This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
14 Nov 1994: Van Zyl Slabbert, Frederik
POM. To start, before we talk about the job here, what you are currently doing, it's now been seven months into the transition period of tremendous change or appearances of change across the country and you had written a lot about the transition and the different forms it could take before it happened. Now that it is happening how would you rate it?
VZS. Well I draw a clear distinction between two critical problems of transition. The one is how do we meet the crisis of legitimacy and I had some fears that we would have difficulty in pulling off peaceful elections if the right wing and Buthelezi stayed out. But I must tell you I was very apprehensive about it right down to the last but the way in which they came into it, Viljoen in particular and then later Buthelezi gave us, what I would say, the most unexpected inclusive and peaceful transition elections that one could imagine. It was just unbelievable. When I say inclusive I mean the range of parties involved all across the spectrum and also the high degree of legitimacy in the sense that 19 of 21 million voters participated. I would say we've come through the crisis of legitimacy with flying colours. This is really the stuff that you write story books about. So from that point of view we cannot blame the legitimacy problem for any of the difficulties that we now will inevitably run into.
. And that brings me to the second major dilemma and that is what I have always called a crisis of delivery. You can get through the crisis of legitimacy but the crisis of delivery is a different category of problems altogether. Now to make my point I would say the important thing for me is to always remind myself that we have a deal driven transition. It's deal driven in the sense that an agreement was reached on how legitimacy would be achieved and essentially it was an agreement between the ANC and the National Party, the Record of Understanding, which led to the creation of the Freedom Alliance that opposed that Record of Understanding, it became a brief tussle between them, brief in the sense that before the elections the right wing in the form of Viljoen and then Buthelezi succumbed to the logic of the Record of Understanding which by then had manifested itself in an interim constitution, in the IEC, in the TEC and of course the Electoral Act. I think an important point to remember is that the transition is still deal driven. The crisis of delivery is now forcing the partners of the deal to constantly reflect on the deal, on whether it is still necessary and how to work with it. So what you have in a sense, it's a dynamic view, it's not a static thing. The balance of forces that led to the deal in the first place they shift as well and they change. For example, De Klerk's power of patronage, Mandela's international stature which has just taken off after the election, Buthelezi's tussle with the King. So it's a dynamic deal that you have and when you face crisis of delivery you then translate the deal into very practical issues, who can deliver in province A as compared to province B as compared to province C? Or Western Cape, Natal and the PWV and how do they handle it?
. So whereas I would say we have done extremely well on the crisis of legitimacy we face very, very serious problems of delivery and there are essentially four of them that I will just mention, I won't go into it because we will obviously talk about them.
. The first one is the problem of stability. How do you change the security forces and make them acceptable? How do you depoliticise them? And with that how do you combat crime and the civilian access to illegal arms? How do you get communities involved in supporting your instruments of stability like the police and so on. These are major problems. In fact I don't think you are going to really stabilise constitutionally unless you can stabilise in the security sense as well. This is a challenge that I think all the politicians accept and realise it's an important one. The question of stability is not a matter of political conflict or dispute. Whether you are talking to Buthelezi or De Klerk or someone else we have to have that.
. The second major crisis of delivery is the actual transformation of the civil service itself as the form of delivery in the state. And here I talk particularly of your line functions in government, education, housing, health, pensions, agriculture, transport, telecommunications, all of them. This is why you see this kind of situation we find ourselves in. It's a painful process of trying to get new people in and assisting and helping and so on. And what you have to guard against are the old familiar things like nepotism, excessive patronage, corruption, inefficiency and so on.
. The third problem of delivery is one that I have been particularly involved in, the area of local government transition. And I just want to make the point that there's a tendency to think that because we've resolved the crisis of legitimacy at the national and at the regional level that we can borrow from that legitimacy at the local level. You can't, you have an unresolved crisis of legitimacy at the local level, very serious. It's precisely at the local level, with this enduring crisis of legitimacy, where you have an escalating demand for delivery. People want houses, they want to see improvement and you really haven't got governmental structures in place to efficiently deal with that and you will therefore find increasingly central and provincial government intervening until such time as you have that. Now when will you have that? You'll have that when you have elections. When can you have elections? Well, that's where I come into the picture you see.
POM. Just to cut in there for a moment. We've gone around the country maybe two or three times in the last four or five weeks and talked to a number of Premiers and MPs, to ordinary people, to whatever, and a number of things seem to emerge. One, genuine resentment on the part of the regional governments that power is not being devolved to them. Two, saying that they couldn't prepare for local elections because they didn't have the time to think about local elections and didn't have the powers devolved to them to do the things that had to be done if there were to be local elections in 1995. That is just something I would like you to comment on, this tussle between the centre and the provinces has already started. I could understand if they all became federalists tomorrow morning. But the third thing was on the RDP, lack of familiarity with it, no sense of connection to it. It's a document or a phrase that there are different interpretations of it, but again nothing cohesive that would suggest their being able to tell their communities that the RDP belongs to them and they must work for it. It's not something that the government will give them.
VZS. Well the fourth thing I was going to mention was the RDP in any case in relation to local government. You see local government is much closer to understanding what the RDP is all about than the provincial government because local government - let me agree immediately, RDP has become a kind of religious incantation. It's one of those mantras that people just mouth because you want to be politically correct. Everyone says RDP, RDP. If you ask what are you really talking about, they don't know. They know that you've got to help people, address affirmative action policies or do whatever. But it's also partly our own fault because we pretended that reconstruction and development is something that you can only devote your time to once you have destroyed apartheid. Most countries in the world are involved with reconstruction and development, so what's so strange about having an efficient educational system or getting the economy to grow and if you read the RDP document nothing escapes its attention. If I run a proper fish and chips shop and pay my taxes and the taxes are used for education I have contributed to RDP. So if I want to plug it that way, that's the way I can plug it. If I build enough houses for my labourers on the farm and build a school for them to get educated I'm contributing to the RDP. It's all there. So it's no wonder that people are confused. How do you link up to the RDP? Just go ahead and govern that area, but then you get to the catch-22. How can you govern if you haven't got the powers, the powers to decide on a whole range of issues? I must concede the most difficult form of government is the regional one. Funnily enough the nature of the problems in the local one are pretty straightforward and I might also add that there is no real confusion at the local level of what it's all about as far as elections are concerned. They know what is involved. It's can you focus the resources so that they can deal with the election? The dilemma for the provinces on elections is that they are constitutionally responsible for overseeing those elections but they have had no experience in that. The actual experience of City Council elections lie with the people there. So part of my job is to see how do we get proper communication channels going between provincial and local government around the problem of elections.
. Another important point that one has to keep in mind is the constitutional process at the national level and at the local level are identical. The processes are identical. One, at the national level you went from a negotiation phase to an appointed phase to an elected phase. So they negotiated, they appointed and then they elected. At the local level you negotiate, you appoint and hopefully you'll have your elections. At the provincial phase they went straight into elections and they went into elections in structures that had been pre-negotiated for those people who had to run those structures. In other words by the time Tokyo Sexwale got to being Premier of the region the powers for the region had been decided for him by negotiators somewhere else. He was never involved in that. He never said, "I think give us more powers." He came in there and the first thing that struck him and most of his colleagues is that they had largely a ceremonial and decorative role. You could promise houses but then Joe Slovo comes and tells you, "Hang on, this is the way it's going to be." So in that sense regional government has not come through the same process of transition. It went straight from nothing to elections and with elections was confronted with an interim constitution with pre-determined powers for them, but of course enormous hopes. I think I may have mentioned in our last interview, our federalism, if we're going to have such, will evolve from the bottom up in a kind of de facto demand for powers because from the top down it's not really federal in that sense. If you look at clause 126 of the constitution all powers reside with the central government and when there's a clash of interest between the regional and central, the central government will decide. So it is a rather strong overarching thing for them.
POM. Do you see a situation which in the Constitutional Assembly this issue of state versus central powers comes leaping out again as one of the central issues that would have to be determined? That the whole debate about federalism will restart with perhaps a realignment of parties, that some who were maybe unitarists before are now becoming federal and some of those who were federal are now becoming unitarists?
VZS. I can see something like that happening. You see there has always been a slight anomaly for me in the interim constitution in the sense that the people who govern in terms of the interim constitution are also the people who have to finalise the final constitution. So it's very difficult for a Minister of Education who would like to centralise powers to go and argue for a federalist model, if you understand what I mean. There is a conflict of interest so who will be the genuine federalists in the Constituent Assembly and how will they tackle it? Now in order to answer that question you will have to look at that Constituent Assembly and how they want to make a constitution. They have got theme committees that they've appointed, but already there's an argument that theme committees are accountable to the Constituent Assembly and the Constituent Assembly should be accountable to everybody, this kind of populist constitution making process which I think, of course, is absolutely ridiculous. You can make it and then test it but you can't have people continually coming otherwise we will be making constitutions well into the twenty first century. So who will drive the federalist demand? The regional governments. What input will they have into the constitution making at the central level? They can do it by the Minister of Constitutional Development, they can do it via the Minister of Home Affairs, they can do it via the Minister of Provincial Affairs and Local Government. You understand what I mean? They will go in there and say, listen it's just not working out in those nine regions and so on. To put it crisply you don't have a group of founding fathers who appoint a Technical Committee and say, "Devise a federal constitution for us." You don't have that. You have a Constituent Assembly with an interim constitution and in that interim constitution you have 34 constitutional principles that will guide the process of constitution making and over and above that you have a Constitutional Court that will judge that constitution making in terms of those constitutional principles. If you are going to change clause 126 and you're giving autonomous powers to provinces there's nothing that I can see which prevents that from happening.
. The question is what kind of autonomous powers are you going to give? Will the Minister of Finance allow them the powers to raise separate taxes independently, completely independently? I doubt it because then he's going to find himself in a constant batter with the PWV where your centralists see the PWV as a kind of cash cow for all the other regions. So he's going to say hang on a bit. Will the Minister of Education be a great enthusiast for giving autonomous power to provinces to run their own educational affairs? Well, given the imbalances and the problems of the past that he faces, I don't know. Will he allow that kind of policy freedom for them to decide? They can't decide on the complete curricula but funding, different ways of running the educational system and the whole process of self determination, I'm not sure.
. So if I have to identify pressures for drawing down of powers I would tend to come down on the side that says the demand for the drawing down of powers will come from the bottom and then they will have to find extraordinary ways of getting into that Constituent Assembly and making their demands known rather than say you will have a powerful lobby in parliament across party lines who would have clarity of purpose sufficiently so to say we're going to drive for a federal constitution. Then you seek common cause between the PFP and the National Party and the ANC and so on. I don't see that easily developing. And then of course the Secretary General of the ANC happens to also be the chairperson of the Constituent Assembly so he's going to be very sensitive to the tensions running through the ANC caucus on this one. The other day he said that most likely we will end up with very much the same constitution, not much change.
POM. After two years and twenty billion rand or something.
VZS. We don't stand far back in the queue when it comes to spending money.
POM. Local government: will the regions devolve power to the local government or are there already a defined set of powers that local governments will get?
VZS. Well local governments, in terms of the Local Government Transition Act, has certain basic powers in Schedule 2 of the Act which says that at local government level you will take responsibility for the bulk supply of electricity, the bulk supply of water, the bulk supply of sewerage, you take charge of cemeteries, libraries, etc. The area where you start getting a bit dicey is the question of taxing, rates and taxes and so on. Now that lies in the metropole areas at the level of the metropole, it will lie the level of local government. But that is a hopelessly inadequate fiscal base or source of revenue in terms of which you are going to run the affairs of local government. So you would have to have a number of things happening. You would have to have the people beginning to pay for services and there's a concerted drive on the part of the new government to persuade them to do so but it's not going to be easy.
POM. It's ironic, it's a problem of their own making.
VZS. Absolutely. But that's a massive problem. You will have to rely initially on inter-governmental transfers to run local governments and then you will have to have RDP moneys coming down, depending on what you're doing, if it's housing, if it's education, if it's health and so on. So local governments have clearly defined powers in relation to provincial and national government, in fact clearer I would say than provincial government, but they are financially very dicey and in a very difficult position.
POM. They are in a dicey position not because they have at least a capacity to tax but because of the narrowness of the tax base?
VZS. The base. Absolutely. You see if you take a base, what we've done in the greater Witwatersrand area is to divide it now into seven sub areas and those seven sub areas try as best as possible to get a mix between poor and wealthy. You would take Roodepoort, and it would have Dobsonville and Doornkop and Roodepoort into it. Randburg would have a slice of Soweto through into Randburg. Sandton would have Alexandria and a slice of Soweto into it. The idea being that you broaden the base but you also make the wealthier part of it more accessible to the poorer part. And that will certainly help, make no mistake, as long as they don't work on a simplistic assumption that you can make Soweto wealthy by making Houghton poor. Then you're going to mess up the whole show. But to the extent that you have a broader base that would help you to equalise services or at least get rid of the imbalance then you would be in a much better position to assess how you have to draw in from central and regional government to help you. But the poorer, the very, very poor regions it's going to be a battle, it's going to be a battle for survival. I think I can see a lot of towns just disappearing, small towns there in Ciskei, Transkei, they will just disappear, Stutterheim, places like that. You will have a consolidation around one of them like if you look at the Western Cape from Malmesbury up to Van Rhynsdorp, they can't all survive.
POM. In one sense it seems like a prescription for an accelerating rate of urbanisation.
VZS. This will be one of the results.
POM. Compounding a problem.
VZS. No question about it. That's right. You see unless, as I say, you can find a formula to arrest that kind of process, but I think that pattern will reveal itself not only between poor towns and wealthy towns, but poor regions and wealthy regions, poor countries and wealthy countries. We have an influx of people here, somebody mentioned a figure of eleven million foreigners. I don't know how they count them but in any case they mentioned something about eleven million foreigners here. By the way that's a nice interesting dilemma that we face at the local government level as well. What do you do and how sure can you be of the validity of your ID documents when voters have to register?
POM. I want to go back to two things. One, Viljoen. He crops up as being a pivotal player in what happened last year in the sense that when he came into the electoral process, he cut the feet from under the Conservative Party and basically left them powerless and gave the Afrikaner a party to vote for and some people have said that they have been performing extraordinarily well in parliament and that if you had an election today they might draw many votes away from the National Party.
VZS. I would buy that. I think Viljoen is the flavour of the month as far as the ANC is concerned in parliament. They like him. He's very, very straightforward and honest. He's sometimes a bit politically naïve but what I say now to you is a little bit off the record.
[When I saw Mandela on another matter to report also on the local government transition I said to him, "Do you want me to help you with anything, let me help you." I'm not looking for a job. I made that very clear that I'm not looking for a job. I don't want to be an Ambassador or anything like that for all the tea in China. But I said, "If there's a task you want me to do I'll be happy to help you with a task." I didn't think he had this one in mind but in any case he said, "Yes, there is something. I'm very concerned about the Afrikaans language becoming a symbol of polarised mobilisation again and anything you can do to advise me there I would be very grateful." In any case I made a point of talking to the then Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church, Piet Potgieter, and said we must get together with others, and then I saw Viljoen for about an hour and a half alone and I said, "Mandela is concerned." And he said, "Well he has reason to be and I would like to help him prevent this from happening." He said, "There are three areas where I can see this flaring up, particularly in the new year. One is the area of education. If there is forced integration in your deep rural areas in a rather crude ham-handed fashion then there will bloodshed." He said, "The second one is land reform. If you're going to put poor black farmers, inadequately trained with small little plots in amongst wealthy white farmers, or active white farmers and the poor farmers start becoming squatter landlords and you have stock theft and so on, then there will be bloodshed." Thirdly, funnily enough, he said the Truth and Justice Commission. He said the way it was being set up it would simply become an instrument to persecute top Afrikaners in the civil service and we need to have the political leadership there. He said he wants Mandela to call a debate in parliament for three weeks. We'll get PW Botha and Vlok ... I wrote a report and sent it back to him. Viljoen has read it and is coming to see me, I think on Thursday. His idea was that we must have small, intimate meetings of top leaders.]