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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

14 Jun 1995: Kathrada, Ahmed

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POM     I'm looking for Mr Kathrada.

AK     Yes. How are you?

POM     This is you isn't it?

AK     Yes.

POM     This is Patrick O'Malley.

AK     How are you sir?

POM     I am not too bad. It's a windy, wet day here for what's supposed to be the middle of summer. Other than that I guess you're still going through your own winter.

AK     Yes. It's not so bad today.

POM     Are you travelling a lot or more or less residing ...?

AK     Not very much. I do travel but not very much.

POM     Let's get down to some questions I have for you. Thank you for giving me the interview. I really appreciate it. There will only be two or three more after this up to 1998 then I will be off your back.

     The first thing I would like to ask you about is about Mr Mandela's response to the IFP walking out of the Constitutional Assembly and Buthelezi's exhortation to his followers to rise and resist the central government. His first response was that he would cut funds to KwaZulu/Natal, then that was pointed out to him that that couldn't be allowed under the constitution. And then he said that he might just amend the constitution. That seems to me to be a strange response, that one man can change the constitution doesn't give you a lot of confidence in what could happen in the future. Shouldn't the constitution be beyond the capacity of a single individual or a single party to amend as it wishes?

AK     I think what he really said is if they find that central government funds are being used for purposes of fomenting violence then he will change the constitution if necessary. But on the other hand he has got enough powers under the present constitution to cut off funds if those funds are being used for fomenting violence.

POM     How would you square that statement he made? Part of his statement was that human lives were more important than the constitution and yet he made the statement in parliament last week that ...

AK     He said that in the context of the type of people who criticise his utterances, especially the whites, especially people like the Democratic Party and the Nats who have never bothered about black lives before and suddenly black lives have become very important and they focused out of all proportion to eight black lives outside Shell House, they don't focus, until it is brought to their attention, that on that day over fifty were killed, but of course they haven't focused on that. They have been very opportunistic and it is hypocritical that they are suddenly interested in black lives. And one has to look at those statements in their context.

POM     As far as I can judge Buthelezi has drawn up a list of the things which he believed should go to international mediation. Why doesn't the ANC call in a mediator who looks at these issues and says, "There's nothing here to mediate", and goes home?

AK     Well you see the agreement was in relation to the present constitution.

POM     The 1993 constitution?

AK     The interim constitution. And a number of their demands have been met as far as the interim constitution is concerned. And our standpoint has been that their fears, their demands can still be met and negotiated without having to call in foreigners to come and solve our problems. They can be done by negotiation here. That is our position.

POM     But in a certain sense it gives Buthelezi the moral high ground. The ANC, the NP and the IFP did shake hands, did agree to bring in an international mediator and now it looks as though the ANC is kind of squelching on what was an honourable agreement.

AK     Well, for instance, some of the demands that were made had been already met when the mediators came.

AK     - found guilty by the courts. Other individuals have made still more radical remarks but generally ...

POM     - soldiers at I think 34 different flash points.

AK     Well there again the increase in security forces is part of the effort. We have always maintained that it is absolutely necessary for the political organisations to get in and solve the problem in so far as the political differences are the cause of the violence, but we must not forget that some of the violence dates back to years and years which is not really political in the sense that it is not party political. A lot of the violence is caused by local issues, shortage of resources, certain resources and so forth. Now that has been going on for decades that type of violence.

POM     Is, in that sense, KwaZulu/Natal different from say other provinces in South Africa? I mean they too would have suffered from lack of resources and deprivation.

AK     For instance you've had the violence in the Transkei and there too security forces have been sent in. Now there, for instance, what the media hardly ever mention is that members of the ANC have been arrested as well, but the media doesn't mention that at all. They just mention it when IFP or non-ANC people are arrested. And the police themselves as far as Natal is concerned have said that ANC people are expected to be arrested as well.

POM     What does Buthelezi want? What is he really up to with all this posturing and threats and bellicose noises and telling people to rise up and resist the central government? What strategy is he deploying and for what purpose?

AK     Well he was again saying that in the background of what he originally wanted. Originally he wanted to be the leader in South Africa, then they came to the triumvirate, he wanted to be part of the triumvirate, and now I think he wants to be in control of Natal Province at least. But it's the actions and utterances of a person who is very, very hungry for power.

POM     Do you see him staying in the government of national unity all the way through to the end or resigning to concentrate his attention on KwaZulu/Natal?

AK     I don't think there's any chance of him leaving the government of national unity. There again the media returns have been exaggerating the differences that have been taking place in Cabinet and elsewhere. You will recall about two weeks ago the media reported the Cabinet ministers almost came to blows. Now that was very far from the truth.

POM     They almost came to blows over what?

AK     IFP and ANC people, they said that they had almost come to blows. Now it was nothing like it. There was debate, yes, but there was nothing like coming to blows. But there again the media is exaggerating the differences. Differences there are natural and some of them serious but Chief Buthelezi himself has said, even as recently as last Sunday, that he has no intention of leaving the government of national unity and so has the Secretary/General of Inkatha.

POM     That's Dr?

AK     Dr Jiyane.

POM     Before the elections last year there was a lot of violence leading up to the elections in KwaZulu/Natal and then after the IFP agreed to participate in the election the violence fell off. Now at that time you were using a list system, a countrywide list system and a provincial-wide list system. In the local elections where people will actually be voting for constituencies demarcated by certain boundaries and within those constituencies there will be wards which will also be differentiated by boundaries. Is the potential for violence greater now because actually the ANC and the IFP would be fighting over literally a piece of territory?

AK     I don't think so. I personally don't think that there will be more violence. Incidentally it's a mixture of proportional representation and constituency representation.

POM     Yes.

AK     Again in the local elections, but I don't think that there is necessarily going to be greater violence now. Naturally the election is going to be robust but I don't think that there are any fears of greater violence.

POM     If my memory serves me correctly, I don't have the figures right before me, but I think I recall seeing that KwaZulu/Natal had the lowest proportion of its eligible voters registered for local elections. Since most of those who would not have registered probably come from rural areas, areas that are traditionally loyal to Chief Buthelezi, does the low voter registration give the ANC an upper hand or at least an advantage?

AK     I really don't know, I haven't really checked on the numbers that have registered in the urban and the rural areas but although officially the registration has closed in fact registration can still continue until July.

POM     Until what time in July?

AK     I think it is the 5th or 6th of July, somewhere there. What has happened is that the voters' roll as at 5th June will soon be published and people whose names don't appear on that will still be eligible to register.

POM     So you are really extending this process as far as you can possibly extend it to ensure that.

AK     Well there has been no new extension, there has been no new extension but that is the technical position.

POM     When one looks at or goes over the ANC's constitutional proposals they seem to stand very firmly on the platform of a unitary state, yet some of your own provincial prime ministers are looking for more power rather than less. Is there a tension there between elements, particularly provincial elements, that would like to see the provinces have more power and those at the centre who want to see the central government holding the reins of ruling?

AK     Well there again such a speculation appeared in the media, but when the provincial premiers met they presented a united front. Now I think one of the problems is the labelling of unitary and federal states and I think that's one of the problems because that is a mixture. There are elements of both federal and unitary in what is going on. But as far as the ANC premiers are concerned and the provinces led by the ANC, there's absolutely no indication that they want federalism as such, as is understood in America for instance.

POM     You've been out of jail for three to four years? You've been out of jail for how many years now?

AK     Out of jail for five years.

POM     Five years. When you came back to South Africa what difference have all these changes meant in your personal life? How are you different as a result of what's happened in the last five years? How has it affected the way you live? How has it affected your family, the community you used to live in? I would just like to get a sense of the feeling of what you feel.

AK     Well as far as the physical residence is concerned in Cape Town for instance I am now staying very near parliament in a building which would have been, before with the Group Areas Act, would have been for whites only, that is as far as Cape Town is concerned. As far as Johannesburg is concerned I am still living in what was an Indian group area although people are now free to move out and many hundreds have moved out into what was a white area, but I personally am still living in Lenasia. Personally, as far as my personal life is concerned there hasn't been any great difference. I can't really think of any great difference that has taken place in my personal life.

POM     Is there any difference in the kind of work you're doing or the kinds of demands that are made on you?

AK     Yes, well you know, that is one thing, the switch over from struggle mode to government. I must confess I haven't yet been able to make a complete adjustment to our new role as government. I have often said to people who interviewed me that when I see demonstrators outside parliament, of which we have about one a week, and when we walk past them one suddenly feels, "What am I doing inside, I should have been outside there". So that sort of adjustment, I suppose, does take a bit of time. All my life really has been in the struggle and suddenly within one year one has to adjust to governance.

POM     Do you think that's a problem for the mass of the people too, that for so long they were told that to protest, to mass demonstrate, to march were the things to do and the habit is so ingrained that they are finding it difficult to give those up?

AK     I think it will take a bit of time, yes. It will take a bit of time until a complete adjustment takes place. One wants to have the feeling, for instance when I go to Tuynhuys, to my office, I want to have the feeling here or at Union Building, I want to have the feeling that this is my place, where I own this place, part of my organisation, but I still don't get that feeling and I am sure that large numbers of ordinary people haven't quite adjusted to that either.

POM     Is this what's been called a culture of entitlement where folks have been either not paying their rent or their electricity or whatever for a number of years and are now not too well disposed to paying up?

AK     There have been some dramatic developments there in Soweto for instance and in some other parts of the country where electricity payments have shot up to over 60%, close to 70%. So that is changing, that is changing in quite a number of places in the country.

POM     Again, in the five years that you have been out jail and have come back to South Africa, what is the most remarkable change you've seen in those five years?

AK     First of all, you have twice said I have come back to South Africa, I was in jail in South Africa.

POM     I'm sorry, I apologise.

AK     I think that the most remarkable change that I can see is the change in attitude of people. I am not for instance a rugby fan, but at present there is this international rugby tournament going on here and I watched the opening on television and some of the other games and the change is absolutely remarkable, the change of attitude among people towards one another. You must remember that last year, March/April there were doomsday prophets who prophesied large scale bloodshed, large scale unrest and violence between black and white. Not only did that not happen but there has been a dramatic change in attitude of people. Black and white at the rugby for instance were united in supporting South Africa.

POM     If you had to rate the performance of the interim government over the last year on a scale of one to ten, where one would represent very unsatisfactory performance and ten would represent very satisfactory performance about where would you put the government?

AK     I would put it above five. Now you see it would differ from sector to sector. For instance, we know that in some areas we have not yet been able to deliver and people know we have not yet been delivering, they tell us we have not delivered.

POM     What areas would they be?

AK     One of the areas is crime for instance. Although the police have recently given statistics of what we would call a dramatic decline, but that would be in certain areas where they have implemented their new approaches. But countrywide as a whole crime is still very much a factor in which all the people of South Africa are very, very concerned. That's one area where we have not delivered. Housing is another area where we have not yet been able to deliver to the extent that people expected. But on the other hand you take health, you take education, people have begun to appreciate that there are going to be no overnight changes and people have started appreciating that visible progress is there. Delivery of water in the rural areas, there are some visible changes. Electricity, there are visible changes. Free education for Grade I children, school feeding. Four to five million children are now being fed at school. Now those are dramatic changes and people are seeing them. I would say that if one has to take the average into the above five, that when you take the individual sectors some would be higher and some may be lower than that.

POM     The level of crime which gets quite a bit of attention in the international press, at least that part of it that continues to follow South Africa, says the level of crime is inhibiting foreign investment. Do you think that's true?

AK     Well you know just yesterday the minister in the debate of the Minister of Trade and Industry, they gave figures of the increase in investment in the last year and the increase in profits of a large number of major companies, profits ranging from an increase of 20% in some companies to 80% in others. It's a lot. So in that respect the situation is not as gloomy as it is sometimes made out to be. There is still tremendous goodwill and desire for foreign investment. The European community has just ...

POM     Lomé?

AK     That's right, the Lomé Convention.

POM     So was South Africa's status re-reviewed?

AK     Well there is some progress in that direction and we hope we will see more progress in time to come.

POM     When I arrived back in South Africa last February, the buzz word of the first couple of weeks was the RDP, everybody would talk about the RDP and what it was going to do and how this was the blueprint for the future. Yet when I went out and talked to provincial ministers, members of parliament, even heads of departments, very few of them seemed to know quite what the RDP was all about. At provincial level heads of departments would look at you with a glaze in their eyes, they didn't quite know what you were talking about, and nobody knows how much it will cost to implement it. And then in the waning days before I left a couple of weeks ago it looked as though the RDP was coming under a lot of criticism for not being effectively carried out and effectively administered.

AK     There have been such comments. On the other hand of course we have said that we are not going to rush into projects without proper planning. That has been the problem with the previous government and we do not want to repeat those mistakes, so a considerable part of the last year has been taken up in planning the projects. One of the criticisms has been that we have been so busy with the plans that we have not facilitated some of the money coming in from abroad which was directed towards the RDP. But a lot of the plans are now in place and, as I say, things have started moving and there is a greater consciousness among politicians and ordinary people about the RDP.

POM     Yet the ANC and other organisations went to great lengths to ensure a voter education programme so people would know how to vote, where they should go and how to mark the ballot and things like that. Yet the same effort doesn't appear to have been put into promoting the RDP?

AK     No, I wouldn't say that it has reached that level yet. But it is picking up and now with preparations going on for local government elections naturally the RDP will be brought much closer to the people where they live.

POM     I want to go back to a question on a one to ten scale. If you look at the interim constitution, one would represent a very unsatisfactory constitution and ten would represent an excellent constitution. Where do you think the interim constitution would fall?

AK     I think there I would put it higher than my previous figure because the interim constitution has provided for the government of national unity which has not only survived the year but it has thrived, you can say, there again in spite of predictions to the contrary and it has worked as a united government on most issues. There have been issues on which there have been differences but generally it has worked as a united government and I can't recall occasions when they have called upon to vote. I think today has been the only time that they had to vote in the Cabinet, otherwise decisions have been by consensus.

POM     You said today was the only day?

AK     I am now speaking of what was expected to happen today. I unfortunately have not yet seen the outcome of today's Cabinet meeting but there was the question of payment of chiefs by the central government and I expect that on that question they must have voted and if that happened it must have been, I think, the very first time that they had to take a vote in the Cabinet. So the government of national unity is working very well.

POM     So that was just an idea that Mr Mandela floated not so long ago, about the chiefs?

AK     That was already discussed in Kempton Park before the elections, so it's not a new idea at all.

POM     In the case of KwaZulu/Natal that would take a lot of the patronage away from Chief Buthelezi would it not?

AK     It would, yes, it would. I'm not saying that that is the reason why this decision is taken because, as I said, this was widely discussed in the Multi-Party talks already in Kempton Park. But in effect of course the chieftainship has been used by the IFP to further their own ends and the chiefs themselves in other parts of the country and traditionally were supposed to have been above party politics.

POM     And was the intention to keep them above party politics?

AK     That was the ideal situation, yes.

POM     So you expected a vote. How would the vote break down? The ANC would support the idea and would everybody else oppose it?

AK     You mean of central government payment?

POM     Yes, you said that a vote was expected.

AK     If the vote took place, and as I say I haven't got the details, it would have been only the IFP that would have voted against it I think.

POM     I see. Then, so where would you put the constitution on one to ten?

AK     Well the last time I said above five, I would put it nearer to eight now.

POM     Eight. That's quite a big jump.

AK     Yes.

POM     In the Constituent Assembly, is it the idea to draw up a new constitution from scratch or do you take the interim constitution as the starting point and try to remedy some of its deficiencies and deal with some of the problems that have arisen because of certain provisions in it?

AK     Well, what we would be bound by are the principles that we had agreed upon. But other than that we have invited representation from organisations and individuals and last week it was reported that over a million, I think a million and a quarter responses have been received.

POM     My God!

AK     Largely from ordinary people, but also from organisations. So the new constitution will be really representative of the people's wishes.

POM     If the interim constitution is at a level where it gets eight out of ten as an indicator of its worth, one would think that all you have to do is to tinker here and tinker there with certain features and come up with the ideal constitution.

AK     No, no, when I said eight to ten I'm talking of the interim constitution not what the new constitution should be, because you must know that the interim constitution - the masses had no part in it. It was drawn up by 26 organisations sitting round the table and there are many aspects that should be in the constitution in a certain way which parties would have liked. Now in the new constitution, of course, much more input has been made by ordinary people, so it will be a different constitution in that respect.

POM     Do you think it will be a constitution that by and large reflects what's already in the interim constitution with some modifications or will it be a new document?

AK     Well as far as the principles are concerned it would reflect it, but there would be matters such as the entrenched government of national unity. That would not be in the new constitution, although that does not mean that in practice there may not be a coalition government, but there will be no entrenched clauses to bind parties to have a coalition government.

POM     I've just got a couple more questions, and thank you for your time and patience. One is something I have thought about a lot, what brought about such an irrevocable break between Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk?

AK     I didn't get that.

POM     Mr Mandela and Mr de Klerk were working hand in hand or working together and he was a man of integrity, and then at the end of CODESA 1 Mr Mandela made a blistering attack on Mr de Klerk and Mr de Klerk responded. The special bond that had been between them was broken. I was wondering what particular incident led to that breakdown.

AK     First of all I don't know if there was any special bond between the two individuals. They had a very cordial relationship.

POM     And that changed.

AK     I don't think that things dramatically went worse after CODESA 1. They still continued to work together, there is still a good relationship between them, but we must also know that they belong to different parties and now with elections coming each party wants to score the best so there will be public criticisms more and more, but they still get on quite well.

POM     Has the Truth Commission been passed into law?

AK     Not yet, no.

POM     No?

AK     No because it has still to go through the Senate. It went through the House of Assembly but it has still to go through the Senate.

POM     Where does it stand in the House of Assembly? What does it provide for? Where does it stand after the House of Assembly? What were the main provisions in it? What were the provisions in the Bill?

AK     Oh I see. Well there are three main committees that have to be set up, the Amnesty Committee, the Restitution Committee; those committees have been provided for.

POM     The Restitution Committee?

AK     The Amnesty Committee. What is the other one now? Oh I forget the third one, but there are three committees that have to be set up under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. So basically that has gone through the Assembly and in the Senate it is still going to come up and be debated. Hopefully before we go into recess that thing will be completed in the Senate as well. We go into recess at the end of this month.

POM     Is there a provision in the Bill that is somebody is convicted of a capital crime, like murder, that they can't get amnesty?

AK     Well it all depends on the circumstances under which those crimes are committed.

POM     Say for example Mr Khumalo, would he qualify under the Bill as being ...?

AK     Who is that?

POM     Mr Khumalo, the man who was arrested in KwaZulu/Natal, the Deputy General Secretary.

AK     Oh Khumalo. Well you see I suppose if it was done in the course of, if he claims before the commission that he did it as part of his political work, as part of the work of a political organisation, then I suppose he can appeal for amnesty.

POM     Would that apply to Colonel Louis Botha, the South African Police officer who was arrested last week?

AK     Again you know, I think the criterion will be that was it a political act? Was it part of the act of a political organisation that they committed that act? Those are criteria they will have to meet.

POM     So if he said he did it on direct orders from his superior as part of the war against the ANC?

AK     At the moment that is hypothetical. I don't know how that would apply at that time.

POM     I'm almost at the end you will be glad to know. Recently when I was in South Africa, three different studies came out, independent studies done by research institutes, two in South Africa and one that was monitored from the United States by a Professor at Harvard, and they all said that South Africa was a very uncompetitive country. When it was stacked up against other countries in terms of competitiveness, sector by sector, its prices were higher and its costs were higher. All of them suggest one way or another that you must get the level of productivity up which means that you either maintain stable wages per person, or the output per person exceeds the increase in wages that might be granted year by year. Do you think the unions will have to redefine their role if South Africa is to make a real economic recovery where it can create jobs?

AK     Well that is an aspect which has been acknowledged even by trade unions that productivity has to improve. It is widely acknowledged but there are other factors as well. We also have a monopolistic situation in numerous industries which does not allow for competition, which lost the international investment in this country. We also have a highly bureaucratic and complex system which obstructs international investment and international investment is absolutely necessary to promote competition in this country. But the President himself has publicly stated that everything is going to be done to facilitate investment, it is going to be made easier and yesterday the Minister of Trade also announced that in the textile, clothing and motor car industries for a start they are going to phase down the tariffs to allow for greater international investment in this country and imports.

POM     Before you hang up maybe you could advise me on something, and that is I have interviewed everybody except Mr Mandela. Prof. Gerwel, who is somebody I have also been interviewing for the last five years told me that just write to him and he would see that it got to Mr Mandela, so as to circumvent the bureaucratic chain. I did that and after three weeks I rang his secretary and she said she had passed it on to Mr Mandela's secretary and when I got hold of her she said she had passed it on to somebody called Noel and he said he had passed it on to somebody called Priscilla. When I finally got hold of Priscilla she said that it had been passed on to a committee and that the committee were making the decisions about who should be interviewed by Mr Mandela and who shouldn't and in my particular case their decision was that he didn't have the time to do it.

AK     Now, did you want a telephonic interview with him?

POM     I would do either. If he said he would do it tomorrow I would be in South Africa tomorrow. If he said, "I can do it at 3 o'clock in the morning", I would be on the phone or in person any time.

AK     I would say that a telephonic interview would be out of the question. But I am seeing Prof. Gerwel tomorrow and let me remind him. You see it's quite likely that he did not convey properly to the secretary and to the media people who you were.

POM     My gut feeling is that if Mr Mandela saw what the project is about and how long it has lasted and its scope that he would be willing to put at least a little bit of time aside from his many and onerous duties to participate, but nothing ever got into his hands. So I know what his committee thinks but I don't know what he thinks. You know what I mean?

AK     You have interviewed him before as well?

POM     No. I have interviewed Prof. Gerwel about five times, since about 1990.

AK     You have never interviewed Mr Mandela?

POM     No.

AK     In all these years?

POM     No. I decided that I had better establish my credibility first to show I was really serious, that I wasn't somebody who was rushing in to have an interview with him and then rushing out and printing something right away, that I would publish nothing until 1998 and that I would like maybe half an hour with him, this year half an hour, next year half an hour and the year after, and that would be sufficient. But I didn't want to put in a request to see him when nobody knew what I was doing - like you know what I'm doing and therefore you are participating because you can see some historical significance in keeping a record like this. I think he would too, but before I would go to him and seek an interview, in the papers I sent him I listed all of the people I had interviewed and other than himself I have interviewed everybody.

AK     Let me speak to Prof. Gerwel tomorrow because that would be a good route for you to follow via Prof. Gerwel.

POM     I did send him on the materials he asked for but where they went after that I don't know. They went to his secretary and then his secretary sent them to Mr Mandela's secretary. It just got lost in this loop.

AK     No, I'll take it up tomorrow and see what has happened.

POM     Terrific. And I would be there, if he said, "I can do it next Monday", I would fly to South Africa right away.

AK     I will bring that to Prof. Gerwel's attention.

POM     OK. Well, thank you once again for your time, your patience and your interest and I might call you two days from now to see what Prof. Gerwel had to say.

AK     Good.

POM     OK. Take care. Bye bye.

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.