Dr Mamphela Ramphele
16/4/98, Cape Town
interviewed by Rupert Taylor
Taylor: What is the nature of the conflict?
Ramphele: I’ll take issue with the characterization of the struggle between 1976 and to the democratic election as being a non-racial struggle - it was a multi-racial struggle, not a non-racial struggle. And the depth of division between blacks and whites remain intact today. And that then takes one to what was ones understanding of the struggle, you’re taking 1976 as your starting point: to understand what happened in 1976 you’ve got to understand the analysis of the political activists of that day - and they were not ANC, they were not PAC, they were largely students who were actors in the Black Consciousness movement. And I’m intrigued that you don’t include SASO here as one of the anti-apartheid organizations - you may have a good reason not to do that. But had it not been for student activism in the late 60s and broadening from the university base to include students in high schools and youth organizations across the country, the political awakening that led to the end of apartheid would not have happened. And that unfortunately South African history is yet to acknowledge.
Ramphele: I’m intrigued. You’re the historian, you must tell me why. Because I’ve made this point several times and yet people talk about Nusas, they talk about...they don’t talk about the fact that the Nusas of the 70s was a very different Nusas from the one of the 60s because of the transformative action of SASO - they don’t. And I find that intriguing. You have Mandela’s book written, ‘Long Road to Freedom’, not a mention of Steve Biko as an important political actor. Totally intriguing.
Taylor: You have no idea why he has done that?
Ramphele: I have my theories. And I think he is embarrassed about it. I think it was a political decision - I don’t know. You are the historian you must do the analysis. I’m simply giving you the background to the way in which questions are being framed, actually it’s influenced by that omission.
Taylor: Right. So what do you see the relationship between SASO, Black Consciousness movement, and the rise of non-racialism?
Ramphele: Well, I believe quite frankly that blacks and whites have been involved in the struggle...with different levels of understanding of what non-racialism is, but it was a largely a question of the so-called ‘races’ working together. And in fact if you talk to people who were active in the Congress movement and then went away, whether into exile or jail, they still talk about racial groups - now there’s no such scientific concept as racial groups, right?
Ramphele: So that to talk of those people as being involved in a non-racial struggle it’s a bit of a...
Ramphele: Yes. So that you as a... you made the distinction between what a journalist does and what an academic does, and I think that the examination of what non-racialism means in South Africa must be the beginning part of your book - otherwise you are going to fall into the same trap.
Taylor: I have already written on that issue, because I agree very much that there is a contradiction in...
Ramphele: Exactly. So, it’s importance and the concept of ‘race’ as opposed to racial groups - groups were racialized in this country but that does not make it a scientific fact that there are many races.
Taylor: It seems to me that social science has yet to come to terms with the scientific rejection of ‘race’.
Ramphele: Yes. So that’s by way of introductory comment. But we as activists in the 70s were informed by an analysis that...the problem was not apartheid that started in 1948, the problem was ...dispossession, and the...of socio-economic and political power which structured South African society in the way in which we found it in 1976. In fact, if you go back to the beginning of black consciousness, at that time, the majority of people who were politically active were talking about wanting to be equal to whites, we were the first group that really, group of activists, that said that’s not what we are all about - we are not about to be admitted into white politics, admitted into white cities, admitted into white this that, we want to redefine what it means to be South African. And on that basis to participate in the building of the new South Africa. That was a very radical viewpoint, from that of, for example, the stance of Nusas - at the time it was a question of white students fighting for the rights of black students and for the rights of black people to be treated equally. It wasn’t about a radical transformation of society, that radical talk of Nusas only happened because of the influence of the Black Consciousness movement. And later on of course there was Marxist theory which was then very widely impressed and...what’s the name, Richard Turner was very active in... But I think it’s important if you are going to be talking about any of these organizations to talk about them before and after [BC] - if you can distinguish that.
The Institute of Race Relations in my view is still an unreconstructed multi-racial approach, type of institution - but that does not mean that it has not done some useful things: it kept statistics, it was about the only institution that compiled statistics comprehensively.
Taylor: But in your book [‘Crossing Boundaries’] you are very critical of their annual reports [‘Race Relations Survey’].
Ramphele: Yes! But that annual report improved because, again of the transformative action of us as students with very little resources, we developed what we called ‘Black Review’ which filled the gap, the gaps between what the Institute of Race Relations was producing and what we felt was a wider South Africa. And after that the Institute then broadened it’s...so if you look at the Institute’s annual report before and after ‘Black Review’ you will see the difference. The first ‘Black Review’ was 1972, so you must look at before and after.
Taylor: You emphasize the strength that Black Consciousness gave in promoting transformative action, my feeling from your book, is that you feel that this potential did not play itself out in the 1980s - would that be correct?
Ramphele: Yes, because, obviously, they killed off all the..and a lot of the young bloods went into exile - and they played a very useful role in reinvigorating the ANC outside - talk to ANC people like...and others they’ll acknowledge it. But the Black Consciousness movement after 1976 in my view stagnated, it lacked the intellectual leadership to take it to the next level, from Black solidarity to really being an agent of truly non-racial transformative politics, creatively.
Taylor: Could it have done that, if it had had...
Ramphele: Definitely. Why not?
Taylor: Repression by the State.
Ramphele: If it had, the repression was a given, OK, but if it had had the intellectual leadership that went beyond simply black solidarity emphasis, but looked at.. this country belongs to us, we don’t belong to one corner called Black South Africa, we belong, we own the entire country and therefore how are we going to transform the entire country. It’s a radically different approach.
Taylor: So, again, your movement into Black Consciousness as a student activist was continually carried on beyond being a student within your professional developmental work, but how true was that for other people that you knew. I mean...
Ramphele: I guess that was the difference. In that, for me the personal, the political, and the professional became one thing. My whole life is engagement in transformative action, including up to now. So I guess it’s easy for me to see the logical trajectory of that kind of consciousness. But also the other thing is that as activists who had this practical side to our activism, it was much easier for us to move beyond the kind of parochial solidarity level to look at the importance of partnerships - there’s no way you could do things we were doing without forming partnerships, both within South Africa and internationally. And also at a personal level one developed very deep friendships with people across the spectrum, and those relationships endure to date. And so I guess I was privileged, I was one of the privileged few, even though I was banished and so on. There were all these avenues for living out my political commitment.
Taylor: I guess that’s the intriguing question: why, given the influence of Black Consciousness, given SASO’s emphasis on leadership schools, why there weren’t more people like you? Who could have followed through with vision of a developmentalist transformative agenda in the 1980s - because what you found in it’s place was - if you like - these organizations [on the list] coming in, but as you probably see, many of them are not black-led or black-run.
Ramphele: I think it is important to acknowledge that I was not the only one. People like Cyril [Ramaphosa] went into the trade union movement, which was the same kind of thing.
Taylor: But it was more a question of individuals finding other vehicles, rather than being able to operate within their own vehicle as it were. Would that be correct?
Ramphele: Well, there is also the other thing that one must acknowledge which is that the medical profession is the best profession you could have in a repressive society..
Taylor: It gave you space.
Ramphele: It gives a space, that whatever the police thought of me as a ‘Kaffir woman’ at the end of the day I was a doctor, and doctor’s are Gods in their view, you know. And also from a practical point of view it’s much easier as a medical doctor to do certain things, and people are always going to need medical services. And so it’s easy to organize around a profession being a medical doctor.
Taylor: And the extent to which you can at least draw a line between your professional work and your political work - although you yourself don’t see it like that - could be a shield.
Ramphele: Yes, absolutely.
Taylor: So, in a sense would it be correct to say that many of the organizations that we are looking at here, came, a lot of them did come into the scene quite actively in the 1980s, because of the role of international funding, because of the nature of the political system at the time, P.W. Botha’s attempts to kind of liberalize apartheid, many of these organizations came in committed more to - certainly outwardly - to a non-racial point of view rather than a Black Consciousness point of view, and yet one could perhaps have had an alternative, one could perhaps - if I read you correctly - one could have had a continuation of the Black Consciousness movement, maybe in a slightly different organizational structure, but at least being present so as not to leave the field open to these organizations which operate with a different philosophical understanding. To what extent would you kind of go along with that analysis? or is it..
Ramphele: I don’t know if the problem was necessarily the lack of Black Consciousness type organizations. I think that the problem was much more the curtailment of the infusion of that way of thinking in people who may have ended-up being members of these organizations. Because in my view the value of Black Consciousness is in freeing both blacks and whites from the notion that there is white superiority and black inferiority..
Ramphele: Yeah, and that problem has not been addressed yet. I’ve just come back from our Law Faculty - we’ve got students who are doing LL.B. at UCT, they are the creme de la creme in South African terms, but the problem of one feeling alienated is still there. And I am not saying it’s the problem only on their side, as black students feeling inferior, threatened, inadequate and so on, it is also the question of white South African’s just don’t know how to relate in a normal easy way with black South African’s because there is tension around the past which has not been really properly worked through in psycho-social terms.
So the point I’m making though is that the nature of that anti-apartheid struggle was such that these issues which were glossed over then in the so-called non-racial struggle are now coming home to haunt us.
Taylor: So if I read you correctly what you are saying is that Black Consciousness, or the legacy of Black Consciousness with it’s emphasis on transformative agency would have given many of these organizations a greater commitment to genuine non-racialism, instead what we tend to have were organizations who talked about non-racialism but were really trapped in multi-racialism...and one could argue that perhaps their understanding of non-racialism in that regard was more of a pragmatic one than an idealistic one, that non-racialism was a way of getting resources, of organizing, that the commitment to non-racialism really didn’t move to that level of accepting the non-existence of ‘race’. Would that be...
Ramphele: Yeah. I would say that captures it. Because whether you are looking at tensions within universities, or within the university system, or where you are looking at tensions within government, within parliament, within the private sector, within.. the black/white issue looms large. People get silenced by being called ‘racist’. And white people with racist views are there, alive, I mean this person who shoots a child, I mean you could see that that was a human being, but that human being didn’t obviously didn’t have long hair, right? So those are issues which we in a sense lost in struggle. And partly understandably, you couldn’t deal with everything all at the same time. But we could have established, in my view, greater islands of truly transformative energy points that would have made the transition a lot easier to a non-racial democracy. Which in part explains why there will be anger against Mandela, that he is seen to be too nice to white people and ignoring black people. Nothing of the sort about him ignoring black people, but it is the anger against white people that black people feel, so if they see Mandela embracing white people they say why is he embracing them? you know. Whether or not that.. individual is a racist or not is not the issue, the issue is, you know, these are white people who had it all nice in the past, now they must not get it as nicely as they did, now.
Taylor: Although one could argue that in the 1980s not enough was done, would you nonetheless want to give credit to what was done by these organizations?
Ramphele: Oh yes, oh yes. I said to you that these are comments which are intended to broaden the phrase that you are using. I have no doubt, I’ve spoken and I’ve written about Black Sash for example, transforming itself from this ineffectual body of protesting white women to really being an important agent of change by creating the space for very poor people to actually have a voice, the issue of pensions, and we quote them prominently in ‘Uprooting Poverty’ [edited by Francis Wilson and Mamphela Ramphele], they became a real important source of, a voice for people who couldn’t actually speak, raising issues of constituencies that didn’t have the political clout either in the activist world or in the apartheid system. So I am not in any case, in any way, trying to devalue the work that was done by these people. But I’m challenging you as an academic to say that you can’t simply label these organizations as non-racial organizations and therefore whatever...
Ramphele: They were organizations of very caring people, who were driven by a need to do something - to put right that which they saw as being wrong, and they were outraged with what was happening. But that did not necessarily mean that they became transformative agents of non-racialism in the way in which one would define in a very broad sense. I mean, a lot of the tensions that you found in some of these organizations of white leadership, which did not reflect on what it meant to do that. They were doing work, they were working... the split in Nusas which led to SASCO was not because those white students in Nusas were racist necessarily, but they were not reflecting enough about what it meant that they as white students had leadership skills, they had this administrative skills, and they could articulate, they could issue statements, they could do all sorts of things which.. black students just didn’t have the capacity to do. And black students began to feel that they’re being treated as second class - they were not being treated necessarily as second class but they didn’t have the capacity to act as first class student leaders. And that issue was not engaged, so in the end it was ‘Comrade this’, ‘Comrade the other thing’, ‘Comrade’ cannot paper over those cracks.
Taylor: In your own personal experience could you say that you have actually met many individuals, maybe attached to these organizations or generally within South African politics, who do - as far as you can tell - operate with the kind of transformative vision that you’re talking about?
Ramphele: Yes, lots.
Taylor: How many?
Taylor: Some people say that yes these organizations are important but you are talking about maybe 2,000 people in the white community and maybe..
Ramphele: I wouldn’t be able to tell you how many. People like Geoff Budlender, people like Carla Sutherland how were very active in Nusas. People who were involved in the SACC at great risk to themselves and their lives. The Human Rights Commission, the Lawyers for Human Rights...you had..
Taylor: Your point is that there weren’t enough of these people, or that there weren’t..to relate this to your earlier point..
Ramphele: There weren’t enough of them. And there was even for those of them like Beyers [Naude], who would understand what that meant, he’d travelled the road, he didn’t necessarily insist on that as being the way in which the Christian Institute, for example, functioned. So in the end he got confused and ended up in bed with Buthelezi, and you know, and in the end he realized that that’s not the way to go. The fact that Buthelezi is black doesn’t make him a good person to be with, you know. That’s part of the problem of multi-racialism, you just take on any black person because they are black! You know..
Taylor: I find that, you know, I teach an honours course at Wits on non-racialism and it takes me, probably it takes me about five or six weeks until students can see the argument, once they see it, they buy it. But I mean trying to teach it to the first year students - you can’t do it, you can’t do it. It actually is, it is intellectually it’s a very demanding... because, you know, people say ‘What do you mean that...look..[Taylor points to his white skin and Ramphele’s black skin]...what do you mean ‘race’ doesn’t exist!’ [Laughter].
Nonetheless I mean I think that one can talk about a rise of non-racial politics in the 1980s. But I think one has to caution it in the way that you are... and I find very intriguing and very interesting your comments on Black Consciousness. One of the points that you are making that I agree with very much is the failure of - you actually mentioned this right at the beginning of our interview - the failure of historians and academics to really understand Black Consciousness, to really understand what it was about. It seems to me that there is a very very strong non-racial theme that comes out, but generally when you read about Black Consciousness it is essentialized into... I’ve never understood why.. I guess one can understand the political reasons why it has been misread, but if one reads a lot of the SASO statements, Biko’s writings, Pityana.. you are very much aware that this is a non-racial philosophy.
Ramphele: I mean, I am quite convinced if I hadn’t gone through that tradition I couldn’t head this institution [UCT]. And I couldn’t have been in a position to sustain the attacks from the left and the right that I get, because for a lot of friends of mine on the left they felt that I was being ‘used’ quote, unquote - by being put at the leadership of this institution. That presupposes that (a) I’m capable of being used, which itself is an interesting statement, and secondly it fails to appreciate the fact that UCT - yes, it’s a historically white university, but it’s a South African university, if transformation is to mean anything you can’t have a meaningful higher education system without a major player like UCT coming to the party, right? And it won’t come to the party if you keep a pure view of saying no, no, no we are not touching... who is going to transform it to be that which is not white and male and so on. And so that requires a lot of commitment and many layers of skin.
Taylor: Yes, I tell you one thing that I find worrying in many ways looking at recent South African politics is that because of the struggle against apartheid one understood the rise of and strength of non-racialism - even though as you have mentioned we should not idealize it - but today where... taking my own university at Wits, it’s hard for me to see how white students coming through Wits are going to end up in the ANC - like they did in the 1980s, maybe not that many but at least people were. Today I think the prospects for non-racialism are in many ways bleaker than they were then, where you had the struggle brought people together, made them aware. Would you agree?
Ramphele: I would agree there is a real serious risk, even on this campus - although here it is much plainer because in a sense having had the transformation process here much earlier than at Wits, and in a much more open and sustained way, it was very painful. And again we felt - being immodest - I believe that the fact that I was my predecessor’s deputy helped a great deal, because.. I wasn’t going to fudge the issues that were being put forward by students nor the issues that students were simplifying, and so I kept pushing student leadership, white or black, to actually say OK there’s a lot wrong with this institution, what should we be doing to make it that which it should be? and we are not going to do it by breaking windows and trashing the campus, and anybody doing that in my view no sympathy. Toi-toi you can, sing you can, boycott if you want to, you can sit in rooms for the whole week and discuss these things, but breaking of windows and spoiling the common heritage is not allowed. White people find it difficult to say to black students, you are not going to break that window. I said it to them, because.. not because I was braver than white people, but because if you really believe that that student deserves to be given a chance to really think through what kind of person is he or she going to be in the future, they’ve got to be told certain things are not allowed as human beings, the same way that because you love your child so much you can’t allow them to be putting their hands into fire, and breaking tables and so on, because you love them so much.
Taylor: What is your view, I mean taking this back, you view of the contribution of political violence - if you like - to understanding how we got to where we are. I mean one thing that again I think comes out of your book, is how more could have been done internally, that certainly far more could have been done in terms of developing a kind of developmental community/individual based approach, but what you had instead was either the armed struggle or making the country ungovernable. I would like your reflections on the most appropriate strategy in bringing about the end of apartheid: whether it was internal protest, peaceful resistance, individual transformation...
Ramphele: All of them. There’s no way individual transformative action would have brought us to where we are..
Taylor: But without it?
Ramphele: Without it you have a different quality of transformation. But you needed the armed struggle, you needed the protest, you needed the strikes, you needed the ungovernability..
Taylor: And you needed these NGOs?
Ramphele: And you needed these NGOs. You needed the whole.. but what we didn’t do adequately, I would say, is to weigh up the costs of each one of those, and try to minimize the cost element.
Taylor: And that relates very much to what you were saying about the culture of violence...
Ramphele: Yes. So, for example, the ungovernability problem I think it was important to say no to Bantustans and make them impossible to succeed, no to apartheid cities and make them impossible.. but there was no reason why schools could not be allowed to continue, because there you are dealing with the lives of young people who are going to be... look at them now.
Taylor: To what extent would you accept the argument that apartheid was seriously challenged by those that were committed to incremental change? Many, particularly the liberals in these organizations were of the view that you bring about the downfall of apartheid by incremental change: challenging within the system generally, challenging it through the courts as by the legal NGOs here, or trying to change the education system by talking to government, you would accept that that was a legitimate part of...
Ramphele: As part of, but not as the only one. There’s no way incremental change alone would have brought us to here. You had to have all the other elements, you had to move the comfort zone of those who were in power.
Taylor: So really what you had is, if you like, you know, you had... you could liken the struggle to something like a whirlwind, it sucked everything into it, and crucial to this was the way in which many of these organizations worked to create more and more space within which that whirlwind could challenge them. Would that be...
Ramphele: Yes, yes.
Taylor: What’s intriguing to me really is a lack of clear strategic thinking... you had strategic thinking but it was operating - and again it relates very much to things you say in your book - in different spheres, or different spaces.
Taylor: But not at a synthetic level..
Taylor: ...doing what you are doing now. Saying well we should have weighed it up here, we should have...
Ramphele: I don’t know about grand thing, you didn’t need the grand plan to know that if you have young people out of school for two, three years you’ve got trouble on your hands. You don’t need the grand... and we said in 198-, whatever it was when we first, I think it was 86 or 87 when we wrote ‘Children on the Frontline’ with Francis Wilson, it was very unpopular with the UDF people because they said we are blaming the ‘victim’ quote, unquote, for choosing different methods of struggle. I don’t mind adults choosing different methods of struggle, but we’d no rights to sacrifice young people on the alter of the struggle. Because the very people who were talking about these young lions, were busy in their professional lives, even within these organizations, right? They’re professional people, and where are those young lions now? There is no position in the new South Africa for young lions who can’t write, can’t read, who can’t conduct themselves within an institutional framework and so on.
That was, in my view, an unnecessary cost.
Taylor: What about the contribution of academic grand theory to helping one understand what happened in this country? The contribution of Marxism or Liberalism?
Ramphele: Well, I think those were important. I mean, if you start off with a colonial culture and then put a frame of apartheid onto it, you needed a way of trying to understand different social realities, and in a sense Africa. The Liberal approach inadequate as it was, at least put forward an alternative which was idealistic. Never mind the fact that the liberals continue to talk about ‘my boy, my garden boy, my garden girl’, never mind that [laughter] - at least they had this notion of a society where civilized men (as they would say) choose what they wanted to do.
I would say that the great advantage of Marxism was in challenging the distribution of wealth and the power that comes with wealth, which white South Africans particularly the Liberals actually never questioned, I mean it was their right that they had this farm which came to the family, never mind that the family came here 300 years ago and took away the farm from someone else, it didn’t occur to them that there was anything wrong. So Marxism was important in... that material aspect of power in the consciousness of South Africa. It clearly oversimplified things by assuming that you can discount race altogether, and the focus is now on the material base of social relationships and so on.
Taylor: It occurs to me that looking at the costs of the choice of strategies that were employed in the 80s you talked about the ungovernability thing, the other thing that you talk about, that I find interesting and confirms actually what several people have told me when I’ve interviewed them, is the way in which one of the costs if you like of the 80s struggle was - you talk about this in your book - the quality of long term strategic planning for a post-apartheid South Africa suffered. And it’s very interesting talking to people like Laurie Nathan and people in some of these NGOs saying that ‘Yes, we left it far too late to sit down and work out serious policy’. And it was only after 1990 that many of these NGOs turned to deal with that..
Ramphele: By which time the scaffolding was fact. It’s very difficult now to deal with the problems of that legacy, it really is.
Taylor: That could have been another contribution that the legacy of Black Consciousness could have played, given.. relating this to your earlier point about how Black Consciousness could have moved these organizations forward greater: a genuine commitment to non-racialism, it could also have made them more aware to develop...
Ramphele: It would’ve created a more enabling environment where even as you struggle you know that this is your country, you own it, therefore you must make sure that you prepare it for future. And so the difficulty of now trying to address this.. the rent boycotts were all very well, but there should have been in that process an educational process that said obviously you are doing this because it stops the wheel of government working but there are consequences, and particularly in the run up to the election there should have been greater attachment paid to beginning to recondition people to greater public responsibility. In a sense the rampant corruption, the crime, whatever, is a consequence of that approach to life that if I cannot get what I want I must destroy. Look at the teachers, the system of education has been changed, but the teachers are now using 1980s tactics to make the education system unworkable. And what interests me is that I don’t hear Mandela standing up and saying ‘Hey, what’s this about you using 1980s South Africa, this is your country because your future, it’s the future of your children that you are destroying, and we will have none of that’ - I haven’t heard that. It’s ‘Hey Comrades, we’ll attend to your problems’, I don’t understand that [Laughter].
Taylor: One of the questions we ask people is whether or not you think it’s correct to talk about these organizations as a network?
Ramphele: No, I wouldn’t... I think some were in a network, and others were not. You have to unpack that... If you are going to talk about a network you’ll have to demonstrate by way of objective evidence which ones were in.. and how do you define the network, and was it an active network that was...
Taylor: I don’t know if this diagram [Figure 2] will.. help?...It is an attempt to try and show how the organizations fall into a network...it’s an attempt to show how close they were on the one hand to the UDF and the Apartheid State on one axis, whether or not they positive or negative notion of peace, and on the other axis it’s actually just when they were formed, and then its trying to show the interconnections between.. and so there are a number of organizations - I mean I think I agree totally with what you say - that some of them formed networks like the legal ones interacted with themselves, the Church ones did to some extent, you had others that were very much on their own or didn’t interact with some of them, and some of them in fact very consciously...
Ramphele: That’s a help. Because it at least indicates degrees of being a network.
Taylor: Some of them outwardly saw themselves as trying to be neutral and detached - although I think many people we have talked to have said that it doesn’t make sense to talk about neutrality in the context of apartheid. I wonder if you would agree?
Taylor: We argue.. in fact that, you know, one can’t be neutral when you are dealing with something like apartheid, you’re either for it or against it. It’s problematic to say look well we’re just here as a neutral, impartial NGO trying to bring the sides together.
Ramphele. Yes. Now you see this [points to the words ‘anti-apartheid organizational network’], this was not done.
Taylor: Not done adequately?
Ramphele: I don’t understand what..
Taylor: You see one of the arguments... is that the contribution of this network was that they lived and practised - they had a non-racial democratic practice which prefigured the future South Africa. In other words by living and adhering to the ideals in the heart of apartheid, they actually brought that future that much nearer. So I would agree with you that one should not idealize this, and the comments you have made are I think are very important in that regard. But I think that one could argue that nonetheless within a more kind of pragmatic understanding of non-racialism and in terms of advancing some kind of democratic practice or in terms of devising policies, maybe not then devising policies but at least discussing alternatives: education; Namda’s role in terms of talking about a reformed health service; Oasssa with psychologists; Nusas a similar role in education; and the legal NGOs as well trying to bring the law closer to justice in the heart of apartheid South Africa, although some people argue that was not possible one can nonetheless point to a number of legal cases that they were able to - if not win - create political space for ANC, UDF.. like LRC were involved in the Delmas Treason trial for example. So one of the arguments we are keen in exploring and developing is this one that they did play a role in terms of prefiguring the future. Would you accept the argument if I qualify it, or?
Ramphele: I think if you qualify it, I accept it. But the other thing which I have difficulty with is the title of.. not the title but the notion of an ‘anti-apartheid struggle’. Because I think that is another part of the problem that we have in this country. That people became, who were focused on opposing a system rather than opposing the system.. and focusing on what should replace that system. But also there is another problem with the label ‘anti-apartheid’, which is people tend in this country, particularly English-speaking South Africans, to think that there was nothing the matter until 1948, so I hope in your work you define apartheid in much broader terms than just 1948 takeover by the Nats. Because that is a fundamentally important issue. At UCT I have to deal with alumni who think that there was absolutely nothing wrong with UCT and it was those ‘bloody Afrikaners who stopped us from practising academic freedom’, never mind that it started as a white man’s college, don’t worry about it, it’s all right it’s only these Nats who have made a mess of it, Smut’s was the right man - although Smuts said over his dead body that blacks and whites would be equal.
Taylor: What do you do when people tell you that?
Ramphele: Well, you know, you take a deep breath and you have to slowly remind them of the fact.. but it’s very important that work of people like you do not perpetuate that myth.
Taylor: One of the arguments is that when you are looking at the notion of peace in South Africa we link the notion of peace with justice and that enables one to talk very clearly about the fact that although yes apartheid has gone, we’re not living in a just society yet, the economic inequalities remain...
Ramphele: But you must also talk about what is gone. What do you mean by apartheid? is it the problem of 1948? or the problem of colonial conquest which ultimately was formalized in the form of apartheid? what is that you are talking about? If you don’t do that I think you’ll fall into the same trap.
Taylor: Yes it would be too narrow an interpretation, too restricted and not...
Ramphele: And you will still end up with the English-speaking white South Africans believing that they have nothing to do. They were right all along, it’s only these Afrikaners and these natives who couldn’t just get to understand..
Taylor: Finally could I just ask you if you wouldn’t mind to maybe - I don’t know how easy it is - to identify from that list two or three organizations that you feel made the greatest impact.
Ramphele: It could have been the LRC, no doubt. Black Sash, no doubt.. SACC, no doubt. The Christian Institute again it was very short lived, its difficult to say whether the Christian Institute made an impact - or Beyers Naude made an impact, you know. I would not be sure about that. And the South African Catholic Bishops Conference clearly made a big contribution. Namda, I was a member of Namda...
If I was to give you, top of the list I would put the LRC, Black Sash, SACC.
Taylor: And if in general one were to, in maybe a sentence, summarize the overall impact of the organizations - I mean some people say that well they played an important catalytic role, others argue that they should be understood as being facilitators for the mass based movement, others talk about them as providing an important resource base for the mass based movements, I wonder if finally if you could maybe say a few words about how you would put the organizations into the overall picture... How important were they, at the end of the day how important were they when you put them alongside all the other things that we were talking about?
Ramphele: I think they were more than just facilitators. They were active participants in the process. But they, precisely because they had white leadership, greater protection against those that were.. let’s say... those that had white leadership they had greater protection than those that were black-led. So there was a sense in which the viciousness of the 1980s and early 1990s repression ‘required’ quote, unquote, white leadership. Because in those days the system was.. although there were white people who were killed, but there were few white.. so they had greater space.
Taylor: The thing you talk about in your book as well is that the black-led organizations had the problem of funding.
Ramphele: Yes, I mean international funders just wouldn’t give people money other than... and that is a reflection in my view of international racism. But also a reflection on the fear that money would either be taken by government, or you know people just would not have the space to use it that’s all. But very Definitely a problem of resource-fall.
Taylor: What is interesting from our study is that if you take these organizations as a whole about 90% of their funding came from overseas. It’s actually staggering, it’s also a major indictment of business in this country.
Ramphele: Umm, Umm.
Taylor: Well, thank you,
Ramphele: Thank you very much.