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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

09 Nov 1994: Slovo, Joe

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POM     Mr Slovo, as the author of a paper that ultimately resulted in a power sharing government, how would you rate the performance of the government as a government of national unity, as distinct from a government which is a party in power and a party in opposition?

JS     Well it's a completely new concept both for our country ... for this kind of government anywhere in the world. It's neither a coalition nor an adversarial set up and, although there's a general formulation in the Constitution about the way it's supposed to work, in essence we've discovered that really, at the end of the day, it depends on factors outside the written word and that is, the conventions that are still emerging in order to get this concept to function. I would say, in short, that the experience in the last five or six months of the functioning of the government gives me confidence that it is working and will work for this five year period. There are hiccups, there are certain disagreements and we are finding ways of getting on top of those so as to prevent any kind of breakdown. I would say that up to now there's not been one serious issue which has threatened the existence of the government of national unity.

POM     Even the Bill about the Truth Commission?

JS     Well now, there's sort of general agreement between us and the NP at any rate about the broad contents of that Bill.

POM     ... we talked with Chris Fismer [that till now you wouldn't go after those who had issued the policy statements, only those who had actually carried out the policies. You wouldn't go after the people who, say, if I were a minister and I had ordered my generals to eliminate somebody, you wouldn't go after the minister; you'd be going after the person who had executed the order.

JS     Yes, well, how the Commission will work eventually is not spelt out in its finest detail, but it seems to me that it will cover any person both in government, in the previous government, and in the ANC and any other organisation that can be attributed with responsibility for the kind of acts covered by the Bill, and that are incursions into individual human rights. So I don't think there is a division between the person who actually pulls the trigger and the person who ordered them to do so.

POM     Would, say, an MP or a minister who by evidence was implicated in a crime be required to step down as an MP or a minister?

JS     A decision will have to be taken at the time, depending upon the degree of complicity, the scale of the particular offence. No formula has been worked out now as to what will happen to people. There will be recommendations from the Commission itself ... as to whether a person in the light of their degree of involvement is fit to occupy a position either in the bureaucracy or in the government. I'm pretty confident that, if I were a Commissioner I would end up, having given my findings, by making some kind of recommendation. But that's a procedure which will have to be worked out.

POM     Just last week, we interviewed Dr Heyns and the question of the Truth Commission came up for discussion. His position was that he was against it; that even though it was morally the right thing to do, it could ultimately bring such disunity to the country if not handled properly and the price to pay would be greater than the gains you get from it.

JS     Well the emphasis must be on the caveat "if it's not handled properly", and one would hope that with the experience of the way we've dealt with delicate matters of that kind, that we would handle it properly; that it wouldn't result in any kind of major breakdown. I'm speculating though.

POM     To turn for a moment to the one issue that symbolises what the government can do, what it wants to deliver in housing, your own Ministry. Now you've brokered a deal with banks and other institutions to provide credit that will allow a certain number of houses to be built each year. Could you talk a little bit about that, and also talk about it in the context of there being some kind of pressure of entitlement out there, people who have got used to not paying for things ... so the first tangible benefits of the new government are not that they are getting something, but that they have to give something.

JS     As far as the banks are concerned, the deal we brokered really only covers about 20% of our homeless population: that is, those who are in jobs which attract a certain minimum income, R1500-00 a month or more. 65% of our people earn less than that: either they are unemployed or earn below R1500-00, most of them earn below R800-00, even those in employment. And, therefore, although it is a major breakthrough for segments of the poor, that deal is not the complete answer to the housing crisis ... We have got other schemes which will constitute the major part of the housing ... for those who will not be able to attract any credit. There's a subsidy scheme and the setting up of structures over a period of time, beginning early next year, to help people to help themselves and to augment and implement the basic structure that we can provide with this ... subsidy; to provide them with materials, know-how, education, consumer education, so that they will be able to upgrade their dwellings over time. What was the second part of your question?

POM     To put it in the context of there being a kind of cultural entitlement out there.

JS     Yes, well it started off I would say historically, basically a very healthy part of our resistance movement. It was politically inspired. It was even led by the ANC. The process of trying to make the country ungovernable, to destroy the local black authority, the puppet authority, required that kind of action and it was positive; it played a very positive role in bringing about the transformation. The ... was the other side, but of course it developed a momentum of its own and the target has obviously changed. There were two problems: one was the accumulated debt for which we are trying to find some kind of compromise as a way out; the other is to launch an offensive which we are doing almost immediately to get people to begin to undertake their own responsibilities. So I would say that the boycott no longer has any political content of the sort that it had previously. Now it's just a convenient sort of economic excuse not to pay, you haven't budgeted for it, and we're going to have some problems in getting that to turn around, but we're convinced that, with the offensive that we're going to launch, we will in time, hopefully, not in years but in time, get people to accept their responsibilities. But in any case we might even have to impose some kind of sanctions. Once the playing fields are levelled and we are seen to be tackling housing seriously, not just on paper but in terms of delivery, there will just be no excuse, and those who continue to exploit the past from whatever side will have to have some kind of sanction.

POM     On the question of housing, as I understand it, you are saying that there can't be an expectation out there that the government is going to provide a bricks and mortar house for every homeless or person living in a squatter camp or whatever, because no place in the third world, no government has achieved that. What kind of intermediate stage do you see the government being able to meet in, say, the medium term?

JS     In the short term, I would say the breakthrough with the banks will bring about a complete transformation in relation to that 20% segment that I am talking about: for those who are earning sufficient to attract credit. And that's a substantial bite of the cherry, one in every five. From the point of view of the mass, the 60%, 65%, we will deliver bricks and mortar, but it's a question of the scale of that brick and mortar. We will not be able to start off giving them three or four bed-roomed houses, but with the subsidy provided we will be able to put up a permanent small structure, maybe 20, 25 square meters which, through the other structures that I've described, these housing depots that we're going to set up in every area, will start the process of enabling people themselves to begin augmenting and improving.

POM     The question that immediately comes to mind is how is this 65% going to find the economic means to start upgrading themselves. Against that context, it would be that two years ago I talked to Derek Keys ... and he said quite bluntly that the capacity of the economy to create more jobs would be at the rate of about 1% a year to the end of the decade. Now I went back this year and I asked him the same question and he gave the very same answer. If you accept that or whatever working assumption, where is this huge mass of people supposed to get the means (a) to work and (b) to get a house?

JS     Well, first of all they get the subsidy, they get the land, they get the services and they get a top structure. Even those who are earning below an amount which would attract affordable credit have got resources that have been proved. It has already happened on the ground that people with extended families over a period of time, if they can gain access to material which we hope to give them at cost price, some kind of credit which they can oversee based on informal earnings and so on, and this is happening in quite a lot of areas. For example, the Homeless People's Federation, which is a federation incorporating most of the major squatter camps, has started saving schemes amongst the squatters; we in fact met them the day before yesterday. Through these savings schemes, the way in which women 90% of them are run and organised by women have already accumulated R200 000 from these squatter camps, which is designed to be used for housing upgrading. Now if we gear this up with some grants from the state and create some kind of revolving fund which will be able to provide credit for materials let out at very cheap prices ... teach people how to manufacture simple door frames, window frames, we are absolutely confident that we're going to make a very big incursion into that area. This is not something which is original, by the way; it is something that has been successfully tried in Mexico, in Brazil, in India, and it is clear from the civic organisations involved in these kind activities that we have got a very good chance of making progress along those lines. Firstly, we've got 1.5 million homeless backlog; each year we've got 200 000 new intake into that segment of the housing market by growth of population, and therefore we have to reach an incredible target if we are going to catch up even within ten years. At some point in the life of this government, will reach the stage where we are building 370 000 units every year. We think it sounds like a terribly large target, but we think that we will be able to reach that through various devices not in the first year, not in the second year, but as we go along. We will of course test all these things and have to adjust and so on. Also at this stage a big obstacle is that the amount we have set aside in the budget for housing is completely unrealistic and unsustainable: 1% of the budget is set aside for housing. We have emphasised both in the Cabinet and generally publicly that that is absolutely absurd. At least for next year we ought to get an additional billion which would bring it up to 2% and targeting eventually, perhaps by the end of the life of this government, a 5% allocation. Now if we get that, then we're in business in a really serious way in relation to the subsidisation aspect, which by the way would include not just home ownership which is only part of it, but building houses as rental stock and not just individual homes, nor high rise, but three, four storey rental stock for purposes of letting out. Again that would be a subsidised area.

POM     One thing in the debate about the economy which I hear very little mention of is the question of population growth and the recognition of the rate of growth of the population. It seems much more [... as the rate of growth required to increase the capital ...]

JS     I think the whole world in this area, it's a kind of chicken and egg situation; no country except China perhaps through different methods has succeeded in controlling population from the top. Population controls itself with changes in socio-economic conditions. That is why in South Africa the birth rate in the poorer areas is greater than in the more affluent areas; I think an approach that says it depends upon the population retreating is an unreal one. I think perhaps we ought to do something about it ... People have large families for socio-economic reasons, for economic security in their old age hopefully and so on and so forth, so that cannot be the ...

POM     We've spent the last couple of weeks going around the country and I can tell you what we found to be fairly prevalent opinions: (i) that at the regional level of government there is a great deal of resentment and dissatisfaction among the regional premiers that they were not getting sufficient powers devolved to allow them to do their work satisfactorily, so there's a whole question of the relationship between central government and the regional governments. It came to light, and it was especially ironic that some of those who were making the strongest arguments for the devolution of more power to the regions were people who a year ago would have called for a unitary state.

JS     I don't think their ideology has changed ... I think it's connected with the very complex problems of moving from one dispensation to another. You take the housing field as an example. South African housing law, for example, never applied to any of the Bantustans or Homelands which had their own structures. The subsidy scheme didn't apply there. And in some of the provinces you've suddenly had three or four administrations having to be rationalised into one. Many of the provinces have inherited very literally ... ineffective administration, and therefore the process of creating the administrative capacity in many of the provinces has stood in the way of [... down of] these powers that people are talking about. I think they need these powers and they will get them, but it depends upon their capacity to actually implement ...

POM     It depends on their capacity to show that they can ...

JS     Yes, administer the assets and so on and so forth. Many of the provinces haven't even got effective civil service in place yet. In other words, the delay is not due to any theoretical digging in of the heels by unitarists. We in the housing sphere would like to see the provinces take over responsibility for many of these areas at the earliest possible moment, because we're not sitting in Pretoria to build houses. We've set the parameters, we've set the norms, the standards; we decide on the allocation for the different provinces in the housing budget. We've already allocated 90% of this year's housing budget to the provinces, but these are still being run by regional housing boards which, at the end of the day, are still under me. But we are working it in such a way that it will, in time, be taken over by the provinces, subject to national norms and standards. I think it's also got a great deal to do, certainly in the housing sphere, with the delay in creating effective local authorities, because provinces in any case, also cannot sit there. In one sense, they are in the province and build the houses. But essentially, the basic thrust must come from the local authority and that, as we know, is in a very inchoate state, waiting for the elections which hopefully will take place next year in October. And that too has been a delaying factor. So I think you're right when you say there are elements within (and it's to be understood naturally), there are elements within the ANC as well as other parties who, having tasted a little bit of power, as we know, I'm not saying they are corrupt but they want to feel useful ...

POM     The second question is the question of local elections next year and there seems to be a prevalent feeling that they would not be held on time, that the provinces simply haven't even begun to try and put in place the structures that would be required to have the elections. Do you believe that the elections will be held on schedule? And, second, if there is a lack of administrative capacity at the regional level, would this not be even more so at the local level?

JS     I don't think so because, at the local level, we have had the municipalities; we have had the build up of local authority administrative capacity over a long period of time. It's not like having to create the three different kinds of provinces with different administrations, and I believe at the end of the day, once the elections take place, the problems in consolidating the function of the local authority administratively will go ahead with a great deal of speed. As to whether the problems are such that the elections might not take place, I can't be a prophet about that. We have enormous problems. We are working to the target and hopefully we will find a way of overcoming the difficulties. It's absolutely vital from housing and every other angle that local authorities ... which I think is the key to people's lives from day to day. They provide services, sewerage and provide electricity and roads and so on. For example, housing policy is not just four walls and a roof. It's a great community living in areas which can sustain community life and without the local authorities, at the end of the day it's not going to work. So there are problems, but I am confident that we will reach the target. I can't guarantee it ...

POM     The next thing that people talked about was the RDP; we found that when we asked the "ordinary" person about the RDP, they were simply unable we were just met with a blank gaze, nothing more. We talked to MPs both at regional and national level and they showed very little familiarity with it ... but couldn't say very much more about it. We found that different ministers in different departments of the same government had a different interpretation of what the plan was all about. It was very successful, the transitional government, in selling what the elections were about through the IEC and the massive use of television or whatever. Why has there been no comparable effort with regard to the RDP, which represents the government's vision of the future?

JS     I think partly because I see it as the same kind of problem that we're facing in relation to the concept of the government of national unity. Those are the general policies on paper, with broad objectives and so on, but the way in which they operate in relation to reality is something that you come up against when you start doing it. And in the case of the RDP there will be periods because it is a completely new department, a completely new ministry it has had to begin to work out a strategy for implementation, not just objectives. I think there is movement in that direction ... The relationship between the various ministries and the RDP is being elaborated and I am sure that we will be seeing more and more clarity in that area. I agree that not enough has been done in the communication field to get across a common understanding. There are confusions in people's minds.

POM     Also, this thing which you talked of earlier, the involvement of the community in which they are responsible for successful implementation; it's not just a government scheme.

JS     Sure. Certainly in the case of housing, let me tell you. We've been allocated by the RDP an amount of half a billion to deal with what are known as presidential projects, the upgrading of some of the eyesores in South Africa Duncan Village in the Western Cape, slums and so on. And we are beginning to address that. That is a concrete project which was announced by the President and it's got off the ground in the Katlorus area, the East Rand area, and something is going to happen there. I think not enough is being put across to make sure that you take people along. The other side of it is involving people. For example, our housing subsidy scheme is up to this moment completely project driven. There are no individual subsidies although we are trying to change that; individuals can't get a subsidy. All the subsidies go to projects so communities have to get together, negotiate a scheme covering the whole project with developers, with the local authorities and so on and ... type of house and how that subsidy is going to be used. And that is the main content of the Housing Ministry's subsidy scheme. Although as I say, we recently found the need in some cases to give individual subsidies, but 95% of them are communal, community involvement. Nothing will work without community involvement.

POM     Can we talk for a moment about the question of political stability and its relationship, as it were, to foreign investment. We were away for three months and came back a month ago and when we looked through the newspapers we saw rebellion in the ranks of MK, SDU units still roaming the townships; we saw record levels of criminality, every 17 seconds a serious crime is committed; we saw Nelson Mandela saying that the SAP were declaring war on the ANC; we saw random strikes, all factors that if you were an outsider you would come to the conclusion that South Africa had not yet reached a point of stability where one could consider investment here. A good risk?

JS     Yes, we've still got problems as you say. That could be one reaction; it is one reaction among certain potential investors. But I think on balance that isn't the perception people have, even though they might judge the immediate situation as one that has not yet achieved the kind of stability needed. I think in general there is some kind of perception that we are moving in that direction and it's not easy. The inheritance in all areas is a burden. We're not going to solve the crime problem overnight. We're not going to solve all the problems including the army integration problem simply, the unemployment problem, even the housing problem. So I don't know if people expected that in three, four or five months South Africa would wake up and find itself in complete peace without trying.

POM     How long does the government have to deliver, do you think? Right now it seems that the public is willing to give the government more time; they are learning to understand its problems. You said yourself, I think at the press conference on housing plans, that the time for strategising is over; the time for delivery had come. What must the government reasonably have produced by the end of its five year term?

JS     Well it's got targets. In the housing sphere, the objective is to build a million housing units in five years. I believe we've got a very good chance of reaching that target or getting pretty close to it and we are now going to work feverishly, having elaborated on how we are going to do it, to see what will be necessary, because it involves segments of the socio-economic set up with the private sector, the communities and so on. We have to go through this period, but I believe that from early next year we will see a much more qualitative movement in the direction of actual delivery.

POM     Yesterday, you had this peculiar situation of the Economic Council withdrawing a sum of money ...

JS     Yes, I don't know much about that. I don't know what the reason is. I saw the newspaper report.

POM     They couldn't find a government department that would take sole responsibility for the use of the money?

JS     I'm not sure what the explanation is for that.

JS     I'm not aware of that. I don't think that I sense that there are any conditions attached which are unacceptable and that you go in one direction, another direction. ... just part of trying to work out exactly how resources will be received, looked after, allocated; and we're getting there. I'm sure in the course of it there will be all kinds of mistakes and delays and inefficiencies. For example, the RDP started off with Jay Naidoo, without anything else. I was fortunate; I inherited a housing ministry which was functioning with expertise and so on, leave the politics of it aside, and I could get going and I found that without that it would have been impossible, without using some of the old guard. Now he started with nothing, not even a desk. I think it's taken time to get not only the conception, the way it's going to be translated on the ground, but setting up the wherewithal, the administrative capacity and so on. It has taken months and months and I sympathise with the ministry.

POM     Your paper on power sharing mentioned in it as an argument put forward, that a majority government with a minority in opposition could be frustrated in the implementation of its policies because of a recalcitrant civil service; and so in a sense having a government of national unity was a way of co-opting that element of the civil service. Have you found, or have most ministers with whom you have discussed the problem found, that the old structures are kicking in, are willing to adapt, or is there some frustration still in the way in which particularly people of the higher echelons work or don't work.

JS     Speaking from my own experience, I would say that I've got absolutely no reservations in saying that the key elements in my ministry which I inherited are doing their work; they are not sabotaging; they are doing their best to adjust to the new strategy. They are even helping to elaborate it and they have got a great deal of skill and this has helped me enormously. That is my perception in my ministry. I have no doubt there are dissatisfied elements who can't be vocal at this stage; it is more than their jobs are worth ... and they will find other ways of sabotaging things. I wouldn't say in general that the experience has been that the old lot is digging in. I think in a sense the problems facing the Public Service Commission are based on the compromise that we entered into that all jobs are secure. The intention with the other objective is that we've got to make the public administration look like the face of South Africa. And I think the whole question of the entry of new people and so on sometimes drowns in old civil service regulations, but again that is being addressed in a very serious way. There are commissions sitting and we are doing our best to speed up the process: not getting rid of the old lot but trying to integrate people. For example, in the Housing Ministry, we have got 37 vacancies which we hope we will use in order to go in for some affirmative action. But the whole process of beginning to fill these places is being held back by the fact that decisions have not yet been taken about the criteria in relation to people who, for one reason or another, didn't go through the machine, who were in exile and didn't even have the opportunity of getting their primary education standard but were working in our kind of civil service. Now these problems are going to be with us for a little while and we are consciously trying to address them. So there are two problems really. One is just the in-principle problem of affirmative action and changing the face of the civil service which we've got to do, and that's not always based on the best person for the job, and the other problem is the purely bureaucratic problem of finding a way of being loyal to the compromise, which is that the old lot are secure and finding a way of integrating the new lot who have come from a totally different background and who don't conform to the old criteria.

POM     At the same time, the government is committed to eliminating 200 000 jobs.

JS     Fifty-four percent of government expenditure goes on the wage bill. 54% of government expenditure. We've got the bantustans' bureaucracy ... You have in any case got a fattened bureaucracy, even within the white sector, and over time we will have to make it a little more slim and so on, but the obstacles are those I've mentioned: even if we wanted to, we couldn't just get rid of the old bureaucracy. We wouldn't want to do that. And we're in the process of transformation. If one were to take steps, say, to cut the bureaucracy by half today, which probably needs to be done in the long run, we would be faced with a chaotic situation in the country, an upsurge from dissatisfied people, and not only whites but blacks, because the big problem also is the bureaucracy in the bantustans we inherited.

POM     Somebody said that, overall, the majority of civil servants in the country are in fact black.

JS     Well you know, you call them civil servants but they are really teachers. They include teachers, health workers and so on. The problem is a difficult one; it can only be tackled in stages. There are negotiations going on now, for instance, with public service unions on wages and so on and so forth, and hopefully they'll manage in time. But it's a difficult problem.

POM     Just a couple of ... We talked with Dr Buthelezi last week and he said that one of the things that persuaded him to come into the electoral process was the agreement on the part of the government and the ANC for foreign mediation with regard to a number of outstanding problems. In yesterday's paper, the report said that the IFP's attempt to bring the subject up was kind of shot down by the ANC and the National Party in the Constitutional Assembly and in Parliament.

JS     I think we've got to look at that. I think, personally, that at some point there would be no harm in it because it's got absolutely no power over this process. It's absolutely clear in terms of the agreement that it's not arbitration, it's not outside ... and perhaps there's some point to it. Something should be set up to see if some wise men outside can make suggestions to us; that's all that we want. But the process of getting the new constitution has not even started; it's starting early next year. And perhaps at some point there ... some experts from outside can be called in ... But the main issue on which experts should have been called in was on the future role of the King. It's clear that the King no longer feels himself at all connected with Buthelezi politically. So that has changed completely.

POM     Does that pose a potential threat for violence ... violence among the Zulus themselves?

JS     Yes, well, when it comes to the IFP, there's always a potential threat of violence. I think, looking at the whole, I would say that Buthelezi has really diminished his status amongst his own people. I think his reputation and political status are just simply going down.

POM     ... the King ... a dependent relationship with Buthelezi.

JS     I think he was always unhappy about his relationship with Buthelezi, that we know, but he was a prisoner, a prisoner of Buthelezi in KwaZulu, which after all was a self-governing state. It's interesting to note that the powers which they gave the King in KwaZulu were far less than we offered the King in the new dispensation, and that now the issue is the very opposite of what it was previously. The law which has been passed by the KwaZulu/Natal Legislature ... diminishes the role of the King, with the ANC fighting for increased participation.

JS     Sorry I must move now.

POM     Last question as we go out of the door. On a scale of one to ten, one being very unsatisfactory and ten being very satisfactory, how would you rate the performance of the government up to this point?

JS     I would say 7 to 8.

POM     OK. 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.