse order that we had agreed to at CODESA 1: Mr. de Klerk first and I last. In his remarks, Mr. de Klerkinsisted that the National Party did not seek a “minority veto,” but that he did want a system of “checks and balances” so that the majority would not be able “to misuse its power.” Although this certainly sounded to me like outright opposition to the idea of majority rule, when I spoke after Mr. de Klerk, I merely said we needed to work in a constructive manner and dispel the tensions around the negotiations.
attempts to put a positive
face on the matter, the convention ended the second day in a stalemate.
impasse, as I saw it, was caused by the National Party’s
reluctance to submit their fate to the will of the majority. They
not cross that hurdle.
Ultimately, CODESA 2 broke down on four fundamental issues: the government’s insistence on an unacceptably high percentage of votes in the assembly to approve the constitution (essentially a backdoor veto); entrenched regional powers that would be binding on a future constitution; an undemocratic and unelected senate that had veto power over legislation from the main chamber; and a determination to make an interim constitution negotiated by the convention into a permanent constitution.
These were all difficult issues, but not insoluble ones, and I was determined not to let the deadlock at CODESA 2 subvert the negotiation process. The government and the ANC agreed to continue bilateral talks to work toward a solution. But, then, other matters intruded to render this impossible.
With negotiations stalled, the ANC and its allies agreed on a policy of “rolling mass action,” which would display to the government the extent of our support around the country and show that the people of South Africa were not prepared to wait forever for their freedom. The mass action consisted of strikes, demonstrations, and boycotts. The date chosen for the start of mass action was June 16, 1992, the anniversary of the 1976 Soweto revolt, and the campaign was meant to culminate in a two-day national strike set for August 3 and 4.
But before that happened, another event occurred that drove the ANC and the government even further apart. On the night of June 17, 1992, a heavily armed force of Inkatha members secretly raided the Vaal township of Boipatong and killed forty-six people. Most of the dead were women and children. It was the fourth mass killing of ANC people that week. People across the country were horrified by the violence and charged the government with complicity. The police did nothing to stop the criminals and nothing to find them; no arrests were made, no investigation begun. Mr. de Klerk said nothing. I found this to be the last straw, and my patience snapped. The government was blocking the negotiations and at the same time waging a covert war against our people. Why then were we continuing to talk with them?
Four days after the murders, I addressed a crowd of twenty thousand angry ANC supporters and told them I had instructed ANC secretary general Cyril Ramaphosa to suspend direct dealings with the government. I also announced an urgent meeting of the National Executive Committee to examine our options. It was as if we had returned to the dark days of Sharpeville. I likened the behavior of the National Party to the Nazis in Germany, and publicly warned de Klerk that if he sought to impose new measures to restrict demonstrations or free expression, the ANC would launch a nationwide defiance campaign with myself as the first volunteer.
At the rally, I saw signs that read, “MANDELA, GIVE US GUNS” and “VICTORY THROUGH BATTLE NOT TALK.” I understood such sentiments; the people were frustrated. They saw no positive results of the negotiations. They were beginning to think that the only way to overthrow apartheid was through the barrel of a gun. After Boipatong, there were those in the NEC who said, “Why did we abandon the armed struggle? We should abandon negotiations instead; they will never advance us to our goal.” I was initially sympathetic to this group of hardliners, but gradually realized that there was no alternative to the process. It was what I had been urging for so many years, and I would not turn my back on negotiations. But it was time to cool things down. Mass action in this case was a middle course between armed struggle and negotiations. The people must have an outlet for their anger and frustration, and a mass action campaign was the best way to channel those emotions.
When we informed the government that we were suspending talks, we sent Mr. de Klerk a memo outlining the reasons for our withdrawal. In addition to resolving the constitutional deadlocks at CODESA 2, we demanded that the people responsible for the violence be tracked down and brought to justice and that some mechanism be found for fencing in and policing the hostels, the seedbeds of so much violence. Mr. de Klerk sent us back a memo asking for a face-to-face meeting with me, which we rebuffed. I felt such a meeting would suggest that we had something to talk about, and at the time we did not.
The mass action
campaign culminated in a
general strike on August 3 and 4 in support of the ANC’s negotiation
demands and in protest against
state-supported violence. More than four
million workers stayed home in what was the largest political strike in
African history. The centerpiece of the strike was a march
one hundred thousand people to the Union Buildings in
In the face of
this mass action, Mr. de
Klerk said that if the ANC made the country ungovernable, the
be forced to consider some unpleasant options. I warned Mr.
Klerk that any antidemocratic actions would have serious repercussions.
It was because
of such threats, I said, that it was absolutely critical
to set up a transitional government.
Inspired by the
success of the mass
action campaign, a group within the ANC decided to march on Bisho, the
Like the old proverb that says that the darkest hour is before the dawn, the tragedy of Bisho led to a new opening in the negotiations. I met with Mr. de Klerk in order to find common ground and avoid a repetition of another tragedy like Bisho. Our respective negotiators began meeting regularly.
Both sides were making a good-faith effort to get the negotiations back on track, and on September 26, Mr. de Klerk and I met for an official summit. On that day, Mr. de Klerk and I signed the Record of Understanding, an agreement which set the mold for all the negotiations that followed. The agreement established an independent body to review police actions, created a mechanism to fence in the hostels, and banned the display of “traditional weapons” at rallies. But the real importance of the Record of Understanding was that it broke the constitutional deadlock of CODESA 2.
The government finally agreed to accept a single, elected constitutional assembly, which would adopt a new constitution and serve as a transitional legislature for the new government. All that was left to negotiate was a date for the election of the assembly and the percentage of majorities necessary for it to reach its decisions. We were now aligned on the basic framework that would take the country into a democratic future.
The Record of Understanding prompted Inkatha to announce its withdrawal from all negotiations involving the government and the ANC. The agreement infuriated Chief Buthelezi, who severed relations with the NP and formed an alliance with a group of discredited homeland leaders and white right-wing parties solely concerned with obtaining an Afrikaner homeland. Chief Buthelezi called for the abolition of the Record of Understanding, the ending of CODESA, and the disbanding of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Just as Joe Slovo had taken the initiative concerning the suspension of the armed struggle, he again took the lead in making another controversial proposal: a government of national unity. In October, Joe published a paper in which he wrote that negotiations with the government were not armistice talks in which we could dictate terms to a defeated enemy. It would probably take years for the ANC to control the levers of government, even after an election. An ANC government would still require much of the present civil service to run the country. Joe proposed a “sunset clause” providing for a government of national unity that would include power-sharing with the National Party for a fixed period of time, an amnesty for security officers, and the honoring of contracts of civil servants. “Power-sharing” was a debased term within the ANC, considered a code-phrase for the government’s quest for a minority veto. But in this context it merely meant that the National Party would be part of any popularly elected government provided it polled enough votes.
After much discussion, I supported Joe’s proposal and it was endorsed by the National Executive Committee on November 18. The NEC agreed to support power-sharing, provided the minority parties did not have a veto. In December, we began a new round of secret bilateral talks with the government. These were held over a five-day period at a game lodge in the bush. The talks proved to be critical, for they built on the foundation established in the Record of Understanding. At this bush meeting we agreed in principle on a five-year government of national unity in which all parties polling over 5 percent in a general election would be proportionally represented in t