South Africa’s Heart of Hope

30 November 2004

In 1989, Irish author Padraig O’Malley set off for South Africa with a tape recorder in hand to document the experiences of South African men and women from all walks of life during the volatile time of SA’s transition to democracy.

The Heart of Hope, South Africa’s Transition from Apartheid to Democracy, captures O’Malleys 10-year journey in an online collection of hundreds of hours of interviews conducted at the time of the events, providing a vital record of the new South Africa in the making.

Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni and Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert will launch the website at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

72 days that shaped South Africa

Just how “miraculous” was SA’s transition to democracy? Check out our press clipping snapshots of the 72 days leading up to Nelson Mandela’s inauguration – and see how heavily the odds were stacked against “the rainbow nation”.

“Constitution Hill is an ideal setting for the launch of The Heart of Hope website”, says O’Malley. “Both embrace the history of the liberation struggle and reward the struggle in the presence of today’s democracy.”

According to O’Malley, the voices in The Heart of Hope resonate anger, frustration, connivance, humility, denial, posturing, acceptance, humour, wisdom and hopelessness – but above all they represent hope.

“Not so much a hope for self”, says O’Malley, “but hope that a common humanity would prevail”.

The interviews offer an oral history of the negotiations, the violence, the first democratic elections and the country’s Constitution in the making.

From voices in the multi-party negotiation halls of Kempton Park, bullet-riddled townships and raging hostels on the Reef to township funerals and police stations – all add up to make Heart of Hope an important, incisive historical document.

The interviews are supported by historical documents and reference material – including the Freedom Charter, the Pretoria Minute, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution – that make the site a complete document library for a student of South African history.

Set up by Learning Online, the site includes links to SA political parties, research organisations, archives, libraries and international African study programmes.

O’Malley, born in Dublin in 1942, spent most of his professional life involved with the conflict in Northern Ireland, producing a number of prize-winning books, including “The Uncivil Wars” (1983) and “Biting at the Grave” (1990).

Chris Hani, the now deceased former leader of the SA Communist Party, once said to O’Malley: “Never apologise for taking my time, you are a historian. I am only sorry that it is left to an Irishman to record – it is something we are at fault for not doing ourselves.”

SAinfo reporter

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