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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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 1992: Pahad, Essop
POM Essop let me start with a question that I'm curious about and that is that a few weeks ago the SACP hosted a delegation from China, from the Communist Party in China. This is a party that in most parts of the world is associated with the crackdown on Tiananmen Square and the brutal execution of people who were in fact defending human rights and democracy. Given your position in South Africa and the suspicions that exist regarding you as Stalinist old style and nothing has really changed, that your subscription to democratic principles was all a charade, this would seem to send out a message that would, not substantiate, but really enforce that impression.
EP Perhaps we should begin by having a broad approach. It seems to me that those who would have this view, I mean they would cover different political spectrums, but leave aside the spectrum on the left, let's take the rest of the spectrum. Quite clearly this South African government has found nothing wrong with dealing with China. China has now opened its own mission here and it's under the guise of Southern African Studies. South African business people are bending over backwards to try to do business with China so it seems to me that if they had to produce Tiananmen Square as an example of why we shouldn't have relations with the Chinese Communist Party then quite clearly they have no moral grounds or any other grounds to stand on. I think this would apply generally to anybody in the world. It seems to me that the United States of America very quickly went and established once more relations with China after what happened at Tiananmen Square. And there's a general attitude, sure, of course, there would be people on the left, there might well be some people in the party who would say that does this not create a problem for us and that to me is the more serious issue that we have to deal with, but not these others.
As I said, I think on other issues when people don't have a moral right to take these kinds of positions I can't think that one needs to take them seriously except of course that I think it's possible to argue the case since they've been very ready to do business. We, of course, proceed from the fact that we will not have and cannot have and it will be impossible to expect to have agreement on all issues with other mass democratic or communist forces in the world. It's an impossibility. There was a time in our own history in which we, if you like, set aside the differences or did not publicly expose them or express them. For example, as I said before, one knew what was going on in terms of the repression in the Soviet Union. Likewise they knew what our weaknesses were but the way it was operated at that time you discussed in private but you never went public on it.
I think those days are gone now and therefore if a Tiananmen Square event does occur again obviously the South African Communist Party would have to consider all of the issues at that given moment in time. But we would not remain silent, nor do I think we would take a position in the way we took positions previously with Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan later. Our own thinking, and I speak for myself, wasn't that the Soviet Union told us what to say, it didn't have to do that. It's our own assessment of what the balance of forces were in the world and what was necessary to protect and once you felt it was necessary to protect socialist societies against imperialist intervention and encroachment you then moved in a certain direction where you would come to a certain conclusion, nothing to do with a letter from the Central Committee of the CP or whatever. It had to do with our own assessments of the business.
For myself when I was involved in those party meetings that's how I came to my own conclusions about anything. My conclusions might have been wrong but they were not based on somebody cracking the whip. Now that kind of approach is no longer, in my view, applicable in the present context so one would have to look at it at that point again. We are agreed, and it's not only with the Communist Party itself, it might be to that extent with the Communist Party of Cuba, although the Cubans are more careful because Cubans talk only about Cuba, nor do the Chinese talk about any other place. So when we had discussions with the Chinese delegation we have expressed our position relative to South Africa, we have expressed our attitudes relevant to what went wrong in the old Soviet Union and the other socialist countries of Eastern Europe and one of the central elements that we said as our view was the lack of democracy. We said that's our view and they again have accepted our view. They have expressed their view about what they think went wrong.
POM Did you find any willingness on the part of the Cubans to accept that there is an absence of democratic structures, expression?
EP Oh the Cubans accept that that was a big problem and their answer is that that's why they are having direct elections for a National Assembly, that's why they have committees for the defence of the revolution, that's why they have all kinds of things, but that they think in their situation the one-party government is still the best form. We said, "Fine, there is nothing in our view theoretically which says intrinsically you must have more than one party." Sure, nobody can say this is written in some theoretical tablet but we would say to them, which we have said to them, that as far as we are concerned in South Africa not only are we going to put that in our documents but we really mean it and we will fight for it. And I don't think that's a problem because this is South Africa and I would imagine that every other single party in Latin America would say the same thing who had to process elections for Cuba. I can't see it, that any party in the world today would gain any credibility if they went and said that we were ready for a one-party system.
So we have differences with the Chinese, to come back to the Chinese, on that but we don't think that that should mean that we should not improve our relations. Now if you remember our relations with the Chinese were pretty bad at one time, at the time of Chairman Mao the Chinese called us running dogs of Soviet revisionism and lackeys of imperialism and all the other ...
POM These are the insults ...
EP - swear words that they could possibly think of. Because of our relationship with the Soviet Union we did not support their position vis-à-vis their conflict with the Soviet Union at that time. But after Mao's death the Chinese Party themselves took the initiative to improve relations and they took the initiative. They invited our party, our party has been sending delegations there for some years. It's nothing new. It's been going on for some years now. We had been there twice already before we got unbanned, I'm talking of from about 1987, 1988 where the improvement in relations started occurring. For us the first time we had the opportunity to invite them to our country, which Chris Hani did when he was in China, and they accepted our invitation and we were very happy to receive them and we will continue to see how best we can develop our relations further. I think the United States tried to pretend that China didn't exist. I hope we're not so foolish also to pretend that the Chinese Communist Party, 1.16 billion people, don't exist. They exist. They are a reality and they are also a powerful force in world politics, not as powerful as the Soviet Union was before but it's not easy to ignore them.
POM It's a tremendous population?
EP Absolutely. So let me make it clear, we will continue to do everything possible to develop further our relationship with them.
POM You talked about socialism there for a moment. I've been struck with the ANC, the alliance's economic proposals that came out of the ANC policy conference where delegates opted for a living wage campaign rather than insisting on a minimum wage. This is a decision that Business Day in an editorial hailed with realism and it's difficult, the editorial said, to take serious exception to the economic policies the ANC has proposed, that that in itself is a measure of how far the ANC's leadership has shifted from it's earlier unflinching support for socialism.
EP The ANC never had a socialist policy, it was people's interpretation and the ANC never had it. You will not find one single document of the ANC where the ANC said, "We are for socialism."
POM But is this a policy that was put forward by the SACP?
EP No, I think what it is, no, it's ANC policy, obviously there were people from the party.
POM This economic policy?
EP It's an ANC policy. In the party we don't have one yet. We're still trying to work out, so we're in the process of having discussions. In many respects I don't think it will be very different for the initial phase. But, of course, it's very different from the long term aims because the ANC does not have a long term objective of socialism. At least I don't see it in their documents.
POM What I find peculiar is that even in such a capitalistic country as the United States a minimum wage is ...
EP Sure, that's what I wanted to say. I don't think there's anything in that sense particularly radical.
POM It's the opposite. Some people call it the living wage campaign which is a fabulous concept rather than a minimum wage which establishes ...
EP Well there's a problem here in the economic debate. I am for a minimum wage, but there are people both in the trade union movement and in the ANC who think that there are some problems with a minimum wage because it creates too many problems and industrialists themselves are raising problems about the minimum wage and the Zimbabwean experience has shown that people are able to circumvent that. I mean on a small scale, because I happen to know about what happened. What they do in Zimbabwe, for example, is they don't hire you, they don't hire you in Zimbabwe as such. They take you on as casual labour so every three or six months. Your casual labour contract is over and then renewed so then they don't have to pay you a minimum wage in terms of the law because you are casual labour. There are ways of overcoming that, but as I say the discussion isn't over yet. I would imagine that there are people, our own people, who feel that the minimum wage isn't maybe the best possible thing, the best thing is to talk about a living wage. If you take the rural areas how would you impose a minimum wage in terms of a rural area, domestic workers. There are all kinds of levels but as I say, personally, I would still personally favour a minimum wage which would be applicable to everybody.
So the living wage thing, if you remember, is also a COSATU slogan, "The living wage campaign", so that's what the ANC has taken. But in broad terms people's approach to the ANC is wrong and therefore I think they have come to those conclusions because they have made assumptions, assumptions that the ANC is socialist and therefore anything else that happens is a move away from an assumption they had made. I can say that. I have been long enough in this ANC and worked long enough in the ANC to know that it wasn't, and has never espoused socialism itself. [but a great deal of animus of that, but then most social democratic parties ...]
But the other thing is that until recently, of course, the ANC, ourselves, the trade union movement, didn't have to spell out in some detail and depth their economic policies. They were in exile, apartheid was there and so the necessity for this really only started hitting us a few years ago and that's when we began, in the ANC at least, began to set up economic desks and constitutional desks and all kinds of different things in order to begin the process of trying to think through policy things. Now this has been going on for over two or three years at least, even the economic one where the first conference was in Harare with COSATU and I think, therefore, in working out it's policy quite clearly, in my view, the ANC has to come up with the hard facts of reality and they have some pretty good economists not necessarily working full time at the ANC but members of the ANC, people who sit on the ANC's Economic Commission. These are the people who together with the leadership are beginning to produce policy, at least not policies themselves but recommendations and the policy conference, which was very representative, by and large agreed with them. So I'm saying that it's not so much that the ANC has necessarily moved away from something. Insofar as the Freedom Charter is concerned, yes, the Freedom Charter quite clearly states that, "the national assets belong to the people."
POM They have moved away from that?
EP In some senses I believe, yes, in the sense of saying to themselves, "What do we mean by this clause, and how does one give effect to this clause because we must give effect to the clause?" We must give effect to all the clauses in the Freedom Charter because it remains our basic policy guideline.
POM Would the SACP have a more literal interpretation of that clause, say, than the ANC?
EP Well we would because the ANC is by nature a much more diverse organisation. By nature we are a much more, if you like, ideologically bound organisation. So quite clearly yes, the party would make little problems around those issues but in the ANC, yes, but so they should be in the ANC.
POM So if you were in the position that your final economic policy document was formulated, how would you compare and contrast where the ANC now is and where you are thinking of being at or arriving at?
EP I would not have much problem with the policy decisions taken at the ANC's policy conference because quite clearly I think the fundamental issue, the fundamental economic debate in my view in this country is not about nationalisation, I've said that to you before I think, it really is about the level and depth of state involvement in the economy. That's what it is about. I think in the ANC we are all agreed that there is no way in which a new democratic government is going to be able to deal in any meaningful way with the fundamental socio-economic problems facing our people without a lot of government intervention well beyond what the business people are talking about which is just to create the necessary infrastructure and climate. It will have to go well beyond that. On that we are agreed. I don't think that there is a difference between us. I think we are agreed at the moment that one of the tasks of a democratic government must be to try to give effect to the policy guidelines of the Freedom Charter.
POM Recently a team from the ANC Constitutional Committee came to the United States and they visited my university where we did a seminar for them on the New Deal. They were interested in seeing how effective the New Deal was in jump starting the economy in the middle of a depression. One of the conclusions that they came to, so far as you can come to a conclusion on a one-day seminar, was that effective government intervention in the economy required a strong central government. Now the constitutional debate seems to be moving more in the direction of regionalism or federalism versus the powers the regions would have, whether they should be enshrined in the constitution or whether they should be devolved from parliament. Does a strong federal structure with lots of powers vested in regions make for a relatively weak central government that would have difficulty ...?
EP Let me give you my view on this, which I have said to other people, not necessarily the position of the party. My view is to move away from the labels, not to debate the issue of federalism, confederalism, unitary. That's a sterile debate in my view. The issue we have to ask ourselves as the alliance is quite clearly we are agreed that for us a fundamental element in democracy is bringing it closer to the people which must mean therefore that we are also saying that we want to strengthen structures at local level and one of the structures at local level, not now but in a new democratic South Africa, will be your local authorities. Nobody that I know of says that the regions should not be given powers.
Look, if you take our own historical experience in South Africa we've got basically the white experience but never as part of South Africa. We had four provinces in this country under a so-called unitary state but each of the provinces had a Provincial Administration of some power and each of the provinces had the right to raise revenue. The fundamental issue for any regional government, in my view, revolves around their right to raise revenue. [You can talk about ... that's not the issue.]
In the United States it might or might not work for them where school authorities at local level might have the right to throw Mark Twain out of the library or to through Martin Luther King's books out. That's fine. That doesn't touch the fundamental source of power. That fundamental source of power must derive from the right to raise revenue. And the provincial governments, administrations in this country had that right. I cannot see, I do not know what the situation is because I must say to you now, in this interview, please bear in mind that we are right at the moment discussing this issue as an alliance. I wasn't at the last meeting where Zola made input on this issue but we are discussing this issue and I really am speculating here with personal views. You would want to give, however you define the regions, that kind of power.
POM To raise revenue?
EP To raise some revenue so that you make it possible for them to have some kind of distance from complete independence on the central state, but also I think in the long run you make them more accountable to the moneys that they would have to spend because they would have to raise if from the people. So that's how I would approach it to say what are the powers that we think should be devolved at local level, at regional or provincial level, whatever it is going to be called. You may then find that you come to a system which might or might not resemble bits and pieces of different people but it would have to be a South African case. The Germans, for example argue, until now, I don't know whether these kind of people argue, that a general federal system works because inherent in the German federal system was the right of the central government to intervene to ensure that there is a balanced development in all of the different German states. They have that right. So the German government has a right to transfer resources and other things or from central revenue to transfer resources, money or other things to a state which has lagged behind. So they would argue that when we talk about the central government having this right, in Germany we have this right.
Now it worked in Germany after the war for a whole host of reasons but mainly because the rate of economic growth in Germany was sufficiently high and quick to enable them to do that. I've argued with German people from the Embassy that in my view the argument of development under capitalism will remain under capitalism, not only between countries but within countries too. It will remain within countries. It's almost impossible to say you will have balanced regional growth. You don't have it in the United States either. But it worked in Germany. And now, now that they have swallowed the GDR they are in trouble. The last piece I saw I don't know how many billion Deutche marks they have already put into the GDR but there is now backlash coming from people in West Germany saying, "Why the hell must we pay for those people?" So I think that indicates a problem that they are not necessarily going to be able to take the eastern part, that's if they want, I'm not sure that they want to, but even if they wanted that. But that's the only one that I knew of who actually could argue and justifiably so and put me in, if you like, a difficult position to argue against.
So quite clearly when you are devolving the regional powers it would seem to me you have got to never be in a situation in which the central government will not be able to redirect resources, to indeed be able to direct investment things whether local or foreign or state because what will happen in South Africa if we don't do that is that the PWV region, both in terms of growth production and in terms of GNP, leads the way, will continue to be the most attractive place for investments. Then they will go to KwaZulu where the GNP is low but where contribution to GDP is high, then Western Cape and then you've got the whole of the Northern Transvaal, Eastern Transvaal, Northern Cape, the Free State will become forgotten areas in my view. Also I think the reality of politics is that if you don't have very many people in your area and you are not so important for the economy it's very easy to forget you. Why should they want to think about you? You might not be a decisive voice for the next election, you are not a decisive voice in the economy and in my view I think this would be appalling if it was to happen. So one needs to have an agreement with the ANC, whether the ANC can do it is another matter, but there must be a balanced regional development so that the millions of our people who have been suffering for so long have to be able to begin to get opportunities of development and that for me is the issue. So when you're looking at regional governments and if that's the kind of issue you want to look at, you don't want to have a situation in which your regional governments are totally powerless. But even in a place like Britain which is the most unitary state I can think of in the world, it doesn't mean that Scotland and Wales for example are totally powerless.
POM But they're considerably poorer than the rest.
EP They are, but perhaps if they had greater autonomy - but they have rights to raise money, taxes, in Scotland anyway, so they had their own bloody education system, they even had their own bloody football league, their own rugby things, but in reality they were very much dependent on the central authority and there wasn't the distribution of resources from the central government. Scotland played as much a part in colonising the rest of the world as England did and some of their best soldiers after all came from Scotland. I am just saying that that's how I would approach the debate. So if the regime wants to come with a regional proposal that's fine. I don't think that's a problem. Let's see what they are proposing.
POM It's almost incredible the way the white community, particularly the government, National Party, Conservative Party, are obsessed with this relationship between the ANC and the SACP and see you as this kind of sleazy, diabolical presence that has infiltrated the ANC at the highest levels, that really runs everything and that has an agenda for South Africa that is not much different from the agenda the Communist Party had in the GDR and Poland and Yugoslavia, wherever. It surprises me that you would say after two years you haven't yet worked out your economic policies. What can you point to to give assurance to building a constituency that would lead to dissociate the words 'South African Communist Party' from 'communism' as it previously existed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union?
EP I don't want to approach it that way. We've got to look at the different constituencies. We can't develop policies in order to satisfy this bloody National Party. What for?
POM I mean people in general.
EP The people in general in South Africa don't have the problem, the majority of the people. They don't have that problem. The majority of the people that we as our constituency, the working class, don't have that problem so I think it needs to be clear who we are talking about. You're talking about the National Party, you're talking about big business and small business here and we are concerned that the kind of image there was of the Communist Party should be improved in order for the party itself to have greater credibility, but not a lot of dissatisfied - Look, the National Party is going to fight an election, an election on the basis of anti-communism. The western powers are going to proceed with an anti-communist policy here. OK, now for ourselves we have to work out, as I was saying, our policies in detail. In general we've talked about the kind of economic policies we want, but with a little bit more detail, that's what I'm talking about. But for ourselves it's necessary for the South African Communist Party to give greatest consideration to developing policies, ideas, perspectives clearly which we think would meet the needs of our people, the majority of our people. For me as a communist that's my first priority. It's not to develop a policy or to sit down and if we work on an economic policy to say, "Oh what will Harry Oppenheimer think of this?" No, the question to ask is "What will the National Union of Mineworkers think about our policy?" Now that's the difference in the constituencies. Two, if there is anybody in this country who has a credibility gap as far as democracy is concerned it's certainly not us. It's not us, it's them, these very same people who want to pose these questions. They have a credibility gap, including big business which sat very snugly in bed with this National Party government never mind of the protestations they are making now about how they were anti-apartheid and everything else.
POM It sounds as if everybody was anti-apartheid.
EP They were not anti-apartheid, they were not even prepared to accept mild things like the salary principles which the United States companies were forced to accept, the Sullivan principles. They were giving a few blacks the right to share toilets. What the hell is that? They didn't deal with power relations which is what the issue is about. What South African did that? Now even in 1992 less than 1% of management, or maybe 1% is African or black. Almost 99.9% of those people are in some social programmes or public relations and when you ask these white managers, "Just tell me something, why is it that you don't have one black person actually sitting here taking decisions about the future?" "Oh well, we don't know." We say, "How the hell did you learn? Was it some God given right that you are so clever?" So the credibility, I must tell you, is not for us. It's for them. But with them nevertheless we are prepared to engage, and we are as a party engaging, with them whenever they want, and I don't know how many conferences, where they are. And, of course, once you go at that level you have to begin to explain or try to defend positions you are espousing. I don't have a problem.
POM If you are building a political constituency which ultimately must build for an election there need to be points that differentiate you from other parties.
EP But why? If this election, and we don't know how it is going to be fought because we are now discussing this, there are a number of options open to the ANC. If we start from the premise that it is the ANC that is the principle opponent of this regime, now if for example, as I say there are a number of options, it can fight it alone, it can fight it together with the SACP, COSATU, it can lead a broad electoral front. Let us assume that elections, we're talking about the first election, God knows what will happen to subsequent elections, the first election for a constitution making body, I said to you it's not clear what the ANC will do but it's very likely, and it's a position that I personally favour, is that there should be an ANC led electoral front, the ANC symbol being the main symbol because it seems to me that the ballot paper, I don't know what the ballot papers look like in the United States but I know in Britain they just have the names of the candidates, but we would have to do what they do in India and other places which is next to the names you have the symbol. It would be the ANC symbol. Obviously the personality would be Mandela. It could be ANC led in which the SACP would be part of that electoral front. Other people who are part of the Patriotic Front could well form part of that electoral front Intando(?) and so on and so forth. There might be others. So the election is really being fought by a front led by the ANC and a front led by the regime. That's how the election is going to be fought.
POM I think it's a different question. You're out there, you want to recruit people for your party, for your membership to grow. It seems to me that I'm hearing two things. You're saying in the short term you recognise that some measures have to be taken with regard to the economy that we might not be in favour of in the long run but in the short run they are necessary for a number of reasons and good reasons, but in the long run we believe in socialism. Now it seems to me that that's difficult. What do you sell to a potential member that differentiates you, why should that person make a decision to join the SACP rather than the ANC as a political party, another political party?
EP At the moment they don't have to be faced with that choice because they can support the party and the ANC.
POM How would you attempt to address that?
EP That's what I was trying to say to you that the issue is not, socialism is not an event. In other people's history it was regarded as an event when it was October 1917 or following the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba, [when Fidel made ...] Socialism is a process and it's a process that we're talking about so that once you have a democratic government in place, what we're really talking about is trying to have three very distinct phases. The one is where you would have an interim government, the other is where you would have the phase of democratic government and then there's the phase that we talked about, socialism. There are three distinct but inter-linked phases.
We would argue, as you will have seen even in the manifesto which is a very generalised document, that in this phase of the democratic government we conceptualise it as the phase of the national democratic revolution. The democratic government will begin to start taking the kind of economic and other policies that are necessary to lay the basis for the transition to socialism. To the left of us some torch carriers and others argue that South Africa is ripe for an immediate transition to socialism. We say no. As far as we are concerned the problem doesn't arise in that sense, from our conceptualisation of it whether it's right or wrong that's for other people to say.
What would then be fought for, for instance, that's coming back to the earlier debate about what does a democratic government do to begin to address the fundamental socio-economic problems that we face here. That's the principle issue and do the economic and other policies that any democratic government pursues, from a communist I would say, "How does it begin to empower the masses of our people?" So when we talk about economic policies we then also talk about empowerment of the workers, empowerment of the trade unions, whether or not the trade unions have a certain board of directors and that still needs to be discussed. We have to move away from a position, in my view, which seems to suggest that it's only management which has the capacity to make important decisions.
POM Is that difficult, to equip members on this basis? It sounds very theoretical, a level of abstraction.
EP On the ground what the people, because your perspective is socialism, people come to you if they want a socialist society whether it's now, tomorrow or in the long term. This is what distinguishes us from the ANC. People come into the party because they see this party has a clear ideological, has a clear class position. The ANC must out of necessity be a multi-class organisation. It must, otherwise it would destroy itself and not be able to play the role it should to be able to get rid of apartheid. And so that's why people will come into the party. They will come into the party because they will see the party as an organisation that will be ready to defend the interests of the people, of the workers, as a militant party. That's why people join us. Not because we have some magic wand which says when the communists come into power we're going to solve all the economic problems. Very far from it. So the reasons for people for joining are very different, very daring.
But you were asking me about the election, not specifically about that. Of course, with elections we would go with a minimum programme. We would have to work out some kind of minimum programme but the working out of that programme, in my view, can't be done in the offices in the ANC building or here. As we work on the electoral programme we would have to be responsive. Now you would want to say to yourself, it seems to me, that we take a differentiated approach on a number of levels. We take a differentiated approach, for example, on the national question, which is mixed up with two things. The broad thing is why it is Africans, Indians, Coloureds. And then you would have to ask yourself now here is this thing called the white community, I'm never sure what it is. Then you would say to yourself, OK now we need a differentiated approach to this. There is big capital. Obviously the interests of big capital are not the same as the mineworker in the Anglo-Vaal mine. There are the medium size and small businesses. There is the police. There are the security forces. There is the military. All of them constituting components of what we call the white community and I think the ANC would have to ask itself, how do we begin the process of making inroads into this differentiated constituency? For some you may not need any kind of real policy. I mean the white army and the police maybe in the end what they want is some kind of confidence that they are not going to lose their jobs, they are not going to lose their pension.
POM That they are not going to get prosecuted.
EP Well most of these guys are not involved in it, some of them who were involved they are worried, including their ministers. But sure, that's one of the elements they would raise with you and you would have to discuss and say, "Well, what is the position of the ANC?" The position of the ANC is not that we are going to charge them. We said they must be prosecuted now while it is possible for criminal acts but that decision for amnesty can only be taken by an interim government or a democratic government after all the facts have been laid on the table. Then you take the Indians and you take the Coloureds, we would have to have the same kind of approach. You would then want to look at all of your local areas.
Now your local area in Northern Transvaal may well have very different concerns than your local area in the Northern Cape. Now in working out an electoral thing you would have to bear that in mind and when you go and organise in a local area you have to mobilise around slogans and issues which concern the people at the local level. So I think that in devising an electoral platform this is what the ANC, leading this electoral front, would have to do. But the policies at the end of the platform would be arrived at after democratic process, certainly the alliance would be consulted and certainly if you invite somebody else to form part of your front you would have to discuss with them what your platform is.
POM I'd like to ask you one more question and then, unfortunately, we have to be somewhere else. It concerns COSATU. Last March the Weekly Mail ran a story when COSATU unveiled constitutional and economic proposals which COSATU said would provide to catapult the federation from a supporting act at centre stage in crucial economic and constitutional negotiations. It wanted an interim government in place by the end of July, elections for a Constituent Assembly by the end of the year with a guarantee of a new constitution by next year. Jay Naidoo said COSATU would undertake mass action on an unprecedented scale if these demands were not met. This year we have noticed how much COSATU has taken centre stage. It seems to be emerging as almost the dominant partner in the alliance. It was pulling, as it were, the SACP and the ANC with it. During the whole period we were here COSATU, COSATU, COSATU, COSATU. Have they moved to centre stage in a way they had not before?
EP I wish it was true then they would have stopped saying the SACP dominates everything and they might find somebody else to go and fight against and I'm not surprised that they haven't still come and said that really it's COSATU but the Communist Party has an overwhelming influence, many of the COSATU leaders are members of the party. That's no secret. I think, and that's my problem because I start from a whole different way of approach to what's going on in South Africa than the Weekly Mail and the others do.
POM Senior people in the ANC say off the record that consultation is becoming a one-way process. What COSATU means by consultation is they tell us when they've made a decision but if we make a decision they get upset.
EP That's what I'm saying but that's very different from saying that somebody has become centre stage and he's a dominant body. That's what you were quoting there. The other one has to do with relations.
POM Let's address the two.
EP Yes, fine, but let's start with the one of the claim. You must start from the premise that anything that happens in this country COSATU is going to be an important major player. It represents a very powerful constituency. it's membership is just over one million but by and large COSATU has the sense, in many respects as a trade union federation they organise the working class. COSATU has very well developed structures itself and in terms of its affiliates and so when COSATU takes a decision after consulting with its own affiliates COSATU has the structural mechanism through which to ensure that people are organised. Sure, and that in my view is a very good thing. I don't think in the last 35/40 years that I have been involved with this movement, that we haven't always said that we must have a powerful trade union movement. I think it's we more than anybody else who feel responsible for setting up trade unions in this country.
But this is all part of this exercise of trying to drive wedges between the ANC and the party and the ANC and COSATU and COSATU and the party and COSATU taking centre stage, etc. Maybe sometimes COSATU leaders would take centre stage. Fine, if you don't like it then you must come to meetings and say, "Comrades this is not correct". COSATU has publicly stated that it is the ANC that leads the lines. When we set up the lines with COSATU it was clearly stated in the document that it is a tripartite alliance led by the ANC. Nobody disputes that. There may well be people in COSATU who want to dispute that but that is COSATU's position. They would have to fight that battle within COSATU. I think it would be ludicrous then if we had an alliance, which we have an alliance, and there aren't different kinds of conflicts and contradictions and even tensions between individuals. We wouldn't be an alliance of organisations, we would be something else. We would be a bunch of little robots forming behind Mandela or something. Well, not that.
So quite clearly, yes, I wouldn't be surprised and I wouldn't be surprised if there are some COSATU leaders who might say the same thing about some of us in the SACP and something similar about some people in the ANC leadership. No I think that's an area of continuous tension, not necessarily conflict, tension, and so different people come to meetings and say, "But you've done this, you haven't consulted with us and this is all wrong. Why didn't you consult with us?" And I think that that is very, very healthy. Personally, you won't want to put this in your book, but I think that not because I don't like somebody or something, I sit in a meeting and if I think the party hasn't been consulted properly I say so immediately, "I don't like this. I don't like the way you're working. Can you people explain this? Why are you doing this?" But not because there is a tension between me and Sam Shilowa because Sam Shilowa in that sense of that definition shouldn't be there because he's a member of the Central Committee of the SACP or John Gumomo who is the President of COSATU and he's also a member of the Central Committee of the South African Communist Party. So Gumomo might think that what I do is not correct or what I say sometimes at meetings and he would come in the break or something and say, "Oh but Comrade Essop I don't agree with you". Fine, we don't agree. So I'm saying the way this thing is looked at, so yes, of course, and I keep on insisting that that's a good thing. God forbid that we would ever actually arrive at a situation in which we don't have that. I think it's an impossibility, it's a human thing. I cannot think of a single institution and organisation in which you don't have that, never mind that everybody wants to show their faces, but it's there. How can it be otherwise?
And it may well be that there are people in the SACP maybe, in the ANC maybe who might think that COSATU is playing too much of a dominant role. I can concede that possibility any time of the day. My argument would be, yes, different people have different opinions and must have them and we must debate them and at the end of it we have to try to come, if we are an alliance, we try to come to some common agreement at the end of the discussion. But there has not been a single meeting that I've been to of the alliance in which we haven't expressed, and sometimes party comrades sitting there who expressed different views on a thing. I would say let's see what so-and-so has said but then since we are brain storming here I want to put my oar into the water because it's not a policy making thing and say things, or other party people sit there in the meeting and think, "Good God, Essop is talking such a lot of rubbish here, we have to say something otherwise people will think this is SACP policy", and they say, "Well, I want to say that I don't agree with Comrade Essop." They say so in the meeting. So I don't think you should read too much into it and maybe if it wasn't there you should stir it up. But it's there and it's a healthy thing in my view.
POM OK. Thank you. I wish I had more time with you.