About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

16 Nov 1999: Leon, Tony

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

POM. I was reading through our last transcript and I was looking at the interviews you had done and I was wondering when I saw your interview in Leadership which way I should approach this interview. So I will begin with an easy question, and then I thought what I would do is I would give you a series of propositions and have you comment on the propositions as distinct from asking you questions.

. The first is not really a question, it is that is the SA that is emerging in 1999 the SA that you had envisaged might emerge during the hoopla and the celebrations when the constitution was launched in 1994 and the first free, fair, open elections were held?

TL. No, and I took a lot of Mandela's words at face value and they've turned out to be that face value words rather than words that have translated into deeds. I was hoping that the country would be non-racial, I was hoping that the country would be more peaceful, I was hoping that government would be more serious about governance than they have been up until now and I have been disappointed in all those areas. Now that, of course, is by the measure of high days and holy days, viz., of the presidential inauguration and the constitution signing ceremony. I suppose if you take the low water mark of apartheid and the incipient civil war that was developing in the early 1990s we're better off than that, but certainly I think against the best expectations it has been a disappointment.

POM. If you look at it in the context of societies that have gone through transitions which have been characterised by many of the same problems that SA is experiencing, corruption, huge increases in the crime level, inefficient government, is the ANC due some credit for the fact that it managed to at least integrate 14 different civil services, in all kinds of departments, putting them at least under one roof, that you had to expect inefficiencies given the nature of the settlement and that people couldn't be retrenched, then there were homelands civil servants that are kind of embedded in the system?

TL. Yes I think a lot of that is true, there are a lot of factors, as you might say, in mitigation but that doesn't lessen that one was hoping for a little bit more or a little bit better. A lot of it was endemic in the system, a lot of it was consequential on the political settlement of 1994 but equally I don't think that there's been enough focused disciplined attention on sorting out the problems. My biggest criticism of the Mandela years was that there was a reality denial, that's the best way of describing it. A lot of the problems that you've mentioned were not acknowledged to be problems. I think Mbeki's administration, I don't know how it's going to turn out eventually, at least acknowledges the existence of some fundamental problems.

POM. Let me go to the propositions that I've laid out. The first is that in 1999 SA is more racially polarised than it was in 1994 and that the election results can really be explained rather simply in terms of intra-group voting rather than inter-group voting. By that I mean that blacks essentially voted for blacks and the white community and Afrikaans community didn't vote for blacks but they shifted their votes from the National Party to the Democratic Party, but there was no cross over.

TL. I think that's true and I agree with both those propositions except to say obviously among coloureds and Indians there tends to be a much more non-racial voting pattern. Indians will typically today divide their votes pretty much ANC and DP, they don't just support one. They do vote for an ethnic party in Natal called the Minority Front. Coloureds vote for one party, they will spread their votes between the ANC, the DP and in the Western Cape obviously the NP.

POM. Why the increase in racial polarisation?

TL. I think it was actually well summed up by an academic himself, a very controversial figure called William Makgoba, who once said memorably in an article in Leadership Magazine that Mandela's was the age of reconciliation, Mbeki will be the age of the men of transformation. Now I think Mbeki has set his sights and his immediate goal of consolidating all black constituencies under his banner or umbrella or whatever you choose to call it.

POM. Within his broad church. You have a broad church too.

TL. Yes. We have an Equality Bill, so-called, a somewhat laughingly entitled piece of legislation in my opinion, which is pure extreme Black Consciousness, not in the non-racial tradition of the ANC but Black Consciousness has to be accommodated and indeed some the appointees in Mandela's office are Black Consciousness types. The kind of attention and lavish praise that Mbeki pays in parliament, on the very rare occasions he's there, to one single member party, namely AZAPO, is quite striking as well. And so it goes. I could give you chapter and verse but I think this is very much Mbeki and I think part of it is to talk up racial solidarity in order to introduce some reforms which will to an extent act as a decoy. In other words he's actually going to introduce a lot of DP type polices because that's the only way SA can be governed long term and he's going to deflect or decoy attention by talking up the language and indeed some of the substance of black solidarity.

POM. I find aspects of drafts I've read of the Equality Bill almost Orwellian, or ridiculous. I mean if I'm a Boer and I refer to myself as a Boer well am I directing hate speech at myself, if I do it on a stage and I'm a comic is that satire and therefore exempt, and what court draws the line as between when I use the word in a certain context it means one thing, when I use it another context it means another and one context falls within the law and another context falls outside the law? I mean it's all so arbitrary. It's like Kader Asmal saying how do you judge what's a bright kid, what's the objective criterion?

TL. The whole thing is really a legal nonsense and I describe it as sort of lurching between the ridiculous and the sinister, it's somewhere between those two and it has both such elements in it. Well that is clearly the product of some kind of far-out academic drawing this up. I don't know of any country in the world which has done this but frankly we're putting out such a red light to foreign investors and we're putting out such a green light to would be emigrants out of this country that we mustn't be surprised when we find that the human capital dries up on the one hand and secondly that foreign investment shrivels up as well quite aside from its threats to liberty and it's very much setting its face against the spirit of the constitution.

POM. The second proposition is that in the foreseeable future there is little chance of 'white' parties making any significant gains into the African electorate.

TL. Well I think that will happen in the nature of things and we're conducting some very, very specific research at the moment into that. The research conducted by RW Johnson, the Helen Suzman Foundation, just after the recent election is quite significant. There's a wedge of something like 20% of the African voting market that would consider voting for a party like the DP, somewhere between 12% and 20%. So clearly that potential exists, it's a question of access. I'm not saying it's a huge majority but a significant minority.

POM. Now I've heard of research that was done for the New National Party where they held focus groups among Africans and the Africans were given sets of policies and asked which did they identify with most and then when they identified the policies they most preferred they were then told which party stood for what and the policies they most preferred were the policies of the NP. When told that they said it would have made no difference, we'd never vote for the NP anyway.

TL. Sure. I think you've got that. I think Johnson's questions were asked specifically about the DP as an institution. (I'm encouraged to hear the NP has policies, that was also a revelation to me, let me add in parentheses.) But the issue, Padraig, is to me a very straightforward one. I think you put up your stall, you try and get people around it but politics in SA as anywhere else is also about having some kind of critical mass and I think our job in the last election was to establish more of a critical mass than we had before. The future challenge is can you make that a more representative mass than you have at the moment? And that's something we've got to do.

POM. I just saw in The Argus yesterday afternoon, it had a little story that said there had been talks going on about possible amalgamations, mergers or whatever, but the point it was making was that if there were amalgamations or mergers then all members of the parties involved would have to resign their seats in parliament because it would be like crossing the floor.

TL. That's not true. Their legal opinion is wrong. You could, if the whole party decided to regroup into something else, you could in fact do it constitutionally but I don't think that's going to happen so I think it's something of a moot point. But I think the opposition parties should co-operate and try and maximise their support vis-à-vis the government, particularly in next year's municipal election I think that can happen and I think that will happen.

POM. The next is that people don't vote for things, they vote against them. In that sense each party needs an 'enemy' and that for the ANC you have now become 'the enemy', the identifiable enemy around which they can make their own party more cohesive, but that in the very same way like the subliminal undertones of your message "Fight Back" was that the ANC were the 'enemy' and that people were voting against the NP more than for you.

TL. I don't know, I think people vote for a range of reasons. I think the actual detailed policies of the past are probably the last reason why people vote for it. That might influence a few intellectuals who look at the fine print of these party manifestos and so forth. I think a lot of people vote critically because they want a strong opposition and if you want a strong opposition you want an opposition against the government. I'm talking about the opposition voter. Now I think it's perfectly true that the ANC has tried to stigmatise me, calling me a neo-Nazi, demonise the party and try and marginalise the whole opposition, but it's just the identity of the 'enemy' which changes. They did precisely the same with Buthelezi in the eighties and early nineties till he was co-opted. They did exactly the same when De Klerk was the Deputy President, calling him, I think to use the words of the Deputy Minister, Mr. Mokaba, at the time, "a bald-headed criminal whose hands were dripping with blood". Now they call me various choice epithets but I think that says a great deal more about them than it does about us. Certainly oppositions generally oppose the government, if they didn't oppose the government they wouldn't be an opposition. So I didn't identify the ANC as the enemy, and I was quite careful with the distinction, but their inaction in certain areas and wrong actions in other areas to me were profoundly unhelpful to resolving SA's problems and I did run the campaign against those things and I did run the campaign against the ANC's hegemonic weight because I think that the great issue is can you build a multi-party democracy at the same time as the ANC is trying to control every nook and cranny of society and all and every lever of power and wants nothing independently outside its own orbit? Now that to me is something that needs to be opposed, yes.

POM. And your own you talked in that article in Leadership of using an American consulting firm, a business I used to be in at one stage of my life, today they're all saying - thank God for all these new democracies, new markets.

TL. Absolutely.

POM. They sell the same techniques.

TL. And they are the same techniques, absolutely. They did focus groups, they did research, but they know what they're doing, they really know what they're doing.

POM. But the slogan that you came up with as a result of their research, "Fight Back", that can mean a number of things to a number of different people. It can mean fight back against the moves towards hegemony, towards the ANC.

TL. Crime, corruption, unemployment.

POM. It can also mean fight back against the reforms that have been made, affirmative action, the general changes that have taken place since apartheid. Afrikaners too, 'we liberals all coalesce under one roof'.

TL. Yes the campaign was extremely successful in hitting all its targets. Let me say that that slogan, strangely enough, arose in a focus group in Chatsworth in Natal, not anywhere else, where Indians typically felt very disempowered and they thought that no-one was standing up and speaking for them and advancing the cause of merit against racial entitlements, and that's quite an interesting perspective coming from that community. But I think that the "Fight Back" campaign was very necessary because people felt very, very disempowered. Of course the ANC has put a gloss on it but frankly if I'd said vote early and vote DP, they would have found some objection against that. I don't let them determine what our campaign and our slogan should be and the sort of opposition the ANC wants is a sort of sweetheart opposition, it doesn't want real opposition and it will always typically, characteristically, in a rather, I'm sorry to say, Stalinist type of procedure, i.e. go out of its way to de-legitimise its opponents.

POM. I had suggested, just when you mentioned the word Stalinist, a study I had wanted to do in 1994 and repeat it in 1999 and that was to look at all the members of the NEC of the National Working Committee and to see if they were abroad where they had been educated, whether many had been educated in Moscow, how many in Berlin, how many in London or whatever, because they must have learned certain mindsets that don't go overnight. You learn certain ways of analysing things, of putting things in perspective.

TL. Well far more frightening than that, the new Director General of Intelligence in this country is Stasi trained. As someone said, "Well at least he might be efficient."

POM. Talking about opposition, and this goes to what the NNP is trying to do,  of what they call 'constructive opposition', do you not think (a) that's a prescription for almost self-emulation, (b) that the proposition is that the NP is finished, that it really has no place to go, it either tries to move backwards and claim part of the vote it lost to you but it's certainly not going to break into the African community with the baggage that is going to hang over its head for maybe the next generation if it lasts that long? Are they finished?

TL. I agree with those propositions and I think they are finished. They'll hold on to a rump of coloured working class support in the Western Cape, which they have, but that itself doesn't typically belong to it, it more belongs to some of the people who articulate on behalf of the NP at the moment and I think that vote is fairly fickle. Yes, I don't understand what this 'constructive opposition' is. Any opposition party in SA today is fairly constructive. Typically we have produced more alternative policies than any other party. I'm not sure if the NP talks in general terms, but I'm not sure what they've actually produced. I can give you a body of policy and alternative ways to govern SA on everything from affirmative action right through to the environment that the DP actually puts on the table. So certainly we are constructive in our opposition but we don't have the sort of approach the NP has, apart from needing I think some realignment of opposition to save themselves, which is typically what their latest thing is all about, but I'm not sure what their principles are. They say that they're going to de-emphasise their commitment to the free market system as though this is something that you dust off a shelf and you shine and then put it away. I'm in favour of free markets because I happen to be a liberal and liberals typically think that the market, not on its own without any assistance, but the market will be the best determinant of people's choices. If you expand access to the market, you expand the ability of people to choose. That is our approach, it's a core to our philosophy. It's not something that we de-emphasise or over-emphasise because of prevailing winds, it's core, it's key. Now I don't think they have any key principle. They're very much what Mrs Thatcher called of the Labour Party when it was going through its reformation under Kinnock, she said, "Rent a principle, borrow an idea and steal a policy." That's typical of the NP and that's essentially why they have been found wanting because it's very difficult to fight a corner, whether you're fighting back or fighting forward, if you have no place to stand.

POM. Talking about core principles, what would you identify as the core principles of the ANC?

TL. You mean on paper or in practice?

POM. Well in the same way as you identified the core principle of the DP.

TL. Well our core principle probably goes to individual freedom and that that would be it, building up big individuals and smaller governments I suppose. Theirs, what they would say, is equality would be the core governing principle but I'm not sure it is any more. I think their principle is power.

POM. So if you take five major policy issues, say take law and order, joblessness, education just those three, and affirmative action, the need to give the disadvantaged an opportunity to advance, in what ways would you fundamentally differ from the ANC in your approach to resolving those matters?

TL. Let me briefly run through those four areas. On law and order we are closer today than we have been at any time in the last five or six years because the ANC has undergone a change. We want the constitution to be more balanced in respect of victim' rights. They at least are talking of that these days. We want a much tougher approach taken to combating and interdicting crime. They are starting to move in that direction rather than the sort of laissez faire approach of blaming the past and doing very little about the present. I would think that we are probably - there's been a lot of consensus just in the making of recent justice laws and so on, so I would think that we're quite close together although we would put a very, very high premium on the independence of the courts which they seem to regard as an abstraction and we would also be very, very tough on appointing quality people to head the Police Service, they would go more for racial solidarity in that respect. But that's on the margin. I think the core of re-establishing law and order as an essential basis for governing society is something that they now recognise.

POM. Do you think that their targeting of the judiciary is the first step in a campaign to have a judiciary that thinks the right way?

TL. I'm sure it's part of that, it's part of their desire to control what I mentioned earlier, it's part of hegemony or hegemonic tendencies by the ANC and I think, as I said in my remarks I've just made, that we would differ fundamentally on the independence or otherwise of the judiciary which they have very scant regard for. So that's the first one.

. On the second issue, unemployment, I think there's a huge difference between us because typically they would go for empowering the organised working class and the employed through very, very highly regulated labour markets. We would go in completely the opposite direction. We would have a very low and light system of regulation, we would have a very, very much greater focus on empowering the unemployed rather than empowering the presently employed, and we would go in what I might call the level of the flexible dynamic approach. They are much more statist, they are much more interventionist and I think any of the proposals that we've made are light years away from where they are now: vouchers for the unemployed, giving people the right to opt out of regulatory frameworks and so on. So I think there is a big difference there. But they might change. Already somewhat of their antagonism towards the public sector unions is starting to show a shift but at this stage there's a big difference between us.

. On the issue of affirmative action, well they'd pump up the demand side, we would pump up the supply side. By that I mean we would put most of the emphasis on education and training which is really the way to go. They want instant transformation not based on building up the supply side but based on meeting a demand in the market of their core constituency, which strangely enough is not the unemployed, not the marginalised, but is the black emerging middle class. We have a very different approach. We go for an individual centred type of affirmative action, they go for a group based entitlement. They make the equation between black and poor, we make the equation between poverty and the individual and I think that in broad terms is it.

. You mentioned education. I think you must look constructively at what we are doing in education in the Western Cape because we now control that portfolio.

POM. I've talked to Helen Zille, she's been on my list for ten years.

TL. Well OK, you can speak to her.

POM. I have spoken, yes.

TL. And she is basically implementing our policies which are typically, once again, aimed at empowering the disempowered in a very specific way. Now the ANC is also shifting ground towards our approach. They went for outcomes based education, they went for a de-emphasis on discipline. Well all that is proving to be unworkable in practice. But I think the essence is we would put parents, or we would try and put parents, in charge of the educational system wherever possible. They tend to put the state or the trade unions or whoever.

POM. Next is that SA's economic well-being is largely beyond its own capacity or ability to control, that globalisation creates inequalities between countries just as market-driven economies create greater inequalities within the better off countries, the gap between rich and poor in all the industrialised countries has increased rather than decreased over the last 15 to 20 years and between the richer and poorer countries the same trend is apparent, and there's very little in the context of a global economy that SA can actually do to affect its own economic well-being.

TL. Oh I disagree with that statement completely in the sense that there's a lot we can do to improve our performance to make ourselves more competitive and that requires taking certain somewhat difficult steps. You will then be a very, very attractive proposition within the connected world that we are now part of so you are not a helpless, hapless victim where you have to take what's given out. You can make yourself more attractive, you can make yourself more competitive, you can make yourself more of a magnet for the very flows of FDI that this country desperately needs in order to increase its rates of growth.

POM. But that FDI simply hasn't materialised.

TL. Because we haven't done the right things. I spent a few days in London recently meeting typically with the biggest short-term investors in this country, the bond markets, the hedge funds and the merchant banks, and they said they're bullish about SA in the short term, they've got no view on the long term because the structural changes that are required in this society haven't happened: getting tough on crime, keeping our skills base intact by not simply producing nonsensical legislation which chases people overseas, and creating incentives for investors to come here. Now if you do those things you start getting investment. You don't do them, don't be surprised when the investment doesn't come.

POM. So how would you deal with the difference between growth without jobs and creating jobs that lower rates of growth, or very little job creation?

TL. Well if you make it too difficult or too expensive or just too much of a hassle to employ people you're going to have, if you have growth at all, it's going to be jobless growth. If you actually incentivise the employment of people by being creative and constructive, sensible about it, you're going to have growth plus jobs. I don't think I'm being over-simplistic about it.

POM. Given that the future, the growing economies of the world, those that are really IT oriented, and that's where the future lies and you need a highly skilled labour force, and you're not going to have that labour force for quite a while, meanwhile you have huge numbers coming on to the labour market every year but with fewer opportunities rather than more opportunities, what will you do with them?

TL. We've got a low skill, low tech, you're quite right, low productivity labour force typically. We've got to then play to those strengths, you've got a mass based thing, you've got to start competing on the mass based manufacturing market. You're competing against Bangladesh, I mean that's what you've got to do, but you've also got to then pump up as quickly as possible your hi-tech, your high skill base and you've got to incentivise and that we're not doing. We're missing out a fundamental opportunity. All these things are capable of correction.

POM. Let me take you to AIDS, which I would call, as in fact Kader Asmal did, the priority of priorities. I've interviewed most of the ANC leadership and I've asked them what's the biggest challenge facing the country and not a single one has said AIDS.

TL. Not a single one?

POM. Not a single one. Then I bring it up, I say why didn't you say AIDS? And I get all kinds of replies.

TL. They're too squeamish to talk about it, that's the truth. Look at Mbeki. The pin a little badge on their lapel and they think that's enough.

POM. I mean I look at the figures, and I'm doing other work connected with AIDS in Southern Africa on the economic and social consequences of AIDS, and I look at the figures here and in the surrounding countries and it's gone past being pandemic, it's like a plague and will undermine the entire demographic structure, the social structure of the country unless dramatic action is taken of the nature of calling it a national emergency and treating it as such, otherwise it's going to simply get further out of hand.

TL. I've seen figures which project for the year 2010 the most starting things I think I've ever seen. What are the percentages of people who are going to be sick or dying of AIDS?

POM. And life expectancy is going to drop by 20 years.

TL. Something like life expectancy will be did I see under 40?

POM. By 2010 it will be under 40, by 2005 it will be just collapsing. One can talk about all these other issues but here you have a kind of a disappearing country in many respects.

TL. I agree with you. You put to me a proposition, I agree with it completely and this government's biggest single failure I could go into this at great length but I don't need to. They should have resourced the NGOs who know what they're doing in the fight against AIDS, they haven't done so, because they better than anyone else. They should have used Mandela as a sort of crowning symbol to then lead the fight against AIDS. He hasn't even spoken about it.

POM. Why isn't it being done?

TL. I don't know. Perhaps it's something cultural, perhaps it's something political, perhaps it's something who knows? But you must not ask me that question.

POM. Again, this comes to questions in parliament. Two years ago the AIDS Against Partnership Campaign was launched and it was a big launch and that was it and every wore a pin and that was it.

TL. I refused to wear that pin for a very simple reason, because to me it's almost a cop out. They wear a pin, these government ministers, and they do nothing. You're going to miss your taxi.

POM. Before I go could I borrow another half hour off you?

TL. Not now.

POM. Not now but before I leave in December?

TL. Are you going to be in Johannesburg?

POM. I will be, yes.

TL. All right make an arrangement to see me in Jo'burg. It'll be great.

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.