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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
30 Nov 1995: Skweyiya, Zola
POM Thank you for seeing me. Just going through the tasks that you face, I must say I would much prefer if I were minister in charge of making South Africa competitive in a global economy than trying to rationalise the entire civil service structure and make it cohesive and workable. You probably have the responsibility for turning around one of the biggest nightmares facing the government of national unity. What are the major problems you face and how did you go about, in the first place, identifying what those problems were?
ZS Well, the problem that we have, you are aware, is the fact of having to change the whole government. Whereas on the other side that is, I think, in the whole of the economy and I think more clearly we have, for instance, from the side of the constitution and judiciary and to a certain extent economy, land, health, education, we had very clear policies as the ANC. In other words we had prepared for that and we had worked for more than five, six, seven years preparing for that. But when it came to the question of the civil service, the public service, I don't want to tell lies, there never was very much preparation on the side of the ANC. The only preparation that started is when I was given this after the agreement on the constitution. Then it became clear that there has to be a plan for changing and for running government, it must be late 1993 when the civil service unit was set up which I led. And so what we did is only to prepare for when we came into power and, of course, we did that what was going to prepare a few people for the civil service which was also very difficult because many people did not understand the implications of that and the importance of it and almost everybody wanted to go to parliament, which is completely the opposite at the present moment because most people don't want to be in parliament, they want to be in the public service because there is no security in politics as such. Most of them want to come back into the civil service. That's the question we've got to face towards the end of this year within the ANC, to make our parliamentarians remain in parliament.
So we managed to get those initial policies to ensure that we do have a government setting up the ministries and agreeing on how many ministries there have got to be and according to the constitution. They might have slips over here and there but in principle that existed as we had put it. I would say, for instance, we didn't think that there is need as far as for constitutional affairs as the ANC, completely, or provincial government, that a whole ministry was not necessary. We thought that that could be done by inter-governmental relations or something like that and the constitutional thing should have gone to the Ministry of Justice to do some of those issues, which I think is still necessary. But we needed a fully fledged local government. So at the present moment one of the first things that we did was to get set up the civil service, create nine provinces of a unitary South Africa and ensure that there is a bureaucracy that exists there, appoint people to those positions and ensure that all those provinces and the eleven administrations that existed, are rationalised into one, which has been really a nightmare, it is still a nightmare at the present moment. What we do, we hope at the present moment, is to ensure that we do have a government and a fully fledged provincial administration system within the whole of South Africa and, of course, the question of local government.
POM How do you go about rationalising fourteen different civil services all at different levels of competencies, efficiency, all with different case scales or with different salary structures, some magnificently bloated, some not bloated so much, some full of corruption, some full of less corruption? What process did you set up to start addressing the problem before you could even come up with any kind of a solution?
ZS Well the first thing was that it had to be entrenched within the constitution so that it should not be questioned afterwards, but also we made a lot of mistakes in that constitution in the effect that we necessarily took the clause in the tricameral constitution which dealt with the civil service without looking at its implication on this new constitution and entrenched it in this new constitution. That is from the old constitution into this new constitution, which is proving to be a nightmare. I will tell you why.
The ANC foresaw the existence of a ministry like this one of mine, of Public Service and Administration, but also gave the power to restructure and to run government, as I said, to the Public Service Commission which was the same Public Service Commission although it was called Commission for Administration which ran apartheid and downstairs here now there are still the same people that are there, and it's very difficult to change their minds. At the same time the ANC insisted that there should be this ministry which has to drive the whole reinvention of government within South Africa at the present moment, and the ministry and the government have no power over the Public Service Commission which is supposed to be independent. So in order to change that we have to get a constitutional amendment to parliament and forget not that the public service and the Public Service Commission in particular has been the centre of power for the National Party, for the National Intelligence Services and also for the Broederbond. That is the centre of power with Afrikanerdom as a whole. So changes that have to take place are very much full of tensions right through within the structure and what we are trying to do is to change that and to ensure that we run the whole thing on a basis that is acceptable and the only way we can do that, I thought, is the best thing to go to the unions to negotiate the whole thing so that they should be able to understand what is happening.
Out of that question, that constitution article on the public service, we guaranteed the jobs of all public servants, black and white. We did that for purposes of continuity, for peace and stability, and I think to a certain extent it has worked but it has been a very painful exercise and it has not been easy. When we said that at that time within the ANC that what we are doing on this question is wrong, nobody believed us. Nobody believed us because we were entrenching Afrikanerdom power on to this government. We were called names as Nationalists and all these other things, but in the final analysis what we thought it was going to hit, it was going mostly to hit the black community more than any other thing. And of course one of the issues that we agreed on, of course, that the public service should be representative of all South Africans, that it should reflect the demographic composition of South African people, but also that there should be affirmative action.
As you are aware, a whole hullabaloo has been created around that question of affirmative action, and also the issue of transparency. We demanded that from the beginning, even in the constitution. So one of the problems that we face at the beginning is that the understanding amongst the whites is that their jobs, of course, cannot be challenged, that they would remain where they are and wherever there is any job that appears then blacks could be put into those jobs. So when we said we are going to advertise our jobs, all jobs, it got, in fact it was the first division within the government, within Cabinet, whereby the Nationalist Party did not want to accept that.
POM They didn't want jobs to be advertised?
ZS Advertised, no, they did not. De Klerk did not want that, very, very clearly.
POM What did he want?
ZS Well the people should not be touched where they are. We must only advertise jobs that appear. You know what happens, a new government, the issue is that - I think I didn't explain it very clearly. Yes, jobs are guaranteed, everybody, but until the jobs have been made public by advertisement, that is if you as Patrick you are the Director General of this department, it does not necessarily mean that we should not (advertise the position.) He did not understand it that way, that when the job is advertised, well and good, we can't just kick you out, but there is a new government that has taken place, we cannot inherit, that is our interpretation, what was there under apartheid. So if there is a job we have advertised so that those within the public service that worked under apartheid, the TBVC states, plus the general public that was against apartheid, should compete for that job. You get my point? So it became a very big tension, that was July, August last year, September, a lot of tensions on those issues, but we insisted it has to happen as it happened.
And I can give you a very good example, some of those questions that many people were applauding as good examples, for instance Joe Slovo came into power, was appointed as Minister of Housing. He fired the man who was there immediately and wanted to appoint somebody but by the time we heard it he had already fired the man and the man was very pleased that he was fired, he made a lot of noise and all these other things and sued the state in principle and he made the point you can't do that, go and appoint somebody simply because that person as Director General, that person comes from the ANC. The ANC is not South Africa, the ANC is a party within South Africa so what you've got to do is to advertise the job, let everybody compete. And in the final analysis what really happened is that we had to quietly negotiate with that Director General, I think we paid him about R1.5, R1.6 million for him being fired unconstitutionally and illegally. We had to stop that in many, many parts of the country where comrades wanted to follow that example. We just told the premier, you can do it but if you do it and you lose it, it is going to be taken out of your budget, but it is not constitutional and don't say you have not been informed. So in other words what really happened is that jobs had to be advertised, everybody had to compete and the best person is to be appointed, and of course the judge is mostly the minister himself.
POM So if I was Director General you would advertise my job and I would reapply for it?
POM But I'm already entrenched.
ZS Well not necessarily, no you are not.
POM This is where the subtlety is.
ZS The subtlety is that the question that was there, I could not come and behave like Joe Slovo did, fires him just immediately and say we don't need you without having given him the chance to compete for the job. So this is how it has happened almost right through the whole of the country, and depending on the minister, the ministry and everything, I would say in the provinces almost everybody at the present moment, at least at managerial level, has a new management that has been employed by this government. And of course quite a number of people have lost their jobs but I think in principle I would say it is fifty/fifty, many have been retained, many have lost their jobs.
POM Those who lose their jobs lose it with pretty good retrenchment packages?
ZS Oh yes of course, they get the easiest thing, if you have lost a job you get your pension and some gratuity of some sort when they leave. I think it has changed and at the present moment I would say we have to a certain extent a civil service at managerial level which is reflective to a certain extent of the people of South Africa but not necessarily. And of course on the other side there were fears because of statements that were issued on both sides, both from the side of the ANC and from the side of the apartheid structures a lot of tensions developed and many people feared for their jobs and some of them raised a lot of questions. So we had to offer early retirements, a scheme in which quite a number, I think 2000, 3000 people did resign and new people have come in. I think we have come to a position whereby I can say there is a sort of a stability insofar as those appointments are concerned.
But the main problem that also is there is the question on the labour side, is that as you are aware under apartheid unions were not allowed in the public service and they only had to be recognised towards I think 1992, 1993, and they are at an infant stage at the present moment and we had to deal with that. And of course in comparison to the private sector the public service does not pay so much. It has been very difficult, I would say very clearly, to get the best people into the public service when in competition with the private sector. I can give you an example, for instance, one of the things that was misunderstood on the side of the ANC is that as soon as we come into power we are capable of employing whoever we wanted to employ and we forgot also quite a number of people didn't go down to the effect that their jobs have to be advertised and everybody has to come and compete for the jobs. So the first week everybody first waited to be appointed and when people wanted to appoint people we had to say, look here you have to advertise jobs, and people were waiting at Shell House for these jobs to be advertised so that they should be appointed. Most of them, because of that uncertainty, started approaching the private sector and of course it turned out the private sector was paying better than the ANC and I think the majority of the people that left from Shell House didn't come to the public sector. The majority, the best people went to the private sector. I can say that also from my own side because even my office here, the people I worked with at Shell House when all these problems came, even those that came here, I can say really they were very good, my secretaries and almost everybody, they came here, some of them, two of them just refused to come to the public sector. We had already got them jobs and all these other things because I think a minister is capable of appointing secretarial staff. They came here and looked at the conditions and they refused to come. First of all they gave the excuse that this is too far from Soweto, they have to drive all the time, it is too far, but later on I found they didn't want to come to the public service. It's only indirectly that I heard now that what was being offered here was less than what the ANC was paying.
POM What the ANC was paying in Shell House?
ZS In Shell House, yes, because the ANC apparently were paying above the public sector but not as much as the private sector. So the complaint that was there at the beginning, when people heard that I had to go twice to tell them the experience that I'd had myself in my department and my people, why they don't want to go there. And some of them they didn't believe, they went to different ministers, they didn't last a month over there and they had to go back to the ANC. So I would say at the present moment we have managed to a certain extent to stabilise that both on the labour side, because at least we have created some trust between the state and the unions in the bargaining chamber which has been set up and also at the same time I think even the tensions that existed within each and every department as people are being appointed at their own will, most of them are beginning at the present moment to work.
POM Was this constitutional amendment ever passed that gave your ministry jurisdiction over the Public Service Commission or has that still got to be passed?
ZS No it has not been passed, the amendment has not happened. We have to calculate it, we don't want to go to parliament and lose. We have only 62%.
POM Constitutional amendment.
ZS 62, 62, 62, yes, and the National Party will never support that. Freedom Front will never support that. The DP will never, all the white parties will never support that. DP although they were talking a lot, when it came to facts they didn't want to do this, they never came out on our side. So we could never be able to get the 67%, 66.66% definitely in general. So since the new constitution is going to come anyway next year in May we thought that we could wait.
POM Wait till then?
ZS Yes, wait until then and live together with the Public Service Commission, but it's not as easy as all that.
POM I may sound a bit stupid but I'm lost on one thing. The interim constitution provides that the jobs of all civil servants, black and white, are guaranteed that no-one is going to lose their job. At the same time you advertise for every job and the person has to compete for that job and they may lose. So they don't have a guarantee of their job?
ZS I think that had to be put on the question of stability and continuity, but also at the same time the fear was that when a black government, ANC, takes over it will drive away all public servants. But also that guarantee exists as long as rationalisation has not taken place and at the present moment we are in the process of rationalisation, it is supposed to have finished, at least at the managerial level. We have got the right to dismiss anybody under the auspices of rationalisation, anybody who does not fit that whole process. The other question that had to be done, that whole agreement had to be not unilateral on the side of the state, it had to be negotiated and agreed to by the unions and the bargaining chamber and in December last year they agreed that rationalisation could start and it should be finished, according to them, by April 30th and after that those people who have lost their jobs had to be given six months notice so that at least if there is any job anywhere in the country they can be put and compete for those jobs, and we agreed to that and that time ended on 31st October.
POM So you are satisfied with the progress made to date in terms of the transformation or the Africanisation, one might even use that word?
ZS You can't call it Africanisation, no, no.
POM OK, take that word away.
ZS I would say with the rationalisation process.
POM And it being representative at the managerial level of all sections of the population?
ZS No, no, I think it is, although we are under fire on that issue. Many of our people feel that we are not moving fast as such, that is from the black community. We are also under fire from the side of the white community to the effect that we are moving too fast. This could be seen very clearly on the issue, for instance, around the white paper, in fact there was nothing wrong with the white paper, it was mostly affirmative action and the targets that were put there.
POM You had a target that it would be 50% black within five years?
ZS Well we had to target - was it 70%? I'm not very sure, something like that, in ten years or something like that. In ten years, ten years, and in parliament everybody ran amok. National Party even before that organised almost everybody from Cabinet that it would be like that. There was a lot of criticism, so what we have said, it would be 50% in five years. That is one thing, 50% in five years, the target, 30% at least women and in ten years at least 2% disabled.
POM Now, is that across the board or does it apply on the management sector, the higher senior sector?
ZS No I think mostly on the managerial level because below that the majority of the people are black anyway.
PAT Can I just ask something before you leave this subject? In terms of your strategy of advertising, did you figure this out when you were in negotiations as a way in which you would be able to accept this amendment?
ZS I think we agreed on that.
PAT So you knew then?
ZS We knew that it will be like that. We knew that if you advertise and everybody is coming up, and of course putting the question of affirmative action and also the question of the public service should be representative of all South Africans, to use the term that is in the constitution, that we would be able to agree to that. But the question that the jobs are guaranteed I think managed to keep it stable at that time. If you were here you noticed that at the beginning the main thing that they were, one of the things that they were raising, especially on the side of the Freedom Front and the National Party, was the civil service, that it will change and remove almost everybody, and specifically after Joe had done what he had done, summarily dismissed the DG. But afterwards when they saw the issue that first of all we are not retreating on the issue and that we are trying by all means to be as fair as possible and that at least we had the support of the majority of the people, they understood what we are doing, and of course quoting on the constitution that they had agreed on, so I think that has gone a little bit low but I think they will still want to ...
POM Again, in a sense the guarantee of not losing your job was a ploy?
ZS It was not a ploy.
POM You mean it was a very subtle ploy?
ZS No, it was not a ploy.
POM It helped you get past a certain point.
ZS It was an agreement that was put forward. We said we would guarantee the jobs of all public servants, because the question is that the guarantee only meant Pretoria, that is the central government, the RSA at that time. It did not go as far as the TBVC system. So when you said we are guaranteeing the jobs, we said we are guaranteeing the jobs of everybody and it will apply to everybody. Now, for instance, you see there is more tension and pressure from the former TBVC states at the present moment because their numbers are big in those areas. I give you an example first of all of the Eastern Cape, they have to take out of the Transkei, former Ciskei and that part of the Cape that is in the Eastern part, to form one administration. Now there were in each and all of them I think about more than thirty Directors General, so what we have said, we can't have so many Directors General, we only need one Director General. You get my point? So we advertised for one Director for the province, that means all the others had to go and of course they have gone as you saw about two weeks ago, but what they wanted is to be dismissed at that time, that is before the whole rationalisation process and if we had done that legally we would have lost in the effect that we would have had to pay them millions each in the same manner that we paid the other people. They had calculated that. I am talking about the Eastern Cape. We kept them on until the end of October now, now we have released them. They were very pleased at the beginning. They are demanding that they should be released on the basis, I think it was Section 16 of the Public Service Act, we did not do that. We released them on the basis of the rationalisation. We paid them, which meant that we paid them all their pensions, the number of years they have been working plus five years on top of that, plus some few graduations or something like that. Most of them have gone away with quite an amount of money, R100,000 or R200,000 or something like that and we hope that they will be able to use that money to invest and create jobs. Others, of course, were also, I think, in all I think in the Eastern Cape are 210 people from Director up to Director General who are going to be dismissed, all of them. So in other words the people who have been hit more are mostly the TBVC states.
POM Did you find that in the TBVC states that in the waning days of apartheid people had been given promotions and people had been added to the pay roll all in an effort to guarantee their jobs at a higher level of wages?
ZS Oh yes. As you can see, I don't know when the Browde Commission made that public, they have been working the Eastern Cape and Lebowa, the situation there has been very bad. For instance, in the tax office everybody became Chief Tax Officer almost, and in the Ciskei everybody promoted himself to Chief Tax Officer, that was about two, three months before the elections and by the time all this has been going, they had been paid at that level. Below them there were no people, so I think there were about 120, 130 chiefs there without any Indians around. The Browde Commissioners found out and the Justice Department has been like that in the Transkei and we found out about 5000 policemen also in the Transkei have been promoted themselves. The same has happened in the former Lebowa and the work is more than we thought it would be for the Browde Commission which is investigating such corruption as such and that is why the Browde Commission, its time has to be extended more than what has been foreseen at the present moment. It has only gone to Transkei and Lebowa. It's got to go to Transkei, Ciskei and Lebowa and all the other former states and also Pretoria. There is a lot of corruption as you see in the Transkei at the present moment.
POM The corruption would mainly be in the homelands and in the TBVC states?
ZS Yes there is, there is a lot, but that does not necessarily mean it does not exist in Pretoria. It does exist even in their cases but I think that people in the TBVC states and self-governing have not been astute and clever enough to hide some of those things. It is very easy to find that out.
POM I often thought that a good argument for corruption in the independent states was that the more corrupt the state was the more it was using money from the South African government so the more it was costing the South African government, so the more you were making the South African government pay for apartheid.
ZS Yes, well that's quite true. Possibly many persons - there is still that, there is still such arguments.
POM They are performing a patriotic duty, they are trying to act the same as the government.
ZS That's nonsensical. If at least what I thought they were doing, they were using that money from South Africa to uplift the ordinary people, that I would have understood. For instance, I cannot foresee the reason why there is so much illiteracy in the Transkei in view of the fact that they have been in power for more than thirty years. I think one of the first things, that if I had gone so corrupt politically, one of the first things is to make sure that at least there is compulsory education at least until Standard 6 or Standard 8 for everybody. I would have ensured at least primary health care for all people right through and the training of nurses right through, and many other things I would have done. What you see there at the present moment in the Transkei is a few people, literally a few people around Umtata benefited from apartheid and they have used that money in order to enrich themselves at the expense of the ordinary people and there is nothing that has been received or anybody can say amongst the ordinary people that they have benefited from apartheid and the Bantustan.
And you see at the present time there would have been a revolt and all these other things, for instance, including the chiefs that people shouldn't go and vote and all these other things. They have no power there. People are accusing Mandela and the government of national unity of treating them with velvet gloves and the fact that we are not seen to being tough on these people for what they have done in the past - you get my point? If you have to do that you have to get at the facts and that is the process that we are doing at the present moment. Can't just jump on them, we have to have evidence otherwise we will lose the cases, but to the ordinary person it does not look like that.
POM Now when you advertise for jobs and have people compete for them how do you balance between the requirement for continuity and newness, between maintaining the skills that are inherent to a civil service being run on a day to day basis and the fact that new people coming in aren't just familiar with the way civil services work, and particularly not the way in which this particular civil service works?
ZS No that is the issue that is there at the present moment. I say many people, they will dismiss them and all these other issues. And the main people that I have been speaking a lot about, having to dismiss people at the present moment, we are keeping those same white civil servants. First of all they have found that they have got some skills and the issue that they are also faced with is the constitution that those people are also South Africans, you have to treat them normally, and thirdly that their skills are needed by government. One of the things that we have not to run away from is the fact is that we are coming from an apartheid regime that has been ruling that country which has advantaged more the people, whites in general, and that the skills are mostly concentrated on them and they are concentrated on them that we have got to try to win them over. To a certain extent ministers have become very reliant on the public service that they have found in their department. They find it very difficult to part with them.
The second thing on the other side is that there was a demand mostly on the question of experience and skills and coming from the old apartheid structures, and to them skills can only be found within the civil service. We are saying that is not true. Skills can be found outside the civil service. First of all people have got qualifications and secondly some have been working in the private sector and some of them have been running NGOs and some of them have been running churches and all these other things. They have got managerial skills and that has to be recognised. Some of them have been doing that on the side of managing the whole struggle against apartheid and they have won as individuals and also you have to consider that. So one has to balance that. But also at the same time one has to balance that with the need that we have for public servants in general and to tap their skills in general of all of our people in South Africa.
POM Are you saying you have to run?