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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

04 Nov 1996: Giliomee, Hermann

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM. First of all, Hermann, the constitution provides for a governance system defined in the constitution as a multi-party system. What's your understanding of what a viable multi-party system is? Are there certain features to it that you would regard as being indispensable to its general applicability?

HG. Well I think a multi-party system would simply be one in which there are quite a number of parties. I wouldn't think that it is a particularly useful concept except in the sense that it is virtually a synonym for democracy, that there are position parties and the multi-party system is probably one where you have a reasonably low threshold also although that need not be, that you need to have a low threshold. The distinction that I usually draw is between a one-party dominant system and a competitive system. What we have is a one-party dominant system and I think the margin between the biggest party and the runner-up is about 40 points which is, I think, a record in the world. But a one-party dominant system and a competitive system, and I think where the constitution really failed was its inability to bring about a system which could become competitive and in that sense much more of a real democracy than the one-party dominant system.

POM. Just on the question of competitiveness, you have one or two different scenarios that are loosely thrown out. One is the National Party's belief in its regeneration through it becoming a New National Party that will attract a significant number of African voters and become competitive in that regard. The second is that the tripartite alliance will break up in some way and coalition elements will form with other parties. (i) Do you think that this dream of the NP of re-forming itself as a multi-racial party that attracts significant numbers of African votes is in the short to medium term really a pipe dream or a fantasy. And (ii) do you think those who believe that the alliance is going to break up in the short to medium term are also engaging in wishful thinking?

HG. Well I think the National Party's chances - well on both of these questions I probably would have been much more emphatic two or three months ago, but it seems to me that the NP is still not remotely in a position where it can start winning black votes. The NP will basically have to revamp itself in such a way that it will be very difficult for it to keep its original constituency if it really goes all out to become an African party, so I really don't think the NP is over the next eight years remotely an alternative government. On the ANC's breaking up one would have been much more emphatic three or four months ago and said no, it's never going to happen, but with the kind of pressures on the currency, on the rand now, with the macro-economic strategy which has been adopted but which the ANC doesn't seem to be very willing to implement, it seems to me that it's possible that they may alienate labour but I don't think in such a way that the ANC is seriously in jeopardy. I think the ANC can still hold together, it can shed say 10% on the left and 10% on the right and still be comfortably in a position to control on the basis of the racial solidarity that there is.

POM. So in this sense as you look down the path of the future do you see electoral politics becoming more racially segregated, i.e. the proportion of white votes that the ANC is going to attract is going to remain either static or fall?

HG. I think so. I don't think the ANC will attract a much better percentage of the non-African communities. I think they are very much locked into what they have at the moment, namely 5% whites, 25%-30% coloured people and I think they may even lose some of the coloured votes and, I don't know, the Indian vote as well at all but I think the ANC has reached a ceiling with it's non-African vote. What is really worrying, what would be worrying is much more the apathy. It seems to me that the votes that the ANC have lost in the opinion polls, the 10% drop in support, they all go to the sidelines, become disillusioned, apathetic, don't care, and the system is more in danger of implosion, like in Zimbabwe where you ultimately have so little interest because people just feel nothing that you can do can make any difference.

POM. Given the constitutional mandate that there be a multi-party system, what should government be doing to make for stronger opposition parties, more effective opposition parties?

HG. Well you need to change the electoral system. The ideal one would, of course, have been if this clause in the constitution that you cannot cross the floor on pain of losing your seat, that is an appalling clause although I am not clamouring for it to be lifted. I can't see if number 89 on the ANC list who had been elected on Mandela's coat-tails that he now can suddenly cross the floor and go to the NP. It doesn't make sense. It's possible that lifting that clause could mean that the best, the brightest of the opposition party black guys would in fact cross the floor to the dominant party.

POM. That was an irony that it is the dominant party that opposes it and the minority parties who you would think stand most to lose were for it.

HG. Yes. But the one would be, the one that they use in Taiwan in any case, where you have got a multi-member constituency, single non-transferable vote where the City of Taipei chooses 17 for the City of Taipei and then the parties must make up their minds on how many they are going to field, so that the person at least on name recognition is being elected to a particular party, is elected on a party banner but is also elected in terms of his personal capacity. A student of mine proposed that and I think that is a much fairer constituency system. The point is the Nats were, of course, right that in the constitution if you don't build in any checks in the constitution then you leave it open for the party that mobilises the mass of Africans and they then take complete control and then you've got a one-party dominant system and the greatest guarantee for liberty is not the Bill of Rights, the greatest guarantee is the replacement of the ruling party so you can throw the corrupt and the incompetent out. There must be in the government a real fear that they may be rejected at the next election. Now at the moment they don't have that fear.

POM. Reject for whom?

HG. Reject for the opposition party, that the opposition party could replace them in government, that the fear of losing the election.

POM. But that fear is not there and won't be there for the foreseeable future?

HG. That's what I said, that if the ANC had been prepared to grant it and if the NP had pressed for that then they would say, look Bill of Rights are fine but we are not going to get an ordinary democracy because we're a racially divided society so we must structure it in such way that there is a possibility of a normal democracy evolving where you actually can foresee the defeat of the ruling party. The only way in which I think it can be done, that Donald Horowitz had his type of electoral system, the alternative vote. This other one could also produce that kind of result.

POM. In a way the ANC, this system in place is the one that maximises the possibility of there being a dominant party.

HG. Yes, it's a two-faced appeal of being African when they campaign in the African townships and non-racial when they campaign in the open townships, in the open competition.

POM. On the list of priorities facing the country how important is this whole question of developing an, and I use the word 'effective' in the way you use it as being competitive almost, multi-party system if democracy is to develop and tying the development of democracy to economic development? Would it be ten on a scale of one to ten, or a two, a three? How much of public time and thought should it occupy?

HG. You mean a different electoral system compared to economic growth and development?

POM. That you've got to make the system more competitive else you end up with perpetually a dominant-party system.

HG. This is, of course, the irony also, that with this kind of electoral system and with the majority that the ANC has it is the kind of party that can push through a highly unpopular economic strategy and if they were to have the courage of their own convictions then it can do it now. It's possible that if the ANC had a constituency system, the Westminster constituency system, that there would have been so many MPs now at the moment fearing for their lives and saying, "Look we must stop this immediately, we will be defeated in the next election." So in a sense this electoral system is good if you want to ram through certain very unpopular things. But the point is what do you do if they don't do it? If they just simply sit on their haunches for the next five years and the rand keeps on collapsing and keeps on declining, what do you do then? Then I think you have to start thinking about how do you change the political system but by then they will be like the NP of the eighties, sort of a shrinking base, unable to make the big leap and then you would probably need the equivalent figure as Mandela to be able to say we are not going to pull it off by ourselves, we are not going to get confidence in the economy again, we must possibly go for a government of national unity again.

POM. If I hear you correctly you're saying on the one hand that if you want transformational driven politics, if you want major changes made, then the present system is a good system because the party doesn't have to worry about opposition, it can ram unpopular measures through, whereas if you did have a competitive system at this point then politics would be electorally driven and everyone would be looking for the - so that there would be a kind of a paralysis. Just what you were saying, people would be saying, "Oh my God, my seat's at risk."

HG. Those are the two sides.

POM. That's the other side of it. Does public funding have a role here? Does it make any difference?

HG. I think the ANC probably doesn't worry about it because they can get public funding from abroad, from foreign governments. They get 40 million.

POM. This whole public funding I want to talk about, (i) the government making moneys available to political parties for maybe some of the following purposes. One would be for increasing constituency outreach. Two might be for operational on a day-to-day basis so it can build itself as a political party. Three would be at election time. Four would be provision of free media, particularly public media at election time. Five would be putting restrictions on where money can come from, i.e. that money cannot come from foreign governments, it cannot come from foreign individuals.

HG. I think if you can restrict that, no foreign individuals, no foreign companies, no foreign governments, I think that should be a priority. If you have a genuinely independent Electoral Commission headed by Slabbert or whoever and they can disburse the funds to parties according to an agreed-on formula, or you could cut off all foreign funding, then I think that will be a very useful reform I think. The ANC then will have to compete with others in the same field for funding from South African companies although I will probably also, because I don't really think that the NP will get much funds, but there should also possibly be a restriction on what a single company may give to a party.

POM. That would apply to an individual as well?

HG. Possibly also, yes.

POM. And would this be accompanied by full disclosure?

HG. I think so, yes, I think so.

POM. Someone within the NP said to me on the question of disclosure they get queasy because they believe that if a company were to contribute just to the NP and not to the ANC the government being the biggest contracting agent in the country they just go on a list.

HG. Why don't you have it that perhaps only the chairman of the Electoral Commission knows or something like that? Perhaps you should disclose but it need not be public knowledge, you can just say OK he must declare what he is giving to the chairman of the Electoral Commission confidentially and the chairman then should keep that information to himself or he must lock it up somewhere, but that he is the only one that sees the list of donations. I wouldn't be so strong on disclosure but if you look at the American mess at the moment it seems to me that whatever legislation you make it's circumvented. I don't think there's a will on the American side either to change much of it at the moment.

POM. Do you think if there were some form of public funding that the people of South Africa, the public, would see it as one more form of the gravy train, lining each other's pockets?

HG. Well I don't think they will probably mind for electoral time if it's a period restricted to electoral campaigning kind of money for that two months campaigning period. I don't think one should go into funding newspapers or things like that, then it simply becomes too big an item and I don't think the funding should be particularly large because as far as the African townships are concerned I suppose there's not all that much TV in any case. The greatest part of the electorate still doesn't own a TV set.

POM. And radio? Free availability of radio time?

HG. Well it's possibly like the previous time, you simply ban ads on TV but you allow ads on radio and then you provide ample time for the different parties to have free radio broadcasts.

POM. Now you're opening this conference on democracy in a couple of days where you are comparing four countries with a predominantly dominant one party. What do think will be the major themes that will emerge?

HG. I wrote a paper and I think the theme possibly, a very common theme in dominant parties, is that you de-legitimise the opposition, that the opposition is portrayed as racist or anti-patriotic or dangerous or fascistic or whatever. The other theme is that the electoral rules, the elections increasingly get skewed in favour of the dominant party, the rules get skewed to the dominant party. The third one is that the dominant party succeeds in cutting off all linkages between the opposition parties and business. Business actually courts only the dominant party and are very wary of being seen as supporting the opposition party. So it becomes a self-enforcing mechanism. Apathy when people see gravy train, apathy, and that will be a very important one. Mexico, where the polls are very, very low now, it's 40% or something like that, Taiwan is still fairly high but Malaysia it's also very, very low. In Malaysia the way in which the government uses the patronage to be able to keep its links with the business community and in fact it also threatens the dominant party itself then because these links work only on certain levels of the party. I think that will possibly be the main findings, but that's what I write in my paper. I don't know what the other people will pick up on it.

POM. When you look at the last 2½ years and especially since the withdrawal of the NP from the government of national unity, do you see indications that the ANC is becoming increasingly autocratic?

HG. It seems to be what one hears about the Abortion Bill in parliament, the Education Bill, that they have this charade of consulting the public fairly widely but then it gets into the ANC's caucus and then there's some fairly radical people there and then they ram it through parliament, and that is typically the pattern of the dominant party. What's happening in the caucus is much more important than what is happening in parliament. Although compared to the NP I think the ANC perhaps makes a greater effort in the committee stages of trying to work out some kind of compromise, but I think the ANC is becoming much more assertive and much more in parliament doing what they want to do.

POM. When you look at the old NP and the way it handled internal disputes, the way it managed parliament, the emphasis on discipline, and when you look at the ANC the way it handles internal disputes ...

HG. Sarafina, yes.

POM. - a certain amount of dissent is fine as long as it's kept within the family, you don't make it public, that no individual is more important than the organisation. In a structural way is there any real difference between the way the old NP behaved as far as party decision making and the way the ANC is behaving?

HG. No they're very much the same, closing the ranks. When there's a clamour for the resignation of the minister the ranks will be closed. He or she may be dismissed a year later or two years later. Especially the NP in its rough days, sixties and seventies, would have behaved the same way. In the eighties of course it was the state of emergency and it was perhaps not a normal period. Perhaps De Klerk if he had gone on and if he could have been Prime Minister or President in earlier times he probably would have brought in a more lenient system, although he was also rather vicious about - when I was still in the anti-government ranks, which was then NP, he could occasionally simply just dismiss me as just a left-wing Prog or something like that, that was what was fed back to me.

POM. I see you've come full circle about four times.

HG. I was brought up, my mother always said since I was very young I am sort of Irish, I'm just against the government. She meant the government of the house, just against the government.

POM. Just to go back to two things. One is, and this refers to something we talked about earlier, is there a clash between the needs of democracy or the imperatives of democracy and the needs of development where, again, if the country is to make the transformational leap then you need strong, tough government for a period of time in order to bring that about and if that means stepping on a nicety of democracy here and there well so be it?

HG. If you've got such a huge margin like this government you have all the power that you have, you only need not to be afraid of your own shadow. I think the Nats, the NP often had this sort of one verkrampte part of the heart and one verligte part of the heart and they were themselves paralysed. But there's nothing which a determined government which wants to stress growth and development cannot do today because it lacks the power. It has got all the power, it can do what it wants to do, but I don't think Thabo Mbeki and Trevor Manuel understood what they got into when they adopted this macro-economic strategy, how much pain, how much blood it will mean. They were doing just the kind of, what I would call, the economically correct thing because they love to be darlings of the western world and these bastards in the western capitals and investors persuaded them that this plan is good for South Africa. How could they now act in a backward fashion and say, "No we don't want this policy." They always take the politically correct moral high ground, the economically fashionable thing and now they're stuck with this. I think they suddenly realise this is going to mean, in figurative terms, blood from the table.

POM. The thing I like about it, I smile about it, is that it's based on the assumption that if they do all these politically correct economic things then in fact foreign investment will materialise. That's just purely an assumption.

HG. It's a gamble, it's a gamble. If they had set about say privatising and if South African Airways had already been sold by now, I don't see why we need a national carrier, a state-owned national carrier, then I think foreign investors may have been impressed but there's nothing that will impress any major foreign investor as things are.

POM. What accounts for the paralysis? There are more conferences in South Africa per square metre than any place else in the world yet nothing seems to emerge in terms of an action plan being turned into an instrument of reality.

HG. I think it's the ANC itself, it's style of operating, it's the need to get broad consensus before you move forward. But this is the first time where you actually have to make a very hard choice. The ANC never really made a hard substantial choice. Mandela told me once the only difficult thing he had to do was to suspend the armed struggle. Now there was no armed struggle so what was so difficult about suspending it? So here is the first time that they actually must make a brutal choice, they must say we are going to sack 50,000 civil servants, we are going to lower tariffs, people are going to lose their jobs. I don't think they have got the remotest idea of what that kind of policy entails. So it's leadership, it's leadership, it's the leaders unwilling - I draw a comparison in the previous column between De Klerk and Mbeki; De Klerk had to persuade his constituency in political terms of something as horrendous as Mbeki now in economic terms must persuade his constituency, something that goes completely against the grain and the only way that you can do it is to go out on TV, go out in parliament, go out in caucus, have debates, and this is what De Klerk apparently did well, the caucus will be up in arms and he said, "Well gentlemen, what's the alternative? Let's talk about the alternatives. What do you propose?" I don't see any signs of Mbeki or Manuel doing that in the ANC caucus, that they are taking to the television and having fireside chats.

POM. But if you can't use Mandela or don't use him for this purpose it's like who else stands a chance?

HG. This is where Mandela could have gone in to bat but I don't think he wants to do these kind of dirty things. Mandela is simply a figurehead. The ludicrousness of when Matthews Phosa and Dullah Omar, one is head of the Legal Department, the other one is the minister who piloted through the bill, say, "We're not going to ask amnesty", and Mandela then says, "Oh well that's the opinion of one person." He must be joking. So I don't know, Mandela is a good listener, I think he's a very good sort of political psychiatrist but I don't think he's the one that drives or could sit there in a caucus, sit for three, four hours and then say, "Gentlemen you've said this but I want you to come up with alternatives and if you can't come up with alternatives we're going to stick to our policy."

POM. Would a Cyril Ramaphosa type of person be better?

HG. I would think so. I would go for him any time above Thabo Mbeki. If he is convinced of it he will simply have to tell them. But can you think of Mbeki telling workers this probably will cost 100,000 jobs, this will mean that we will have to close so many more clinics? They were supposed to be Father Christmas and now suddenly they are going to become the meanest people in town.

POM. In fact the only tangible benefits of freedom is that your standard of living from what it was is going to go down not up. Just to go back to reforms, if you had to look at three reforms, three or four that could be made to improve the efficacy of the system that operates now, you're not going to get to a competitive system but you can get to one where opposition is more taken into account, where the standard of public debate becomes a debate, not one side saying something and the other side saying something and then decide that the largest number simply saying ...

HG. I would change the SABC first of all. I would change the SABC. I would give much more room for opposition parties in the SABC, or otherwise I would privatise. I would simply privatise the SABC so that the state is not seen as using the SABC for its own purposes. I think that causes a lot of alienation, the kind of political propaganda programmes that come through all the time. You could give much more frequent exposure to opposition parties, also small opposition parties simply to increase the circulation of ideas and give people a sense that they are not outsiders, they are not on the fringes of one big dominant party system. That would be one. I think the funding could be an important one for the elections. That could be a very important one. I would try and change certain things. I would certainly in terms of the Public Protector I would make it impossible for the largest party simply by virtue of its own majority to appoint its own Public Protector. It will have to be a multi-party appointment. I would raise some of the levels of what's needed for appointments to 66% or 70%. I would be very tough on corruption. I would certainly do everything in my power to make quite certain that corruption cannot take place because the dominant party uses its power to prevent exposure. This Public Protector is an ANC groupie, he wasn't known to be an independent person politically. He may be an honourable man but I think it would have been much better if it had been a multi-party appointment. So I think I would have increased the levels of what certain appointments need. I would certainly in terms of appointment of future constitutional judges see that there must be quite a substantial majority, two thirds, and that the President will have to take that into account and I would make the composition of the bodies that make the appointments or propose the appointments much more representative. At the moment the ANC works on the rule of twenty-two to two, if you have a Truth Commission of twenty people then you would have one NP, one IFP, or one far right wing, not even one IFP, so I think there is much greater need to make the committees reflective even only of the electoral balance, for heaven's sake make it two thirds then, two thirds ANC, one third opposition parties.

POM. OK thank you. I know you're very busy at the moment.

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.