Sharing Stories: Aglaya Jimenez’s experience in South Africa on Reconciliation.

From “Apartheid and Reconciliation in South Africa”, Jiménez Turati Aglaya; pp. 442-450 Interview n. 21: SELLO HATANG, Chief Executive, Nelson Mandela Foundation, 12/2012, JOHANNESBURG (SA)

sello_hatangWhat is the participation degree in social life of people that before were excluded?

It depends participation in which sense, in politics?

Participation in social life like citizens active in the democracy?

In many ways we are still a divided society. When I was speaking at the Khulumani function I said that in many ways we are still divided in the sense that people who were previously disadvantaged and continue to be disadvantaged, they are predominantly black and they tend to be also majority women, so you have their participation limited because society is open, we have a democratic system that is open but there are places that are still alienated, so there is participation but it is limited because there is no access. In most instances you can’t live wherever you want but you need to have the means to live there. The government is making some changes and the department of Human settlements for example is a good example of what is being changed. In my area, where I live, there used to be just very expensive houses, you could only live there because you afford to live there but now I have noticed over the last 2/3 few years that they are building low cost housing within the suburb to make sure that those people who can afford to pay for a cheaper house instead of being able to pay for a mile hundred house you can pay for a 5000 house but then live within the area. So there are some changes that have been made to ensure that there is greater access. So, do people participate in terms of politics for example? Yes, we have seen a lot of changes in terms of politics but I don’t think the economic standing of many people allows them to be able to participate to the extent that they would want to.

Is there total freedom of expression today?

Yes. Of course freedom of expression like all the other rights is limited. You don’t have just a free right, your rights must not tremble on mine, your right to freedom for expression must not have an impact on my dignity, so our constitution allows for limitation of rights and yes we do have freedom of expression. The with our freedom of expression of course, with the limitation that are there, you can speak your mind, you can think your mind but you need to be aware of the rights of others. There are of course problems and am going to give you two examples. We have had an artist draw our president in what many people said was an undignified manner and that caused an uproar and an art gallery had to remove the painting and some of the newspapers, who had the painting on their websites, had to remove it. But a lot of people said that was bullying, that it was political bullying where you bully people for them to do what you want them to do despite the fact that they have the right to do that which they are doing. So, we do have those limitations but those limitations are based on the constitution so they are constitutionally based. The second one is in relation to protection of information bill, I don’t know if you’ve heard about it, but it’s a bill that our parliament wants to introduce which will limit what people can write, what people can say etc.

It’s like censorship.

Sort of and it limits access to records so it’s not censorship in the sense that…maybe it’s technically censorship so you do have the limitations that will be there might be twisting Ent to access information and to publish information. So that’s still a problem that we are currently confronted with. We as the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory convened a few dialogues where we are trying to get people to understand that you can still have a government, have regulations or the laws that can regulate access to information but then don’t do it to the extreme, so we’ve had those dialogues here in this building upstairs and that’s something that will continue to pursue, that people need to be listening to each other, people need to be talking to each other, making sure that there’s an understanding between people, that people can share information freely, there’s free flow of information and there’s free access to information.

How much has trust grown among the different cultures since the end of apartheid?

Remember what I started off by saying we are still a divided society. There’s the discourse in a country is still very racially charged so there’s still sensitivity, they are people who are still very sensitive, so we are still a divided society. The trust is limited, it has grown better it’s not as it was in the past, where there was no trust, we growing to understand each other but I don’t think we are there yet, we are not there where you can just hold hands and say..

You are in the process…

It’s a process and like all processes, takes a while and there will be pains along the way. There will be people who will feel that they have been harmed, they’ve been hurt by what’s going on. So, there’s still that sense that we still have a problem with the society that is still divided.

What are the contexts in which the dialogue manifested itself the most among South Africans?

I think by dialogue am not sure, can you explain that further?

The contexts or environments in which you have seen that there has been a dialogue since ’94 but especially after the reconciliation.

Dialogues that have been convened where there’s dialogue between different cultural groups or different people within the society has been around issues that are common problems so, you’d have a problem with for example HIV/Aids which continues to have a greater impact on a section of society and you then have to put together people to talk about it and see how we can resolve it. So, I think the dialogues that have been convened or that have succeeded or at least started to make a headway have been around common problems so, it could be the crime for example or social ills that are common, that impact the community. However, because we are still divided whether it be racially on racial grounds that we are still divided, those divisions continue to be felt by those that are still trying to convene those dialogues. So the context within which you have these dialogues is such that it’s where you have common problems that impact on you as a society. That is something that I have observed.

Has there been growth in social responsibility at an individual level and also a collective level or are there some strategies in order to build a new South Africa?

I think there is commitment but I don’t think it’s channelled, the government introduced last year or this year where they had social cohesion dialogues to try and bring people together and for people to understand that we are one, we need to be working together. So, these social cohesion dialogues have helped the people to understand that there’s a greater course, there’s something that’s bigger than all of us that we need to be working on. So, whether it’s based on strategy, I don’t think it’s always based on strategy, I think there are individual people who take responsibility for what needs to be done. There’s still some hate though, we are a bruised society, we are a hating society and you will see in my paper when I send it to you, that I say that in many respects we are troubled and we are in trouble because with rampant corruption, with difficulty around infrastructure, you still have a lot of people suffering and as a result it puts us in a troubled space. But do people take responsibility? Yes, I think so, there are many people who take responsibility and who try their best to see that we are a different and better society.

What are the contexts in which indigenous cultures can be expressed today?

You see again going back to this divided society, there’s a dominant way of seeing things and that continues to impact on us, so there’s a dominant culture, there’s a dominant language. Our languages are for example indigenous languages, it’s recognized in the constitution, it’s 11 official languages but how much of that are totally schooled? And I will tell you very little of at all because of the dominance of English. So indigenous cultures have to fit in, they have to find their way into and fuse themselves into the dominant culture and that continues to be something that bothers us as a country and as a society and I think we need to be working harder to ensure that indigenous cultures are recognized in a greater way and the greater way that you can recognize any people is their language and just us making it official that it’s an official language is not enough. We need to be making sure that people understand these languages, that both black and white, white people work in effort to learn the language, so that it’s not a one-way thing where we always have to learn English and have to acclimatize and acculturize ourselves into this culture and fuse ourselves into the culture.

What are the environments in which national identity is build today?

That’s a very difficult one because dealing with a divided society that we are, many people see themselves as something else before being South Africans. They see themselves as one thing before you can say I am a South African and I think there’s agency a which is next door to us which is called Brand South Africa which is trying to make sure that we can be proudly South African as well, which is trying to ensure that people can understand that we need to be proud of who we are as a nation, we need to be proud and recognize that even though there are still divisions, we can work together and work towards a common goal. Do we have a common goal as South Africans? I don’t know, I don’t think so.

So do you mean that South Africans don’t feel united?

I don’t think we are yet one. We are still divided. We are divided by colour, language etc. because the levels of literacy are so low and you can imagine that those who do not learn English or Afrikaans in some instances are then marginalized from society.


There’s still marginalization of our people because marginalization is about not just being made to fit in but being accepted for who you are.

So there’s still the concept of “we” and “others”?

Yeah. That’s still rampant and there’s a book which I hope you’ll get before you go back by Jonathan Jansen, he’s a professor in the Free State, “Bitter Knowledge” and he talks about those kids that have grown knowing something about another, they grow with that, they continue to be better because of what they have learned and I think it’s something that we are going to work harder to ensure that we understand each other’s culture, that we work together towards building a united South Africa.

What are the activities by which the historical memory is kept alive today?

The government has made headway in terms of recognizing most of the historical moments in our nation. This includes and are an unlimited number, to recognizing using public holidays for example. We use our public holidays to recognize those significant days, or significant moments in our history. Is it enough? I don’t think so because the Truth Commission had recommended that there should be other kinds of recognition of the pain, of the victims and this included building institutions such as freedom park in Pretoria, freedom park at the constitution hill, here so there are institutions which should be established to recognize the pain of our people and say that we are building towards a better future and I don’t think we are there yet, where we can say that we recognize most of those holidays or most of those significant moments. But then another point that I think is important is that we are a country that is very complex in that there are people who feel that because our public holidays or significant moments are not recognized they do not therefore recognize what is going on. So you still have public holidays which recognizes struggle for example predominantly attended by black people and white people don’t go, so you ask yourself, if we are to get to point where we say we are a nation, we should be recognizing those significant moments together as one.

Does the government consider the lower class problems and in what way?

There again you will see it in the paper. That we have social grants and pensions which are given to poor, but even with that what government pays for pensions or for social grants, we still have huge inequalities. In fact, we are recognized as the most unequal society so we still have a long way to go in terms of bringing about equality and that people should be included in processes, in projects, that we need to be working harder to ensure that people are included. The government is working hard to ensure that there’s water, to ensure that there’s proper sanitation but then we are not yet there, mainly because we are dealing with people who have gone through a journey that has been too long, it’s more than 300 years of oppression that we still have to deal with, it’s a long history that we are going through.

What are the strongest prejudices that still exist? And can you make some examples?

Yes, there’s a greater issue of prejudice that we still have and we have to deal with how we perceive with each other. You asked about trust, there’s still not much trust between different races within South Africa. So, there’s still hard work that needs to be done in terms of race. Xenophobia is another problem, and this is discrimination is discrimination of the inexperienced predominantly to black African foreigners. You still have black people discriminating against other African people from the rest of the continent and you don’t see that, when it comes to white people who are foreigners in our country so there’s Afro pessimism if you like, we still have to more a lot more about our continent and about our own people on the continent. We had xenophobic attacks in 2008, I don’t know if you know about it, where non-nationals were attacked and killed by South Africans. And as the Nelson Mandela Foundation then we tried to convene dialogues, we didn’t do it, we actually did it, we conducted dialogues to teach people the different ways of dealing with grief, dealing with your issues, you don’t have to result to violence to achieve what you need to achieve. So that’s something we are working hard on and as a country we continue working hard at it.

And there other prejudices from white to black people?

That’s racism and you see it…a good example of this is, a white person drew a painting called the spear, I don’t know if you heard about this, the one where they were drawing our president with his genitals exposed, so they drew this and it was a white person who drew it and a lot of reaction came from black people saying it’s because he was racist, it’s because he didn’t recognize that we have changed as a nation and the country has moved on that he did what he did. So, it demonstrated that there is still a lot of racism or race issues that we need to deal with.

Did you hear about that white man who has that shirt where’s written “I have benefited from apartheid” and now there’s a discussion about it. Do you know about it?

No, I haven’t read about that so I wouldn’t be able to comment on it. In fact, there was another one with that series of t-shirts, there was one about being black also. You’d expect that there’d be debate about these issues, you’d expect that there would be some difficult questions, someone feeling that they have been hurt by that, I haven’t seen that one.

In your opinion, what are the cases in which there has been justice for the problems created by apartheid?

Justice is a very difficult thing to access and the Truth Commission tried to recommend that those people that were not pardoned by the TRC should be prosecuted but that hasn’t happened so you still have people that are still walking around the streets who have caused a lot of hurt and they have not been prosecuted, so justice there I think we failed many people by not doing what we promised to do. I’d say another example of how justice is still evasive, it’s if you have money, it’s been commodified now that if you have money you can access justice easily than those who don’t have money. There are instances where you find people who are grieved but they can’t do anything about it coz they don’t have money to go to court, so access to justice is still a problem in our country.

What are the social signs by which you feel the situation has improved compared to the former?

I think the biggest one is in terms of infrastructure, there’s a greater number of people that have access to electricity, there’s a greater number of people who didn’t have access to water who have water now. Greater number of people that have access to proper roads.

When you say ‘we’ do you speak about black people?

Well, when I say ‘we’ they’d be those that I mean black people but ‘we’ can also be as a nation. So, there’s a greater number of people that has access to water and didn’t have water before and these are predominantly black people, if not only black people that didn’t have water now they are having water, didn’t have electricity but now they have, so it’s those things that show that we have moved as a society towards catering for people that were previously disadvantaged but we still have challenges like joblessness and people that do not have jobs are predominantly black people who are oppressed those are still people that suffer because they don’t have access to jobs or meaningful quality jobs, so there’s still a long way to go for us to get to a point where we can say we have achieved.

What are meaningful signs that let you understand that there has been acknowledgement by both parts?

Well, there are individual instances where people have apologized for apartheid and these are individuals who…some appeared before the TRC and they apologized for what they did and they apologized for the system and one of those people is Leon Wessels. Leon Wessels is one of the people who helped write our constitution and he was a former deputy minister in the apartheid government and he apologized publicly for apartheid, that it was a mistake, that it shouldn’t have happened, that he hopes that black people will be willing forgive white people who practiced apartheid. So, there are individual instances and the TRC is a good measure of how people came forward, of course there are people who came there so that they could be pardoned then they don’t have to be punished in terms of prosecution, so that is something we have to work with.

And the meaningful signs of forgiveness after apartheid?

I think forgiveness is measure predominantly by communities that reach out to each other. There are black communities that are reaching out to white communities and white communities that are reaching out to black communities, so that’s something that we again have to work harder to ensure that people that you don’t have to stay bed, that you can work together for a better South Africa. So, that’s something that is there that we need to work at. But at the signs of…I am trying to think of the best example of reaching out. We have Patisa or individual instances where individuals have gone to another community and try to reach out to them and some of the work that is done by cooperates trying to empower communities that have been disempowered over the years.

What are the cultural practices that promote integration and growth as South African?

Remember I spoke about the social cohesion project that was initiated by the department of arts and culture, that’s and initiative that tries to unify South Africans, but I think the simplest way, the simplest way of insuring that this works is to ensure that people feel empowered to be able to reach out and this includes, in schools fix our education system that it can have kids who are competent, are confident to able to face the rest of the world. So, the social cohesion project needs to have been thought through more than it was. There’s the need of more definition of what we mean by social cohesion, how do we you see that there’s social cohesion and not just do something that you just brushing just to ensure that you go past that history.

What are the problems connected to the land in South Africa?

See, the biggest problem with land is that government had set targets for insuring access to lands by black people. Some white commercial farms that will be handed over to black people and we have not reached the targets that we wanted to reach, by 2014 we should have reached 30% and we haven’t. And then there are instances where black people have been given the land, but then the land that has been given, since they haven’t been empowered to be able to work the land, as a result you are left in a situation where these people then sell the land back to the former owners. So, land gets taken away from white people, given to black people, black people then can’t work the land, they don’t have expertise to work the land and the financial muscle to work the land, they then hand over back to white people. So that’s something that we are still struggling with and until this land issue is sorted out we are going to have serious challenges as a country and this takes me at the point, next year marks 100th anniversary of the land act, which made it possible for black people to lose the land to white people. But with 100 years of marking the 100- year anniversary, we only have to show numbers about what we have done and to make sure that people access the land and we haven’t made interests there.

What is the distribution degree of wealth?

Very unequal and it’s unequal you have predominantly black people who remain poor and the rich continue to be richer who are predominantly white, we’ve had special instruments that we’ve put in place which included pro based black economic empowerment, but that has been seen to be rewarding those that are connected to government and those outside of those circles don’t get anything. So that’s something that we have to continue working hard at to ensure that there’s greater equality which we don’t have at the moment.

In what way has South African life been improved?

The levels of inequality continue to go wild so you still have predominantly black people seem poor and white people who are wealthy and they continue to be more wealthy, For those black people, we have Black Economic Empowerment which has since then been changed to broad base Black Economic Empowerment but even with that Black Economic Empowerment, it still rewards people who are already connected in terms of politics, who have money to then make the deals, so they still benefit that trick us down to little person if you like, they don’t still see the results of the democracy that we fought for.

Is the concept of Ubuntu still actual?

That takes me to what we have been doing as a centre. In 2008, Nelson Mandela went to a concert in London and he said it’s in your hands to make a difference and as a centre we’ve been trying to bring Ubuntu to life, that it shouldn’t just be a concept that you just say. There are still communities which observe this as a matter of course that it’s not something that is unique but they do it every day, they live Ubuntu every day. But then you still have a need for it to be a constant reminder, what does it mean? How do you live Ubuntu? And that’s something that we are still struggling to get right. Ubuntu needs to be inculcated for people to live it but in the rural areas people tend to live it, it’s part of their lives. When a child doesn’t have parents, there will be parents who will adopt the child and live with the child, look after the child, that’s something we must continue to inculcate and it’s not there. Ubuntu is there it’s in the fabric of the society but needs to be lived, we need to make sure that people understand how to live it.

Do you have any other comment?

I think as a country we have been praised and we have been given too much credit, which has meant that you are left with this big head, thinking you know it all, you’ve done it all; meanwhile we still actually have a long way to go and until such time that we recognize that there are still greater challenges that we must go through. We must then be able to live along, know each other, learn about each other’s cultures and know who we are as a people, as a nation and find each other because there will be sore spots, there will still be bruises and we are bruised. I think we want to run too fast before we can even crawl, to say we are teenagers we just had our democracy and there’s still a long way to go, it’s not an overnight thing, you have to work at it, you have to work hard to ensure that it works and that’s something that we have to work at.


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