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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

26 Aug 1991: Golding, Marcel

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POM     Marcel, you had just said when we walked in the door that 6000 miners had been laid off and I was going to begin by reading you the assessment of the mining industry in South Africa by a periodical, The Economist. It says :-

     "The gold mines which used to generate half of South Africa's exports, at least 20% of its taxes, and most of white wealth and black employment are gradually winding down. The shafts get deeper, the ore poorer and in the 1980s output fell by a tenth. With the price of gold holding at R933-00 or thereabouts per ounce and 40% of South Africa's is produced at a loss and 45% of the industry's labour force, over 190,000 men, work on the mines, they are unable to make a profit. The industry is no longer the bulwark of the domestic economy. Receipts from gold fell from 11% of the state revenues in 1981 to 1% in 1991. It's contribution to GDP is down to 9%. The root cause of the industry's problems are a relentless cost freeze, or cost price freeze, for as the price of gold continues to hold firm costs have been rising inexorably at an inflation rate of about 14% per annum. The result is a decline of at least 36% in the real rate of return over the past three years and the main response from producers has been to concentrate on mining for grades that are higher and returns better. Labour has been shed on a vast scale. Approximately 40,000 workers lost their jobs in 1990 and another 40,000 are expected to lose theirs in 1991. Exploration has dwindled to a fraction of what it once was and new mines are not being opened to replace depleted ones. Most of the best prospects are very deep, which will cost about R3 million to start. The price of gold would have to double before such projects would become viable."

     That paints quite a devastating picture of the industry which was once the jewel of the South African economy. You, as General Secretary of the Mineworkers, what is the situation you're in, in terms of bargaining, if these considerations are in fact valid considerations?

MG     From my point of view I think we have reached the stage where we understand that the nature, particularly of the gold mining industry, is such that gold as a commodity has lost its particular sparkle, let's put it that way. It has primarily been a major hedge against inflation and has obviously been an instrument which investors often use for long term investment and we realise that these structural problems exist internationally and have a direct impact on the nature and function of the SA gold mining industry. It's certainly within our perspective that these structural problems will require a reorganisation of the mining industry to ensure that the industry continues to survive. So, from my point of view, we do recognise that there's going to be a structural adaptation of the mining industry over the next period, in particular the gold mining industry and that may have as one of the consequences a scaling down of the mining industry. From our point of view the key issues here are the manner and form of the restructuring of the mining industry, that we wish to play a central role in the negotiations process to restructure the mining industry. At the moment the manner in which this restructuring process is taking place has been on a very piecemeal basis and has not involved the major or the principal actors which we believe are employers, unions and government.

POM     in the shorter run, which is the major consideration for you, protecting employment or getting higher standards of living for your workers? There must often be a conflict between the two.

MG     We do not necessarily have conflict between the two. What we are saying is that the question of more jobs, we're in the business of the protection of employment; that will remain a major concern for us. At the same time we are also concerned about improving the quality of life of miners. From our point of view, to achieve a more viable and enterprising industry requires substantial training and retraining of workers. The manner in which the industry has been predicated on since the turn of the century has been on cheap, black, disenfranchised labour. And what we are saying is that the industry in the future will have to be based on more skilled personnel, more skilled mine workers and that will require training, retraining, reorganisation of the labour process and may have as one of its consequences a smaller work force. But the process in which the down-scaling of the mining industry, the way it's going to take place, we believe has to be an orderly negotiated process of the transition from a big labour intensive industry to a much smaller, still labour intensive industry. This down-scaling process will have to be much more co-ordinated. At the moment the manner in which it is proceeding has been on a piecemeal basis on the part of employers and government has merely been standing on the sidelines and it has also resulted in the decimation of thousands and thousands of job; dramatic consequences for the local economies where these mines are located. From my point of view we fully understand that the nature of the mining industry is such, unlike other industries, unlike the coke industry for example where you get syrup and water constantly coming out producing coke. But in the mining industry you're dealing with a defined resource and the manner of the movement of the international price of this commodity will determine the viability of the extraction of that resource. But in itself, if the price is good, there's a defined life to a mine. There's a defined life to a mine so at some stage, some point, a mine's life does cease. What we are saying is that the imperatives of our time necessitate that we begin to plan for this particular down-scaling and this down-scaling ought to take place in a manner and in a way which has the least social dislocation for our members, for mineworkers, for the communities that live round these particular areas.

POM     You have about 250,000 members is it?

MG     We have about 280,000 and we're growing.

POM     And you're growing. That seems to be a contradiction between the figure I quoted of 40,000 being laid off in 1990 and another 40,000 expected in 1991.

MG     OK. Let me put it to you in the context that the major area that we've experienced retrenchments in has been in the gold mining industry. We're making substantial growth in the platinum industry and there remain a number of mining areas that our membership has not yet been consolidated. For example, on Goldfields mines our membership is still very small but the potential there is close on about 50,000 workers. We just started recruiting in the Bophuthatswana platinum mines where we've recruited in the last two weeks something like 15,000 members. So there are growth areas. There are new mines that are opening, base metal mines where we are increasing our membership. There's the energy area that we also organise, ESCOM, the public utility that generates electricity that we're also expanding. So there has been a down-scaling in certain areas of the industry but that doesn't necessitate that our unionisation has declined.

POM     Is there any retraining that would result in relocation of workers from, say, a gold mine that was going out of business to a platinum mine that has years left of its life?

MG     You see at the moment we are involved in negotiations with the Chamber of Mines about the question of retraining and training. In fact it is our union that since last year began to challenge the Chamber of Mines and the government on the manner in which the retrenchments were taking place. It was our view that the solution to the crisis in the gold mining industry for employers was only job losses, that's the way they saw the solution. They had to cut jobs at all costs. The government was willing to stand by while its foreign exchange was just being wiped out by the declining in gold production. They were standing by while communities were being destroyed. Our view of this was that it was a totally unacceptable situation. We started and mounted a campaign, a retrenchment campaign, a retrenchment drive, which culminated in our congress which called for a restructuring of the mining industry for a new South Africa, which then led to a mining industry summit which was held about a month or two ago in which we got government, we got all the unions and the employers to the table to discuss the particular crisis in the mining industry. We posited certain proposals from our point of view as ways of addressing this particular structural crisis and managing that particular transition in this particular crisis. So we have not been standing by whilst the down-scaling of the industry has been taking place. We've actually been on the offensive, providing a programme to restructure the mining industry.

POM     Have you found the Chamber of Mines to be in any way a socially responsible group of employers?

MG     No.

POM     That's the quickest answer I've got to any question I've asked since I've been here!

MG     Well I could elaborate on that.

POM     Well let me put it maybe a little bit differently. Would it be the opinion of your union that the mining industry should be nationalised in a new South Africa?

MG     We have a resolution which clearly indicates that the manner in which the mining industry has been mismanaged, the manner in which the mineral resources of our country have been mismanaged, the fact that this major industry which is the backbone of South Africa's economy and which I think for the foreseeable future will continue to remain the backbone of the South African economy, the fact that this industry has also mismanaged South Africa's second most important, probably the most important resource, human resources. It's predicated an industry on cheap, black, unskilled labour. I mean it's criminal from my point of view to allow this system to unfold in South Africa where the human potential of people has not been developed and the manner in which the mineral resources were used have not been developed. To the extent that the SA economy, you've just quoted some of the figures, is essentially an export of primary products and its manufacturing capacity is extremely limited, the raw materials that we produce are not beneficiated inside South Africa. To us there is a serious problem about economic policy inside South Africa.

     But to answer your question about the Chamber of Mines, our view is that they have not been socially responsible in the management of resources because their primary interest has been profit. Their primary interest has been a system in which workers have been oppressed, exploited and organised in such a way that they have been suffering some of the most untold hardships. I mean if you have been to the SA gold mining industry you get some idea of the manner in which workers live and work and yet the conditions and the remuneration which they receive is appallingly low when you compare mining industries in other parts of the world, the ratio or the differential between manufacturing workers and mining workers; mining is way ahead in terms of employment conditions, standards and wage levels. In the South African context it's not the case.

POM     Does the Chamber of Mines, I know you signed a start wage agreement just about a month ago, but does the Chamber of Mines continually make the argument to you that the more you push for higher wages the more workers they are going to have to lay off?

MG     That's one of their arguments. The major argument that has now been posited has been that the productivity levels of the mining industry have been declining and the implication is that the gains made by unions on wage levels have been disproportionate to the productivity of workers. We believe that's a fallacious argument. It's not an argument that bears any, it's not substantiated in any way. From our point of view the productivity is not merely the declining productivity of labour but the capital's productivity has declined. Secondly, the mismanagement of mines over the last period has to be seen as the key reason for declining, or claims of declining productivity. But if you look at the statistics it shows quite clearly that at the level of tons moved, at the level of the tons brought out of the ground, those statistics have constantly been going up. The issue rather is the way they've conceptualised production itself. Instead of digging up the gold they've just been working on the concept of getting out rock, just tons, tons have been the concept that has driven the industry as opposed to conceptualising it as the amount of gold which they are going for and the amount of gold which they are bringing out.

     So the second point also is that if you don't have a well trained, skilled work force your capacity to work more efficiently and more smartly is diminished so you've got to reorganise the production process in such a way that workers work more efficiently but that requires training and retraining. So what we said to them all the time, that their claim of declining productivity is not because of the workers but it is the manner of organisation and production at the work place and the solution to the problem is not the way they've tried to solve the problem saying cut down jobs. That's not the solution. The solution is the reorganisation of production, to retrain and train workers better, to ensure that the rewards of greater efficiency are more equitably distributed, to make sure that if there are rewards they are not based on racial discrimination which has been the past practice. And that the entire culture, managerial culture, of where they know what's best for the industry ought to change.

POM     So your position on nationalisation would be that the government should nationalise the mines because they represent such a basic source of the country's wealth?

MG     Let me contextualise the policy. The decision of nationalisation or non-nationalisation is ultimately a decision that will have to be taken by a democratic government. From my point of view nationalisation is an instrument at the disposal of a democratic government, as part of an economic programme of reconstruction and development, to the extent that the mining industry's reconstruction programme and control of that particular process, does not re-address the inequities and the imbalances in power relations in this industry. Obviously it may be necessary for the democratic government to consider the question of public ownership of the mining industry; nationalisation may merely be the vehicle to achieve the collective ownership of the mining industry. From our union's point of view there is a policy perspective that supports public ownership of key sectors of the South African economy.

POM     So if I were to ask you, if you were asked for your recommendation by a new government as to what they should do in the case of the mines, you'd say nationalise them, given conditions that exist at this specific point in time. I'm not asking you to say what you might do in the future. I'm saying if you had a government, a democratic government today, saying OK we're looking at the miens and we're looking for a suggestion or a proposal for now, what should we do? On your experience, at this point in time?

MG     That may have to be a proposal, yes. But you must understand the situation where the government is allowing a number of mines to run down and standing idly by without, for example, subsidising certain mines which remain a major source of foreign exchange and revenue for the government, we think is a major problem and if there had been a government which represents working people, no doubt that government would have had to be much more sensitive about allowing a key industry to just run down as the present government's allowing it to do which has knock-on effects for communities, knock-on effects for subsidiary industries that supply the mining industry. I think nationalisation, it's got to be understood in the context. I mean if you're talking about nationalisation of the mining industry, yes, but in relation to what other issues? What's the other part of the economic programme? You may consider it a very legitimate question: do you want the mining industry nationalised? The question has to be answered in terms of the programme of the movement you support, of the process that you want to achieve. What is that economic programme? That programme is presently being fleshed out by the ANC. It's still being developed, it's still being fashioned. And clearly one aspect of that is increased public ownership of some of the key areas of industry. But that programme has to achieve specific economic and political objectives. So if the objectives are to - whatever they are going to be articulated, the mining industry or the key industry requires to be nationalised or become a public industry. As part of that programme, yes we would support it but we would need to know what the entire programme of reconstruction is.

POM     In that context what do you think is the role of the trade union movement during this transition process?

MG     I suppose there are at least three things that will be key for us. The first thing is to continue to campaign for the right to organise mineworkers and workers generally inside South Africa. You must understand, notwithstanding the fact that we enjoy formal legislative rights in many areas of industrial life, substantive rights are still denied to workers. The right to strike is not a substantive right inside South Africa because you can get dismissed for participation even in a legal strike. It's not like in other developed countries or industrialised countries where there is full protection against the right to strike. Secondly, the question of the disclosure of information, it's not a substantive right inside South Africa. Companies' managerial prerogative is quite wide in that they do not necessarily need to disclose information if they don't want to. So in many ways, substantive rights do not exist inside South Africa. So that the major campaign for the union movement in this transition period is to strengthen the trade union movement's capacity to organise. Secondly, I think our key political role is to continue to champion for democracy inside South Africa, to achieve political power by supporting the ANC in its quest to inaugurate a political democracy inside South Africa. And I would imagine, thirdly, our role is to play a key role in civil society and also to play a key role in the process of the restructuring of the economy inside South Africa.

POM     So as a member of COSATU you would see the union being part of the ANC/COSATU alliance?

MG     Yes we are, we are at the moment part - there's an alliance between the ANC/COSATU and the SA Communist Party and that alliance is based on an agreed set of objectives to achieve political democracy inside South Africa and the trade union movement no doubt operates on a specific terrain and that is the terrain of the factory or the mine and the organisation of those workers. And, yes, we're using that capacity because our members are denied political and social rights to achieve a society in South Africa in which our members, irrespective of where they come from, are able to enjoy the fullest civil liberties and are able to exercise political rights and therefore influence government policies of the day.

POM     Now you have the ANC's economic policy roughly defined as being a mixed economy. If you look at the statements of COSATU over the years, or the SACP, they are very much more to the left of that. Do you see a situation where you might have an ANC government pursuing economic policies that are not the policies which your union would like them to pursue?

PAT     You were saying the ANC, whether or not economic policy is the policy that you want ...?

MG     Are you talking about the ANC as government or the ANC now?

POM     The ANC as government, like in many situations ... a good example of where you have a trade union movement that supports the government and it finds itself in conflict with the policies of that government.

MG     I suppose the simplest way one could put it is that to the extent that any government, the government has to represent the people as a whole. It's there to govern the society, to ensure that the popular will, invariably the programme on which they come to power is in many ways implemented. I think the trade union movement and other political parties and environmental groups and social groups are all part of civil society and obviously they would try to bring an influence to bear on the social policies of the day through various means. I think that the extent to which the ANC implements policies which support the interests of working people, support the interests of the trade union movement, to that extent obviously one must support the ANC. One will continue to support the ANC because in our opinion it represents the only organisation that has the resilience to implement policies for working people.

POM     I suppose the context I'm trying to get at is that we spent some time yesterday at Thokoza just talking to people and some of them were working, some were not working, some were members of the ANC, some were not, and what was frightening was their level of expectations; that they saw a situation of equality with whites coming in what seemed to them to be a long time, i.e. five years. That's what they were talking about, if an ANC government didn't deliver on this within five years they would be very, very disappointed. Now it would seem to be that if you have an ANC government coming in there would be all kinds of constituencies making demands on it, including the trade union movement, and on the other hand the country is going to need a period of stability if it hopes for the foreign investment that it hopes to attract. So there are a lot of things that are in conflict with each other.

MG     I think you're probably right. In any society where there's been an absence of democracy, where people have had no opportunity to influence social policies and where they've been oppressed and exploited, there will be expectation that when there is a democracy that the fruits of democracy are extended. But I think that expectation is legitimate, that expectation is understandable. Obviously the question of the capacity to deliver is going to be a problem. But I don't think the capacity to deliver is of such a magnitude that we can't, in one's economic policy, begin to direct oneself to those particular needs. At the moment clearly one of the key issues is the question of job creation. We've got to begin to create jobs for people to put them in a position to be earning revenue or money, which puts them in a position to buy commodities, which puts them in a position to then, through the demand, hopefully stimulate the economy.

     There's clearly a situation where some of the basic needs of people are not there. I've identified jobs, second the question of education third the question of housing, fourthly the question of electricity, fifth the question of health care. These are clearly basic needs that you've got to address in the short term. Any government will have to address those particular concerns and it seems to be that those in themselves are the necessary kick-start that you could get for the development of a vibrant economy.

     And secondly, if you don't address those problems, the prospect of your nascent democracy surviving in the long term becomes, I think, probably very much more difficult. So the ANC will certainly have to, and the trade union movement you say will be making extra demands. I think the role the trade union movement would make would be a constructive role because in our position that we're located as employed workers and because we are involved in discussions with employers about restructuring industries to create jobs, to retrain people, is to develop the capacity of our members. At the moment you're probably aware that COSATU has, or is intending to commence negotiations with the Employers' Federation and government about job creation. It's a bizarre situation in South Africa that you have 80% of our electricity, or 90% of it generated by ESCOM, it generates 80% of sub-Saharan Africa's electricity. Now that's a very major contradiction which seems to me could begin to create jobs and bring quality of life and commodities to people.

POM     The analysis that I read somewhere was that if you take unionised black workers and white workers, that the average difference on an occupational level between the two, white worker and unionised black worker, have now narrowed to about 15%. That what you had over the years is a gradual steady rise in black wages coupled with either white wages holding steady but each declining relatively. And that what you have merging are two classes, the employed which include whites and mainly blacks who belong to trade unions, and unemployed, i.e. mostly blacks, and that more than a racial situation what you had was the beginnings of a real class situation. Those with nothing, those with something, whereas those with something would continue to pursue and make themselves better off and those with nothing would remain those with nothing. Do you think that's a valid kind of analysis?

MG     I think in a situation where we have a structural crisis as we have in South Africa, I think social stratification of the nature you're talking about will continue to take place because we're getting thousands and thousands of people leaving school who have no opportunities to enter the job markets because no jobs are being created. Secondly, where there are jobs they may not be appropriately trained to enter those particular jobs and the ranks of the unemployed are continuing to swell. Yes, it's a huge problem and that differentiation within the working people does exist.

POM     One of the premises this is built on is that as wages go up and in this case it's as black wages go up, that capital substitutes capital for labour because capital becomes relatively less expensive.

MG     That's not the case in all industries. I mean surely the development of worker skills level is critical. Employers have to make a decision of whether they want to move into robotics or whether they want to develop the human resource potential inside South Africa and it seems to be that given the fact that we've got such a huge unemployment rate the key problem that we face is the creation of jobs. We've got to begin to address that area. And it seems to be that there's a convergence in terms of the interests of the unemployed in that they want jobs and the general requirements of our society. The general requirements of our society are such that we need basic needs. We have basic needs that have to be fulfilled. Houses, the huge shortage of housing inside South Africa and the mere fact that you can start building houses, not necessarily debating the size or the quality of those houses, the mere fact that you have to build houses puts an industry that may have been flagging for a long time back on its feet. It stimulates the building industry and it's related industries get stimulated. The electrical industry gets stimulated, the components industry gets stimulated, the cement industry gets stimulated and so forth. That creates jobs for people. You build houses, you address the needs of people for shelter and accommodation. It's a kick-start, it's not a major restructuring of the economy but it puts people in an environment that is much better. You've got to build roads; you've been to townships, Thokoza, no pavements. You've got to build roads. There's sanitation that's got to be addressed. Those are necessary jobs.

     Obviously the issue that's going to be debated is whether the employed labour gets paid, what the levels of wages are relative to the other areas of industry. But it seems to me that what seem to be contradictions are actually points of necessary convergence. And government policy, the future government policy, will have to look at those issues in a very strategic sense. We are trying now even, we are waiting for a situation when there's a new democratic government to facilitate the restructuring process. We're negotiating now for job creation activity. The trade union is making sure that if there are job creation activities taking place that these are such that they will not necessarily undermine the collective bargaining power of those workers that have high wages already. Because for us the solution is not a low wage economy. That is not the solution.

POM     It's low wage but high cost. Is that how you would characterise the economy here? Is it a high cost economy?

MG     In certain areas that may be the case but that can all be changed. If you change the skills levels of people, if they are more efficient, if they are more developed in their training capacity, then the rewards that you are able to get out of workers could be higher. But you must also note that, for example, the mining industry, the type of returns that employers want for their investment and the type of returns are way out if we use comparable situations. I mean they're talking about 15%, 16% return on capital. You look at a comparable situation in industrialised countries, they're talking about maybe 12%, 15% return. But then skills levels are different. There's much more money put into the development of people so that they can actually manage and utilise the resources more efficiently. So it seems to me that whilst the contradictions and problems do exist inside South Africa and the legacy that we've inherited from apartheid doesn't mean we must throw up our arms and say these things are of such a magnitude that we can't begin to address them. I think we've got to facilitate the process in such a way in those organisations that have the capacity to change and persuade and influence employers, and government needs to use the organisational capacity to do that.

POM     What do you attribute the basic causes of unemployment to? It is the biggest problem facing the country and in how many different ways must it be tackled? You've got the problem of all the skilled workers, unemployed workers and skilled workers, that you have to move on a number of different levels simultaneously.

MG     The thing is I'm of the view that the problems we have are the legacies of the apartheid system. We had a debased education system that notwithstanding people completing matric, there's not the necessary skill there to occupy very technical jobs.

POM     Even if they had those skills now would there be jobs for them to fill?

MG     Well, yes I think there would be jobs that they could fill. I mean the question is, what number could the present labour market absorb? That may be the debate. Let me just try to contextualise my argument. Certainly one is that it's a legacy of apartheid. I think no doubt the fact that South Africa became the pariah of the world and that sanctions were imposed, the capacity to invest in South Africa became a problem. In fact political instability inside South Africa obviously does not make us an attractive area for investment but I think most importantly that the domestic investment levels declined substantially. Business did not invest inside South Africa, instead they used the Johannesburg Stock exchange as the major source of the generation of their own paper wealth. I think the other factor would have been that the trade union movement itself as a vehicle, given its nascent position, did not have the capacity to radically begin to intervene on economic policy matters. And I think, thirdly, no doubt probably the most important factor is the absence of political rights inside South Africa made it impossible for working people, for black people, to influence the government and social policies of the day. To me that's a key, that's a key point. It does not necessarily imply that the extension of political rights in themselves will mean that political policies will change but it provides you with the avenue to bring the necessary social pressure to bear on the institutions of political power. You have your local MPs and so forth.

POM     Do you think that this government has a strategy, has a clear objective of what it wants out of these negotiations and a fairly well developed strategy towards achieving what they want to achieve?

MG     I'm sure they do, any government wants power.

POM     I suppose on a more fundamental level, are they willing to trade political power in order to hold on to economic power? I mean is their real agenda, that's what's important here, to develop the instruments that allow them to keep its privilege, its economic power and its wealth in its hands to the extent that they can?

MG     I think their objective obviously is through the negotiations process to maintain power, that clearly must be their objective. To maintain power in such a manner that the basic institutional arrangements in society do not change fundamentally. So they can change, like we've had the dropping of the Group Areas Act, we've had the dropping of the Population Registration Act. It hasn't changed fundamental social relations inside South Africa. It merely means that one is not classified in a particular way. It hasn't changed the pattern of home ownership inside South Africa with the dropping of the Group Areas Act. So they've realised that apartheid in its form cannot survive and that it has to go but that that process of transition, this process of change will best be managed in such a way that the institutions and social relations are not radically altered. And I suppose the international climate has put them in a very strong position to try to manage the process where they are both player and referee, where they try to achieve that. Obviously there's major disagreement on that. And, yes, I would imagine that's the fundamental economic relations they would like to maintain inside South Africa. But recognising that if we are going to compete on the international market that certain things will have to change but ultimately that the best way we could do that is to have a pattern of non-racial democracy which doesn't alter the fundamental social relations in the society. That's clearly their objective.

     Our objectives are totally different to that because we're endeavouring to establish a real democracy where in a normal society this Inkathagate scandal, I mean they would never have survived in a normal democratic society. The government has survived that. They'd be out of power the next day. Any decent government would have resigned. So certainly we do want to be in a position where the fundamental power relations in society are radically changed, whether it's greater control over the social policies of that society; there must be many, many more checks and balances. I talk about civil society, strengthening the institutions of civil society, whether union, whole range of church groups, environmental groups, can begin to influence social policies in a way in which addresses the concerns of their constituency. So, yes , the Nationalist government obviously does have an agenda. To say they don't have an agenda I think would be rather naïve. Whether they achieve the agenda is a different question but I conclude they do have a set of objectives, they may have a clearly defined strategy and they're going in with that strategy, they're going in with those tactics and depending on how the match is played they would have to adapt those tactics. In the same sense the liberation movement, we've got an agenda and our agenda is the acquisition of political power inside South Africa. We've got a clear strategy which includes negotiations and mass activity.

POM     These two phrases bandied about, the government always saying we're not involved in a transfer of power, the process is for a sharing of power. In your view is it about sharing of power or is it really about a transfer of power? But the government simply can't go to its own constituencies with that kind of language on them?

MG     From our point of view we are talking about a transfer of power to the people and by that we mean that the institutions of political power ought to be subjected to the accepted principle of democracy. But the government talking about power sharing, I think we do have slightly different concepts, what you are talking about. But it may be an admission on the part of the government that the old order, I think it's an admission of the government, that the old order cannot continue and it may be appropriate to use the language of power sharing to identify that minority rule is not the way forward, it has never been the way forward and it is not likely to be the way forward in the future. Maybe they haven't come around to accepting the concept of democratic rule which is not majoritarian or whatever you call it. Essentially it's where each person in the country has the right to exercise their interests how they see fit.

POM     Given your knowledge of your constituency, I assume the many times that there have been meetings in which membership was involved in political issues, do you think that they would find a coalition between the ANC and the NP, where the ANC is the senior partner in the coalition and the NP the junior partner? Do you think they would see that as an acceptable outcome?

MG     It's a difficult question to answer. I think certainly one is talking about the ANC going to win a political election. I think clearly any government that comes to power, and we believe it's the ANC, will have to pursue a policy of reconstruction and reconciliation. I think it's imperative in that the suspicion that apartheid has bred will have to be addressed. Whether that process of reconciliation and reconstruction requires other coalition partners would have to depend on the extent of one's majority in the parliamentary or political arena. I think that's rather an issue you face at that particular time. The second thing I think is also that your policy that you pursue may be such that in its orientation it is a policy of reconciliation. It will not necessarily mean that you have to have other coalition partners there to justify a policy of reconciliation but I think that the balance of power at that point will have to decide whether ...

POM     But might it not just be good policy on the part of the ANC, looking to the longer term, to distinguish between their capacity to govern and having a majority, that the capacity to govern will be affected by their ability to get their hands on the instruments of power to bring the bureaucracy with them and that in that kind of a process having the NP with it might pay a lot more dividends than trying to go it on its own?

MG     I would imagine those strategic and tactical considerations would have to be made at that particular time. I think at this point we are talking about the transition process and that is to acquire political power first. Obviously in one's contingency plans one would have to take account of the possible scenarios but the issue is clearly that its broad acceptance now that if one is fighting an election, that the party that wins the support of the majority of the people is the party that will govern. How it exercises governance will depend whether it says we require a coalition or not. I think those are considerations which you make after the elections rather than make that before, because your constituency has suffered at the hands of the NP. Their policies may be totally antithetical to what the ANC stands for.

POM     To talk about ethnicity and the manner, or the lack of manner, in which this expressed itself in mine industries. If you listen to different groups of people and if you read different literature of South Africa you get views that the problem ranges all the way from the racial domination of blacks by the white minority to being a competition between two forms of nationalism, white nationalism and black nationalism, to it being about racial disparities, but also fairly deep ethnic differences within each racial group which must be taken into account if one wants to preclude conflict in the future, to it being about access to resources. The haves versus the have-nots. I pose two questions. One is, in your view, if you were asked to define what the problem facing the negotiators at the negotiating table is, how would you define the problem to them? Secondly, can the experience of ethnic groups in the mines be taken as a microcosm of how ethnic groups might behave towards each other in the larger society in a new South Africa?

MG     The whole question of ethnicity is quite a sensitive issue.

POM     That's why ...

MG     I think one has to start right from the premise to recognise that apartheid has cultivated it within the fabric of this society whether you like it or not because it's been part of the socialisation process that people are different. I think to that extent that it was both socially enforced, the Group Areas, through the Population Registration Act, it has become part of the life of people. At the same time I think when one probably looks at the international situation I'm coming to the view that one can't try to ignore differences that exist both historically amongst people, that there are people that speak different languages, there are people that have different traditions and culture and one has to take account and recognise that cultural richness and diversity inside society. And that in addressing the particular problems inside South Africa one would have to ensure that one is sensitive about the cultural diversity of South Africa, whether it be someone who speaks Sesotho or someone who speaks Afrikaans, but that ultimately one's going to have to build within this diversity a national identity, a national culture, a commonality of interests which builds on the symbols of the cultural richness in the society that can identify a common, national identity and I suppose the common national identity is already there in that it's rooted in the institutions of how the society is organised, that there's a unitary politician economy inside South Africa. So in some ways one has to allay fears to people that there is going to be domination of linguistic groups over one another. I don't think, for example, even in our own union it's not a problem. Our union, if anything, is a reflection of the cultural diversity inside South Africa. We have workers who speak Xhosa, we have workers who speak Sesotho, Pedi, workers who speak Afrikaans.

POM     Do they live together in hostels in the mining area?

MG     No, no. In certain areas in Namaqualand, yes, there are workers that are classified in South Africa, so-called coloured workers and so-called African workers. They all live in compounds. They live in single sex accommodation. One worker group speaks predominantly Afrikaans, some speak predominantly Xhosa but they're all migrant workers. They do not live with their families, they live in single sex dormitories.

POM     Where you have Zulu houses with Zulus and Xhosas?

MG     No, no, well not in this particular situation. Here the workers live, they live, the majority are Xhosa speaking workers and Afrikaans speaking workers. They do live separately in that particular vicinity but at the mining industry the employers they have had a strategy of trying to house workers according to language group. We've tried to break down that system and in many areas we have been successful. At the same time we do not necessarily want to enforce a system. There's got to be free choice of who you live with but clearly we do not try to perpetuate and encourage a system where people try to see themselves as different. We recognise the cultural diversity, but we also recognise the common interest, that they are working people, they are miners. And it's on that basis that we try to build a unity.

     And it's also evident in how we operate. First of all in our meetings, for example in our National Committee meetings, the lingua franca is English, in our central committees and our congress we have three, four languages that are spoken. We have simultaneous translations, Xhosa, Sotho, Afrikaans, sometimes English, or English and Afrikaans we would mix, we would have Xhosa and Sotho given equal status in the Xhosa meeting. If someone gets up and speaks in Sesotho there'll be simultaneous translation in Xhosa and a simultaneous translation Afrikaans so all members understand what is being said. There's no attempt to suppress the right of a worker to speak in the language of his or her choice or their mother tongue. At the same time our documentation, we also do the same thing, but again at our NEC meetings because of time and pressure we developed the language as English, everyone speaks in English irrespective of what language they have. Or if there's a problem, they can't speak English, they're allowed to speak in their mother tongue. I mean our industry is very peculiar in that the vast majority of workers are those workers that had limited education opportunities.

POM     But are there incidences of ethnic conflict?

MG     Well there have been occasions where there have been what's been classified as faction fights, faction conflicts. But in many ways the issues that could have given rise to out bursts of conflict have never been about the fact that I am a Xhosa speaker or I am a Sotho speaker. It may have been a minor issue that generated into a bigger issue or it may have been management instigating conflict amongst workers, trying to use the linguistic issue as an issue to divide. The Inkathagate incidents attest to the fact that the police supplied money to the building of Inkatha. We have had organisers killed in Natal, we have had our union structures destroyed in that area on the clear premise, on the pretext that these were faction fights, but they were not faction fights. It was clearly activity instigated by agent provocateurs, to use people's linguistic differences as a mobilising point to oppose the union, to oppose the very issue that we've been trying to break down, differentials of language and culture. Say, look, yes we recognise you may be a Zulu speaker but you're also a worker and you're facing a common employer and it's on that issue that we need to mobilise and organise. It doesn't prohibit you from talking in the union meeting in whatever language you feel free or comfortable in. I suppose our union is truly a Southern African union. We have workers drawn from various parts of Southern Africa and we try to take account of those traditions, those differences without using those differences as a basis for division, to recognise the diversity but also the commonality of interests in forging an instrument that can actually deal with differences.

POM     I'll leave it there. Thank you very much for the time. I could go on but I know you're due some place else, I'm sure you've got lots of things to do. In time I'll send you on a transcript and as I said I'm not publishing anything in the immediate term.

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.