My training and experience as a practicing lawyer in South Africa's
biggest city, Johannesburg, sensitised me at an early age in my
political career to what was going on inside the corridors of power in
our country. This early experience was reinforced during my
imprisonment on Robben Island.
At that time prison warders were by no means the best-educated
section of the community. The majority was hostile to our aspirations
and regarded every black prisoner as sub human. They were intensely racist,
cruel and crude in dealing with us.
There were notable exceptions amongst them, who patiently warned
their colleagues that in other parts of the world,
Liberation movements frequently won against their oppressors and themselves
became rulers. These progressive warders urged that
prisoners should be treated strictly according to regulations and well,
so that in due course, they won and became government they should
in turn treat whites well.
The ANC has always stressed the principle that we were fighting not
against whites as such, but against white supremacy, a policy that is
fully reflected in the racial composition of the principal structures
Of the organisation and government nationally, provincially and at local
Not all my fellow prisoners had had the opportunity to be acquainted
with the affairs of government departments at that time. Some of the
most influential amongst us seriously doubted whether dialogue with
the apartheid regime was a feasible option.