Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Twilight (1957) – A Realist Portrayal of Postwar Tokyo

Upon their release, the films of Japanese film director Yasujiro Ozu (1903-1963) were mostly ignored in the western world, a tragedy for several reasons. With restoration and reissue by the Criterion Collection, Ozu’s films are newly accessible internationally. Interpreted correctly, his films are tools of empathy. The initial misunderstanding of Ozu as “too Japanese” was a lost opportunity in the mid 20th century for western audiences to experience his unconventional way of filming, embracing the ethos of theater and traditional art more than the conventions of film. Ozu combined his idiosyncratic and traditional style with a fearlessness in presenting an unfiltered view of Japanese life in the decades before and after World War II. Though it was not their purpose, Ozu’s films also reveal the complex and often corrosive impact of American occupation and its merging of political goals and new lifestyles as forced upon Japanese society by both domestic and international authorities.   

Prior to the mid 1930s, Ozu’s themes focus on the effects of societal outside forces that hold down the individual from progressing socially or economically. By the mid 1930s through the early 1960s, he had one main theme: the internal conflicts that broke down familial relationships. Yet, the deprivation suffered by most Japanese in the immediate postwar years and the facade of western culture imposed upon a Confucian society had a profound influence on internal family dynamics. The dichotomy between his two phases perhaps was not a large as some critics previously argued. Ozu was not so much commenting upon western influences but reflecting the truth of Japanese society in the years leading up to and the two decades after World War II, during and after American occupation when the Japanese sense of self was reconstructed under the magnifying gaze of American eyes.

Tokyo Twilight was restored and reissued by the Criterion Collection, found in boxed set Late Ozu which combines five films made in last decades of his career. It also streams in the United States via the Criterion Channel of the FilmStruck service. Unlike the more well known Tokyo Story and others released individually, the films in this boxset do not contain any bonus footage that lend insights into their making and interpretation. In the English language, the work of film critic Donald Richie is historically one of the few authoritative sources of analysis. Even Richie, who was a guest on Ozu’s sets, never counted Tokyo Twilight as a great film, thinking the melodrama as holding it back from being so. Yet, Richie admits such melodrama pales in comparison to the typical Hollywood style. (1) A reexamining of Tokyo Twilight film reveals what was initially overlooked in the previous century.       

Tokyo Twilight (1957) is among Ozu’s most bleakest and cynical films, a noir-influenced family drama. However, the cynicism and nihilism of the typical western noir is replaced by a deep belief in the fragility of humanity and the structure of familial relationships needed to maintain our place in the world. In the words of one of his stock characters, the working class bar patron, “pearls need a place like that in order to grow naturally.” Ironically, at the same time Ozu was viewed as too traditionally Japanese for mass acceptance in the West, he revealed his progressiveness in Tokyo Twilight. Abortion and feminism are explored, without shame or imposition, in a matter of fact manner.

Ozu’s traditionalism is juxtaposed with presenting of modern Japanese society as it was, without editorial content. The way he framed his shots rejected the modern grammar of film and embraced the classic theater and Japanese traditional arts. Space and room for contemplation are part of the picture. Shots are framed in a theatrical manner, using the traditional home as a stage. The Japanese home and the embrace of wooden architecture of Japanese history and pre-history sits neatly next to a modern family environment. Characters gaze at the camera in  straight-on shots that feel direct and intimate. When the camera is directed outward, the audience sees what his characters would have seen in their public and private lives. These gazes form their physical and social milieu and through them we can empathize with them and see their world. While Ozu’s films were never incomprehensible to western audience, what he does do is demand that the viewer infer the emotional state of his characters. The onus for empathy is on the viewer, and through this act of empathy comes an understanding.

The first five shots of Tokyo Twilight set up the impending narrative, taking the audience from the most general view of Tokyo on the cusp of the late 1950s to the personal environs and lives of the characters. In the film’s opening still shot we see commercial buildings, power lines, and one lonesome street light illuminating the dusky early evening, in the second, a freight train, symbolic of the transfer of goods and ideas from the outside. Trains are ubiquitous in Ozu’s pictures, as literal and metaphorical symbols of progress and transport, yet their meaning can fluctuate with the particular film and context. These two opening scenes are the wide view of Tokyo, over a decade since reconstruction began and something still in progress, a place and a people in flux, dislocated and often alone.

In the third shot we meet one of the three most central characters of the film, Shukichi Sugiyama (Chishu Ryu). The version of Tokyo in Tokyo Twilight is not the anonymous mega-city of today, but rather a collection of intimate neighborhoods of interconnected lives and stories. Yet, the larger city of Tokyo and its recent history forms a backdrop and set of assumption that were obvious to his domestic audience in 1957. Shukichi sits down in a bar in the Ginza neighborhood, clean, neat, upscale, modernized. It is operated by a middle aged woman who also had a young adult daughter. The theme of dislocation is established through their conversation when she states, “As soon as I get to know you people, the head office calls you back.” Nostalgically, she serves her two customers a light meal of salted sea cucumber obtained from her home provincial town. Shukichi learns from the proprietor that his son-in-law, Professor Numata, was recently a drunk patron, foreshadowing the conflict between his elder daughter and her husband and symbolized by a shot of the Professor’s hat left behind and unceremoniously abandoned.

The motif of bleak darkness is introduced as Shukichi walks up the hill to his home later in the evening and returns home. He greets his elder daughter Takako (Setsuko Hara) and her sleeping toddler daughter, the everyday rituals of life as a stabilizing factor, in contrast to other characters lack of manner introduced later. To the Japanese, the dialogue of the scripts, written by Ozu, and often with his collaborator Kogo Noda, are the equivalent of literature and revered as such. While Ozu was in no sense providing his own commentary but merely presenting the fact of Japanese life and all of its diversity, as it was.

In this scene, Shukichi tells Takako that he read her husband’s article entitled “Resistance to Freedom.” Tokyo in 1957 was several years removed from the initial shock of reconstruction and deep in the synthesis of Americanized values as a modern way of life, a deliberate campaign and mission of American occupation. The title of Numata’s article is a clever criticism of the failure of his country to question the joint mission of American and Japanese authorities to reframe progress as acceptance of the American values of commercialism. American occupation forms an unstated backdrop to the milieu of Tokyo Twilight and all of Ozu’s postwar films. Japan was refashioned to American standards of how a state should act, the process assisted by the dissemination of American consumer goods, lifestyles, and popular culture, synthesized into Japanese culture. Ozu’s Tokyo reveals the cost and consequences of such dislocation. Arguable, Ozu was courageous for his realist version of Tokyo and daring to question the outcome.  

In actual history, from 1945 to 1948 Douglas MacArthur was Supreme Allied Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) in Japan. In essence, MacArthur was acting head of state and head of government of Japan during his reign, rebranding and reframing Emperor Hirohito, literally in the case of the infamous image below, as a subordinate. In the words of one member of MacArthur’s staff, “yes it (MacArthur’s agenda) was disseminated through the radio and newspapers. We controlled everything, so we could force the Japanese to do almost anything we wished.” (2) It is no surprise that film was the most powerful force in the effort of the media to enact such an agenda. In this context, the purity of Ozu’s creations and his ability to function under the auspices of one of Japan’s largest studios, Shochiku, is something of an antidote to the official records.   


General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito

Little of this change in the mass culture would be have been possible without a method for wider transmission. Like the Baby Boomers of the West, the young people of Japan in the middle of the twentieth century were the first generation to come of age at a time that saw the rise of a mass commercialized media, complicated and amplified by the presence of American military bases in their midst and influence of occupation on institutions public and private. This is the context of Ozu’s world, Tokyo Twilight, and postwar Japan as a whole. Some of the coarsest dialogue between characters is exhibited in the scenes portraying the most westernized atmosphere, the bars in the upscale neighborhoods, rebuild to reflect Western values and modernity. The young adults of the film make up the apres-guerre generation, the first to be consumers of mass media.  

In this context, the younger daughter of the Sugiyama family, Akiko (Ineko Arima), is the most vulnerable. The selling of western-style democracy was married to capitalist salesmanship and consumption, and her dehumanization by others and their gaze contributes to her suicide. Ozu’s subtlety about the political scene is delicate and shaped by the diplomacy of the Japanese character, the sense of helplessness expressed in the common idiom, “it can’t be helped.” Typically, Ozu’s polite characters embrace the everyday niceties expected of them, a main theme of Good Morning (1959). In Tokyo Twilight, the younger generation are mostly stripped bare of these social rituals, exposing the coarse and raw breakdown of lost kinships between classmates and supposed friends. Under all these weights, Akiko cannot bear the weight of the anomie around her.

Understanding this context opens up the film to full comprehension by Western viewers. Looking at Ozu’s style of shooting also adds meaning for international audiences. Over the course of his career, Ozu created and mastered his own idiosyncratic film grammar. Ozu’s classic perspective was the intimate “tatami shot.” The eyes of the camera approximate the point of view of kneeling on a tatami mat, the traditional way that Japanese interact at home. Static shots without people, life, or obvious connection to the narrative, called “pillow shots” by some critics (3), provide space for audience contemplation and with analysis are often symbolic. Mostly, they allow the audience to see the physical environment of his characters, opening up an important element of empathy based on the assumption that physical environment informs and shapes character. The still shots are like a deep breath, contemplative and reflective, sometimes pretty, and other times starkly realist and industrial.           


A trademark Ozu still shot, symbolic of the title and themes in the film.

Akiko’s pregnancy out of wedlock is an issue to which Ozu brings progressive sensitivity. She personifies the motif of suffering and loneliness in an atmosphere of dislocation, victimized by the cynicism of her peers and the indifference of the state. The omnipresence of the hurtful gazes of her peers are symbolized in a recurring scene, a billboard advertising eyeglasses, peering eyes magnified and reminiscent similar symbolism in The Great Gatsby’s eyes of T.J. Eckleburg. Akiko is stereotyped as simply another loose young woman. The coarsest character of the film, Noboru, part of a flock of Akiko’s feckless acquaintances, makes reference to Akiko as a mere panpan girl, a real life phenomena; they were prostitutes who considered themselves liberated and gathered near American military bases. (4) Subtitles leaves out such verbal details. (Yes, something is lost in translation and further study of postwar Japan fills in comprehension.) Ozu leaves the audience no doubt that Akiko is not a panpan girl and Noboru’s characterization is slander. In one scene an anonymous character reads a newspaper with the headline, “Anti-prostitution Laws Enacted,” further revealing Ozu’s realism on this topic.

The synthesis in Japanese society of an American way of life with modernism and capitalism is most starkly represented in the bar scenes. In a telling scene, Kenji, the schoolmate who impregnated her, and Akiko meet at a typical Western-style establishment, Étoile (star), where a movie poster for the Hollywood noir Foreign Intrigue, starring Robert Mitchum, hangs on the wall in the background. Shots of the anonymous characters, expressionless, cynical, lonely, are telling connections between the anomie of Japanese society and the effects of westernization. The name of the bar in itself is ironic for the false facade of these individuals. As a realist, Ozu did not create worlds or ecosystems. Real life was his inspiration, and the real life of 1950s Tokyo was characterized by massive upheaval, social, cultural, and physical.


Akiko violated by the gaze.

As a victim, Akiko personifies the consequences of loneliness and progress without continuity of values. In a scene near Tokyo harbor, Ozu lets the audience see what Akiko sees: smokestacks, industry, the high cost of modernity. This scene is reminiscent of a documentary film that would be made six years later by experimental director Naoya Yoshida simply entitled Tokyo. Like Ozu’s portrayal of Akiko, Yoshida’s film shows a young woman trying to survive in postwar Tokyo. Both films share the motif of smokestacks, ubiquitous and suffocating, a symbol of the city as both a challenge to humanity’s existence and its measure of supposed progress. Yoshida’s young female character narrates: “Tokyo, unplanned and full of construction sites, is no place for a human being to live. Only a robot with no sense could live in this rough, coarse, harsh, and dustry city that doesn’t have any blue skies.” (5)      

In contrast, Takako, the elder daughter of the Sugiyama family, perserverses. In the absence of her and Akiko’s mother, she takes on the role of maternal diplomat. Both sisters are forced to live in the two worlds, the expected conformity to the traditions of their parents and the commercial westernized reality of the peers. Takako retains more perspective on life than her sister and hence more grounding, refusing to play the role of victim of her absent mother, nor to her alcoholic academic husband. Her strength amidst great decay is heroic. Through her, Ozu is communicating his faith in the postwar generation to restore Japanese society to some kind of semblance. The story of their mother’s return to Tokyo was criticized by Richie as too unlikely and contrived but compelling in the choices made by Takako and distinct from Hollywood cliches. In the end, Takako returns to her husband. The circular nature of Ozu’s narratives plays out in her story. The narrative also spirals as the audience can imagine that Takako ensures her daughter will not suffer as her sister did, and Akiko’s death was not in vain.    

The character of the delinquent mother, Kikuko Soma (Isuzu Yamada), also represents a backstory that is often not seen in Ozu’s works. If she were more dynamic the narrative would have forced Shukichi to also tell his side of their separation. Ozu never used flashback scenes. Rather, his characters always live in the present and the narratives are linear, sometimes skipping the shooting of events important to the story or merely using still shots to represent them. While it is proper and expected that one sympathizes with Kikuko’s desire for a relationship with her children, the unresolved tension and disappointment is another facet of life that is to be accepted with resignation. This tension is further enforced by the sense of physical dislocation that Takako feels in the neighborhood of her mother, Gotando, with its unpaved roads and seedy bars. Ozu reveals through dialogue between Kikuko and Akiko that the Sugiyama home is in the Zoshigaya district of Tokyo. In contrast to Gotanda, Zoshigaya stands for the values of traditional aesthetics and wooden structures. While not in the film, a shrine in this neighborhood stands dedicated to the Kishimojin, a demon who before conversion to Buddhism abducted children and after enlightenment became a deity who kept mothers and their children safe. Knowing Ozu’s love of irony, such an allusion is sensical and amusing.    


Takako in Gotanda, a realist portrayal of post-war Tokyo.

Like many Ozu patriarchs, Shukichi is observant of older traditions but unaware of the realities of making them work for his daughters under the new dynamics of society. The family patriarch of Ozu’s films is often the personification of irony, as in Equinox Flower (1958) as well as Tokyo Twilight. In a long scene at the Sugiyama home after he visits his wayward son-in-law, Shukichi contemplates in silence. As the audience, we must infer his unspoken thoughts, and Ozu set the atmosphere for the audience to empathize with him. Ozu’s aesthetics embrace a traditional reverence for the seasons. It is natural that Tokyo Twilight is set in the deepest cold of the winter season. In this home scene it is past sunset and snowing heavily. The lack of ambient room noise is an audio illustration of what the Japanese call “mu,” a nothingness or void. This relative silence, a realistic recreation of the dampening effect of heavy snowfall, heightens the diegetic sound of Takako preparing her father’s bath. The tension in the room in palpable. We sense what the characters sense, hearing what they hear, seeing what they see, even feeling the textures of the home and its environment. To add drama, a traditional Hollywood director would add effects. Ozu takes away, like the way an audio engineer uses subtractive equalization to enhance a musical track. In the end, Shukichi’s contemplations emphasizes his centrality to Ozu, reveals the dynamic nature of his character as he comes to understand the reality of Takako’s conflict with her husband.

Professor Numata is a rare type in Ozu’s postwar films, a Japanese dissenter. While dysfunctional, his character is not inserted to function as just a disappointment to his family. Takako calls him “neurotic.” But Numata is also someone who is iconic of an element of protest in Japanese society. This aspect of Japanese culture and history, that in recent decades is often represented in anime and video games, was little known or taught in the West in Ozu’s time. In the conversation with Shukichi, Numata laments the rush among his intellectual colleagues to translate books into Japanese, a subtle reminder of the primacy of non-Japanese sources. It would have made the film even more interesting if Ozu had developed Numata as much as other characters in the family. 

Film critic Robin Wood looks towards the “delinquent mother” and “the delinquent younger daughter” as characters who demand most of the sympathy of the audience. (6) However, prior to the Criterion Collection’s release of Ozu’s films, audiences and critics were limited in access and couldn’t observe the arc of Ozu’s career in focus and totality. In this more macro perspective, the views of Donald Richie are lent more credence. Ozu does seek the audience to empathize with the female characters, but it is with Shukichi and other patriarchs played by Ryu that present the closest picture on film to the real life Ozu. While Wood sees Takako as an unsympathetic character, the central decision in her life is whether or not to go back to her husband. In traditional plot-heavy films, character is determined by response to actions. In Ozu’s film, character is defined by their choices. Ozu did not believe in plot twists or surprises, devices that lead to character development on the fly. In a Hollywood picture, a character in Takako’s position would have left her husband. The morality of Takako is her development as well, thinking of her daughter foremost. While she is dying, Akiko states, “I want to start my life over again from the beginning.” Takako’s daughter Michiko is the beginning of the cycle of life and the cycle of Ozu’s story.  


A close up shot, “tatami” perspective, of Chishu Ryu as Shukicki Sugiyama.

Tokyo Twilight can be embraced across time and culture. It embodies the universal hope of moving forward from tragedy. In a sense, Ozu represents a grand compromise, and even a synthesis, between the ideas of preserving our most valued traditions and the natural urges of the young to be catalysts of change. In the end, the audience of Tokyo Twilight is left unsure of Takako’s fate. However, after being an honored guest inside her character as an audience member, it is possible to infer that she cannot repeat the same mistakes, the same dysfunction, that led to the suicide of her sister. Equinox Flower was the film that followed Tokyo Twilight. In the role, it is something of an answer to the open questions in Tokyo Twilight. While there is no proverbial “happily ever after” in Ozu’s world, there is the satisfaction of the portrayal of daughters of Equinox Flower living full lives and choosing their own husbands.    

The universality of post-modern malaise and the ripple effects of the horrors of rebuilding the psyches of those traumatized by war were never really “too Japanese” for western audiences. Ozu’s characters are universal, accessible to those willing to put effort into understanding. If Ozu’s films were viewed in their time by a western audience, they held the potential of breaking down pernicious stereotypes that were all too typical in Hollywood films and pop culture, stereotypes that portraying Asians as superstitious, uncultured, and in need of saving by a Christian god. Ozu’s realism was not too Japanese but only too honest for western audiences. Ozu reveals the truly human state of being inconsistent and honest at the same time. He was both a traditionalist and a revolutionary, and there is not contradiction in those two traits. From audiences, “Ozu asks an amount of trust and goodwill uncommon among directors,” that the viewer will put themselves into the emotional context of his characters and understand their trials and feelings.” (7) For those in the West to watch his films and identify with his characters is to confront our own legacy, the mistakes of our collective past, and recognize the universality of the trauma of living with war and its ripple effects that smash the innocent with all the force of The Great Wave. It can’t be helped.         

  1. Donald Richie. Ozu, (University of California Press, 1974), p. 241.
  2. “Douglas Arthur, America’s Emperor in Japan.” Moments in US Diplomatic History. Accessed 26 Jan. 2018.  (http://adst.org/2015/07/douglas-macarthur-americas-emperor-of-japan/#.Richie)
  3. Leigh Singer. “The enigmatic ‘pillow shots’ of Yasujiro Ozu,” British Film Institute.  (www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/features/enigmatic-pillow-shots-yasujiro-ozu)
  4. John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II, (W.W. Norton & Company, 1999).
  5. Tokyo is available in educational settings, but its commercial state is unknown by this author. I am indebted to Professor Shunya Yoshimi of the University of Tokyo for teaching  it in his course, “Visualizing Postwar Tokyo.”
  6. Robin Wood. “Notes Toward A Reading Of Tokyo Twilight,” CineAction, Issue 63, 2004.
  7. Ibid. Richie, p. 24

Archival Interview with David Ervine, Northern Ireland Progressive Unionist Party


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When I first read the headline in 2007 that David Ervine  (1953-2007) has passed away, I was frightened. My mind immediately raced to a concern I had since I’d met him, that he’d been assassinated by one side or the other. It was a bittersweet relief that he’d died of natural causes. I continue to mourn the leadership that was lost to loyalist community and for all of Northern Ireland.


Photograph of David Ervine from the Bobbie Hanvey Photographic Archives, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

David Ervine’s political epiphany, taking him from someone prepared to engage in violence to a political activist in a non-violent sense, happened while he served time in the infamous Maze Prison for transporting a bomb. This transformation birthed a peacemaker with the ability to foresee the possibilities of a post-sectarian political milieu and one who saw the wider perspective of a potential for working class unity beyond the divides. Above all, he was an intellectual. Surely, there is much about him that I did not and do not know, but the moment in time captured in my interview transcribed below and conducted on 26 February 1997 changed my own perception about how I thought, and continue to think, about those born into the Protestant loyalist community in Northern Ireland.     

Looking back upon the issues discussed herein, creating an intellectual space for post-sectarian socialist thought, and non-sectarian and democratic political philosophies of all types, was an important development in the political culture of Northern Ireland. On the ground in Belfast and Derry, I felt a palpable sense of the physical and psychological contrasts between different types of public spaces, how they’re arranged, used, and often abused, for the cause of conflict and control of the different narrative in each community, a control that figured into working class communities much more so than middle class communities, a phenomena I confirmed through my own observations and also spoken of by Mr. Ervine. 

The sectarian spaces were tagged, in a typical gang-like manner, by graffiti, murals, and architecture claimed exclusively for sectarian causes and identification. These overtly sectarian spaces contrasted with places that were merely sectarian by default, such as shopping centers in West Belfast, by virtue of being in either a Protestant or Catholic community. The city centre of Belfast was a non-sectarian space, yet economically and socially constricted from the fear of terrorism with most businesses shutting down at 5 pm. Some neighborhoods and spaces were post-sectarian, reflecting the ethos of those determined to live their lives beyond the sectarian divide. In 1997, as today, South Belfast in particular was an “island of pluralism,” and I recall the rare treat of being served a lovely cup of coffee from a French press at the home of an young, inter-religious couple. 


A Council Estate in the Shankill Road vicinity of Protestant West Belfast tagged by the Ulster Volunteer Force. Photograph by Stephanie Carta.

I lived with a Catholic family in a West Belfast “one up, one down” home while doing this research and became intimately familiar with the socio-political conditions described by Mr. Ervine of two communities, one Catholic, one Protestant and physically separated by peace walls and fear of “the other,” intimidation, and fear of violence from the British Army and paramilitary groups. Across the street was Curley’s Supermarket, a place where I was told Protestant were once tolerated. 

David Ervine’s experience and views also beg the question of why it was easier for the Progressive Unionist Party to think outside of traditional unionism, whereas the larger unionist parties, especially the DUP, acted in a much more petty and intransigent manner. The photographs I’ve added illustrate part of Ervine’s challenges, examples of highly sectarian spaces tagged by supporters of the Ulster Volunteer Force, the loyalist paramilitary linked to the PUP. In fact, Gusty Spence, the founder of the modern UVF, was a constant presence at the negotiations, acting as a senior adviser and mentor to the PUP, including Ervine and Billy Hutchinson. (I did interview Mr. Hutchinson, and that interview will also be shared here soon.)    


Carta: Can you please describe your background and early life before politics?

Ervine: I am 43 years old, born in East Belfast, in the shadows of what were once great shipyards, in what we describe as a two up, two down on a backstreet, with an outside toilet and no illusion of grandeur. (There was) very little in the way of serious expendable income. As far as our family was concerned, I’m the youngest of five children, almost like two families. The advent of birth control had not yet reached the streets of Belfast. Our third oldest was 18 or 20 was I was born. My mother and father actually had two families. My mother was 42 years old when she had me. It was a relatively happy childhood, from what I could remember of it, but always tainted with the notion of sectarianism, always us and them, where to go, where not to go. A comfortable life within your own community, although there were a few Catholic families in our street, and as far as I know, they were always treated fairly well, and certainly, they were friends with my father who would have been quite socialistically inclined and felt that the sectarian attitudes of Northern Ireland were a burden on all our lives. He had been an officer in the Royal Navy during the war and, I dare say, been exposed to quite a number of culture and thought that our parochial and tribal attitudes were very detrimental to the ordinary people.

I left school at 15 with no qualifications, went to work in an attempt to serve in an apprenticeship and didn’t like factory life, left to take up a series of jobs all related to sales and distribution in one form or another. Until I was 21 and found myself in the hands of the RUC and not being particularly well treated by them, going to what I consider to be a corrupt court and receiving a sentence of 11 years for possession of explosives. I had joined the UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force) at 19. My wife had just given birth to a son. There was a fair degree of very serious sectarian violence around 1972, ‘73 in Northern Ireland.

I almost felt, I think one of the notions I had at that time was that the best means of defense is attack, and in joining the UVF, I became one of the many statistics that join paramilitary organizations and end up in either graveyards or the prisons. That’s politics, recognition by myself, not only myself but through discussion, debate, the hot house environment in prison of people who believe that they’re idealists. That discussion, conjured in the minds of people like myself. Here I am defending the status quo, just like the policeman who arrested me, just like the prison officer who incarcerated me, just like the judge who sentenced me. I think that that’s the beginning, the rocking of the foundations of justification. So, you begin to question, and you begin to wonder, and you begin to ask, and out of it all comes, there’s got to be a better way.


This loyalist mural references the Maze Prison. I forgot the exact location of it. Photograph by Stephanie Carta.

Carta: What do you think separates the communities at this point?

Ervine: What separates the communities is the fact that they’ve never been together. We live as close together as fifty meters apart. I can conceivable introduce you to Protestants who, at my age, have never met a Catholic and vice versa. We’re born in separate hospitals, go to separate schools, to add insult to injury are buried in separate graveyards.

Carta: Why has that segregation continued for so long?

Ervine: Tribalism. There is a comfort element to tribalism, and it’s easier to vilify those you don’t know. The dichotomy within this community, certainly within working-class levels, is absolutely stark, not so much when we move up into the echelons of middle-class and upper-class. They have different priorities, while the working-class are merely the cannon fodder, at the cutting edge of every argument. I think it’s been in the interests of many to maintain that division. That was once how Northern Ireland was governed, by a ruling elite. Commonality among the people has been a great fear for the elite, I don’t think not only measured in economic elite or governmental elite. I can also been seen in the religious elite. When the churches lifted the chalice of peace, thank goodness, there was 400 years of dust on the chalice, and they have their responsibility, their guilt. Although, I don’t anticipate they’ll tell us about that.

Carta: Is there a bottom line for the PUP on the constitutional issue?

Ervine: Yes, but it isn’t public. I think there is, and you could believe me or disbelieve me, but I may sound rather naive and pathetic when I say what I’m about to say. The commitment to democracy is fundamental, and this society can go in whatever direction this society chooses, provided it is by the will of the people. So, I don’t think we should place parameters on a vibrant, wholesome society, if we can create one, and if we can create it for the first time because we’ve never been a wholesome society. But if we can create a wholesome society, it should have the capacity to go in the direction that the people choose. If that is with the United Kingdom, then so be it and if with a united Ireland, then also so be it. Now, I think we have to come to terms with what is the essence of democracy, and that is the will of the people. I preclude no outcome, which is rare for unionists.

Carta: Where do you think Northern Ireland is going electorally, towards a united Ireland or a devolved Northern Ireland within the UK?

Ervine: I fully understand the republican attitude, or the violence nationalist attitude, or even the ordinary nationalist attitude, but I think we’ve got to look realistically at the situation that we live in. I’m informed that Northern Ireland should be, or Ireland should be, one political unit because it is one land mass, but that doesn’t add up when you look at where Alaska is in relation to the United States or where Hawaii is in relation to the United States, and it doesn’t add up when you look at why Belgium isn’t in Russia. If merely land mass was the argument for political definition, then of course we would have a different world, wouldn’t we? Maybe if I were to go and start the Hawaiian Freedom Fighters we might understand that Hawaii is something like 3,000 miles off the coast of the United States when we’re, at our closest point, 18 miles from the British mainland with an intertwined, seriously intertwined, culture, both north and south, which is not wholly Irish or wholly British but is an amalgam of both.

Now, we are in 1997, wonderful if we could turn the clock back to 1690, 1916, or 1969, or any of these points in our turbulent and torrid history. It is a recognized fact that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom and copper-fastened in every aspect to the principle of consent, that Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK until the greater number, which is a number to be defined. Because if we’re going to play the game of 50 percent plus one, we, of course, would have a unionist saying nationalists complained about majoritarian decisions a long time ago. We have got to have decisions that have political efficacy, not simply in one community in terms of numbers but in the majority in both traditions, and that’s fundamentally how we must share the responsibility of governing ourselves. However, we can’t either go back in time to create the circumstances of all those dates that I’ve given you, nor can we go into the future and pick a day, to the year 2005, and say, well here’s when it’s all going to be solved.

We have a slow and laborious process of creating trust which can allow, I would hope, this society firstly to become wholesome and to, in that sense of being, become whole and being rational and being mindful of Ireland, our peripheral position in relation to the United Kingdom, our peripheral position in relation to Europe, (rather than) watching the world pass us by. Those are all the real world issues that must be addressed, and undoubtedly, the decisions will be made by this community, and I do say “this community” rather than these two communities. I think it’s one community with two traditions. We are 90 miles long and 90 miles wide. There’s more diversity on one block of New York than there is in the whole of Northern Ireland, and here we struggle with the creation of commonality.

However, in essence, the argument about secession of the Republic of Ireland from the United Kingdom can’t simply be argued in 1918 terms or 1921 terms. They have to go back to, and if you really really want to bring the argument back into the past, we have to go back to how the Pope sold it to the King of England, and all those ramifications could go back further and further and further into a miasma of mist and folklore, and the reality is that we have a divided society. People will say, “okay, having a majority in a divided society give you a veto.” Well, not if you base the essence of your democracy on proportionality, and if you refute the notion of civil majoritarianism, and I would say we run the risk of having a double veto which nevertheless is the way it has to go.

But, in defense to those who have a dream that is a united Ireland, or indeed in deference to those who have a dream that is a United Kingdom, who takes that dream from the man’s heart or the woman’s heart for that matter? Who takes that dream away? What is that old saying? You can junk the man, you can’t kill the aspiration and we’ve learned that over 700 years here. We have to come to terms with the fact as we argue and squabble two grand ideals, two grand dreams, that united Ireland or that United Kingdom, we’re being left in the wake of the rest of the world that’s moving on, creating stability and looking for a modern life.

Now that still doesn’t answer the question about how I solve the difficulty of the nationalist notion of democracy. First and foremost, when I was a wee boy, and I emphasize that I was probably only about fourteen, fourteen and a half. When the civil rights movement was created in Northern Ireland, the incapacity of unionism to embrace the rights of the nationalist people is a blot, absolute blot, on our political landscape, no doubt, political and social landscape. Never again must that corrosive, divisive form of institutional politics be allowed and as far as in us. Lies never will be allowed to flourish within Northern Ireland, but they carried a banner saying “British rights for British citizens” and as the brutality of the conflict and the notion of fifth columnists increased, the divisions grew wider and wider and wider.

The first issue on the agenda is bridging that division, and I have a question. I have a question for nationalists. It might even develop into a series of questions for a nationalist. Is it realistic for a nationalist to believe that he can unify the island of Ireland without first unifying the people of Northern Ireland? And if he answers that question in a negative, he is then playing the game that the Provos (Provisional Irish Republican Army) play all the time, that I am merely a deluded Irishman and that when I find my way to Valhalla along with them, I will realize how dupted I was, how foolish I was, and embrace it all with a great heart. I find that deeply insulting. I have an intelligence. I have a belief, an attitude, and thoughts, a being that is born of the environment, the circumstances, the history, the culture, all of these things that add up to making me the person that I am, and I am also frightened, frightened because I don’t trust them, and they’re frightened because they don’t trust me. Each of us have, I think, some merit in our mutual distrust. We have mutual poverty, mutual disadvantage, and mutual alienation, and when you start to look at what we have in positive terms, mutually we struggle.

But I say clearly: I cannot and will not be bullied, nor forced to go in a direction that I do not wish to go. I’m prepared to discuss it. I’m prepared to pick what’s good from them and what’s good from us and amalgamate them, rather than the old saying, throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think that’s what been wrong with us, this stoic opposition. The implacable opposites have created the situation where nothing on that side could be good, or nothing on that side could be good. Therefore, we live under the cloud of our grand ideals, each suffering from the same difficulties, tragedies, pains, woes, and haven’t the brain or the wit to come to terms with the commonality that’s required to build the trust that will allow us to know each other, and knowing each other will allow us to recognize each other as human beings rather than the vilified objects on the other side of the peace walls. Slowly, but surely, that would give us the ability to change the political life within Northern Ireland and judge people as people rather than as things.

Carta: Or simply as members of either community?

Ervine: Yep, or tradition.   

Carta: Your position, and the PUP position, in these negotiations appears to be a compromise of traditional loyalist beliefs. Is it right to frame it in those terms?

Ervine: Absolutely. Let’s not talk about compromise in that sense, although I do believe that we will never, under any circumstances, achieve a wholesome settlement without compromise. Anyone who comes to the table without any vestige of capacity to compromise is there under false pretense. But, I live in the real world, and I’m not going to resolve this conflict. My generation are not going to resolve this conflict. What I can do is transform this conflict, and resolution will come someway down the line, and transformation from violent to political is the first issue on the agenda. We can’t leave it for our children. We have to do it. We have to begin that transformation. That transformation isn’t about who’s right, who’s wrong. It’s about how we share this plot of earth together. How we, rather than create the notion in each other’s mind of subjugation, come to terms with mutual and peaceful coexistence. Now for me, that’s what it’s about. It’s essentially about beginning the process of toleration. In order to achieve that, we need to build institutions of trust. Those institutions of trust, I think we’re sitting in one, or potentially we’re sitting in one (at Stormont). You see me sit beside the SDLP (Social Democratic and Labour Party) and get on reasonably well with them. There’s no animosity or hatred or bitterness, and yet I come from what is described as a “violent loyalist” position.

Recognition of the modern world is the movement in political opinion within the loyalist community. It isn’t simply simplistically saying we recognize the nationalist community (but also) must have expression and must have a vent for the expression and must have representation. All of those are part of the recognition of where we’ve been. They are all human rights and goes without saying I haven’t got a right to deny them to anybody. What we did do was deny them. Having begun by telling you where I lived and how I lived, I’d rather suggest I didn’t have much more than they had, if anything more at all. What we had was a sense of belonging, crumbs off the table. We were patronized. They were subjugated, and that’s the reality as I see it. If I can live that, then I’m immoral. If I can live with being prepared to be the foot-soldier, the defense of the indefensible, then I’m immoral, and I’m not prepared to be immoral.

Carta: What do you think nationalists need to compromise?

Ervine: The people of Northern Ireland have nothing to give, whether they be Protestant or Catholic, nationalist or unionist, loyalist or republican. They have nothing to give except one thing: consent, not acquiesce, consent. You see, we’re a powerless society. We are run by what are described as quangos (quasi-autonomous non-governmental organizations). At the last count there were 150 of them. We have no authority vested in our own people. We are wholly powerless, in many cases disenfranchised, and the notion that we are to give something is absolute nonsense. Neither of us have anything to give except our consent to peacefully coexist. Identify something that a nationalist can be give. Identify something that I can give a nationalist. Through that consent (we reach) a recognition of belonging, a recognition that this is not mine. This is ours, and we must try and make it work.

I’m 43 years of age, without much help from anybody, but I have children, and I have my grandson, and I do passionately believe that the responsibility of not putting another generation through what we’ve gone through lies with us. Alright, I do accept that many unionists would be not shocked but repulsed at some of the points that I make and some of the argument that I make, and some of the positions that we (the PUP) take up, but fundamentally that debate within unionism must come because we have been too comfortable in our tribalism. You know what’s wrong? It’s absolutely damaging, debilitating, but it’s comfortable, or it’s more comfortable than the other options that are open to you because everybody’s frightened of change. Americans are frightened of change. Everybody’s frightened of movement away from a status quo. It is the nature of people, but the way we live our lives isn’t good enough.

Therefore, it takes me back to the realization that came to me and many others in prison, that there’s got to be a better way, and that better way cannot be without compromise, without accommodation, without settlement, without rapprochement, without all those thing that mean together. Unionism on its own can build nothing that nationalism can’t damage and tear down. Nationalism on its own can build nothing that unionism can’t damage or tear down. That only together can they create anything of lasting worth. That may sound pleasant, but it’s absolutely true.

Carta: Why is unionism in particular so intransigent?

Ervine: There are two elements of unionism, and I don’t think we should get them confused, although they are, unfortunately, inextricably linked. There is one element of unionism that is genuinely fearful that Britain doesn’t want them and fearful that violence pays. Then there are those who concur with that but also add in the piece of Protestant fundamentalism who see their role in life as the objectors of Catholicism. We should not totally get them confused but those elements both exist. The vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland suffer from the first two, which is fear that violence will pay and the fear that Britain, because of that violence, can’t find a solution and then become increasingly weary, the remit of the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) which is based on (the idea that) the whole thing is a Papal plot. I think that we do need to draw the distinction; unionism is not homogeneous. I don’t know whether when you sat in Boston before you came, you may have pictured unionism as this homogeneous block of anti-nationalists, anti-republican, anti-Catholic feeling. Well, it isn’t that at all. Unionism is much more diverse than nationalism, much more diverse.

Carta: I was surprised.

Ervine: I get accused regularly of being divisive within the unionist community, and I suppose maybe in real terms I am. But it has to be that way because unless we define, and I mean define perhaps for the first time, what unionism is, then we’ll always be driven by the lowest common denominator, be driven by hate and bitterness and obduracy and all those thing that are effectively negatives. But there is much about me, and there is much about how we want to live our lives that is wholly honorable, and who has the right to tell me that I’m wrong? Somebody can have a different opinion from me, and we can debate it. But unless you know me, I think it’s wholly wrong that people place labels upon us and not recognize the diversity and not recognize how many of us are trying to force that debate within unionism that defines unionism simply as a citizen of the United Kingdom rather than the anti-Catholic, anti-Irish (ideas) constantly trotted out by unionists. Of course, if the world doesn’t understand us, we blame the world rather than blame ourselves, but the epitome of unionism internationally is, of course, the Reverend Ian Paisley, and he and I couldn’t be farther apart.

Carta: What can you do to bring unionism to mean “citizen of the United Kingdom”?

Ervine: Force the debate. The debate is absolutely vital.

Carta: In the upcoming election?

Ervine: I’ll do it in every given opportunity, and I’ll tell you why. The unionists are suffering from a lack of confidence, a quite incredible sense of alienation and fear and trepidation, absolute paranoia, and the only way to address that is to engender confidence, and the only way to engender confidence is to recognize why is unionism. Rather than the notions of fifth columns, rather than the notions of anti-Catholicism or anti-Irishness, what is unionism? And does it have to be a political philosophy?

Unionism is merely a statement of identity. You see, unionism is classless, and this is 1997. What it is, on the periphery of a modern world, is a classless ideal, but it’s not classless, and effectively what happens then is the cannon fodder working class, the poor, the uneducated, those at the bottom of the rung. Stake the war for the grand ideal. Of course, the grand ideal isn’t even fought over at all because neither of them are legitimate. They’re not legitimate to each other. They have legitimacy within the tribal attitudes but neither can be sustained. There isn’t going to be, not in your lifetime, not in my lifetime, a united Ireland (*). But Northern Ireland isn’t going to be as British as Finchley in our lifetimes either, so the recognition of the people rather than denying where we live and denying the circumstances within which we live and denying the requirement for dependency upon each other.           

Carta: Are you saying unionism is merely a response to nationalism?

Ervine: I think in many ways it is. It is not a political philosophy. If unionism were a political philosophy, then we would have unionism throughout the British Isles, but it isn’t a political philosophy. Labour is political philosophy. Conservatism is a political philosophy. Liberalism is a political philosophy. Unionism is a statement of identity. Unionism per se doesn’t have a specific economic philosophy. It doesn’t have politics that define it as a philosophy. It merely is a statement of identity, and I don’t want to be detrimental in case people believe I’m saying we have no cultural ethos that make us. We have all those, but on the basis of what unionism is, unionism is not a political philosophy.

Carta: How can you convince unionists to accept a future settlement?

Ervine: With great difficulty. I think it’s very evident that we’ve been having great difficulty for a very long time. But, nevertheless, love me, hate me, you can’t ignore me. We’ve forced that position, and that was the first position we had to force. It was not to be ignored, in other words, to be heard. Is it right that one section of our society should feel inferior? It therefore follows, is it right that one section of our society should feel superior? It is right that we, whilst having even better legislation than the United States does in relation to fair employment, haven’t begun the slow and laborious process of properly changing the hearts and minds of the attitude towards the people of Northern Ireland? We can create all the legislation we wish, but the people of Northern Ireland have to be faced with one question, perhaps many more question but one will suffice for the moment: are the people of Northern Ireland ready for peace? And if they’re not, then people like myself are merely breaking ground that maybe someday others will walk on, because the choice is theirs. Do they want the divisive, corrosive evil of the past, or do they want something better? My choice is for something better. But if simply the high moral ground is not giving in, well then, I think that a very tragic position to be in.

Our society is changing, and will continue to change. We live in a Nintendo culture. The issues that are diving our kids in Dublin, Belfast, London, and Boston are not the issues of identity. Although, unfortunately we’re trapped with the issues of where’s the disco, how much is it, where could I buy drugs. All those things in a changing culture are happening to us, and the society will change whether we like it or not. Now if we want that society to be anything we want it to be, then we’ve got to engage. We’ve got to be involved. We’ve got to stop the excuses of not engaging in wholly honorable dialogue to try and find a way to the future without loss in any principle, and essentially, that’s the position that we’ve been sitting in since the 10th of June. Against difficult circumstances, the show goes on. That’s a plus in itself.  

Carta: Do you see an inevitable end to the Troubles in the next generation?

Ervine: I don’t want to inflict them with that. The beginning of the transformation of the Troubles is now, as we speak. The resolution of our troubles will come someway down the line, perhaps with the next generation, and why not? They will be looking for different attitudes to guide their lives rather than the tired shibboleths that have guided our own. I have no doubt that we are at the beginning of the end of the Troubles. Does anybody want another generation to go through this? That’s the question.       


Archival Interview with Sheila Camerer, South African Member of Parliament (National Party) – By: Stephanie L. Carta


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I conducted this interview on July 25, 1997 in Johannesburg with Sheila Camerer of the National Party, a representative at CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa), the MPNF (Multi-Party Negotiating Forum), and the Constitutional Assembly.

My mission as an InterFuture Scholar was to gain an understanding of the ideological and practical compromises that made South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy possible. I present the full text of the interview, edited for clarity, as insight and historical record into the political dynamics within the National Party, part of the historical record and key primary source for my Thesis.

My methodology as a researcher is to ask probing, and sometimes difficult, questions but not necessarily refuting all the particular claims in the moment. I wanted the interviewee to lay out their personal narrative of their own political circumstance and ideology and not merely recite party lines and talking points. I made a particular point to explore the people behind some rather maligned political parties and movement as the press in the United States often misunderstood the divisions within such movements and missed the cracks in the armor that led had the potential to lead to full fissure and paradigm shifts within the political culture. I found Mrs. Camerer to be candid in presenting her views.    

Sheila Camerer’s particular story is one of a shrewd and strategic political mind but also as one who had principles and knew where to draw her boundaries. As a woman in the National Party, she managed to succeed in a subculture that operated not only under racial codes but also gender ones. Yet, she approached her political career pragmatically. Her dislike of Roelf Meyer was obviously apparent, and how much of that rivalry was political and how much was personal was unclear to me at the time, so I avoided drawing a conclusion on that matter without further insight.

As touched upon in this interview, de Klerk’s opportunity to open negotiations was enabled by the ANC’s loss in a post-Cold War milieu. The end of the Soviet Union overlapping with the late apartheid era is a significant angle on events. Without the support of the Soviets for the ANC, de Klerk’s hand was strengthened, and this opening contributed to the eventual end of apartheid. Conversely, the defense of apartheid against a communist threat was a moot idea.        

It was reasonable to suspect at this time that Camerer was someone who may defect from the National Party. Shortly after this interview, they re-branded themselves as the “New National Party,” which she led for several years. She joined the Democratic Alliance in 2003, and her evolution in thinking is best represented in her own words and writings for the Mail & Guardian.

Needless to say, now that the South African Constitution is 22 years old, and Mrs. Camerer served in a democratic parliament for longer than she served under apartheid, this interview is for archival and historical purposes, captured during an important period of adjustment, and surely does not represent her views as they are today. 


Carta: Could you tell me a little about what informed your political opinions and decision to go into politics?

Camerer: I’m a lawyer. I was talked into standing in a ward. So, I was in local government at first. I was a (Johannesburg) City Councillor for five years, and my husband was really in politics. My father was a Member of Parliament in the opposition party at the time, United Party (UP), for twenty years. Well, sixteen in the UP, and then he joined the Nats (National Party). So, that was enough to put me off politics altogether, and, in fact, I was determined not be involved in politics, and then my husband got involved. He became the chairman of the party in this area, and I was gradually talked into getting involved and eventually stood as a candidate in a marginal ward where they didn’t give me much of a chance, but I ran. That was in 1982. I was kind of in, and I got drawn in further and further, and I didn’t take it all that seriously in local government. I mean, I was interested in a way, but I also kept up my legal practice. But then, I was persuaded to stand for Parliament, and then I went to Parliament in 1987. So, I became serious.

Carta: Your background is British?

Camerer: My mother’s English. I’m a South African Brit, and my father’s half English, have Afrikaans. So, I’m a mixture.

Carta: What attracted you to the National Party as opposed to some other white parties, so-called?

Camerer: Well, we were all white parties back then. I mean, the National Party’s the least, or shall I say, the most representative in terms of race groups, proportionally. If you consider that our party had twelve percent black (supporters) compared to the ANC that has one percent white, in terms of its supporters, talking the number of people who voted for us in 1994. Accordingly, black people represent twelve percent of our support base. So, I think you can’t really label us a white party now. My choice would have to lay between the Democratic Party and the National Party, and as a student I was a Democratic Party supporter, or shall I say a Progressive Party supporter then. But I was told that at the time I was really seriously getting involved that only the National Party had the power to change South Africa, and the best thing to be then, and most of my friends were to get involved in the same way.

We were the so-called verligte, the enlightened Nats, who were going to spearhead the reform within the party. Change from within, that was the watchword, and I felt that was the best way to change South Africa. I think that I’ve been vindicated in that position. The reformists, that whole ethos has always been broken up and forgotten and swept under the carpet with the Truth Commission proceeding where they had to label the Nats with a particular label, and I think we’re hemorrhaging. The National Party shouldn’t just be ignored. I think we were important for the change, led by de Klerk, obviously.

Carta: Coming from a legal background, how did you justify in your mind the law applying differently to people of different racial groups?

Camerer: I’ve always been on record as being against racism and against racial discrimination, and I’ve always fought reformist campaigns. In the earlier days of my political involvement I was, like many other reformists, a gradualist, believing that perhaps gradual change was the best way. The National Party took the lead, got its total mandate, and went for rapid change, which was perhaps in 1989. I was certainly fully supportive of the rapid change. I can remember the first speech that our leader, de Klerk, made in February 1989, the year before THE speech (the heralded constitutional negotiations), and he signaled the changes he was going to make. (That speech) foreshadows the later speech in many respects, and like most of the newcomers in the caucus or the backbenchers, I wrote a letter of congratulations. (de Klerk) made the speech at exactly the right moment, and he was deluged by the pile of notes from his own side. I also welcomed the new speed of change.  

Carta: Going into CODESA, how did you feel about the massive changes the country was contemplating at the time?

Camerer: Well, I said I was a party insider in the sense that I was part of our administration. I was a media spokesperson, so I was in charge, I mean I was a part, of our internal organization. At first I was part of the media arrangement people, and then as a delegate to the Constitutional Principles Committee. I was glad to be part of it and fully agreed with it all.

Carta: Did you have any reservations about un-banning the African National Congress (ANC)?

Camerer: Not at all. No. It was very exciting, and I was very close to people like Sir Robin Renwick (the British Ambassador to South Africa). I remember the opening of Parliament. We were all happy that this going forward. I wasn’t in the Cabinet then, but as part of the media team we were always having to go on semi-briefed to be interviewed. There was huge media interest around the time of the opening of Parliament about that speech. We weren’t sure how far reaching it would be, but as I walked into Parliament, I bumped into Sir Robin Renwick who had a pre-briefing.

Carta: What did you think when the ANC was characterized as Communists, revolutionaries, etc.?

Camerer: It wasn’t like that. In March, 1989, I was National Party delegate to Wilton Park, that place where the Foreign Office has its sort of secret or special meetings and briefings. We met the Secretary General of the OAU (Organisation of African Unity), and we met Angolan cabinet ministers. That was very exciting. We met within a week of that, I think at Wilton Park. We met Peter Onue, who was the Deputy Secretary General of the OAU. The constitution, that was the big change, obviously, that we would have a constitution that would be supreme. It wasn’t clear (what principles) would be attached to the constitution that came out after the multi-party negotiating process. We were really hooked up on percentages, what percentage vote would be needed to change the Bill of Rights, first of all, and any other additions to the Constitution.

Carta: And the dispute over percentages slowed the negotiations?

Camerer: At that stage (Cyril) Ramaphosa was leading the ANC group on that committee and he was offering eighty percent (80%) on the Bill of Rights, because we changed that, and seventy percent (70%) on the other things. Then, there was a whole lot of haggling about provincial rights. We’d reached agreement on a lot of things, that we never got as good a deal again.

Carta: Did you agree with the perception that the smaller parties were a nuisance to the cooperation between the ANC and National Party?

Camerer: No, not at all. The smaller parties were really part of the picture. The National Party’s idea was to be as inclusive a process as possible. There were 19 delegations, and it wasn’t a bad thing. (There was) a lot of the haggling with the ANC at that stage, and I remember participating on a lot of radio and television programs with (them). We must have a constituent assembly. It must be elected people who write the constitution, and we said no, before we go into that we have to know what we’re going into. So, it’s got to be delegates from all the political parties, to make it as inclusive as possible. Anything calling itself a political party can now come, which they did. So, I wouldn’t see it like that at all. I think that it was very helpful that there were all these people there.

Carta: In your quest for power-sharing during the negotiations, wasn’t that still hanging onto the premise of apartheid that people should be classified by race?

Camerer: Not at all. We were aiming to get as many black votes as possible and as many parties that worked for the ANC as possible. So, alliance was our watchword until Roelf Meyer took over and suddenly squashed it. He was the leading National Party (member) against alliances. Suddenly, we heard that we weren’t going to be in alliance with anyone. We were going to go it alone, and I often doubt the wisdom of that approach.

Carta: I read in your party submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), what states, “the policies and philosophy of the National Party as it is today are diametrically different from that of the old party.” So, why did Mr. Meyer have to break away from the National Party?

Camerer: I think that the difference is perspective. To reach the goal of a movement, a democratic movement against the ANC, is something that is the vision of the National Party, and he hasn’t changed it. He hasn’t said that he’s trying to seek something different. Basically, it’s a matter of how to achieve it and also internally there was a power struggle. I know that de Klerk felt that he was trying to get rid of him, and that’s one reason why they couldn’t really see eye to eye. Although, a lot of us tried to persuade them to reconcile, and, in fact, if something had been offered to Roelf Meyer, he would have come back. The basic difference from the beginning of this year is that Roelf wanted us to announce our disappearance and the establishment of a new party. He was on his own on that issue. All the other members of the executive said that that would be silly because you can’t announce the demise of a party and expect to go on working for it. He wanted to collapse the National Party right now, sooner rather than later.

Whereas, the vision of most of the other members of the executive was that we explore the possibility of alliances. Actually, there’s been a shift away from that position now with Roelf Meyer disappearing, even though the new management of the party appear to want not contemplate that at all at this stage, any talk in terms of alliances with other parties, possibly groups. So there has been shift away from the middle ground, but I think everybody supported initially at the beginning of the year when this really was a hot issue. I’m thinking in the way of myself. I think we need to go the route of renewal. The potential for alliances with other parties is certainly nil, especially in our present format and guise. So, I think we’re going to have to carry on talking but possibly explore a new way later in the year.    

Carta: Now, Mr. Meyer has said the National Party is inevitably seen as the party of apartheid.

Camerer: Well, I think it’s true. I don’t think that any of us can deny that, but it’s also the party of reform. The party changed South Africa. The fact is that the war of liberation  was a ghastly failure from the ANC’s point of view. It just wasn’t working. It couldn’t deliver anything, and it was the party in power that decided that they couldn’t carry on, for whatever reasons.

International sanctions played a very strong role, not trade sanctions, so but certainly financial sanctions. The role of the US, our Metropol, the G7, the pressure, and, of course, what really triggered the change was the Soviet Union breaking up and the (Berlin) Wall coming down. That’s where de Klerk sees the gap. He saw the gap and took it. That was the end of Soviet imperialism in Africa, that things had changed totally. No more Cold War. No more Cold warriors. So, end of securocrats, end of the total onslaught, and the opportunity for change. So, it wasn’t the ANC that triggered it. It was circumstances and an enlightened leader of the National Party that triggered it. Now, it’s very difficult to throw that person overboard. Particularly, if he doesn’t want to retire from politics at this stage. I think one owes him an allegiance. There’s no doubt we have this terrible burden to carry. I think it inevitably inhibits our growth, but I’m a person who would support a rebirth of the National Party into some bigger grouping. We’ll never grow as we are, and I think a lot of people are actually like me in the National Party, think like me, but it’s a question of how. The radical approach of Roelf I have sympathy with in a way, but you see, look who he ended up with. He sort of got set up with joining up with (Bantu) Holomisa. I think he had meetings with Holomisa before the task team even got going actually. But I think he saw, or sees, Holomisa as the new Cyril, a new black counterpart. (1)

I was having a chat with Douglas Hurd, who was the previous British Foreign Secretary, a friend of the family’s, in England two weeks ago. He knew about Holomisa, and he said, “why do you want to get in bed with (him)?” Put plainly, why? I mean, it held all sorts of dangers with it. I suppose the safest option is to get into bed with Tony Leon  and company and look further after that, but Tony doesn’t want to get into bed with us as we are. If we changed our name and changed our nature, our whole establishment maybe, we’d become attractive. But, I think it’s terribly important to change, but, of course, then we’re out of sympathy with some of the people in the Western Cape. (2) I mean,  Hernus Kriel (NP Premier of the Western Cape) acknowledges that the party should change its name and change to some other entity eventually, as long as it doesn’t lose its hold on power in the Western Cape. But, the damage one must recognize.

Carta: I get the perception that your part is very divided right now. Would you agree with that?

Camerer: I suppose you could have two broad categories. The ones that carry on as we are and the other who say we’ve got to change. I think that ones who say we’ve got to change eventually and do something about opposition politics would be in the big majority in the party.

Carta: It seems as if Mr. de Klerk is in the minority. Would you agree?

Camerer: He’s just been caught. He’s a cautious man and doesn’t want to throw overboard what we have, which isn’t all that much. The last opinion polls were done just before Roelf left, (show) that we can again maintain our 20% in the elections, but the market research we do every six months. Nothing’s really changed at all since ‘94 according to that, except the IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) seems to have lost. So, it’s really a dreadful situation from that point of view. I mean, the monolithic ANC at 62%, we’re more or less 20%. The IFP are down to more or less 6% but couldn’t recoup at all. DP’s up to 3%, but they usually go up in between elections and go down again to 2% at times. The trick is to prevent the 66 2/3 rds from going to the ANC. So, the question is how to do it. That’s the ’99 question, and I think we’re sort of fractured at the moment, not helpful. I feel that I’m not a radical, by nature really. I think that perhaps radical action hasn’t been terribly helpful, the way Roelf sort of left the party specifically. I did my best to try and persuade him not to.

Carta: What’s keeping you from joining Roelf, some of his company or something else?

Camerer: No, I’m not too sure about his company. I wasn’t terribly keen on Holomisa frankly. I would rather have him at arm’s length in a grouping, in a wider grouping, than to be part of his party because he had a history that I appall actually. His human rights record is a disaster, and he’s a bright chap and so on and a bit of a demagogue and populist. But, yeah, I’m not sure I’d be terribly keen to be in that party, but without the National Party’s constituency, his little party’s not going to get very far. You need that 20% to make anything of anything. What would he amount to? I mean, how much could he take away from the ANC, six percent? I’m being optimistic now. So, I would certainly be happy with an alliance grouping with Holomisa. I think I would. We’ve also got our baggage, but he wouldn’t be my first choice. Although if there was a grouping that could get a bigger constituency together, like the DP (Democratic Party) in an alliance with the National Party under a new name. I don’t have much hope of the IFP doing anything but being the IFP, frankly. They might have an electoral pact in some constituencies, but that’s all. I think that would have been quite a positive move. That would have given us twenty-plus. You’re beginning to look at thirty (percent).

Carta: With an alliance with the IFP?

Camerer: If you have that alliance, yes. Well, even without the IFP, but looking at a Bantu/Nat./DP alliance.

Carta: How do you view the process of reconciliation in terms of how we should proceed from here?

Camerer: It’s very difficult. I think that attitudes are hardening. Attitudes between blacks and whites aren’t the greatest. I don’t think the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in its present guise is helping things. It’s negative as far as reconciliation is concerned. The theory is fine, but the effect of the hearings has hardened us too. The Commission’s really considering giving amnesty to the St. James Church assassins and the assassins of Amy Biehl.

Carta: Your party’s been accused of not being completely truthful during the TRC process. Is that accurate?

Camerer: No, it’s not all accurate as far as I’m aware.  But our leader (de Klerk) has taken everything upon himself to speak for the party and to speak for himself and other members of the Cabinet. That’s all I could say I suppose. Basically, he has taken moral and political responsibility for everything that was done under apartheid. He’s acknowledged that the system was conducive to abuse of human rights. He’s apologized for apartheid. He’s repented, almost specifically said in the introduction to the second submission (to the TRC). I had a hand in drafting it. I’m aware of what it said, and I don’t really see what else he can do. He’s the leader. He was the head of the government.

He says he wasn’t aware of, personally, of any abuses. He never gave any orders. As soon as he became aware, after taking over (from P.W. Botha), that there appeared to be abuses in certain areas, he established an investigative unit, the most successful being the Goldstone one which was the last one, but it worked. It did its work on the basis of other investigations that had been done, and Goldstone’s findings form the basis of the TRC’s investigations. He certainly set the groundwork for it.

Under P.W. Botha there was clearly all sorts of things going on. Certainly, the security boys (3) seemed to have a free hand to do what they liked. The investigation part started when de Klerk took over and started finding a kind of can of worms he’d inherited, and the irony of it is that apparently Mandela thinks that P.W. Botha is great. (The perception is that) P.W. must be left alone, and he’s not willing to come and testify. So, it’s a very awkward position that de Klerk is in. I believe he’s been frank. He doesn’t know (of any abuses). He personally never gave an order.

I was in the Cabinet Committee on Security. I never heard of any funny business except one thing. I’ll tell you now, and that would be when the Security Forces had that aborted attempt to pursue APLA (Abyssinian People’s Liberation Army) after the St. James Church Massacre, and we were never told they were going to do it. We were told when they failed and ended up killing the children that were in the house where the APLA army people were meant to be, but that was afterwards. So, I don’t know where these decisions were taken. They certainly weren’t taken in any committee that I had access to, and I fully believed that the abuses were being rooted out. You know, we were reformists. So it’s horrifying. It’s just as horrifying to me as a member of the Cabinet previously, not for very long. It is disgusting and horrifying, but, you see, I think a lot of issues have become confused because amnesty must be applied for if you could be sued or charged for an offense. Now, so that excludes Mr. de Klerk and presumably most other members of cabinet except Adriaan Vlok

Carta: How do you personally feel about the future of toleration and race relations in South Africa?

Camerer: I’m fairly optimistic because I think we’ve managed to get through a hell of a lot in the past, and I think that the people who did have access to economic power and political power have more or less settled out the idea that is was an unfair system and that everybody should have an equal opportunity to access power of all kinds in the country. I think the whites have sort of taken it rather well. If you want to categorize people into racial groups, white people, who did have the larger budget and funding and access to economic power and so on, have acknowledged that that was wrong and that it must be shared, equally or fairly.

From the Nat’s point of view things have gone quite well. There’s been no threat from the (white) right wing really, no real threat from them, but democracy can be destructive. The residual fighting that goes on in Kwa-Zulu/Natal I suppose can be eventually sorted out, that race/ethnic, political/ethnic fighting, that probably it can be. There are real blunders being made (in the current administration), and I think that the government’s very cheery on the undermining of cultural rights, for want of a better word, and that an inefficient system impacts on language and culture. It’s a dangerous game being played by the government at the moment, but it will mean believing in the country. Skilled people are leaving the country, but otherwise I’m fairly optimistic.

(1) For a more charitable view on Meyer and the backstory into his relationship with Cyril Ramaphosa, see “Ramaphosa and Meyer in Belfast. The South African Experience: How the New South Africa was Negotiated”, by Padraig O’Malley.

(2) The unique demographics of the Western Cape affect it politics. The coloured community, is the largest racial group in the Western Cape. Many continued to support the National Party in the late 1990s.



Central Europe, 1998 – A Visual Essay of Contrasts and Change


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Twenty years ago, I traveled to Central Europe in an exchange between my school, Suffolk University, and Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic. While proper names have faded from memory, reliving my trip through my photographs reminds me of the striking contrasts of a region previously the frontier between the First World and the Second, the legacies of World War II and Communism still visible in the landscape, whether spontaneous or planned. We researched the transitioned from planned economies to European integration. However, I found the commentary of the street to be as enlightening as our interviews.


Prague Storefront

Basic consumer good were still a novelty in Prague in the late 90s, as exemplified by the store display of cleaning and household products.


Berlin Department Store

An entire department dedicated to stuffed animals, in a department store in (West) Berlin.


Marx and Engels monument in (East) Berlin

The Palace of the Republic is in the background. It was demolished in 2006. The strong geometry and vertical lines of the image are appropriate visual rhetoric for the German Democratic Republic.


Mercedes Benz Headquarters, (West) Berlin

The grand scale of Berlin’s architecture and city structure often has the effect of diminishing the individual, something felt in both East and West.


When you mess up in Tetris…

The neat and Brutalist lines of (East) Berlin.


The jagged reminders of Allied bombing.


Prague subway car. The Social Democratic Party’s ad on the left, and Vaclav Klaus of the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in the ad on the right.

Nationalist politics as part of the free market of ideas in a newly democratic nation.


(West) Berlin sidewalk scene.

An image of cosmopolitan and multi-cultural Berlin.


A human being, victim of a concentration camp.

A time for somber reflection.


Hiking in the Sudetenland.

A day’s hike on the Czech/Polish frontier with Dean David Robbins (third from left). As a student and since, I’ve viewed the lessons outside the classroom as the most valuable in understanding the world as it is.

Thesis: Northern Ireland and South Africa: A Comparative Analysis of Divided Societies. InterFuture Scholar Project (1997)


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The following thesis represents my work as an undergraduate and InterFuture Scholar, an award to conduct intercultural research in two locales, one in the developed world and one in the developing world. I was based in for one semester each in Belfast and one Johannesburg. Some conclusions may not reflect how I’d view these events in the present, over twenty years removed. For the entire project, I was advised by Dean David Robbins (Suffolk University) and Padraig O’Malley (UMASS Boston). In Belfast, I was advised by Monica McWilliams (Queens University). In Johnannesburg, I was advised by Tom Lodge (University of the Witwatersrand).

Northern Ireland and South Africa: A Comparative Analysis of Divided Societies by Stephanie Lynn Carta

I. Introduction 

In the later days of the twentieth century, ethnic, racial and religious tensions flare in hot spots throughout the world. At the same time, the role and meaning of the nation-state is being redefined by the increasing role of international governmental bodies and the interdependence and interconnectedness of people around the world. How the two trends of conflict, on one hand, and interdependence, on the other, which appear so divergent can both be major factors in the post-Cold War alignment is a question relevant to every society. The answer to that question will undoubtedly influence the future state of world affairs.

The challenge for areas of conflict is how to create and sustain stable governments and societies that command the allegiances of all groups, including different nationalities, ethnic groups and religions, within their borders. In the effort of trying to end violent conflicts based on ethnic, racial and/or religious differences, the forces of hatred, nationalism and sectarianism have often proved more powerful than the quest for a peaceful society and the aspirations people in every country have for their and their children’s future. The question of why so many people would choose conflict over peace and stability, instability over compromise, is what makes the politics of identity so potent and is the reasons why I chose to conduct this study.

In this paper, I will examine, compare and contrast the processes of negotiation and reconciliation of the political conflicts in Northern Ireland and South Africa, two regions that have presented and continue to present great challenges to their internal and even cross-border peace and stability. The conflicts in Northern Ireland and South Africa have met with varying, and often ambiguous, degrees of success in their continuing processes of negotiation in Northern Ireland and reconciliation in South Africa. I will also examine the factors which determine why negotiations and reconciliation have or have not been successful

Northern Ireland, which broke out into violence in the late 1960s, is taking tentative steps in the process of serious international negotiations to replace direct rule from Westminster with new structures of government, determined by negotiations of ten elected political parties. After three decades of violence, its society has descended into a stagnant state of separation, and the will to continue the negotiation process is not guaranteed. It is a region whose people define themselves from a plethora of sometimes overlapping identities: Catholic or Protestant, loyalist or republican, unionist or nationalist, but despite labels they all live in an area equivalent to the size of Connecticut.

South Africa, after formal negotiations that lasted from 1991 to 1994, held its first democratic election on April 27, 1997 but continues the search for permanent and institutionalized social and political stability. The first election which ushered the African National Congress (ANC), the organization most responsible for the anti-apartheid struggle, into power represented the final political solution to decades of bloody conflict between the apartheid government and the anti-apartheid resistance. Even in the new South Africa, the question of how to balance economic justice for the great majority of blacks with reconciliation between all racial and ethnic groups remains unanswered.

What binds areas of conflict is the fact that they are societies scarred by politically inspired violence, fueled by ideologies that appear irrational and outdated by the standard of modern democracies. South Africa is a nation-state made up of different ethnic groups characterized by a geopolitical border influenced by the colonial era that has brought diverse groups together through the circumstances of history rather than a shared sense of identity and language, in the traditional European sense, or a shared sense of mission and the ideal of democracy in the American sense. Northern Ireland, while part of the United Kingdom, is geographically on the island of Ireland, with two a Protestant majority and Catholic minority. It is significant that the Catholics are almost equal in numbers to Protestants. The result of diversity is that few people in either place live untouched by the mayhem of conflict and the psychological legacy of violence. Religion, race and ethnicity are the causes of difference, but in hoping for a better future and a better understanding of these conflicts internationally, it does not necessarily follow the factor of diversity need be the cause of conflict.

II. Conflict

In conducting my research, I attempted to understand how the conflict is interpreted by different groups and made an effort to interview members from each demographic group. How the conflicts are defined by different groups can be drastically different. To some, it was always a matter of security from terrorism and maintenance of the status quo. To others, it was a struggle for civil rights, and for others, revolutionary change. In South Africa, geographic factors were also relevant given the size of the country and relative lack of infrastructure in more rural areas. The region of the country where one lived was a major factor in interpretation of and how apartheid was played out in one’s everyday lives.

A. Northern Ireland – Origins of “The Troubles”

To provide insight into how to define conflict in Northern Ireland and how conflict is perceived within that society, the origins of the conflict will be briefly explored.

Nineteen sixty-seven was the last year of relative peace in Northern Ireland. In that year, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA), formed as an umbrella group for all civil rights groups, took the lead in the quest for civil rights for Catholics protesting against their treatment under the Stormont government. The NICRA was a diverse coalition of nationalists, communists, feminists, the labour movement, and even some Protestants. The civil rights movement has always contained republican elements as well, but republicans were careful to conceal their identities and motives. “British rights for British citizens” was the slogan of civil rights, but those words, contends Alex Attwood of the SDLP:

..might have been one of their slogans because when the civil rights movement began it was about civil rights.. But the conflict then evolved into one community and their political, aspirational identity being abused. And the lack of a vote, lack of a house, lack of a job were only expressions of the denial of the nationalist aspiration and denial of the nationalist identity, and therein grew up the wider conflict of identity. So, whatever the conflict began as, and however it might have been positioned and presented, it evolved very quickly.

What the national demand evolved into was a demand for an institutional manifestation of their identity. Namely, they wanted a united Ireland. In practice, unification for Ireland would require approval by both Westminster and the Irish Parliament. Practical political questions such as the economic viability of Northern Ireland being absorbed into the Republic of Ireland, but such technical matters made no difference to nationalists.

As the civil rights movement became a major player in the Northern Ireland’s political landscape, the rise of Ian Paisley and the Free Presbyterian Church, and the subsequent foundation of the Democratic Unionist Party, changed unionism as they knew it. Paisleyism began not as a reaction to the demands of the minority, but rather coalesced around indignation against the liberalism of the government of Terrance O’Neill and his supporters who were in favor of not only the ecumenical movement, but also took great strides and risks in reaching out the Catholic community. O’Neill raised the expectations of Catholics but was unable to deliver real reform in crucial areas such as housing and employment discrimination. While it is well to ask what Northern Ireland would look like if O’Neill had commanded more support from a wider spectrum in the unionist community, and if his government had reached its fullest potential, such reconciliation was not to be. The backlash from Protestant fundamentalists and loyalists, concurrent with the rise of republicanism, set the stage for what would come to be known as “the Troubles”.

During my period of field research in Belfast, I heard Catholics describing the state of their community in the late 60s as being “on our knees”. What brought their community off their knees was the attacks of loyalists on their community and the later reemergence of the Irish Republican Army. The start of inter-communal conflict and the Troubles was for Catholics a chance to “get off their knees”. It allowed nationalism to re-emerge after a period of dormancy. After threats from loyalists, it became unnecessary for republicans to hide their motives or identity as the poorest and most segregated Catholic areas became republican strongholds and threatening areas for the police. In short, it became socially acceptable within the most segregated, and hence least wealthy, of Catholic community to publicly identity with republicanism and nationalism.

The backlash of Protestants to the social, economic and political demands of Catholics, provided Catholics with an opportunity to reassert a republican identity, socially acceptable within their community and sympathizers, even if it seemed irrational to an outside observer. The rational of nationalism led to violence as a means to an end, and the psychological and social ramifications were immense. What started as a political conflict between the minority Catholic community and the majority Unionist government developed into a civil conflict of neighbor versus neighbor, terrorist against terrorists, terrorists against state, and community against community.

Anecdotally, I heard many stories of past tolerances for the Protestant women in West Belfast being allowed to shop without harassment at a particular grocery store in Catholic West Belfast because there was no large grocery store in the Protestant section. After the surge of violence, this changed. Relations between the communities worsened and psychological and physical barriers were erected. A large wall reminiscent of images of Jerusalem remains in the community separating Catholic and Protestant residential areas.

The fall of O’Neill, through his resignation as Prime Minister in 1969, was an inevitability which quickly led to the fall from power for unionism through the proroguing of Stormont in 1972. For the British government, Bloody Sunday, the killing of 14 unarmed Catholic civilians by the British army in Derry’s Bogside neighborhood, proved that they would have to intervene politically or watch the province descend into chaos. In addition to the British government being cast as the enemy of the Catholic minority, unionists, who had been accustomed to five decades of self-rule, were increasingly angry at Britain’s interference in the affairs of the province. Direct rule, meant to be a temporary measure until tensions calmed, continued to be the modus operandi in Northern Ireland until the Good Friday Agreement. 

After Bloody Sunday, Britain went ahead with efforts to negotiate for a replacement of direct rule, and the Sunningdale Agreement, signed in 1974, was the first agreement of the peace process to emerge out of negotiations between the British Government and the North’s political factions. Sunningdale was an experiment in power sharing between unionists and nationalists. Britain recognized the political need for an Irish dimension to satisfy nationalists that would have been a practical means to coordinate policy on the island of Ireland, and this need led to a Council of Ireland as part of the Agreement. However, the idea of an executive all-Ireland body was unacceptable to unionists, and a strike by the Ulster Workers’ Council brought the agreement down shortly after the convening of the Council.

In 1985, the Anglo-Irish Agreement (the AIA) was signed by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald. This agreement did, in fact, institutionalize an Irish dimension by creating a joint secretariat in Belfast known as the Maryfield Secretariat. During discussions the two governments failed to include representatives from any of the unionist parties, knowing they would not agree to a secretariat which places civil servants from the Republic of Ireland on Ulster soil or which gives The Republic of Ireland an official vote in Ulster’s affairs.

The AIA set out three basic principles:

1. Any change in the status of Northern Ireland would come about only with the consent of the majority of the people of Northern Ireland; 

2. At the present, there is no wish of the majority for a change in the status of Northern Ireland, but; 

3. If there was such a consensus for change, then the two governments would legislate for such a change. 

The AIA had a great affect upon unionist politics that still resonated during the negotiations that led to the Good Friday Agreement in that it colored their views on negotiations in general and the semantics of how agreement was interpreted. The agreement, to unionists, is an “illegal” violation of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom. The unionist view on relations with the Republic of Ireland is that they have no obligation to negotiate with them on constitutional matters because the Union is not up for negotiation. Any framework that goes beyond a solely United Kingdom solution was an intransigent feature of unionism. At the same time, nationalists had rejected a purely internal solution, defined as an agreement that did not include a role for the Republic of Ireland. This ideological chasm between unionism and republicanism, in terms of the stated policies of the political parties, and their communal support was a major stopping block in negotiations through the late 1990s. Complicating the implementation and sale of the AIA to the respective communities, there was disagreement over what the AIA did in terms of delegating powers to the Republic of Ireland.

In an interview with Robert McCartney, a proponent of an integrationist solution, he explained his interpretation of the disagreement between the governments on the interpretation of the language of the AIA:

If you look up the report of the Dail Eireann for the 16th of November (1985), the following day (after the signing of the AIA), you will find that the then Taoiseach Dr. Garrett FitzGerald, told the Dail Eireann that the Republic of Ireland had now rights in Northern Ireland which went beyond the consultative, and only stopped short of full executive powers because of the notional idea of national sovereignty.

In short, the AIA caused unionists to further lose trust in the British government, but note that unionist loyalty to Britain has been to Queen and country, not to any government. McCartney raised important questions regarding the status of Northern Ireland under international law. The AIA is an internationally recognized treaty, but the uncertainty as to how international law will be applied in the province, and how the scope of international law is changing the hearts and minds of nations, is sure to have an effect on negotiations in Northern Ireland in the future.

B. South AfricaTransition to Democracy

The shape of political conflicts of South Africa and the seeds of future ideological and identity politics can be traced back centuries to the introduction of Dutch settlers in the early 1600s, but for the purposes of analyzing the conflict of apartheid, negotiations and reconciliation of the here and now, the starting point is the era of P.W. Botha whose government was the first to begin contact with the then imprisoned spiritual leader of the resistance, Nelson Mandela. The resistance to apartheid came to a head under Botha as the exiled African National Congress (ANC) made a call to the grass roots activists to make the townships “ungovernable”. Before the mid 80s, the roots of resistance to apartheid can be traced back to the late 1970s when black trade unions were legalized and politicized.

In 1986, the ANC articulated their agenda to the National Union of South Africa Students (NUSAS):

The ANC program broadly envisages the seizing of power by the majority of South Africans, the destruction of the apartheid state, and the establishment of a people’s democracy.

I point this statement out to illustrate the thinking within the struggle at the time when discussion between the government and Mandela began. Mandela’s negotiations with the government of P.W. Botha focused on his own release and the status of the black opposition, not of a destruction of apartheid. The government had on several occasions offered Mandela freedom in exchange for renouncing violence as a political strategy. Mandela refused on the premise that his release would be useless if the ANC could not operate legally. It appeared that the only option for the government would be the release of Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC. A major factor influencing the government at the time was the aftermath if Mandela should die in prison.

The 1989 election signified a turning point in the agenda of the National Party and an unsteady realization of the stalemate they had to deal with. The party campaigned on an ambiguous platform seeking a middle ground between the apartheid system and Western-style liberal democracy of the sort advanced by the opposition Democratic Party. Questions went unanswered as to where the National Party’s policies were heading, and within the party they were split between the Verkrampte Nats (the narrow Nats) and the Verligte Nats (the enlightened Nats).

C. The Roads To Negotiation

As F.W. de Klerk came to power, did he intend to end apartheid? His actions throughout the negotiation process showed that de Klerk did not intend to remove all minority power from the white community, but after the 1989 election there was a sense that the white community was approaching an endgame to apartheid. In Northern Ireland, there was the same sense of an endgame during negotiations leading to the Good Friday Agreement. Of course, negotiations in South Africa led to a major change in the forms and structures of governments, most commendably a non-racial democratic constitution, but the structures to be built in Northern Ireland were much closer to currently existing structures.

By 1990, Nelson Mandela had been released from prison. He was committed to a negotiated solution and a reconciled society, not a black revolution. In Northern Ireland, on the other hand, the equivalent of Mandela’s rejection of revolution was the process of Sinn Fein rejecting the ideology of a united Ireland, in rhetoric, propaganda and principle.

The South African government then un-banned the ANC as well as the Pan African Congress and the South African Community Party, mainly a party of white intellectuals. Ideological compromise set up a process for real negotiations, but an overlooked factor is that the ANC was unprepared for life as a legal organization. Were they prepared to negotiate? An organization that had defined their existence by what they were against, which united them in guerilla activities, was now faced with coming to terms with what they were for. The fall of their ideological comrades in the Soviet Union, who had interestingly been in support of negotiations, was a factor forcing the ANC into redefining their vision. In addition to the challenges faced by the ANC with the white government, a schism within the party surfaced between the older exiles returning to South Africa, and the younger generation of revolutionaries active within the country. As the ANC faced the prospect of negotiations, circumstances in their country, including international opinion and the sorry state of the economy under National Party leadership, put them in a strong position at the outset.

III. Negotiations 

A. Northern Ireland – The Stormont Talks  

As mentioned above, Northern Ireland began the final state of negotiations with multi-party elections. In May of 1996 elections were held for the Forum negotiations. The ten political parties with the most votes sent representatives to the Forum which took place on the grounds of Stormont. At this stage, Northern Ireland had not achieved any societal consensus that a process of reconciliation amongst its citizens should work in tandem with political dialogue. Furthermore, dialogue between political leaders and constituencies could mediate the fear that negotiations were happening in secret, and the lack of a vigorous civil society added to the challenges. A national dialogue of some sort could have been helpful. Sectarian tensions have risen between the first paramilitary cease fires in 1994 and the beginning of negotiations in 1997. In contrast, many South African whites felt that during the last days of apartheid that it was the ANC’s turn for power. Psychologically, the white community was preparing for to be a political minority even if some deep-seeded fears existed.

The elected Forum delegates, in addition to the Stormont negotiations, would also negotiate for their respective political parties at official negotiations sponsored by the British and Irish governments. Initially, the Forum descended into a unionist talk shop as nationalists refused to participate. The negotiations held on the Stormont estate beginning in June of 1996 proceeded on a three-track basis after preliminary matters were settled within Northern Ireland. Track two, the track to be the most difficult and controversial, considered issues related to North/South relations, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

In May of 1997, the Labour Party formed a new government in Britain with Tony Blair as Prime Minster. The Labour government later held successful elections in Scotland and Wales for the re-creation of the Scottish Parliament and the creation of a Welsh Assembly. In the Northern Ireland negotiations, they are now discussing proposals for a body with representatives from Westminster, the Welch Assembly, the Scottish Parliament, the Dail, and any new Northern Ireland legislature.

At the outset of negotiations, the common ground between the parties was thin, even without Sinn Fein. One area of agreement was around the necessity for a written Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. Among Protestants there is a general acceptance that there cannot be a return to the majoritarianism of the Stormont era. Despite this fact, some Catholics are very wary of any new legislature due to deep distrust of unionists and fear of again being shut out of the process.

The negotiations stalled from their inception through the spring of 1997 on the issues of decommissioning. The IRA and the loyalist paramilitaries all stated that under no circumstances would weapons be decommissioned before a settlement was reached. Nevertheless, decommissioning became a priority for unionists, some would say an excuse, and work on the three tracks did not begin until September 1997, the time when Sinn Fein was allowed to enter talks following the July reinstatement of the IRA ceasefire. But as Sinn Fein was allowed into the talks, the Democratic Unionist Party and the United Kingdom Unionist Party both left the talks refusing to take part in any negotiations involving Sinn Fein.

The entry of Sinn Fein into talks was significant for the fact that it was now possible, though not probably, that an agreement could surface if the Ulster Unionist Party engaged with the “pan-nationalist front”, the label put on all non-unionists by the unionist parties. Prime Minister Blair stated that he intended to put a referendum to the people of Northern Ireland in May of 1996, despite the fact that the positions of the parties have remained relatively unchanged. As David Trimble’s Ulster Unionist Party resisted the opportunity to leave the talks as other unionists parties so quickly did, there emerged signs to suggest that a true process of honest negotiations could begin without the governments having to hold out the option of going over the heads of the parties. In November, Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern met with David Trimble and reached “an understanding” about the parameters of constitutional change in Northern Ireland and reportedly traded-off changes on Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution with change to Britain’s 1920 Government of Ireland Act. The challenge for now is the role of North/South bodies. I had concluded that Unionists will agree to them only if they are subservient.  

At the time of this writing, Sinn Fein has been ejected from the talks over allegations that the IRA was involved in two murders. Despite some progress in talks, future violence can make the process collapse altogether, and if the UUP ever pulls out the process it is dead.

In South Africa violence in the end gave the process a sense of urgency, but for Northern Ireland, the exhibition of sectarian divisions rears its face only to prove that the communities in Northern Ireland are not really committed to sharing their small land.

As an example, Drumcree, an annual Orange Order march in the town of Portadown has become symbolic of Northern Ireland’s disorder and division. The crux of the Drumcree controversy has been the route of the march through the town, taking it through a Catholic area. The controversy, which repeated itself from 1995 through 1997, signified that the people of Northern Ireland were not ready to put their hatreds to rest. It is not lost on observers that if Sinn Fein, who orchestrated march opposition, did not recognize the principle of consent on constitutional issues, why did they believe Protestants had to seek the consent of the Catholics residents of Drumcree in order to hold their march on the route they desired?

B. Comparison Of Negotiation Processes

The formal South African negotiations went through three rounds: CODESA I (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) which began in 1991, CODESA II, and finally the MPFN (Multi-party Negotiating Forum) which ended with an agreement on an interim constitution in 1993.

Looking at the process of negotiations of North Ireland and South Africa side by side, I examined several factors: the nature of alliances, the role of smaller parties, definitions of sufficient consensus, and the special issue of the non-constitutional protagonists. From these factors, insight is gained into the science of negotiation and how this science operates in the context of different cultures, demographic balance, and other challenges unique to each divided society.

The nature of alliances in each locale have taken similar forms in specific instances. For example, while the DUP and UKUP were participants at the Stormont talks, McCartney in a sense formed a working alliance with the DUP as both parties put up a united front against any compromises on the decommissioning of weapons and other issues. Both pulled out of the process with the entry of Sinn Fein. What is significant about the DUP/UKUP alliance was McCartney’s philosophy of non-sectarianism in contrast with the Presbyterian fundamentalism associated with the DUP. McCartney claims he is non-sectarian, but I would characterize his ideology as more non-religious than non-sectarian. To his credit, McCartney attempted to defuse the Drumcree crisis in 1997. For McCartney, the absolute necessity is to maintain the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, and for Paisley, the absolute necessity is to keep Ulster out of a greater Ireland. At a time when they perceived the Union to be in threat, they acted together. 

What I believe this example illustrates is the contrived basis for identity-based politics. In the absence of conventional politics, unionism, or the identity of being a unionist, is the most powerful rallying point for people born in that tradition. The Ulster Unionist Party, as well, is based upon the identity of unionism rather than any ideological ground. As it is now, the party is split between integrationists and devolutionists, conservatives and liberals, and in a normal political situation would not exist at all. The ANC has held together, at least for now, but divisions of the same type exist within that party and continue to threaten its existence.

COSAG (Concerned South Africans Group) formed as a faction in the South African talks after the adjournment of CODESA II in 1993 between the Inkatha Freedom Party, the white right-wing Conservative Party, and the homelands governments of Ciskei and Bophuthatswana. COSAG, it is described, was a response to the Record of Understanding, an agreement signed by the National Party and the ANC that set the stage for the next stage of negotiations, the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum. This strange grouping that included radical whites and Inkatha was, like the DUP/UKUP alliance, for a common end though it defied official ideology. In the case of COSAG, the common end was to oppose the joint efforts of the National Party and the ANC who together form a “sufficient consensus” for the purpose of agreement and progress. In Northern Ireland and South Africa, there have indeed been some strange bedfellows. 

Another issue of comparison also involves the roles of smaller parties which from the start are in a position to define themselves independently in a fashion not afforded to the major players. Since each negotiation process needs to define sufficient consensus, the smaller parties can be locked out of the process and not afforded a veto that the main parties inherently have. At the time COSAG was formed, the members of that faction felt as if they were being essentially locked out. The Inkatha Freedom Party, while a central and important player, represented the Zulu people who are a minority amongst blacks in the South Africa. The homelands government were almost certain to loose all the power they had, and the government did not feel it necessary to offer them concessions for accepting the apartheid scheme that put them into power in the first place. Therein, the National Party and the ANC had the real ability to lock out the other parties from having a voice in the formation of a new order, and COSAG should be seen in that light, as a reaction to that perception. But in contrast to Northern Ireland, an agreement between the National Party and the ANC has a good chance of being accepted by a majority of blacks and whites, while a Northern Ireland agreement needs to be more broader based and needs to seek consensus from more than just two parties.

In the Northern Ireland talks, sufficient consensus is defined as a majority of each community, which is theory would mean the Ulster Unionist Party and the Social Democratic and Labour Party. Sinn Fein has constituted a minority of the Catholic community since it began to participate in the electoral process after the Hunger Strikes of the early 1980s. In 1997, Sinn Fein saw its share of the vote rise again to 43% and elected party president Gerry Adams and vice president Martin McGuinness in two key parliamentary districts, West Belfast and Mid-Ulster, respectively. Sinn Fein may play the role of a minority party, but the instability in Northern Ireland will not end if Sinn Fein is not in agreement to any settlement that may surface.

The parties who represent the loyalist paramilitaries, the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), are also technically smaller parties, but they too have an importance beyond their numbers. The PUP and UDP, together with the Northern Ireland Labour Party and the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, are all participants in the talks whose constituencies are in the single digits. These parties have often been constructive participants and a potential source of the type of leadership that is too rare in Northern Ireland. Considering that loyalist violence had overtaken republican violence in its intensity and brutality in recent years, leadership in the loyalist community is even more essential. The violence in the loyalist community was a reaction to the violence from the republican community. Does it follow that if the IRA is removed from the scene that loyalist violence will also stop? This is an open question. There is the opportunity for the political factions such as the PUP and UDP to play moderating roles in their communities in this regard.

Politics is the art of compromise, or so it goes. What is apparent is that the willingness to compromise needs to precede successful negotiations. In South Africa, the negotiations eventually reached a successful outcome because it was apparent before the state of the formal process that the protagonists were ready for compromise. Events leading up to the start of formal negotiations, even going back to the era of B.W. Botha, signified the steady abandonment of the ideology of apartheid. While not under-estimating the struggle for democracy in South Africa and the ending of apartheid, it was apparent to many whites in South Africa that its usefulness was over before it officially ended. One of the most compelling comments was from Sheila Comerer who represented the National Party at CODESA to the effect that it was their (black South Africans) turn.

Northern Ireland has yet to realize or accept the realities of their situation. David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party so aptly spoke about the role of ideals in Northern Ireland:

We have to come to terms with the fact that as we argue and squabble two grand ideals, two grand dreams, that united Ireland or that United Kindom, we’re being left in the wake of the rest of the world that’s moving on, creating stability and looking for a modern life. Yet, those “grand dreams” to some are still worth fighting and dying for and an obstacle to the peace process. How can those adherents be convinced to give up ideals that are not achievable? Is the hope for economic opportunities more attractive than the ideal of their grand dreams? Change cannot be forced or imposed, nor can a settlement make the idealists accept the compromises necessary for the settlement to be successful. If a settlement does not emerge, which will certainly take more time, what can convince idealists to reject their ideals, at least in the extreme, other than an examination of their concept of identity that they so much depend upon for their very concept of being?

C. Revolutionary Compromise: The ANC and Sinn Fein

Northern Ireland and South Africa have both witnessed the transformations, if perhaps partial in some cases, of those with revolutionary ideals into statesmen and stateswomen. Nelson Mandela sensed while still in prison that “the people’s war” could bring the white government to the brink of collapse but could not secure a stable structure for black rule. Yet, the effort to make black townships ungovernable as well as the failed armed campaign of the ANC did not bring the white government to collapse. The struggle against apartheid was met by the apartheid government with what was called a “total strategy” to counter the struggle’s “total onslaught,” a situation which increased the sense of stalemate. 

Sinn Fein was, from the start of these current negotiations, in favor of taking their place at the negotiation table. Their negotiators include Gerry Adams and reputed former IRA members, Martin McGuinness and Gerry Kelly, who have set forward proposals for future structures within an all-Ireland framework. The approach to negotiations by the National Party, at the start of the process, was to use the negotiations as a way to extend white rule, and ironically, Sinn Fein takes a similar approach by using the negotiation process as a place for advocating a position inimical to the other side of the table. For the Northern Ireland negotiations to ever be successful, Sinn Fein will need make gestures in the direction of convincing unionists and the governments that they are ready to re-think their position. The onus is on Sinn Fein as the “revolutionary” party, and hopefully they will be met with a similar gesture by unionists.

Throughout the process of negotiations with groups who reject the legitimacy of the state, it is important that the negotiations themselves are seen as legitimate by majorities on all sides. The Nationalists in South Africa accomplished this. The resounding “yes” vote on the continuance of negotiations in the last whites-only election held in 1992 gave the National Party the leverage to continue talking to the ANC. In Northern Ireland, the campaign of the IRA in Northern Ireland and Great Britain has fueled the perception among Ulster Protestants that Sinn Fein has bombed their way to the negotiation table. In other words, terrorism pays.

Additionally, a faction of republicanism does not see the negotiations as legitimate either. The IRA will be a more difficult client for Sinn Fein than uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC, ever was for the political faction. The question of who is in charge, the armed factions or the political players will be debated until a level of transparency is apparent. Organizationally, the IRA can override Sinn Fein, as has been exhibited publicly since 1994, whereas MK was always subservient to the leadership of the ANC. The internal divisions within these organizations is also a factor in how far the political factions can go in negotiating. In the last months of 1996 the IRA suffered from defections from particularly strong Republican areas. If the key of successful negotiation is the selling out of your constituencies, Sinn Fein might have been more inclined to negotiate if they enjoyed the luxury of Nelson Mandela in doing so from the safety of imprisonment.

IV. Settlement And Reconciliation

At the time of acceptance of the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with F.W. de Klerk, Nelson Mandela stated:

This is not a time for me to speak of our justified grievances of the past. As South Africans, this is the time for us to speak of what is best for the future of our country. Mr. de Klerk and I will continue to the political operating. I have, nevertheless, decided to accept the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with him as a gesture of reconciliation.

de Klerk responded from the podium:

Just to see that we’re still friends, friendly opponents.

With those words, Nelson Mandela touched upon the challenges of a post-apartheid South Africa. The leadership of Mandela and the mindset of the governing class within the ANC insured that the tone of the country would be tilted toward reconciliation, not revenge, between the races and ethnic groups, but the question of what to do with arguably justified grievances and how to govern under the new order took the fore as the new challenges for a new democratic South Africa.

It was decided in the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum that an interim constitution would be written and new elections were to be held between April 26-29, 1994. At an ANC rally in Kroonstad, Orange Free State, just before the conclusion of the talks, so packed with ebullient South Africans that part of the bleachers collapsed Nelson Mandela addressed the crowd:

We want to unite our people, not only Africans, coloureds and Indians. We want to unite colored, Africans, Indians and whites. That is why we are talking to the National Party when they are killing our people. We want this peace, this spirit of reconciliation. That spirit must not only bring the government and ourselves together, it must build, bring our own people, those who have been working with the enemy. They must now work with us in order to build this new South Africa. 

In part because of Nelson Mandela’s leadership, the 1994 election was a success and deemed “free and fair” under international standards, albeit relaxed international standards. The images from South Africa of all races standing in line for hours waiting to vote, many for the first time, are unforgettable. In the end, the ANC took 62.65 percent of the vote, just under the working majority of two-thirds. The National Party received 20.29 percent of the vote. The Inkatha Freedom Party received 10.5 percent. These three parties went on to form the Government of National Unity, a short-lived form of power sharing. On May 9, 1994, the new South Africa Parliament convened for the first time.

The next task for South Africa’s transition to democracy involving hard negotiations was the writing of a new permanent constitution. The Constitutional Assembly met on May 24, 1994 with 490 members representing all of the parliamentary parties on a basis proportional to their numbers in parliament. After two years of work, a full draft of the final constitution was approved by the Assembly on May 8, 1996 and subsequently ratified by Parliament.

A. Truth, Reconciliation, And (Maybe) Justice

A universal challenge of societies in transitions to democracy is the issue of how to deal with past injustices and offenses committed under the former system. In the case of societies whose divisions are ethnically, racially or religiously based, the question takes on added significance for the fact that old ghosts can have a tendency to haunt again. In divided societies in transition, the people can seek one or more of a combination of several things: the truth about what really happened under the old regime; reparation, economic or otherwise, for the past injustices; or justice itself in which the difficulty is the question of how to apply justice retroactively. For every divided society, reconciliation needs to be a priority if the new order is to be a permanent replacement of the old, instead of just turning the tables. It is easy for reconciliation to be lost in the process of justice as chapters in our history illustrate. The question must be asked is if reconciliation, justice and the truth are all compatible or does justice need to be sacrificed for the others and for hope of a new future in which its citizens are not at war?

The establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was South Africa’s answer to the conundrum of truth, justice and reconciliation. Under this quasi-judicial institution, in a way, justice is being sacrificed for the truth and for reconciliation as the TRC is empowered to grant amnesty to perpetrators, on any side of the conflict, if they admit all of the truths of their crimes and if the Commission is convinced all of the truths have been revealed. The logic behind the establishment of the TRC is that the country needs to have a true history of the apartheid era which it hopes to gain through the testimony of admitted perpetrators. It follows that if said perpetrators could admit to their crimes and show remorse, then reconciliation is advanced through their admissions.

So far, the effect of the TRC’s amnesty process on reconciliation has been mixed. After a process of two years, the TRC saw thousands of cases of perpetrators asking for amnesty from prosecution but granted amnesty in only a small percentage of cases as conditions for amnesty were determined to not met in most. In addition, the TRC took submissions from the political parties in the search for a true history. Complicating the matter, and questioning the legitimacy of the TRC, the National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party both accused the TRC to be a “witch hunt” rather than a search for the truth. F.W. de Klerk personally testified and claimed not to have known of any injustices or given any orders to others to commit injustices other than one failed SADF mission during his reign. Nor did de Klerk personally apply for amnesty, like many ANC leaders had, under the rational that only those who are subject to potential prosecution should apply for amnesty. Neither did Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, apply for amnesty claiming to have known nothing of the violence between the IFP and ANC that has characterized the Inkatha-dominated KwaZulu/Natal region. For the people of South Africa, it is evident that all the truth has not come out in this process, and perhaps may never in their lifetimes.

Despite the flaws in the process and the questioning of the credibility of the process by some, small steps have been made which I personally observed on an anecdotal basis. In July of 1996, I witnessed a TRC hearing on the treatment of political prisoners in detention, prisoners of the government as well as of the ANC. The hearing was held at Johannesburg’s Old Fort, a former prison used a holding camp under apartheid. In great irony, the Old Fort is being transformed into the permanent home of South Africa’s Supreme Court. What I witnessed at the hearing was significant, not only for the effect the TRC is having upon reconciliation in South African society, but as an example of how a sense of understanding and rejection of ideological mindsets advances reconciliation in divided societies. The former prisoners who testified were of various ethnic backgrounds and suffered from bestial methods of torture. One after another, they stated they forgave their torturers. The reasoning behind the forgiveness, they testified, was that the tortures were serving a system they believed in, most likely the same reason the prisoners themselves were being detained.

Still, many in South African society who fought against apartheid hold the opinion that the TRC’s sacrifice of justice in an injustice in itself. I discovered there is still a pervasive ideological stranglehold that violence for the struggle against apartheid was more legitimate than violence in support of an apartheid system for only violence could have supported such a system for so long. Adding to the difficulty of the TRC in its raison d’être is the fact that many of the same people at the helm of the struggle against apartheid are still in powerful and influential positions post-apartheid. Yesterday’s perpetrators are today’s Ministers. Nobody negotiated themselves out of power, leading to the accusation that the political parties were less than completely truthful. The commitment of those such as de Klerk and Buthelezi to reconciliation has been questioned, rightfully so. Yet, the TRC was never meant to be the final word in reconciliation or even truth. Into the 21st century, the will of the people of South Africa to reconcile will be tested many times over on a personal, as well as institutional, basis.

Any discussion of South Africa’s institutionalized process of reconciliation begs the question of whether Northern Ireland will and should institute a similar process. In South Africa, formal reconciliation was preceded by political settlement. In Northern Ireland, on the other hand, I ask if real reconciliation must precede political settlement. As decades of negotiation in Northern Ireland have failed so far to lead to a permanent peace, is the failure to reconcile due to the lack of political settlement or have the failure of the political processes held up any process of reconciliation? The chaos of certain aspects of their political process sometime led me to ask if they even know which is the cart and which is the horse. The short answer lies in the fact that what republicans would see as an acceptable settlement will never be a reality, and the impossibility of achieving a united Ireland on a political basis is the rational for waging a violent campaign towards that end. For the majority of Northern Ireland’s people, acts of reconciliation coming from and received by both sides would undoubtedly advance the search for a workable political settlement.

In post-settlement Northern Ireland, would the South African model work? Revealing the truth in Northern Ireland would not be as important as it is in South Africa because, first of all, there is not as much to hide. Catholics seek the truth about Bloody Sunday and various other disputed cases of alleged murder by British forces, and Protestants seek the truth about the involvement of past Irish government collusion with republican terrorist groups. These questions can been resolved without a separate institution, and of this writing, the British government is reopening the investigation into Bloody Sunday. Catholics and Protestants know and have seen the brutality the that extremes of each is capable of and have expected the worst from each other. Furthermore, the social dynamics inherent in communities tightly packed together, despite the presence of walls and ingrained and socially enforced segregation of recent decades, into small areas greatly differs from the vast residential, social and legal segregation of South Africa under apartheid. I would conclude that the focus of Northern Ireland reconciliation should be to identify sectarianism as the enemy of reconciliation and convince the populations to the benefits of ideological and perhaps eventually, residential and other social, change.

V. Conclusion

During my six months in Belfast and Johannesburg, what impacted me the most about these two divided societies is the overwhelming question of identity in the peoples of these great cities and regions. Throughout my research I attempted to understand why ethnicity, religion and race remain such important aspects of their identities that they are literally worth fighting for and wondered that even if democratic institutions are a reality for everyone would the ghosts of past conflicts continue to haunt them? Can the citizens of these regions hold onto their ethnic and religious traditions while not holding onto traditional conflicts with the “other”?

Wynand Malan summed up a reason why the politics of identity in divided societies can be so potent:

I was born into the Afrikaaner nation and the National Party, so it wasn’t really a choice of parties when you enter politics. You enter where you find yourself.

Yet people like Mr. Malan in South Africa and David Ervine in Northern Ireland have realized that along the way you do not necessarily have to end up where your found yourself. Your tradition and the attached philosophy can evolve. In the process of realization, too many in their communities have been killed and maimed, physically and psychologically, and treated others in the same inhumane manner. The hope for the next century is that violence in the name of ideals is not worth the cost and that the political process is available for all. In the meantime, the worst was averted in South Africa. In Northern Ireland, the future continues to be uncertain.

Appendix – Interviews

The following interviews were conducted by the author on the dates specified:

Nigel Dodds, Stormont negotiator for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), member of the Belfast City Council and the European Parliamentary Secretary to Dr. Ian Paisley, April 4, 1997.

Monica McWilliams, Stormont negotiator and founding member of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, April 9, 1997.

David Ervine, Stormont negotiator for the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) and member of the Belfast City Council, February 26, 1997.

William “Billy” Hutchinson, Stormont negotiator for the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP)

and member of the Belfast City Council, February 17, 1997.

Dodie McGuinness, negotiator for Sinn Fein and former member of the Derry City Council, April 3, 1997.

Alex Attwood, representative of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) at the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation and member of the Belfast City Council, April 15, 1997.

David Adams, Stormont negotiator for the Ulster Democratic Party (UDP), February 10, 1997.

Gary McMichael, Stormont negotiator and leader of Ulster Democratic Party (UDP) and member of the Lisburn Borough Council, February 25, 1997.

Reginald “Reg” Empey, Stormont negotiator for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and member of the Belfast City Council, March 18, 1997:.

Peter Weir, Stormont negotiator for the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and member of the Belfast City Council, February 26, 1997.

Robert McCartney, negotiator and leader of the United Kingdom Unionist Party (UKUP), February 26, 1997.

Desmond “Des” O’Hagan, activist for the Worker’s Party, April 15, 1997

Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and Minister for Home Affairs for the Republic of South Africa, July 14, 1997

Sheila Camerer, Representative for the National Party (NP) at CODESA, the Multi-party Negotiating Forum and the Constitutional Assembly and a former Deputy Minister of Justice, July 25, 1997.

Wynand Malan, former member of the National Party and the Democratic Party of South Africa and current Commissioner for the Trust and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), August 1, 1997.


Northern Ireland Politics:

Adams, Gerry. Before the Dawn: An Autobiography. London: Brandon Books, 1996.

Aughey, Arthur. Under Siege: Ulster Unionism and the Anglo-Irish Agreement. London: Hurst and Co., 1989.

Bell, J. Boyer. The Secret Army: The IRA 1916-1979. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1980.

Bew, Paul, and Henry Patterson. The British State and the Ulster Crisis. London: Verso, 1985.

Bryson, Lucy and Clem McCartney. Clashing Symbols?: A Report on the Use of Flags, Anthems, and Other National Symbols in Northern Ireland. Belfast: Queens University Press, 1994.

Boyce, D. George. Nationalism in Ireland. London: Croom Helm Ltd., 1982.

Bruce, Steve. The Edge of Union: The Ulster Loyalist Political Vision. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

—. The Red Hand: Protestant Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Collins, Stephen. Spring and the Labour Party. Dublin: The O’Brien Press, 1993.

Dangerfield, George. The Damnable Question. Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1976.

Darby, John. Scorpions in a Bottle: Conflicting Cultures in Northern Ireland. London: Minority Rights Council, 1995.

Good, James Winder. Irish Unionism. Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1920.

Hayes, Maurice. Minority Verdict: Experiences of a Catholic Public Servant. Belfast: The Blackstaff Press. 1995.

Henry, Robert Mitchell. The Evolution of Sinn Fein. Port Washington: Kennikat Press, 1920.

Hume, John. A New Ireland: Politics, Peace and Reconciliation. Boulder: Robert Rinehart Publishers, 1996.

Hull, Roger. The Irish Triangle: Conflict in Northern Ireland. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976.

Kennedy-Pipe, Caroline. The Origins of the Present Troubles in Northern Ireland. New York: Longman, 1993.

Kinahan, Timothy. Where Do We Go From Here?: Protestants and the Future of Northern Ireland. Dublin: The Columba Press, 1995.

McKittrick, David. Endgame: The Search for Peace in Northern Ireland. Belfast: The Blackstaff Press. 1994.

O’Brien, Conor Cruise. States of Ireland. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.

O’Malley, Padraig. Biting at the Grave: The Irish Hunger Strike and the Politics of Despair. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.

—. Northern Ireland 1983-1996: For Every Step Forward…. Boston: The John McCormack Institute for Public Affairs, 1996.

—. A Pre-Negotiation Guide to the Conflict in Northern Ireland. Boston: The John McCormack Institute for Public Affairs, 1995.

—. The Uncivil Wars: Ireland Today. Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 1983.

Owen, Arwel Ellis. The Anglo-Irish Agreement: The First Three Years. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1994.

Pollack, Andy, ed. A Citizens’ Inquiry: The Opsalh Report on Northern Ireland. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 1993.

Rowan, Brian. Behind the Lines: The Story of the IRA and Loyalist Ceasefires. Belfast: The Blackstaff Press, 1995.

Toolis, Kevin. Rebel Hearts: Journey Within the IRA’s Soul. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

Whelan, Kevin. The Tree of Liberty: Radicalism, Catholicism and the Construction of Irish Identity. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996.

Wilson, Tom. Ulster: Conflict and Consent. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

Ireland and Ulster History:

Curtis, Edmund. A History of Ireland. New York: Rouledge, 1995.

Dangerfield, George. The Strange Death of Liberal England. New York: Capricorn Books, 1935.

Kee, Robert. The Green Flag: The Turbulent History of the Irish National Movement. New York: Delacorte Press, 1972.

Moody, T.W. and F.X. Martin. The Course of Irish History. Boulder: Robert Rinehart Publishers, 1996.

South African History and Politics:

Bell, Paul and Mike Nicol. The Making of the Constitution: The Story of South Africa’s Constitutional Assembly, May 1994 to December 1996. Cape Town: Churchill Murray Publishing, 1997.

Boraine, Alex, Janet Levy and Ronel Scheffer, eds. Dealing With The Past: Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa. Cape Town: Institute for Democracy in South Africa, 1994.

Carlson, Joel. No Neutral Ground. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1973.

Cell, John W. The Highest Stage of White Supremacy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

DeVilliers, Bertus. Birth of a Constitution. Kenwyn: Juta & Co., Ltd., 1994.

Frederikse, Julie. South Africa: A Different Kind of War. Boston: Beachon Press, 1986.

Freidman, Steven. Federalism and Its Foes. Johannesburg: Institute for Multi-Party Democracy, 1993.

—. The Long Journey: South Africa’s Quest for a Negotiated Settlement. Johannesburg: Raven Press, 1993.

—. Options for the Future: Government Reform and Prospects for Structural Change. Johannesburg: South African Institute for Race Relations, 1990.

— and Dorren Akinson, eds. South African Review 7: The Small Miracle – South Africa’s Negotiated Settlement. Johannesburg: Raven Press, 1994.

Gelb, Stephen, ed. South Africa’s Economic Crisis. Cape Town: David Philip Pub., 1991.

Giniewski, Paul. The Two Faces of Apartheid. Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1965.

Hirson, Baruch. Year of Fire, Year of Ash: The Soweto Revolt, Roots of a Revolution? London: 2nd Press, 1979.

Hoagland, Jim. South Africa: Civilizations in Conflict. Boston: Houghlin Mifflin Co., 1972.

Johns, Sheridan III. From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa, 1882-1964. Vols. 1-4, Stanford: Hoover UP, 1972.

Johnson, R.W., and Lawrence Schlemmer, eds. Launching Democracy in South Africa: The First Election, April 1994. New Haven: Yale UP, 1996.

Kuper, Leo. An African Bourgeoisie: Race, Class and Politics in South Africa. New Haven: Yale UP, 1965.

La Guma, Alex. Apartheid: A Collection of Writings on South African Racism by South Africans. New York: International Publishers, 1971.

Lambley, Peter. The Psychology of Apartheid. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1980.

Larrabee, Stephen F. The Politics of Reconciliation. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1979.

Laurence, John. The Seeds of Disaster: A Guide to the Realities, Race Policies and World-wide Propaganda Campaign of the Republic of South Africa. New York: Taplinger Publishing, 1968.

Lee, Robin and Lawrence Schlemmer, eds. Transition to Democracy: Policy Perspective – 1991. Cape Town: Oxford UP, 1991.

Lelyveld, Anthony and Owen Williams. Apartheid: A Geography of Separation. Westmead: Saxon House 1978.

Lewis, Stephen R., The Economics of Apartheid. New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1990.

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