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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

04 Nov 1994: Jones, Colin

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POM     Seven months into the free and new South Africa, how would you characterise it? Has it surpassed your expectations in terms of what it has achieved or has it shattered some of your expectations?

CJ     Let me start by saying that I like to think of myself as a realist and, in some ways, I feel that the situation is pretty much as one could have expected. In other ways, it has been quite an extraordinary time. Let me give you an example of what I mean. I sat in on the House of Assembly; the House of Assembly was meeting some months ago and I sat in on some of the debates and I was amazed quite frankly and incredibly heartened not by the standard of the debate, it was pathetic, it was really quite pathetic in some respects, but by what one saw there, the visible signs of an attempt at making unity work. I think there's a real effort.

CJ     Now I've no delusions about what is going on behind the scenes as to how that is being kept together, but I think that it is vitally important in South Africa that people have a sense of confidence in the government, in the government of national unity. It's important for the ANC, I think, to be seen to be able to hold together this government. It's important for the country to have sense that we are not on a course to anarchy. And I think it's a very useful exercise for ordinary citizens to go into the department and see government at work. What I like about the new dispensation is the accessibility of politicians and parliamentarians; they are incredibly accessible. I have been to lunch at Parliament, it was the first time I've been to the parliamentary dining rooms, and was very heartened to see ordinary citizens from the rural areas being brought in by politicians to come and see the government at work. The food was extraordinary cheap; it is subsidised. I saw some wonderfully expensive wine going for R15-00 a bottle but I drank up and kept my mouth shut. So I think there is a more kind of in touch, hands on, accessible kind of politics happening.

CJ     On the other hand, one despairs a little at the task which faces the government and this country. I think we're only beginning to understand now the incredible job ahead of us, like the education of our youth. One sees how difficult it is to integrate the National Defence Force. For instance, there are lots of problems and they're not just teething problems; they're quite serious problems that I think are going to need extraordinary management and skill. I'm not always so sure that we have enough of that skill and enough experience at management of these sorts of problems.

CJ     So I think on the whole I would say that I'm optimistic and hopeful, but I've no delusions that it's going to be a long road ahead of us; what is going to be crucial is that somehow we maintain the unity because that could undermine what is a very delicate process. And I say that with a sense of hypocrisy in a way because, let me explain: I've have very mixed emotions about the Truth Commission because it seems to me that the last thing we're going to know at the end of it is the truth, really. If the government of national unity is as important as I think it is, and I might be totally wrong, but if it is as important as I think it is to keeping this delicate democracy on track, then what happens if through a truth commission it is discovered that some of the very people who are involved in this delicate national unity are more than implicated, actually guilty of atrocities against the nation? What do you do with the truth once you discover it? Now the church has made its voice heard fairly loudly on this matter I think, and there's a very good theological argument for the need for a truth commission. You can't build on old sores so you have to clean the wounds, this kind of language. But I'm not so sure that we're going to be able, that we're sophisticated enough to actually deal with the truth in a forgiving manner. I don't think that we can depend for ever and a day on the kind of miracle that happened around the elections. We mustn't hope for another miracle. A nation is entitled to one miracle and then we have to get down to the hard work of managing ourselves properly. I'm not so sure that our country is sophisticated enough to deal with the Truth Commission's findings, which some of us already have fairly clear minds about. There are people who are going to be very, very implicated in the pain of our country.

POM     If they are of ministerial rank, they will have to resign at least.

CJ     Yes, but is that going to happen? I don't think so. We have an incredible capacity for coming back from the dead in this country; some politicians are very skilled at that, refuse to lie down and die, they just keep being raised from the dead. I think my faith in the doctrine of the resurrection has been backed up more by politicians than by any evidence I've seen in the church.

POM     A lot of people in the two weeks we've spent going round the country talk about the fact that there was fairly large scale election fraud, pirate voting stations in KwaZulu-Natal and each side accusing the other. And if one looks at the result, it really looks as if it was brokered by people sitting round a table; everyone has got to be seen as a winner. You give KwaZulu to Buthelezi with only 50.3% of the vote and you make these other arrangements. Do you believe that that actually went on or do you think that a miracle just came out of the ballot box itself?

CJ     I've been a Christian long enough not to believe in too many miracles. No, I think it was a brokered arrangement, I really do. I don't think that that was bad. I think it was an important thing to have to do. I think the consequences of a true result might have been too hard for some people to stomach. I don't think our nation would have been able to bear the consequences. That's the miracle, that they were actually able to broker the thing. That's the real miracle. One doesn't have the evidence but I think that there is enough suggestion of this floating around.

POM     You know we were in Mozambique to observe the elections and we saw no irregularity at all, but when it was over, Renamo promptly went on the attack saying there was fraud on the part of Frelimo. My question would be: is the international community, by putting the emphasis on free and fair elections, especially the first time round, really getting at the root of the problem, which is to produce a government that will be stable and acceptable to people?

CJ     I think you're right. I think that there's a terribly unfair expectation placed on nations which have struggled for liberation, for freedom, and which are a long way from a true democracy in some ways; there's a lot of ground to cover ahead of us. I'd like to think I've become more of a pragmatist. The trouble about pragmatism is that one can easily compromise oneself and ones integrity and, when the integrity of a nation begins to be compromised, I think that in itself can bear ill fruits later on. I prefer to see pragmatic politicians who make the thing work than to live with an unfair expectation, which puts such a burden on everybody and creates such expectations here amongst ourselves which we can't achieve, that it becomes debilitating. It disempowers people. It frustrates us. So I'm all for more pragmatism at this point.

POM     In the light of what you've just said, do you think the country will be ready for local government elections next year, given the fact that there does not seem to have been any preparation?

CJ     I think the local government elections are going to be more crucial in some ways, because that's where ordinary citizens are going experience their ability to influence or not influence the decision making concerning their lives. I'm concerned that we're being so slow; we're still living off the euphoria of the national elections. We are crazy if we think that the local elections are going to go the same way. There is too much invested in the outcome of those results by ordinary people, small pressure groups. Let me give you an example of what I mean here. I've heard for instance that the ACDP, the African Christian Democratic Party, is working very, very hard at selling themselves as a Christian, good bible standard, high Christian morals party which will ensure that good Christian people will get what they need. Now I don't know what the heck the ACDP is on about, but I'm concerned that we will find a very strong lobby, for instance the pro-life lobby, that is going to quash any debate on the abortion issue for instance. I think we're going to find a fundamentalism creeping into this country which is going to be dangerous. We South Africans don't know how to deal with freedom. We're either going to go overboard, a kind of licentiousness which we've already seen you know our rush into hard core pornography without really taking our time, thinking through the issues, getting used to it. Hustler is in here with a vengeance. We can either go that way, which is bad, or we go the other way, which is a kind of rigid Protestant fundamentalism that is equally dangerous. Neither of those approaches will give us the real freedom to think and debate and talk the thing through and make our own decisions.

POM     What role do you think the tribal chiefs have to play in a ... process?

CJ     I think they have a role to play if they if they haven't already discredited themselves; I think a lot of tribal chiefs have discredited themselves by being party to the former system. However, I don't think, in the rural areas in particular, that one can impose a sophisticated western style local administration on people who are not used to that kind of governance. This is why I think we need the education; this is why we need the time. We need to think through and be debating and thrashing out what the possible models for, say for instance, our rural areas would be as against our urban areas. As you know, you've been here long enough to know that we really are a schizophrenic country. In one sense, we are very sophisticated, very first world, as good as most others by and large, and then we're very third world. But to have a uniform form of government across the board to deal with very diverse group experiences, I don't think it's going to work.

POM     Do you think that the government, the ANC in particular I suppose, made a number of specific promises during their election campaign which they simply can't meet?

CJ     You could say for instance the housing promise?

PAT     And the numbers, I mean there were such specific numbers jobs, housing, clinics.

CJ     I think it's great to set goals; clearly, it's important to set goals, but I think they are probably regretting the fact that they set figures, particularly what seem to me to be rather extravagant figures. I listened to parts of the Minister of Housing's speech in the Senate a couple of weeks ago and I think the ANC now realises that it's going to have to be doing a lot more homework with the business community, for instance, really getting them on their side in order to get anywhere near the promised figures. But you see, I think that's part of the dilemma of where we are; our intentions are good but we haven't really got to understand the full scale of the problems facing us yet. Education for instance is another area: we don't understand that education isn't just about educating a new generation; it's about what I would call 'uneducating' an old generation in a way. And a lot of our kids haven't got a culture of education because they've been taught protest; they've been taught violence. We have to unteach them that stuff almost before we can teach them. So all your grand plans of educating, providing free and equal opportunity for all our children, we have to somehow come to terms with the fact that some of our children are not going to be ready for equal education because the inequality, the gulf between their reality and other kids in this country is so great. And I'm concerned about adding frustration to expectation.

POM     We've just come from Chief Buthelezi who was in one of his better humours and when we brought up the question of the gravy train, the big increase in salaries, he thoroughly denounced it as being media and propaganda. But do you think there is a perception out there among ordinary people that there is in fact a gravy train, even though they were forced to cut back the salaries somewhat, although they weren't put back to where they were prior to them coming into office?

CJ     I don't think there's any one standard about whether or not there is a gravy train. I myself am not entirely convinced that there is a gravy train, although my Archbishop is.

POM     So we heard! Heard about the man who lives in a palace.

CJ     I think in comparison with other people in our society and certainly in comparison with ordinary folk in South Africa, there is no comparison in terms of what the public officials get, but that's true of any society. The question I would ask is, does the salary people get in politics justify the work that they produce, and is it a fair remuneration for what they are doing? Do they produce the goods? And I have heard; I know some politicians who say, "You know we don't really live grand lifestyles. We're not driving BMWs and Mercedes Benz. We have commitments to meet, we have offices to run, we have a lot of expenditures", and I think that I would feel maybe it's my sense of justice here and my cautious Libran attitude saying, "let's get the facts first and then make the accusation if it's justified". I think a lot of people are proud of their politicians. I think they feel that they are one of us; they're doing a fairly OK job, and are not too concerned about gravy trains. I think the people who are concerned about gravy trains are people like in the church ...

POM     Buthelezi said he'd like some more gravy.

CJ     Not just in the church, but educated, more sophisticated people for whom those sorts of things become issues; but ordinary people don't care what they pay as long as the people are producing the goods and they're going to begin to feel the change in their lives. I was a bit concerned that, in order to be morally right, we were in danger of derailing not just the gravy train but a very delicate process. And while it might be OK in some people's books, again there are the kind of educated folk who will say "Well it was good to see the democratic votes at work, that the church can challenge the state, that the Archbishop isn't anybody's lackey". At one level, we all go away feeling morally justified and just, and at another level we need to ask what kind of message is being sent to the ordinary people when the two black leaders who mean the most in this country to most people here are seen to be bitching at each other over money. What kind of message goes out to the ordinary people when we need confidence in our leadership? And I think we must be careful that we don't make a god of morality and ethics. There's a danger of that. Just as, perhaps, the election result was really in order to achieve a greater goal; it's the means justifying the end sometimes. So too I think for the next few years we're going to have to do that knowingly, but we have to do it for the sake of a greater goal than our own sense of moral justification and rectitude.

POM     To turn back to KwaZulu for a moment, the line drawn between King Zwelithini and Chief Buthelezi: the story is that there are rifts between them, with Buthelezi no longer being the Chief Minister, the implications of this, the Zulus being lined up on one side or the other; are those things real or are they exaggerated? Is there a threat that an open break between Buthelezi and King Zwelithini could lead to a civil war among Zulus?

CJ     I can only speak from what I read, in a way, and from what my sense of Chief Buthelezi has been, and you have heard my views about him over the years now. I think that he's a dangerous man and the incidents of the last few months, you know his storming into the television studio, his inability to deal with any kind of dissent or opposition, is scary. From what I read, and I read the Weekly Mail and Guardian, they seem to be convinced (it's a good newspaper I think. I don't think it's the kind of newspaper that gets into a personal vendetta for the sake of a vendetta, and they have been remarkably accurate on a number of issues in the past. Their kind of journalism is investigative; it is thorough, and that's the main source of my information other than church people in the Natal whose opinions I respect). They say that there's a very real danger there. Chief Buthelezi has a considerable power base, maybe not in terms of large numbers, that's always been difficult to know, but he's certainly proved already that his supporters can be incredibly disruptive and hold the country to ransom as he was trying to do in the run up to the elections. That's really all I can say on that score. I'm concerned about it. I don't think that the whole truth about Chief Buthelezi is out. There's a link in today's Weekly Mail between Inkatha and the Scientologists. There seems to be some kind of revelation there. I'm not sure what that's about; I haven't read it yet. But I don't know what you're going to do with Chief Buthelezi. He's not going to go away; he's not going to retire gracefully; he's not going to disappear from the political scene. When the Truth Commission stuff comes out, if what newspapers have been saying in recent years about the collaboration between Pretoria and Ulundi, and also most recently about the plot against the ANC leadership of which apparently Buthelezi had some knowledge, which was reported on a few weeks ago.

POM     Sorry, there was a plot?

CJ     Well I think it was the Weekly Mail again which was suggesting it. It said it had evidence that Inkatha had a hit list of ANC leaders in Natal which was determined to eradicate the opposition, the ANC opposition in Natal. If there is any truth in that, what do you do? Chief Buthelezi has been made one of the kind of triumvirates, if not in the leadership in the government, certainly in the minds of South Africans De Klerk, Madiba and Buthelezi where the real decisions come to be thrashed out. So it's very worrying actually.

POM     God forbid, but what would happen if Mandela died? Would there be a battle for the leadership of the ANC between Ramaphosa and Mbeki?

CJ     I would hope not. I don't have enough of an insight, understanding of the ANC caucus and how it operates, but I would hope that there would be sufficient wisdom at work there to sort out who is going to be Mandela's successor. I just thought that that should be decided upon even now, without waiting for the event of his death. Such a person should be clearly groomed for the job. I think people are too busy with a whole lot of things to do with managing the country at the moment. It doesn't seem, certainly, to those of us who look on from the outside, that anyone is clearly emerging. In fact the opposite picture is coming through. It's a bit confusing. Cyril seems to be sidelined: the whole issue regarding his non-appointment to the Cabinet for instance. I don't know what will happen when Mandela dies. I just hope that good sense will prevail. What I am concerned about is the capacity of other political parties to get in and try to undermine the ANC and to try to sow some kind of dissent amongst the rank and file and even the leadership so that they can't organize. I think they might well call for a general election. It would make a lot of sense in some ways to go for the ANC's jugular while it is weeping, while they are grieving.

POM     Are you sure you're not a politician?

CJ     Me? It would make a lot of sense. It seems to me that, if I was in an opposition party, I would say this is the time we need a real leader: let's go for it. And I think that De Klerk might well emerge as one kind of source of continuity and so on. Unless they are deliberately grooming Mbeki and pushing him and really giving him a higher profile; De Klerk may be number two in terms of deputy presidents, but he seems more like number one in the eyes of people.

POM     Coming back to the country, in the weeks and the months before we returned, we read newspapers from here on a weekly basis, and what you saw was all the MK people walking out of camps, sudden strikes called to disrupt life in the cities; you saw the SDUs in townships with a number of them still out of control.

CJ     Taxi wars.

POM     You see the taxi war ...

CJ     Hospitals.

POM     An incredibly high rate of crime of all descriptions. And your first reaction would be, "Well the new South Africa looks surprising like the old South Africa". Could you point to an accomplishment of the government in the first seven months in office that has made a change in the way people live?

CJ     Yes, I think that, yes, maybe I could. I think that the electrification programme in places like Khayelitsha has been a tangible improvement to the quality of life of people in the squatter camps. I think that is a very sensible, pragmatic, useful thing to be involved in. I think also that the health care programme which provides free health care to children of six and under has made it possible for parents to gain access to good health care; but, at the same time, that has been undermined by all the disruptions in our major hospitals. So in some ways a good accomplishment has been undermined by people who should be in support of it. Again, I think part of that problem is the expectation level. Clearly, we warned about this; we said that we need to help people have realistic expectations, and workers I think are not realistic in terms of their expectations. This is part of the Archbishop's rationale behind the gravy train thing. He says if it is seen that politicians are living the good life then the ordinary people will want the good life too. That's his argument. Unless you're going to make people absolutely equal, there's always going to be a difference and you have to deal with the aspirations of the people in ways which meet their aspirations at some level. This is where I think the health care and the electrification programmes have been good. I think also, and this is not a small accomplishment, the fact that the government has persuaded most black children to go back to school is significant. We've had very little by way of education disruption this year, and I think that's significant, that the young have a growing sense of responsibility and a real desire to get their lives back to normal again. But that has to be met with some very real resources; otherwise you're going to frustrate these young people. So I think there's a lot, in seven months to have stabilised the school situation by and large, there's a lot that still needs to happen, but for black schoolchildren to be in school, I think is very significant.

CJ     I think also we mustn't forget the international accomplishments: South Africa has sold itself very well by and large internationally; people still look at this as a bit of a miracle despite the fact that we've had some serious trouble or problems. But I think we've moved a long way from being regarded as doomed to failure and now have a fairly good chance of success if we can get our act together.

POM     Looking at the RDP, which is supposed to be the blueprint for the future, going round the country we have found that, to the average person, the RDP was just met with a blank stare and that, when you talk to politicians about it, you get a slightly less blank stare, not totally blank. Different ministers in the same government have different interpretations of what the document was all about. But it seems that it has not been sold to the people as their process: like the way the IEC sold the idea of the election to the people that it was theirs. Why do you think it has been so slow to put the RDP into effect?

CJ     Well I'm not so sure that it's so slow. Again, it's been going for less than a year and already there seems, whatever it might mean to people, that at least there is something on paper. There's a strategy, there's some vision, some goals. However optimistic they might be, they are there. So I want to say then, let's be fair. Again, the expectation has to be ameliorated somewhat but, having said that, I am very sceptical of grand sounding programmes. We've got into a kind of sloganeering in this country which sounds wonderful; and was fine before April, we could say slogans and pretend we knew what they meant. Even white people were saying "aluta continua" and "viva" without really understanding what they were on about, not really meaning it even. But we've moved on from that. We now have to produce the goods and I think that part of the production of goods, as you rightly point out, needs to go alongside the owning of the visions by ordinary people. And what we haven't done is to popularise the RDP; we've not looked at making it understandable, giving people a sense of where they can be involved in it, as we did with the elections where we said simply "Your cross can make a difference", even if just meant making a cross but we were training people to do that. I think we need to look at how we, in this country, sell a programme and educate people into how they can be part of that programme. You need the same kind of money put behind the education of ordinary people.

POM     Has there been any suggestion to indicate that the civil service is just slow on implementation, that it's the inertia of white civil servants ...?

CJ     I've heard that said; I have heard it said that there are people in the civil service who sabotage the implementation of any new thing coming down from the new government. For two reasons: one, they want to ensure that they're going to be safe-guarding their jobs so they just slow the whole thing down. And they know that it's, again, another delicate area of discussion in the country: the revamping of the civil service. So there will be some truth in that; that they're not being as supportive as they can. They are more concerned about survival than about implementing grand programmes. But we didn't need the civil service to get us prepared for the election. Many institutions and agencies in society were involved in voter education, in helping people to understand their part in all of this. I think the politicians haven't thought through how you get public support for the RDP and you're not going to get public support by talking high falutin' political language to ordinary people.

POM     So overall, how would you rate the ... government one of my open ended questions where one represents very unsatisfactory and ten represents very satisfactory after seven months ...?

CJ     Given what we were, where we've come from, given what is facing us I would give us, not just the government, I would give the country a six out of ten. It's certainly a little bit above average, a little more than half. At school it would be 60% which would be a decent pass mark with room for improvement. Johnny just has to work harder and the whole class just has to work harder. I am thinking about the class average ... not just Johnny's individual mark here.

POM     Do you think business is playing an adequate role? I came across this ... speech the Minister of Finance gave where he said, "South African business must start scoring tries. I feel like a scrum half who cannot perform because my forwards are not there to support me". What do you think he was getting at?

CJ     Well being a rugby lover myself, the image actually makes a lot of sense. If the powerhouse of the country is its economy, and if business is an important part of that powerhouse, then you need business confidence; you need a good pack of forwards who are really going to be pushing as hard and as far as they can in order to free up the back line as it were. The scrum half's job is to be a link between the forwards and the back line. His job is to get the ball out of the scrum which the forwards have ... and pass it out to the back line, which is made up of the faster runners who can then make progress. And I think that the business community has not been pulling (or rather pushing); they are not pulling their weight. They're being cautious. They have not been creative. They have left a lot of the work to the politicians. The politicians can only take the ball that they're given some of the way, and for the business community it's been, "let's try and keep playing the game we've been playing, the game thus far, as long as we are happy, as long as we're turning out profits and as long as we're surviving". I don't think that the bigger business community or the bigger people in the business community have felt the pressure enough. They survived sanctions; the pressure came off at just the right moment before they all went under. We live on the edge in South Africa. We look for a miracle. We pull out ... but we don't take creative initiatives. We're not prepared to change things radically, to the extent that we might lose. It's natural business caution to some extent, but this country needs more than natural business caution. It needs some really creative, productive vision here. Why isn't business getting behind the electrification process? Why doesn't business get stuck into the housing thing in a big way? Some business people have. Raymond Ackerman has put up some money, Pick 'n Pay, but as a rule we've not seen that happen across the board with the business community. And I think that would go a long way to creating confidence, winning respect, helping to heal the wounds not just between black and white, but between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', which is so much part of the problem now. The 'have nots' tend to be black, but more and more whites are entering that group of people. And they could do so much, but I think business people tend to be selfish and self-serving.

POM     One suggestion we heard is that educated blacks are going into the public sector and getting paid well, with the result that business is finding it difficult to recruit skilled African labour, particularly with management skills and the like.

CJ     Well I've heard this too and, if that is so, then that is very problematic. I hear too that a lot of skilled black people are demanding very high wages and that in some ways it easier to employ some whites who are just grateful to be able to get a job; who have the skills but are prepared to accept less. Now I think that's problematic and we need everyone, Mandela and government need to be saying to business people, to the people who have managed to get skills and training, "Look, you have to be more responsible". This is the time for everybody to make some sacrifices, not to jump onto a gravy train, because the gravy train extends way beyond the politicians.

POM     One last question. Is a break between Cosatu and the SACP and the rest of the ANC almost inevitable given two very different courses, the two very different philosophies that both stand for?

CJ     I'm sure that's going to have political ramifications, but I don't think that's a bad thing. I don't think the government should be run by the trade unions at all. I think it's a very dangerous situation and the sooner that happens (and if it can happen with the least disruption), the better, because I don't think it's good for the ANC to be wagged by the tail. The tail mustn't wag the dog here. But again it's something which is going to cause some pain but has to happen, and maybe that's what I would like to end with, saying that a lot of things have to happen but it's going to cause us some pain. If change is going to happen, if real deep meaningful change is going to happen, then we must be prepared now to get real. We've been spoilt up to now. We must get down to the real business of running the country.

POM     Your views must be very popular in political circles.

CJ     I don't air them in political circles.

POM     Thank you.

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.