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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
05 Dec 1995: Lekota, Patrick
POM It's nice to see you again. You get busier and busier and seem to thrive on it more and more.
PL I'm not so sure about that.
POM When you first addressed the Legislature here in June of 1994 you talked about a culture of anarchy, you talked about a general free for all, dog eat dog and a hindsight mentality characterised by wholesale theft and plunder of moveable public property, vandalisation of unmovable property, unauthorised occupancy of public buildings, the setting up of kangaroo courts in the jurisdiction of registered traditional Chiefs, the extortion of contributions to fake funeral funds, commandeering of taxis and mini-buses, a general climate of disorder which you had inherited and which you had experienced during the first three months. To what degree have you brought that under control?
PL Well the problem has stabilised remarkably. A lot of the hijackings that were taking place at that time have disappeared. Law and order has really come to prevail and increasingly people are very sensitive to government directives and inside the government itself the disorder which we were faced with at that time has been replaced by an orderly arrangement and level of discipline. Indeed the province is hailed, this province is hailed as one of the model provinces amongst the nine provinces of the country. We had at that time a number of, a wave of murders on the farms, of farmers and so on that has been completely wiped out and it's returned a sense of security to the farming community and people are really positive. I find that many whites and white farmers have developed a lot of confidence in the new government and perhaps that is also borne out by the fact that in recent local government elections the participation of the white community alongside other sections of the population was very high.
POM When you look at the challenges that the Free State faces, how are the challenges that it faces different from the challenges that other provinces face?
PL I think in some cases in the other provinces, say for instance KwaZulu/Natal and Gauteng, in KwaZulu/Natal you still have a considerable amount of violence characterised as political violence. In Gauteng you have a limited amount of that but you have a high level of crime there. So we don't have to contend with that so much. What we need to contend with in the province is more constructive programmes, job creation and involving the community in the work that is being done by the government. Of course you know we have problems of our own, unique to us. Gold mining which is the main employer in this province at the present time has experienced some fall in profits and there have been therefore as a result retrenchments and there are retrenchments forecast there which means that it increases the levels of unemployment in the province. Farming suffered from the recent drought which I believe has now been broken by the recent rains which have come down. So our main problem is job creation. It is getting investors to come into the province and therefore by virtue of that using that to create jobs. It is employing our own creativity to employ the energies of our people in constructive employment of their own.
POM When you, as you have been in Brussels recently, or when you go abroad or you talk to foreign businessmen, what case do you make to them that they should invest in the Free State rather than in Gauteng or the Western Cape or one of the more affluent provinces?
PL The first point I try to make is that everybody who is going to invest would like to invest in a very stable and calm atmosphere and I offer this as one of the advantages of the province. Secondly, that the situation of this province is very central so to start investment operations here places them in a position in which they could in future, as stability settles in other parts of the country, expand elsewhere. Thirdly, that we have an abundance of labour, very disciplined labour in the province, that the government itself is very keen to offer some incentives for people who consider investment in this province. And I point out to them opportunities which exist like the fact that this province produces a lot of primary products of its own but that there are no secondary industries in the province and that this is a huge opening for them to tap into. I try to draw their attention to the fact that the Free State has not in the past benefited, has not been targeted for development of secondary industry, that anybody who wants long term returns on their investments must look to areas of South Africa which are not already developed but which have potential for long term development. So those are some of the points that I try to put across.
POM After 18 months in office and exercising all the prerequisites of being a premier, are you now of the opinion that the powers that the premiers have are sufficient to carry out their mandates or do they need additional powers?
PL My own attitude is not whether premiers have got enough powers or not enough powers or whether provincial governments have got enough powers or not enough powers. The question, I think, must be asked constructively this way; given the present situation are the powers, are the requisite powers for provinces to make a meaningful contribution to the development of the country, are the necessary powers, is the balance of powers such that it enables the provinces and the central government and local government acting in concert sufficient for them to achieve the purposes for which they are set? There is no question about the fact that the negotiations at the World Trade Centre, for instance, did not pretend that the interim constitution was a perfect instrument. It was an interim instrument. It constituted a foundation on which we had to build. In some cases perhaps it gave too much powers, we will probably feel as we are negotiating this that in certain areas the powers, certain powers which have been given to the provinces would have been better held and exercised as central as opposed to provinces. In other instances that certain powers which have not been made available to the provinces perhaps should have been made available to the provinces.
POM Could you give examples?
PL Take for instance gambling. The interim constitution says that gambling is a provincial competency. The question that then arises is it says gambling, casinos, wagering is a provincial competence. It says that. The question that arises is, for instance when it comes to casinos, who issues the licences? If you say that question was a provincial competency what does that mean? Does it mean that the provinces issue licences, decide on the number of licences and issue any number of licences that they want to issue? Or does it mean something else? So a precise definition of that is important and it becomes clear to me that even if you said casinos are a provincial competence, perhaps you ought to say that licensing nevertheless will be a central function. Because if you don't do that any province can issue any number of licences and then you will have anarchy. You cannot have systematic development if you do things this way. We have had to wrangle over this kind of thing to decide who has a power to license.
POM Could you give me an example of maybe a competency that should be held by the provincial governments that is held by central government now?
PL I think when it comes to media because of the situation we have inherited the central government has immense powers with regard to media publications and all of that. But increasingly the question is arising whether the powers of the provinces in this regard ought not to be somewhat a bit more so that provinces can then determine their own needs and how to address them. Then there is a question of taxation. As the situation now stands only central holds this issue, but it is quietly in my mind that some amount of powers of taxation must be devolved to the provinces. So those are some of the elements that I can just cite offhand.
POM Right now you get an allocation from the central government and that's your budget and you have to make do with that. Now the only way that you can increase revenues is by reducing expenditures and that really means by cutting the size of the public sector, like the number of public employees. Are you engaged in that kind of exercise?
PL Yes we are indeed engaged in this kind of exercise and we are working on streamlining and rationalising our public service size so as to meet the requirements. We are also, of course, prioritising because we have to look at as to what are the priorities of the province. We can't continue to spend money in certain areas simply because it's fashionable. We must see what our interests are, and so we are revising budget allocations from what they have been before and we are working on cutting off some of the expenses. For instance, in education we have at the present time nine teachers' training colleges where we actually need two so we have to eliminate seven, and the way we do it is that we have to say we can't spend money to train so many teachers when our population is only 2.7. So we have to train the requisite number of teachers. So what do we do with the other seven institutions? We say OK there is need for training to empower people, to uplift them for literacy, adult literacy and so on, so we try and convert some of those into training technikons because we want to make our population, our work force highly competitive and productive so we can then change those into training centres for training for acquisition of skills.
POM So in one sense you have too many teachers in primary and secondary schools and not enough teachers in technikons and developing a skilled basis for the labour force?
PL Yes. We need to spend money on the training and the upliftment of people's skills, upgrading of people's skills instead of on producing teachers galore.
POM Just what are your main priorities now as you see them for between now and 1999?
PL Well that's a question that is best asked I think a little bit later than this because at the present time we are developing a provincial programme of development and this, of course, is a process and in the process we are engaging the whole community in the province so that when the programme emerges it reflects the views of as many people as possible and, secondly, that everybody is familiar with what it is and everybody feels that it is their problem, they own it, and the only way they can support government is if they know what government is trying to achieve. So we are working on that at the present time, but let me say this just to highlight some of the ...
POM Since I will be coming back to bug you every year between now and 1999, so ...
PL You will get to find that that will have been done, but I was going to say that one of the key areas, priorities for us in the province at the moment is training. We recognise the fact that mining as a major employer in this province has a limited lifespan and we have to begin now to prepare our people in other fields of employment which will be sustainable longer than mining. It does mean that we are trying to encourage the development of secondary industries and secondly that we are trying to restructure or reform our education and the curricula in such a way that they begin to prepare people for that period, so both ways. And thirdly, we are trying to encourage the development of secondary industries based on the primary products from agriculture in this province because we feel that with agriculture it will always be running and with the products from there you will always have that so you will always need to process them, to beneficiate them. So if you develop secondary industries based on your primary products then they will be sustainable much longer than mining itself will survive.
POM Is education another area where you would like to see the provinces have more competencies, that they be more able to pursue an educational agenda that will be in tune with their needs and their requirements?
PL Well to a limited extent yes. I think actually that the present situation, let me put it this way, the present situation has not as yet impressed on me that there is need for drastic changes in the education as such barring of course the critical element of skills training.
POM How about though in terms of literacy and just the broadening of the whole base of education?
PL Yes. Well we are very much committed to that because as I was saying a few days ago to somebody that I find when I talk to the investors one of the issues that they raise is, do you have the requisite kind of labour? It's vital that we should train our labour force because it's going to be also one of the leverages for attracting investment to come into the province. So the question of training, adult literacy and related matters is a very vital and critical area as well.
POM How about housing? There was a shortage, I think I saw a figure of 300,000 units when you came into power and you were going to build 150,000 a year.
PL You mean our province?
PL No, no, no, our province has not made any extravagant claims like that. I think it was another province that made those kind of claims.
PL What we did say, what we have said is that we are committed to developing housing and actually at the moment we are the province leading all the others.
POM You are?
PL With the number of houses built since we came to government, and we intend to keep it this way.
POM What's been different about your approach than the approach in other provinces?
PL First of all we have attacked housing by way of combination. We took a number of options together, joint ventures with the private sector where government put something and the private sector put something. We have given subsidies in the normal way that that should be done. We have encouraged communities to syndicate in this regard of housing and we also went further of course, in my office we set up what we called the Premier's Housing Project, which meant that from some of the funds available to me we could use that also for housing.
POM How about the culture of entitlement which so bedevils some other provinces, particularly Gauteng is probably the most outstanding example, but certainly the Eastern Cape as well? Do you have that kind of problem that people don't pay for services, don't pay for bonds on houses?
PL There is a bit of that parallel in the province but nothing in the proportions of what one would see in other provinces. The way we have tackled this kind of thing has been to engage our communities and to explain to them thoroughly that although all of us have been victims of apartheid but that our constitution is a democratic constitution and it recognises and affords equal rights to everybody, black or white. I think there is no short cut in this matter. One has to go and meet the people and explain the provisions of the constitutions. Without that kind of approach it's impossible.
POM Do you find that people expect to get electricity or water or whatever for nothing? That this is what they should get from government? That they have become so used to it? What's the problem that they won't pay?
PL I don't find that that is the attitude of the communities. I think that we have been explaining to people that when we went on the rent boycotts in the past and so on it was largely because we were paying rentals to a government within which we did not have a say, but that in the present period all of us have now got a government which we voted for and to which we are accountable and which is accountable to us. I found the response of the community is very positive once they understand this process. There is always of course the problem that people raise that many of us are unemployed. What do you say about us who are unemployed? Of course we have to assure the people that we are working as indeed we are, working very hard to get them jobs and to eliminate crime and things like that. Once people hear these things and they hear a rational explanation they are very positive.
POM Derek Keys, the former Minister for Finance, every year that I have met him and I meet him every year just to talk to him about finance and growth, and he says there is one thing this economy can't do, it can grow at 3%, it can grow at 6% but it can't create jobs and that there's no relationship, as has been shown in Europe, between economic growth and the creation of jobs. And yet jobs is the major, would you agree, the major problem not just facing the country as a whole, is it?
PL It is absolutely so.
POM Have you made any leeway here in reducing the level of unemployment or is just the population increasing the number of new entrants into the labour force greater than the number of jobs you can create?
PL You see South Africa is also mechanising and a lot of people are getting dismissed as a result of mechanisation especially on the farms, in agriculture. Partly of course farmers introduced that because they try to run away from expenses so the trend, let me say the pattern of things such as that, unemployment is increasing or has been increasing or will stay at the level at which it is, is due to that kind of process that as you mechanise, as your technology goes higher it tends to eliminate people.
POM The same thing happened in the mines.
PL That would also happen, well the mines is a bit of a different situation. I think that the problems in mining are different. They have to do with the morale of the workers there in part because in the past they had no say, they had no meaningful trade union rights. Today they have those and as they raise and they negotiate and they are able to compel their wages to go up it compels management to find other means of economising, in other words of absorbing some of the loss that they would be making if they met the wage scale demands by the workers. You know there are problems like that. So there's a bit of a slightly different situation from that point of view.
POM Let me just move to two political questions. At the time that you didn't win the chairmanship of the regional ANC congress there was a lot of hullabaloo and make-do about it was due to you are too conciliatory towards whites, there was a northern cabal that was operating against you, that it was undermining your position as premier your being the only premier who wasn't head of the party and also premier of the state. What impact did it have? Was it blown out of proportion by the press? Was this a good example of the way the press operates?
PL I am not the only premier of the ANC who didn't become chairperson of the region. In the Eastern Cape for instance, Raymond Mhlaba who is the premier of the province there is not chairman of the party at the same time but the dilemma there was different from here. We did have certain internal problems, party problems that led to that but I don't want to go into that.
POM This is for history, it won't be published until after the year 2000.
PL Well maybe they can be dealt with at some point. There was a press suggestion that the reason that this was so was because I was perceived to be too close to, too sensitive to whites and too concerned with appeasing them. I don't think really that that was the cause. I think we had internal party problems and that was really what the situation was. Admittedly some of my political opponents did use the fact that I was hammering this question of reconciliation so much. They did use that to suggest that I was more concerned with white fears than I was with black aspirations, but many thinking people actually realised that there was quite a balance. I was the only premier that removed the statue of Verwoerd and no other premier had done something of this nature. Thus in doing so I cleared the balance that I was not just asking Africans to give something for reconciliation but I was also asking white South Africans to get rid of symbols that were offensive to the pride of the African section of the population. I think that those who tried to make mischief by suggesting that I was too much pro-white and so on at the present time have retraced their steps because the majority of the people can see how useful it was that I should have tried to pull together people, black and white together. We now have, we boast now the highest, we boast to be a province with the highest levels of reconciliation and co-operation between black and white. If you take for instance this provision of housing that I was talking about, a lot of the business in the province has been very sympathetic and co-operative in terms of working with the government to provide housing and even the loans for their employees.
POM I was going to ask just two more quick questions and then maybe we can settle something for the weekend. I would hate to come all this way and get 20 minutes of your rushed time. I know you have got so many things on your agenda.
PL The only thing is that I have got somebody here. What time are you flying back?
POM I am flying back at 1 p.m., that's the only plane there is.
PL Maybe if you wait after - I will see these people not very long and then they go and maybe we can go on a little bit more afterwards.
POM I'll have to leave for the airport about what time?
PL The airport is very near. Your flight is one o'clock. Let's go on for the time being.
POM We could do anything on the weekend in Johannesburg or Pretoria?
PL We can do something I am sure. What I will do, Padraig, I will give you my cell phone number so that we can make contact and meet for another hour or so in Johannesburg.
POM That will be terrific. I want to go back and get the mixture. One of the things that was said during, and I don't want to concentrate too much on it, is that during the election for the chairmanship The Sowetan had a quote, it said, "Lekota was accused by delegates during the congress of not consulting the branches in the region. He said he had been prevented from doing so by both the north and south regions of the ANC in the province." What I want to get at is without going into the internal reasons, what's the nature of the problem? Is it personalities?
PL No. When we went to conference what I was not aware of was that there were some elements that were not happy. I would say some not happy with my having been elected candidate premier for the ANC and that once I had become premier I still felt that it might be possible for them to reverse that situation. I formed this impression. Now I had raised the question that I should be given a programme so that I could visit the various branches in towns in the province, first of all just to thank our people for having supported our movement and voted us into government. Secondly, to reiterate to them that the promises that have been made by the movement were not just made in order to win votes but that we meant them in earnest and we would continue to regard ourselves as bound by those promises as long as we were in office. Thirdly, to begin to discuss with them their own role and participation in the process of governance. But the leadership at the time did not, sorry, although I raised this request regularly the leadership did not ...
POM That's the leadership here?
PL - did not respond by producing such a programme and in the meantime I waited hoping that this kind of programme would come so that I would then use this programme. I didn't want to go to the branches and talk to the people and so on without co-operation of the leadership. What I didn't realise was that there was a deliberate attempt not to provide such a programme so that it appears as if I am not interested in going to talk to the people in the African areas now that I have been elected. That really was a problem. It was not that I was more concerned with whites. So in the meantime the story was sent around to say that, well, I am more concerned with whites, I am not interested in giving feedback to our branches and so on. The other thing, of course, being that we were coming into government for the first time and we had to grapple with a lot of things, set in place structures and so on and there was not always all the time to still go out and hold mass meetings as we used to do in the old days. We now have additional responsibility. Apart from just talking to branches we have to run government, we have to see that structures are in place and all kinds of engagements. So a certain amount of the time that was available in the past for holding constant and continuous mass meetings a certain percentage of that must now be devoted to doing government work inside offices, writing papers and things like that and even visiting other communities that were not always accessible to us.
POM The other thing was, what's the difference between when you fired Mayekiso as Minister of Housing and Popo fired Rocky as Minister for Agriculture? In one case the ANC stepped in at the national level and tried to mediate the thing and in your case I think you were just left alone? What was the difference between the two situations in terms of how the ANC operates as an organisation vis-à-vis what you can do as a premier?
PL First of all I think that with regard to the North West even the leadership of the ANC was not as experienced as what it was by the time it had to deal with the case that I was handling in this province. There were some other dilemmas there which I am not able to detail authoritatively, but I think that the basic thing is that very few people at that point in time actually recognised and understood the provision of Section 148 of the constitution, or 149 of the constitution, namely that a premier of the province can constitute a Cabinet and he can, if he has got good reasons, it is within his power to shuffle his Cabinet and remove some people from Cabinet. I think that understanding had not become clear to many of the people in government. But I think by the time, and I am not so sure by the way whether the premier in the province was able to articulate his constitutional rights accurately enough. I think he was right, there is no question about that. He realised he was right but I don't know whether he was able to articulate it effectively.
POM Does the National Executive Committee now understand fully that a premier of a province has the right to hire, fire, that's a fundamental right of the premier to pick his own Cabinet?
PL I think there is an understanding now that frankly the constitution gives the premier those kind of powers. Of course he may not abuse them, naturally of course because that is not the intention of the constitution and I don't think in the case of the North West there was an attempt to do so. But when I was dealing with the issue in this province I immediately emphasised the provision of the constitution that it did say that I may change my Cabinet in the interests of good governance. But I went further of course, in dealing with this matter I was able to produce evidence, documentary evidence why I was acting against the man. Not that the constitution requires me to produce evidence but I think the fact that I was able to produce concrete evidence helped a lot in terms of making sure that everybody realises that I am not just acting male fide but indeed bona fide because there was a basis on which I based myself.
POM I know you're getting anxious. OK. Thank you.