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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

09 Apr 1992: Slovo, Joe

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POM     Thank you very much for taking the time to do this. I really do appreciate it. Let me get down to this as quickly as possible. When you returned to South Africa in 1990 after an absence of almost thirty years what struck you as having changed the most?

JS     Well the obvious thing is that we were meeting the government who had said they would never meet us and they met us with a superficial readiness at any rate to begin to engage in negotiations. That's as far as the government is concerned. But as far as the country is concerned I think what struck me most was that there was a renewed sense of realism, pragmatism based on the need to begin some kind of transformation without which I think people, among the white community at any rate, were beginning to accept that there was no longer a possibility of governing in the old way. So that again is a sort of general proposition. But at the level also of personal attitudes of the ordinary people on the ground, in the cities, again one noted an enormous contrast between the sort of racial hysteria of the earlier period before we left and a sort of confused acceptance that maybe they would have to live with blacks. Those are general statements at any rate.

POM     Can you identify any changes that had taken place that you had least expected, something that actually surprised you?

JS     Well at the level of ordinary commerce I noted the blacks in positions behind the tills dealing with 'white' money that they were never entrusted to deal with before and that gave me a sort of - I mean I knew that was happening but seeing it sort of struck the thing home. And I think also of course at the superficial level of segregation at various levels of the public utilities and public structures, to get on to a bus and to sit next to a black man was a positive culture shock for me in South Africa. Things along those lines, seeing blacks living, in small numbers at any rate, middle class blacks in white areas is something which struck me as being completely unreal for the times when I was there.

POM     When you look at the last two years since you have come back, what do you think has changed the most and what has changed the least?

JS     Well I think what has changed the most is that this process of accepting the inevitability of some kind of change is evident, not just at the level of government but at the level of ordinary people. I think the least that has changed is the feeling one has that at the back of white hopes remains the desire to retain as much of the race accumulated privileges as they could tactically retain. To be realistic they know they can't reverse the process, they know they can't but go forward but I think they want to go forward much more slowly than one would imagine as an outsider.

POM     Were you surprised by the extent of the yes vote in the white's only referendum?

JS     Yes I was. I thought and hoped that there would be a majority but I don't think anyone, including myself, expected the majority to be as large as it turned out to be.

POM     When you analyse that do you see it as a very large majority of whites voting positively for the negotiating process or do you see it more in the sense that what they were confronted with was a kind of Hobson's choice, that given the alternative they had really very little option but to vote yes?

JS     Yes. I think they voted positively for the negotiating process because of what you say and that is that there was a Hobson's choice for them and I think the alternative was not a realistic alternative for them and this became clear and I think they were also extremely nervous that if the negotiation process was interfered with chaos would result.

POM     Do you think in this sense the referendum results have effectively undermined the right wing? That there's not a significant right wing rump?

JS     There is a significant right wing rump but it has weakened them, it has undermined them and I think they are all going back to the drawing board. The right wing never had a broad base in South Africa, the extreme right certainly didn't even have it amongst the whites, you had the lunatic fringe of the right wing. But I think we know that you can't just assess them in terms of pure statistical numbers because most of them are part of various levels of the state structures. They are to be found in the police force, they are to be found in the army, they are to be found at higher levels of the socio-economic structure, they are to be found amongst the very embittered section of the white working class who have been suffering rather badly economically in the recent period. So what I'm trying to say is that looking at this in terms of numbers they are a minute section of the 40 million population of South Africa. But looked at in relation to their potential for causing trouble and the positions that they occupy, the access they have got to skills, even to weaponry, I don't think we can under-estimate them, we can't write off their potential for the future. Now I've read statistics recently that there are 3 million whites who are armed, legally armed, and that constitutes a very important sort of private army which can be mobilised, I suppose, on occasion. And you don't need many people, as we've seen in the recent period in relation to the violence, you don't need many people to bring about the kind of chaotic conditions which they have succeeded in some parts of the country to bring about.

POM     Do you think in that sense that the right wing is sufficient throughout to slow the process or that there still exists the threat that they could derail it?

JS     I don't believe they can derail the process. They can create problems for it but I doubt whether they can derail the process. That is unless the government, for its own purposes, decides to act in such a way that they are not effectively dealt with. I believe that the state has got sufficient power and sufficient support, even among the white community, to really put a stop to their extremist activities but it's a toss up as to whether they've got the enthusiasm for completely dealing with them in the way they should be dealt with.

POM     I want to go back to something you said in response to an earlier question and that is that I noted throughout the referendum campaign, particularly in the way it was reported abroad, that de Klerk always referred to the process as one in which whites were negotiating to share power with blacks. He was always very careful to use the word 'share', 'sharing of power', and that's the way it was reported internationally, at least here. Whereas many members of the ANC that I've talked to have talked about a transfer of power. Are there in fact two different languages being spoken here?

JS     Well I think there are two different languages but they reflect two different policies and they are not always presented in an honest way. For example, we are always accused of wanting to replace white minority domination with black majority domination. We're accused of advocating for the future what they describe in swear word language, 'simple majoritarianism', and it's absolutely clear from our submissions that that is not our standpoint, that we accept that there will have to be a period of national reconciliation, that there will have to be a place in the future constitutional dispensation for political minorities in the constitution. For example, we believe that the constitution making body cannot adopt the constitution by a simple majority, that for the constitution to be adopted it would require a special majority such as two thirds and we believe in proportional representation which means that any party in the country which gets above a negotiated threshold, whether it's 3% or 5%, will have representation in the constitution making body and so on. So our position is clear. We're not advancing the concept of 50% plus one.

     On the other hand I think it's clear from the proposals that the other side is putting forward that they are advocating a constitution making process in which the minority would in fact have a veto. They have, for example, suggested that in the constitution making process there ought to be a second chamber, one elected on the basis of one person one vote, which is the constitution making body, and the other, which would have a veto right over the constitution, which would consist of the existing tricameral parliament, which of course represents only whites and just a sprinkling of Indians and Coloureds. Alternatively they are suggesting that the second chamber be elected, again which would have a veto but that the second chamber would not be elected on one person one vote but that all parties which received a certain minimum vote, say 10%, which is the figure they gave, would have equal representation with other parties. In practice it would mean that if the ANC got 60% of the votes in every region and two other parties, say the National Party and the IFP, that's Buthelezi's party, each got 20%, they ANC would be in a minority in the second chamber, that there would be equal representation of each party getting above a certain percentage. So I think essentially, I mean those are statistics and projects and so on, but essentially I think it's absolutely clear from the National Party constitutional proposals which they tabled last year at their congresses and the various speeches that have been made, that they are going to fight tooth and nail to prevent any kind of meaningful incursion into their accumulated economic privileges in particular and this, of course, can only be achieved by ensuring that the future political structure will prevent even a two thirds majority from taking the reins of the country in its hands.

POM     When you came back from Lusaka and this whole process of negotiation began, you must have had some expectations as to how the process would proceed. Has it gone better than you expected, worse than you expected, quicker than you expected, slower than you expected?

JS     It's a difficult question to answer because we recognised that it would not be a pushover. We recognised that we were dealing with a state which maintained power, which had a powerful army and police force, which was in control of every meaningful level of the state apparatus and that it would begin at various stages in as much as it could get away with. On the other hand what has happened recently is that various objectives which we presented before we left Lusaka, like in the Harare Declaration, the objective of a Constituent Assembly, of a constitution making body, the objective of an interim government, of a recasting of the existing executive structures, those things were absolute anathema to the other side and they swore they would never concede on this kind of process. Well, although they haven't come close to our conception in substance, in deed they have in fact conceded. So in that sense it's gone much faster than I thought it would. I believe the reason for it is not any kind of sort of ideological conversion on the way, Damascus. It's been the result, I think, of the realisation coming from the struggles which are taking place on the ground that they couldn't get away with their original position.

     So what I'm saying is that nothing is written in the stars. I think we've got a regime which is in a most terrible crisis, which is isolated from the majority of people of South Africa, which is trying to sell itself to a world which is impatient of undemocratic methods, and the extent to which it can go in order to achieve its objective of retaining some of these privileges. I think, as I say, it's not written in the stars, it depends very much on the pressures that they feel both from inside and outside. And it is for that reason that we've been so reluctant to get the world to begin to reward de Klerk prematurely because you release those pressures completely from outside and inside and I think the negotiating process will to all practical purposes grind to a halt because they are not going to - what I'm trying to say is that they are not going to concede to more than they feel they are forced to concede as a result of inevitability based on pressures.

POM     But if someone had said to you two years ago when you were coming back, "Well within two years the government will have accepted in principle a Constituent Assembly and an interim government", would you have expressed surprise? Would you express surprise?

JS     I would have said it would depend. Because I've got faith in what I've been talking about, that is the impact of pressures which brought us to Groote Schuur. I mean two years before that I wouldn't have imagined we'd be at Groote Schuur, but on the basis of the kind of pressures which were mounted when it came it did not surprise me. So I would say the same about this, that I thought it would be a big battle, wouldn't be easy to get them to come this far, but I believed that it was possible and it turned out to be possible that one could push them further along the road.

POM     How do you view de Klerk? Since the referendum, in this part of the world, he has been almost apotheosised as a man of immense conviction and courage, leading his people away from a dark past into a new South Africa. How do you view him?

JS     I think the way de Klerk differs from all his predecessors is that he is a sort of combination of pragmatism and realism, or rather I would say, pragmatism and opportunism, not pragmatism and realism. I think the pragmatic side of it is just that he's intelligent enough to appreciate that they couldn't go on the old way and he had the courage, and he has got a bit of courage, he did take a few risks even with his own constituency, to try to chart a different path because he knew it was no longer possible to continue ruling in the old way. On the other hand the opportunism part of it is that he will fight as best he can within his limits to do what I said earlier he would do, and that is to try to retain as much as possible of the past. Because we must remember, he was one of the - it's not that he's been battling all his life to reach this point - he was one of the architects of apartheid in a sense, during his political career. He supported all the apartheid measures in parliament. He was a minister and the transformation is based on the pragmatic side of it.

     These two concepts, this pragmatism and this opportunism, also explains his ambivalent attitude, for example, even in relation to the ANC. On the one hand he knows that there's no way to solve South Africa's problems without a negotiated solution above all with the ANC. On the other hand he doesn't want a strong ANC, he doesn't want an ANC which will win the kind of victory which will defeat his other objectives and therefore you get this kind of contradictory way, on the one hand he meets us, he talks to us, he does make concessions and on the other hand he's obviously engaged in a process of trying to weaken us and to undermine us. So it's complex, I think the perceptions outside are too over-simplified and aren't based on some of the realities that are going on and the kind of objectives that he spells out, not when he's on his tours outside but when he's talking to his own tribe, those are the speeches you must read and there you must see what he's all about.

POM     It always has surprised me particularly in the last year how well he appears to do among black voters.

JS     Well, what has he done among black voters?

POM     When I've looked at opinion polls that show a favourability rating, that would be in the thirties or forties percentile rank, compared to where Mandela would rank among white voters which is around ten or eleven percent, and given the ANC's insistence that it's been the government that's been behind the violence of the last two years, he seems to have this Teflon Ronald Reagan kind of 'it doesn't cling to him' in some way. He seems to be able to stand outside of it. Am I reading that correctly or incorrectly?

JS     I think you're reading the statistics incorrectly. When you say 30% or 40% among the blacks, I haven't seen those figures. I think he has increased his following a little bit among the few middle class black minorities, the Indians and the Coloureds. It's certainly not so amongst the black African population. And of course he's relying quite heavily on getting some support among the black minorities who are a bit higher in the social and economic scale than their African brethren and who fear the squeeze between the two main forces and may also fear a certain degree of majority domination, as it were, anti-Indian and anti-Coloured prejudices of various sorts. So I won't say that he hasn't made some kind of incursion, but I think it's very limited and I think the bulk of the polls that you refer to, most of them are carried out amongst the literate, middle class, telephone owners, a few thousand in the various urban areas. And we have absolutely no doubt that, and he knows it, you see he does know that he cannot get a political majority in a democratic election. He might get more than he's got now, I won't say he won't, but he cannot get an electoral majority. That he knows. It's virtually impossible and this is why they are trying to build into the future constitutional dispensation these kind of blockages and vetoes and so on.

POM     I'm going to turn to something that you have been probably questioned about more times than you care to remember and this is about the whole subject of the SACP and communism in South Africa. Could you tell me how, if at all, has the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the disintegration of what used to be the USSR, affected your own belief system?

JS     My personal beliefs?

POM     Yes. Your personal beliefs in communism, in what it stood for and what its aspirations were.

JS     Well let me shock you by saying it hasn't affected my belief in what I understand to be socialism one iota. I believe that the failures, and I've written about this.

POM     Yes sure, I have some of your writings here.

JS     I believe that what failed was not what I understand to be socialism although I understood it to be socialism before, but what has failed is a most distorted version of it and I have absolute faith that the ultimate answer for humanity is a system in which one person doesn't live off the labour of another. I've changed my perspectives about how simple it is to achieve it, how quickly it can be achieved, but I'm utterly and absolutely convinced that what has failed the world as a world is not just the formerly existing socialism but certainly in the current world capitalism as a whole. And I refuse to believe that humanity will settle for ever for the kind of dog eat dog system which capitalism is, looked at as a world phenomena.

POM     But when you say that you once understood what was in Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union to be socialism but you no longer understand it to have been that way, when was Damascus in that understanding?

JS     Well I think it's been a process. It didn't happen in a flash of lightening. I think my doubts started creeping in after the middle fifties when there was the Khrushchev revelation and even then one didn't completely understand what had gone wrong and why and so on and one was, of course, sitting in South Africa at that point in time and then later being engaged in the kind of struggle we were engaged in one was somehow also blinded in the analysis of what was going on there by the fact that this was the only part of the world which seemed to be on the side of what we understood to be liberation, not only our country but in most of the under-developed world. We therefore rationalised the way some of the other distortions which were evident to everybody but perhaps we didn't place sufficient emphasis on their meaning: the Czech events, the Hungarian events, the Afghanistan events. Somehow, although one had a queasy feeling about these events one looked upon, at least from an international point of view, from the point of view from which we perceived the system standing outside it, one perceived it as a world which was doing everything possible to act in support of liberation and in our case acting in support of democracy. So internationally speaking it was a very complex kind of phase that we went through, this conflict between our own struggles and the way we were helped and the reservations one began to develop. And, of course, the relationship was a very close one. I'm not just talking about the SACP and the Soviet party, I'm talking about the liberation movement as a whole which benefited from this relationship. One was obviously influenced by the way they were supporting us.

POM     An obvious question for me is, many of your members both of the ANC and SACP would have gone to Moscow and to East Germany and received training there or gone to university there or whatever. How could everyone have been so blind to the truly repressive nature of regimes there?

JS     Well first of all not everyone was blind to it and it was a question of knowing what was going on in the kind of detail which emerged eventually and became clear to us. But it's the sort of question you ask the Germans: how could you all have been blind to the gas ovens? Well, it is a difficult question to answer but it is nevertheless a fact. I mean if you just look at it in relation to a visit to Moscow of a delegation for four days or even spending a couple of weeks there as part of a sort of official, formal relationship, one didn't really have access to anybody or anything other than official levels. One never really had an opportunity of discovering what was going on on the ground, of speaking or making contact with the dissidents and so on and so forth. This was diplomatically impossible. So, the physical presence of a person, you had honest people in the last forty/fifty years who during the thirties, the Dean of Canterbury and so on, who had no axes to grind on the human rights question but who for the same reason were blinded because of the lack of real information and also a disbelief in the information which emerged from people who were our enemies, who were not our enemies notionally, but were our enemies in fact. The sort of public information about what was going on, say, during the period when we were in South Africa, came from the racist press. The other information which came out when we were outside, in the media to which we had access, came by and large from the media which was favourable to the other side, which was against our liberation endeavours, which itself was supporting on a world scale the kind of crimes which were being committed in the socialist countries. The aggressions and interventions by the West in the period 1950 and 1980 stand up very well to the aggressions and interventions of the Soviet Union. So it's that kind of complex.

POM     As a matter of interest, did you meet Soviet leaders whom you admired? Did you have the opportunity yourself to meet with any of them?

JS     Well, I did, you know, mainly - we didn't meet the very top very often, but we met people at the middle levels some of whom, even in those times, one regarded as power seeking bureaucrats and one accepted that that was perhaps an unavoidable part of every bureaucracy in whatever country. But we also met numerous people, those people that we related to in relation to our struggle whom we regarded as very sincere, very honest, very dedicated and one accepted them at that level.

POM     Do you keep in touch with any of these people through all the turmoil of the last couple of years?

JS     Oh the odd friend has written a letter but one can't say that there's any kind of structured contact with any of them now.

POM     What about the SACP itself? Is there any way it is different today than it was prior to all these upheavals taking place?

JS     Oh it's very different. I think in the first place looking at the SACP in relation to those experiences you talked about you must remember the international side of it, this mechanical bow in the direction of the Moscow Mecca was not a very large part of what we were about. I mean it seems like that to outsiders, understandably so, but looking at our history within the country on those issues on which there were enormous distortions in the socialist world I don't think we've got very much to be ashamed of. Indeed, I think we've got a record which is a very laudable one in relation to very fundamental human rights questions. First of all in South Africa, as you know, we were the first non-racial organisation and remained in that position, I think, from 1921 till about 1985 when the ANC opened its ranks. We were the first to advocate votes for all in this country and our style of work, which explains the reason for the strength of the alliance with the broad democratic movement and ANC in particular, our style of work was quite different from the style of work which showed itself in the formerly existing socialist countries. We didn't work with other organisations in conduit pipes for our policies or as transmission belts for what we wanted to do and people who are puzzled outside about why in the face of this enormous failure we as an indigenous party in South Africa sort of go against the trend, must look at our history, not just at world socialism. You don't judge a capitalist party in the United States or anywhere else by the crimes of world capitalism. You must look at their record. I think what people don't understand, and they don't begin to address, is the basis of why we are advancing which is quite unconnected with the kind of things people talk about outside that relates to the way we have acted as a political force inside the country. That must be the starting point of the analysis.

POM     So in what regard then would the party today be different from the party that existed previously?

JS     Oh certainly. Obviously we have learnt a great deal from the lessons of the failures. Certainly I've gone pretty far in my own thinking on many aspects on which I acted as if Marxism and communism and so on was a sort of catechism. If you look at our recent programme and constitution you will see that we've tied our flag to a multi-party democracy, to engaging in the political contest by using completely legitimate democratic means, engaging in ideological contest as a way of gaining support for our organisation and not by old style means and so on and so forth. So I think that's absolutely clear. I think we've also moved away far more than in the past from this concept of the socialist model. We've concentrated far more than we ever have in the past on linking our political approaches to the reality of our own situation without being bound by the old clichés and old slogans. And I think that kind of thing punctuates all our work and all our thinking and it's a process by the way which has not ended. We're still engaged in a debate which I'm sure will go on for a long time on exactly what went wrong and what other lessons we have to learn. But by and large we've learnt the basic lesson which in one sense is that the failure of socialism came about as a result of the divide which was created between socialism and democracy. And I think in every sphere of our thinking, our policies, our programmes, we're attempting to bridge that gap between those two symbiotic factors in the socialist project, socialism and democracy.

POM     In a way some of what you have just said to me sounds something like democratic socialism or social democracy. Where on the spectrum do you now fit?

JS     Me? I don't fit in the spectrum of social democracy in the sense of an institutionalised set of parties in the world. I don't believe that social democracy stands for socialism. There's no country in the world where social democracy has created even a distorted form of socialism. And, by the way, we must come back to this because all we've been talking about is the negative side of what happened in the socialist world. I don't believe that everything that happened there was negative. That's another question. In fact I would say that strands of what happened in the socialist world in fact convinced one that socialism has got a potential, but perhaps we can come back to that. But to come back to your question. I'm not a social democrat because I believe in socialism. I believe social democrats go no further generally speaking than attempting to ameliorate the conditions of their constituency, the working people, but within the framework of capitalism and I don't believe that is the way the future of humanity is going to be solved. I think they've done a lot of good work. I think we've maligned them unnecessarily in the past in the way we did to all political enemies who were either with us or against us. You know what I mean? So I grant that, but I certainly don't embrace the political philosophies of the British Labour Party or the French Socialist Party and I also believe in a different kind of democracy to the one they believe in. I don't believe that you can have democracy just as a political democracy, which of course is a necessary condition of democracy, but it's not a sufficient condition of democracy. To have a sufficient condition of democracy you've also got to have, what I call, economic democracy and there can be no economic democracy in a society generally so long as you have the kind of division between the haves and the have-nots and the effective control of all the means of societal life in the hands of a few people. That's again my difference with social democracy, that it's not just political democracy, it's also economic democracy that we are striving for.

POM     Here you've kind of put your finger on what many would consider to be the nub of the negotiations and that is that you can have tomorrow in South Africa a kind of political democracy in the sense of one person one vote, but not economic democracy in so far as all the instruments of economic power and wealth remain in white hands. In the negotiations, what consideration is given to what would be called economic democracy?

JS     This is a subject of debate at the CODESA process and we don't believe that CODESA is representative enough to pre-empt a future representative parliament from deciding which way to go in the economic sphere and therefore we are fighting against the idea that at this stage of the negotiating process we should try to proclaim in a way which would be compulsory for a future constitution making body, the kind of relationship, for example, between private economic activity and state economic activity. We accept that we are going to go into a post-apartheid society, a multi-party democracy in which there will be a mixed economy and in which there will be a place for capital, both domestic and foreign, without which I think we would land in chaos at this stage of our social development. But there would also be a place for state activity in order to begin the process of redressing the racial imbalances. Now this isn't a question which poses socialism versus capitalism. It's really a question which poses the confrontation between white race domination and black liberation. So this is not at the ideological level of economic systems and we believe that leaving aside, whatever people might think about the preferable economic system for the future of humanity, certainly in South African conditions unless the process is begun of beginning to redress the economic imbalances, of empowering the disempowered blacks in the economic sphere, we will not have true democracy. And I stress the word by the way, I stress the word 'process', I don't see it happening in a flash of lightening, something which you can achieve by a decree or two, by a parliament. But at least the parliament has not got to be hamstrung in such a way that it can't in an ordered balanced way, bearing in mind the interests of the whole country, have the power to begin the process of redressing those imbalances. In the absence of that democracy is meaningless.

POM     Do you think that these kinds of steps in this process must be laid down and become an appendix to a new constitution, that must be clearly understood beforehand or that they should be left up to whatever parliament emerges?

JS     No, we are saying, there are certain commonalities between us and the government relating to the whole constitutional framework, to a Bill of Rights, to entrenching in a justiciable way a constitution which will prevent any kind of incursions into human rights. That's common cause between us. But we believe that in certain areas, like the one we are discussing in the economic area, it's not for us to sit down at this stage and proclaim either for a future of socialism or to proclaim for a future of free market capitalism. This is something which the future parliament elected by the people will have to address and will have to address it not in the form of slogans and clichés but in the practice of trying to run this complex country with this most terrible inheritance from the past. And I think we recognise, even in the party we recognise, that perhaps this was not recognised in the countries of socialist failure. We recognise that the day after a new flag flies over the capital the economy is exactly the same as the day before and it can't be altered by decree. It has to be altered as a process and the people you inherit on the day after are exactly the same as they were on the day before when their enthusiasm and razzmatazz was calmed down. And therefore we don't see it as a simple formula, but what we are anxious about and what we will try to prevent is for the existing correlation of political forces sitting at CODESA, which really has got no popular base in the form of elected representatives, to sit down and try to bargain out for the future, permanently, the kind of economic system which we are going to have, or to try to tie the hands of a future parliament from, for example, being able to take any kind of affirmative action, kind of positive discrimination which will be absolutely vital in order to begin to redress that imbalance I talked about.

POM     Would you see something like affirmative action and what are called second generation rights as being something that will be necessary to have in a Bill of Rights?

JS     We believe that we should incorporate second generation rights, bearing in mind of course that their implementation would depend upon the availability of resources. So it's no use having a clause in a constitution which gives in a poverty stricken country the right of everyone to a job which is enforceable in the courts because that would be impractical. So it's a question of devising a way of at least entrenching in the constitution the need for the process to begin to address second generation rights. It's a very complicated area from a constitutional point of view. By the way, second generation rights in the government's Law Commission Report are called 'red' rights.

POM     What are they called?

JS     'Red' rights - R E D. It's not only here. They're called red rights in international law, in all the constitutional discussions, which brings me back to the point I was going to make that these red rights are called red rights because they were in fact first introduced in the socialist world. Their pre-education, national health, the right to a job, were strangers to capitalism before the Russian Revolution. I'm not saying that it all had 100% meaning in practice on the ground, but at least the sort of vision came from the socialist world and in defence the western welfare state was born. Not as an autonomous kind of process, but anyhow I'm diverting.

POM     Just one or two more things on the economy. Most analysts say that the country will need a 5.5% rate of growth just to keep the per capita income at its present level given the projected rate of growth of the population and hence there will be an immense need for attracting foreign investment and preventing a flight of white capital. This would put severe limits on the social policies you can have for rapid redistribution of wealth. You're kind of cornered. Do you know what I mean? You're stuck if you go one way and you're stuck if you go the other way.

JS     No, obviously, your statement is absolutely correct and it will place some limits and, therefore, as I say, I talked about a process which will have to take that kind of reality into account. But let me tell you, the other side, all it talks about is growth and if you have growth you'll have a trickle down effect and eventually it will spread out over generations to the population and this is a way of achieving some kind of egalitarianism. Now to us growth without any form of redistribution is a completely meaningless statistic because the figure you give of 5.6% was exceeded in South Africa between 1960 and 1976, which had an average annual growth rate of 6%, and that was a meaningless statistic to the majority of people because the gap between the races just increased and increased during that period. If you want a miracle of economic growth you take Hitler's Germany between 1933 and 1938, five years it took for it to become a major economic power. And the same by the way with Stalin if you just look at economic growth between 1920 to 1930, or 1925 and 1950, it exceeded the rate of the United States and that's according to United Nations and CIA figures. But that doesn't mean that you've built a just society.

     So what I'm trying to say is, yes, without growth there can't be redistribution, but without redistribution, growth is meaningless for the majority of people and the real problem is to find the balance in the reality of the situation you inherit. To find the balance between the two, and as you say, and as I said, because we will inherit an existing system, nothing will have changed radically just because of a political change, we are going to have to live with some of the limitations but we can't live with them in such a way that we accept the old kind of framework which is growth without redistribution. So really the question can't be answered in one sentence. As you can see it's a question of how it can be done in an ordered way, in a way which does not create economic chaos because the first constituency that will suffer from economic chaos will be our constituency. We will lose support by a sloganised Kampuchean kind of approach. You understand? Pol-Pot approach, lunacy. So really it's a question of addressing this thing not as a formula but as a process, as a project which has to balance all these things out. But at the end of the day the objective must be clear.

     The objective is that within this limited framework everything possible has got to be done to begin the process of redistribution and this cannot be done in the South African context without a high degree of state involvement. Absolutely impossible, just as the European economies could not be put on their feet after the holocaust of the last war without a massive degree of state involvement. This is our approach. It's not a question of renovating the economy. It's got to be restructured and in order for it to be restructured you can't leave it to the existing forces and their state. You've got to get people's involvement, not just at the level of the state, by the way, but at the level of civil society as well. You know there's a terrible level of productivity in the economy in South Africa and in general one can say that when the producers in South Africa, that is the manual producers, the workers, can begin to feel in themselves that this is their economy and not the other side's economy, I think that plays a very important part in involving people at all levels in increasing growth and participating in a way which will benefit everyone.

POM     What about the level of expectations in the black community? I know that two years ago when I talked to people they were extraordinarily high and there has been some modification over the last two years. Do you still think they are too high?

JS     Yes I think the expectation of people in our kind of struggle is inevitably too high because the process of struggle doesn't lend itself to the kind of analysis and reasoning which you can engage in in an economic laboratory or in a university seminar. Mobilising people around simplified slogans is unfortunately the only practical process of gaining mass pressure and mass support, which doesn't mean that one misleads people. But in the process there is a danger, and I think we all succumb to it from time to time in public rhetoric and so on, there is a danger of misleading, of creating too many expectations and I think we've got to be vigilant, we've got to be conscious of this, particularly as you come closer to the reality because you must remember that for, I don't know how many years since the ANC was born, eighty years, we've been battling just to get there without really being able to sit back until the last few years of analysing what the hell we're going to do when we do get there. And that's a limitation and it brings with it obviously certain dangers and, as you've said, the danger of raising expectations. I think in the last two years, since being confronted by the prospects of the transformation, we have in a very real sense gone a long way towards analysis rather than rhetoric, particularly in relation to the problems we're discussing such as the future economy and so on.

POM     But in January I had an opportunity to be in Namibia and to talk to some of the people in the government there and they were saying that the level of expectations of what should have been achieved after two years of independence was creating problems for them.

JS     You're going to face that after your elections, whoever you've voted for in the United States.

POM     With the present crop of candidates there are no expectations!

JS     Well I'm sure some people have some minimal expectations. What I'm trying to say is it's an unavoidable scenario and really at the end of the day the only answer is to have a healthy political organisation that is honest with the people and that tries to explain if things do go wrong and I'm absolutely certain that some things are going to go wrong. Real life is like that.

POM     If I'm a black person, say, living in a squatter camp, what is the minimum I should be able to expect from a new government, say within five years?

JS     Well at least I would expect, as a squatter, that they begin to address my problems even if it is initially in the form of putting on some water points where they don't exist, some ablution facilities, some financial input to help get material other than cardboard and so on with which to be able to put up a more durable shack which will address the question of hygiene and cleanliness, which will provide a clinic on whatever scale. I'm just talking off the top of my head. The point is I don't think within five years we'll be able to solve the housing problem of South Africa, but I think people are very patient and very understanding in general and this is something I've been convinced about since coming back to the country and I think they are more sensible and more reasonable than what one would imagine looking at the thing abstractly in relation to what their expectations might be in the extreme sense. So I think it's containable. I think it's a question of honesty and honest politics and really getting down to trying to do something using the resources that are available in the best possible way and I think people will understand that and they will accept that we're not going to have a Utopia in 1995.

POM     But in general what should the average black be able to expect, look at, within five or six years?

JS     He should expect some progress in basic welfare fields, housing, health. He should expect a more equitable distribution of resources between the groups in the educational field. He should expect some progress achieved in the area of employment. He should expect some progress being made in addressing the question of the land confiscations which took place in the last twenty years in particular, the removal of the four million blacks from so-called white areas. And if he sees reasonable efforts being exerted in these areas and he sees the creation of training facilities which give preference to those who have been disadvantaged in the past, and if he sees even minimal affirmative action being taken in relation to various jobs, say, for instance, in the state apparatus. Do you know that of the 2800 highest earners in the government civil service, fourteen are black? Well if he sees that process being undermined and steps taken to place blacks in positions of authority and positions of power - which doesn't mean the overnight removal of all the old crowd, but if he sees that I think at least some of the expectations will be met.

POM     This is related in a way to the economic problem but more of a social question, in the US great emphasis has been put in the last twenty years on integration, on the integration of schools and in the case of Boston for example, forced what was called 'forced bussing'. A court ordered bussing in the 1970s to ensure that the composition of schools complied with the racial balance. I've talked to numbers of ordinary black families in townships and have asked them if they had a choice would they like to see their children bussed or transported in some way to white schools in nearby suburban areas or would they prefer to have their children go to their schools in their own communities which would be equal in quality to white schools. Invariably they would say they would just prefer to send their children to their own local schools even if they were all black schools. So that in a certain sense it struck me, and the same applied to housing, "Do you want to live in a white suburban area?" "No, I prefer to live in my own community. We've a different lifestyle, different sense of community than whites have." And what I got a sense of was that people want to be equal but separate.

JS     Well I don't believe that is a philosophy which in principle grabs the psyche of most blacks in this country. I think all the examples are quite understandable. I don't want my child to be bussed miles away to a school if he can be in a school in his own community and I don't necessarily want my child to go to a school which he would find strange because of the immediate historical past, where he might even experience various forms of social prejudice and so on and so forth. These are all understandable emotions against this background. But, you must distinguish that from the right to go to a school without the school saying you can't come because you've got a black skin.

POM     Oh sure. I'm distinguishing from that. I'm not saying that. I'm not saying - it's just that given their choices. You know what I mean?

JS     I understand that. But all this is connected with organising the life of people in a way which is consistent with what you've inherited and the resources that are available and the objectives you're trying to achieve. Now one can't in the South African context, even less so than in the US context, immediately embark upon a project which will artificially mix up school going children even if it requires them travelling 100 miles to get to the next school kind of thing. It's not a practical proposition in our conditions. I think, too, I mean there is the other side to it. We don't oppose the idea of Jews or Catholics or Indians or Moslems or people, Portuguese speaking, we've got a huge Portuguese community, wanting their children to go to a school where the predominant language and culture is theirs. And I think we, in our draft Bill of Rights, recognise this and this will have to be translated also at the level of the educational system. How it's done in practice with the resources that are available is another question but certainly the fundamental thing, the starting point is that there should be no discrimination. The question as to whether you can impose egalitarianism or non-racialism in practice on the ground overnight is not such a simple question.

POM     I suppose what I'm getting at in a way is that if you look at the residential structure of the country with the distance of many townships from urban areas and whatever, is that even if you look to the future, thirty or forty years from now, it would appear that a large amount, that whites will still live in white areas and blacks will still live in townships and whites will still go to predominantly white schools and blacks will go to predominantly black schools. Do you know what I mean?

JS     Yes. It's changing even now. For instance the school to which my step-daughter goes is no longer a white school. It's got sort of 30% blacks living in the area, in my white area so-called. So that even within the present framework that is beginning to change, not very substantially but it's beginning to change. But with a deliberate policy of lifting these barriers and also assisting people, because it's no use, freedom is not the absence of restraint, it's more the presence of opportunity, and you've got to begin to provide people with opportunities and that requires resources. I agree with you that it's not something that is suddenly going to change overnight, that all white areas are going to become mixed and all black areas are going to become mixed. But the process will begin and we've got to encourage the beginning of that process in a multitude of ways, not just by one simple formula.

POM     Just a few last questions, and thank you very much for the time. One is, on the township violence the ANC and SACP have maintained steadily for the last twenty months that it is the government that is behind the violence, or the government can stop the violence, yet in the three week run up to the referendum I think 250 people were killed and they were killings that were definitely not in the government's interest. What would your analysis be of who was behind those killings?

JS     I don't think you can look at the government as just one monolith, that's the point. There's nothing as simple as that. I think insofar as one blames the government one blames them for the fact that they had within their state structures these hit squads, these death squads, these vigilantes, these mercenaries who have a past of engaging in terrorism and violence against the civilian population, against political opposition and so on and so forth. You have within their structures people who are engaged in weakening those political forces that they don't like and this has shown itself in the evidence which has emerged in the government's support for Inkatha. You read all that?

POM     Yes, sure.

JS     In financing it and paying for its demos and training its cadres in counter-insurgency, etc., etc. So the point is they have done very little about disposing of these elements within the security forces and therefore you cannot blame us for concluding that they don't want to do as much as should be done. It wasn't a question of de Klerk sitting down every day and ordering an attack on a train. Nobody is suggesting that. But what has been interesting is that if you look at the past two years, each time a process is about to take place which might signify an advance towards negotiation, towards peace, the violence escalates and it escalates by the way, recently, not just against political activists but just in a blind kind of way against ordinary people of the community, the purpose being to create an atmosphere of chaos, of instability which then is used as an argument against proceeding too quickly with elections because you can't have elections in an atmosphere of violence and so on and so forth. So you add all that up and you assess how little the authorities have managed to do in tracking down the perpetrators of the violence, whereas it was so easy for them to track down the perpetrators of violence when we were engaged in it. We hardly got away with a thing.

     Then the overall impression, perception, which we believe has some root in reality is that the government is unwilling to take the kind of measures which we believe it could take in order to effectively put an end to the violence. In a sense the violence does benefit them because it links back with what I said earlier, the objective which we believe the other side has, not only to negotiate with us but to weaken us and there's no doubt that in different ways the violence which we have seen in the past period has in fact contributed in some degree to weakening us, to weakening our political regions. The scope which they can use to engage in political activities is frightening a lot of people away from the political process in the black areas where the violence is rampant and so on.

     This isn't a thesis which has been developed just sectionally by us because we've got an axe to grind. I think very reputable journalists from the foreign press, from the British journals in particular and even the American journals, have from their observations concluded that there is a third force and that this third force doesn't come from any of the political parties, it comes from structures of the state and we have absolutely no doubt that they are still there. If you look at the agreement that the previous government entered into with Mozambique in relation to the banditry there and how for so long afterwards they continued breaking that agreement by arming the bandits, and this still goes on today, there's been a recent allegation. Now this doesn't mean that de Klerk is sitting there and deciding to ship arms to Renamo in Mozambique but it does mean that there's a level of that apparatus which the state is very well aware of which doesn't have to be told what to do but which knows what to do. It's like the British journalists, you know that ditty? 'Thank God there's no need to bribe the British journalists but knowing what you'll do on bribes there's no occasion to'. That kind of thing.

     There are these forces and at some level the acts of violence are exploited against us, are used against us and combined with the fact that they have the power to do something about it you cannot blame us for this perception that it is within government levels that we say there are groups partly responsible for this violence. It doesn't mean that every act of violence is triggered off by them. You don't need that. All you need is a trained group, which happens every now and again, going on to a train and just blindly killing a group of twenty people going to work and there's counter-violence and the thing develops a momentum of its own. So the catalyst, we believe the catalyst for this violence is the state. We do really, sincerely believe this.

POM     What role, if any, do you think ethnicity plays in the violence? And I ask you that specifically in that the first time I bumped into you was in Phola Park in December 1990 after that horrendous violence there when Mandela went on his tour and I have since spent quite a lot of time talking to hostel workers there and they become even more convinced as time goes by that the ANC is a Xhosa dominated organisation, that it's out to create a one-party state and subjugate Zulus. Their perception of what's happening around them is totally one in which they see themselves under siege from supporters of the ANC, and they express it all in ethnic terms.

JS     I'm not denying that there's a degree of ethnicity in South Africa. It would be a miracle if there weren't looking at the conditions under which they live, looking at the deliberate policy which has been advanced over centuries but particularly since 1948 of creating a mood of diversity along ethnic lines and separation and so on. So it would be a miracle if there was no feeling of ethnicity at all, but you've got to add to that the kind of propaganda which continues to be spread amongst these people, together, as I say, with their conditions of life, the way some of them are being used by their political organisations. They are told that they are being threatened as Zulus and so on, but in essence if you look at the beginnings of the violence, if you look at when it started, it didn't start here in the Transvaal, it started in Natal. It's been going on for five, six years in Natal. In Natal it wasn't Zulus killing Xhosas or Xhosas killing Zulus, it was Zulus killing Zulus. There was nothing ethnic about it. It was purely political violence, the battle for power supremacy by Inkatha against the emerging United Democratic Front and the ANC underground and so on. So if you want to see the source of this violence there it is in relation to the communities. But of course once it happens it is very easy to - this momentum of group violence, it develops its own kind of psychology, its own logic, it's own prejudice and it's very easy, especially in the Transvaal, not like in Natal where it was Zulu versus Zulu, where in the Transvaal it was the IFP, the Zulu, trying to break through and using all these things like Xhosa domination of the ANC and so on and so forth. It is easy to play upon the cultural feelings, even some of the positive cultural feelings of people and to aggravate this kind of prejudice.

POM     There were a couple of books that have come out recently, one last year by a man named Donald Horowitz who is at Duke University here. He's a pretty well recognised authority on divided societies. And another recent one by a man named Sebastian Mallaby(?) who is The Economist's man in South Africa. They both take the ANC to task for not sufficiently recognising the importance of ethnicity. How would you respond to them? Do you think that's a fair criticism or an unfair criticism or a misdirected one?

JS     Look, we recognise the presence of ethnicity if it expresses the diversity of people's culture, language, religion and so on as a very healthy, positive aspect of ethnicity which ought to be encouraged. We recognise the negative ethnicity which is also present which is to fragment our society, the historically inherited sort of divide and rule concept which the other side wants to perpetuate into the future. The obstacles that that negative ethnicity will place in the way of creating a nation which we are not yet, we are a nation in the making, and the question of making progress towards making ourselves into a nation depends not upon discouraging the positive aspects of ethnicity which I've referred to, but discouraging the negative aspects. In other words we don't believe in Bantustans. We don't believe that it's possible to unscramble certainly the urban situation in which well over half the black population now lives and within about fifteen years 75% will be living in a maelstrom in a mixture of urban communities which even in that situation doesn't necessarily mean that they shouldn't have the right, and even be encouraged, to develop their diverse cultures and languages. But ethnicity in the sense of ethnic separation of different states based on purely ethnic considerations is a recipe for fragmentation of our country and will not be to the benefit even of those ethnic groups.

POM     Where do you see Buthelezi playing a role in all this?

JS     Well I think I've said enough about what the IFP is doing to really indicate what I think their role is. I think myself that the most important motivation behind most of Buthelezi's political life is the struggle for political power and I think in some respects he has allowed that factor to dominate some of his better instincts about what should be done about the race system. I don't think Buthelezi would like to see a continuation of white race domination. I think at the same time he is troubled by the fear that he will be overshadowed by other political forces and of course he's got a basically ethnic constituency and in that sense allows himself to be tempted to advocate policies which I think would be counter-productive in the long run in relation to those objectives of making a nation in South Africa, which I talked about.

POM     Do you think he's been damaged by all the revelations of government funding of the IFP and other IFP related organisations?

JS     Without doubt, yes. He obviously has been damaged by that and I think the last year or two I would say that he's been weakened politically and I think that his main ally is the government which places great store on an alliance between themselves and the IFP. They have been very severely disappointed by what has happened in relation to this weakening of Inkatha.

POM     Two last quick questions: one is, when you arrived back, maybe I asked you this, but you had these expectations about how negotiations might proceed or at what pace they might proceed. I did ask you that. Has it gone better than you expected or quicker than you expected? Yes? The last one is, when you were in exile, did you expect to see in your lifetime the collapse of apartheid and movement towards a democratic, non-racial society in South Africa?

JS     No, I never had any doubt, but that's what's kept me going. I'm of an optimistic frame of mind and I was utterly convinced that we would make it, in fact I was convinced we'd make it sooner than we did make it. But that's my temperament. It's not necessarily an analytical maxim that I'm trying to get across to you. It's not based on any reasoned analysis of the difficulty we found ourselves in. In general I was convinced that the system was so outrageous, was so lacking in future viability ...

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.