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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

19 Feb 1997: Yengeni, Tony

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

POM. Could you talk about how decisions are made and how decisions are given down?

TY. Well I think that decisions in the ANC are made in a democratic fashion, in a democratic way, precisely because the governing body, the National Executive  Committee, is a democratically elected body of men and women who are elected by branch members from all over the country and their mandate is to lead the ANC and to take decisions in between conferences. The issues are debated within the NEC and provinces of the ANC are represented in the NEC by their chairpersons and secretaries, so the debates take place in the NEC and all people, members of the NEC, put forward their views, sometimes they differ, but at the end of the day as a leadership collective we are having to take a decision. So a decision is taken one way or the other and when a decision has been taken by the NEC then it binds everybody in the organisation including members of the NEC. That decision is communicated through to the provinces for implementation. Some of the issues are processed in the National Working Committee which is a working committee of the NEC. They are processed there first and then they come to the NEC as recommendations and we discuss these recommendations and we decide upon these recommendations. The NEC is the main decision making body of the ANC. In brief this is how decisions are taken.

POM. OK. Now what is the relationship between the way decisions are made in the NEC, decisions are made in cabinet and the way they come down to portfolio committees like your own?

TY. The difference, of course, is that the ANC is the party in government. It has its own way of taking decisions, it has its own leadership, its democratic structures, but government is different. Yes it's a democratic government, it has been elected by the people. It governs with the mandate of the people. The cabinet meets regularly to discuss issues and they are discussed and they are decided upon and when they are decided upon it is expected that all cabinet members will stick to that decision and will implement the decisions of the cabinet.

POM. Implement the decisions of the cabinet or implement decisions of the National Executive of the ANC?

TY. Implement the decisions of cabinet because the ANC is not the cabinet. The ANC is a political organisation. When it takes its views to the cabinet it knows that there will be other people who will put over their views as a discussion when that decision is taken and when a decision is taken it is expected that everybody is going to move with one step and speak with one voice.

POM. But since for the most part most members of the cabinet are members of the NEC is it not like without the outsiders?

TY. When these matters come to the NEC - as a member of the NEC in the NEC meeting I have the right to speak my mind and make my views known on any particular issue. I have that right and that freedom so I do have a say before the decision is made. When the decision is made it is made with my consent or with my participation.

POM. So then it comes down to your portfolio committee?

TY. Yes it comes down to my portfolio committee.

POM. So how do you equate the function of your portfolio committee with a decision already made within the NEC or would the majority of cabinet participate in that decision? What are your powers in terms of being able to change or move that decision?

TY. Well we do have the power as a committee to make recommendations to parliament on any issue after discussion in the committee, but also and more importantly as MPs we do not make policy, party policy on our own. Party policy is made by the party structures. We are part and parcel of those structures. So party policy is our policy so when we go to the committee we go there to espouse and represent our party. We don't represent ourselves or our families or our mother or father or brother and sisters. You represent what your party represents so you are a representative of that party in the committee in parliament.

POM. I want to take you back on the statements you said a year ago and to see whether you would revise them or say whether you actually said that or not. You said that "I think it's an illusion and a dangerous myth to think that the ANC which is the majority party in government can simply use the old state for its transformation agenda because the old state elements of the old state are not loyal to the ANC and what it stands for." One year later do you still believe in that?

TY. I still believe in that. I still believe that there is no way that we can use an apartheid structure to build a democratic structure. It's not going to happen. The apartheid structure that was put in place was put there for a specific purpose of subjugating the black people. Now we need to change or transform that structure and create a new one whose main intention is to democratise our society and to ensure that we all work towards improving the lives of our people.

POM. If I turned that around and said that one of the criticisms you gave before was of the public service sector and how it was dominated by senior white civil servants and not only senior level but middle management level, at least according to Dr Skweyiya there has been significant change in the structure of the hierarchies of the civil servant but yet the whole question of 'affirmative action', whatever you want to call it, is becoming increasingly an issue of debate within your own party. How do you hold on to skill? How do you equate letting go of the skill and bringing people in? How do you equate the difference between, say, a senior civil servant going and bringing in an African with magnificent academic accreditation from the best university in the United States but who has not had any experience in government and who has to turn around and hire the person they have retrenched as a consultant?

TY. Well we have never governed the country before. We are new in this job and our mandate from the electorate is to manage the country effectively and to ensure that resources are distributed fairly amongst the people. This is what we are trying to do and in the process there will be mistakes but the most important thing is that those mistakes should be quickly identified and corrected. Our intention is not to create and build a banana republic. Ours is to build an efficient, effective, democratic and prosperous society. We understand that we are not going to succeed in achieving that objective if we do not level the playing fields and create conditions for all citizens to have equal access to opportunities and resources and affirmative action has to be applied. It does not mean racism, neither does it mean lack of skills. It does mean that all the population groups in the country should be given a chance. That's what it means. But it also means that whilst doing that you should give those people skills, you must train them.

POM. How do you differentiate between the trade off of, let's say, letting go of white skills, saying you've been magnificently useful, you know how to use the system but there is going to come a time, we're not going to cut you off now but we're going to cut off and wait for five years to retrain people who can adequately take over your position as the political demand is so great?

TY. No, no, I think you are missing the point here. If you look at the civil service, especially the top and middle echelons they are white. We did not retrench them in 1994 and say OK now you all go, we're putting in blacks. We didn't do that. What we did is to say, you all must understand that this situation is not a good one, you must change it, you must create a situation where everybody feels that he is part and parcel of government and therefore you must prepare yourselves mentally and otherwise that in due course there will be black people that will be coming in, but now let's use this transitional phase to prepare those black people, to train them so that when you move out they can come in having gone through the training, having acquired experience. So this process is well managed. It's not like we are running around creating trouble. We understand fully the consequences of decisions that are not well thought out and therefore we are using this transitional phase, that is from 1994 to 1999 as a transition from the old to the new and where people are going to be trained, given skills, given experience so that from 1999 onwards people on a large scale can be well prepared to go into key positions of government having had training, having had a bit of experience. I think that's how we are trying to manage the process. We did not just say all whites are expelled today and tomorrow all blacks are employed. No, no ways, it's not going to work.

POM. Now I want to go back on statements that you made before and your comment a year later since you made these on March 22nd 1996, and if you don't have the transcript I have it front of me to have a look at it. One of the questions I asked was about the ineptitude of the police and you said, "Most of the time they were pursuing guerrillas rather than hard core criminals. The ANC as the majority party in government can't use the old state for its transformation agenda because the old state and elements of the old state are not loyal to the ANC and what it stands for." Do you still, a year later, feel that is an accurate reflection of what you yourself think?

TY. Well I believe very firmly that it is not going to happen, that we use an apartheid state to build a democratic state. It's not going to happen, it's simply not going to happen. We are going to be frustrated and our system is going to collapse because you need people in that state who understand and accept the objectives of the new South Africa. If you are going to have people who still believe - there was an example this morning on television where the coach of the Springboks, Markgraff, was resigning because he referred to black people as kaffirs, now if you have such people maintaining top positions in government and in the state who have such ideas that the black man is inferior and you hope that that same person is going to assist in building a democratic system, I think it's a myth, it's a terrible myth. It's not going to happen.

POM. This brings me back to something fundamental that I've always been trying to explore in these years, can you reform something that must be really destroyed and that what you have to do is destroy the apartheid system, you can't reform it. You must destroy it and then build anew.

TY. Dismantle the apartheid state. It does not mean merely removing people and putting in new people, it's not only that. It means looking at the policies of that government, those departments, those state departments. It means tampering with the legislation that governs the operations of those departments. It means tampering with the budget and the priorities of those departmental budgets. It means a number of things that should translate into dismantling the old system and putting in place a new system. That's what transformation is to me. It doesn't mean merely fiddling with removing this chap or that chap, that Director General and replacing him with a black one. It means more than that, it means ensuring that the spirit and letter of our constitution is brought into the content of the policies, the legislation, the budget that inform those departments. If we are not going to do that the situation is going to perpetuate itself where the rest of the people at the bottom will remain where they are and those that are at the top will remain where they are.

POM. Now let me, since it's a year ago since I asked you this question, and I am publishing nothing until the year 2000 and God knows where we may all be then, you may be a rich entrepreneur. After 2½ years would you see the rate of transformation in your terms happening as distinct to the way in which it appears to be happening and it appears to be happening incrementally not with a totality and how do you balance doing things with a totality as against what the globalised community might think about what you're doing?

TY. I think that a transformation is taking place at a number of levels, in a number of areas because in parliament for example we are here trying to change the laws and bringing in new laws that will allow us to have legislative clout to move into the departments and implement various changes, but those changes cannot be imposed they have to have legislative power behind them. That's one area that we are very, very active on. The bills that are coming through to parliament since we came to this parliament are so many that it's difficult even to count. The budget has also been changed and directed towards certain key priorities and these priorities are meant to uplift the standards of living of our people. Thirdly, there have been a number of key and important appointments in government, in the diplomatic corps, in the civil service, that point towards the changing of the face of the state and of the government. There are a number of projects that are being implemented on the ground by various departments, whether it's the criminal justice system or the Housing Department or it's the Water Affairs Department. We can count a number of projects that are being implemented that show that there is movement even if its slow, even if it' small, but there is movement forward in trying to realise the objectives of our democratic system.

POM. But one year later would you say that the old bureaucracy that you talked about is still in control? It's inherited from the apartheid state and it's still there.

TY. Are they still there?

POM. Yes.

TY. Yes they are still there.

POM. So the question is, how do you quicken the pace of change to get rid of that?

TY. I think there are a number of ways of quickening the process. One way is ensuring that we train people in good time to take over from those that are going to leave. Those who are going to leave will not be retrenched, they will face the option of taking a package, a voluntary package, or they will be phased out by natural attrition. So we are not about to now say on 5th April we are hereby going to withdraw and expel all whites from government and on the 6th we are going to employ all blacks now. It's not going to happen like that. It's going to happen at its own pace and without any undue pressure. Yes, you see I don't think that we are going to be disorganised in our approach because we don't want to break down the stability that we have built. This transformation should be implemented in such a way that stability is maintained but if you can wake up one morning and say OK, now we're all expelling whites from government at one go it's going to create problems. This must be handled sensitively, it must be handled with care but it must be done even if it takes time, but eventually it has to happen.

POM. Is that recognised by not just the ANC but by the NEC and by everybody who is at the upper echelons of government, that the transformation of change has to be total? And do you think, for example, that the National Party trying to revisit itself and recreate itself understands that they don't really have a role?

TY. I don't think the National Party understands either the past, the present or the future. Their view is that this transformation is nothing else but victimisation of whites. It is the oppression of whites by blacks. They refuse to accept the reality that whites are rich and blacks are poor and they have been put in that position by the previous apartheid governments. We cannot build democracy where people remain poor or else that democracy will have no meaning. People will say, ah well we are in the new South Africa, we have a democratic system but what does it mean for me? It means nothing, I am still in the same old position. Now we don't want that. We want people to see a change, an improvement, and the only way we can do that is to redirect resources and show that in their distribution resources are distributed in a manner that is fair.

POM. Three years into the process how far would that process of redistribution have met your expectations of what should happen and what change should be?

TY. The process is quite slow but I do understand -

POM. Has it changed you?

TY. It has changed me. I initially thought that things were going to move fast and there is going to be radical change quickly, but I do appreciate now that if we want to transform this country and ensure stability then there must be caution, there must be sensitivity and so on and so forth.

POM. We're running out of time but if you will give me the ten minutes that I was denied downstairs by Afrikaners, and I'm not saying that insensitively, I'm saying that I walk in here and say, "For God's sake if they don't know who Tony Yengeni is what the hell are they doing at the desk? Why does it take them ten minutes to find his bloody name?" But there are many reasons I know why they could. So I am asking for the extra ten minutes to make up for them. I want to go back to the defence forces and it was something we had talked about before, General Georg Meiring in particular and the Steyn Report. One, are you going to hold hearings on that and, two, do you think just his head should go, that it's no longer appropriate that a man who is so associated with the past that he ought to go? And three, he lied. Have you seen the Steyn Report?

TY. No I have not seen the Steyn Report. I don't think that we are planning to hold hearings on the Steyn Report because the report is with the government, they have the report, it's with the TRC. The TRC is investigating and it's going to summon all those people to come forward to go deep into this so we cannot conduct a parallel process of investigation.

POM. Don't you have the powers of a portfolio committee to demand that you get at least a copy of it? Not that you hold the report, that at least you know what's in it?

TY. Yes I think that anybody can go and get the report. There is a government department that distributes reports so I think you can go there and get a copy for yourself any time of the day.

POM. But you haven't got a copy?

TY. I have not yet had time to go there and get a copy for myself.

POM. Why? It would seem to be one of the most explosive -

TY. It's just that I don't have time. I will have to ask my secretary to do that for me.

POM. How would you put the priorities of looking at the Steyn Report, the firing of the Generals at the time, the possible deals made between Mandela and De Klerk as to 'I can only fire so many Generals so for God's sake give me a break before I'm out of power tomorrow morning'? Are you more susceptible to that kind of deal having been made by saying, yes this is real politics?

TY. You see what you must understand is that whilst we are transforming the country we at the same time are trying to reconcile our people so that they must stop seeing themselves in the way they were taught to look at themselves in the past. They must see themselves as citizens of one country. So we are very, very careful to present ourselves as being vengeful or vindictive. We would prefer to give the TRC process a chance because it's a process that has been enshrined in law and it's going about its business very well and we are happy so we don't want to unnecessarily interfere with the processes of the TRC. We want the TRC to do its job and to conclude this job in time.

POM. So when you said, and again I'm quoting you from last year, "The fact that we don't have a chief of any arm of services coming from the black population is a problem and I think that some changes must take place in the higher echelons in the defence forces because at this point we have a situation where you have an army of black soldiers but with white officers. Now we have to change that and that has to be changed." In one year, has that changed or is it basically the way it was a year ago?

TY. There's not much change in that regard because if Generals are made Generals unless through natural attrition they move away or they resign you have no leg to stand on legally to remove them so the process is going to take its natural course but we expect that soon there will be changes in that regard.

POM. So again when you say, "Whether we agree with the decisions or not, of the defence force or whatever, the issue is that decisions have to be implemented to the last detail and we expect everybody from the top down to respond in that way or else the majority party will not be able to govern if we can issue instructions and take decisions and they are not implemented by the departments." Is that still a problem, that the majority party, now the party really of government, still does not have the capacity to have the decisions it makes implemented at a departmental structure?

TY. On the whole the decisions of government are implemented. It is just that we would need to ensure that they are implemented properly in good time and that they produce results. You don't have a situation of massive rejection of government decisions by the public service. You don't get that but you do get slowness in the process. You do get a number of mistakes, unnecessary mistakes in the implementation of these decisions, etc., but you cannot say that there is a massive uproar or revolt against government decisions within the public service.

POM. Why is there slowness, why is that still maintaining, why is the old order trying to maintain - why will the old order hold on still so dogmatically to an old order that it knows is dead and gone?

TY. I think because of two reasons. One, some of them believe that the old system was right, the old system was correct and the old system worked better for them. But on the other hand you find people who are genuinely concerned about themselves in this new environment. They are not sure about their future. They don't understand the meaning of affirmative action and the whole concept of a new South Africa so they have got their own genuine concerns.

POM. Do you accept them as being legitimate concerns?

TY. Yes I think that most of them have concerns and in any transition or transformation certain groups will express concerns about their future, about all sorts of things and it is only natural that some of the white people or other minority groups will express concerns and reservations.

POM. Last question before our person gets through the security and they don't know who you are, and they get up the stairs and whatever, is why is it that President Mandela after allowing a situation to develop where in fact there is ANC government with the IFP hanging in there and Gatsha President for a day, why would he now be reaching out and saying I want to include the PAC and the DP and in fact any other party who wants to come back in, where that is creating a one-partyism, a coalition or whatever you want to call it, where maybe he should perhaps be encouraging people to be diverse and express their political preferences and when the next election comes up things are much clearer on the way things stand?

TY. What you must understand about Mandela is that he is the founding father for our democracy and I think he wants to go down in (break in recording) around a common ideal of reconciling, uniting, developing and reconstructing our country and I think that is what he is doing, saying to the PAC and the DP and the IFP, be partners in this noble ideal, yes be opposition, play your role as opposition as much as you can but more importantly contribute positively in making this system work.

POM. Do you see a contradiction between developing multiparty democracy with strong opposition parties and the strongest party trying to, in a way, co-opt all the smallest parties and bring them in?

TY. I think that democracy takes many forms and has many models. To want to impose an American model in South African conditions -

POM. I'm Irish.

TY. I'm not saying that you are American, I'm saying that as an example. To want to impose an American model in South African conditions may backfire very seriously. I think the international community should allow us to develop our own forms of democracy that are going to be agreeable to our people and to our situation. We have multiparty democracy here. We do have many parties in our democratic system but what we are saying within that context, take into account our historical background, that those people are duty bound not to shout from the sidelines but to put, as Mandela is saying, their shoulder to the wheel and to develop and to make this country a prosperous country for all our people.

POM. Do you feel that people from the west with their concepts of democracy and with their morality of their concepts of democracy, that they come in with their concepts of the way democracy should work that have been developed like 200 years ago, whether Britain or the United States or wherever, and they walk in here and say well this is the way democracy works and you say, no, we've got to work it out for ourselves?

TY. Well of course we have to learn something from the great democracies of the west because they were there before us many, many centuries ago.

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.