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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

22 Nov 1993: Mbeki, Govan

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Three years have gone by since Nelson Mandela was released and the ANC was unbanned. How far do you think South Africa has come in those three years?

GM     It has gone a long, long way. When he came out there was in the air talk of negotiations and then after he came out the matter was taken up seriously. It has taken three long years and probably painstaking negotiations to come to where we are but as you now know they have just adopted an interim constitution, the elections are set for April next year so it's that far we have come.

POM     So if anyone had told you in 1990 that within three years there would be an interim constitution and a date set for elections would you have said, "No, it'll take longer than that"?

GM     No, once the process of negotiations got under way we knew this would come but how soon was another question and probably I didn't think it would take as long as it has done because from my point of view I saw no problem at all why such a settlement could not have been arrived at but then it has taken that long.

POM     In the settlement that was arrived at, at the World Trade Centre last week, I have trouble getting from people what their understanding is of the arrangements that were agreed upon particularly relating to how the Cabinet will work or what the deadlock breaking mechanism is. What's your understanding of how decisions will be made within the government of national unity and what deadlock breaking mechanisms will be used in the Constituent Assembly?

GM     We knew we hadn't defeated the Nationalist Party on the battlefield but I don't think most of us did have in mind the question of a government of national unity and a government of national unity which would embrace all those political parties that got 5% or more at the elections. It's not easy to quite comprehend how such a Cabinet would in effect work, but it is to be hoped that the people who get into it will be concerned more with the future of the country than with ideological defences here and there. If it is a government of national unity I think everybody will realise that individual taste will have to give way to the public good.

POM     So to the best of your knowledge there is no agreed formula in place yet as to how the Cabinet will make decisions? That will probably be decided after the Cabinet is put together?

GM     An indication has already been given but I think those mechanisms can work only if the government of national unity works together. If they don't work as a team those mechanisms won't work or if they do it will be with a lot of hitches and one, as I have said, would expect that people will be able to think of the public good rather than of their individual preferences or preferences of parties.

POM     In terms of changes that have taken place in the last three years, what changes most surprised you and which ones are you finding it most difficult to live with?

GM     A number of changes have taken place. Main pillars of apartheid have fallen. The very fact that the Nationalist Party was prepared to sit down and talk with us, probably nothing could have been greater than that because over the last three centuries that's what we failed to get in this country. It was also understandable that having agreed to sit down and talk to find a peaceful solution to the problems of the country that they would have jockeyed for positions where they would have tried to, if not to retrieve, at least to maintain, some of the key positions they had occupied during the period of apartheid. It has taken them a lot to move from those positions. They talk, for instance, of minority groups, they would not be satisfied with individual rights as entrenched in a Bill of Rights but they have moved from that position. We have also yielded some ground but that's what should have been expected if the final word was not going to come out of the military battlefield.

POM     What do you think are the major concessions or compromises made by government and the major concessions made by the ANC during the last 18 months?

GM     As I have indicated one of those major concessions has been to concede that there was no room for minority rights in a situation like this and it has taken a lot for the Afrikaners especially to accept that and we see other sections of the Afrikaner community just can't live with it, Conservative Party, Herstigte Party and all other smaller groups, Afrikaner Volksfront and all other groupings among the Afrikaner community. So that was a great move, a great shift on the part of the Nationalist Party government. We have also moved, also shifted from our original position of a united South Africa where the central government would have overall control of the country. We have shifted to the extent that we have accepted devolution of powers on to the regions. That has been a great shift on our part. We would have preferred a system where the party that gains most of the votes became the government and without even thinking of coalitions if it got an overwhelming support at the elections but even if we do get an overwhelming support we are going to have a government of national unity and it has taken a lot to move us from our original positions to where we are now.

POM     Do you accept the logic of Joe Slovo's argument last year when he said that an ANC government governing by itself and faced with a hostile civil service and bureaucracy can very quickly find itself bogged down because it's legislation won't get implemented or things would be held up and therefore it was better to make some kind of arrangement with the National Party in the short run or in order to ensure democracy in the longer run?

GM     Well that's why we have accepted the idea of a government of national unity and not only accepted that but given it as long a time as five years within which it should operate and in the hope that during that period all the elements of our society, all the sectors of our society will have been convinced that we can live together, we can work together in the country and that government led by the African National Congress would not use its position to undermine the interests of smaller parties or smaller groupings within South African society.

POM     On a scale of one to ten how satisfied are you with the interim constitution and the Electoral Bill that came out of the World Trade Centre? If you were very, very satisfied give it a ten, if you were very, very dissatisfied you would give it a zero. What range in between? How satisfied are you on a scale of one to ten where zero represents you being very dissatisfied and where ten represents you being extremely satisfied? Where would you find yourself in terms of satisfaction with these proposals?

GM     You want me to give a rating of satisfaction?

POM     Yes. I ask everyone this question then I'm going to add them all up and get an average.

GM     I am satisfied to the extent that it is just being pragmatic to opt for a government of national unity because that does not keep any sector of the population out of power. It does not give them the opportunity to have a Savimbi option or an option of (what did they have in Mozambique?) Renamo. So whoever now is going to want to take up arms in order to push his or her line on the country I think will be seen by the majority of the people of this country as not really having the interests of the country at heart but wanting to push a line where he or she as an individual would like to have his own word.

POM     You are a very skilful user of words. You have avoided answering my question! I'm not going to let you get away like that! Six, seven, eight, nine, ten? Given that it's an interim constitution which will be amended later to become a final constitution.

GM     You talk of interim constitution. You mean the one after April 27th? After the Constituent Assembly or you mean this one like the TEC?

POM     I'm talking about the first one, the one that was passed at Kempton Park which is interim until the final constitution is drawn up.

GM     I think that step is necessary, the step where we have the TEC.

POM     As a constitution what rating would you give it? If you were very dissatisfied and thought this was an awful constitution you would say zero.

GM     No, no I wouldn't say I'm dissatisfied, but I wouldn't give any configuration as you are suggesting.

POM     Is it fair to say that it would be in between five and eight?

GM     No, I don't think I am with you when you talk in terms of figures.

POM     For example, the Bill of Rights contains a provision that protects private property yet there are none of the so-called second generation rights, the right to health, the right to education, the right to a home, that the ANC had been advocating for years, indeed that were in the draft of its own constitution. So does the constitution need some more working to put in provisions like that?

GM     No constitution is absolute really. A constitution is subject to being examined and reviewed from time to time and as need arises. But at the present time I think what we have tied up at the World Trade Centre does meet the situation.

POM     We were talking with Harry Gwala last week and he said that, referring to what was in the constitutional transitional arrangements, that this wasn't what he fought for in the ANC. He thought that his side had been let down a bit.

GM     Who has been let down?

POM     Your side, the ANC was letting itself down, it had conceded too much, that this was an interim constitution and an Electoral Bill that was a long way from the principles of the Freedom Charter. Would you agree with that or disagree? The Freedom Charter talked about the ownership, the right of the people to ...

GM     I wouldn't think that the arrangements that have been arrived at are really removed from the Freedom Charter in any material sense. Probably one could talk of one clause that the wealth beneath the soil shall be controlled by the government and that some major multinational, not only multinational but - however, these huge companies, conglomerates that control ever so much of the market in the country, that those should be broken up to a certain extent and I don't think here the ANC was saying anything different from what anti-monopoly legislation, which is already existing in the country, was saying except that the clauses of that legislation were not being used and governments got to interpret a phrase which says 'for the public good'. They interpreted it in so many different ways that in effect they supported bigger growth of the conglomerates.

POM     Would you expect a new government to take on Anglo American?

GM     No, we've already given an undertaking. The African National Congress has been severely criticised on that clause of the Freedom Charter and it has given away so there is no threat of Anglo American losing anything.

POM     In that regard there has been a striking shift in the economic orientation of the Freedom Charter and what one reads today as being ANC economic policy. I mean I didn't think I would see the day when I would see Trevor Manuel and Derek Keys both in Washington DC talking the same language to the IMF and the World Bank, particularly since the IMF has destroyed half the countries in Africa with the kind of structural adjustment and programmes they have imposed on these countries to get loans.

GM     Whatever will have been said by some people the reality of the situation is it is the conglomerates control amongst them 85%, 86% of the market. It leaves very little room for the smaller economic units and they call it free market, free enterprise where in practice it means being free to take as big a slice as possible so that the others don't have much of the cake.

POM     In fact it's not free market, its monopoly.

GM     Precisely. That's what I'm saying.

POM     As a proponent of communism all your life do you find it difficult to accept some of the changes in ANC economic policy that are being made purely on a pragmatic basis?

GM     What changes have the ANC really made in its economy? It says we should have a mixed economy. Now I don't quarrel with that.

POM     But you would like to see the break up of conglomerates?

GM     Not so much because I want to see the break up of conglomerates. The ANC has already conceded that they carry on.

POM     What would you like, yourself? Do you think that conglomerates should be broken up?

GM     Let's first deal with this aspect which I've just raised. You said a mixed economy. I don't think the ANC in saying it's going to set up a mixed economy that it is saying it is going to have full control over the economy or what they call the command economy. It is not saying that. But it should be clear that the economics of development have produced many, many fingers and I think generally the fingers in that field of economics do agree that there are areas in an economy in which the private enterprise is not interested and it is not interested in that because the gestation period is so long. Take afforestation, it takes something like forty, fifty years before the trees are mature enough to be cut so that there is a return on capital. They naturally are not interested in that but it would be incorrect to say that afforestation should not be developed. The government should step in in such cases and I think also certain areas like education, like public areas, those should not be left in the hands of private enterprise and I think it would be incorrect but that does not mean that if the ANC says we want to have, we want to intervene in the educational process, it does not mean that it is in fact monopolising that. But I think it's essentially in the public good that education, health and services like housing should be in the area of state activity.

POM     This is a long way from nationalisation of various industries.

GM     Certainly, not anything like near nationalising.

POM     Wouldn't it be true to say that the ANC/SACP/COSATU alliance, that for a long time one of the key pivots of their economic strategy was the nationalisation of such things as the gold mines and things like that?

GM     I was just saying, in the long run.

POM     You're too clever! What I wanted to get at was you have spent your entire life in this struggle and now it's finally coming to fruition and the new South Africa appears to be around the corner. Does all of it look like the new South Africa that you would have liked twenty or thirty years ago or twenty years ago while you were languishing in jail or is it meeting your own vision of what a new South Africa should be like half way? Are you pleased with what's coming? Are you satisfied? Do you believe that the years you have spent in jail, the years of separation from your family are now worth what you see coming in terms of the TEC, the government of national unity, elections with across the board franchise?

GM     No struggle is without pain and the pain takes various forms in the course of the struggle. Some people die along the road and as it is in our South African situation all the roads of struggle over centuries are lined up with graves and with incidents that developed during the period of Nationalist Party government, especially the eighties where the state used as one of the methods of fighting those who were opposed to its policies, just killing people, letting people just disappear without trace. There are those instances where people have been jailed for years and years, spent a very good part of their lives in jail and being in jail is not being productive, it's unproductive like war is unproductive and yet at the end of it all, at the end of a war you get the peace and at the end of all the years in jail, at the end of the road along which so many of those who struggled against oppression and apartheid lost their lives, something comes out good. Now you can't measure that in terms of saying we can calculate how much pain has been suffered. The important thing is the objective, we have reached the goal, but to reach that goal some price has to be paid and we cannot say it was not worth paying that price. We would have been very, very happy if we had reached these goals without going through so much pain but then every woman knows that to get that baby is pain but no woman, I haven't heard a woman who says after her first baby, "Oh if I had known I would never, ever have done it." It paid to go through the pain and have the child.

POM     In the same way you give birth to a nation? There were two things that struck me - how are you for time?

GM     Ten minutes more. I've got to attend to some of the office work. Fifteen.

POM     Let's pretend we're at the World Trade Centre and we're negotiating! Two things surprised me with regard to the various deals that were made at the World Trade Centre. One, I was very surprised that the ANC accepted that the composition of the Constitutional Court would largely be in the hands of the State President so that the State President in fact could put his own people on and stack it, politicise it. I would have thought that they would have seen that as being inherently anti-democratic. That was just one thing. For any politician to be able to stack the Constitutional Court puts the constitution of the country in great danger. And the second is on the question of ballots. They are opting for a single ballot for the national elections to the Assembly and for the regional, but this constricted people's choice. It's very likely that somebody could vote for the ANC at the national level and vote for some other party at the regional level so it constricted people's choices. It made them choose, choose one and choose it all the way down. I thought that smacked of being anti-democratic too.

GM     Now of judges, maybe I'm not properly informed, I don't know of any country where the judges are appointed by other people than the government. Now it has been the practice here and nobody has ever queried it, including the Democratic Party and they were part of it. Now, why should they, now that things have changed, think that a President other than coming from any of the parties that have been involved and benefiting from apartheid, that a President coming from outside those groups wouldn't have the integrity to appoint judges on merit? Why should they accept that? They have been suspicious. Accept that. They are saying to themselves, "Lest they use the courts to mete to us as much as we meted to them." I can find no other reason.

POM     It's only human nature when you have the power to be able to do something.

GM     Are they going to agree that when liberal governments were in power in this country they used that power to abuse the judicial system? Are they going to argue that when they sat in parliament and the Nationalist Party government was the political party in power that the Nationalist Party government appointed judges who supported their policies? Are they going to agree to that? And if they don't agree to that why should they think that the ANC is suddenly - or it is not going to behave in the same manner as other human beings as behaved. I can understand. Now, referring to the other, that individual who exercises his or her vote to elect members to parliament, why should that individual when it comes to the region want to change? If he elected a Nationalist Party to parliament why should he when he comes to the region want to elect AWB or Conservative Party?

POM     I suppose my reply would be that that person should have the choice to do so. Whether he or she does so is distinct from ...

GM     Why, I ask you? I think the basis of the assumption is incorrect. Why should it be thought that at national level you go to one extreme and at regional level you go to a completely opposite extreme? Why should it be expected?

POM     A good example might be the United States where very often Democrats vote for a Republican to become President but within their individual states they vote for the Democratic ticket so that's called 'splitting your ticket', but I suppose my point would be, shouldn't the people be given maximum choice and it's up to the people themselves to decide how they exercise that choice?

GM     When they voted for the National Assembly at the same time as they voted for the regional legislative power or office, why should it be thought that they will differ? I can't see the logic.

PAT     The idea would be not necessarily extremes but you could have someone who lives in this area who might want to vote for the PAC for the regional legislature but at the same time want to vote for the ANC in the National Assembly. It's not racist in its extremes but it's a sense of the individual and what they think about more localised government versus national government.

GM     It's a hypothetical situation which I think in practice does not work because if a member of the ANC is committed to the policies of the African National Congress or any voter who is not necessarily a member of the ANC is appreciative of the policies of the African National Congress and he or she thinks that if the African National Congress is in the position of power it will fulfil his or her aspirations, why should that individual at one moment say, "All right when it comes to national the ANC will do this", and when it comes to the region he or she elects a person who is going to contradict what he or she voted for at the national level. I can't see the logic. I just can't see it and I think it's a farce.

PAT     I've never voted Democratic Party.

POM     How do you put the whole process of negotiations and the outcome in a Marxist/Leninist framework?

GM     Why should I put it in a Marxist frame?

POM     Because a lot of your writings are about Marxism/Leninism.

GM     Yes but why should I? Given this situation, in South Africa the Communist Party has always accepted the fact that we have a national democratic problem in the country first and foremost and that we have to go through this stage if we are going to get in the long run to socialism. So what member of the Communist Party, what believer in Marxist philosophy is going to want to argue at a time when we are solving a problem of national democracy? Why should he want to bring in the teaching of Marx, of Engels, of Lenin? Why should he want to bring it in at this stage? And the Communist Party in its own policy document does say at this level of the struggle they accept the leadership of the African National Congress which means that not until this national democratic struggle is over are they going to pursue that. Now, therefore, why should they want to give a Marxist interpretation to the happenings of today?

POM     Two last areas. One is about the threat from the right wing, General Viljoen and the white parties supporting him. Do you think they can pose a threat to the stability of the country after an election, a threat so that the country appears to be unstable enough so that no foreign investment comes in or do you think it's mostly bluff?

GM     It's not bluff. Anybody who has a gun in his hand does create a threat and if you get twelve men with guns in their hands, twelve men who have access to plastic bombs, twelve men who have access to dynamite, then they can create havoc in any big city and they are operating secretly, they can create havoc, they can cause instability in the country, they can cause uncertainly amongst the people so that a government would not be able to carry out its programme in the interests of the people as it would have done without such people. I mean here is the African National Congress, when MK activities started in the country what did they have? They had no access to bombs. They started working and constructing bombs here in the country with materials that in fact could not do much damage and I am saying so because I know, I was part of it, I was observing it and yet when they started blowing up places the country had to take notice. There was uncertainty. Now these men are trained, these are trained soldiers and these people have weapons, they are carrying automatic weapons in their hands and they are able, they have got the expertise to make bombs. They can destroy. We have got to take them seriously. We have got to take them seriously.

POM     You are saying some way must be found to bring them into the process?

GM     Well that is being done. We are straining to convince them to come into the process of negotiation but if they don't accept, shifts have been made to satisfy them. They talk of federalism. We say, "All right let's have regions." Now they say we want autonomy in the regions. They have been given powers to tax, they have been given powers to run educational systems, to run health services, what does autonomy mean to them? It is not having the power in hand to do things. What is it they want? One gets the impression that they get something more, more - they go much further than the demands which they are expressing and those demands, because they are unknown to the rest of the people who are negotiating on a peaceful basis, they can't meet them.

POM     Do you think that you could have a situation where the white right wing stays outside, won't come in and they start engaging in the kind of activities you described and that the new government might have to introduce a state of emergency, detain people in order to bring the situation under control, in order to provide a measure of stability?

GM     That would be in extreme circumstances. We have gone through that and we know it. We know how much it hurts and we wouldn't like to have that situation repeated. We wouldn't like to have bloodshed in the country and especially a type of civil war such as would take place in a polarised society like South Africa where if the whites started shooting that the blacks this end would say, "We shoot the whites", and the whites would say, "We shoot the blacks." We don't want a situation like that, but if it has to come to that then democracy has to be defended.

POM     Last question, about Buthelezi. What does he want?

GM     I don't know what he wants.

POM     Does he pose an equal threat in Natal that the right wing poses in other parts of the country? Or do you think he's mostly bluster?

GM     Well he has some people around him, some people who benefited from apartheid. What is it that he wants? He is wanting to create a fiefdom where he can be there as lord of the manor and then do all that he wishes to do to the people there for his own personal benefit. What else does he want?

POM     OK, thank you very much.

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.