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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
22 Mar 1996: Yengeni, Tony
POM Mr Yengeni, let me ask you first a question we discussed in the car on the way down and that is every day one picks up the newspapers and reads about the ineptitude of the police, their inefficiencies, their bunglings, their lack of training, their low morale, yet during the days of the struggle the security forces were always portrayed by the ANC as being powerful, super-efficient, trained to the hilt, what do you think accounts for the discrepancy between the two or is there is a discrepancy?
TY Yes certainly there is a discrepancy. The police force of the apartheid era was there to police not criminals and crime, but to police the national liberation movement and the African National Congress, so that was their main and major role really and now that is no more and they have to uproot criminal syndicates and all sorts of other thugs in our society and they find that they lack the skills to do so because most of the time they were pursuing ANC guerrillas rather than hard core criminals. Now that they have to do so they are struggling. That's number one. Number two, I think that it's an illusion and a dangerous myth to think that the African National Congress which is the majority party in government can simply use the old state for its transformation agenda because the old state and elements of the old state are not loyal to the African National Congress and what it stands for. There may be those that are loyal but certainly there is a vast number of them that are not and I think therefore that the state organs have to be transformed and brought closer to the policy directions of the new government.
POM Is this what President Mandela was referring to yesterday when he said that although the ANC had gained political control they still did not have their hands fully on the levers of power especially in the police?
TY The civil service and the bureaucracy that the government is using has been inherited from the old apartheid state. That state had certain objectives and its fundamental objective was to ensure white minority rule. Now that is no more. We have what we call majority rule, democratic majority rule. It's a new concept that is coming in in our new constitution. You will remember that during this transition we have been having what we call a government of national unity, but now we are jettisoning that concept in the new constitution and we are saying the majority must rule. Now the new state should be oriented towards the realisation of that objective, that the majority rules, that democratic transformation should proceed. It seems to me that like in any other social system the old is fighting to maintain its positions and its benefits and privileges, the new is fighting to assert itself. It's a struggle between the old and the new. Who is going to win that battle I do not know but certainly I think that the majority party in government, the ANC, has to use its political leverage to ensure that these state organs reflect and in fact implement government policy.
POM Where would you place the SANDF in this context? Although the minister and the deputy minister are both members of the ANC all the senior staff, the Chiefs of Staff in the army, the air force and the navy, from General Meiring across the board, all belong to the old order, do the old order, that is the senior brass of the old order, still 'control' the SANDF? Are you sure of their loyalty or do you put a question mark beside their capacity to still uphold and maintain the old order?
TY Well I think we should be very careful not to confuse the government of the day, which is progressive, it's led by the ANC.
POM Not to confuse.
TY We should not confuse that with the state which is bureaucracy. In terms of our constitution even in respect of the defence force the elected civilian authority is the executive and the departments they are the servants, they are civil servants, they must implement the decisions of the executive. They shall not be the decision makers. In the past the Generals, in my view, were the decision makers, they took decisions and implemented them, they were part of government so to speak. There was very little difference between them and the executive, but in our new democratic system we insist that the civilian elected authority be the decision maker and the soldier be the implementer of decisions of the executive. Of course we will have a role to make recommendations and give advice to the executive but in the final analysis the decision maker or the decision making authority lies with the civilian authority. Now in respect of the current general staff you will remember that there were rumours before the 1994 elections that the defence force may well not accept the democratic changes and that there were possibilities of a military coup. All that did not happen. In fact the defence force and the general staff have done wonders to protect the sovereignty and integrity of the new democratic system. So at the level of the general staff I think that they have not done anything that would warrant the need to say that they are not loyal to the present government. It's not the same with the rank and file of the defence force. I think if you look at the reports that we get and complaints from members of the defence force, especially those that are from MK and APLA, about racism and all sorts of behaviour, you can see that there are people within the defence force that are taking time to understand and to accept the new system.
POM There are people who are not taking time or who are?
TY There are people who are taking time to understand what is happening.
POM But you are also saying there are people in the defence force who continue with racism and discrimination against particularly the new members of the SANDF who come from APLA and the MK?
TY There are lots of complaints of that nature, yes.
POM So would there be problems in the defence forces at the middle management level rather than at the senior management level?
TY Even at the middle management level there have been no problems up to this point that as a Defence Committee we can say we have experienced with them. There are all sorts of normal day to day problems and complaints that have been sorted out but there's a lot of work to be done to re-orientate the mindset of the past defence force into the new priorities. Of course this has also happened on the side of MK and APLA, they must also be made to understand that we are now in a national defence force of the country and it has certain responsibilities and obligations and therefore they must begin to do things in certain ways and not do things in certain ways, so this is a challenge that is facing the government and the majority party to ensure, as I've indicated earlier, that all the state departments, especially the security related departments, should be transformed in such a way that they reflect in their composition the broad spectrum of our people and that they reflect in their policies the policy framework that has been put in place by the new government.
POM This suggests to me, and tell me if I'm being presumptuous about it, that after 1999 that the senior levels of the SANDF should be composed of far more Africans than are there at the moment.
TY Yes, well the fact that we don't have a chief of any arms of service coming from the black population is a problem and therefore I think that some changes must take place in the higher echelons of the defence force. In fact not only in the higher echelons, throughout, the middle, the lower levels, because at this point you have a situation where you have an army of black soldiers but with white officers. Now we have to change that, that has to be changed.
POM A couple of weeks ago there was a Defence Review Conference here in Cape Town which was attended by about 140 people but I think there was the noticeable absence of all the Chiefs of Staff of the army, the air force, the navy and whatever, the top brass from the military weren't there.
TY They were not there because of their own commitments in their departments, that's the explanation that one has about their absence. Of course it is a concern that you start a review process and you don't have them around, you need them to respond to some of the views expressed in this issue. But you see there is one thing that they must understand and that people must understand and that is we are government and we have been elected by the people to govern the country and we are going to govern the country, we are going to take decisions and are going to implement decisions. We are going to take the decisions, they must implement the decisions. Whether they agree with the decisions or not that's not the issue, the issue is that decisions have to be implemented to the last detail and we expect everybody from top to bottom to respond in that way or else the majority party will not be able to govern if it can issue instructions and take decisions and they are not implemented by the departments. So that is not and can never be tolerated. So whether they were there or not to me it's immaterial. We are going to take the decisions about what is going to happen in the defence force because of the priorities that we have and those decisions have to be implemented.
POM Following out of that is a very logical question, do you think that the ANC, as by far the most dominant and majority party in the government of national unity, is constrained from what it would like to do by the fact of it being part of a government of national unity? Are there things it would do if it were simply now the governing party as distinct from being the major party in a government of national unity?
TY During the negotiation stage some parties were calling for the term 'power sharing'. They wanted to become part of government even if they have lost the elections in other words. That's a very strange notion of democracy, you don't find it anywhere in the world. The party that wins the elections governs the country. That's how democracy is anywhere. You go to America, if Republicans win the elections or the Democrats they become government, in Britain, I mean everywhere. But of course we had to compromise because we wanted a way forward, we wanted progress and had this government of national unity. But it's clear to me that you cannot share power especially with people who have lost, who you have beaten in the elections, it's not possible, it's an illusion because even now the ANC, the majority party in government, and it is governing the country despite the fact that you have ministers of opposition parties in the Cabinet. Effectively the majority party is governing the country. There may be some problems here and there because of the fact that some important posts in Cabinet are maintained by members of the opposition and therefore they want their own party political stances to be pursued through those positions and I think that's a constraint. Therefore I think that if we go into the 1999 elections and we win the elections it will only be a good thing that the majority party will maintain all the important positions in government and ensure that it's objectives are implemented in the country.
POM Do you think this will allow, when it is unfettered by the need to take into account the opposition or whatever of opposition ministers in a power sharing government, that it will be able to achieve the delivery of services and implement its policies more quickly and more efficiently than is possible at the moment?
TY Yes I think that if you have all the posts in Cabinet maintained by ANC ministers then coordination and working together for the realisation of common objectives will be intensified and will improve. At this point you still have little dynamics between the IFP and the ANC and Gatsha and Mandela which are not conducive to effective and good communication and co-ordination of activities.
POM The media often labelled you, Winnie Mandela, Peter Mokaba and Bantu Holomisa as firebrands, radicals, populists. What do you think they mean by that and do you attach any significance to your being labelled as that?
TY Yes, I take a very strong exception to such labels, for certain individuals to arrogate their responsibility to themselves to label other people this, that and the other. Where do they take that right to be judgmental about one's activities, but of course that's how things are especially when one is in politics. But what I need to explain to you is that in South Africa the press is owned by white people, there is not a single black person who owns a newspaper here and therefore the views that you see in the press are not objective and reflecting the broad spectrum of opinion in the country. They are a reflection of a tiny minority of white owners because for them to make money and to continue that ownership they have to reflect a certain thinking and the press in South Africa is not sympathetic to the ANC, it has never been. There may have been in the past some of them playing a positive role against apartheid but essentially the white press in our country is not sympathetic to the cause of the ANC, in fact they are hostile to the cause of the ANC. During this transitional phase, for example, they have not done anything to show the major and historical significance of the changes that have gone through, the fact that we have a new Cabinet, government of national unity, a new parliament, provincial governments and all those things. That's not the issue to them. The issue is the gravy train that the new elite has gone on, persuading the people that we are just a bunch of people who are making big money for ourselves and so on. If you look at how they reported the Winnie Mandela and Mandela divorce case, many of us black people are very pained by what has happened to us, it should not have happened. But if you read the white press they are celebrating the divorce. They are saying "Good riddance." That explains the way the press handles things here you see. Some of us are very open and direct with speaking the truth and saying that the press is white-owned, white-controlled, white-dominated and therefore it cannot reflect the broad spectrum of opinion in the country. They don't like that. When you say that you are attacking them, you are against them, all sorts of things, but you are simply saying the truth.
POM You become a radical.
TY Now you become a radical, you become a populist. When you say that the wealth of the country is dominated by white people, there is not a single black man that owns a gold mine or a diamond mine here. It's all owned by white people and what kind of freedom and democracy are we having here when this tiny, minority of the population owns the majority of the wealth of the country and the majority of the people of the country remain poor? What kind of democracy is this? Is this the kind of democracy that we want? You become a radical, a populist, a hard-liner, all these things. They don't listen to what you say. They label you and push you into a certain corner. They don't interact with the views that you put on the table and say, look there is a problem here what do we do about this problem. They run away from the problem and chuck you out into a small little dark corner called radicals or populists.
POM Populism and?
TY Yes whatever you call it. So I am really not impressed with them at all.
POM Just in terms of what you said, do you think a sufficient number of members of the ANC in positions of authority and influence are saying the kinds of things you are saying? That after two years there is not a major business, there is not a mine, there is not a newspaper, there is not any major source of the generation of wealth that is in the hands of black people, it all still is in the control of this small elite white minority, that the five major conglomerates headed by Anglo American still control 80% of the capitalisation of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, that many of these basic things that have to change if you are to have a representative democracy haven't changed at all? That must be said again and again and again.
TY Most of them agree with me and agree with us and in fact that's the position they hold because it's the truth, it's a fact, it's not really something you are making up. It's there, take any document, statistics, it will show that's the truth and we need to harp on the truth until such time certain people begin to understand that we should address these things. But not all of them will say those things publicly for various reasons. When I said in parliament the other day that the white, in my own opinion, the white people here stole our wealth by the way they accumulated their wealth in the exclusion of black people, there was a furore from the opposition and the white community and they asked me to withdraw. I said I am not going to withdraw, that's a statement of fact, that's history. My own family's land was taken away and they were driven out of their land forcibly to some other little township down the river. We are now in the process of claiming that land back. It was taken from our family by force. I think it was in the fifties or the sixties when I was still very young. There was no compensation, our cattle were taken, our land was taken and this is not only my own family's experience, it's millions of Africans in our country have had this experience. When I said that I touched the most sensitive chord in their minds because this is a grievance, it's a big, big grievance in the minds and hearts of our people, that in our motherland we have been reduced into workers in white factories and firms, we are supposed to be supervisors and managers. And I am saying no way, we have not struggled to be supervisors and managers in white firms, we have struggled to own wealth. The wealth of this country belongs to the people of this country. There is no way that we are going to entertain or tolerate a situation where a small minority continues to run roughshod over us. No way. That is not going to happen. And I think that the government must use its power to remedy and to distribute and redistribute wealth in the country.
POM And yet when you think, as you've pointed out, of the millions of black people who have been forcibly removed from their lands particularly in the fifties and sixties and even into the seventies and eighties, and the hardships that it brought them and the stealing, the literal stealing of their land that went on, because that was stealing, yet very few members of your party in parliament stood up and said, "Tony is damn right, absolutely right."
TY That I understand myself because the situation in the country is such that if you stand up like that you are going to be a subject of vilification.
TY By the white media, by the white opposition, by all sorts of people. They are going to be presented as an anarchic radical who is spitting fire and who is destructive, who is against national reconciliation and all those things. Many people are scared of controversy. I'm not scared of controversy, I'm not scared at all of controversy. I make it very clear to everybody in the ANC that I will speak my mind on issues and the ANC accepts it. That's why they will not take me to task for speaking my mind because they accept that we are free to speak our minds.
POM Particularly when it comes to issues of truth like what you said in parliament last week. I would have expected that the entire caucus would have stood behind you with one voice particularly since the issues of the forced removals and the expropriation of land was one of the issues that struck the outside world with such powerful force during the apartheid era and yet there was silence. Are many of your colleagues, I won't say cowards, just are they ducking the things that must be said and must be debated and must be said again and again and again?
TY That's part of the game really, but some of us have to continue speaking these things until all of them accept and they agree and they voice themselves publicly on these things. I'm not going to keep quiet myself about these injustices because these are injustices and I was trained to fight injustice in the ANC, in MK and I'm still doing that. I'm not going to keep quiet because we want reconciliation. Reconciliation in my view will only come about through equality and equitable distribution of wealth. If there is not equitable distribution of wealth you have these discrepancies and I don't think there can be ever a reconciliation. You can't have reconciliation where 10% of the population keep 90% of the wealth and 90% of the population have 10% of the wealth. You cannot have lasting reconciliation. You will have reconciliation but it's not going to last.
POM What's the source of the animosity just on that ground between what would be called 'white liberals' and the ANC?
TY Liberals in South Africa, some of them have played a role in the struggle against apartheid, like Helen Suzman and others. But now you have what I call rightwing liberals in the same way as Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Tony Leon is a good example of that, who really are not sincere in distributing wealth to everybody. They want to keep the wealth for themselves because they have it so they are going to beat down the trade unions, they are going to beat down distribution of wealth, they are going to beat down any talk about affirmative action, they are going to be very openly propagating the maintenance of wealth by those that have it and nothing should be done by the country and the government to remedy that situation. So we see them as people who are really not genuine in their commitment to remedy what we have now, these imbalances of extra rich people and extra poor people, which to us is a very important thing. It's the core of our mandate to remedy these imbalances.
POM But you would appear to have more animosity towards what I would call again the white liberals than towards either Afrikaners or towards members of the National Party, or just National Party people?
TY It's because liberals call themselves liberals we would think that they are liberal, but they are not, they are not liberal, they are reactionary, they are conservative. In fact they are more reactionary than the National Party. The Democratic Party has become more reactionary. One would have thought that if you have liberals they will be closer to a democratic government but they are the ones that are very far away, they want hard-core capitalism, cold capitalism without any dilution. If you talk of the RDP and other social programmes and affirmative action and distribution of wealth and all those things, they want to present themselves as being progressive but in fact they are doing everything to undermine the realisation of those objectives. And what is bad about it is that they are themselves rich, they are stinking rich and they are white, so to us they are very arrogant, they are very, very arrogant people to come and want to lecture us about human rights when we have taken up arms and went to prison and some of us died and were tortured, and they stand in parliament and talk the whole day about human rights, how we do not understand human rights, how they best understand human rights, how they fought against apartheid. All that bullshit. So they really make us very angry.
POM Looking at the General Magnus Malan trial that is going on at the moment, what if Malan and his co-defendants are found innocent? What message would that send to the black community?
POM If they are found innocent? If the verdict comes in that the seven people who were at the scene and fired the shots, that they're guilty of murder but that the senior brass, the Malans and the other Generals, didn't order this, were not guilty of that specific murder, what happens?
TY No I don't think that's possible. The political authority was responsible for the country, was responsible for the security forces and they are the ones who issued orders and who directed what the security forces would do, so there's no way that Malan is going to escape. I don't foresee such a situation myself unless something very strange happens, but in that case I think something would have gone wrong. I don't think the normal course of things will find Malan not guilty. I think he's very guilty where he is and he knows it.
POM Do you think he will be found guilty of murder?
TY Whatever. He may not be found guilty of murder but he will be found guilty of having directed and given certain directions and orders to the security forces to conduct themselves in a certain way.
POM But if he is acquitted of the main charge which is murder, what I'm asking is what kind of message would it send to the black community?
TY The kind of message it would send out would be that the trial was a farce because we know that he's guilty. He was a Minister of Defence during a time when the defence force was involved in Angola, when the CCBs emerged, the third force, so he was director of all these activities, he is directly linked. There is no way anybody can convince me that all that was being done by the defence force was done without the minister having had a say. I mean the most stupid person would never believe that. I don't think there's anybody anywhere in the world who believes that all that the security forces did they were doing on their own without political authority and the ministers responsible for those departments giving them direction to do what they did. It's a myth, it's an illusion, it's a lie.
POM When it comes to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission do you make in your mind a differentiation between a Robert McBride who was found guilty of placing a bomb in the Magoo Bar in Durban in 1986 which killed three women I think and wounded scores of others and the actions of a Dirk Coetzee who has admitted to participating in at least 26 crimes some of them involving the murder of ANC aligned activists?
TY McBride and Coetzee murdered people. That's what is common between people but they did so for different reasons and I think it will be incorrect not to say so, to say that McBride was fighting for a liberation cause to liberate his people from white oppression. He was not doing that because he thought he was going to get money. But Coetzee did that because he was following a cause, a cause of maintaining apartheid and white minority rule and also the circumstances were different. They were government, they were responsible for the protection of citizens, not to kill citizens, but they were actively killing citizens because they happened to belong to a different political party. So there are similarities, there are differences and I think that you cannot just club them and put them in one basket. You have to understand the differences, you have to understand the similarities.
POM But unless these differences are taken into account that one was fighting on behalf of a liberation movement against injustice and oppression and the other was fighting to uphold that oppression, if they are both treated equally before the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, and the ironic thing is they are now both working for the state, Coetzee is working for the National Intelligence Agency, but unless that distinction is made can there be reconciliation?
TY I think there can be reconciliation. My own personal view was we needed to take all these racists and through them to a Nuremberg type trial, send them to prison for the crimes they committed against humanity, but of course the ANC takes a different line and because I am part of the ANC I am not part of that line of Truth & Reconciliation Commission and I wish it success in its endeavours. I am positive that it will be good for the country.
POM Just a couple more questions. I know you have to go and I'll make them very quick. It seems to be from what I hear that you're spending a lot of money integrating members of the MK into the SANDF and at the same time you are retrenching them and giving them retrenchment packages, or offering retrenchment packages. Why not save the money, why train somebody to become part of the defence force and then say, "We want to retrench you?" Why not develop a scheme that would save the money of the training and go directly to giving them a pension which members of the liberation movement who were in the MK are given?
TY Well I do not know why it is like that. The Cabinet decided on giving these people packages. But of course the reason was that we needed to rationalise the defence force into a smaller number because state expenditure feels that the defence budget should reflect the priorities of the new South Africa and that then means that rationalisation should take place. And of course you cannot retrench people and throw them in the streets. One, you must give them a package, two, you must give them skills and training so that they can go back into society and be integrated. So that is being done and I think it's the only correct thing to do.
POM Why is the defence force not used more as an arm of the RDP in terms of it has engineers, doctors, skills in many of the things that the RDP wants whether it's down to carpenters, electricians, plumbers, a whole level of support services that could be used in civilian projects throughout the country rather than having them sitting in a barracks doing nothing?
TY You see the constitution makes the point very, very clearly that there shall be a national defence force whose primary responsibility would be to deter any potential threat and at any given moment defend the sovereignty and integrity of the country. So that's the primary responsibility of the defence force put down by the constitution so we have no choice in the matter but to have a defence force that is ready at all times to take on anybody who threatens our security at any moment of the day. Now that's the primary responsibility. You've got the secondary responsibility for the defence force to help society in various ways, when there are disasters or to assist with development or assist with putting down levels of crime internally, etc. So that must be clear, this primary and secondary role. And within the context of rationalising and restructuring the defence force we are looking at how to best utilise some of the resources and services for broader society.
POM As I'm leaving, my last question, the one asked you, Ronnie Kasrils and his four Corvettes. Is this the best way that money can be spent on four Corvettes rather than housing? I saw the case was made for four Corvettes but in terms of national priorities?
TY There's a mistake here on the part of many people who counter-pose the socio-economic needs of our country with our security needs. We've got socio-economic needs and we have security needs and the only way to go about it is to see these as not opposing one another but reinforcing one another. State organs are there to reinforce the country, to ensure that there is stability internally, to ensure that we are not threatened from outside. In today's world if you don't have that force then anybody can play roughshod over you. They can come into your seas and do what they like, they can come through your borders and do what they like. And in turn that will have a severe effect internally in the economy, in the confidence of the investor community and so on and so forth. So there must be a balanced approach here because if the approach is not balanced you just push one side, socio-economic needs, you forget about the security needs, you are going to be in big, big trouble because today's world is not necessarily all friendly. We are not like brothers and sisters and comrades and everybody is nice. It's a myth. So what I am trying to say is that we have looked at this and we have now a policy on defence and we have agreed that we should follow a balanced approach. We don't need a big large and cumbersome defence force. We need a defence force that is going to project the priorities of the new South Africa, a tiny but very effective and efficient core force. We call it a core force. A small force that could be developed into a fighting force if a threat arises within a short space of time and within that context of a core force we will need a navy, we will need an army, we will need an air force. Now what does a navy comprise of? It doesn't comprise of fishing boats, a navy comprises of surface ships and submarines to patrol the seas. But the question is how many submarines and how many surface ships, how many helicopters do we need for the navy so that they become that core force that we are talking about?