About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

24 Apr 1996: Schlemmer, Lawrence

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Professor, it's been a couple of years since we've talked and during that period we've seen the first general election take place in the country, government of national unity come to power, the first provincial elections, the first set of local elections. When you cast your eye back over the period of time like, say, since Kempton Park what would strike you as being the most significant achievements of this government to date and it's most significant failures?

LS     Well I think the most significant achievement has been the way the new government has been able to accommodate and adapt to the requirements of economic and fiscal policy. This has been quite remarkable, the extent to which they have absorbed the international rules, norms and criteria in financial and fiscal management and I think this is the main achievement of the negotiated coalition, in other words the government of national unity, because you had a very, very persuasive Minister of Finance initially from the National Party and later from business who was able to really at the Cabinet, at the level of the Cabinet, convey in detail some of the implications of deviating in this regard and this has I think been a signal success. It's produced great difficulties for the ANC within its own ranks but certainly I think we've benefited enormously, probably 12 billion rands worth of capital have flowed into the country substantially because of this and South Africa's risk ratings have improved although they are certainly not in the clear, we're not regarded as being a very favourable investment risk yet but nevertheless they are decidedly better than they were, say, three years ago. This is the one achievement. A second major achievement I think has been an achievement by Mandela of establishing himself as a person with some sort of national credibility across all groups and this has been his own personal commitment, and I think he's done it very well.

     I think their most significant failure is in a sense the inability to translate the lessons of fiscal management into the other portfolios of government and tight prioritisation, firm control, strict monitoring is possibly the very opposite of what has happened in some of the other departments. The RDP is a signal example of this kind of failure where an enormous amount of policy documentation was produced which was packed full, brimful, over-packed with good intentions each one of them perfectly defensible and necessary in its own right but what you needed thereafter was a very, very tight carefully crafted strategic plan for implementation and that has not happened. It has happened in very few departments.

POM     Now at one level for all intents and purposes the RDP is dead, even though no-one quite says the Emperor has no clothes, in this particular case the close of the RDP, it's empty, it's gone. Do you attribute that failure to develop a strategic plan with regard to the RDP and other line departments a failure of the ministers involved who are mostly new and inexperienced in government or a failure of the bureaucracies, mostly white, to be able to respond to a situation that required an almost completely new paradigm of service?

LS     Yes it's both those things plus a third factor and that is a failure on the part of the initial policy planners to realise how difficult it is to restructure an entire society anywhere in the world. And I would like to take that back a bit further if I might, just to deviate for a minute and say that it's the failure of social science because we spoke a bit earlier before the interview about the army of advisors and there is a veritable army. The government spent two billion rands in 1995 on advisors and consultants. Two billion rands. Now a lot of those people are university trained people and what I have found, and I am a government advisor myself, I am an advisor although I don't do much work there, it certainly is not my little gravy train but I'm an advisor in one of the departments, Arts Science Culture & Technology, and I can tell you that it has been the one great big opportunity for university trained activists, committed people and intelligentsia at long last to get their hands on the levers of policy making and they have made a complete and utter hash of it because their paradigms don't work. The kind of sociology and political science that has become fashionable in universities throughout the world since the late sixties is really, as I see it, a paradigm of protest against establishments. It has never really been able to take the establishments and their roles and functions very seriously and this has been one of the failures. They have not known how to deal with the existing state of affairs other than to try and change them.

     In other words what it has been very light on is strategic analysis and I have sat back and thought to myself and said, yes this is exactly the kind of mistake that much maligned Talcott Parsons would have predicted because if you really think about it Talcott Parsons was a revolutionary author because if you really took him seriously enough he would provide you with a better basis for understanding the system you're going to have to change whereas none of the paradigms which any of the advisors have used have allowed them to understand the system that they want to change. It is that failure which has produced the demotivation in the old civil service because the old establishment was really just overridden and ignored. People from the old establishment pretty soon learned that the way to gain credibility under the new government was to sound idealistic and be awfully keen to start changing and doing things in new ways.

     In other words even they ditched the old paradigms and quite frankly nobody took trouble, for example, in housing to really understand how the housing market works, how the bond market works, the housing/bond market, how the bank lending system works. They discovered this all after the policies were made. Nobody in designing the housing policy bothered to say, hang on we've got to make a detailed analysis of family budgets to see whether or not the people that we fondly imagine to be out there waiting for homes to be delivered in terms of the new thing with subsidies and all that, to see whether or not they were able to or willing to spend money in the way they assumed that they were going to spend money. And they are not. Nobody actually studied the existing system. The existing system was simply too awful so what you had to do is override it and that doesn't work. It doesn't work at all.

     So the failure has really been a failure for which firstly South African universities have had to take responsibility because they have allowed rigour in the social and policy sciences to sink to an abysmal level. That's my view. Secondly, it's the policy planning which was based on the paradigm of let's override what exists. This was often seen in the form of the call for zero-based budgeting. In other words in a particular government department you no longer budget incrementally, you no longer budget on the basis of precedent but you now say, right let's assume that everything is zero and we allocate according to priorities. It's a disaster. First of all it takes too long to do budgeting that way because you have to build an entire world, you can't just prepare a budget and secondly you find that you can't apply it because you can't allow certain things to sink into disrepair and you discover this only after you've prepared your zero-based budget. Then the demotivated old style civil servants, the inexperienced new civil servants who actually spend too little time at their desks, if you want my honest opinion because they are all new elites in new positions with all sorts of new networks and exciting new communication tasks to perform and an effective bureaucrat is a very dull, disgusting person who is usually sitting at his or her desk at quarter to eight in the morning and who eats polony sandwiches out of a lunch box and grinds on. Now that's not the style.

     Then finally what I think one must remember is that South Africa's money markets are the most governable of South Africa's particular, shall I say, social fabric, socio-economic fabric. The money markets respond rationally by and large. In other words if you raise or lower interest rates the money markets will respond as they respond in the US or in Switzerland or wherever they do but in other respects the South African social fabric is on the verge of ungovernability. So it's an enormously difficult country to govern. Now that's the way I would see it.

POM     Would part of this delicacy in the social fabric be reflected in the continual refusal of people to pay for services, of the huge debts being run up by municipalities for services provided?

LS     That's part of it but those are only the more obvious things. I think that the major problem with South Africa is that it is an enormously dependent society. It's got a higher ratio of dependency on government by any particular measure you would like to adopt than most other third world societies with the result that the load amounts to an overload. That's the first thing. The second thing is that because first of all high rates of urbanisation, secondly the political struggle, all undermined, shall we say, community leadership of the type that maintains norms rather than changes norms, we've got a very low maintenance function. There's actually a lack of social discipline. Thirdly, I think the transition ...

POM     You say maintenance function?

LS     Maintenance of norms. The sort of - once again to get back to Talcott Parsons who is making more and more sense to me as time goes by, I also ditched Parsons at one stage and decided that he was a reactionary old fart. Old Talcott Parsons used to speak of a latency function as being those things in community life which maintain patterns, which maintain social discipline, which keep a rough order of authority figures in their particular roles and that kind of thing which give people the inclination to stop at red traffic lights. You know the sort of thing, and South Africa has been through enormously traumatic periods of shocks to the system of community leadership and all the things that Parsons would have referred to as latency.

     We now have a situation where populations simply do not respond here as they might respond in many other societies. I think that we're the very opposite of the Far East Asian countries in that regard. It's well known, I'm not saying anything new, that the Far East Asian social life is very well knit and highly disciplined. So we're a difficult country to govern. We're a country, for example, with high debt, enormously high debt ratios. Let's just take debt. To the average policy planner you talk about people who are hocked up to the hilt buying television sets and all sorts of fancy clothes, that was not relevant to this major heroic task of reconstruction and development. This is trivia, but it's not trivial because when a person gets a government handout, the R15,000 as a housing subsidy and that person then goes to a bank and says now I want to take out a bond Mr Bank Manager, Mr Bank Manager says, right let's see what you're like and finds that this guy owes three months' salary in debt to various clothing stores. He is not going to get a bond and this is precisely what has happened.

     In other words this rather macho politically destabilised culture of ours is not the type of social fabric which is very easy to develop and yet the name of the game in South Africa is development, whatever that may mean. But I would rather attempt on one tenth of the budget to develop a small town in Taiwan than a squatter settlement in South Africa simply because there is such a lack of cohesion in our society. We've got to face the possibility that the government is going to have to do some very non-progressive things to try and re-establish a sense that there is authority in this society. We're not terribly well equipped with authority at the moment.

POM     The crime situation would be one reflection of this, the breakdown of the family.

LS     Yes. We've got the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the world, according to our Minister of Health. Now teenage pregnancy is an index of many things. It's quite a central little function. We've got lots of high rates. Aside from a couple of countries, Ethiopia and perhaps Kenya, we've got the highest rate of road deaths. Now this is also a little index. It's an index of undisciplined pedestrians. It's an index of drivers who drive with very little sense of courtesy. We can go through a number of these criteria. Relative to incomes we've got higher rates of tuberculosis which means that we've got a propensity to eat bad junk food more so than most other societies. Wherever you look you begin to realise there's one hell of a task facing South Africa and how that is going to be addressed is the real problem.

POM     Can that be addressed under what I would say 'the rules of normal democracy'?

LS     Well that's an interesting debate but it's an academic debate. It has to be. At least for the next few years it's going to have to occur within the rules of democracy and a rights culture and this means that the politicians are going to have to do some pretty heroic things. Whereas you can lock people up for littering in Singapore you can't do that in South Africa. We've actually got to convince people that they shouldn't litter and that's much more difficult. It's easy to do that in Boston because you've got a very environmentally conscious population but it's an enormously difficult problem here.

POM     Do you think that the ANC understands democracy or that the country is so close to being a one-party state that the prospects for the development of what we would call multiparty democracy are really so remote in the near future that ministers work for the party not for the government?

LS     Yes.

POM     The party takes primacy over the government, the party makes policy and the government becomes an instrument of the execution of that policy?

LS     No, I think that these are problems and in that sense the ANC doesn't understand democracy, but let me say immediately I am not sure that many leadership establishments anywhere in the world really understand democracy. Democracy often works for reasons which are not seen as part of the promise and the goals and the mission of democracy. For example, there's this notion that I'm sure you're perfectly aware of that democracy works best where people are not terribly intensely interested in politics. The moment you get populations which are over-politicised and highly concerned with political outcomes you tend to overload the system and democracy in the US is rather comfortably served by the fact that only 40%-50% bother to vote in a presidential election. It shows that the society has some sort of independence of government, that it goes on, that it has its own life and momentum. Here the politicians tend to assume that government is all-powerful and all-relevant and the people think that. The people look to government as 'our father', the government must rescue us, the government must deliver, there will be delivery, the RDP is going to this, going to that, going to that. So in that sense there's an overload on democracy which makes it very, very difficult, a much more tougher task to be a Cabinet minister here. On the other hand the society doesn't have some sort of alternative basis for maintaining order and development. Everything is politics. I don't know whether these things are necessarily ...

POM     Is everything politics or everything is race?

LS     No I don't think so. Look, everything is race at a certain level of articulation in South Africa. The people who write letters to the paper, your sort of middle level semi-intelligentsia, everything is race to them, but it's not to the population at large. I don't experience racism among the masses and I don't think that South Africans are particularly racist. Our newspaper columnists are racists. There are many new elites that are racist but South Africa is not really a racist society. It's always been misunderstood in this regard I think.

POM     You talked about turnout in the US elections and when one looked at the turnout rate or the proportion of eligible voters that actually voted in the local elections last November I think it was about 38% or something. More people stayed at home than went to the polls and yet the ANC took this to be a massive endorsement of its policies of the people's confidence in it, that it had even improved its position and the media, I saw no analysis of the results of that election that said ...

LS     Well I wrote an analysis in the Financial Mail which was the only one that pointed this out, for which I was called a member of the new right-wing by an Afrikaans newspaper.

POM     I see. What issue was that?

LS     Actually they took it from a report I wrote for another agency but they quoted from it liberally. We can look it up just now, I'll look it up, I can't remember what issue. Yes the press failed the politicians dismally in that. A lot of junior reporters who were given the political beat rushed in and wrote adulatory things about the results of those elections without knowing what the hell they were talking about. I think that it may have been Zola Skweyiya, but there was one ANC Cabinet minister, no it was Pallo Jordan, who spoke of the 'juniorisation of the South African media' and he was absolute right. We've gone through an amazing juniorisation of the South African media where newly graduated people are now dispensing their wisdom to the world at large and quite frankly they don't understand the world. God knows, some of them may still be virgins for all I know.

LS     But this problem of dependency, I am working on unemployment at the moment, that's my particular project, and I am beginning to compare South Africa with other comparable countries and South Africa has got the highest unemployment rate in the world. Published unemployment rate is now about ten percentage points higher than any other country that's on record of the ILO, but if you look at most South American countries you find that there is a category of people that doesn't exist in South Africa but which saves them from these critically high rates of unemployment and that is what they call the 'family employment sector', families that are actually self-sufficient and who work in little family businesses. We don't have that here. We don't have family businesses here. We don't have little family enterprises. We often have women hawkers but the man is hanging around waiting for the next handout from the RDP. The woman may be selling tomatoes by the roadside. So in other words because of the nature of our social system we've ended up with a greater load of dependence on government than any society I can think of. That's what worries me and that's what the ANC, or any party doesn't quite understand.

LS     But to come back to your point about the low turnout in the elections, this funnily enough is perhaps the only basis for the maintenance of a multiparty system. I think there is disaffection with the ANC creeping in. They are not going to vote for any other party. The ANC is still their party but they don't feel particularly motivated to go and vote for it which gives opposition parties an opportunity of raising their proportions simply by virtue of better mobilisation. So in 1999 you might find that the DP and the National Party and the PAC will do rather better than in 1994 not because ANC have crossed to them but simply because fewer and fewer ANC people vote. And that may be a good thing, it will provide a bit more balance.

POM     It could go the other way too. Many people I've talked to think that in 1999 the ANC will trot in with about 70% of the vote. I know this is all speculation but if you look at the PAC, it practically has ceased to be, the IFP outside of KwaZulu/Natal has practically ceased to be, the NP is going through what looks like a terminal identity crisis, the DP is marginal, the Freedom Front it's constituency can only diminish not increase. What's left? Where is the alternative when you look for the alternative?

LS     No, no, you're quite right. My statement is based on the assumption that the opposition parties would maintain their coherence and actually be able to raise enough funds to go and canvass and mobilise people. And you're right, I mean the NP is bewildering in its collapse with people leaving it and really no sense of thrust at all. The DP has got a very articulate and active leader who may for his pains end up as being vilified as South Africa's public enemy number one simply for being honest, because liberals are in for a hard, hard time in South Africa, a very hard time. You know, you're right, it may go the other way in which case the ANC may come in but with a fairly low percentage poll like Mugabe or something like that. That's not a democracy. If that happens then democracy is dead and by then the economy will have picked up the message and South Africa will be on the skids.

POM     Let me pick you up on a couple of things that you mentioned. I want to talk about liberals and the ANC and the increasing downright acrimonious exchanges that go on, that are taking place, culminating with that now famous television debate. Why is the ANC so hard, so bitter towards liberals, so distrusting of them?

LS     I don't think the ANC itself is distrusting. I certainly do not detect this among senior members of the ANC and the former exiled people. I detect this welling up of anti-liberal sentiment among the new elite. These are the black yuppies most of whom have not been in exile, not been in prison, but they are the people who benefited from the new patronage.

POM     They would be like university graduates?

LS     Yes university graduates and sort of internal activists, people like that. And I think that it's perfectly explicable. The Afrikaners are no longer a threat to them because the Afrikaners are either running scared, they've left the civil service, or those Afrikaners that are in the civil service have adopted the ANC agenda, but there is still this huge category of the non-Afrikaans or English upper middle class which is independent but which is in many, many jobs which this new elite just feel they should be vacating but it is the category of people least likely to vacate those jobs. So there's a sort of competitive animosity towards them. Secondly, the liberals are also, you see one of the things which Kempton Park showed up and it's been shown up ever since then, is that when it comes to political formulation and political articulation the ANC people took the Afrikaners to the cleaners. The Afrikaners just couldn't cope, they were hopeless, but the liberals are not. The liberals usually win their arguments and that is rather unforgivable to win an argument against a member of the new elite. It's an anointed class coming in, you must realise that, it's a class which is perceived to have been disadvantaged by themselves and it was disadvantaged. It's now their time, they are the new deserving and these bloody yuppie English stockbrokers and business executives and academics and other members of the English upper middle classes are simply regarded as being cheeky. It's understandable and also there's another thing, and of course in the US there has been some of this as well, a kind of anti-Jewish sentiment among black radical intelligentsia. One of reasons for that is that Jews have been so prominent as members of the political intelligentsia. They are competition and therefore they evoke great hostility. So I think it's a syndrome and it started off with people like William Makgoba and Barney Pityana and others but now it's spread. Every single middle level member of the new elite will give you this line, it's now become a received wisdom, the liberals are racists. It's at times like that that it's actually for the first time in my bloody life it has suited me to say to myself, thank God I'm an Afrikaner.

POM     The Makgoba affair is a very interesting example. What does the whole fracas say about the state of race relations? Let me put it in a bit of a context. Certainly in the United States if you were a candidate for a high position and there were accusations made that you had tampered with your CV and if those accusations were proved that you had in fact tampered with your CV in a significant way, not in small and insignificant ways, you would be gone, you would simply not just lose the position you were seeking you would lose the position that you held. Yet a statement that comes out at the end of it which says that "Some statements perhaps in my CV could lend themselves to misunderstanding" seems like a very polite way of saying "I lied".

LS     "I embellished." I think what he did was he embellished his CV, he turned jobs into rather fancier jobs than they were without really lying about the fact that he had a particular kind of job. I think it was an embellished CV. Quite frankly what got the goat of the academics at Wits that I know of was not the fact that he embellished his CV. Those academics are all liberals and as liberals are won't to do they would have forgiven him for embellishing his CV, they would have forgiven him even for not being a terribly good administrator because Wits is not over-populated with good administrators I might add. It's a pretty ropey operation in many ways. I hope you don't send this interview to my employers, my part-time employers. No, what got their goat was the quality of logic and reasoning, not the conclusions, the quality of logic and reasoning in the letters that he wrote to the press and I can tell you that I withdrew an application. I had been asked by a particular Dean who shall be nameless, to apply for a job, a full time job, and I thought perhaps I should make my life a bit easier and get back full time into academics so I put in an application. When those letters appeared I was so appalled not by what Makgoba was pleading for but the way he put together his arguments which was quite frankly pathetic, that I decided that I would have to watch this very carefully and that I certainly was not sure that I wanted to work full time for a university that was going to get or that had a very senior executive that was capable of such lousy conceptual thinking. I don't know if you remember the articles?

POM     I don't think I was here at that time. When were they published?

LS     Well you should look at them sometimes, it's good to check, because this is what really got the people upset because they thought here really we're used to disagreement, we're used to fighting with people about Africanisation or not, there has been a huge debate at Wits about that. This is nothing new. It didn't upset them. But there are certain intellectual standards and if you look at those articles you will realise what the problem was.

POM     Now these articles are newspaper articles?

LS     They were articles in The Star, there were two articles about the challenge facing Wits where he lambasted the existing staff and said that Wits was a useless place and that he personally was going to rescue it. And that's fine, there have been lots of people at Wits who have done that in the past. But the intellectual quality of those arguments was such - now nobody could say this of course because it's fighting cleaner in a sense to say that he's not a good administrator or he's embellished his CV than to say the conclusion one draws from the way those articles were put together that this was a consequence of a mistake that was made initially when the person was appointed to the particular job and some of the people who complained about it were instrumental in his appointment. But what it says to me more broadly is that there is racism in the world but it's not the kind of racism that Makgoba was referring to, although there is a bit of that as well. The racism in the world is a racism which allowed Wits to make an inappropriate appointment in the first place and that appointment would not have been made had he been white, or even Indian.

     But it goes further than that, you can't blame Wits, one of the causes in my view of the terrible state that Africa is in is due to the lack of the guts and the political will on the part of the international community since 1960 onwards to give honest and forthright feedback to African governments about their performance. Everybody has skirted the issue because of slavery, because of collective guilt, because of a respect for the weak and a respect for the people who are disadvantaged in some way and a disinclination to get into arguments about the effects of colonialism, with the result that Africa had a period of some fifteen years where it was really allowed to degenerate in a way which is now turning out to be an international problem of the first order. Sooner or later this continent is going to require concerted international action to somehow rescue it. Now this is as a result of leaving things too late and of saying, "No, well, after all they are Africans and let's be easy on them."

     From Kwame Nkrumah onwards, with Kwame Nkrumah "seek ye first the political kingdom", that bullshit, most western universities at that time, most western diplomats tut-tutted or agreed with it. It's a syndrome in the world and it is a kind of a racism that because there was colonialism and because there was slavery you must go easy on these guys and drop your standards and your intellectual standards and you mustn't do that. You don't help people that way and you are creating enormous problems. There are plenty of black people that are super-intelligent and lots of people who could have been put in Makgoba's job with very good effect. As a matter of fact there are other Deputy Vice Chancellors or Pro-Vice Chancellors at formerly white universities now that are doing a very good job, friends of mine. Wits, perhaps because it was more liberal, really mismanaged the whole thing. And this worries me because it's more general, it's not only Makgoba, it's much more general.

POM     Well one seeming implication of what you're saying is that it's breeding a culture where you would think twice before you criticise or you simply don't criticise.

LS     Oh yes, definitely. As a matter of fact I'm worried about speaking as honestly as I have in this interview and think, God knows, if some people get hold of this I'll really be for the high jump. I will be regarded as being a Nazi war criminal by definition. There is a pathological spirit in the country about these issues and that's what is racist, not the liberals at Wits, not Charles von Onselen, he's not a racist.

POM     The other area you mentioned that you are personally involved in is the employment issue. Here you have a phenomenon not unusual in the world any longer of growth without any creation of jobs, you have trade liberalisation coming into effect with the lowering of tariffs which will destroy rather than create jobs. The country is generally regarded in most international studies as being highly uncompetitive. If you are to become more competitive you will be using technology and capital intensity. You have unions that are demanding wage rates that seem out of proportion to their productive capacity, high unit wage costs, low productivity. Every year I've interviewed Derek Keys, even since he has quit being Finance Minister, and I ask him the one question every year because he said it the first year when he was Finance Minister, he says the best this country can do between now and the year 2000 is probably reduce unemployment by about 1% a year and every year I go back to him and I say, "Do you still stand by that prediction?" and he says "Yes" with a big smile on his face, not to smile that he's going to be right but that jobs are not going to be created.

LS     Yes 1% a year reduction is optimistic.

POM     Again, how can you hope to enhance the process of democratisation in the country if in effect you have 40% of the people at least who will be permanently unemployed with no jobs for new entrants on the labour markets. I know black kids who are in the worst of circumstances have passed their matric and there's nothing out there for them.

LS     This is the big crisis. South Africa is well on its way to becoming what I might have mentioned to you in the past, an enclave society where the economy and the established working class or the unionised labour and the middle class are part of an enclave surrounded by a vast and growing under-class which is rather different to the under-classes of India for reasons which I said to you earlier is that India at least has got the small family business. No matter how low status you are, Untouchable in India, you have a way of making your way in the world, you've got your little racket, enterprise, whether you clean toilets or whatever you do you've got it, it's your role. People fit into society. We've just got this huge marginal sector, and it's growing, of people that are literally social and economic appendages. They are reliant on their families for everything, or on government and government hasn't got the fiscal capacity to create any kind of a welfare net or anything like that.

     No, it's a most serious problem and that's why I'm starting to look at it. It's the one thing we must look at. I personally don't think that there's any way of coping with it in the formal economy. These plans that the S A Foundation produced about a two-tier labour system, even that I can tell you will not cause business to increase it's rate of employment because labour in South Africa just simply means too much hassle. It's a hassle factor and industrialists and owners complained that you spend 99% of your time in running a business with a reasonable labour force trying to cope with all the difficulties that the labour force produces. They would much rather move to machines even before they should, even before the production runs really justify the machines, to get rid of the hassle factor because then you can start being a serious businessman, you can start thinking about more interesting things for business people. So we're not going to solve it in the formal sector. We've got to solve it in the marginal sector itself, it's got to become more productive and self-sufficient. This once again is going to require some supreme leadership from the government at the political and community level.

POM     Does that leadership in a post-Mandela era, does that leadership capacity exist?

LS     I think it does. The people exist. They have got the energy, they have got the articulacy, I think, for example, the sort of local - I can just refer to this evaluation I'm doing at the moment - local level ANC activists and candidates in local government are very, very impressive people in terms of their ability to argue, relate, convince, persuade. This category of people is certainly there. There's no shortage of eloquence in South Africa, none whatsoever. Their paradigms are all screwed up once again by bloody university courses. I think if there's a latter-day international criminal it's people like the development of under-development (what was his name?) - that thesis. They don't really analyse the problem in a way which can be solved with the result that I have to conclude that at this stage the leadership doesn't exist.

POM     But there's no indication that universities are responding to, or think-tanks are responding to the challenges you have just mentioned?

LS     No, no, the issues are too compartmentalised. Crime is seen as an issue so you've got to have a strategy for that. Unemployment is seen as an issue. Lack of productivity, they are all seen as separate issues and then they come with their cookery book solutions to these sort of things but in fact we've got general problems that spread right across sectors. If you think about it, now let's get back to this housing policy which is one of our most spectacular failures.

POM      This is a continuation of my conversation with Professor Lawrence Schlemmer on 26 April 1996 in Johannesburg.

POM     Can you remember? You were making the point that the problems are more systemic than isolated from sector to sector.

LS     As I was saying the problem doesn't lie so much with the housing policy although I think that had its problems, it lies with the fact that people don't pay their rent and service charges but that is not the root of the problem. The root of the problem is that in the post-war years, say between the fifties and very early seventies, the South African economy produced a towering performance of job creation, of labour absorption. It was in fact, notwithstanding apartheid, a very successful formal sector economy and it gave the government a lot of fiscal revenue relative to the size of the population and in those days the then white government started this whole tradition of delivering to the people. Now funnily enough none of the present politicians will acknowledge that that was the case but that government, the NP government built houses by the millions, they build Soweto, they built Attridgeville, they built Mamelodi, they built township after township. People were paying R17 a month rent and service changes all included. The system worked but it was a system which was exploiting this rapidly expanding commodity based economy. Now things have changed. The world economy no longer needs a commodity-based South African economy. The economy has been outgrown by the population. Now you have a situation where even the people that are in the houses, even if they wanted to pay their rents, the cost of providing services is way beyond the capacity of those people to pay for the kind of services. What the NP government did in the fifties and sixties was to build the infrastructure for a lower middle class black urban community, a lower middle class black urban community. Now that in a sense, the hey-day of that enormous economic machine is past, the country can no longer afford a lower middle class urban infrastructure. We're never going to solve the Masakhane problem.

     If you look at the average family budget, even whites are battling to pay the service charges that are levied to maintain a lower middle class sort of semi-suburban milieu which is what the townships were. Nobody realised it at the time. We used to lambaste these townships as slums, little boxes, but in fact that was over-provision relative to the long run capacity of the economy to sustain it. Now the chickens are coming home to roost. We're realising that if you take a factory worker who may in a unionised industry be earning R1100 a month, say R1200 with overtime, he has got an unemployed brother and an unemployed cousin dependent on him, they are living there, his teenage daughter has got a child, she's living there, this guy on his R1100 a month is supposed to pay for municipal services at a rate of between R230 and R270 a month. He can't afford it. It's not the failure of the Masakhane, it's not a boycott. Nobody can afford it any more. The structure of costs, resources and costs has changed over the period and none of them have been prepared or interested in analysing this.

     What we really need in South Africa, what we're trying to do with the housing policy is more like what Portugal has been trying to do over the last 15 to 20 years. We can't compete. We haven't got the competitive advantages of Portugal. We've actually got to look at the solutions in Brazil and Paraguay and Uruguay and Mexico and that sort of place, that's where we will learn our lessons, but nobody is prepared to do it because of this failure of analysis that I've been talking about. Can you think of a single author in any journal of development studies that in the seventies was writing and saying South Africa will not be able to sustain it's level of housing delivery, it's doing things too well. That person would have lost his job at a university for writing that, but that was the truth, which is why I come back to this idea that we academics, we are supposed to be the people who make the analyses on which economists, at least politicians build their concepts. We've let them down because we've become politically correct and we became politically correct before anybody else. Gouldner(?) that American, you remember the sociologist Gouldner, William F Gouldner, he should be horse-whipped because he started the rot in America long before the Marxists. And there's just an Afrikaans word for it, slapgat, becoming flaccid in your analyses, being brimful of good intentions, a sort of sociological Galbraith. So I feel a sense, being a sociologist myself, I feel a sense of guilt. We haven't helped the people.

POM     Well on that note I will say thank you. I have to go to Witbank to see one of my families.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.