About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

29 Sep 1995: Zille, Helen

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POM. Helen, maybe I will begin with asking you a very broad question and that is after 18 months of the government of national unity being in existence in what direction do you think the country is going?

HZ. It's a very broad question but I think the answer is that there are contradictory signs. If we have to see our present situation with the wisdom of hindsight and be honest as before the elections with all the possibilities that could have materialised in that context, we're in one of the best case scenarios that we could have emerged into quite frankly. After the election there was this wild euphoria in which people began to lose sight of realistic options and thought that indeed a rose garden was possible. The fact that we avoided major political conflict was a significant achievement coming out of a context of what was a low intensity civil war and most certainly a tremendous polarisation and a commitment by one side not to negotiate until they were clearly victorious and the other side not to capitulate. And so to have moved from that kind of situation the way we did was indeed something of a political miracle. The euphoria that followed that though was totally unrealistic and lost sight of all of the ballast that would sooner or later ground us in reality and I think that we have become much more realistic in the past 18 months. I think that we have seen that non-racialism is a sine qua non for South Africa but that it's not a philosophy or a set of policies or an approach to management that can deal with our crises and so we're going to have to now face the hard reality of an economic transition in a very serious way and I think there are signs that we are grasping that nettle and certainly beginning to grasp that nettle.

. Most certainly the macro economic indicators are good. We are pushing down inflation which is a very important indicator if you're looking at a post-liberation situation that the government is trying to deliver. I think we're freeing the economy especially in terms of international trade slowly but surely and I think we're getting realistic around the relationship between work and reward very slowly. But there is still an enormous gravy train. The extent to which civil servants are employed without jobs but with salaries and benefits is perhaps one of the biggest economic millstones that we face. I think that there is just enough capacity in the system, managerially, functionally, administratively to give us the possibility of turning that corner as well. I would be intrigued to know how many competent people of integrity one needs in a society to keep the boat steady in the water, how much managerial competence, how much administrative skill, how much commitment to slow incremental development one needs in a society to make that way which really I think is the only way that one gets development over the long term triumph as against the opposite tendency which is crime, which is violence, which is salaries way beyond the value that people are adding to what particular job they are doing. We've always had that in South Africa; because our politics were so overwhelming that was the crisis that had to be addressed. Now the economic crisis has to be addressed and my sense is that there is a tremendous amount of capacity skill in the South African society. The question I ask is, is there enough to provide the centre of gravity needed for the stable classes to get us through things rather than the disintegration that's lapping at the fringes of that all the time from becoming the dominant momentum in the society. I don't think we've had the answer yet, I really don't.

. And if one looks at transition in institutions all over the country it could go either way. Our own institution here is involved in a major transition and the reason I'm in UCT is because I see what a critical role this institution has to play as one of the last two universities of quality left in Africa and how crucially important that role is. We're going through a transition in which we're facing many, many major challenges and the question for us is, will we be able to maintain excellence while transforming and achieving equity and we believe those two are compatible. In fact we believe they are mutually reinforcing but it has to be achieved, it can't be taken for granted. And how many people do you need making a consistent, concerted effort to that goal, understanding that it needs to be achieved, that it can't be taken for granted so that that does actually happen.

. And that really is the metaphor that applies to our whole society and because we really do have a legacy in our society of rewards unrelated to competence, unless we change that we're going to be in serious trouble. So our economy is the key thing at the moment and I've explained this to you before, whether we can get social stability happening again through institutions from the family upwards, institutional stability, organisational stability, social networks functional, based in decent human relationships, and I don't know what the word 'decent' means, but functional human relationships in which one knows what to expect from people and in which one can trust people. All of these kinds of things are absolutely critical. So it could still go either way.

. You asked a question of how do I feel now looking back 18 months. I feel still politically positive. We've had a resurgence of the race debate which was inevitable, so things that are rooted in completely different issues, for example issues that have absolutely nothing to do with race are turned into race issues. That was inevitable in the society coming from the legacy of ours but it's equally important for us to be able to say the issue here is lending policy in a bank, it's got nothing to do with race. The issue here is managerial competence and if we start reducing everything to race we're going to be in a very, very difficult situation. We have to try and overcome that and say what is the real issue here. Is the issue managerial competence? Is the issue a different approach to the same problem? What is the issue? But if we reduce it to racial differences we're on a slippery slope and I think there are enough people in this society who see that and understand that.

POM. What about what I would call the lack of social cohesion in the pubic sector where you have these wildcat strikes, police going on strike, the President's bodyguards going on strike, nurses going on strike and really taking not just action but dramatic action where the consequences of their actions are often out of proportion or appear to be out of proportion to the level of their grievances?

HZ. Well I think in a way it's the obvious thing, it's expectations, pre-election expectations coming home to roost and in that sense it's a very critical period because if we don't get realistic about expectations in the society and what society as a whole can afford then the economic transition won't work and we're in a moment of truth as it were. The Cabinet, for example, have turned round to the nurses and said, no we cannot meet your wage demands, we can't afford to meet your wage demands and there will be serious penalties unless you go back to work. That is a moment of truth because it's the first time that the new democratic government has said that as clearly as it has and it's going to be critical to us to look at the response to that kind of position. My sense is, you know I have a strong sympathy with the nurses quite frankly because I've seen, for example, all of the bureaucrats still on the payroll in the former homelands earning large amounts of money and being chauffeur driven through the transition as it were, and yet nurses particularly, and in many areas teachers, are really underpaid for delivering a sterling service day in day out. I do have a sympathy there and my sense is that if there was much more concerted effort at rationalisation and streamlining the gravy train, as it's called, it would be easier to say to people, make sacrifices.

POM. When you talk about the gravy train, could you define it more specifically?

HZ. There are various manifestations. The two most obvious manifestations that have been here recently are the number of officials who are employed in jobs that have effectively ceased to exist and if you, for example, read about people still being paid high salaries for government positions that they held in Bophuthatswana or Transkei, they have ceased now to be functional in those positions but they still continue to draw a salary because of the agreement at the constitutional negotiations that no bureaucrat would lose his or her job. That's the clearest manifestation of the gravy train.

. The other is the fiscal, the lack of control that could lead to something like the Mpumalanga affair where people were earning R15000 a day and could simply add a nought to their accounts and no-one picked that up. That's the private sector cashing in on the gravy train, lack of fiscal discipline, it's lack of controls, it's people basically having the ability to write out the cheques and writing them out not looking to see whether the value added is commensurate to the payment. That's the second manifestation of the gravy train.

. The third is the chaos that reigned in the interregnum, at it were, where people knew that there was going to be incorporation in the South African institutions if they were living in homelands and that sort of thing and suddenly you had people holus-bolus being promoted to very senior positions in the army, in the defence force, all over the place, that they knew that they would be incorporated at the position that they had left. And that is obviously another manifestation. Now you can imagine in that kind of context why people who haven't had the opportunity to move into the interstices of that system are very angry at their take home pay. And if there was more evidence of action being taken to stop that I think it would be easier to argue that every South African has to make serious sacrifices at this stage.

POM. Recently a parliamentary committee recommended that the salaries of MPs be doubled.

HZ. Exactly.

POM. How could members, particularly of the ANC with their attachments to the grassroots or supposed attachment to the grassroots, knowing that there has been no significant change in the delivery of services or in the standard of living of the lives of the mass of the people, vote to double their own salaries? How could they be so insensitive to what the mood of the public is?

HZ. I think that obviously is the example that rankles most strongly with people in the street and on the ground, as we say. It's the notion that people are voting themselves what seem to be inordinate salaries, even to me it seems an unbelievable salary, and then basically refuse a pay increase to the nurses. That is how it's perceived. Whether that's the case or not that's how it's perceived. I think you have to explain it, if I had to try to explain the MPs perspective on it, you have many of them coming into office when they are well into their thirties or forties, many of them, although certainly not all, have sacrificed many years of their working lives in their struggle, with nothing. They come into positions certainly of high status, or perceived to be of high status, and they are suddenly in a position where they have got to often maintain two households and two homes and are trying to establish themselves in the middle class very belatedly without having had time to accumulate the resources. They pay the same taxes as everybody so they probably pay 45% in tax so then you can just about halve what their salary is plus you can take away a couple of other more thousands for the fringe benefits that you never see in your pay package. And what you're actually taking home they need to buy a house, they need to buy a car, they need to support a spouse often, they need to send their children to good schools and they need to have all the context of middle class life without having accumulated it over 20 years.

. Now I'm not saying that that is a justification but I can see that those are the pressures working on people, so that suddenly having a mortgage and having maintenance and having to pay for a car and maybe two cars for a spouse, and having to maintain two households for a spouse and children who may be living elsewhere, and having to run the kind of lifestyle that you have certainly perceived whites previously in that situation living, that becomes the driving imperative. And so what seems an inordinate amount of money to someone who has got no income at all does not necessarily seem to be such a lot of money for people who are trying to pay back or pay off a whole lot of capital overheads that they are getting into for the first times in their lives. That's what I perceive to be happening although I'm not rationalising it but I'm saying that's how you would understand it sociologically.

POM. What about the recent furore over the rate of absenteeism and the inability of the government to put a quorum together to pass supplementary budget bills? This matter of the absenteeism, it's kind of ironic at one level, like 18 months after this 40 year struggle to get the vote, to get representation in parliament, so many parliamentarians don't bother to show up. And on the second level is the inability to get a quorum together, what you were talking about earlier, the lack of management skills. The Whips simply aren't up to the task of ensuring, as they do in places like Britain, that if there was a crucial vote coming up you're there whether you're carried in on a stretcher or not, you're there, or is it a matter of too much work, too many committees overlapping with the plenary sessions of parliament where you can't be in two places at the one time, or is it being taken out of a context where in most countries if you walk into parliament at any given time and look around there's only a handful of people there?

HZ. I think it's a combination of all of the things that you mention. There are some MPs who work harder than any people I have ever seen, who really work hard with no infrastructure, no support. There are others who haven't got a grasp of the system yet and so much of it just goes over their heads and so they don't quite know where to plug in and if you don't quite know where to plug in and what your role is, then it never seems as if you're not doing all you should be because you haven't grasped the system well enough to know everything you should be doing yet and what the demands are that the system should be making of you. I think that that will be a very small minority. The rest I think are overburdened, have huge numbers of things to see to and probably aren't managing their time as well as they should be and some are managing their time superbly and work day and night with very little support.

. The second thing is that they work in an environment I only can call it a BC environment, before computers. Now I don't know how you run an efficient show with so many people and so many committees without a computer infrastructure or a technological infrastructure. This university runs on electronic mail. I think I send about 20 electronic mails a day and I get answers within that day on crucial issues and it helps me plan, take decisions and manage this department. They don't even have a computer on most desks there and I would imagine that most MPs have never worked a computer before. And so there is certainly no access to Internet, to information, to the communication, to the writing of editing potential the computers bring with them, the communication. So everything is done by hand and manually without any infrastructural support in terms of human resources either. So put all that together and you want to know how inefficient that system is.

POM. There was a story in The Guardian, I'm sure you saw it, about the parliamentary clerk who has to keep attendance, she did it all manually, counted the heads.

HZ. There you go, that's exactly how it is.

POM. She goes to all the committees and then takes the attendance there and cross checks one against the other. She's like two months behind in her work and takes it home at night and spreads it out on the kitchen table.

HZ. That's exactly what I'm saying. I haven't seen that article. Was that in The Mail & Guardian?

POM. Yes, it was hilarious because it was so absurd.

HZ. That's how it functions, because a lot of people spend their time doing tasks that seem not the priority but they do it like that. I call it a BC environment, before computers, definitely not AD. Anyway that's how it functions. People who are good and work hard like Naledi Pandor are just totally overwhelmed. She wants to make a serious contribution and is a worker, she's a very good worker and she's a very good manager. She was here at UCT, she's extraordinarily good and it would just overwhelm anyone. There's also the fact that many of them were totally under-prepared for what they came to, they had absolutely no idea what governance was and how it was organised and what structures and systems would function, and they didn't want to just all willy nilly into the old structures and systems and take them over. And so there were all of these factors that came together but mostly the press has painted it as ineptitude and incompetence which is very unfortunate I think because we just cannot build this society on the notion that black people can't manage, (a) it's going to destroy the confidence of the society, (b) it's not true and (c) it's just going to polarise racial positions and tensions all the time.

POM. President Mandela in an interview he gave on the 500 days in office, just quoting from The Argus, he said he blamed the media for the impression that most of his attention was given to whites, saying white editors and owners glossed over his work for the majority and focused on gestures towards conservative whites. Then he went on to say that one must take into account that the media is controlled by whites and elements of racism are still there. Do you think that's a fair comment on his part or is there a tendency for a media bashing syndrome to develop in the country?

HZ. Let me say that in one sense this is a very good example of the phenomenon that I have just been mentioning, the issues become race issues that are actually quite something else. The issue here of what the media should focus on and what makes a good media story and what is considered significant and important is the issue here, but what it does become is it is white editors and it's white control and this is black, etc., etc. I would be interested to look at the black media around all of the stories that were given real prominence by so-called white media and see whether The Sowetan, for example, thought his visit to Mrs Betsie Verwoerd in Orania was any less significant than the other media did. I venture to think probably not although they might have reflected it in a different way but we would have to look at that.

. So my sense is on the one hand what President Mandela says has an element of truth in it because it's extraordinarily frustrating when one is trying to work is a particular area and see what's really important, the press choose their angle on the basis of what is symbolically important often. They can understand that for the president of a non-racial South Africa who was in jail for 27 years because of a policy created by an individual whose wife now still believes in apartheid and is trying to get apartheid established in reverse through a homeland for whites, the visit of such a man to such a man's widow as a reconciliation gesture is a big story. It carries incredible symbolism, whereas another RDP project perhaps would not carry that kind of symbolism and mass media appeal. So part of it is the question of what is a story and how one markets government departments and communicates what they are doing, which is what the government should be concentrating on, a serious organised policy for communication. Instead there is an element of it being much easier to turn it into a black/white issue, not a media bashing issue. Obviously that's an element of it but the issue is it's not an analysis of the role of the media which would be a fair kind of thing to be doing. It's media bashing in one sense but it's also reducing it to the racial component and it's a very good example of what I've just mentioned of their taking an issue that should be an issue in its own right, debated on its own merits and turning it into a question of white perceptions and black perceptions, although I think there is an element of truth in that the debate goes far deeper. What kind of a role is the media playing? Is it identifying the crucial things in terms of the unfolding transition? How do government departments communicate? How do individuals within government communicate and how do they get across the messages that they think are important? That's the debate. I hope I'm making myself clear.

POM. Very clear, because it struck me after reading those remarks that, I read every paper that's published in the country I think, and I find that you would get an equal number of black columnists making the same kind of points that the President is taking issue with and attributing to white racism.

HZ. Correct.

POM. It's like saying, again, what is the role of the media and what should it be doing?

HZ. Correct. That's the issue, but we shouldn't turn it into a race issue you see and our big risk is that we are going to increasingly do that. And then black people like Mamphela Ramphele who make exactly the same points are then cast out as being co-opted by white liberals so you can't win either way in that kind of debate. Fortunately that's not yet the predominant debate in South Africa. There's a temptation that it should be because there's no easier way of escaping from real issues than to put it into a legacy of racism.

POM. Let me turn for a minute to the local elections. The first question would be, how did South Africa manage to go from one of the most simple electoral systems that was used in the April 1994 elections to certainly one of the most complex voting procedures for the local elections? Now I haven't talked to any two people who have given me, I mean educated, ministerial, high ranking people, who have given me the same explanation of how the local government voting system works. I would like to have one shot with you and see what your understanding of it is.

HZ. My answer, Padraig, is that I don't know. I registered for the elections, obviously. I understand that there are going to be metropolitan structures and municipal sub-structures. I understand that I am going to be able to vote at both levels, but that's it, that's what I know. I don't even know if that's right because it keeps on changing, they keep on amending the Act. We can't even get our boundary dispute resolved in the Western Cape. So I have no idea. I'll be absolutely honest with you, I used to follow these things so closely and, of course I still do, I still read the papers closely, but I do not know what the municipal voting system is. I have some suspicion about why it's so complex. I mean when you bring democracy home, as they are saying, you run into all of the complexities of different cultural groups and different ethnic groups living in close proximity and the questions of governance over the daily aspects of one's life. Those are really tough issues to resolve and that's why the voting system gets so complex at local level. What it actually is I don't know. Let me ask you what it is, can you tell me?

POM. I can give you one of about fifteen different interpretations. Just relating to that, the average person then, the average person in a township really doesn't have a clue as to how this thing works?

HZ. I can vouch that they don't have a clue how it works. Obviously some people have a clue how it works but the average person in or outside of the township doesn't have a clue how it works. And you know what interests me is that the national election in 1994 was really the simplest thing that you could imagine because you actually got a list of parties and candidates and you just had to put a cross next to one and you had to put another cross because you were also voting at a regional level. There was such concentration on voter education, you couldn't switch on a radio without hearing a voter education programme, you couldn't switch on television without seeing a voter education programme. It was all over the newspapers. Here, where there is disarray around the Act in terms of which local government elections are going to be held, where there are boundary disputes in certain key metropolitan areas, where the system of proportional representation breakdown of votes is so complex that no-one knows what's going on, I haven't heard one bit of voter education yet except to tell people to register, which I have duly done.

POM. My follow up question on that is, and I may have asked you this before, how did Saatchi & Saatchi, the darling firm of Margaret Thatcher, the darling firm of the NP, end up with the entire advertising account for communicating what the local elections were about and in a sense designing voter education programmes whether for television or for radio or whatever. How did that happen?

HZ. I have no idea except to say that you stop trying to explain contradictions in our society, you stop trying to explain it. I mean at one stage it's an article of faith that people will have nothing in principle to do with A or B or C. The next thing it's official policy and I never understand how these things happen. I went through an era in the eighties and the seventies where the principle of negotiation was sell-out, you cannot understand to what extent it was seen as a sell-out on the left and by the liberation movements. It was incrementalism, it was reformism, these were swear words in the political context of resistance. The ANC then became the champions in negotiation. Pragmatism is what rules this country. There's a lot of principle but like most societies pragmatism rules. And so people will say, where do we think we're going to get to, what's appropriate at this moment? Not expedient because that's even too pejorative a term. What works now? So we get Joe Slovo, the committed Marxist, saying that the state's job was not go give everybody a house, the state's job was only to help people to be able to afford what they were going to sustain in the long term. That is such a profound contradiction from a communist, saying your house is built on the basis of your sweat equity and enterprise. And he took everyone with him on that. It's a fundamental contradiction. Liberal democracy does form the basis of our constitution and it was the most vilified philosophy from the left and right which constituted by far the majority of people in the society for most of the seventies and eighties and liberals are still looked down upon. It's how this country is and if we weren't like that we wouldn't have made it through this transition because much more logical things would have happened.

POM. You said you wouldn't have made it through the transition?

HZ. If people had been consistent.

POM. With their beliefs?

HZ. Yes.

POM. Then the country wouldn't have made it? The fact that they have been able to put their beliefs aside?

HZ. Their articulated beliefs. I mean the resistance was to a large extent Marxist driven and I know because I was one of the non-Marxist, the liberals in that context, and I know how difficult it was to make a case and not be branded a sell-out, or not a sell-out, sell-out is the wrong word, but an appeaser, a reformist. The fine measuring was that used to be used to measure people's position in organisations like the End Conscription Campaign, for example, which I worked on very hard because I was absolutely determined that my sons were not going to fight for a philosophy that I didn't believe in, and I didn't see the change coming so quickly, I certainly didn't, and I thought when they were 18 they would be conscripted as well, so I worked in End Conscription. But there were other agenda working there, obviously, and I was seen as reformist and a liberal and that was pejorative phraseology.

. If people had moved from the basis of the logic of dialectical materialism which is what people professed and believed, we wouldn't be where we are today. People can take pragmatic decisions based on the reality of the context and understand that we have got enough in this society to lose to make it worthwhile retaining it, has been what's driven us through. If you had to look at some of the rhetoric of black and white and stuff like that, one would also say logically we can't manage it, we'll end up like Sarajevo. But the pragmatic recognition of how inter-dependent we are and how dependent we are on each other to get the society to function is what makes people make pragmatic choices in the end no matter what they say.

POM. President Mandela put it very succinctly when he said, "My task is to unite the country, to prevent whites from leaving with their skills which should be put to use here." The fact that the word nationalisation that was bandied about so often ...

HZ. It was an article of faith, it wasn't bandied about.

POM. - it has now disappeared from the vocabulary altogether. A couple more things on the local elections, it would seem that the cream, or a lot of the talent in the black community went into central government, that provincial government is having problems functioning and running efficiently because there simply is not enough talent there and one would think that when one gets down to the local level that there is going to be even less talent there and less trained people, less knowledge of what local government is and what it should be doing and yet it is continuously promulgated that local government would be the primary vehicle for the implementation of the RDP. We are taking the most important, the centrepiece of reconstruction and development and saying it will be implemented by what would probably be the least efficient level of government. Is there not a huge contradiction here that almost guarantees that the RDP, which is not doing so well, is going to slide into more trouble?

HZ. Yes I think so. I think what it also means is that the government will become more and more and more dependent on consultants who are working outside of government to do anything for them and of course that's a huge divide in the society that's developing. You've got a lot of people in government who may not be as competent as they should be, especially at the local level, and that's black and white, and I'm not for one minutes suggesting it's a race thing. And then you get them really focusing on having to deliver something and so they get consultants from the outside who can really charge exorbitant rates because of the demand for their skills. Not that I think that's ethical but that is what can happen and of course there has been a massive divide between the bureaucracy and the whole breed of consultants who stay outside the bureaucracy to give themselves perks and flexibility but on whose skills government is relying to make anything happen. And so you get this tremendous complexity that develops around that. But I do think that your thesis is the correct one, it's very complex. The only thing that will be good then is that you will then have elected representatives of communities and you won't have this paralysis caused by the fact that no-one speaks for communities and no-one seems legitimately to be able to take a decision for communities. And so one of the major bottlenecks in getting projects off the ground, which is political legitimacy for any kind of development because everything is always controversial because it's not delivering everything people want to everybody, it will get rid of that problem. There will still be a capacity problem but that can be addressed in other sorts of ways. Does that make sense to you?

POM. That makes sense but still leaves me very, I mean I look at the RDP and look at the hoopla with which it was launched and then look around two years later, or 18 months later or whatever, to try to identify real accomplishments, I find it difficult to identify those accomplishments and I find an increasing spirit of cynicism and derision towards the whole idea of the RDP itself, that more money is being spent on promoting it than is being spent on projects. That is it has become a PR thing rather than the instrument that would drive economic growth.

HZ. The one thing that I think is absolutely critically true in this country is that development doesn't come from the state. The state creates the facilitative environment to enable people to get on with it themselves, gives them access to resources like land for example. That's the state's job, to enable people to get a foothold in the economy and in the fabric of society. It gives them access to a piece of land and government subsidies should make that access possible. It gives them the basis to get credit and to start functioning in a way that is truly developmental and sustainable. Most people see the RDP as the government delivering to people, whether it's in the form of a sandwich at school for children, which I think is crucial. Obviously I think that's a very important RDP project and I completely support it but what it does is it establishes a model that the RDP is government giving to people rather than creating a policy framework, a fundamental infrastructure with resources that are available and enables people to drive their own development and improvement in their own lives.

POM. So in an odd sense the RDP, rather than being an instrument to empower people, has become an instrument that makes them more dependent?

HZ. Well it makes them expect more from government. And you see I think the less people expect from government the better for development. If people say, "What I do in improving my own life context is up to me", the more people say that the better for development. And obviously the government has got to stop standing on people's boots if they want them to pull themselves up by their own boot strings and they have got to give people springs under their feet and the way that you do that is by having proper policy to make that possible. So, for example, the last thing people could do under apartheid was develop themselves because they weren't allowed to establish themselves in urban areas, they weren't allowed to own businesses, they weren't allowed to borrow money, they weren't allowed to do anything which is absolutely essential for development. What we need is for the government to say, how much money have we got for education, etc., what policies have we got to distribute those resources equitably and how can we harness people's individual efforts to take responsibility for improving their own lives. That is the only way it can be done.

. And the only place that I saw a start being made successfully on that approach was with Joe Slovo and he said absolutely clearly, "I know everyone expects the state to deliver a three bedroomed house on a plot, preferably with a swimming pool, the state cannot afford that. It will never be able to afford that. We can't get more than a seven billion rand per year housing budget and for that we can give everybody who needs a house and who hasn't got a house a R12,000 subsidy to get on and get a foot on the bottom rung of the ladder of the housing system so they can get a piece of serviced land and go from there or get some kind of in into the system and go from there on the basis of their own effort." And he was the only one who had the guts to stand up and say that is what the RDP is in housing. And people said, "But you want us to live in shacks?" And he said, "No I don't want you to live in unserviced shacks on the outskirts of the cities. We want to integrate the urban fabric, we want to build inside the city, we want to densify the city, we want to give people options, but the notion that the state will provide you a house is not possible. The state will create a policy framework within which it will be much easier for you to get your own house and deliver your own house and to improve the conditions of your family and you won't be debarred from areas and stuff like that except by market mechanisms which are extraordinarily powerful but nevertheless the state's job is to create the policies and the affordability that will give you a foot on the ladder and then people have to contribute as well and the banks have to contribute by lending to low income people and we've got to get a sustainable system going." That is what he said. And no-one spelt it out as clearly as he did because no-one understood the vision as clearly as he did. And it took a communist to stand up and do it, but he did it.

POM. I had some great fun with him on that very issue.

HZ. Well I didn't talk to him, I just saw this from the outside. You see if everybody had that message and said it's not actually complex, you stand up and you say this is how much money the state can afford to give us, this is what the need is in the country, our policy is to divide the money equitably amongst the need, that means everyone can have R12,000 which is what Joe Slovo said. He did that sum which means that that's not enough to get you what you expect but because we haven't got more, because we can't just print money, this is what people have to do. That's an easy message, you can get it across in a brochure in three lines.

POM. Why is it that the government has not managed to get its message out?

HZ. I think that there isn't a clear common vision in government about what RDP is, that's the first thing. I think that it is a very difficult political message to sell. I think that you can't really sell it in abstract, you've got to sell it in concrete terms through projects which Joe Slovo was fortunately able to do and I think that that comes up against the massive wall of capacity. It's one thing to say to people, "Here is something", like the City Council used to give everybody a house before who needed one until the waiting list ran away with them. It's much easier managerially and administratively to say, "Here, this is what you need", rather than say "Here's the policy and your capacity needs to take the rest forward." So even if you get that framework right to make the rest happen it is a hugely difficult step. So you can't only have the theory side of it, you have to have the practical delivery side of it as well.

POM. To go back to the economy for a moment, and I do know that this year there has actually been around a 3.4% growth rate, but when you offset that against the population increase you're not really moving forward very much.

HZ. We're going backwards. No, we're not at all I don't think.

POM. There has not been any huge inflow of foreign capital. Outsiders are still kind of waiting and there are many other opportunities to invest in other places that yield higher return and less risk.

HZ. And less insecurity.

POM. You have had a series of studies done that all point to the competitiveness of South African industry in a global context and it ranks 47 or 48 out of 50 countries. At the same time you have the country becoming a member of GATT which means the lowering of tariffs, less protection, which means loss of jobs in inefficient industries. Where do you see the engine of economic growth coming from? No-one says that a job, even if there can be economic growth there's no relationship between economic growth and the creation of jobs per se. They are not necessarily correlated.

HZ. You mustn't ask us in South Africa to be too logical because if we do we get too pessimistic so you've got to often try not to look at all of the indicators and put them together and try and make things work anyway. I think if you look at all the indicators that you mention the prospects are extraordinarily bleak because we have to go through a very stringent period of some hope that we will learn some macro economic realities about productivity, about development, about all of the things that are critical and that somehow urbanisation will succeed in lowering the birth rate sufficiently to bring all of those parts of the equation into line. Conventional wisdom has it that growth in the economy happens through the manufacturing sector and that doesn't happen without investment or confidence and it certainly doesn't happen without the wage of technological advancement helping to make us competitive and it certainly doesn't happen without wages that are competitive. In South Africa none of those hang together either and the point is that all the studies also seem to indicate that we can only really get into manufacturing industries if we look for niche markets and specialised markets because we can't compete on wages but we can compete on skills in certain areas. That's also for a very, very small part of the population.

. So there is a profound concern obviously about what we're going to do about unemployment, poor skills levels, hopeless education in large parts of the system, increasing competition and uncompetitive wage structures and low productivity. I mean it's a cocktail that makes for economic disaster and that's why if we had to put all of those statistics together and put them through a computer we would still say that our political problems were extraordinarily easy to solve in comparison to the economic challenges we face. And one would say, if one is rational, that the small part of South Africa that is operating functionally economically could well be engulfed by the contradictions that are going to keep large and growing numbers of South Africans without proper access to that formal economy.

. So what I'm saying to you is that when you put it like that the future is extraordinarily bleak. On the other hand, if one looks at what's happening in parts of the rest of Africa which have been through that very traumatic period of having to face themselves, face the reality of the economic world in which they have to operate because there is no other choice, and I've come to this almost liberating realisation that as a society one does it oneself because it's not going to be done for you and you can't keep on for ever blaming other people for your plight. If we can go through that learning curve a lot more quickly than many other societies have I think we could well make it.

. I've just spoken to a person, I had lunch now with a person who has just come back from Kenya and all the East African countries who said that there's a vigour and an efficiency and a focus there that she hasn't noticed before and it's part of the spirit of we've got to do this ourselves, we've got to have a renaissance in Africa, it's got to be based on market systems, it's got to be based on delivery and performance, which she's never seen before. Now if we can concertina that learning curve, which many countries in Latin America, wherever, who have been through a liberation struggle have taken twenty years to get there, we may well be spared that because we're lucky enough to be on the last end of the curve of liberation and we've got more lessons to learn from past experience than most other countries have been able to do. We've also had the example of the collapse of communism and socialism as systems and we also know that markets don't function without productivity and hard work and confidence in the parameters of the system.

. So those are the lessons, no-one disputes them. No-one has a major ideological debate about them except some fringes of the society. If we can pull through the implications of those lessons we're going to go through a really hard time in the interim because it's going to mean more job loss, but it might get our fundamentals right to make us pull through in the longer term more quickly than other societies might. We have to cling to that hope, Padraig.

POM. Who is the leader? Is there an emergent leader who can articulate that philosophy and drive it home to people and maintain the social cohesion and the development of the civil society that would underpin that kind of development?

HZ. Well Mandela hasn't actually articulated that except in the broadest terms. He's the symbolic leader of huge stature and faith and forgiveness and reconciliation. That's his role and he must stick to that role because he's right in what you've just quoted me as one of his key sayings, and that is his role. The person who is going to lead us to economic growth is going to be the person who, I think, drives home that message and the two people, the heirs apparent are Thabo Mbeki, in whom I frankly have very little confidence, and Cyril Ramaphosa who seems to have been marginalised quite substantially and in the ANC you've got to have the support of some key constituencies at least, like women and the youth and the old party and all that sort of thing, and the communists too, to make anything, to get any headway. So Cyril Ramaphosa could well be the person to do it if that message had to be delivered and most certainly Trevor Manuel has had a remarkable economic turnaround even though he's back to bashing big business in some ways. He's been extraordinarily honest about facing the question of the need for international competitiveness and domestic competitiveness.

POM. What happened to Cyril?

HZ. He took on too many people when he had over-estimated his own support base.

POM. I'd put my money on Cyril but suddenly Cyril is, as you said, sitting on the sidelines.

HZ. Sidelines. But let me tell you this is where white liberals never get it right with politics in South Africa because you look at the guy and you think like an individual, liberals think like individuals, and they see people as individuals which is obviously the system that we want. And they say that is obviously the most competent individual and he or she is obviously the right person to do X, Y, Z job because that is the way we think. But in politics all over the world, and especially in South Africa, white and black, and again this is not a racial judgement, you've got to bring constituencies with you. And in the ANC the key constituencies would be the youth, the Youth League, the women, the old guard in the party, COSATU and the SA Communist Party. Those are roughly the five constituencies that you would need to emerge as leader of the ANC or at least a strong combination of those. And Ramaphosa took on a lot of people.

POM. He took them on in terms of?

HZ. He took on Winnie Mandela, he took on elements of the youth, he started moving in from a trade union position and in a lateral way into the top of the party and got himself copped because all of the old constituencies who had been working up their way for years and years and years weren't going to have this and he was strong enough and independent enough to alienate a lot of those constituencies and without them, no matter how competent or good you are or how objectively the right person, you don't get the job. I'm sure it's like that in politics everywhere in the world.

POM. Anyway I'm still betting on him.

HZ. Well we'd like to bet on him.

POM. I think I told you I brought him to the States. Did I tell you that?

HZ. Yes you said you were going to.

POM. Well I was able to get himself and Roelf Meyer to be our Commencement speakers and they arrived the day after they had agreed to the date of the election at Kempton Park. It was very moving.

HZ. Oh yes, great. What university are you?

POM. University of Massachusetts. What was very moving about it was the way Cyril went out of his way to ensure that Roelf was included in everything, that he wasn't the star of the proceedings, brought him in all the time, was protective of him.

HZ. That must have stunned people in the United States.

POM. Oh it did. Again it turned all the conventional wisdom right on its ear.

HZ. You see this is the point.

POM. What is that guy doing here?

HZ. If you were to be logical that could not have happened. If you were to have the logical progression from the point of departure of where we had come from in this society that could not have happened. There are so many different imperatives working in this society. We have just started a major science and engineering programme in Africa from UCT and the Americans were totally sceptical of it. They said white South Africans will be thrown out and they won't be accepting of you. Yet we've been welcomed with open arms and people have been wide-eyed. It's a different world.

POM. What again, in the general context of what we're talking about, what should the ANC as the dominant partner in government be doing that it is not doing? I like to give you nice easy questions.

HZ. It needs to be doing a whole lot of things, I'm not mentioning them in order of priority. It needs to be choosing the very best people for the job and not people based on loyalty, party position and things like that. So, for example, Bengu should not be our Minister of Education just for a start. And Joe Modise, although it isn't nearly as critical a position, should not be the Minister of Defence and Alfred Nzo should not be the Minister of Foreign Affairs. So they've got to get into the ethos of choosing the very best person for the job in those critical positions, not rewarding party loyalty. It's one of the things they've got to do. They've got to get an ethos of management and delivery and get a proper equity and affirmative action process that marries the two and that can be seen as such. They have got to get a proper communication strategy to communicate press strategy and media strategy to get across what they mean and what they're trying to be doing. Above all they've got to convince South Africans that they are serious about stopping crime and violence and have got an effective strategy to do that. And they have also got to change the perception of incompetent management of parliament and the gravy train and much of that hangs on communication because I think that there is a tremendous commitment to do all of those things but I think that there has been a failure to communicate it all adequately.

POM. Pallo would be the person in charge of?

HZ. The broadcasting system.

POM. That portfolio.

HZ. He would be, and he should be developing that strategy.

POM. He's not?

HZ. I don't see much of him, I don't know what's happened to him. I never hear about him or see him or read about him. What's happened to him?

POM. I don't know until I see him next month but I've always found him, like observing him in public, and his obvious contempt for the press and his acerbic tongue makes me think that he is the most inappropriate person to be Minister for Communications that they could choose.

HZ. To be doing that job. He's very articulate. He doesn't say to the press that you've got a crucial role to play and we'll give you the information you need to do it properly, which is what he should be doing.

POM. Just a few more questions. I think you've answered this probably a number of times, but last year the ANC was saying that 1994 is the year in which we put the new structures in place and 1995 is the year of delivery. 1995 has not been the year of delivery. How much time do they have?

HZ. Well you know time carries on, time goes on and on and on. How much time do they have for what, till what? Time doesn't run out. It very rarely is five minutes to midnight. But what really has to happen first, we have to understand that delivery depends on a certain set of assumptions and fundamentals and we've got to realise that without that it won't happen and we've just got to come to terms with a little bit of disillusionment and get a proper analysis as to why things aren't happening and get a proper problem definition and then just get on with it in terms of achieving the criteria to enable development to happen. And for me the one sad realisation is that nothing ever happens without backbreaking hard work focused on clear goals at every level of society and there are few skills and not enough understanding of real grinding hard work is in this society.

POM. Just two other areas I want to ask you about, one is the constitution. Is the constitution that's going to emerge from the Constitutional Assembly going to be a fundamentally different document than the interim constitution or is it going to be a fine tuning of that constitution?

HZ. Padraig, you see now you always get me with these questions because you always expect me as the average lay person to be able to answer these questions in detail. I am so exhausted with all of the systems, etc., that I read the big stories. When there has been an agreement or when ink is drying on paper or when I perceive that there's a major breakthrough or when the rules are there, then I read those articles from beginning to end because I want to know what's happening but I don't want to know about all the wrangles in between unless the whole system is collapsing. One gets so pulled in this and that direction by this crisis, by this row, by this response, by the public participation about whether we're going to have the flag or not, that it's great to participate on the things that you really want to and it's important to have that kind of information, but I've got to the point now where I read those kinds of stories when something significant has been decided. So that's the overall situation and I read papers all the time but it's just that I don't retain them, all these details from week to week. It sounds ridiculous but it's true, I don't.

HZ. What I do get the impression of is that the ANC is going to want to govern effectively and they aren't going to want to be too hamstrung and on the other hand the NP wants to be able to move into opposition I think in a more serious way. And so how we're going to get a constitution that enables both of those to happen, because the ANC will obviously want to centralise much more power and the NP will want to entrench federalism and so will Inkatha to enable that to happen. I don't know how they are going to get that going. So for me the crunch issue is the extent to which centralisation will proceed and the extent to which federalism will be recognised seriously. My sense is that it might well be not too dramatic a change from where it is now because I think the settlement reflected the balance of power that exists, that the ANC would like a lot of power but it can't grab too much power without a civil war in KwaZulu/Natal and increasingly possibly in the Western Cape. So that's my answer at this stage. What is yours?

POM. Well I think that's a key issue too, the issue of the degree of federalism versus ...

HZ. That's the key issue but ...

POM. - it's being tiptoed around but has not been seriously addressed.

HZ. Well every time Mandela comes out and says give more power to the provinces, everybody comes out and says no that's not what he meant and that's not what he said, so clearly it hasn't been resolved in the ANC either.

POM. The last question I want to ask you about is in fact KwaZulu/Natal. I went up there this weekend for the Shaka Day celebrations and I have interviewed Buthelezi four or five times. He's the only person who always responds personally to my request for an interview, a typed up letter full of I's'of course, but he always has accommodated me. He's always been a different personality every time I've interviewed him, from the downright hostile to the very friendly, but he was preaching, reading of his text that day, he was preaching close to sedition. He has moved from federalism to autonomy to the right to self-determination. No-one seems to be taking it all that seriously. Should it be taken far more seriously than it is taken? The kind of thing, "Oh well, that's Gatsha, but he's still in the government and at the end of the day he will fold into the process, he will get some more powers and he will be satisfied", or is there a cleavage slowly developing that is not being, again, seriously addressed?

HZ. Well you see that's the key question in South Africa's transition because in fact you could have asked the same question about the right wing. Will they fold into the process when they see that they can survive it or will they be able to mobilise sufficient resistance to become a real destabilisation threat? Now there are times when it's legitimately impossible to answer that kind of question because it could go either way and, for example, I believe the right wing militant resistance could have gone either way until they tried to invade Bophuthatswana and got 'klapped' so heavily that people started realising a little bit more seriously what an armed insurrection would entail. There was an attempt to go and march into Bophuthatswana and resist the forces and it didn't work, and people, I think, just came up face to face very squarely with what an armed insurrection might well mean. So I think that that was one of the catalytic things that changed, that plus General Constand Viljoen saying we must secure our rights through negotiations. So there are a whole lot of catalytic events that come into play that swing it one way or the other.

. Equally with Buthelezi, the key thing is can he hold his own constituency or are the tensions within his ranks reaching boiling point and will he be able to hold a strong enough constituency to be able to call the shots? He has offered to resign although no-one took that particularly seriously. It does indicate that he's not on the firmest of ground in his own constituency, his own party. There may be a whole set of catalytic events that make him weaker rather than stronger. We don't know at this stage. They may go the other way. He may in order to survive take what he can get and keep quiet so that at least he can keep something and not be ousted. On the other hand he may see his future tied into mobilising a constituency with great militant rhetoric. So my sense is that it could go either way at this stage and clearly he would prefer to take a very hard line and mobilise all the power he can get in his province. But he might think the better of it because it's more pragmatic and his survival will depend more on taking a pragmatic line and taking as much as he can get and being bought off with a few more concessions. So I think at this stage it's very difficult to say categorically one way or the other. Where he stands at the moment is wanting to push in a much more militant direction and being cautioned not to do so by some of his advisers and other people in the IFP.

POM. Would you see the attempted invasion o Bophuthatswana as one of the key turning points?

POM. For the right wing.

HZ. Yes, you see it was a symbolic thing. Here the AWB had always had this huge rhetoric of saying we can take on anything African, we will be here to mobilise our forces, we'll protect moderate African leaders, they, like us, are simply looking to protect their identity. And off they went and they came scurrying back with their tails between their legs in less than twelve hours. Now they had mobilised, they had led the army into Bophuthatswana as it were but what it did bring home to hear, that was seen to be a serious attempt because they mobilised the Boerekommando and off they went and they ended up looking like idiots and within twelve hours a whole number of them were dead, I think three or four, and that was the end of that. It didn't look so romantic any more. On the other hand their ranks may have been badly divided because General Constand Viljoen had argued very strongly for a different approach and he had a lot of credibility and a lot of sway and there was tremendous accommodation on the side of President Mandela, he wasn't the president at that stage obviously, but the ANC was trying to make the right wing feel that they would be accommodated in some way or other. I can't quite remember what year that was but they might not have been doing it yet, I can't quite get the timing right. But nevertheless what I am suggesting is that it was a turning point in the perception of the Afrikaner right wing's ability to be able to mobilise and mount an insurrection.

POM. Last question, on the TRC, one of the people I've interviewed over the years has been Colonel Louis Botha who was the point man in Inkathagate and recently got arrested for alleged implication in murders in KwaZulu/Natal in the late 1980s and he always said one thing to me after Inkathagate, he said, "Padraig, I'll tell you something, I have never, never done anything without complete authorisation from my superiors." Now people are going to start pointing fingers, then where will the fingers go? What happens?

HZ. The National Security Management system.

POM. That would implicate almost by definition people like De Klerk?

HZ. It could well.

POM. Could the whole thing turn out to be not an agent of reconciliation but the opposite?

HZ. You're thinking logically again, Padraig.

POM. I must stop doing that!

HZ. You're looking for cause and effect, a very silly thing to do after so many years.

POM. Or will a deal be struck?

HZ. What I think is that there are going to be two possible effects. It depends on how much of the truth is told and how much of the truth we get to. I have no doubt that the low intensity civil war, the undermining, the third force activity, the activity to undermine the ANC's constituency and turn it against each other was part of the National Security Management strategy co-ordinated by the NSM system. They would have certainly set the parameters of that policy and people down the line would have authorisation to give it shape in particular programmes and projects. And so you might well not have had F W de Klerk sanctioning political assassinations but that may well be how the policy would have been interpreted further down the road and the line of command. If that is the case I think finding out what actually happened is going to be an important thing for us to come to terms with and I'm certainly fully in favour of it, to find out what actually happened and what the strategies were and how they were implemented. And I think some heads will inevitably roll and most certainly it will be a big issue before the 1999 elections.

. But the extent to which I think the SA population as a whole and especially the population that previously supported the NP would say, we really didn't know that and that was absolutely abhorrent and terrible, that may well be useful and help reconciliation over the longer term. And on the basis of what President Mandela has done knowing full well actually what went on and having been one of the prime victims of that system, can supersede it and say we've got to go for reconciliation, has set the parameters and that it's called the Truth & Reconciliation Commission has been very important. My sense is that it won't uncover everything but it might well have some very major symbolic and dramatic catharses which will be good for the nation as a whole. I don't think that it's going to turn South Africans upon each other but you're going to have some scapegoats in the process I would imagine.

POM. Some?

HZ. Scapegoats in the process. And Louis Botha, the people called Louis Botha and Craig Williamson and people like that are absolutely determined that the buck won't stop with them.

POM. What is very ironic about it, he said, "I will serve the government, I serve the government, therefore Mandela is president and I don't care whether for 27 years I considered him to be a terrorist, he's now president of the country and I will serve." And what he was in charge of in Port Elizabeth was in developing community policing structures and was working very closely with the ANC and doing a terrific job.

HZ. You see? Cause and effect. I am sure it's like that in lots of societies and the point is that survival is the imperative that overcomes what you would think would be the cause and effect, logic of the previous position. It's pragmatic survival and positioning in a new context and that's what's seen us through. We're not all fanatics like they are in Ireland or Yugoslavia or wherever. Do you know what I'm saying?

POM. I'm finished. Thank you.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.