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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

29 Jul 1991: Ngcukana, Cunningham

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POM     Since we've been here last year what have been the main developments that have affected you as a trade union?

CN     Mostly that development has been the question of violence and of course the other political developments that directly impact on the trade union movement.  One of the most important and essential issues we had to address was the question of violence which has affected our ability to mobilise our cadres and to carry out activities which is part and parcel of the state strategy.

POM     When the people get to the negotiating table to negotiate a settlement many people have suggested to us, who we have talked to, that the negotiators will have different conceptions of what the problem is.  Like on the one hand you will have some, particularly on the government side, saying that this is a problem between not just four racial groups but between ethnic groups within each racial group.  Others will say it's a question of white nationalism and black nationalism and others will say that it's a question of white domination over blacks which must be redressed and eliminated.  What is your understanding of what the problem is when everyone sits down to negotiate a settlement?

CN     The fundamental problem of the South African society is not my personal understanding.  It is the very reason that many of us have died, have been killed and detained and even having had our lives threatened; it has been white domination.

POM     White domination.  So when you've talked about the violence, is there any doubt in your mind that this is violence orchestrated by the government?

CN     There is no doubt in my mind that the state is directly responsible and it's the principal instigator.

POM     So you believe that De Klerk has in fact a double agenda?  On the one hand he's saying I want to negotiate but on the other hand he's trying to undermine black liberation movements, particularly, say, the ANC?

CN     There is no doubt that is the objective of De Klerk.  De Klerk has a double agenda.  He has to negotiate with liberation movement.  The violence after the unbanning of political organisations was designed to make it difficult for the liberation movements to carry out political work, at the very same time to discredit the liberation movement and to present the Nationalist Party government as the peacemaker amongst our people and at the very same time assist it to be able to capture the conservative sections of our communities.

POM     There can't really then be any possibility of real negotiations until this violence has been brought to a stop?

CN     Obviously yes.  The question of a political settlement with the violence going on, I don't think anybody would be in their right senses to say that real negotiations can begin with the violence continuing.

POM     What are the minimum conditions or the minimum measures that government must take that will satisfy you that it is sincere about stopping the violence?

CN     It is the question of addressing the question of the violence and I'm certain that the state apparatus is carrying out violence against our people.  The state are certainly using the police to destabilise democratic forces in our country.  They arrest members of the leadership on trumped charges.  This is a problem.  What we are saying is the state must cease with all such activities.  Secondly, the government must accept the principle of one person one vote. And thirdly, that the government must accept that it can not be the referee and the player in the process.  It must be just one of the players, and that they cannot supervise the democratic transition.  Having had the history of the Nationalist Party, having carried out the most ruthless and brutal oppression since nazism against our people and such people therefore cannot understand democracy.

POM     Do you think that De Klerk himself has been aware of the covert activities of the security forces in orchestrating violence?

CN     Definitely.  It is quite clear from what Eschel Rhoodie says. After the Info scandal the Cabinet was directly responsible for all the ferment and if you look at all the security apparatus of South Africa, the Joint Management Councils, those structures, he is directly chairing those structures and the whole covert funding.  I mean it is simply lying to say that De Klerk does not know this.  He would be a liar.

POM     So you think that Mandela would no longer describe De Klerk as a man of integrity?

CN     He has never been a man of integrity irrespective of whether Mandela described him as a man of integrity.  He has never been a man of integrity.

POM     Your union as part of the mass liberation movement, will you insist on Malan and Vlok being removed from their Cabinet positions before you would give your approval to negotiations?

CN     We are saying that what has been happening is not that the negotiations don't take place, but the removal of this or that apartheid minister is not an issue.  What is important is that the whole apartheid state apparatus must go.  It is useless to say Vlok and Malan must go.  They will be replaced with the same Vloks and Malans but with a different name.  It's not the issue.  The issue is that the current regime, the whole of it must go and it would be just another player.  They have been trying to play a trick with us to make a distinction between the government and the Nationalist Party.  There can never be the current government without the Nationalist Party.  I mean  it is just fooling people.

POM     When you look at what's now been called in some places 'Inkathagate', this whole funding of Inkatha by the Department of Foreign Affairs and the money that was funnelled to Inkatha from the South African Police, who do you think are the main political winners and the main political losers out of that whole situation?

CN     Firstly the whole revelation is always what we have been saying, that Inkatha is a creation of the state and Inkatha has been formed to aid and abet the state and that Inkatha is being imposed on our people through covert funding and violence by De Klerk to be able to say that Inkatha is a force, through use of taxpayers money.

POM     So do you think Buthelezi is a big loser?

CN     It exposes what kind of a person you are dealing with when you are talking about Buthelezi.  One, an intolerant person who does not want to subject himself to public scrutiny.  Secondly, a person who is determined, at whatever the cost, to impose himself on our people through violence, through covert funding, through lying and various other means.

POM     But since the time he met with Mandela earlier this year, many in the media at least have said there are a triumvirate of major players, Buthelezi, Mandela and De Klerk.  Do you see that changing now?

CN     The media is always creating its own ghosts and Buthelezi is part and parcel of those ghosts that are created by the South African media to ensure that Buthelezi will represent not only the interests of the oppressors but also the interests of big business who own the South African press.

POM     What do you say to people who characterise the violence in the townships between communities and hostel dwellers who characterise it primarily as violence between Xhosas and Zulus?

CN     There's never been a grain of truth in that, even a tissue of truth in that to say it's between Xhosa and Zulu.  What has been happening is that people who have been sponsored by the South African Defence Force, South African Police, and other apparatus of the state, have unleashed violence against the communities in the townships who are neither Xhosa or Zulu but everybody in the township.  How do you know a person is a Xhosa when he's being attacked indiscriminately by thugs who are armed by the state?

POM     What do you think - again, the international media to a considerable extent have reported it as being partly tribal, as being partly between Zulu and Xhosa?

CN     The characterisation of that violence as between Zulu and Xhosa, and between ANC and Inkatha has been a wrong characterisation.  It has been Inkatha sponsored by the state at war with the township residents in the PWV area.  This is what is happening.  How do you know a person living in a particular house is a Zulu or a Xhosa?  How do you know that a particular person living in a particular house is ANC, or a person who is on a train?

POM     What precise steps must De Klerk take that will satisfy you that this violence is going to end?

CN     There are two things.  Firstly the acceptance that the South African government cannot midwife democracy and show that the South African Police are impartial and the South African Defence Force gets out of the townships and is not active there, and all the separate security apparatus are dismantled and it is all subject to public scrutiny and a judicial Commission of Enquiry.

POM     And at that point you would then be ready to give your endorsement to negotiations taking place?

CN     Yes.  We've always said we believe that the process of negotiation is the only way to get this full settlement.

POM     Last year when we talked you said that before negotiation starts that we must talk about the distribution of resources.   While the political process is going on there must be a discussion on the redistribution of resources and land.  Do you still feel the same?

CN     Yes, that is very important, that whilst the process is going on the whole question of addressing the socio-economic imbalance has to be addressed because our people, to have a vote only is not what we are fighting for.  We are fighting for the change in the quality of life of our people.  Our people have got an expectation out of the political process.   Therefore it means that the political process itself must be accompanied by the socio-economic transformation and progress.  That also shall be a subject of negotiation.

POM     So you would see the redistribution of resources as being a fundamental part of the actual negotiating process itself?

CN     Yes.  What kind of a political process that you are going to have that must address the socio-economic transformation.

POM     Now a lot of economists say that if income is to start rising in South Africa and if you are going to be in a position to make redistribution of resources, that you will have to have a growth rate of 5.5% in the economy per year.  Do you think there's any way that the South African economy can grow at that rate?

CN     There is possibility that the South African economy can grow at that rate.  What we are saying is that if you look at the South African economy in general there has been a wastage of resources by the apartheid state and in maintaining that bureaucracy.  If you look at the wastage through the homelands it has been a very serious wastage.  In a post apartheid society we will be able to effect savings and save those resources that are coming from taxpayers.  Secondly, the wastage in terms of investments and the incentives that are given to foreign investors and the cost of apartheid, the price that we had to pay because of apartheid, the question of sanctions.  Thirdly the question of the disinvestment by the South African companies themselves.  The South African employers have not been investing in the South African economy, they have disinvested up to 15 billion rand.

POM     15 billion rand?

CN     Yes.  If you look at the gross domestic product, it has been declining.  There has been no investment.  Instead, what we have seen is the growth in the tertiary sector.  What we have seen is properties, new buildings are coming up - not job creating buildings, have been coming up in Johannesburg.  Fourthly, the problem that we have had is that apartheid has denied the majority of our people access to skills.  We need to address that problem and a lot of South African labour has not been very committed in terms of skills.  And you look at the competitiveness of the South African capital, South African capital is not competitive because of the problems, multiple problems, problems of the South African economy created by other factors, low growth rate, a number of other issues.  But apartheid is underpinning the whole problem of the South African economy.

POM     Do you think that if a negotiated settlement is reached there will be an inflow of a lot of foreign capital from abroad?

CN     Not immediately.  Not immediately.  The investors look at certain things, competitiveness of capital, competitiveness of labour and the level of skills and all that, but at the same time what profits they would make.  I mean the high inflation rate and low investment yield, those would be the determining factors.  And also confidence in the economy itself and what affirmative action are we taking to address the high unemployment rate of our country.

POM     I was going to ask you that about the unemployment rate.  A number of independent researchers who have been looking at wage trends in the country over the last several years say that in the black sector there are three groups of people.  There are those who are employed who belong to unions, those who are employed who don't belong to unions, and those who are unemployed.  And they say that the data now show that those who are employed and in unions have had their wages increased to a level where on average they are about 15% behind the level of wages for whites in similar jobs.  Do you accept those figures, that unionised labour, that black income has been rising quicker on the average than white income?

CN     That is true.  There are several reasons for this.  One is the level of unionisation and the ability to embark on collective action, the ability of workers in the trade union movement to embark on collective action has improved wages, but not to the executive level.  The white workers have enjoyed, through their colour, higher wages for many years and it is obvious that that gap has to be closed.

POM     Is it closed?  I mean the argument will be that it is closing.

CN     Not really closed because there will be a difference of skills.  That is the major problem.  The gap won't be closed unless we address the question of skills and attain the same level of skills development as the white South Africans.

POM     But that's going to take some time is it not?

CN     Yes it is going to take some time.  We need affirmative action to address that.  We don't need window dressing.

POM     How important is the informal sector?

CN     The informal sector has it's own significance and it's own problems.  Firstly there are undefined rules.  One, the people who are in the informal sector do not necessarily make a lot of income.  They work long hours trying to make money.  It affects the social life of those people in the informal sector.  It affects their health, even life expectancy because of long hours. It will take time for them to be developed into the full formal sector.  There is a need to take affirmative action but it's not only small industries that develop jobs, they've got their own problem because the small businesses have got a problem of there are no labour laws affecting them, working hours and working conditions.  It is important that that income must improve the standard of living and the quality of life of people.  The informal sector in South Africa has yet to come to that.  There are individual success stories and it's not something we can write home about because if you are talking about one or two people, I'm talking about 500,000 people who are in that informal sector.  You talk about one or two people, it's not something to write home about.

POM     The number of new workers coming on the labour market each year is increasing from year to year and unemployment is also increasing from year to year.  What can be done in a new South Africa to substantially reduce the rate of unemployment?

CN     The reason that we have over 326,000 400,000 people in the labour market looking for jobs and jobs are being created, about 25000 jobs, it is to be able to keep the youth within the classrooms and to be able to give technical training. A lot of youth are thrown into the labour market with very limited skills, into the labour market itself.  That is also the problem of education that we are talking about, the question of technical training of our people. The second programme would be to address the processing of raw materials in South Africa. Most of our raw materials have been exported to overseas countries and to other African countries meaning that we have been exporting jobs. We've got to look at the manufacturing sector and develop our manufacturing sector through the use of raw materials inside the country and not to export jobs.

POM     What are the priorities of NACTU during the whole period of transition?

CN     Our priority is to address the question of worker rights. Without worker rights we are not able to improve the standard of living of organised workers and of workers in general in South Africa. The second priority is the question of the restructuring of the South African economy. We have to restructure the economy in such a way that it should be able to grow. We have to address the question of pension funds. The workers' pension funds have been invested by people who have got no social conscience whatsoever. We have got to control our pension funds and ensure that they are invested in industries that are job orientated, creating jobs. So we are looking at industries that do not  have bad labour practices.

POM     What do you see your role as in terms of your being part of the liberation movement? There's been talk after the COSATU conference this weekend, which I believe you attended, of there being a kind of grand labour coalition that would call a general strike in order to force the government to set up an interim government. How do you see your role in that regard?

CN     We are not going to be part of government, of course, but what we are saying in the trade union movement is that it is important for members to have political and civil rights.

POM     Sorry, to have civil rights?

CN     Yes, some basic civil rights because where there is a question of denial of basic civil rights, political and civil rights, we have got very little space for organising even where people are forming their own political parties that can look after their own interests. So we are saying we will support that process of democratisation and we will have to use our political struggle with the current political dispensation where the majority of our people do not have a vote. It is reflected in the labour laws of the country, it is reflected because the government of the day has control over the state resources and it's a minority government that has got control of that. We need a democratic government. That will be a miracle to the interests of the whole country, the interests of the people of this country. So, we are saying that we are in support of the process of democratisation and we should be able to be involved in that process and to play a crucial role and decisive role to ensure that the democratisation of the country takes place as soon as possible.

POM     You know COSATU has a formal alliance with the ANC and I know NACTU is not affiliated with any political organisation. Would you find yourself in general more oriented towards the political ideology of the PAC rather than the ANC?

CN     It's not how we see ourselves. We see ourselves as articulating the interests of the working people in general.

POM     If one goes back in time a bit, like if you take 1967, there has been no history of any elected government in Africa passing power on to another elected government. Every government has either transformed itself into a one-party state or has been so dominant that elections have been meaningless; they haven't resulted in a change of power.  Why do you think things would be different in South Africa?

CN     If you were listening to my speech to the COSATU conference on Friday, to the delegates at the conference, I made a specific mention of the very same liberation movements sometimes when we were fighting side by side in the same trenches to attain national liberation, normally turn against workers. But our only defence is our organisation, unity and struggle. I don't see that situation taking place here in this country because of the dearth of organisation and the level of democratisation of our trade union. And that is why we are saying that this trade union movement that we have built over the years will be a safeguard of democracy and there is no way, I don't think any of the liberation movements, even when they ascend to power, would immediately think of turning against the trade union movement because they know the consequences of that.

POM     When you look at the last year have there been more obstacles in the way of negotiations than you thought there would have been, say, this time last year? Have things gone slower? Do you feel less trustful of the government? Do you think things will be harder to really get going?

CN     We have never trusted this government at any time, never have trusted it. Whether they are negotiating or not negotiating we've never had trust. The question of negotiation is the question of power. It is not a question of trust. Where there is a conflict of interest obviously it is the power game. The South African government knows that it has got to negotiate to get itself out of the mess and it's not a question of mutual trust, it's a question that we trust the government. Mutual trust on the other hand is out of that process of negotiation.

POM     Then if you would look at the performance, particularly of the ANC in the last year and see it going on a zigzag course, you know one day saying all political prisoners must be released by 13th April or we'll cut off all talks with the government, then letting that date go by and then on another occasion saying Malan and Vlok must be fired before we negotiate and then letting that go by. To the outside world it appears on many occasions that the ANC has lost the initiative to the government.

CN     What you've got to understand if you look at the current critique of the Labour Bulletin by COSATU of the ANC and its lack of consultation and making a lot of concessions, and maybe not the COSATU resolutions, and these are criticisms that we've levelled at the ANC ourselves but the ANC has shown their political weaknesses and lack of political astuteness with the South African government.

POM     Do you think that the events of the last couple of weeks now give the initiative to the liberation movement?

CN     It's not necessarily that. Negotiations are about power and whatever direction the process and development takes after this would still depend on where the balance of power lies. If by this development the international community is going to take cognisance of what you are saying rather than as in the past believing De Klerk, then at an international level the liberation movement has the initiative. And if we look, the ANC goes back to the source, that is to organisation, struggle, and show that it consults and that it is in dynamic contact with the grassroots, then the initiative would be on the liberation movement's side.

POM     But that has not been happening to a considerable extent in the last year?

CN     That has not been happening to a considerable extent and we believe that the ANC is opposing that or the liberation movements are opposing that. Then in the battle we need to change the balance of political forces in our favour. It is also a very important initiative to say that, to list a certain group of organisations with a considerable membership on the ground, have reached consensus on strategic political issues and that placed De Klerk in a very difficult position being associated with Inkatha, which has lost credibility during this process.

CN     Yes it has excluded itself and nobody cries about their absence.

POM     Were they invited to participate?

CN     They were invited to participate and our understanding is that the Joint Liaison Committee of the ANC and the PAC has discussed that and the ANC and PAC have been consulting different organisations to the Patriotic Front and that is going to be very important. Inkatha was consulted by the PAC as part of that process and at its conference Inkatha decided to exclude itself by its very naiveté and political opportunism and of course being allied to De Klerk.

POM     So when you look at the next year, what steps, what do you see happening between now and this time next year?

CN     It depends very much on whether De Klerk, because he is the person who is responsible for apartheid now and for everything, it will depend on what he does. If he doesn't make a move there won't be much change except that there will be an increase of more struggles on the ground.

POM     Do you think there's any way at all there might be a return to the armed struggle or is that simply not on?

CN     The armed struggle, without doubt, has been politically significant. It has never been very much significant in military terms.

POM     Hasn't been very significant in military terms?

CN     Very much significant. It has played, I mean the psychosis of war has been very much important politically but on the ground whether the liberation movements have been able to launch successful offensives and organised offensives especially to a military target, has been not much significant. It has been at the level of mobilisation of our people at the political level. That has been very significant.

POM     So you would think that no matter what happens in the next year at least the emphasis would appear to be on the mobilisation of the grassroots and that a return to the armed struggle is not really a viable option, that it wouldn't really achieve very much?

CN     It wouldn't achieve very much. Also that you were saying that it has got its own significance, you can't just throw it away.

POM     OK, thank you very much. In due course I'll have a transcript made for you and sent on to you again. Would you be able to go through the other  transcript?

CN     I'll see what I can correct, yes.

POM     And I will leave you with an address so you can just correct it, if there are corrections to be made, and send it back to me.

CN     OK.

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.