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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

03 Aug 1998: Eglin, Colin

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POM. Let me start, Mr Eglin, with the TRC which has now wound up its formal hearings and a major survey published just in the last week indicates that 74% of Asians, 72% of whites and 62% of coloureds and Africans fear that the TRC has contributed to a deterioration in race relations rather than an improvement in them. How would you evaluate it just in terms of the ongoing proceedings in achieving its stated objectives of justice, truth and reconciliation?

CE. I can't argue with the findings, if that's how people see it that's how people see it. I can't dispute the findings of the market survey. I think it probably has been harrowing for people on both sides to learn about the truth and it may be that the first reaction is a negative one but I don't think you can see it simply in terms of what it has done or what it has not done, one has to see what the alternative was and the alternative was not to know what the truth is but gradually to open files and have prosecutions going on for the next 20, 30, 40 years and I think that would have been much more damaging for the South African society. The concept which we evolved at the time we drafted the interim constitution and the final constitution is that it is important to try to know the truth if you want to close the book on the past. If you want to keep the past open for ever then don't find out the truth and just let it come out in dribs and drabs over the next two generations. So there was a calculated risk, let's fleck it all open with all its ugliness, on the basis of having done so we can close that chapter in the book and get on with it, the new South Africa. And so while there may be downsides to what has taken place I think that conceptually and the way it's operated it's inestimably better than not having done it and following a prosecutorial route for the next two generations.

POM. When you review all the revelations that have been made at the TRC itself, the level of the atrocities, the penetration of the security forces into every element of society, what went wrong?

CE. Well you know I sat through in parliament in opposition during most of that period and I have been back to the Hansard to see that time and time again the old Progressive Party in particular, and with Helen Suzman at the fore, constantly alleged that things of this nature were taking place and that the government must accept responsibility. But it was only us putting two and two together without having the facts so in a sense it doesn't surprise me. I think the volume and the extent of it is even more frightening than we had thought of at the time but conceptually it doesn't surprise me. I think there were two reasons for it. One is, if I looked, and when I had to give evidence before the TRC on behalf of the Democratic Party, one had to say, why did it happen? And I think that conceptually an Afrikaner nationalist movement party who decided that in the context of SA and Africa black political domination over what was conceived to be a white Afrikaner nation was unacceptable and that therefore one will try to find all kinds of stratagems to prevent it from taking place, but if the chips were down you would go to the extreme in order to prevent it. In other words in the end there were no holds barred in order to prevent a black take-over of the white Afrikaner nation, putting it not in my terms but the terms as it was seen at that time. So gradually as the pressures for what I call the take-over became greater so the reaction of the authorities and the people acting under them became more and more severe. So I don't think it started off by saying we're going to do all these things but they said one thing we're not going to do, and even if you go to Dr Verwoerd who was the architect of this philosophy, majority black domination of the white Afrikaner nation is unacceptable, and from that that happened.

. The second one is a structural one and that is that we warned that in any society once you've got a government in which there is no transparency, or what I would call lateral accountability, then inevitably either in the field of finance there's going to be corruption or in the field of power there's going to be abuse and there is no better check on the abuses of government than transparency and what I call lateral accountability and once the State Security Council apparatus was set in place it even removed from the white society the concept of lateral accountability because instead of being accountable to the political parties, to the parliaments as they were with all their defects, you were now accountable centrally to a body which had no lateral accountability and in that context civil servants or the operators of the system were immunised from public gaze and public scrutiny. So I think it had a combination of a philosophical thing, black domination over a white Afrikaner nation is politically unacceptable and in the process they devised a system in which the operators of the security forces were no longer transparently accountable to elected representatives. They merely accounted within their structures to themselves and I think that's the way the abuse was allowed to happen because you couldn't escape at that stage.

POM. So do you find when members of the NP government time and again say that we had absolutely no knowledge of these activities going on or taking place, just in the light of the fact - ?

CE. All I can say is this, that I can't argue that they had no knowledge. I believe that they should have had knowledge both because they were in charge of the system, but if you look at the old Progressive Party, the Progressive Federal Party, the Catholic Bishops Council, the various bodies, the human rights organisations who directly pointed to these activities, then even more so the government should have made an effort to find out what the truth was. It was not only an act of omission or an accidental act of omission, it was actually almost a wilful act of omission not to find out. To my mind once you evolved a system which destroyed transparent accountability it was inevitable that it was going to be abused.

POM. There was a book published last year on Germany, published in the United States first, I forget the name of the author, but he made a case by compiling in great detail the activities and movements of trains and military and cargoes of people, that there was no way that the German people could not have known about the shocking -

CE. First of all I can't comment on the German book. I don't want to use parallels because I don't know what the book said and I don't know the story of it. But you asked me, no, you said did the political leaders - should they have known.

POM. Well I'm moving down a bit.

CE. That's a different matter. I don't know whether it was - given once again the secrecy, given the fact that information was not available and given the fact that there was no lateral accountability, I think that the populace might have been aware that there's an uncomfortable developing but I don't think they have been aware of the extent of the abuse until the TRC revealed it. So I think the evil was the system and the ordinary populace were swept along by the process but they were not part of the evilness of the system. The evil of the system was designed by the people who design the system.

POM. Maybe this is just because I'm talking to the wrong people, among ordinary white people that I talk to I don't find any sense of remorse or shame.

CE. That's another thing. You asked me, "Should they have known at that time what was taking place?" Are you asking me now, "Should they in retrospect have some remorse?" Well I would say it depends on them. I think that there are some of them that might have been very tough opponents of the regime and there might have been others who were marginally part of the system and even using the system to enrich themselves, that may be. But if after the revelation, I can't remember what happened before, if after the revelations of the TRC there isn't a general sense of remorse by people who actually identified with the system, I don't say all whites identified with the system but to the extent that there were people who identified with the system and supported the government of the day in the application of the system, I would say that if there is not any sense of remorse after the revelation of the TRC then to that extent the TRC has not succeeded in its original objective because the objective was not just to establish the truth but to also bring about a reconciliation. Reconciliation has to involve a recognition of what took place.

POM. You had Thabo Mbeki in parliament I think on 4th June in what's called his 'Two Nations' speech saying that there had been no real progress towards reconciliation in the last four years, that the two nations were as divided today as they were four years ago, that there was a collapse of moral values, that the whites still enjoyed all the privileges they ever enjoyed. In fact he painted a fairly bleak picture as to any substantive improvement in either race relations or progress towards reconciliation over the last four years.

CE. Yes, I listened to his speech and I think it was dominated by the concept of a nation divided, or two nations, one rich, one poor and one white and one black. It was more particularly the question of reconciliation, redistribution in what I call the socio-economic field than in the field of 'guilt' or not guilt for the past. So the thrust of his speech was that the whites are rich or perceived to be rich and the blacks are perceived to be poor. It was really around that concept of how do you resolve that divide that was the essence of his speech because that spills over and it has an impact on racial attitudes and on prejudices one way or the other.

POM. Going back to reconciliation again, I don't find any kind of acknowledgement by whites that, yes, because of the injustices of the past, because of the disadvantage that black people suffered under, that there must be a real form of reparation.

CE. The reparation part does not come about - reconciliation isn't reparation. The third leg of the commission is the question of reparation and we haven't heard what they have said about that. There are three legs, one is the truth and the reconciliation which is not reparation. The other one is amnesty and the other one is reparations. So one hasn't got on to the reparation side of things. Even the constitution of SA deals, and if you read the post-amble which led to the setting up of this body, it was that there's got to be reconciliation by telling the truth and clearly if as a result of what has happened there is disadvantage, you can take action to undo the disadvantage. But what has not been argued is that there should be a massive reparation of the past. But how do you quantify this? I think that a significant number of blacks, a majority of blacks might not have even suffered in a sense financially but they would have suffered loss of dignity, loss of freedom, loss of personal security, loss of family intimacy. I don't know what one means, somebody like you must suggest what you mean by reparations for that kind of event. The easier one is to quantify if you've lost so many millions of rands, you can then compensate. But the concept, if you read the post-amble which led to this thing was really let's get to the truth, let's grant amnesty where people have told the truth and once we've known the truth let's close the book there.

. You may be correct, I think the effect of it so far has not been to have a sense of contrition but I don't believe contrition happens on a collective basis. To the extent that there were human rights violations on the part of blacks during that period, so must all blacks say well we're all part of that human rights violation? No, they will say, look we were part of a whole process but we weren't directly involved. I think it's very difficult to talk of a collective exercise. What is the impact on the individuals and maybe the individuals impact collectively and they all have the same kind of approach and attitude towards it and that results in a collective one, but I don't think you can have collective guilt of anything. I don't think you can have collective remission and you can't have collective reconciliation. All of those things are extremely individual and personal but one would hope that sufficient people are affected by it, that the individual acts and actions might lead to a collective kind of attitude towards the issue.

POM. What I have found, and tell me whether this fits in with your far more numerous conversations with people of all description and classes, is that whites tend to be in a state of denial, that the general attitude is that there was a war on, there was a war against communism, both sides did bad things, that this commission is loaded against us white people. It's full of ANC appointees, they spend most of their time dealing with atrocities committed by white people. They never looked into the killing of the 430 or 470 leaders of the IFP in KwaZulu/Natal, they never looked into the necklacings in the townships, they have never adequately investigated the atrocities that were committed in the Quatro camps, so it's been like a witch-hunt of sorts where we are being painted as the baddies and acknowledgement is not given to the fact that we were coming at this from the perspective of us being at war and being the last kind of bastion.

CE. But I'm not arguing that the commission has been perfect in execution of its function. I'm talking about conceptually that you had to have some means of trying to flesh up on the truth. That you can find criticisms of the commission I am quite sure of that. That you find more exposés of gross human violations coming from what I call people associated with the authorities than the people who were resisting it is not surprising. If you honestly take the concept of amnesty that was put into it, it was actually put in at the request really of the white authorities of the time, of the NP, in order to get amnesty for the people that they said were perpetrating these things on behalf of the state. It wasn't a request from the ANC for the amnesty part of it. The whole thing when it started was both to get at the truth on the one hand but also to allow amnesty to be given to people whom the state either was aware of or suspected would be guilty of offences if they weren't given amnesty. So it was started, in a sense, even-handed but knowing that the violations were far greater perpetrated by one side than the other. I don't know if anybody expected anything else.

. I think what has shocked is the extent to which it has come forward. If you ask me, I haven't seen the report and the report hasn't been written, the work isn't complete, the amnesty process is not complete and the reparations process is not complete. If I've got any problem I think there have been too many what I call 'off the cuff' ex parté statements by members of the commission during the process of the commission. I don't think it's entirely appropriate to a commission like this that the chairperson or deputy or others should be issuing press statements, almost pre-empting this commission while it's going on. I'm not saying that what they said was wrong but I think it creates an impact that this is less than an impartial enquiry. I don't think that necessarily affects the substance of it.

. The issue of investigating the IFP, let the IFP go and have a big go about that. I don't know whether there's been sufficient of an investigation. I've not heard that whites say that therefore the commission is biased. I've heard the IFP people say that this shows it's biased. I haven't heard that this was basically a whites' indication that it was not valid.

. But on the question of the war, yes there was, SA was moving into a low intensity civil war and in that sense people become emotionally swept along on both sides and say, well, in that sense you're entitled to do certain things. If you just view it purely from a technical point of view, yes there is a validity from both sides but what you've got to decide is, what was the cause of the war. For my mind the cause of the war was not somebody sitting in Moscow. The cause of the war was a political system which fundamentally denied citizens of the country their basic human rights and so while you can say, yes, there was a war on and therefore because there's a war we're entitled to behave in a certain way and we understand why the people behaved in the other way, you've really got to the cause of the war. If the cause of the war was a political system which you were supporting, which was bound to lead to a war, then I don't think you can use the existence of the war as a justification for doing what you did.

. And quite frankly, I made a speech way back on 30th May 1960 in parliament, on the day that they came to the House, it was a Monday, to introduce a thing called the Unlawful Organisations Bill which was to be able to ban the ANC and the PAC, which they did. I must say I was the only MP sitting in the House 30 years later to hear De Klerk announcing they're going to unban them. But I had to stand up in parliament and I was seconding a motion by Jan Steytler the leader of Progressive Party. We were the only party that opposed it. The United Party supported it, we opposed it and one of the arguments I used was that banning the ANC and the PAC, which was really confirming that blacks would not have fundamental rights, is not going to solve the problem, it's going to drive them underground, it's going to lead to increasing violence and it's going to internationalise your domestic politics. Right throughout the thread of certainly the old Progressive Party our warning to the government was, you think you're being clever and you're going to resolve what I call the growth of a warlike situation. Until you actually get rid of the discrimination against the basic human rights of citizens of this country you are actually feeding in the ingredients of a war. So, yes, there was a war and if people didn't think about it and they just accepted well bombs are going off and this is happening, yes they will behave in a certain way. But if they then said, but why is there a war? And they said the war is there because in any society if you deny to the majority of the people fundamental human rights and there is no other way of them getting their human rights they will resort to violence of one kind or the other.

. So, yes, the war and what you had at that time, of course you had a great propaganda thing by the government when they came with the total onslaught philosophy which was to say even Margaret Thatcher who is not in favour of sanctions, she's just a dupe of the communists and Helen Suzman is a fellow traveller. So everybody was seen in those terms, well the whites were persuaded, the government tried to persuade them that in fact the war was not caused by the denial of human rights, the war was caused by the communist regional aggressive attitude towards SA. I don't want to say some people fell for it. You ask me, yes, in the end in wartime if wars are legitimate, and if they ever are, then people do the wrong thing. But to say well we actually created the conditions which caused the war but having had a war or got into a war we're now justified in doing whatever we like to do means you're actually denying your responsibility and your guilt for creating those conditions.

POM. Let me switch to ironic, maybe, parallels, and one we talked about the last time a little and that is that Mandela appearing to have more sympathy for the situation of PW Botha than for the situation of FW de Klerk and that the ANC seemed to regard the DP as the evil villains of the parliamentary system rather than the NP, that they take after you and attack you in far more forthright and often quite vicious ways than they do members of parliament in the NP. Why have the DP become the touch point for most of the criticism that the ANC levels against other parties?

CE. Well I sit and I am the recipient of some of the criticism on the party. I don't agree with you at all. I think there are certainly rough attacks on the DP from time to time and some of them may be because of the style of our criticism of the government. I don't think they can be compared with the total disdain with which they approach the NP. If you take their attitude towards Tony Leon it might be kind of mutually aggressive but compared with their attitude towards Marthinus van Schalkwyk it's completely different. One is taken seriously and there are arguments against what the arguments are that he is using. The other one is you're just a throwback of the past. So while I'm saying there are times when the ANC will attack us and I think back-benchers from the point of politics would attack us, I really don't think that that attitude generally displayed, certainly at leadership level, to the DP's criticisms of the ANC are the same as they attach to those of Marthinus van Schalkwyk or the NP.

POM. So when Mandela said at the 50th Congress of the ANC that, "The Democratic Party, which has no policy differences with the National Party, has sought to position itself as an implacable enemy of the ANC and ... to try and convince the supporters of the National Party to switch their allegiance to itself." That's very tough language.

CE. But the whole of that speech was what I call a speech which was not consistent with the normal approach taken by Mandela. He hasn't said that again since. That speech does not reflect the general behaviour and performance of Mbeki, Mandela or anybody else. It was a speech, I would presume, structured by the party structure for him to make in a period of five hours. That's pretty rough stuff. You must go and ask him whether he actually thinks that there's no difference between the two.

POM. I've been trying to.

CE. Well go and ask him. If you take even small things, you take the Tito Mboweni thing, the difference of the two parties' attitude towards it is like chalk and cheese. We supported things like the Schools' Bill for desegregating the schools, the NP didn't. I actually think that there is an irritation with the DP, they might be deemed to be too holy than thou, they might be deemed to be too lecturing in their style. But if I listen in parliament they will take serious note of what the DP says and they will in all likelihood reject it but they will reject it on the basis of considering the merits of it. When the NP comes along I think it's just a rejection, you're a throwback of the past. And so they will say the DP represents, as they would see it, an elitism, it represents big business, it is looking after the vested interests of the haves and things like that, but I really do not believe that the general attitude of the ANC towards the DP is the equivalent of their attitude towards the NP.

POM. When you hear the NP in parliament, do they appear to you to still be a throwback to the past?

CE. Because I've sat opposite them for 40 years and because one drew attention to what was happening and that what was happening was the consequence of their policies, they can't tell me at this stage that they weren't really aware of what was happening. Their attention was drawn both to what was happening and to the consequence of what was likely to happen and I do not believe that a reconstructed NP consisting of essentially the same personnel and all the rest of it can ever be relevant in the new SA. That's how it comes across to me. I'm not saying that all the individuals of that party, but in terms of an institution, it's an institution which has lost its relevance because history has passed it by and it's actually got to do something or get out of the way or regroup with somebody, something like that, or allow its individuals to go where they want to go in order to become relevant in the future.

POM. Have there been any talks going on between the DP and the NP.

CE. No there are no talks. Look we've got an election on and we're going to campaign that election on our own basis. There have been very formal statements by the leadership. In terms of just opposition politics and that does not refer to the NP per se, we've had talks with the parties merely about the management of the election, electoral fund, seeing that the elections are free and fair, seeing that the polling stations are manned. That's almost a mechanical approach to how elections are run but when it comes to the politics of the parties and the politics of elections we are not going to get involved with the NP in general but certainly not with the NP on its own. So we are not involved in talks like that.

. What the next election will bring to SA politics, not only from our side but from the side of the ANC, is another matter because I don't think that the vision of political parties as they are is basically historical. They are not relevant to the new SA and so you're going to have a regrouping. I think the ANC is a broad church of people who were involved in an historical campaign of liberation but the traditional leaders, the new fat cat ANC black businessmen, the communists, the socialists, the social democrats they don't form a particular political party in the parliamentary sense. They form an umbrella organisation which was to campaign for liberation and once that phase is past I've got no doubt that the stresses between the components are going to lead to the movement breaking up but it's not going to happen until liberation is more of a thing of the past.

POM. It would almost seem, given the differences between mainstream ANC and COSATU and the SACP on GEAR, where the differences are not just -

CE. They're ideological.

POM. They're fundamental differences. It's almost impossible to envisage a long run situation where parties like that can -

CE. Put it this way, there are at least three separate entities who correctly from the point of view of consolidating the fight against the old regime had to work together and they've got to work together to get new things in place. But as you move out of that phase to the administration of a new SA in a globalised world you're then going to find that the differences are going to become greater than the commonalties. So they will move away. At the moment they are together and it may be for the moment while it impacts negatively on GEAR in the sense of its implementation, you may argue it may be better to have arguments within the ANC about how you apply it than to have to have a showdown outside between the trade unions and the government, but that's because we are still in terms of politics in a transition phase. We're moving away from liberation politics to the modern politics of administering a new country and when that first phase is over I think you're going to have a restructuring of politics in SA.

POM. One criticism that I hear again and again is that the government is terrific at producing white papers, green papers, yellow papers, orange papers, all kinds of policy papers, but that it is either unable or unwilling to take the content of those papers and to implement them. Is there a serious problem of implementation and to what is it due?

CE. There is a problem of implementation. A large amount of this hinges on the failure of SA to produce economic growth. If the economy was growing at a reasonable pace lots of these other delivery things would fall into place so to my mind economic growth has now got a political imperative. Unless there's economic growth you're going to have a collapse of a democratic system, so of course you're going to get popularism that will take over. The fact that there hasn't been significant economic growth isn't only the government's fault, it's the whole question of what they inherited, the nature of society, the collapse of the Far East and things like that. But to the extent that they haven't prioritised - if you ask them, economic growth is a priority but when you run the country there are 27 ministries and each one is a priority. So when you're getting 27 priorities actually you've got no priorities.  The macro policies I've got no problem with. I think the direction in which the government is trying to take SA, I think its problem has been a lack of focus on what is critical, what is on the critical path to make the rest happen. So I think there has been a lack of priority especially around the area of economic growth.

. But the other one, and it's an explanation, I spoke to one of my colleagues, one of the people in politics, I said I find too many people judge the government's performance so that merely being a change of government in 1994 from, let's say the NP to the DP or from the Labour Party in Britain to the Conservatives or Republicans to Democrats, that isn't what happened. It was a fundamental transformation of the political society so it wasn't just you take over and say well now can you do better at building houses. We actually saddled SA with a new constitution which involved a new parliament, it involved a new cabinet, it involved restructuring the civil service, it involved creating nine new provinces while creating 700 local governments and manning them and all the rest of it. It involved looking at your institutions of state, your parastatals, your boards and all the rest of it and restructuring and then it involved each department re-looking at itself and where it was going and all the rest of it. If one actually thinks that one has managed to get a new structure in place over three years I think they, not they, we have done quite well but because you've been involved in that you haven't had in place an effective delivery system. Your concentration has been in restructuring rather than in delivery and so the delivery aspect of it has only started by two to three years. One will have to see now once one's got over that and you now have got structures in place whether the delivery system will improve. I don't think you can evaluate SA merely in terms of, let's say, the number of houses built. You've got to say given the fact that you've gone in for a major restructuring of the political and constitutional society, could anybody have done better than that? I think the one thing is you would have done better if the economy had been moving ahead faster.

POM. Let's talk about the economy for a minute since this seems to be the Achilles' heel of whether democratisation will sustain itself in the longer run. GEAR has set out policy targets of 5%.

CE. Well we should be up to 4% this next year and up to 6% by the year 2000. Your problem about GEAR, not your problem, GEAR is multi-faceted but GEAR is essentially a financial/fiscal policy, tight monetary policy, interest rates control, reducing deficits and all the rest, all of which I think are correct and prudent which you wouldn't have needed if you were still operating in a closed economy but you are now having to operate in an international economy and so to that extent you've got to internationalise your internal structures and in that sense you're doing well. But it also involves freeing up your economy, it involves deregulation, it involves massive privatisation. On the fiscal side, on the Trevor Manuel side, I think they've done remarkably well but when it comes to the rest of it because of the pressures within their own party, because of all the non-prioritisation there has been a slowness in the other leg of GEAR, that is not the fiscal/financial leg of GEAR but all the other factors of government which will help GEAR to get into gear. That's where the defect is, we're not on the side of the monetary control.

POM. But would part of the problem not also be that the new SA came into being just as globalisation was kind of - ?

CE. Yes. I think you've got two overlapping reconstructions taking place. You've got the reconstruction of the SA economy after apartheid. Now that reconstruction is partly, call it, racial but actually because of apartheid and because of sanctions, because of incipient isolation, you actually developed a highly internally protective economy. So you've got to restructure to get rid of the impact of the apartheid past which in itself would have been big enough. But simultaneously you've got to restructure to take SA into the international competitive community. So you're doing two reconstructurings at the same time and each one of them would have been difficult on its own but when you put the two on top of each other - and you know one of your problems is that you could have restructured getting rid of the apartheid legacy of all kinds if you had tariff walls around you and you probably wouldn't have lost jobs, you would have just restructured or recycled internally, but as soon as you've got to become globally competitive, the first way you become competitive is you reduce your work force and you increase the quality of performance and that loss of jobs is only offset if your economy starts going fast enough as a result of that to create new jobs.

. I am not really upset particularly that liberal or liberalism is attacked in a way as an entity. I think much more important are the values underlining the liberal thing being attacked, or are they growing. So one should be looking at not what I call an institution which is under fire, you should look it as are the underlying values and the underlying purposes gaining ground or not? Even in the economic sense, damn it when Nelson Mandela came out of prison he was still talking in terms of the economics of the 1950s, the freedom charter, nationalisation. Ten years ago we were arguing should there be nationalisation or not? Now today we are arguing, what about the pace of privatisation? So just in a simple field like that the concept of the nationalisation, which was the dominant one from the ANC at that time, nobody is arguing about that but now it is how quickly should we unbundle and how quickly should we privatise. I believe that liberal institutions are under some kind of fire at the moment but I actually do not believe that liberal values have not gained ground in SA, we've a long way to go.

POM. Can I talk about a couple of things quickly? One is the new labour laws which again are far more highly developed than they are in many first world countries. Two, whether you believe they are having an inhibiting effect on the degree to which labour will be employed, i.e. become simpler to employ machines than a person if the cost of hiring a person involves all these convoluted arrangements that one has to go through.

CE. I think that will be the history generally of the world. I can't say in particular in SA.

POM. Well let me give you an example of an NGO which came here with the specific part of its mandate being to hire Africans, to send them to school, to ensure that they learn skills, particularly computer skills, managerial skills, so that when they pulled out they would leave a group of people behind who could actually enter the job market at a very significant rate. Now recently they've had two or three cases of being hauled by their employees before the Labour Court as a result of the new labour legislation over what we might consider to be really trivial matters, over car allowance, not being consulted about a redefinition of responsibilities when reorganisation was taking place. They've had to fly in lawyers from the USA or employ local lawyers and an inordinate amount of time is being consumed on what they would regard as being really small time issues that in the States would be disposed of in five minutes. Their conclusion is that, damn it, they've had enough of it.

CE. Well you're answering the question you put to me. You're giving me an illustration. I actually think that you need labour laws, you need a method of what I call industrial negotiating or conciliation. There has to be that especially in a capitalist or a market orientated system. I am not anti laws which will allow effective trade unions to bargain with management. I think that's part of a process  but you start trying to regulate it or to govern it not by the interplay of forces but by regulation and gradually the regulation takes over and you get more and more regulations and there's no doubt that they will inhibit the growth of the economy. At the moment we've got a slow growth and each person will blame a different aspect of it but I think that in general the over-regulation of your labour society inhibits economic growth. I think you've also got a problem in that a lot of it may even be legitimate in what I call the developed world part of it, seeing that there's a balance. But when it starts impinging on the under-developed it just means that you're going to have more and more unemployed people who can't get off the ground. Even if you're going to have a fairly regulated labour field you should really see that that is limited to the highly developed part of the society and not spilling over to prevent the other people from getting off the ground. But I don't want to quantify which particular law but in general I think that we've got a regulation in particular for allowing the under-developed people to actually operate in a very unregulated society for a while until they have reached a level where regulation becomes necessary.

. So there's a twofold thing, one is the impact on the developed sector and the other one is also its impact on the undeveloped sector of SA. So, yes, in general there's a whole package of laws now, the Competition Bills and things like that. There may be a hell of a lot of merit in it but you're sitting with a whole new bureaucracy, a whole new structure of laws and of regulations and of inspectors and of forms that have got to be filled in and in the end you say what the hell, why do business here? Conceptually they may all be fine but actually in terms of the priorities of SA now, priorities to let this economy move, and I think we are doing too many things which put it in a straitjacket.

POM. Let me just take one example of a problem which is one of the most obvious in the country and yet seems one that appears to be incredibly difficult to bring under any kind of systematic control or control where it alters perceptions and that is crime. It's been on top of the agenda, if you're abroad and you mention SA people mention crime, whether it's true or it's false that's the perception. Yet even the latest police statistics show that there has been a marginal decrease but most stabilisation or a shift in the pattern of crime rather than any substantial decrease in crime. Why has it been so difficult to mobilise resources in such a way as to crack down systematically on crime and to restructure the police force to turn it into -

CE. You must go and speak to Meyer Kahn or somebody about that.

POM. I've seen George Fivaz.

CE. Those internal problems. All I can say is they haven't managed to restructure and they haven't managed - they haven't got enough well trained, competent people in the police force. They've got a large number of people but the question of being directed, of job orientated, achievement orientated, the police force is not as good as it should be, there's no doubting that. I actually don't believe that crime in SA or the level of crime is simply the problem of a lack of a police force. There are many countries with hardly any policemen at all in which there is no crime either and you can even taken parts of this country where if you closed down the police station it wouldn't make much difference. So a law enforcement agency is necessary, but in a law abiding society, in a society which is at peace with itself, in a society where there is respect for other people and their property and their lives and their virginity and all the rest of it, police become less necessary. I actually believe there is a malaise in our society. I think we've lost a level of social morality which is very, very frightening.

POM. Is this what Mbeki would be referring to as a collapse of moral values?

CE. He might have been talking in terms of crime or in corruption or whatever it may be but I think there is a very low level of morality in terms of respect for other people and their property and their rights and their dignity, it's not there now. There may be lots of reasons, one of the ancillary reasons was that your black society learnt over many years of apartheid not to respect the law and really not to respect the property of the oppressors either because it was 'stolen' property, I'm taking the context of the past. But what they did, they were quite fearful of the authorities because the authorities were tough and they were in a sense efficient in terms of enforcing the law, so while you had a lack of respect for the law which is necessary to stop people behaving unlawfully, it was offset by the fear or the respect for the authority. Now I think you've got rid of the first part of it but you should be able to respect the law but I think the legacy lingers on, the legacy of disrespect for the law and disrespect for people is a legacy of an apartheid past. Whereas you had a tough, fairly competent authority, keeping the lid on the law you actually don't have that as an institution at the moment, so the one continues and the other one hasn't been addressed so you're going to have to need both to inculcate a new respect for people and law in the new SA. At the same time you've got to see that the old authoritarian way of imposing authority is replaced by a democratic but equally competent way. So I think you haven't undone the lack of respect for law but you have actually removed some of the fear of the authority. We won't get caught. They are now saying that 9% of people who have committed serious crimes only are found guilty in the end, 90% say we can get away with it. It's like playing Russian Roulette. When it's fifty/fifty you say well I'd better take it easy and when it's only one out of five gets off, when nine out of ten can get off they say well let's take a chance, it never happens to me. So I think that the issue of crime is a deep-seated one which affects the whole psyche of our society and if you ask me I think the leadership of SA should be doing more about it and actually I would say that Mandela in his final year in office should be making the re-establishment or the creation of a social morality in this society as a prime objective. I think every now and then something is said about it but I don't think that people are being talked to in a way which is really making an impact.

POM. I've just one quote for you here. This is a quote and then you can identify who said it. It says: -

. "We can actually smell authoritarianism tendencies in the air in South Africa. The ANC will win the next election by default because the opposition is so unfocused. There is a lot of jargon and not much thoughtfulness coming from the government. Mugabe epitomises where we could end up. We implement austerity but when we encounter resistance we give up. There are swings between demography and managerialism. It holds terrible perils for democracy."

. Who would you have thought said that?

CE. Some liberal business orientated person.

POM. It's Jeremy Cronin.

CE. Well that's interesting. Actually I remember reading the article about a month ago.

POM. Is anything that he's saying - ?

CE. He is part of the problem in that part of the swings of the government are because of the pressures within the government, they can't make up their mind what they are. What is interesting is that I think there's a correctness and under pressure you will start doing which I call popular things and undermine, but on the other hand his party is part of the pressure calling for these popular things. So it's a strange one if the government is not following out what I think they're saying the GEAR policy efficiently and therefore it's likely to shift away from it, I think it will shift away under the pressure of the Communist Party inter alia, but then the Communist Party is complaining that we actually haven't got a consistency in our policy. So I don't quite know, they want a consistent policy which is probably wrong but the dichotomy or the dilemma of the ANC is that it is an ideologically divided political party. I think that's why you see this ambivalence.

POM. Is there a time when one can stop, I won't say blaming, but pointing to the legacy of apartheid as being the root of all social ills and where one must say we must become accountable and responsible as a society in our own right and not always have this terrific kind of excuse?

CE. Well let me tell you, there are two elements to it, or two concepts of this. Politically it will carry on and it will be used by politicians for a long, long time. In terms of what I call the political rhetoric that's what it will be but that doesn't mean to say that it is in terms of the decision makers that is what is seen. In other words it's one thing to say it will give us a few more votes if we're off the hook, we blame apartheid. The question is, is the government actually saying in its own inner circles, actually it's not our fault, it's just apartheid's fault, we haven't got to do much about it. So what is, what I call, the use of the legacy of the past as a bit of political popularism. I think that will carry on for a long, long time. The use of that or actually defining your problems in terms of the past is something which I think you should start putting behind you. But to the extent that there are real problems as a legacy of the past you've got to deal with them. But to the extent that they are excuses is a different matter. Now all I can say is I've been going around once again around Africa quite a bit and if I was going round 20 years ago the African leaders, the African intelligentsia and all the rest of it were saying Africa's woes are all the fault of colonialism, and in that context there was a degree of validity because some of them were the problems but it was also politically an appropriate thing to say because people were still smarting under the colonial era.

. It's not what they're saying today. You listen to - certainly if you go to Julius Nyerere and people like that, you go to the meetings, I've been in Botswana, Maputo, Ethiopia, Kampala, they are actually saying, whatever was wrong with colonialism, this talking about that and saying well that's all that we must take into account, is not going to help us for the future. And so they're actually saying, in spite of what was wrong with the colonial legacy we've got to show that we're going to get ourselves out of it ourselves. In other words they are moving I think far more to a sense of self-reliance and self-fulfilment rather than over-emphasising or putting excessive emphasis on the legacy of colonialism.

. I am not saying that you don't deal with the legacies that are negative but they are actually saying given that, we've actually got to be better. In other words it doesn't help us to spend our time talking about the past. What we've got to say is what are we going to do to put it right? And that's what I find is one of the more encouraging things, is that there's less harping on - that's just because it happened 30 years ago, 40 years ago, colonialism ended, so they've been through the immediate post-colonial phase and they are now saying, look - I heard one chap say if all those evil things of colonialism are correct what are we going to do about it? And so it's no longer a justification, we're now in government to do something and we'd better do something ourselves. So I think that Africa in general in that kind of context, in terms of the time frame of Africa, has not denied the negative legacy of colonialism but they said that's not going to dominate our thinking and our philosophy for the future. And, inter alia, if we tell our supporters it's all the effect of colonialism they will actually sit back and say well then there's nothing we can do about it because if you can't undo the past, well there's nothing to do in the future. So the style is much more towards self-reliance and self-fulfilment in Africa. That is in a sense what the African renaissance, if it means anything -

POM. Self accountability.

CE. I have a view that especially in this country, but in Africa generally and in this country in particular, centuries of colonialism, longer here than in most of Africa, Africa is 90 - 100 years, this is 3½ centuries of colonialism. The last half of that half century reinforced colonialism in the form of very oppressive apartheid. Combined with the nature of our economy which has had to be based on the mining industry, which means the economy was based on big business, really knocked the stuffing out of the masses of your people who instead of becoming self-reliant people they became dependants, they became dependent upon the colonial master, they became dependent upon the government, they became dependent upon business. But what they lacked was a self-dependence and I think that because of the nature of our revolution in SA which essentially was driven by politics and was a political revolution but wasn't seen to be part of an economic emancipation, one has still got in the South African psyche too great a psychology of dependence and too little psychology of self-reliance. So before we were dependent upon the white government, now you're dependent upon Mandela's government. This is where, and political leaders I think right at the moment there is not enough exhortation for people to shed that psychology of dependence in favour of psychology of self-reliance and I think it's going to be a very, very important wheel to turn because it will change the whole mood of the nation in getting things going.

. So I think it was the nature of, like you said, our revolution. Our transformation was that it changed the government,, it didn't change the psychology towards government. You still are a dependent upon somebody else. It isn't that we have been liberated, not just as a community but as individuals, we are now free to do things. You're really saying we've got another government we can lean on and that government will be more sympathetic towards us. I think changing that psychology is a very, very important part of us. I listen to Thabo. He comes close to it but he actually stops short of saying - when it comes to when we were playing rugby, those bloody white Afrikaners and all the rest of us, they've been oppressing us, you know what we're going to do? We don't want quotas, we will bloody show them that we will be play rugby better than they will. And when it comes to those whities in business we will show them that we can do business better than they can. When it comes to those professionals we will prove that we're going to be better bloody doctors than they are and we're going to do it. Instead there is still too much of a defensiveness, well can we do it and therefore we need - I'm not arguing you don't need assistance in getting there but you must actually do it on the basis that that assistance is to enable you to be better than the other people. Use the words 'we're going to be better than our oppressors'. And if you don't believe that you're going to be better than your oppressors you will actually suffer a psychology for generations to come of inferiority.

. I think the nation is in a - in all of this we came onto the labour side, the political side, there is not quite the right psychological mind-set that we're actually going to make this work. We will make this country work, we say the government must make it work, somebody else must make it work, we'll help them, instead of this nation saying we're going to make it work. I just remember going in Kenya, which was doing well for a long time, but when Kenya went independent in 1960 there that independence gripped the nation, it wasn't just Kenyatta is going to be the new president, it was 'we are free and we're going to make this country work', and you had this cry of 'let's pull together', and all around the country people were building schools, they were starting small industries, they were doing things so you had a massive national mobilisation to make the country succeed.

. Now I don't think that national mobilisation is there in SA at the moment. There still is the government in a sense is the provider and they must either provide from themselves or take from somebody who has got but I don't think the government is saying sufficiently to the people that we must make it work and you must make it succeed. I say the African renaissance allows you to say that but I think Thabo has got to be much more aggressive in saying it, this African renaissance and what are the ingredients. Africa has got to make it work itself. And so without denying the legacies of the negatives of the past you're actually going to say in spite of that we're going to have the will to succeed and we're going to make it work and I think that is still what is lacking in the leadership quality at the top. I think it's very good in many ways. In terms of direction I don't think there is this exhortation to overcome the legacies. There's too much stress on the legacies which are there but I don't think there is sufficient emphasis on 'we together are going to prove that we can overcome those legacies'.

POM. I think before we talked about this in terms of there being an absence of a national cohesiveness that we're all in it together.

CE. As I say you don't get together because somebody says you must get together. You get together around an idea. So Thabo must say we've got to get together and form a national cohesiveness. He must say, this is what this nation is going to do and I'm giving you the rallying cry for the nation and it is not just whites that have got to do this, collectively we've got to do it and it's not the government. The government can be an initiator in a sense but it's the people. So all I'm saying is I think there is still too much in terms of the white society, I think there's not a realisation of the fundamentality of the change that took place in 1994. It is a change, it's a new government and da-da-da-da, but it's not we're part of a -  and I actually don't think in the average black society there's a recognition of what being free in your own country also means. It still is, well there's been a change and there's a new government that must provide. Now I'm talking in shorthand so I'm overstating it but for all that I actually think if I must criticise the Mandela/Thabo Mbeki leadership it's their lack of exhortation for people to accept their own responsibility individually and collectively for making the society succeed. Listen, if one doesn't come across it, it's fine to say how crappy that is and the legacy and all those legacies are right when you spell them all out, we're going to prove we can do better. So that's the view I have.

POM. Thank you very much. What's interesting just about what you said is Ireland would be a very good example of after it gained its freedom in 1922 it slavishly imitated everything British, British management style, British business style. It was like the Brits could do no wrong and unfortunately it was the wrong model since it was the only model going steadily downhill for about 40 years, but if the British did it then we would imitate it and it was a very good example of the oppressed imitating the oppressor and it wasn't until the 1980s that it began to come alive and now last year something quite remarkable happened. Last November, 1997, is that per capita income in Ireland now exceeds per capita income in the UK. We've a growth rate coming on -

CE. It is what is in the end - I am sure that people got tired of imitating, they got tired of moaning about the bloody Brits and all this and they actually said we're going to make this country work.

POM. And there's a self-confidence, there's going to be a 13% growth rate this year.

CE. Well it will probably overheat, the Irish won't get it quite right but -

POM. Yes, well we never do.

CE. I listen and I'm fascinated by this political game. The same in the area of crime, one never says it's because of poverty. I was in Uganda, nobody there, maybe some wars on the border, but there's no crime in the ordinary sense in the streets of Kampala. You can walk around over there. China was poor, other countries - poverty is a factor which is taken, but I don't think if you actually allow people to feel, oh well we don't have to do anything to put ourselves right, poverty is the fault of us being criminals, we're not responsible for being criminals. So there's not enough of pulling this bloody country together psychologically. As I say Thabo at times comes fairly close to it and I will go and have a one-on-one with him one of these days and take the discussion further.

POM. Good stuff.

CE. But oddly enough when we talk of the legacy of the past some of what I say, the psychological distortions are also part of the legacy of the past, apart from the material legacy there is also a psychological legacy.

POM. Thank you. Good conversation.

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.