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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
07 Sep 1998: James, Wilmot
POM. Let me begin, I suppose the most obvious point to start would be with the latest IDASA poll with the state of the political parties.
WJ. It's a Markinor poll.
POM. The Markinor poll. But you've also recently done a poll on attitudes towards the police, you did it within Pretoria?
WJ. No. There's a Markinor poll dealing with party support that was released last week, Thursday or Friday. We did a survey, it must have been three, four months ago, and the results have been released in a staggered fashion and we have one report that we're releasing tomorrow on public perceptions of government and Bob Mattes does that so he's the best person to speak to about that particular part. But the most recent poll to emerge has been the Markinor one which is quite interesting.
POM. How do you read it?
WJ. What does it say? It says that the ANC support is just under 60%, that the NP support is under 10%, that the DP support has grown to 5%, that the IFP support has been fluctuating around 5%, that the UDM has seen some growth but nothing that spectacular, about 2%, and the PAC support is also lying at about 2% and the Freedom Front support is also lying round about that figure. So the most interesting statistic there is the decline of the NP which has been dropping and we picked that up in earlier polls as well because you will know that the 1994 poll gave them just over 20% and since then it's now under 10% so there has been a decline in the NP support, quite visible.
POM. Let me run through what have been given to me as reasons for the decline in support for the NP. One is the belief that De Klerk sold out, betrayed the Afrikaner people and these two books, Van Zyl Slabbert's book Comrades in Arms and you had Patti Waldmeir's book Anatomy of a Miracle, both of which argued that the Boers gave it all away, that they were out-manipulated, out-negotiated and in the words of Van Zyl Slabbert and Heribert Adam that in the end it was a pushover. Do you think that's a fair and accurate description of what went on at Kempton Park or whether it's this revisionist history that doesn't take into account what would appear to me that the NP won many, many very, very important concessions, concessions that were high on their list, that it wasn't all a one-way street?
WJ. If you ask the question why has the NP's support declined, and of all the parties at the highest rate, the fact of FW's departure I think itself was significant, FW de Klerk's departure from the NP scene was an important thing because he was the most authoritative leader of the NP and he was replaced by somebody quite junior and somebody with very little standing in the wide variety of traditional NP constituency quarters. So I think that's one important reason. The second has to do with the fact that it's not clear what the NP actually stands for because what it says it stands for is middle class values and it has a lot to say about what that means, but it is not a party that has universal middle class support principally by virtue of the fact that it's still run by white males, white Afrikaner males. And so it's lack of clarity about mandates and the fact that it's led by somebody who doesn't have the same stature as somebody like De Klerk, I think it explains, in my view, why there's decline in popularity.
POM. How about its leaving the government of national unity? Did that work for it or against it?
WJ. That's made it difficult. Against it on two levels. The one is that because it's now outside of the government it is not possible to plot career tracks for people within the NP. It can't offer them ministerships or deputy ministerships or any of the other important portfolios that came with the government of national unity, even chairs of parliamentary committees. So on that level they don't have a whole lot of benefits to offer aspiring members who obviously have political careers to take care of, or ambassadorships for that matter. Secondly, I think that its withdrawal from the government of national unity has meant that the ANC does not have a credible set of leaders representing the white community to talk to in a direct way because in the past even though they disagreed intensely and they might not have liked one another, Mandela could speak to De Klerk within government and now there is no such representation. I think that's a loss in prestige for the NP even though the ANC doesn't think so. It doesn't matter any more that they're moving ahead, that having a NP outside of government doesn't really matter that much to the ANC but it matters to the credibility and stature and prestige of the NP. So in those two senses I would say the withdrawal from the GNU was a loss for the NP.
POM. How about the question of identity, that the of the party was for forty years associated intimately if not completely with apartheid and since the demise of apartheid went with it the raison d'être for the party's existence? It doesn't know what it stands for. Its identity has practically fallen apart. Its best and brightest have left.
WJ. And it hasn't been able to convert into something else.
POM. When you say 'convert' you mean? Because they will say they are the most multi-racial of all the parties. If you look at the support base of parties they have the biggest proportion, an overall support base of coloureds, of Indians, of Africans and of whites.
WJ. Well they are multi-racial in a very limited sense of the term. They don't have many black members. They've got lots of coloured and Indian supporters still and a very generous notion of black, it would make them a largely black party if you look at the overall support base. But there are no Africans there and there are no Africans of any stature and leadership so that's a bit of a fudge I would say.
POM. What is seen, at least the perception is that the DP is becoming the party of whites, that the NP is becoming a party of coloureds and that the ANC is becoming the party of Africans, that while you could argue on the one hand that the NP has attracted a very small proportion of African voters, in the very same way you could say that the ANC support base among whites has probably gone down since 1994.
WJ. It's true that by and large the ANC is a party of Africans. It is true that the DP is largely a party of whites, typically English speaking whites but more and more Afrikaans speaking whites as well. It is true that the NP remains a party of Afrikaners at a leadership level although some people like Peter Marais and Patrick McKenzie and Gerald Morkel have been rising within the ranks. The support base of the NP is a mixed one. The last time I looked coloured support for the NP was something like 40% overall, but there is within the coloured community quite a bit of uncertainty about whom it is they will vote for and support in next year's election. There is a very large, undecided vote there and the most recent figures put the ANC and the NP head to head. So if it's simply a question of looking at demographic characteristics then what you say is largely true.
POM. I want to relate this to the TRC and the letter it has sent to 200 individuals saying that they will be named as being involved in gross violations of human rights and unless they apply for amnesty now they lay themselves open to prosecution and Dullah Omar has promised that he will indeed prosecute. Do you think that if such prosecutions took place that it would have a severe negative impact on race relations in the country and further polarise differences among races and between parties and contribute to acrimony rather than contribute towards healing?
WJ. It depends on who's being prosecuted. If the people who are being prosecuted are Afrikaners, or rather people in the security establishment who for the most part happen to be Afrikaners, and if it's on that side only then that won't help in reconciliation. If the prosecutions are across the board, which I think they might just be since some senior members of the ANC have been mentioned ahead of the report's release, then people might be a bit tired of the fact that the TRC's work is being carried into the next millennium but an even-handed, fair prosecution strategy that targets all the people that ought to be targeted across the board, I don't think will have a harmful effect on reconciliation.
POM. Even though these would be long drawn-out, there's a big difference between a hearing before the TRC and the rigour of a prosecution in a court where everything must be backed up by not hearsay but solid evidence. I talked to somebody this morning who said, "If I were on the list I would take the chance that if there is a prosecution they can never marshal the evidence properly or sufficiently." Too, might not Mandela step in at that point and say, "We've gone through enough. It has been an excruciating exercise which has achieved a number of its objectives and I will declare a general amnesty?" Would that be better for the country?
WJ. Prosecutions are still ongoing in Argentina long after their more truncated version of the Truth Commission came to an end and they drag on because there are people who believe that certain questions have not been answered. So it all depends on how many questions the TRC report would answer and will the people be satisfied and will parents and other victims be satisfied with the outcome of the TRC Report. So you might have prosecutions anyway. I think that the TRC is doing its job when it says that there are people who will be named and for which there are still some outstanding answers who have not applied for amnesty and that these matters will be referred to the Department of Justice for further prosecution based on the Department of Justice's own sense of what is prosecutable (is there such a word?) or what's not because nobody wants to take a case to court if there's not enough evidence to prosecute successfully. So that's a judgement call they would have to make. I am not sure what the President will do if that was to transpire, whether he will then turn around and say, "Well we've had enough of this." It depends whom it is and it depends what the issues are and it depends on what, I suppose, groups of people would stand behind wishing to prosecute people in order to get answers that they have not gotten through the TRC process.
POM. It's messy.
WJ. It is a bit messy.
POM. The two decisions, one isn't a decision, one was an aspiration, the decision of the ANC to appoint premiers in the provinces that they control. Do you see that as a move towards 'democratic centralism' or whatever or do you see it as being in fact in the interests of ensuring that they get a better quality of premier in the provinces that they do control or that it's just a move to gain more control over the problems, for the centre to gain more control over the provinces which they do control?
WJ. Well it's an effort on the part of the NEC to assert its will.
POM. Of the NEC?
WJ. NEC, within the ANC, to assert its will and to act like a governing party and to make sure that the provinces and the premiers stay in line. That's what it is I think. It's a tension between governing the country and allowing for popular mandates and popular sentiments to resolve in choosing people of their own choice. It's a balance, just a question of balance and the ANC has been struggling with that, clearly in the case of Gauteng where they went through a very difficult period and they still are living with the consequences of that having attempted to override popular wishes and then ended up with a candidate, a premier, who is there because of popular will, but the NEC didn't like that. It's not their choice. It seems like they've smoothed that out, if that's the word to use.
POM. We did an interview a number of years ago on behalf of a study being done by, I think, the National Democratic Institute per Lake Research on the future of the prospects for multi-party democracy in South Africa. Do you see this as an indication of the ANC trying to establish tighter internal structures, of their being less internal democracy within the party, of where the NEC or the National Working Committee is the real governing organ of the country which passes down its policy decisions to the government which in turn may modify them and pass them on to parliament?
WJ. The grassroots base of the ANC is not working that well, it's very uneven. Some of the local groups and local branches of the ANC have not met, some of them met sporadically, the whole bottom end of the ANC as a party has not been functioning very well at all either in terms of membership or in terms of participation or in terms of dues collection. So it has by default or by design, more by default, become more and more a party driven by and led by the centre and by the leadership of the ANC at a national level. So even though that will be activated, I mean they will be activated the local branches when it comes to call for nominations, people to get onto the list leading up to next year's election and so on, so that will act as a stimulus but it's not been a vibrant functioning party on the grassroots level, on the local branch level for the last two, three years. So what do you do when that happens? You tend to set policy, you tend to diffuse policy to branches and you act, since you are the governing party of the country, in much of a centralised manner and that's what's been happening.
POM. I'll come back to the question I probably had posed a couple of years ago and would pose again now in the light of the changing circumstances: who really governs the country? Is it the National Working Committee of the NEC or is it the government? Particularly when you have a complete overlap between the two, I would think every minister is a member of the NWC but that the actual Working Committee is broader than that. Are the real decisions made behind closed doors and then emerge in terms of government policy?
WJ. I don't know. It's a very difficult question to answer. It's a question about who governs, and the NWC is responsible for, I guess, the day-to-day management of ANC business on behalf of the NEC. The NEC is large and cumbersome. I don't think that your major policy decisions come out of the NEC. I mean directions come out of the ANC but the NWC would be the key body in terms of ANC direction. It's clear that certain departments of state have a very good hold over national government policy but other departments don't. But this, under circumstances where government is in the hands of the ANC and the private sector is in the hands of others, and who really governs and calls the shots I'm not quite sure, and that in a global environment where certain international bodies and larger countries have been quite influential in setting the terms of South Africa's financial policies, economic policies for sure. I'm not trying to duck the question, it depends on the issue.
POM. In fact just on that, the government, or if the ANC is going to go into the next election, unless things change dramatically in the next couple of months they're going to go in with the country in a recession or close to it, the per capita income falling, with unemployment having increased significantly in the formal sector with a radically devalued rand and it brings to mind Ronald Reagan's famous question when he was running against Jimmy Carter the first time around when his question simply was, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" And for many people, not just whites but for many blacks, they can answer that they're not. Now how do you think the ANC will deal with that in an electoral context? And two, does the global financial crisis which has introduced more people to the word 'globalisation' and become kind of a convenient scapegoat, if you like to call it that, where they can point to this tidal wave of external forces over which small countries like SA have no control engulfing the economy so that the state of the economy cannot be laid at the door of policy makers in SA but can be laid at the door of impersonal global forces over which the country has no control so everything gets swept under the mat so to speak.
WJ. The Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel, has been urging banks not to raise interest rates and certainly not to keep it as high as they are. If you want to blame anybody, blame the banks. One understands why the banks are doing this and the ANC as a party can't afford to go into the next election with the interest rates where they are now. They can't. They're punitive. They are resulting in foreclosures and defaulting on loans for home owners and it's meant that -
POM. It stifles any prospect of any economic growth whatsoever.
WJ. And they've been revised, the growth rates have been revised. It's down to .3% or something. So I would think that government would want to, and the ANC would like to see those interest rates drop but the minister can't tell the banks what to do. So there's going to be a fight and a discussion. If you want to blame anybody then don't blame globalisation, blame the banks, it's quite easy.
POM. Well if you blame the banks do you blame the Reserve Bank?
WJ. Well the Reserve Bank is one since it sets the interest rates.
POM. Are you again in this ironic - I remember, I think it was in 1992, a group of ANC, and most now are ministers, but they were one of these study tours of the States and they ended up at my university for a couple of days and the lecture that riveted them was a lecture by a political scientist who said: make one thing sure in your constitution and that is that you maintain political control of the Reserve Bank because if you give it away to an independent bank you are essentially giving away your control over economic and monetary policy. My understanding is that they wanted in negotiations to bring the bank, have the bank political rather than independent, but that they lost on that issue. But in that sense the chickens are coming home to roost. Do you believe that it would be in the better interests of the country to have a bank that enjoys the independence of the Reserve Bank now where one man, woman, whatever, can set interest rates at a level that he thinks is - the rand which has not been saved anyway is more important than economic growth or employment or inflation or any other consideration, where in fact if they keep interest rates at the level they're at they're going to be inflationary anyway.
WJ. The whole purpose of setting the interest rates as high as to dampen consumer spending particularly regarding imports. So that's what they want to achieve, so there is a better balance of payments and foreign exchange situation and I think that they will achieve that in the short term. People are just not buying, the car sales are down and other sales are down. Once you get through that there has to be some kind of reflation of the economy in the lowering of interest rates and to achieve that is going to require some co-operation from the Reserve Bank. Now the Reserve Bank has a new Governor, Tito Mboweni, who is a former member of the ANC but clearly on the other side of the telephone line and somebody who will act independently, I am sure, in the interests of the country and will not take marching orders from government or from Thabo Mbeki or from Nelson Mandela but at the same time is somebody who is part of the club. So if there is a need to co-ordinate economic policy better involving the Reserve Bank the opportunity to do so now is a hell of a lot better than what it was when Stals was there.
. But as a body the Reserve Bank should be an independent institution. As a matter of principle I think that's right in as much as Alan Greenspan is independent of the White House, I mean in the US. So they can't tell him what to do and they can't tell Mboweni what to do and he wouldn't like it either. But there has to be a consensus about what our policies ought to be, monetary policies and others, then now is the chance to shape those. But things are tough, things are hard and I don't think they're going to get any easier and part of it is just out of our control. It depends on whether Japan comes right and whether Japan comes right depends on reflating the Japanese economy and it means fairly radical reforms in terms of banking policy, the behaviour of banks in Japan. It is partly dependent on that and we are not alone, other countries are as vulnerable to that side of the world's progress as ourselves. So it might be rhetoric to say it's all through globalisation, it's partly true.
POM. The IFP, people I've talked to in the IFP take it for granted that they're going to be part of the next government almost on the grounds that the ANC needs them more than they need the ANC.
WJ. Well unless they know something I don't know the polls are indicating that they're not doing that well even in KZN, that is the IFP.
POM. Are they indicating that they would lose KZN to the ANC now?
WJ. It's up for grabs as the Western Cape is up for grabs. Now you know with elections things happen at the last minute and so on so one should not be too confident about that as an outcome, but I would say that present polling statistics would make me nervous if I was the IFP so I wouldn't be too sanguine around what kind of support they will get.
POM. The IFP?
WJ. Yes, because we don't have a government of national unity concept in place right now. If we did, IFP participation in government at the senior level requires a certain threshold in terms of performance electorally and so the first step is what would the IFP achieve electorally in order to make it possible to have a government of national unity, to make possible a deputy presidency involving Buthelezi? This is what people talk about loosely. So that's the first hurdle and if you don't achieve that level of electoral performance then it's not clear to me how Thabo Mbeki would include the IFP in the executive side of government. There are no devices. You can't just ask Buthelezi to be the Deputy President and so what's the threshold? The threshold is 10%, 5%.
POM. What do you mean you can't just ask him? Why can't you?
WJ. In 1994 to be a Deputy President your party had to get 20% or more of the vote. To get ministerial appointments your party had to get more than 10%, I think, of the vote. It might be 5%, I think it's 5%. So if you got less than 5%, like the DP got or the PAC got, then there was no basis for Mandela to act other than in the appointment of people to ambassadorial positions which is done. The Freedom Front has got one or two ambassadors.
POM. But that law will expire in 1999 so there will be no legislation there to say what a president can do or can't do?
POM. So would a case not be made that if the choice was between - say the IFP had 4% of the vote or something nationally, you were saying there's no reason to include them in a government of national unity or to offer Buthelezi a deputy presidency or something like that, would that not be counter-balanced by the dumping him out there on the ground where he's now no longer a minister, he's nothing, he's now back to being a mere regional figure of decreasing significance, that this might start creating tensions between the IFP and the ANC of the old type?
WJ. Look it might be desirable to have the IFP and Buthelezi in some prominent place. I just don't know what the device is. How would Thabo Mbeki justify to the ANC, bring the IFP in on a senior level of government when they get 5% of the vote only? It can't be justified. So they would have to invent something pretty quickly to make it possible. There is no constitutional device to make that possible.
POM. The unity of the country?
WJ. But there's no constitutional device. We had a threshold specification in the last election which made it possible and that would not hold in 1999. So I am just perplexed. I just don't know how we're going to cobble together a political deal that would incorporate somebody like Buthelezi into a senior position in government. If it so transpired that the IFP does not perform well in the elections I don't know what that device is. So maybe Thabo Mbeki will tell us what he's going to do?
POM. The Markinor poll gave 5% to the DP and there was a poll that came out two or three weeks before that, Data - ?
WJ. It gave 5% to the IFP, it gave about 3% to the DP and growing.
POM. Some other polls are giving 10%. What poll came out two weeks ago? I think it was the Helen Suzman Foundation poll on which was piggy-backed questions about the two thirds, the ANC receiving over two thirds. My recollection is that they have the DP at 10%.
WJ. But that would be completely wrong. I don't recall that figure for the DP. The DP got 2% in 1994 - unless it was done regionally or provincially, it could be a provincial figure, but the DP got 2% of the vote in 1994 and there is expectation that it will grow to about 5% on the basis of the Markinor poll. I don't know what the Helen Suzman Foundation has been talking about. That would be quite a radical increase. Hard to imagine.
POM. I must find that out.
WJ. I don't remember it.
POM. So you still see the NP emerging as the 'official' opposition?
WJ. The speculation is that the DP will grow sufficiently and the NP will decline sufficiently for them to change positions. But it might be that there is no over-whelming opposition party with sufficient support to make it an official opposition. You must just have lots of parties on the other side with small chunks of support and with no clear official opposition actually emerging. What they're saying is that the DP has the greatest potential.
POM. Let me go back to a question I've been asking large numbers of people and that is perceptions of crime and crime. In all the years that I've been coming here the more often I come the more I hear about crime, crime slowly engulfing the country, the situation is becoming worse, it's talked about and more people don't believe official statistics that things have stabilised or even in some areas are improving. Why is it that the government, knowing that this is not just of national importance but of international importance, these are perceptions of people abroad that it is going to affect tourism or foreign investment or whatever, why has it been unable to get a handle on crime? I recall Mr Mandela's statement when third force violence broke out, or black on black violence broke out, and when De Klerk was saying he was doing the best he could and that he didn't know the source, and Mandela's reply was, "You're head of state, you're head of government, you've all this apparatus of power at your disposal, there's no way you can't know what's going on and there is no way you can't take action and just stop it. You have all the power. I don't believe you." Yet crime of which he with all the power just can't get a grip on, you have even a situation like Richmond which he can't get a grip on. Why can't they just prioritise crime?
WJ. Where does one begin with that story?
POM. The other man, the police and the underpaid police.
WJ. The normal stuff, which is true, and we can cite evidence of success in certain quarters because there is some evidence of some successes. Richmond is one although it's flaring up again. Richmond, they've done quite a lot in that area. But the fact is things are not much better, they're probably worse in certain quarters and there's been no visible success when it comes to certain high profile crimes. Part of it is a public relations problem, they don't communicate their successes very well, and part of it has to do with the fact that the general public does not always believe what it is they're saying. So even if they trot out certain statistics it doesn't have the credibility that if packaged properly and conveyed properly it might have. We can do all of that but at the same time the policing strategy and policing successes do not have the national prominence that it does and this government has still not been able to say we've got ten, twenty big problems in this country, what you're going to do is focus on two, focus on three, focus on one maybe and we're going to focus on crime and we're going to put all our resources in there and we're going to react to it in a manner that actually makes a visible difference to people.
POM. A total onslaught.
WJ. To have it, I don't think the will is there. The inability of government to deal with crime and growing urban terrorism in the Western Cape is a consequence of a lack of will which they don't have. That's true for education as well and it's true for policing because there are areas of government where there is a lot of will and where it makes a huge difference in terms of policy.
POM. Education is singled out as a priority yet it's in a mess.
WJ. It's in a mess, yes. So it's a question of the will to say this is what we're going to do and then the capacity that you do it.
POM. Why is there that lack of will knowing that you have in a sense a safe constituency and it's not as though you're looking at, gee let's measure the impact this will have on our electoral base; strong measures on crime would probably increase their figures among every section of the population?
WJ. It's probably as simple as reducing it to personality, the personality and just character of the responsible minister of a particular department.
POM. I'm going to see him tomorrow. I will say, Sydney I've talked to a lot of people and they say it's all your fault!
WJ. It's clearly not his fault, it's not all his fault but he's not always on top of things. He doesn't have the strong public presence that he ought to have.
POM. What ministers do?
WJ. Kader Asmal, Trevor Manuel to start off with. Zuma.
WJ. He gets things done. Controversial but things get done.
POM. Is this by and large a weak government with three or four exceptions?
WJ. I would say it's an uneven government. There are some strong people beyond those three. Alec Erwin is strong in Trade & Industry, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi is strong. I don't want to sound invidious by mentioning names but I wouldn't call this a weak government but it's very uneven and it has weaknesses in some key portfolios and everybody knows it and nobody says anything. Key portfolios, education, policing, not very strong. Foreign Affairs is also one.
POM. Why do you think it is? Tony Blair took 18 months to do his first major reshuffle and Mandela really hasn't reshuffled his cabinet from the day it was appointed. Is that the loyalty syndrome?
WJ. Yes loyalty and pay-back, it's a principle set of criteria.
POM. Will that change under Mbeki?
WJ. I hope so. Although given his track record I'm not sure that it will but he has an opportunity to change, obviously appoint a different kind of cabinet post-1999 and I hope he does and I hope he pays particular attention to the very important areas in need of attention, education and policing.
POM. And where would you put education, policing, jobs? Is jobs related to the crime situation?
WJ. Jobs is not a basis for a portfolio and I believe that the departments responsible for job creation would be financed from Trade & Industry, those economic sort of issues covered by different portfolios. GEAR is in trouble so there's a need for a different kind of emphasis. How do you create jobs? GEAR needs to be revised. So I think that as priorities it would be crime, it would be - jobs is obviously tied up with that, crime, jobs, education.
POM. Why, just on GEAR, before the global crisis swept it under the mat, it would seem - everyone I've talked to for the last couple of years with economic or financial expertise says GEAR isn't working and yet the government has insisted with a great degree of stubbornness that its policy is GEAR. I think Mandela said GEAR will be government policy 'over my dead body'. The ANC vehemently attacked an ally, it attacked both COSATU and the SACP for its criticisms of GEAR. Why are they adhering to it with such rigidity? It would seem that the obvious thing would be to say GEAR was build on certain assumptions, certain of those assumptions have turned out to be incorrect and certain turns in the world economy demand that we re-look at GEAR, not to abandon it but to re-examine it in the light of changed circumstances and to make the adjustments to it that are necessary so that we can implement it.
WJ. The question, ask Trevor Manuel why he's not saying that, because the fact of it is that the assumptions that have been made in order to make GEAR work have changed. They have and there is particularly rapid change taking place because of globalisation so it would be a surprise to all of us if the assumptions did not change, so why not just say that? I don't know. Maybe because they don't like changing their minds or they think that they've got so much invested in GEAR, politically or otherwise, it's hard to get out of it. But we have to get out of it because the promise of GEAR is not being fulfilled, not even close, and the growth assumptions that were made in order to make these promises work need to be revised continuously, downwards, and they would have to be revised downwards again.
POM. Maybe below zero the way things are going.
POM. Let's go back to one of the fundamental things that I'm trying to get at and that is that by any measure this is a country in crisis. There's certainly a crisis in the area of law and order and there's certainly an economic crisis, growing joblessness, almost negative economic growth, declining per capita income, increasing poverty, perhaps even more disparity between the haves and the have-nots than existed before. But unlike, say, in South Korea when the economy imploded and you had these television images of people going to their local banks and handing in their gold and trinkets and wedding rings and whatever in order to do something for their country, you have no sense either of crisis here among the population at large, and you certainly have no sense of a national cohesiveness that we're all in it together and we all must make sacrifices in the short run so that the benefits of liberation are actually delivered to our children. It's more an attitude of 'I'm all right Jack' and as long as I'm all right - I mean the example I think I would give is that you had the new head of SAA going before a portfolio committee and saying, "Unless we get a partner and get a partner soon this airline is going to be so bankrupt in four years that it will be scrap metal." And the reaction is the workers go on strike two days later. You have negative economic growth, growing unemployment, you have NUMSA saying the solution here is to ask for an 18% wage increase and go on strike and kind of invoked the law to say, "We've discovered a new way of striking. We can go on with these strikes all over the place." Why has Mandela not been the messenger not of reconciliation but of the need to say we've got to work, we've got to work our way out of this, the days when we were special to the world are long gone?
WJ. He has been saying that on and off but he has been so far removed from that sense of reality and that sense of crisis increasingly since last year, yet a lot depends on the quality of advice that he would get so that's a question I would ask. Who does he get his advice from and who is serving as the credible sound of alarm?
POM. Who is?
WJ. Nobody. If IDASA sounds an alarm we're seen as unpatriotic.
POM. Is there, you go back to a very important point, is there this, I won't use the word 'subliminal' because after I saw the Black Lawyers' Association were suing the Mail & Guardian for subliminal racism, I decided to take the word subliminal out of my vocabulary, but I remember when I came here first, the first number of years, that if you mentioned SA being a divided society or that there were ethnic problems or problems of ethnicity you were considered somehow to be pro-apartheid and anti the liberation struggle and the unity of the state, so people simply didn't talk about it because they didn't want to be classified as a racist or as a this or that. Is the same thing arising now? Have the ANC worked themselves into the position of where they have intimidated honest criticism by saying criticism means you're trying to say blacks can't govern, they just can't do it, therefore you're a racist. Whether you know it or not that's what you are. So instead of people exposing themselves, people who should be out there on the front line, they say, "I'm not going to expose myself to this kind of criticism."
WJ. Intimidation is the right word, there has been enormous intimidation.
POM. Yes, some kind of word.
WJ. Marginalisation, dismissing people, basically not listening.
POM. Do you get it here, does your organisation get it?
WJ. Yes strongly at times. We are told that we are essentially a liberal organisation, a hang-over from the past, that we're unpatriotic. We might even be racist and that when we sound alarm bells - if I was to say, for example, that I think this country is in crisis and it's getting worse and these are the reasons for it, that will be taken as a statement of not having faith, of trust in government and being unpatriotic and therefore it's a point to be dismissed. It's a sense that the ANC listens to itself only which is dangerous and I think that Mandela listens to the people around him and also to himself. Mbeki the same thing. And so what happens in parliament is that opposition parties are dismissed as a National Party, as a DP, as white, as reactionary. Sit in parliament and see how often there is good debate on national questions. It doesn't happen very often, there's no debate. The ANC must say one thing, opposition party members would get up, MPs would get up, they would be heckled, they would be hissed at, it's a theatre. It's a political theatre rather than any kind of sound debate that takes place. So I think we're at a bit of a cross-roads. I'm not sure if it's arrogance of the ANC or whether it's a sense that we're running this country and we probably will run this country after next year, things are in place and don't tell us what to do and we will listen only to ourselves, and that's been increasingly the case. So my ability, for example, to talk to anybody in government has actually been - if I was to call anybody I would probably speak to a secretary.
POM. A secretary?
WJ. Yes. And a year ago that was very different. A year ago I could speak to people directly, raise issues.
POM. So you recognise the signs of crisis and point them out. Is the less influence you have and the less you are listened to, the more you are not just dismissed, almost derided?
POM. Is this the same thing with the media? If I had to count the number of times I am told about the sins of the white dominated media, I have another stack, all my interviews go right to the roof. It's invoked like a sacred mantra time and time again, the media, the media, the white-dominated media. Is this another kind of catch-all way of not understanding? And I read the newspapers here and I don't find them anti-ANC at all, in fact I find the very opposite. I go through editorials and I say, "Gee these guys are bending backwards not to be critical." There might be a criticism here and that's qualified in so many ways that by the end of the article the criticism is almost lost in a Uriah Heap kind of deference to the ANC. Any marginal criticism is taken as unpatriotic, it just leaps out. Again, it's unpatriotic, it's all the things you described. But you can't build a democracy as long as those attitudes persist.
WJ. Once people start censoring themselves and falling over backwards to be sweet and nice and not to be critical, then that's a poison because then it sets in. The fact of it is that government is more powerful than little NGOs, but it also means that one has to find a way of expressing these things and that the time has come because I think it's gone on for too long in the course of this year. But it's very easy to marginalise organisations like ours. They just stop talking to us, stop taking calls, stop responding and that's happened very clearly.
POM. Just a point I was going to follow up on before I go. My thought is lost, we've been talking about self-imposed criticism. I've lost it. I'll think of it as soon as I'm walking down the street. How does, I suppose the question is impossible to answer, how do you get - Mandela talked about the need for a new patriotism I think in his opening address to parliament in 1995. There is no new patriotism. Again, why is there that lack of sense of national cohesiveness? Is race still a barometer of everything in this country?
WJ. Yes. Any sense of national cohesion has been superficial up till now and it fine to have national cohesion at a time when there was a whole range of things we could celebrate, whether it's World Cup rugby or something else. Celebrations are stopping and the biggest damper on that is our economic circumstances. People feel at least not as well off and they feel threatened by what's happening economically and they feel threatened by crime and there's very little to celebrate and it's fine to say, listen now we have a situation where justice prevails and there's no harassment by the police and all those horrible things of apartheid have gone, and I think it's important to recognise that, it's true. But at the same time the material circumstances of people and not much better and there have been very few declining sort of cultural points where you can go around and celebrate, a sense that we need to get on with the hard things and we're not getting there. The public thinks that we are not getting to the hard things. But it's been interesting talking to you because what's quite clear in my mind as I sit here is this inability, political inability to recognise crisis which I think is a very, very dangerous thing, and to be lulled into a sense of security and confidence and that this government has allowed itself to be lulled into it, shutting off its ears.
POM. That's good. Sometimes I think I'm forming all these crazy opinions.
WJ. The symptoms of all of those things are there so you've certainly been alert to them. The people on the inside haven't.
POM. I will leave you be as I go to my sixth interview since eight o'clock this morning. I did 15 hours over the weekend with Kobie Coetsee, I spent the whole weekend with him just recording.