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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
18 Oct 1995: Van Zyl Slabbert, Frederik
POM First of all Dr Slabbert, last year I think when we talked you said that there was no way that the country could be ready for local elections in October this year and here they are, they are going to happen piecemeal one way or the other. What's your evaluation of the state of preparation and the state of preparedness of the country for these elections?
VZS I must say that when I made that statement what I primarily had in mind was the possibility of holding elections for everybody on the same day, in other words clause 179 of the constitution says it has to be for everybody on the same day, or it did say that, and that it had to be structured in terms of the Local Government Transition Act. That's where I thought, well it will be a miracle if we can pull off elections for the whole country on the same day. Consequently, as you know, we had to take a decision to stagger the elections and the decision to stagger was primarily because we could not hold elections in Natal on time and because of the problems that developed in the metropolitan area of the Western Cape and the rural areas of the Western Cape. In fact I think it was touch and go we would not have held the elections in the metropolitan areas of the Gauteng area. So in that sense I had my reservations, but, having said that, I have been around to all of the places where we are going to have elections, all of the provinces, and tried to talk to as many Returning Officers as possible. From a technical, organisational point of view I think we've done remarkably well. We are down to polling arrangements, you're talking about Returning Officers having a fair idea or a very good idea of how things are going to run in the wards, polling stations and so on. So generally speaking, I think, particularly in towns and cities things are running pretty smoothly.
Where I do anticipate problems, and that was one of the reasons I had my reservations, was in your outlying rural areas where you have major capacity problems and also problems of transport and communication. Even so, last week I went to the Mpumalanga area and Ilekwathema(?), which is a very deep rural area, they are ready there. But where we will have problems will be in the Eastern Cape, Wild Coast, Transkei area. There are a number of reasons, one of them is there are serious internal difficulties within the ANC itself about their candidates; those who lost are angry with those who won the nomination. They have Returning Officers who apparently took some rather funny decisions. They came to talk to us yesterday and I suggested to them to ask for a postponement rather than muddle through and try and defy the regulations and end up with court cases and so on. Postpone it, hold the elections in February, work through those problems and then have credible elections. They thought that this would raise problems. I said that could certainly raise problems but not as many problems as you would have by forcing through an election that would simply lead to court.
So, to sum up, yes I did say I thought it would be extraordinary if we could hold elections for everybody. I think I was right to a certain extent but it's gone much better than I anticipated, I must be quite honest.
POM Going around the country I have found that no two individuals seem to agree on precisely what the voting procedures are. I get different explanations from ministers, down to heads of departments, down to the man on the street. Do people understand the way in which they are to vote?
VZS Let me put it to you this way, if you try and explain what they negotiated in the Local Government Transition Act my short answer would be no. It took me quite a while to understand what they were trying to do. But I always say it's like if I had to explain to you the theory of riding a bicycle you would never go near the damn thing, it's like balancing, momentum and gravity and whatever the case may be, but you learn by doing. I think the simplest way that I've explained it to people is, you must decide which party you support and you must decide which person you're going to support. We also knew that that would only really hit home in the last three weeks of the process because, again, keep in mind these elections were decided upon without any real consideration of the practicalities. The government said we will have elections by October 1995. After they had taken that decision they then said, well let's appoint a Task Group to co-ordinate and tell them to see to it that this happens. So it's not as if you had a nice comfortable time in which you could say, well let's have six months of voter education and prepare people about registration and then decide whether it's feasible to have an election in a year's time. It didn't work that way. So we calculated from the outset that the only time you really were going to have for parties to come in and do voter education, because in the final analysis that's where most voter education takes place, for parties to do that would be in the last three, four weeks of the whole process and that's where we're into now.
I'm satisfied that in your smaller areas, let me take a typical example of a town with approximately five to ten thousand voters, Brandfort, Carolina, they know who the parties are, they know who the candidates are, they have a rough idea what the local issues are and they will know what to do with the two ballot papers once they walk into a polling booth. If you're talking about an area like the metropolitan area of greater Johannesburg where you have 12 million voters, that's a real challenge, that's really difficult for parties to get into it at the grassroots level and we warned that once you start with extending the period of registration you eat into the available time for campaigning. Once you start with a process of supplementary registration you eat into the available time for campaigning. Initially we budgeted six weeks, now we're down to about three, four weeks, so we will run into those problems. But those problems are, as I say, a function of political decisions that were taken beyond the control of any Task Group.
There are other problems. I say this with a bit of a tongue in my cheek, but IDASA conducted a survey asking people, "Do you know who your candidate is?" and they conducted the survey I think about three weeks before candidates were finalised, so obviously it's not surprising that they discovered that 80% of the people don't know who the candidates are. I didn't know who the candidates were because they first had to be nominated and certified and so on, so it's that kind of situation. So, yes, I would say if you ask people in mid-September, do you know who the parties and the candidates are, a lot of them will say no. Even at this stage I would say in your rural areas you may find people having problems to really figure out what's going on. But again in many if not all of those rural areas this is the first time they are participating in anything resembling democratic politics so I think we will go through a lot of those practical difficulties.
POM Do you think that the elections will be 'fair and free' in the conventional sense of the term or that there will be a lot of snafus but which again will be worked out so that the elections will be seen as legitimate ultimately?
VZS You know legitimacy is such a chameleon-like concept in this sense. What determines legitimacy? Perfect legitimacy, I think, is only worked out in one's study. But I think, generally speaking again, yes. Why do I say this? Because we've tried as best as possible to build in checks and balances. At the local level you have an Election Committee with a Returning Officer. Some of them work better than others but that's the first level at which on a multi-party basis they are checking one another out. And that means they screen things like the eligibility of candidates, whether parties are duly registered. We also have asked through NGOs like INSA(?), IDASA and others, saying, if you want to, by all means come and observe and check out at the local level because you're talking of, as I say, about 800 of these local councils. Then in addition to that we've negotiated a code of conduct for Returning Officers as well as for parties which they have accepted and has been through parliament and it's enforceable through tribunals that can check this out. In any case, any aggrieved party, which is unlike last year, any aggrieved party can take any Returning Officer to court for acting in a wrongful way and we have litigation of that kind coming from various quarters. You can then appeal to the court and say they were in some way badly done in.
POM Now is there an Appeals Board, a local Appeals Board and then a regional one?
VZS The Election Committee will be the first step. If there is no satisfaction there they can take the matter to the Election Tribunal set up in the provinces and they will be judged in terms of the rules and regulations and the code of conduct that applies. Even if they are not satisfied with that they can go to the civil courts, they can say we will take the matter to court and they can sue the minister. The very fact that they sued the president of the country for acting unconstitutionally is an indication that parties will vie and try and see to it. So I'm saying you don't have the same observer system that you had last year with the national elections where you had people going round trying to see if was fair and free. The fairness and freeness of the thing to a very large extent is built into the very process of administering the elections at various levels and we will have to see what happens afterwards. If you, for example, have 50% of the local councils being taken to court because of some sense of grievance then I think you've got a huge legitimacy crisis. But how do you test legitimacy in an area where you have uncontested results? Is it legitimate? Well, yes, sure, because if people didn't want to vote they were happy with the people who came forward and were nominated and there weren't any counter-nominations. Is that a legitimate election? I can imagine it's as legitimate as you can make it in terms of the rules. Will the people be satisfied with the people that are going to stand for them? I don't know. Take a place like Botshabelo, outside of Bloemfontein, the average age of the candidate is 23 years old. Are the older folk going to be happy with whoever is elected at the age of 23 to run their local affairs? I don't know, we'll have to see. But that they have followed the procedures and the rules and regulations, certainly under the available time. I think we're going to go through a fascinating period of adjustment and transition at the local level but this is more in the post-election period. In the actual run up to the elections I am reasonably confident that we will get through it with trouble spots here and there. But the real challenge lies afterwards.
POM Let me just ask you two questions, again referring to before the elections, and I'll get to after, the question of unregistered voters who turn up at the polls on election day, there has been some talk of there being a tender ballot and it's been left hanging as to what in fact will happen with those voters.
VZS No it's not left hanging, the illusion is created that it's left hanging because the ANC raised the thing again now yesterday at a meeting. This matter was considered about three, four months ago and the task group was divided. We said, look if the politicians decide they want to have a tender ballot, fine, and we can make provision for it now. We put it to them and the politicians unanimously decided at that time that they did not want a tender ballot. They put a recommendation through to Cabinet saying that no unregistered voters would vote, the Cabinet took that decision in August, and we said fine, then we will issue the regulations accordingly. They now wait two weeks before the election and they come back and they say they want to have a tender ballot. We said, although we have a lot of sympathy for it, it is practically impossible to administer this in terms of amending the regulations in time through the whole process of amendment and getting it to 700 Returning Officers, and in any case I can tell you if they get that amendment two days before the election there will be a revolt because you have to now make additional arrangements to cope with it.
But in addition to that there is a very real and practical problem. How do you determine that the voter who pitches up on the day is eligible to vote even though it's an unregistered voter? Because if you take the procedure that the registered voters had to go through, they had to have a legitimate ID document, they have to be South African citizens, etc., etc. So you then have to say also that they must come from a particular area because they had to provide an address where they were ordinarily resident. So, can they do that? How do you know that this person actually comes from that place because that's the whole point of having registration and a period of three or four days, or we initially hoped two weeks, where you could inspect the voters' rolls and other people could come and say but hey, you're not a voter in this area and we can object to you being on the roll and you've got a forged ID document or whatever the case may be. So you suddenly suspend all those conditions that you made necessary for everybody else and said this is the way you're going to do it.
If you were going to have a tender ballot then you would have to well beforehand make provision for the returning officer to check out all these details. So in that sense we yesterday persuaded all parties not to take a formal decision on the tender ballot, in other words to say we stick with original decision. However, we asked Returning Officers to be as flexible as possible to see how they can deal with this thing. But they are constrained by the regulations and by the Local Government Transition Act. You see the person who ends up in court is not the party hack that starts thumping the drum saying we want this and this and that, the person who ends up in court is the Returning Officer and the Returning Officer has to explain why he or she took this decision. They have got to explain that, yes, well I felt political pressure and so on. Not even President Mandela could fall back on the fact that the task group and the Department of Constitutional Development urged him to amend the Act by proclamation. He couldn't. The Constitutional Court said, sorry, that's tough luck, you couldn't do it, it was bad, you've got to go back to parliament. Now why should it be different for Returning Officers, you see? So it's not a question of fundamental objection against a tender ballot or not being sympathetic to the problem of unregistered voters, how do you administer it in such a way that you don't jeopardise the credibility of the elections. That's really what the problem was.
POM And the second thing would apply to what are called the unplaced voters.
VZS That's a different kettle of fish altogether. Your unplaced voter is a voter who is duly registered, certified to be registered and somehow your, what you call the Revision Courts, Revision Courts were satisfied that this voter fell within the judicial area of a ward or of a local council but they didn't have sufficient information to allocate them to a ward or to a polling booth. So it's a person who says, where do you come from? I come from Guguletu East or from Langa North or I come from Ikapa or I come from Khayelitsha. Now that is a TLC area and in terms of the Act that person is entitled to register without saying that is where I am ordinarily resident, I cannot give you a street name, I cannot give you a shack number but that's where I am. So we picked up a lot of these voters initially. In Cape Town it was initially 80,000. They have now whittled it down to I think 12,000. In Johannesburg it was 40,000, they have got it down now to about 15,000 because of the cleaning up of the voters' roll and checking up for duplications and what have you and so on.
We were then confronted with the reality of these people who will definitely pitch up, very many of them, on the day and those people we said would have to be put on a special list for the TLC area, so there is a general list for the TLC area, for the local council area. Those lists will also be made available at the ward level, not at the polling booth level because we don't know which polling booth it will operate, but at the ward level. In some cases in your major areas they will be made available in large polling areas as well. The idea being that when this voter pitches up you can contact that general list and find out if this voter, because obviously that voter is not on the certified list of the first batch of registration or on the supplementary list, so you check that list and if that voter's name is on it and he's got his ID document and all of that, that person can vote and dip his hand in the indelible ink so he can't vote twice and it will go through. Now again, let me stress, in a place like Brandfort there are five unplaced voters, so I don't think it's going to exercise the mind of the Returning Officer what you do with five unplaced voters. You could work that one out. In Bloemfontein I think there are 120 so they will find a way of dealing with that. But here in the Gauteng area, and that's one of the peculiarities of this election, if Gauteng sneezes the whole of the country must get double pneumonia. In the Gauteng area, in the metropolitan area, yes you have 20,000 of those voters, but those 20,000 voters constitute a percentage out of 1.5 million or 1.3 million registered voters so the magnitude of the problem is manageable I think.
POM So all in all you would say (i) you are satisfied that close to 75%, 76% of eligible voters in fact registered, that the arrangements in place, the administrative and the technical arrangements in place, are the best that could be in place?
VZS Under the circumstances.
POM Under the circumstances and that you feel reasonably optimistic about the manner in which the elections will be conducted.
VZS Yes, from that point - there are a few qualifications. Number one, when I say we are reasonably confident that 76% of voters have registered, from the outside we realise that we have a bit of a moving target here. Who are actually the number of potential voters in South Africa? Last year there was no discipline imposed, you could issue ID documents right up to two, three days before the election and it was done by the IEC, so you had a whole range of people participating in those elections, in fact I think 19 million voted out of a potential 21 million, according to Central Statistical Services. So we never really knew with absolute certainty what the number of potential voters was so we had to make use of available statistical data. Number one, the assessment of the local area itself in terms of people who pay rates and taxes or an assessment of how many people are living in an emerging settlement and that's very much of a moving target. The assessment of Central Statistical Services with the data that they had, surveys and so on, that gave us some kind of idea. So there was sort of a chopping and changing as we moved through.
I know Gotz was one of the writers here for CPS who argued that we adjusted to suit ourselves. We couldn't adjust. We had to ask people at the local level, you judge the number of potential voters. In Brandfort, I use Brandfort but I can use Carolina it's the same principle or Malmesbury it doesn't matter, in Brandfort we asked, as we asked elsewhere, why have you only got a 78% poll? They said, well you know we've got 52,000 voters, we calculated that there were so many voters here and the others didn't vote because they live in Brandfort but they work in Bloemfontein and we think they registered in Bloemfontein, so, yes, we have potentially so many voters but only so many registered because they want to vote here. I have to accept that. I have no competing information on that basis. It will to a certain extent come out in the wash. If Brandfort turns out to have 8,000 voters well then we're in trouble and we'll have to deal with it, but I doubt it. I really must say I doubt it. The percentage I'm reasonably happy with.
The second part of the qualification is, we cannot deal with immediate dissatisfaction that will arise either because of whatever reason, candidates fighting amongst themselves, a particular aggrieved group deciding to smash up the elections at the local level. What I can say in terms of our intelligence reports from all across the country, there is no centrally organised plan to disrupt the elections. We're not aware of that. Not even the right wing parties have taken a decision of this kind. We anticipate some trouble areas but the fact that we don't have elections in Natal, I think that reduces it to a large extent because there you have no-go areas and fierce political antagonisms and that still remains to be seen how we do elections there. But generally speaking I think in the rural areas of the Eastern Cape you might have problems. There may be some of the areas where political fights turn very nasty, you can see from the heavyweights the way they are hacking away at one another now that there's a mood being created that's not a very pleasant one and this may be reflected in certain local areas. But generally speaking I think we'll manage.
POM OK, post-election, I think you among other people said that the cream of the talent of the country went into the national government and left other organisations like unions without the kind of leadership they had before, this applied to a lot of institutions. And then at the provincial level they would have taken the next level of the cream, beneath the cream. And now you come down to the local level and I've got, I think, three questions. One, has anybody determined what the powers are, or who will determine what are the powers and competencies of the local government structures? Two, it would seem that this will be initially at least the weakest form of government in terms of capacity and leadership and ability and skills and whatever. And third, it has been touted again and again and again that it is the local government structures that would be the primary vehicle for the delivery of the RDP. The RDP is the centrepiece of the government's plan for economic recovery and growth and yet its implementation is being handed over to the weakest form of government which seems like a guarantee of ...
VZS Smash up.
POM Yes, absolute ...
VZS OK, let me take the first one. Schedule 6 of the Local Government Transition Act spells out the powers and functions of local government and there are about 24 or 25, I can't memorise the whole lot, but it's bulk supply of electricity, sewerage, water, refuse removal, cemeteries, libraries, parks, you can go on. Also it performs a vital planning function and when I say planning function it determines the by-laws and regulations that would apply to planning residential areas and the allocation of land for the homeless, etc., in conjunction of course with the Department of Housing and so on. But it's finally at the local level where contractors would have to get, as it were, guarantees that services of the kind that I have just referred to will be provided because you have a difficulty here. If you want to even take the lowest form of housing, incremental housing of a site and service nature, then those services have to be guaranteed because if they are not guaranteed, even if you have a community development bank making low bond rates accessible to people of R1500 a month and lower, that's where you know that people will repay the premiums on their bonds if they are going to get the services otherwise no contractor is going to go in there and pray for a miracle.
So in that sense it sort of looks after the third part of your question as well, the whole question of RDP, but I want to come back to that in a moment. So, yes, the local government constitutionally and legally have defined powers and if you read Chapter 10 of the interim constitution it spells out exactly that, they have to not be infringed upon in terms of these powers. The second one is the question of capacity. Now I think capacity falls out in three levels. The first level is the quality of the councillor who is going to be elected and the quality of the councillor will vary widely over the various areas and I think it's important to draw a clear distinction here between the rural areas, stand-alone towns and metropolitan areas. Rural areas, it's literally starting from scratch. I don't know how it's going to pan out there because what you've got to keep in mind is you have District Councils which will take over some of the powers, if not all of the powers, of, say, Regional Services Councils who were appointed bodies in the past to sort of look after these depressed rural areas. But there is no revenue base of any consequence. The farmers who pay some of the taxes in those areas are in revolt because they feel that they are going to be marginalised, so we are going to look at a rather depressed area where people are going to be elected without any infrastructure, without any idea of what their role is.
This gets better as you move to stand-alone towns of various sizes. A very small stand-alone town like Hendrina out here, or Carolina, the common structural dilemma is that you've got more or less a stagnant revenue base where you are creating democratic space that will not be, as it were, invaded by newcomers who will demand the same quality of services that the privileged minority had in the past, who could more or less monopolise that revenue base for their own comfort. This is a fundamental dilemma right throughout the country and there is no way you're going to solve that by simply thinking that you can stretch the resources of that small revenue base to provide services of the same quality to the people who are coming in, so there will have to be some kind of inter-governmental transfer and reconstruction and development programmes from central government. That will have to happen.
Still on the level of the capacity of the councillors, some of them may come in because they think this is the last coach of the gravy train, this is where I'm going to get a job, this is where I'm going to have a regular income. This may be true for people at the metropolitan or larger city level, but at the local level rurally or in small towns it simply will not be true and that will be a severe test for new councillors. How long are they going to last if they've got to perform a labour of love without really getting a great deal of material compensation? That's a testing one, and there you will have the dilemma which I see, where your beloved school principal or teacher or social worker stands as a person to help the community with every good intention but now has to weigh up how her duties or his duties between being the school principal and being the local councillor and I think we're going to go through a period of quite severe adjustment in that respect over the first 18 months in the post election period.
Then if we move on to another capacity problem we're talking about skilled local government bureaucrats. It is an extraordinary fact that your Returning Officers in most of the areas who will be guiding and administering the elections are predominantly Afrikaans middle-aged bureaucrats, Town Clerks and so on. I can show them to you, I've talked to them. It's almost like the Afrikaner paying some part of his debt on apartheid, arranging the transition at the local level to be as fair and free as possible so they can see how they are going to lose power. It is a remarkable thing to see. I mean Joos Coetzee from the Northern Cape is a hell of a nice guy but he can't put three English sentences together but he's running 59, 60 local councils, and he will be the first to say, "I'm committed to it." But the point is Joos Coetzee is going to resign or retire, he's going to take his package on 1 November. So you're going to have a skills gap there. I don't know why they are doing it but a lot of them are doing that and they might see an end of a career path or they might find it uncomfortable to be governed by the new incoming lot. Whatever the reason may be, the point is for the immediate post-election period there is going to be an enormous gap in skills, skills that were actually non-existent before and they would have to be created afterwards and skills that were existent then but are not going to be there afterwards. So at that level we will have to look at a serious degree of training and upgrading and providing people with some of the resources. I sat with the Norwegian government this morning saying, "OK we'll get the elections done with but we need to train councillors and we need to train officials to assist in managing these problems."
Then the third level of capacity is the one I've referred to already, is there is no money, there is no money at the local level and we would have to seriously look at inter-governmental transfers. And I must be quite honest with you, the Fiscal & Finance Commission that has been appointed under Murphy Morobe has come out with a beautiful plan, but it's on paper, you still have to now translate that into how you get the money down to the local level. So what I am really saying is that I think the severest test of dismantling apartheid will lie at this local level because that's where I think people will begin to really measure in rather concrete terms whether all of this has really been worth it.
And that brings me to your third question, the RDP. Well we're going to call the bluff on that you see. If it is so that the local level is the area where actual delivery has to take place and the reason why delivery couldn't take place because we haven't got legitimate government, that bluff is going to be called and it will be called not only in terms of the central level's commitment to reconstruction and development, it will be called by people who so far have been appointed Transitional Councillors and have refused to take any decision because they claim they haven't got legitimacy. Well if they are going to stand for election and they are going to get elected they can't use that argument. They actually now have to take very tough and difficult decisions in which you have to prioritise on a whole range of areas which they have so far kicked for touch, just, "Well let's leave that and wait until we're elected." I am afraid crunch time is there. I'm not cynical about the fact that the RDP is used as argument. I think, I genuinely believe, that the delivery that has to take place will be at that level but you cannot simply expect inexperienced, under-capacitated local government councils, as you suggest, to take charge of reconstruction and development programmes that cover housing, health, education, roads, water and all of that. So we're going to do some serious planning at the local level. We're going to have to do that if we're going to pull through and I think the penny is beginning to drop with the politicians that this is where they are going to be tested in 1999, this is where they are going to be tested and it ranges from how do you transform the criminal justice system, the courts, the police, the prisons, right down to water and sewerage and refuse removal. I think that will be where the nice phrases in Chapter 3 of the constitution will begin to be tested.
POM Has the RDP become more of like, I won't say a slogan, but something around which people are supposed to rally but hasn't really delivered according to its potential either because of the manner in which it is set up; you had Jacob Zuma last week in the KwaZulu Legislature explaining why they hadn't spent all the RDP funds or why they even had to send RDP funds back and when he explained it in terms of many of the RDP plans are determined in terms of the nine provinces, they all must submit business plans and all these business plans must be co-ordinated and nothing is done until a common plan is drawn up, so that you are only as strong as your weakest link, and that things just don't get done.
VZS Where does one begin on this whole RDP issue? Like a drunk in a bottle store. You just don't know where you are going to take a particular issue and weigh it up. Let me just mention a few. I, from the outset, didn't think that you could have an RDP policy that could be centrally planned and controlled. That I think was a mistake from the outset, that you first had to devise the great plan and then put five-year plans in place and then set up all the supporting structures and then and then and then and then, and then eventually you get to actually building the house. I think that was a problem.
The second problem was that you essentially had a department here without portfolio that inevitably was going to clash with line management, inevitably because line management is where you've built up bureaucracies with vested interests over decades and you've got to transform them. So whether you want to RDP police, or RDP defence, or RDP housing or RDP health or education, part of RDPing that lot was to transform the bureaucracy that had to be the instrument of delivery. So that was another problem that I think one saw.
I think also the level that I've mentioned already, that your actual delivery structures on the ground, they weren't in place. And there has been a great degree of over-elaboration on all of that. We can moan about the RDP. The point is the RDP addresses an absolutely valid issue and that is how do we begin to undo the inequalities of the past and get sensible reconstruction and development going. My own view is that the state is increasingly going to discover that it cannot manage the RDP, that it wasn't able to manage it in the first place and that it would have to contract out and seek partners in the private sector at various levels of government to begin to implement the RDP projects, and that is not necessarily a bad thing because it's impossible to expect, it's not impossible, everything is possible, it's impossible for the state to actually deliver the houses that it has promised. It can't do it, it hasn't got the resources. It has to contract out and so it will have to release some of the energy that is there in society to do the housing thing. And that's why I find the debate about incremental or core housing so absolutely ridiculous, so wasteful of time and resources and energy. You would simply have to allow people at the local level to do with housing as best they can and hope that it will have some kind of a take off effect and some of it will be core housing and some of it will be incremental housing, but let the people at the local level look at their resources and do it as best they can. What the state can do is to look at basic services and assist in providing those. I think we have enough power to provide electricity for everybody. We may not have enough water but we can use it more efficiently than we are using it now. Sewerage is exactly the same thing. Refuse removal, why must the state do refuse removal? This is a private community issue. That can be handled. So we will go through that.
POM If you were a businessman at this point, and I've asked this before, and I was sitting here in the room with you and I was saying, Dr van Zyl Slabbert give me three or four good reasons why I should invest my money here in South Africa now rather than in a depressed area in Scotland or in southern Italy or in Ireland or in all the places where they give magnificent tax breaks and all kinds of capitalist systems, why should I do it?
VZS There is no reason. To be quite honest there is no reason if you are sitting in Scotland somewhere to look at us with more favour than you would look at China for example. If you take those objective indices that these hawk-eyed consultants come and look for why you go to China rather than South Africa, then obviously we can't compete with those countries. So on that objective level certainly. But if you look at it from the possibility of making money people will invest money and they will pursue it and if you look at the company reports that have been tabled in South Africa they are making huge profits. You read the FM, I sometimes have to pinch myself whether I am in the same country politically that I am economically. Companies are making huge profits, there is investment in infrastructure going on, so the local business people are confident and that's always the first sign for people outside because I absolutely buy the argument if you locally are not investing, why the devil should I invest? So there is the beginning of investment taking place, not on a massive scale. It depends also which area you're looking at. If you're talking about agriculture with the drought there are not many happy farmers about. If you're talking about the mining industry, not many happy people about. But if you're talking of the others, the motor industry and car sales and you're looking at some of the returns of companies who are manufacturing in commerce and industry they seem to be picking up. So in that sense I think you can't expect an investment group to stand there and say South Africa is high priority field rather than say Taiwan. I don't see that. It will depend very largely on the connections with business in South Africa and the way local business operates here. I still want to say that the jury is out as far as I am concerned, I'm not an economist, that I don't share the same kind of optimism that some of the financial analysts have, which you saw in the Financial Mail two or three weeks ago. But I think we're doing better than expected.
POM This is what strikes me as almost part of an optimistic illusion. On the one hand you have car sales doubling, you have the business confidence index at the highest level in eleven years, you have The Star saying South Africa on the verge of a boom or whatever, growth is over 3% for the first time in whatever, but when you take in the population growth it's minuscule in terms of the added product that's really available for redistribution. Then you look at a host of studies that have been carried out by international agencies that come flatly out and say that in terms of competitiveness this country ranks right down at the bottom and that that doesn't apply to the economy as a whole, it applies to individual sectors of the economy and that one of the major problems is that this is a high wage, high unit cost country and low productivity and that this problem must be addressed. And you run into the problem of the unions which said no way are we going to go the Malaysian route. In fact they say we're proud that we don't work our people 18 hours a day, that minimum wages and their greater productivity is higher, good for them, we're not going to go that route. And then you're going to have, because of the international trade agreements entered into, whether they are GATT or with the European Union, they are going to have the dismantling of tariff barriers and that means jobs are going to be lost.
VZS You're absolutely right.
POM And third or last point, maybe the most important, is that there has always been this assumption that economic growth leads to the creation of jobs. There is no correlation between the two at all.
VZS I must tell you if you take economics as you spell it out there we should have been dead about ten years ago. There is no question that all those indices are true. The interesting question is, why are we not dead, what is happening? I think, taking the argument, can organised labour as a partner of, say, the ANC continue to have the kind of strategic position that it has and government, the ANC, be sensitive to the demands of the unemployed? My answer is no, something is going to happen there. What is going to happen? What will happen with job creation in the rural areas? Will that follow the dictates of corporatism and the agreements between the unions, big business and government or will people simply say forget about it, we go ahead despite what you've agreed? I think there is that possibility.
What happens with the kind of populism you've got this morning where taxi drivers block off the airport and say we demand to talk to the president? How long can a government tolerate that kind of thing without beginning to act against it? When does it weigh up the constraints of growth against the demands of politics? We say we want to democratise and grow at the same time but not only do we want to democratise and grow at the same time, whilst we are doing that we want to maintain a vibrant human rights culture and just for good measure while we are maintaining a vibrant human rights culture we want to have a nice efficient civil service that is being transformed into a nice instrument of delivery. We want to walk upstairs and downstairs at the same time.
So if you look at all these goals we set ourselves then obviously reality is not going to conform to it and I think the trick is to say, what's going to happen? That's where I think I begin to find an explanation for companies still making profits and finding deals in the private sector rather than the public sector. Most of the unhappiness now is going to the public sector. It's nurses, it's teachers, it's municipal workers. I would say they have worked out some kind of modus vivendi, I mean Bobby Godsell sits down with the unions and says, "I've got another 3000 tons of gold in those mines there, do you want to share it or do we close the mines?" It's that kind of tough debate that might be going on.
I must tell you, again, that if I have to take the formal indicators of economic performance there is no reason why a foreign investor who has money to burn will regard us more favourably than others. There is another dynamic that I suppose one has to look at. I can compound the difficulties by saying if we don't look at the region, the region is not only going to look at us they are going to come and visit and stay here permanently. So you have another problem of trying to get growth going. I'm not short of arguments for why we can't survive. The point is, why are we surviving? What is happening here that defies the conventional logic and so on? That to me is the more interesting question. I think what is happening here is that we are unlocking potential that has previously been denied, that it's almost a kind of frontier economic situation.
Crime is rampant, crime is of course the most unconventional way of pursuing desired ends in any society but it's a way of people trying to get ahead. You've got to cope with that, you've got to constrain it in some way. We're at the beginning of that process and I can't really get a grip on exactly where it's going to pan out, but it's in a sense saying we're on our way but we're not quite sure where the devil it's going to end. But I'm not all that despondent about it. There's a lot of energy here, there's a lot of potential, there are a lot of people who can now begin to realise themselves. By the way there is a book by a man called Charles van Onselen called Kas Maine(?), the Life of a Sharecropper, it is a 600 page manuscript, it is fascinating reading of a black family from 1894 to 1985. He was born in 1894, dies in 1985 and how he moved through the Western Transvaal, surviving as a family. When he was 85 he bought his sixth tractor and he shared the crops with white farmers. He is for me, if I have to really get romantic, he is for me the hope of the future, that kind of person and I hope there are a lot of those Kas Maines hanging around. I think they are, they are there. He lived in the most disastrous circumstances for any black family and the way he survived was just quite extraordinary. We've created the myth of the incompetent black agriculturalist who doesn't know how to form, I mean you've just got to read this fellow's history and find out that he wasn't alone, that they kept white farms alive in the Western Transvaal because the white farmers didn't know how to farm, many of them were in the diamond diggings and blacks were running the farms and taking a third of the crop. In any case that was just by the way. I can't factor Kas Maine into your statistics, I can't, but I know he's there.
POM What should the ANC in government, as the dominant partner in government, be doing that it's not doing?
VZS I think the ANC as government should be doing something because it's actually doing very little at the moment. We're still in the feel good, I call Mr Mandela 'Dr Feelgood', I mean he makes all of us feel very good and we are still floating in a charismatic bubble but there is not a great deal of governance going on. I think it's because we're in a kind of interregnum. On the one hand you don't want to take unpopular decisions. On the other hand you've got to show that you want to govern. Take crime as a typical example, take foreign migrant workers. Tito Mboweni says give them all the vote now. Penuell Maduna says you must be crazy, we can't handle it. They are both in the ANC, they are both sort of vacillating, the vacillation between affirmative action and technical competence. What do we do? How do you maintain both? There's a lot of that inability to really take tough decisions. Now why is that so? It's not because they're incompetent, there are very competent people there. But it's a number of factors, (a) it's the dilemma of alienating your support because you've got a rather mixed bag that you've inherited from the past. There's a large family the liberation struggle, now the family is falling apart because they have got different interests; (b) it's a matter of inheriting a civil service that you inevitably have to depend on. It's not, as I told you many times in the past, a flag up flag down kind of transition. I think Mark Swilling used the phrase, we're trying to dismantle the car and reassemble it without turning off the engine. Those are the people you have to work with. You sit with police that you cannot replace but yet you have to transform. So these are the problems of government and I think, if I can single it out on a political level, we need government to take unpopular decisions but it's not a very easy thing to do before elections. Like the nurses thing.
POM I was going to ask you about that. In the public sector you have this widespread unrest which at one level seems to be undermining social cohesion itself and you have government paralysis in its facing the unions standing at the side not knowing exactly which side they are on.
VZS Well their existence is threatened by wild cat strikes.
POM These are ad hoc unions, they are not the established structures. What kinds of problems are posed there in terms of these kinds of strikes undermining public confidence, public cohesion, like allowing patients to die has an impact. It's reported abroad, that's a story, that's newsworthy. You die because your pills are locked up.
VZS And the nurses are dancing in the streets.
POM The nurses are dancing in the street.
VZS The problem there, as I see it, is if you're going to develop a human rights culture then you have to emphasise both the rights and the responsibilities. You cannot allow people to take up their rights in such a manner that it denies the rights of others and therefore you have to be firm on that. Take the nurses, I have an enormous degree of sympathy with them, they have been abused, which is a kind word, in the past. But the way to deal with that is to say, look, and I think this is beginning to happen now, this is what we intend doing to rectify your situation over the next three or four years, we are firmly committed to doing that and you must give us the opportunity for doing that, but we will not tolerate you behaving in this fashion whilst we are trying to do that. So if you're not happy with what we're trying to do then leave the profession but you cannot at the same time demand an instant redress because we simply haven't got the resources. We haven't got the resources for the nurses, we haven't got the resources for the teachers, we haven't got the resources for the municipal workers but we are setting these plans in motion, and then you have to act firmly against that kind of unrestrained populism because the impact of that kind of unrestrained populism is that it undermines your very ability to address the problem that led to the populism in the first place. You have to say no, you can't do that, we will address the problem in this way.
Now the point is, are you prepared to address the problem in a particular way? What have you set in place? That's a different matter. I think that is really where one has to look at the situation very carefully because, again, it would seem to me if this kind of populism becomes the dominant mode of political action, no RDP, no development, you've got less foreign confidence and so on. So the government has to take a lead there and say as much as we sympathise - you see if you take a typical example, the first time the truckers drove their trucks across the highway old Tito Mboweni and Mac Maharaj were into the helicopter talking to them on the highway. The people said you must be crazy, you don't settle a dispute in this way. And of course what happened is they hijacked a school principal in the north and said, "Tito come and talk to us here", and everybody just does that. So they say that that was not going to work and next time they said, "Trucks off the road" and dealt with them that way.
I think in the public sector the government is particularly vulnerable but keep in mind it is precisely the public sector that was most unwilling to participate in the liberation struggle. It wasn't the public sector. It wasn't nurses who went on strike, it wasn't nurses who went and protested, or municipal workers or teachers. Later on, yes, some teachers came on board but most of them were very docile and acquiescent under the previous regime. So the ANC is beginning to see, well hell, the people really put their bodies on the line with the workers in the private sector in those days and the unions acted as a kind of vanguard, here the people who never came out on strike are suddenly striking because they are now taking up their rights and privileges under the kind of human rights culture that we've agreed to. They are going to have to bite that bullet, they're going to have to say you simply can't do it. And they are doing it in the Eastern Cape, they have taken a very tough line on the nurses. That does not mean that the nurses haven't got a legitimate complaint, but acknowledging the complaint is one thing, dealing with it is another.
POM To switch because I know you're conscious of time, just two or three questions quickly on the constitution. One is, in KwaZulu/Natal, I was talking to Joe Matthews yesterday and I was going through their actions in KwaZulu/Natal on their constitutional proposals, and he says the only way the IFP are acting in a dogmatic kind of heavy handed way is on the constitutional proposals because according to their legislation they should have had their constitution in effect by 31 December, it's now October, they are no place near it, they see the ANC in particular as playing obstructionism because, according to him and the IFP analysis, is that the ANC want the draft of the new constitution to be out before the provincial constitution is in place in KwaZulu/Natal because if KwaZulu/Natal gets there first it's going to be very difficult to overturn, to interfere with what they have already put in place, therefore they want to delay it. Is that a valid, is there a game going on here?
VZS There is a game, there is a very strong game going on, there's no question in my mind, and the game is actually being played by four or five people in the whole IFP top echelons. It's Buthelezi himself, it's Mzimela who is really a wild card, he comes out here from an American evangelistic background in Atlanta and he suddenly ends up being second in charge of IFP, he's an extraordinary phenomenon, Ambrosini who is some kind of political scientist of uncertain repute but he's pretty important, and Felgate. Those are the four or five people that run the road-show, I say it advisedly having spoken to other people that I deal with quite regularly in the IFP who have to help with the local elections. But that's one thing. So you have a small group of people really running that according to their perceptions of what the ANC is trying to do and undermining them and so on. It doesn't penetrate through to the rank and file. The rank and file are being told by those people, this is what's going on.
That's not excusing the ANC. The ANC have got their own agenda make no mistake and there is an internal fight there between the Radebes and the Zumas, well now Gwala is dead, but those factions - so I am not just IFP bashing. However, there are four critical areas that I think in Natal are sort of gelling on one another and are extremely difficult to resolve. The one is a classical struggle between modernity and traditionalism. There is no question about it. Democratic leadership sits uncomfortably with traditional leadership and traditional leadership is a very, very powerful support base in Natal and Buthelezi straddles both worlds, I think, very astutely to keep his own act alive.
Secondly, the whole question of federalism versus unitary state. Now you can argue that Buthelezi uses this in a sense to play the card of provincial ethnicity, this is Zulu country and you others are here at our behest so we're fighting for the future of the Zulus. Which brings us to the third thing, the issue of Zulu nationalism proper in the role of the King and that's where the ANC come in, try and get the King on their side and their chiefs and those chiefs and that's why you'll see the central government trying to take the position of the chiefs and their payment as an issue to get at that thing as well.
Then fourthly you have a good old fashioned inter-party political fight, the ANC and the IFP. You can take any issue, local elections, those four issues are there. Provincial autonomy, those four issues are there. Constitutional debate at central level, those four issues are there. They always crop up. There is no single way in which you can resolve them. If Buthelezi feels unhappy about the way you treat his chiefs or if he is losing that fight, he is on to the provincial argument. If he loses a provincial argument he shifts to the ANC's role as communists and he goes round and round and round. He's a very shrewd politician.
But to say it's something that's felt on the grassroots there, I doubt it. Well let's put it the other way, if those four suddenly died in a plane crash what would happen to that situation? I think it would be a fundamental difference. I don't know who would take over from Buthelezi in the first place. What would happen to the chiefs? I don't know. What would happen to the position of the King? Mdlalose can't go in there. Mzimela has not got the traditional clout. Who is going to take over that thing? I comfort myself by saying generally speaking where traditionalism and modernity have clashed, traditionalism has lost. All I hope for is that the way it loses here will not be too costly, but, hell, the evidence is not exactly compelling. We're still going to go for heavy weather in that part of the world.
POM Final question. Can you ultimately have a constitution adopted by the National Assembly or the Constituent Assembly where the IFP abstain?
VZS The Constitutional Court has to bless whatever clause goes into the constitution in terms of Schedule 4 of the constitution which is the 34 principles and if you look at clause 73 you will see exactly how the thing has to work. So provided you get your two thirds majority you are through with building the constitution and those constitutional principles are pretty formidable constitutional principles. You're going to look at them and you can test them against Chapter 3 which is a Bill of Rights, it's tough to get that constitution in place. Once that is in place the interesting question is will that constitution allow you to better deal with a problem such as IFP or not? I think, yes, it will, but it all depends on what happens to provincial powers.
Again if you look at that constitution provincial powers will be quite substantial. ANC premiers are not going to sacrifice their newly found rights because the ANC is in a dog fight with the IFP. Don't you think that for one moment. I don't think the future constitution hinges on what happens in Natal but it's very convenient for Natal to argue that the future constitution, not for Natal, for the IFP to argue that that determines the whole thing. That does not mean you're not in for a bloody fight in Natal. That's a different matter altogether. But that fight is not just a matter of a constitutional conflict.
POM So the crunch issue in the Constitutional Assembly is still this issue of federation or the devolution of powers?
VZS Yes, I wouldn't say federation because federation is a bit of a smokescreen. It's decentralisation of powers or centralisation of powers and what will happen on that one.
POM OK. Thank you very much.