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Author and poet Antjie Krog tells Tim Modise that the attitude of forgiveness by Black to the White community following the demise of apartheid was not properly compensated for. She says the Truth and Reconciliation process missed an opportunity to determine what the apartheid compensation should be. She says South African whites expect black leadership to declare what the minority community should do to bring about unity in South Africa. Professor Krog suggests that land may have to be nationalised to fast-track redistribution.
Professor Antjie Krog, thanks very much for talking to us. I appreciate your time.
It’s a pleasure, Tim.
The Springboks lost over the weekend and somehow, people seem happy about the loss to Japan. When you go back to 1995, the mood was one of expectation, we were being mobilised to stand behind the Springboks and obviously, they went on to win the World Cup, so it was a jovial mood at that time and it created an impression that we are onto something. Now, 20 years later, South Africans seem to be coming apart and some are even celebrating the loss of the national team.
Yes and what is even more interesting for me is the creativity and jokes that were sent around in snap seconds. You had various visual images, ridiculing what has happened. I’m in two minds about it, Tim. I’m not necessarily sure whether it’s a falling apart or whether it’s a bigger realism, of how different we are and how hard it is to build a country that is fairer, and that is more just to all.
You come from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the mood at that time, besides the fact of the Springboks and what we were expecting then; Archbishop Tutu for instance, was talking about the Rainbow Nation – people and children of God – and that we were going to create this wonderful society. I’m sure you believed it yourself, and you’ve written books about this matter. Are we losing the plot? Are we coming apart or are we maturing as a people? Where are we?
I believed that we were trying to deal with an unjust past and that the Truth Commission was one of the things helping us, but what few of us realised then… Let me take a step backwards. The academics who wrote about the Truth Commission criticised the Truth Commission a lot, saying it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do. It’s not bringing reconciliation. It is escaping responsibility. They were very hard on the Truth Commission and I (and many of us) kept defending the Commission by saying it was not supposed to bring reconciliation. That’s only one part of it. Now, when people are angry, those academics say, “Yes, you see. We told you that time, that the Truth Commission is not doing its job. See how angry people are”, and people didn’t want to forgive but Tutu and Mandela put pressure on people to forgive and reach out to white people. Now we are sitting with the mess. I disagree with that. You, too.
We attended these hearings. I never got the impression that people were intimidated or that black people were cowering under the power of Mandela or Tutu. My sense was that people truly believed (black people especially) that if we reach out and we reconcile, whites will change and we will then all build a better country. Looking back, I think many whites didn’t realise – and still, don’t realise – that the forgiveness was conditional in that sense, that we were supposed to change and help share and build. We accepted the reaching out and the forgiveness, and now we continue as before, and I think that makes people angry now. They say, “Yes. This is what we did. This is what we paid, but these people don’t change”. On the one hand, they say that whites do not change, they don’t share, and they don’t put something on the table.
On the other hand, there’s also political sensibility now and then coming from leaders that we don’t want whites to become involved. We don’t want whites to assist or help un-invest people who openly say, “Stop with charity. Stop treating us like anthropological objects. Just get out of our lives”. I think we’re at a crossroads.
Why are we at a crossroads? If you could, unpack it for me. We see this manifesting itself through the protest marches and actions that are taken around the campuses in the country. Younger South Africans, some of whom are still children in the mid-90’s/early 90’s. They seem to be the angriest of our society. From where you’re sitting, looking at how we have developed over time, what do you think is behind the current tension?
One must bear in mind that the second and third generation is always angrier than the first generation is. I found it interesting to remember that it’s the second and third generation of Jewish survivors who were feeling many things, which people didn’t realise are carried over. They talk about trans-generational trauma. You have people who didn’t live through Apartheid, but they suffer more, in a way, than those who lived through it, so the children of Mandela and Tutu are angrier than those who lived through it are. In one way, that is normal and we should have thought about it – that it would be coming. Initially, the protests were by the poor and against lack of service delivery. People understand that, but we accept that as well, that you will always have the poor with you. What is happening now is that the young, educated middle-class think, “Here I am. My parents sacrificed. They put me in university. Here I am.
I’m studying and I’m uncomfortable. I feel as if I’m not making it or, I am making it but it brings nothing.” On Friday, on campus here there was a Steve Biko panel discussion on the theme of Africanising Higher Education. People were unclear about what it means. What exactly, does Africanising mean? Someone uttered a sentence and it stayed with me over the weekend. “I don’t feel comfortable. I’m the majority. We are running the country, but I feel uncomfortable at most of the places I come to.” In a way, that is an important key. People use Afrikaans at Stellenbosch, but I think it’s the Afrikaans, which makes people… It’s the privilege and the middle-class places that are leaning and catering for a specific kind of person. We have a serious situation if the majority of educated middle-class people feel uncomfortable.
How do you explain this racial uneasiness that exists in the country, and the unhappiness on the part of the young blacks against/about what they perceive to be white power? Then, I want you to comment about the role that you think the white community should have played/could be playing in helping bring about the reconciliation, which was the promise of the past?
The race anger upsets me deeply and it’s something, which we all have to live with in a way but we also need to be honest as well careful with it. For me personally, there’s a lack in leadership on the one hand, and at the other there’s a lack of a coherent sentence. For example we want you white people to… I think white people are waiting for leadership from black people about what they should do. What are the conditions under which, white people are welcome? Do black people not want whites at all? If so, it should be said. Alternatively, ‘you are welcome only if you are poor’ or ‘you are welcome when you have blended’ or ‘you are welcome when you have integrated physically – when you live… Since no condition is imposed, no one knows what to do or to decide ‘listen, in no way can I fulfil this. What is wanted here? I’m not wanted here. Now I can decide to leave or, even if you don’t want me here, I’m going to stay here. Take it or leave it’.
From the beginning, there’s been no clear signal. I remember when the Truth Commission formulated its Reparation Policy; that’s where problems started. There was a meeting with Trevor Manuel at that stage. I put up my hand and I asked Trevor, “Do you have a plan to recover what they owe from white people?” He looked at me exasperatedly and said, “Antjie, we can take away everything that white people have and it will not make up for the past”, which is of course, true. On the other hand, if you don’t think what you want from white people, you are also escaping the responsibility of leadership to say, “We are the majority. We want this country to be comfortable and this is how we want you to be. This is your role” and spread out that role. Alternative, say the worst, i.e. ‘we don’t want you here’ or ‘I want to kill you’.
Those things should be said and then discussed further. Right, if you want to kill us…how? Anyway, in the French Revolution you’d remember they asked you to sing the revolutionary song. If you couldn’t, they cut off your head. It can be rather interesting.
I wanted to put a question to you. I think the answer is simpler than the way you put it, in this sense. Many people will tell you in the black community, that there is economic apartheid in South Africa and that is where the problem lies – that there are economic disparities and they see privilege and wealth as being in the hands of whites. Then people say, “Where is the economic transformation that we should be seeing happen in this country, given the privileges that were bestowed on the white community by the Apartheid Policies?” The expectation was that there would be a readiness on the part of the white community, to share (when we talk about economic empowerment, etcetera). It’s the reluctance, which I hear many people talk about.
The reluctance to share in that wealth as well as the economic dividend that went to the white community, because of political change in the country, which is not being shared. I think that’s at the centre.
I agree. Absolutely. Again, if you wanted white people to share, then there should have been a policy. For example, a double taxation for five or ten years. Every farm should be halved and given to the… However, the financial policy that was accepted at the time was to say ‘everyone must just make the economy grow’. It never talked about sharing. It’s to make the economy grow so that everyone can share. Now, people say ‘we realise that capitalists never share. They make money and they take the money away’ so even now, how is the sharing to take place? You see how the land thing is dragging on. I remember so clearly, when the 1994 election was coming. Many white people sold their second houses because there was an assumption that the Government was going to take everything you had that was extra. If you had an extra house, extra car, or an extra farm that would be taken.
People were prepared for that and nothing was taken. Nothing was asked. Now you want white leadership to say ‘okay, we are prepared to share this’ and I think that is a mistake. It’s not for whites to say what they think they can share. I think it should be set straight. We want this and we want that from you.
This is where we are now. The dream of a Rainbow Nation seems to be receding. I’m sure you’d agree with that. How do you build a nation then that is united around the principles of the Constitution as well as the promise of the founding fathers of democratic South Africa?
Let me just return to the ‘rainbow’ metaphor because I think it’s being unfairly treated. If we stop looking at the rainbow as a metaphor, but look at it scientifically, the fact that you see all the colours reflected in that way; the reason for that is that every single drop reflects all the colours and as they fall, the colours group. I think that’s our big problem. We are not reflecting all of us, and the longer we continue reflecting only the whites, Afrikaans speakers, or the Zulu speakers, the rainbow cannot function if people only want to reflect themselves. I would say ‘how do you build a nation’. You build a nation to say ‘we have a problem of poverty. We all have to work towards it. This is the role for white people and the role for black people is to give leadership in the way that they want everybody to deal with poverty.
You’re suggesting – listening to what you’ve been saying – that the direction/leadership is not being given on how the country must be transformed. Where do you think this leadership should come from – from the politicians when you say ‘from black people’? It can’t be the entire black group/section of the population that can provide such leadership. If it is political leadership, the argument can be made Professor Krog, that policies are there – the Government policies that have for example, called for economic transformation, but they’re not being adhered to by the influential white business leadership in the country.
I think we’re a nation that believes in leadership in the political sphere. Our history has made us so. We are not necessarily looking at churches. We are looking at political leadership and we have been blessed. We had that leadership that could use language that inspired people at the beginning of 1994 to change (and they were willing to change). However, it was not built upon. Instead, divisions were brought about. You’re right. The Constitution is there but you cannot have political leadership that fails to effectively carry out delivery promises, although it has the budget and the moment that they confront it, you blame and say, “Well, I actually want to give water there” and then you fall back on to race. In a way, you can’t have it both ways. Say what it is that you want whites to do. That is the thing. Then do it. Take the land. For a long time, I’ve been saying the land needs to be nationalised, and that it belongs to all of us.
A Government that is accused of corruption, a Government that cannot run many of its budgets… You say ‘yes, they can take the land’, but how will they get the land so that everyone can benefit? Then you begin to fall back and say ‘but maybe Mugabe had a point. If the Government is ineffective, then people must just take land. People must take houses’ and then you fight it out in the courts. This is perhaps; the only opportunity because you don’t have solid moral leadership to convince people that it can’t go on like this. “How have you ever thought a world can live like this?” This is what we need to do and all of us will work together. In a way, I almost want to say that you suspend the Constitution. Not the Constitution but rather, you say the Constitution only has to rule for the next ten years in the favour of transformation. If you come and you take my house and I take you to court, the court’s focus should be transformation and yes, it’s time for a black person to live in that house.
Are you optimistic about the future?
Actually, I am, most of the time. We’re creative. We’re articulate. We’re not sissies, especially young people, and they are open-minded. They are broadminded. They say what they think and they shame many of us who think things will develop, and they do things. I see how many academics feel embarrassed by the roads we followed. Those students have shown up many academics who proclaimed that they are for change. It’s immensely interesting – the different things that are happening all the time. The big question. How do you Africanise us? What exactly, is that term? What does it mean?
Professor Antjie Krog, thank you very much for talking to us.
It’s a pleasure. Go well.
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