About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

17 Aug 1990: Skhosana, Mahlmola

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     It's the 17th of August, we're talking with Mr. Skhosana. To start, the South African economy has been on the slide for most of the 1980s. Per capita income has been going down, unemployment is increasing, inflation is very high. To what do you attribute the present state of the economy?

MS     Firstly, I think it's because of the economic, political economic system of the Nationalist Party itself. And you can take, for instance, unemployment has come as a result of apartheid, where people were not allowed to move from a situation that was to so-called white South Africa. Apartheid laws like job reservation, where certain jobs were reserved for a particular racial group, meaning the whites, Bantu education itself has contributed to that in the sense that blacks have a certain education which cannot make them to be marketable entities in terms of their skills. So, the skills level comparing whites and blacks, it's almost nil. So, this has contributed to the unemployment that is here. That is a complete consequence of the Nationalist Party.

     But again, you still have the problem of economic growth, like you have with any other market oriented economy. If you take the auto industry, for example, they're costs are more than the market could consume, and as a result, they have problems, and those problems resulted in some of them shutting down their plants. General Motors led the (trend), they had problems in America; they are also changing their plants in the United states. The buy-out itself, in that process they wouldn't leave the country but they had to merge with some companies and in American companies, which means that they have to go from PE to Pretoria. [Now, you will see there are factories that we are ??? that are linked to ???. There are factories like the last ??? that are linked to ???.] So, really unemployment here is a result of that. So there are numerous attributes that we can blame, technology itself. If you look at the industry, in the last 10-15 years, technology has taken over a lot of jobs that were held by a number of people.

POM     So, you think that a lot of problems of the economy is due to the fact that the government has been pursuing market-oriented policies?

MS     Yes. It is not a hard market-oriented, we have never had a market economy for this country. Because now, at the moment I am talking to you, 54% of this economy is run by the government. The state has it, OK? So you don't have that. I'm saying that there are economic imbalances because of the ill-conceived, bankrupt policies of apartheid.

POM     Now, if sanctions were lifted, do you think there will be an inflow of foreign investment into the country?

MS     There are a number of factors that influence investment. One is political stability. At the moment, I don't think we've got stability in this country. I don't think there are people who want to put their money in this country, because the political settlement in this country is very uncertain. That's number one. Number two, capitalists invest where they make profit. Profits in this country are not invested, so it depends whether he wants to invest, whether there is profit at the end of the day. So when there is political settlement in this country, as well as the market for the consumption, before people are going to reinvestment in this country. Those will determine whether they'll be investing in this country.

POM     If there were a political settlement, do you think that ...?

MS     Then the broadest profit motive will come into it, whether it's viable to invest in this country or not. For instance, investors should also look at the question of labour. If labour is more expensive in South Africa, then they'll rather invest somewhere where labour is cheaper, for a maximum of profit.

POM     By African standards, how does the cost of labour rate in South Africa for blacks and whites, compared to the rest of Africa?

MS     No, but it's unfair to compare blacks in South Africa with Africa because the problems that people have, they are quite different, and some of them are not of their making. So I insist that we must compare black workers with and white workers in this country. And if you compare that, then the discrepancies there, it's a world apart.

POM     Isn't the discrepancy narrowing?

MS     The only way it will narrow is when people have got skills. Now, blacks don't have skills, so how are they going to compete in the market?

POM     OK. I'll say a number of economists that I've talked to in the last five or six weeks all said that the wage, the average wage differential between black workers and white workers, had narrowed quite a bit but that there wasn't parity yet, but it had narrowed quite a bit in the last five or six years. Is that correct?

MS     How has it narrowed? Did you ask them how? I mean, X will tell you in monetary terms, is it narrowed?

POM     They say that the average rate of wage increase for black workers was about the rate of inflation and the average rate of increase for white workers was below the rate of inflation.

MS     Do you believe that?

POM     I'm not believing or disbelieving. I'm asking you what you think.

MS     I'll ask them they should take a look at negotiated agreements, to look at the wages they've got. We have never got an increment which is above the rate of inflation. And its here, you want to compare a guy who has, because he's got skills, between R30,000 to R50,000 rand a year, and the guy who ends up earning about R2,000 rand a year. It also depends on the industry. And you can look at the number of strikes since we have been in this country. And those strikes have been, what? Incremental related. Workers demanding salaries. And these guys will tell you, I mean, all these people in these strikes, you'll see what's the common reason of strikes. The strikes are based on increments. We have far to go.

POM     Well, they say, too, that in the last number years, for most of the 1980s, that the rate of wage increase overall has been greater than the rate of increase in productivity. So that unit labour costs for South African products have been going up, rather than down; they're becoming less competitive rather than more competitive.

MS     Yes, they can become less competitive. And this is the earliest argument, that when we come to original negotiations, we are told the nonsense about productivity. But how are these people to produce? Do you make them part of the establishment, do you reimburse them properly? You don't pay people just because there's a law, you pay you pay less and get many products. They have to pay for it. If you had asked them the question that in the last ten years or so, how many blacks have got to the point of management. We have this concept of black mobility, how many blacks are actually doing managerial jobs? Are there two sets of values? It's not tokenism. So, if you don't train people properly, you ... For instance, if you look at South Africa, at the time of the downturn in the economy, there were no trained people here. So when the economy picks up, they'll import skilled labour from Europe. For instance, you must have picked up in the newspapers that South Africans in Eastern Europe were stealing people there from Eastern Europe to come into this country. So, where are they going to again?

POM     Right now, the economy appears to be headed for a recession.

MS     It's a deep recession.

POM     A deep recession. A couple of things. One, what do you think got it there? And two, how can the country come out of it? And three, what roles do the trade unions have to play to bring the country out of recession?

MS     Well, I think there are a number of factors that have brought the country to this recession. And that is, people don't have the buying power. That's where we must start. If you look at markets, we'll have almost half of black population houses are not electrified in this country. They're not electrified. So if here, you have in a sector which produces, say, domestic products like electrical products, you don't have the market. So, the white market is saturated, whites are buying luxuries. They no longer buy necessities like an electrical stove which they already have. And the people who don't have that, they need electricity. So the right market is (the black market). So this is one reason for the recession in this country. Because whites now have their affluent sort of luxuries and the manufacturing industry is mostly geared to producing necessities. And the people can't buy the necessities because we don't have the money.

     Something else that is contributing is political instability in this country, which has a lot of impact on the economy. For instance, if you look at the rand, it's going down, it's gone down a whole lot. And this is precisely because of the political instability in this country. The sooner we have a political settlement in this country, the better for the economy. How do you go to a system within the country undergoing recession? It also depends on the settlement itself. Whether and what role will the unions have affecting that settlement - which is that once unions believe, rightfully so, that they are an important social partner with the state that will be in power, then the unions will have to be involved in programmes with management and the state to get at job creation programmes and so on. And number two is that we have to get our people to be trained in certain skills and that is going to take some time, of course.

POM     Do you see unions and management as being inherently adversaries or that they should be really partners?

MS     I know. Are you meaning for now, or for the future?

POM     For now and the future. Let's deal with both situations; say, now, to start with.

MS     I think presently big business is in partnership, like anywhere else, with the state. And that politicians now, within the liberation movement, they need unions. But at some stage, we are going to have to part ways, because workers have got their own problems.

POM     So you see the unions' role, at least, NACTU as an association of the unions, would place its primary emphasis in the longer term on the welfare of workers, rather than being an ally of the state.

MS     We can't be an ally of the state. Our basic existence is largely through our workers, OK? But then we've got to accept that once you have a political settlement, the old rivalries with the state, you have to play them down for the good of the country. And that is, the workers must have a stake in that country. They must also have a bigger say in that country and their vote must count. Now, when you look at those positively, there is no way anyone can say if there's a job creation problem, for unemployed people, or, like, say, you've got to have houses, building of roads, or we can say that we don't want to be part of that. We want to be part of that; we want to go to the government and say, OK, the government must give us money for job training, you see? And when we want to say to the government those companies that are offering training to workers for skills and all that, they might be interested, perhaps, in an amount of tax exemption or something like that. We want to see that. But this is not the time to say that.

POM     Do you ever, could you conceive of a situation in which the unions in the country would enter into a national wage agreement with the state, on the terms where, in return for an agreement to keep prices at a certain level, workers wouldn't look for more than 3%, 4%, 5% increase in wages per year?

MS     It all depends on what kind of - the whole thing revolves around the political settlement. You cannot tie workers to say that we have an initial agreement and we are not going to demand increments beyond that. That means that, one, the state must undertake to improve the treatment of workers, because inflation has become expensive in this country. Then the state must also agree to subsidise public transport everywhere so that those kinds of expenses don't weigh heavy on the workers, you see? They have to agree to that. So, at that level, we'll be negotiating. Of course, we'll be giving them something and they'll be giving us something. In other words, we'll argue for a heavy subsidy on public transport. We'll also argue that the state must finance education of children, heavily, so to relieve that burden. The state must also intervene in housing. A lot of poor people who, in fact, have seen the problems affecting this country, the state must intervene. But if people expect that they must pay up R60,000 - R90,000 and also pay for the education of their children, and pay because apartheid has made it possible that the townships are very far from where workers work, [So that they're making] and you need transport, so they'll have to subsidise on that.

POM     Where will the state get the resources to do all this subsidising?

MS     To do the subsidising, we are paying taxes to the government and there are also state corporations. We concentrate on what affects the industry. And we know the effects on industry. For instance, we start adding value to our primary products instead of just exporting them as they are. That way we can work quite some wealth, and the state cannot hope to do this. And if people are properly paid, some of the expenses they can also meet. [But one aspect is less to meet all his costs.]

POM     But right now, well, let me pose this question in a different way. How long do you think this process of negotiation between the government and the ANC and then other political parties is going to last? Do you think there's going to be a majority rule government in two years, five years, seven years, ten years?

MS     I think it's difficult to put a time span. Really, I would put the time span, we will not be looking at it soon. With politics, you don't know what will happen. For example, if the right-wing in this country decides to take over by staging a coup, so the whole process is gone, and the troops ...

POM     Do you think that's likely?

MS     We don't rule that out. I mean, yesterday in the lead piece of De Klerk's speech, he might have varied it this morning. Now, he is the State President, if they have lost respect for the State President De Klerk, what's stopping them from taking over the country? They might take the country and they wouldn't know what to do with it the day after. There is that kind of an element. But I think the process of negotiations will take some time. I mean, if you look at the problem in Namibia, Rule 435, that was passed in the United Nations and it only got to after ten years! You see? So, you can't put a lot in five years, in two years, and say, this is going to happen. You don't know what's going to happen. But the longer it takes, the more problems you have, so it would be proper if the issues are resolved as soon as possible.

POM     I think when we talked a few weeks back, you had said that a major part of the negotiations would revolve around the structure of the economy. What structure, economic structures, would NACTU like to see emerge from the negotiating process?

MS     We would like to see a situation where there is state intervention. The state controls a lot of, it has at least 54% of assets. And we would like that to be maintained.

POM     So the state has?

MS     Control of the economy. The state has state corporations presently. And we want those state corporations to be maintained by the state. We are taking that not from Marxism/Leninism but are taking that from this present government. In 1954 there was state intervention in the economy on behalf of poor white people in this country at our expense. And we are saying now, the state must intervene on behalf of the poor black people, not at the expense of the white workers in this country. And therefore, we would be against privatisation. The state should not privatise those corporations that will offer employment and alleviate unemployment in this country. So we need the state intervention. We do agree that we want to see an amount of where we wouldn't nationalise a small shop around the corner. I think those kind of command economic policies are obsolete. We don't like to see that. But there should be a certain amount of state intervention.

POM     Certain amount of?

MS     State intervention.

POM     State intervention. Would that include nationalisation of, say, the mines?

MS     You see, the economic strategy, the mines, it depends upon at what level you want to nationalise. Are you not likely to see the state nationalise at a productive level? And if that doesn't work, you see? If the state intervenes, it must intervene at the policy level, where the policies are made. That's where they should intervene, you see? But you don't intervene in that just yet. For example, if you tell me that, what about pensions? I'm against any government nationalising pensions of workers. Why does the state take pensions of workers and yet, they are also taking checks from workers? I'm against that. You see?

POM     Were you looking for what would be described as a broadly socialist structure to the economy?

MS     I think socialism for now will have to wait. But we have to move, perhaps, to a sort of what we can call a mixed economy for now.

POM     Mixed economy, um-hmm.

MS     For now, socialism is not the answer now.

POM     So, if as a result of negotiations, the kind of economy that emerged was kind of primarily a free enterprise economy, could you have problems with the government?

MS     There's no free enterprise in this country. The state has intervened so much in the economy, there's no free enterprise. It's only now that they are trying to privatise, but they have no free economy in this country. And if you look at the the state has intervened. Why have they intervened? We're saying, that must be maintained. We are not asking for something which is not here, we are saying it has to be maintained.

POM     Two things. One, between now and the time of a negotiated settlement is reached, what is the role that trade unions should be playing?

MS     We'll continue to do what we're doing now; to fight for rights of our members, even in this negotiations, we want a clear-cut role of the unions. And we are saying that NACTU unions must be independent from political parties and from the government. And we are also saying that there should be a Bill of Rights.

POM     Bill of Rights?

MS     Bill of Rights to protect individuals. We do not believe in the concept of group rights. In the South African context, 'group rights' means privileges for whites. We are saying 'No' to that. A Bill of Rights, freedom of association, there should be the right of people, cultural rights, in a Bill of Rights, being protected. And it's silly for the Afrikaner to want to be protected as a group, because once we protect individuals who speak Greek, whether he is going to speak Greek with another individual who has a right to speak Greek, same as the Afrikaner seeing a Zulu-speaking person. If you protect the right of the person who speaks Zulu, he's only going to speak Zulu to other people who speak Zulu, who have a right to speak Zulu. It's the law. The question of group rights is just silly.

POM     Well, what I mean by 'role' is do you think it's proper that unions at this point should play not just a role on behalf of the workers but should also play one on behalf of the liberation movement itself?

MS     Those alliances are very important for us. Because we have to play with, that alliance is very important.

POM     But the alliance is?

MS     With the political parties. At the moment, very important.

POM     Yes, but we always hear about the kind of COSATU/ANC alliance. Where does NACTU fit in, in terms of alliances? Where does it fit?

MS     With alliances, we are not married to one particular liberation movement. We have met with Mandela, at our initiation.

POM     Sorry, married?

MS     We are not married.

POM     You are not married to Mandela?

MS     We are not married to Mandela. We have met with the ANC. This morning, we are drafting a letter here, we are demanding a meeting with the ANC once more. To look into the problem of the townships. We have met with the PAC and AZAPO this morning. We want another meeting with the ANC. To look into the problem in the townships. Now, where we agree and our paths have crossed, the ANC, PAC, AZAPO agree, that let's walk into the townships, let's defuse the situation. We will move in there. Because it's in the interest of all of us to do so. And we do that independently. So we don't take these factions from any political group. Whereas AZAPO, we will go with AZAPO when we say, 'We are with you to resolve this problem.' If COSATU have common cause with us, they will come with us. And we do that independently. But the alliances that we have with the liberation movement are the result of our common problems. We'll continue to do that and it's important for us to do that.

POM     Do you have any formal alliance with COSATU? I mean, is there one organisation? There isn't one organisation that speaks on behalf of all unions?

MS     They can't speak on our behalf, we can't speak on their behalf. But what we have, we have a working relationship on those common issues. Those actually are restricted to (labour) issues. But in regard beyond that, it is a political position with the ANC. We've got a different political perspective, you see?

POM     They have a different political perspective?

MS     Perspective. Our perspective politically is that we can't, we want to support the struggle for all liberation movements. We can't support one liberation movement, like COSATU do, they are supporting ANC and the Communist Party. We are saying, the other liberation movements are also important because their members are also our members, of this organisation. So, where we agree with ANC, we work with ANC. And where we differ, with PAC or AZAPO or ANC, we'll differ with them. And tell their people, we don't agree with you on this.

PK     I just want to ask a question about the current issue and to what accounts you're using as an example. The way the media plays it up, the white media plays it up, is that there are basically three players here: Inkatha, the ANC, and the security forces. Is that the way you see it? And if so, do you take cues from the ANC on this particular issue, or how is this on the ground?

MS     Well, the issue then, the leading players, of course, are ANC and Inkatha. But the people are not only members of ANC or Inkatha, but are members of the whole community. In most cases, other people have been victims of this violence and that concerns us. In Natal, we have lost people. Even this past Sunday, two of the people who died are members of our affiliate, in building and construction. So we are affected. While these are the main players, we are also affected. And this is what we want to highlight: that they must get their acts together, because it's affecting us.

PK     But in that, you do accept their leadership?

MS     Not a lot.

PK     You don't.

MS     We'll go there as equals. We don't need anyone to speak for us. No, nor PAC or other people. Nobody speaks on our behalf. We speak on our behalf.

PK     But does that mean, then, you sit down with Inkatha and with the police?

MS     No, no, no.

PK     The peace process?

MS     There is a peace process. In terms of war, our natural ally in the struggle is the ANC. Now, we can tell ANC what we think, how they should resolve the problem, you see? Because the problem, so far, is the ANC's refusal to meet with Inkatha. And we are going to tell ANC, meet with Inkatha.

PK     And in Natal as well?

MS     You see. Then we are going to tell the ANC that we think, for whatever reasons they have, it's high time now that they must meet with Inkatha. Because Inkatha has said that they are prepared to meet with the ANC. But then, the decision to meet with Inkatha will be to the ANC, it's a political and a crucial decision that ANC must take. But ANC must understand our position upon this meeting. And that's why we are going to tell them. So whether they do it or they don't do it, they don't have to take instructions from us; we are not their members. They can say, we hear you, that's fine. But at least they know what we think, you see? And they can know that whatever decision they take with Inkatha is their decision on behalf of their members. They cannot expect whatever decision they take to be binding on us. They can do a separate thing altogether.

POM     Would you expect to play a similar role in the negotiating process? You know, that the ANC, the PAC, would consult with you so that you could tell them to convey to their members what your members think?

MS     Yes, the ANC has consulted with us. We met them on the 2nd of August before the meeting of the 6th. They raised with us the issues they are going to raise. They are simply to meet with us to tell us the process. We don't want to, we have not responded from we read in the newspapers. We have always said that the liberation movement must have consensus.

POM     Must find consensus.

MS     We have told the PAC they must stop attacking ANC through the media. We have said that to AZAPO. We have said that to the ANC. And we have said, in the different meetings that we have met, that instead of doing those things, they must talk to each other.

POM     Does NACTU have any problems with the way the negotiations have been taking place and the way they are structured?

MS     At the moment, they are going to be divided as black people. They are divided as black people.

POM     They're dividing the black people?

MS     Yes, dividing the black people. In the sense that, for example, if you look at the Harare Declaration, the Harare Declaration, in one of their demands, is the release of all political prisoners. Irrespective of political affiliation. That's what the Declaration is all about. But with this outcome that we are reading in the newspapers is that the agreement ANC reaches is that ANC has agreed that only ANC-aligned political prisoners should be considered. And only ANC-aligned exiles should be considered. Now, that isn't, I think, the spirit of the Harare Declaration. Now, what we need is the ANC coming together with PAC and AZAPO, COSATU, and ourselves, and we say, now, how do we approach this, because it's going to create a problem. Because now we have re-allowed the Nationalist Party to negotiate one agreement with the ANC, another one with the PAC, another one with AZAPO. We have literally become divided, and we have to find a way of narrowing that gap, like they've done already, you see? They've said only ANC people will be considered. If AZAPO wants, AZAPO must come and negotiate for their own. If PAC wants, they must come, and we can't allow that.

POM     Do you think there's a conscious strategy on the part of the government to keep elements in the liberation movement divided among themselves?

MS     It is in their interest. It's in their interest. And I think the ANC has realised that, and that is why ANC, after Mandela's international tour, they have consulted as widely as they could. Because they are going to try to narrow this gap. And that is the reason why, I think, ANC has even gone out of its way to talk to other homeland leaders. And we are saying that if they have done that, we don't see the difference with

POM     To go back to for a moment to the role of the unions in furthering the aims of the liberation movement. How can the unions best do that? How can you use your muscle and your power to best advance ...?

MS     Political?

POM     Um-hmm.

MS     Politically, what we have always done is that in their political campaigns that are run by the liberation movements who have supported us, and because we've got, you know, a constituency, we can turn the numbers, we can popularise the issues. That is the prominent role that the unions have played. We've popularised the issues, we have turned the numbers, because of our constituency.

POM     Like, last week, there was a statement in the paper by the Minister for Finance, Barend du Plessis, that the biggest economic threat to the country was politically motivated strikes. Is NACTU in favour of politically motivated strikes?

MS     Yes, because we don't have a vote in this country. We don't have a parliament. So, our parliament is the streets. So people must stand for our parliament in the streets; we must march. We have to meet that, and that's their problem.

POM     In a sense, is it not true that the greatest leverage that the ANC or the PAC or the liberation movement has in its negotiations with the government is the power of organised labour, that if negotiations break down, organised labour can go on strike and paralyse large parts of the country?

MS     I don't think we have gone to that extent. We believe that negotiations must take place in an atmosphere of trust. And they must try to hammer out, firstly, ways and means of resolving disputes within that process. And if they reach a deadlock, then they will invoke what they've agreed, in terms of resolving the dispute. We cannot tolerate a situation where De Klerk will be negotiating, backed with his army and the police, and the liberation movement, with the workers. So we are now going to have a settlement definition. So, what they have to do is to hammer out first, before the negotiations start, who's going to be acting as a chairman? Who's going to intervene in terms of the dispute? How are disputes going to be resolved? And what about those are left out? So there is the facilitating the process of negotiations.

PK     How do you then react to the PAC's claim that Mandela is in the townships, on the streets, selling out? If Mandela is to trade selling out to the regime, that doesn't cultivate an atmosphere of trust. Or an understanding that one has to build trust.

MS     Yes. I think you have to speak off the record here.

PK     OK. Padraig?

POM     OK. [Tape off, then on] I just want to finish up on what you'll expect from the new government in terms of labour relations, that's one. And two, we're not going into the history because you did the last time. Where do you and COSATU differ, either on points of principle, strategy, or on the use of tactics?

MS     Firstly, I would say that our Labour Relations Act, before it got amended, it's one of the most enlightened, although there's still a lot of room for improvement. So we would like to see some of those rights ... You see, the right to free association, the right to picket, and the right to strike. But, of course, these must be done within the law. We would not like to see a method of state intervention on issues relating to workers and management. We want to keep the state out of it, we and our constituents.

POM     With the government.

MS     Without that, there's no freedom in this country. Where we differ with COSATU is on questions relating to workers and worker needs and the problems faced by workers. We are facing the same process but we only differ in political strategy. That's where we differ.

POM     The difference being that COSATU backs one organisation in the liberation struggle?

MS     Correct. There's only one liberation movement. And we are saying that's very dangerous, because the government - how are you starting off fighting them?

POM     How do the two organisations compare in terms of membership of their affiliated unions?

MS     COSATU has got more members than us.

POM     What's the breakdown of that?

MS     We are only half of COSATU's, they have more members than us.

POM     How many do you have?

MS     We have 500,000, out of that paid-up, less than that. There are paid-up 300,000 members. We know that they've got more than that. So COSATU talks about one million.

POM     At this time next year, where do you expect things to be?

MS     It's hard to say. [I mean, one townships has taken over ...] One would hope at this time that a meeting with Mandela in announcing that progress was made, that things will be more calm than they were. But this time next year, one can hope that the process will get started, of negotiation, and that the liberation movements, PAC, AZAPO, would have finally agreed to be part of it, because they've got to agree to be part of it. If the white right-wing movement are a part of it, then we will be there. So, we hope that the important thing that we should all be working towards now, the government, ANC, PAC, COSATU, NACTU, is to make sure that all of us are part of this process.

POM     Do you think there can ever be successful negotiations I, as some people say, the ANC continue to marginalise Buthelezi?

MS     No, I don't think so, I think that strategy is wrong. I think I want to speak off the record.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.