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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

16 Jan 1998: Ngubane, Ben

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

POM. Dr Ngubane, let me first start with asking you about the ANC conference. I have read President Mandela's speech from head to tail and it seemed to me that he excoriated everybody, every white party, the media, every NGO and the only people to whom he showed any generosity at all was the IFP where he had gracious things to say about their contribution to the implementation of the RDP, he mentioned how leaders of the ANC and the IFP came from a common background and they shared a common constituency and then this idea has been floated of some kind of a merger between the IFP and the ANC. Do you think this is something that is on the cards or is something that is at this point more or less a pipe dream?

BN. First of all I must say that I believe he was absolutely sincere when he actually praised Buthelezi and so on because it's always been the ANC's aim since 1910 to create a common front to oppose the colour bar, discrimination and being dispossessed of any form of power, political power. Now coming from the ANC background that is a genuine wish that the black people in this country would overcome their ethnic differences, that they will stand together, that they will strengthen economic power and political power. Those sentiments I believe are quite honest because he realises that the IFP has grassroots support. In KwaZulu/Natal we are a very serious factor. In other provinces we may be weak but in rapport with a lot of people, particularly in the traditional sphere, particularly in terms of what we stand for, bring in traditional leadership into the broader politics of this country. What of course he hasn't said was reality as it stands is that there are two major black parties, one of them can't just simply disappear, that the whole period of struggle created a necessity for a multi-strategy approach and that having formulated our own standpoint as IFP we have become very committed to what we stand for, the principles that guide us in politics. There is no way we can just abandon those principles in favour - well in the interests of greater black unity.

POM. But for the many years that I have talked to members of the IFP including Dr Buthelezi himself since 1990, one of his firm beliefs has always been that the ANC was out to destroy the IFP and a merger would essentially mean an absorption of sorts and in a sense would be the soft way of getting rid of you. I don't want to put it in those crude ways -

BN. No I don't think so, a lot of people have said well they want to destroy you, they want confuse your membership. I don't think so. They have realised that we come with a lot of experience from our involvement in the KwaZulu government and we come also with the discipline of history and tradition and custom as Zulu people. Most of us come from this background and when we give loyalty to a cause we stand firm. We have played a major role in the government of national unity, in strengthening it. South Africa is going through a very difficult time and I think they realise that they need us to work together particularly in the area of causing delivery. Unless you get the co-operation of traditional people you can forget about development in the rural sphere. They have got to trust you as a government and we have that trust right through the country as people who don't threaten traditional values and so on, whereas they are totally mistrusted, alienated in the former Transkei where Chief Nonkonyeni(?) and others are diametrically opposed now to the ANC, they don't trust them. They believe they come with alien values and concepts and they are going to destroy everything we stand for. So it makes a lot of sense for them to want to partner us in order to have wider acceptability. They realise also they can't go into campaign in the countryside because of this lack of trust and have any credibility, so they will only be confined to urban areas but even there there is a lot of disgruntlement as well except among the very modernised, detribalised Zulus. So there is a lot of self interest.

POM. Is this an attempt in a way to co-opt you, to say we need you, but in the same way they are getting rid of the threat of you as a rival political party?

BN. If that was only the reason there wouldn't be much opposition within the ANC to this idea of a merger. There is far greater opposition which is not articulated by the leftist groupings, COSATU and SACP. So I would say it would be simplifying it too much to say it's because they just want to swallow us to get rid of the problem, because quite clearly a good section of theirs don't even want to consider that. But I think the pragmatists in the ANC realise that for them to move forward, to have real credibility, they now need to get support from us to make them acceptable to a wider audience. Naturally being what they are, naturally as our opponents in politics, I am sure they want to use that entry to convince our people to vote for them and not for us. I mean it's quite clear but I wouldn't put it to just base motives but obviously what they have proposed is actually pie in the sky because it cannot happen. A lot of our people died at their hands, UDF, ANC. A lot of youths were schooled into total disrespect for parents, for traditional leaders and so on. They have created chaos in the lost generation. Those wounds are still very open. The TRC is not going to solve that. The ANC itself is not going to solve that until there is complete acceptance of the fact that the Zulu order is an historical fact, it was founded and was an effective state-run culture, state-based culture before colonialism and they have got to accept that and therefore they must accept that there will have to be special schemes to include traditional leaders and protect primary levels of local government by way of traditional municipalities. They will have to be far more accommodating in terms of our wish for international mediation, if you remember, and all those things have not been fulfilled. So they have bedevilled themselves with the majority of the constituents anyway, so the talk of a merger is really pie in the sky.

POM. And you have deep differences over federalism.

BN. Oh, so many things, yes. Federalism, the way we empower people and the way we run the economy. We want to see far more autonomy with communities and so on. They come in there from the top, from the centralised type of approach and the white paper on local government is making it worse anyway because they have not learnt the lessons. So that really was flying a kite.

POM. What do you think was President Mandela's motivation in floating the idea?

BN. Well I don't think he floated the idea, he was merely cosying up to it. As I say, we must differentiate the old ANC tradition of wishing to see one black cause led by the ANC. After all for a long time that was the only basis of political activity in the black community, for years until the 1960s when the PAC broke away. It was very traumatic for the ANC leadership. Then the IFP was formed and then we literally broke away in 1979, then a lot of violence followed. So being an old man coming from that era I have no doubt that he really wishes to see us in one camp with Thabo leading the whole lot together with Buthelezi. I have no doubt that is genuine but it's not going to be pragmatic because things have changed and in fact I don't think we will empower blacks and Africans in this country through such a modus operandi. We must rather democratise in terms of multi-partyism.

POM. This would be in fact destroying one of the most effective vehicles for multi-partyism, is that more black parties -

BN. Absolutely, sure, exactly.

POM. Just when you mentioned when the IFP was formed in 1979 and then how in a sense it was demonised by the ANC during the 1980s -

BN. And killed by them.

POM. Dr Buthelezi was demonised. Now you had the formation of the United Democratic Movement and I'll just read you what President Mandela said because it struck me as something he would have said about the IFP years ago. This is like history repeating itself. He said: -

. "The UDM will inevitably draw into its ranks some of the most backward and corrupt elements in our society. The presence of leaders of criminal gangs at its founding conference was no accident. This group will seek to promote its interests by resort to criminal violence against the people, especially supporters of the ANC, that efforts will be made to infiltrate agents of the UDM into the structures of our movement to try and destroy us from within. That elements of the third force will not hesitate to link up with members of the UDM to further a common counter-revolutionary agenda. That the objective of both the National Party and the UDM is to destroy the ANC."

. Do you not find that after three years of a party being in government and of a President who has devoted so much of his tenure to reconciliation, that this is really the politics of intolerance? It's not tolerating opposition, by saying you're the enemy if you in any way criticise me as a political opponent, then you are an enemy, you're out to destroy me rather than see criticism as something healthy in a normal society?

BN. Well African politics is like that. This is what I have been trying to say. Essentially they believe that there must be total hegemony of our politics. That's the foundation of the ANC and of course during the struggle they were the sole authentic representatives of the struggling masses, in the United Nations also. They haven't outgrown this. We were nearly destroyed as a party. All their resources were focused on destroying the IFP but because of our own historical background and because of the work we had done to establish the branch system and all the structures - I mean where they killed one leader, another one emerged, so they failed. Now I think he has accepted this as a reality that the IFP is there as an entity but obviously he goes back to the base instincts, when a new little fly starts sitting on his wall he wants to swat it off. That's the danger, that's the continuing danger that threatens democracy in Africa, this type of thing. It was disappointing in a way because while he showered praise on our people we know that he had no choice. They cannot just go on ignoring the IFP and wanting to destroy it. This will destroy the country. But I agree, this is incredible intolerance coming from a man who has really worked for reconciliation in the country.

POM. The last time we talked you had said that violence in KwaZulu/Natal had been almost brought under control. Have the symptoms of that violence been dealt with? Have the roots of the violence gone underground rather than the wounds having been dealt with and is there the potential that come the elections next  year that a similar kind of violence could arise again, or are there sufficient structures in place to pre-empt that from happening?

BN. Let's put it this way, unless there are sufficient arms caches still remaining with the different political groupings, and I am sure there is plenty of that, violence could flare in a serious way. But I am assuming that the whole environment is such that actually that won't be sustainable and then because of that whoever wants to foment it is going to think twice because it's not going to be sustainable. People are more focused now on economic improvement of themselves. Poverty threatens that of course because there are new elements of saying the government is not delivering anything, so it could be exploited. It would not be sustainable the way it was in the past. So from that point of view you could say some of the root causes of it, which was serious confrontation emanating from the ANC wanting to have total dominance over black politics and us rejecting that, that was the root cause of it. That to a large extent has been dealt with. If, of course, we were to lose elections in a way that people thought we have been unfairly dealt with, that there has been crookedness or rigging, you could get Zulu independence movements because they are always there getting stronger. There could even be people who say let's fight for secession.

. But given things being normal, with elections being run fairly and honestly, I don't think we can go back to the violence of the past. Naturally there are people who made progress because of violence, they became leaders, they got recognised, some of them even got wealthier because of the trade in guns and all that. There will always be people who can take advantage of such a situation but overall I really don't expect a level of disturbance which would amount to the low intensity civil war that we have seen because unless there are trained elements working on their own, communities as such. The violence we had in the past it was communities fighting one another and the guns were easily available and so on. We have tried as a government to go out to the people and say, look we are working together, try and work together, let's put our shoulder to the wheel, let's create wealth, let's improve the standard of living and so forth and so forth. But come elections we will be at each other's throats politically. We will be saying all sorts of things.

POM. Will it be possible to keep the political rhetoric from spilling over into - can the rhetoric reach a level where it brings things onto the surface once again?

BN. No, no I think that's what happened because there were agreements, there were codes of conduct for the local government election which were observed very, very strictly and we are still maintaining that. We have set up a system of sub-committees of the Reconciliation & Peace Committee of the cabinet of KwaZulu/Natal. We have built up different committees to look at flash points to monitor what comes out in the press. Unless there's a breakdown in cabinet of the province that system will hold, so I am confident that we will have a vigorous campaign but it will not be killing talk as it were.

POM. Do you think there needs to be in KwaZulu/Natal some particular kind of forum where supporters of the ANC and the IFP who have harmed each other or harmed each other's families in the past can in some way come together to forge a reconciliation?

BN. Well this was our proposal initially to say we need to look at a special type of reconciliation process that is very much rooted in the culture of the people.

POM. And you made this proposal to?

BN. We made this proposal in our own discussions but the TRC shot it down. Some elements in the ANC shot it down so it never really surfaced but nevertheless we have encouraged our people, all the people who had homes destroyed, family members killed, to apply to the Rehabilitation and Restitution Committee of the TRC. We have encouraged all our people to register with the Violations Committee. How it's going to work out is going to be important because if our people are not seen to be also being given compensation then it might exacerbate the revenge, vengeance type of things. But if they get also this amount of money which is being proposed it will go a long way. We didn't pursue the traditional format because it was clear that there will be no funding from government for it because it was only the TRC process that was being recognised.

. By and large in our own dealings, within the cabinet driven process, we are emphasising the reconciliation at ground level between people. In a very subtle way there are all sorts of things happening, sports clubs, rebuilding of houses using government money. We have built a lot of houses in Mpumalanga, in Tembazi and now we are going around asking communities to indicate what projects would symbolise the constitution in their communities. This is almost complete. We have R100 million to devote to this programme and most of the people have said they want multi-purpose community centres or they want roads to be built or bridges to be built where there are none. Obviously we cannot undertake huge infrastructural projects but where a little bridge is built over a part of the road where it is impassable if there is a flood this is being attended to. So there are a variety of proposals that have come up from the people. We have employed people full time to do this type of work and we believe that those common projects, community projects which are agreed by different sides of the political spectrum that they will create that feeling of reconciliation being cemented. When those things happen there will be slaughtering of beasts, there will be tremendous ceremonies and we believe that that actually is what is really going to bring about reconciliation at the ground level, but it is not the TRC type of reconciliation.

POM. When you look at the activities of the TRC over a year and half, do you think it has done a lot to  - (break in recording)

BN. We rejected the armed struggle and sanctions but - (break in recording) -  peculiar vision of history, history of the struggle. There are no two ways about that.

POM. In that sense won't it even create more animosity?

BN. Precisely it will and it already has. This is why it has been very difficult for us to co-operate with them. They way they are handling Winnie it's quite different. In Winnie's case I think there is prima facie evidence that serious things happened there which were violations of human rights but you saw the whole hearing and at the end the Archbishop said she must say she was sorry. I mean those were gross violations of human rights which she has not really admitted to but seemingly to me that chapter is closed and it makes a mockery of the whole thing.

POM. So would you think that unless the submissions and evidence given before the TRC is now handed over to the Public Prosecutor as prima facie evidence of crimes having taken place then in its justice - ?

BN. No, what I am saying, Padraig, is the NITU and other such units have tried to unearth as much as possible about the Caprivi 200 but the same units have not investigated what has come out of the hearings. As far as we know there is no active investigation of, was it Harry's or Falati, all those things which were said that people were thrown there and in mine shafts and all that. We haven't seen any teams going down there to discover in fact -

POM. Whether there were bodies.

BN. Yes. So it's patently unequal and therefore that destroys further whatever credibility there was with that process. We have submitted a list of our people, chapter and verse, age, where they died, how they died, what rank they occupied. There has been no special investigation of that up to now. In July the TRC is folding up. Those cases will not have been investigated. They claim that we must come with evidence. How can we? We don't have a police force, we don't have a set of detectives, so to expect us to actually authenticate those deaths and investigate them is just playing games with us. So our party has absolutely no confidence in the TRC.

POM. Looking at the provinces for a minute, there was a report by Dr. Nkomo, the Director General of Dr Skweyiya's department that painted a fairly grim picture of the state of the provinces, and I know you and I have talked about this in terms of training programmes. You as the Premier of KwaZulu/Natal do you feel that you have an administrative base of civil servants, a structure that can adequately deliver to the people or is the structure so flawed in so many ways that despite your best intentions and your best determination it's like running up an elevator that keeps - ?

BN. Yes, going up. Look the structure is perfect. It's well worked out, the procedures, everything. The problem in the provinces is that 85% of the budget pays salaries, 93% in education goes to pay teachers' salaries. Now unless there is improvement in the funding so that there is enough money for capital projects, for services (break in recording) - because the white schooling system produced people who were highly skilled so they will always earn more, they will always run the businesses, the economy for years to come, and that is a reality we have to live with and you can't expect anyone who has something to just want to -

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.