Twenty years have passed since the first democratic election and the end of Apartheid. In recent years, the Republic of South Africa has accomplished remarkable economic growth. It is the only African country in the G20 and member of the BRICS countries. . Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Embassy of the Republic of South Africa in Japan Dr. Mohau Pheko came to Japan in 2012, when she left behind the business world to enter the realm of diplomacy. Toshio Motoya spoke with Dr. Pheko about the great accomplishments of Nelson Mandela, who passed away in December 5th, 2013, and other topics including the struggles and progress experienced by South Africa over these past 20 years and its future aims.
Motoya Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. I visited South Africa in September 2011 at the invitation of Gert Johannes Grobler, the ambassador to Japan at that time. We transferred to a helicopter at his airfield and then went to his house, which gave me a real sense of how different the size of South Africa is compared to Japan. The harmony between nature and cities was wonderful, such as Table Mountain, a plateau-shaped mountain that seems to overlook Cape Town (one of the foremost cities in Africa). I definitely want to visit again. Today, I hope I can learn various things about South Africa from you.
Pheko Thank you. South Africa has changed greatly over the past 20 years. As you know, the biggest alteration was the end of Apartheid, which abolished the racist framework of race relations and separate development.
Motoya This was accomplished at the end of the 20th century, and was a very meaningful thing for the entire world as well.
Pheko Yes, but it was a type of social experiment. There are no other countries that have attempted to bring together a country divided by race, class and gender. A country that was deeply unequal. South Africa has done this with no other examples to turn to, so we had no roadmaps or models to help us. We had to think by ourselves to resolve many separate issues, including how to build a divided society, how to construct an economy, and other issues related to correcting injustice, creating work for all, and ensuring that wealth is enjoyed by all despite their gender, and race.
Motoya I imagine it was a very difficult process.
Pheko Yes, it was. We were lucky that Nelson Mandela led us as our president, because he truly listened to the voices of the people. However, there were some troubles associated with Mandela assuming the presidency. Many white people left the country because they were frightened of having a black government. They also feared being led by people whom the perceived as having no experience in governing a country and assuming central roles in the government. Some government officials who served under the apartheid regime also willfully transferred the nation’s assets – such as mines, real estate, industries and power plants – to their friends or other civilians. There are still many issues of this sort left to be resolved.
Motoya Is that so? My impression is that it would not have been surprising if greater disorder had occurred after the end of Apartheid. I think you switched over to a new administration very skillfully. Of course, after Mandela became president he could have worked to avenge his past grudges, but he did not. This denotes his strong will. I think he was also heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of India. Achmat Dangor of the Nelson Mandela Foundation pointed this out when I visited South Africa in 2011, and it is true; in his autobiography Mandela wrote that he received emotional support from Gandhi’s way of living. When Gandhi was young he was served as an attorney and activist opposing racial discrimination policies in South Africa.
Pheko That is true. But, Nelson Mandela had a deep sense of justice, and had learned during his prison years that it was better to negotiate with the racist regime. He learned that you could achieve far more by teaching a racist about kindness and appealing to their sense of justice than attacking them.
Motoya I think the main reason that no chaos has occurred in the past was, under the Mandela administration as well, decisions were not made to put preference on black people for appointments. Rather, official appointments were determined according to ability.
Pheko Yes. It is true that many black people like myself have been treated cruelly in the past. Many human rights violations occurred; husbands were arrested, wives and children disappeared, and many people lost their lives. However, instead of taking retribution we established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996. This commission was established like a court for restorative justice. It had a mandate to be a witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, as well as reparation and rehabilitation. It performed investigations based on applications received from victims and bereaved families, and then identified the perpetrators of human rights violations. The wrongdoers could receive amnesty by making a full confession. By pursuing the truth, we have settled the past in a way that is not vengeful. However, the scope of this commission did not include economic issues. We are extremely sorrowful that it was not able to pursue the improper discharge of national assets. Also the role that many companies both national and international that continued to promote the aims of the apartheid state despite knowing that apartheid was declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations.
Motoya In other words, you have created a soft landing for racial conflict in this way. From 500,000 to one million people were killed in 1994 in the massacre stemming from conflict between the Hutu and Tutsi people of Rwanda. However, the Hutu and Tutsi were one people that was divided into two tribes by Belgium, the colonising state, during Rwanda’s colonial period in order to facilitate ruling. That became an underlying cause for people to murder each other. I have heard that Rwanda is currently carrying out a reconciliation program.
Pheko Instead of continuing the chain of hatred, all over the world people are beginning to take steps into the future via reconciliation and forgiveness. But, it is important to point out that the truth must be told in full to reconcile. It cannot be a false reconciliation.
Motoya I also visited South Africa in the past, before 2011, during the time of Apartheid when I went to the home of a very rich person who even had a golf course in his yard. I saw that he had a vigilante corps with automatic weapons, rather like a military, and thought it would be a disaster if military conflict grew more severe. Civil war is the worst thing that can happen to a country and its people. The United States lost the most people in the past during its Civil War, so I’m very glad that civil war never broke out in South Africa.
Pheko That’s certainly true, but many citizens did die. Approximately 30,000 people were massacred during the late 80's.
Motoya During the several years after he was released in 1990, Mandela held discussions and implemented various policies with then-President Frederik Willem de Klerk. They received the Nobel Peace Prize together in 1993. I think it’s good that deliberate preparations were made rather than changing things overnight. I think the most decisive judgment was to dispose of nuclear weapons, which was the target of a great deal of attention throughout the world.
Pheko I think the white regime wanted to continue possessing nuclear weapons, and there was reluctance to entrust the black administration with this issue. But the black people hated nuclear weapons and a consensus was obtained on that point, which led to their abolition.
Motoya This also inspired a sense of security across the world.
Pheko Yes, it did. It also gives South Africa the moral authority as the only nation to have abolished its nuclear weapons program to leverage its position and discourage countries from further proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Motoya I think the reconciliation was ideal because no civil war occurred and no battles were fought with neighboring countries, particularly regarding pent-up resentments. In comparison, look at the attitude of South Korea, which has continually censured Japan for the issue of the so-called “comfort women” – a concept that did not even exist. The president and other people are still spreading rumors in other countries by claiming the Japanese Army abducted 100,000 Korean women and subjected them to sexual slavery, which was not true. This is a real nuisance to Japan; it would be one thing if this claim was based on fact, but it is false. It’s just like the alleged Nanking Massacre – China says 300,000 people were slaughtered, even though not one civilian woman or child was actually killed.
Pheko History and its events are interpreted by the experience of the one telling the story. This is why it’s important to appreciate the process of reconciliation because its brings all sides of history to the table to bridge understanding. The results were good in the case of South Africa, but many difficulties were experienced in the midst of this prophecy. However, the main reason and key to our reconciliation was something more than Mandela and Gandhi. It was Ubuntu, an indigenous philosophy whose name means “humanness, that a person exists in harmony with others, that we exist appreciating difference, knowing that our existence depends on each other. ” Mandela made everybody recall this ideology that has existed since ancient times. I think the country would have fallen into chaos without this word. Ubuntu has played an important role as a central uniting force and standard after the end of Apartheid.
Motoya I understand that this old philosophy had many positive effects. I also think Japan – which grew into a major country after its victorious in the Russo-Japanese War and World War I – had a hand in the present situation in South Africa. In 1919, Japan attempted to introduce a rule banishing racial discrimination to the League of Nations. American President Woodrow Wilson’s underhanded efforts meant that the rule could not be adopted without a unanimous vote, even though it obtained a majority vote. Moreover, the foundation of the Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere was racial equality. The Japanese Army formed local militaries and trained them so the citizens could stand up in Indonesia and India. Because of these things, many colored countries achieved independence one by one after World War II. If Japan had lost the Russo-Japanese War, I think it is possible that Caucasian rule – which had lasted for 300 to 400 years – might have continued for another 100 years. Because Japan fought in conflicts such as the Russo-Japanese War and World War II, perhaps South Africa was able to become the nation of today in which black people have the same rights as white people.
Pheko I think that is quite relevant. However, colonialism is an oppressive thing and must never be glorifed because it forces domination on others. I believe that it is the right of every colonized country to rise up against a colonial aggressive rule. Memory is very important for a people that have lived under domination. The lessons of living under colonial oppression should not be forgotten. We must remember so that we do not allow the repeat of colonialism anywhere in the world.. New societies should be created based on these memories. It’s true that colonies offer education, and they are also blessed with infrastructure. However, thinking as a person on the side that was ruled by colonial and apartheid domination, we must acknowledge that the infrastructure we see and the industries that have risen during the apartheid era were completed via forced and cheap labor by our fathers, mothers grandparents for which no compensation was given. We must not forget that.
Motoya I understand. But in the case of Japan during World War II, we properly paid compensation for manual labor and also left behind completed infrastructure. The major Western European powers saw colonies as places to plunder for land, resources, and free labor. However, Japan treated Taiwan and the Korean peninsula in the same way as Hokkaido; it intended to develop these areas and make them parts of Japan. That’s why imperial universities were built in Seoul and Taipei even before Osaka and Nagoya, and members of the Japanese imperial family even married into the Korean royal family. Did the royalty of Western Europe ever marry into the royal families of their colonies?
Pheko That’s certainly different.
Motoya Last week, I spoke with former President Lee Teng-hui in Taiwan for two and a half hours. He said that, right after Taiwan became a Japanese territory via the Treaty of Shimonoseki of 1895, the Japanese government dispatched Japanese bureaucrats in the field of education and seven teachers to Taiwan, and then created elementary schools, because it believed in the importance of education. Apparently there were only eight students at first, and the parents of the students wanted them to work instead of study. The parents’ dissatisfaction and the anti-Japanese movement grew and erupted suddenly, and six of the teachers were killed. Most people wouldn’t want to go to Taiwan after that, but more than 300 people applied to replace these teachers. Many Japanese people were willing to put their lives on the line to help educate Taiwan. Rebuilt gravesites and monuments to the six teachers who were killed still remain in Taiwan.
Pheko I didn’t know that.
Motoya The goal was to “Japanize” Taiwan, so the Japanese governors-general of Taiwan devoted a great deal of money and effort to exterminating infectious disease as well. Infrastructure projects such as the Usantou Dam all utilized Japanese money, and laborers were paid wages as well. This infrastructure was then utilized for economic growth after the war in Taiwan and South Korea. Japan is highly evaluated by Taiwanese people, who are very grateful. But as I mentioned before, South Koreans are different. What do you think about the comfort women issue?
Pheko I think it’s a very complicated issue, and views and history are always viewed from the point of view of the one relating the story so it will differ depending on which side you are on. What is relevant to the understanding of outsiders is to always promote justice for all. There are many cases in South Africa as well in which opinions are divided according to the teller of the history or the one relating the story. Black people will express the view of their experience of white domination and white people will not always understand or see themselves as the exploiter. What is important is to tell history relate it in a manner that represents truth, dignity and justice.
Motoya I believe the truth will become clear some day. You mentioned the problem of people who have used national assets to become wealthy – perhaps taxation measures will be necessary to resolve this. The inheritance tax is an example. Japan is regarded as having few disparities compared to other countries, which may be caused by the world’s strictest inheritance tax. If inheritance tax was fully placed on people who benefitted in underserved ways, it could be returned to other people gradually. Conversely, attempting to take away this wealth all at once would probably invite chaos.
Pheko It’s true that some corporations have benefitted greatly by possessing these leaked assets. I also understand that forcibly recovering these funds would cause such corporations to flee outside of the country. For this reason, we are currently working to introduce graduated taxation for income in order to create a soft landing.
Motoya So you’re making efforts right now? Graduated taxation would also be acceptable. Many people in Japan say the inheritance tax is too high so the tax rate should be reduced, but maybe South Africa should increase its tax rate.
Pheko That is true, and there are other issues as well. With backup from the government, white people are beginning to accept the Ubuntu philosophy espoused by the all South Africans. However, there is still resistance and opposition between from some of the companies which are still run by people who have not yet embraced patriotism and solidarity in developing South Africa as one nation.
Motoya Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said that impoverishing the wealthy class will not cause poor people to become rich. What is required is not equal results, but equal opportunities. Education is the only way to ensure equal opportunities and bring affluence to poor countries. Education makes it possible for anyone, regardless of race, to gain important offices according to their abilities. The first thing to do is decrease the number of people who cannot be educated. The reason Japan was able to accomplish rapid modernization after the Meiji Restoration was because of the high level of education via the temple school and clan school system that existed since the Edo period.
Pheko We feel as you do, and 19% of the national budget is currently set aside for education. This is a high level compared to the rest of the world. We are also working to provide equal opportunities because the employment rate is still higher for white people. Ten years ago we created laws and introduced a policy of Black Economic Empowerment [BEE] to help corporations become more inclusive of black people giving them opportunity to excel and own companies. It also evaluates corporations according to various items, such as whether they are employing people equally. The highly integrated BEE compliant corporations are given priority in bidding for national projects.
Motoya That’s wonderful! My father passed away due to illness when I was a junior high school student. I received a scholarship to go to high school, and then studied while working via a correspondence course from Keio University. Today the environment for studying while working is even better thanks to the spread of the Internet and the development of eLearning. Is eLearning utilized in South Africa?
Pheko It is. We have developed one of the world’s largest eLearning systems, and are using it to educate our citizens. The University of South Africa is one of the largest distance learning Universities in the world. It is over 100 years old.
People should go overseas to broaden their viewpoints and gain new opportunities
Motoya Societies in which poor people have no chance to study and earn money are not good. It takes time to achieve equality via taxation and education, but these measures will definitely bear great fruit. I am happy to hear that South Africa is already implementing these at a significantly high level.
Pheko Our basic way of thinking is that the country will grow if we banish inequality and establish an economic system. Future challenges include the further advancement of education and cultivation of human resources that can accomplish innovation. Students who have graduated from South African universities are still incapable of competing with Japanese graduates. Accordingly, we must enhance the level of our education.
Motoya What type of education have you received?
Pheko I attended universities in Indiana and New York, in the U.S., and earned a Ph.D. in economics.
Motoya That’s an impressive academic background. What type of work does your father do?
Pheko Actually, I come from a family of politicians. My father is a well-known journalist, an attorney specialized in human-rights issues, and was also the leader of an opposition party. Thabo Mbeki, who became president after Nelson Mandela, is my father’s cousin. However, my father’s politics are not the same as Mbeki’s (laughs). I am the oldest of three sisters. My father continually told his children that we should not rely on his popularity and influence; rather, we must make great efforts and succeed according to our own abilities. We were able to receive good educations because of his belief that education makes everyone equal.
Motoya And then you studied abroad in the U.S. When did you return to South Africa?
Pheko I returned in 1995, when Mandela became president. I started my own business after gaining six years of experience, including at an investment company.
Motoya So you were originally a businessperson.
Pheko Yes, I was. Three of my businesses failed, and even my father questioned whether I was cut out for this. But I succeeded at my fourth try, which was trade consulting. After that I was able to smoothly start a clothing manufacturing business specialized in uniforms, such as for firefighters and policemen.
Motoya How did you switch from being a businessperson to a diplomat that travels throughout the world?
Pheko While I managed companies I also wrote a weekly newspaper column and was a regular on television and radio programs. I mainly spoke and wrote about politics, and was known for being rather critical of the government and conducting unsparing interviews with politicians. One day, an acquaintance who was a government minister called me and invited me to a dinner party at the president’s official residence attended by the leaders of four countries such as Nigeria. I wasn’t very enthusiastic, but I went anyway and was called into a separate room midway through the party. I was shocked when I was suddenly asked to serve as the ambassador to Canada. I declined on the spot, but was persuaded with great zeal that an ambassador with good economic skills was desired. I accepted after discussing the matter with my father as well.
Motoya Since you were so critical of the government, perhaps they wanted to send you outside of the country. What happened to your businesses?
Pheko I entrusted them to my younger sister. I enjoyed working hard in Canada, so when President Jacob Zuma directly asked me to serve as the ambassador to Japan next, I came to Japan in 2012.
Motoya I see. I am also a businessperson, so I feel even more affinity with you (laughs). At the end of the interview I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
Pheko It may be comfortable to stay in the country where you were born and live while viewing things from inside your small world, but you lose out on many opportunities in that way. Your thinking changes if you visit various countries across the world, and you also gain opportunities. It is important to work hard to grasp hold of these opportunities. I also think the meaning of life is making some kind of contribution to one’s nation and the world.
Motoya I fully agree that people should contribute to their country and the world as a whole. Thank you very much for joining me today.
Dr. Mohau Pheko
Pheko entered the world of business more than 20 years ago, when she was a consultant for institutions related to the United Nations. She joined the Department of International Relations and Cooperation in 2010, and was dispatched to Canada as the high commissioner of the Republic of South Africa from 2010 to 2011. Pheko became the ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to Japan in 2012.