This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
17 May 1996: Jordan, Pallo
POM. Dr Jordan, first I have to ask an obvious question which you may want to address or not address and that is the travails of your own career in the last several months, being dropped from the Cabinet rather precipitously to almost widespread public concern and then being returned to the Cabinet six weeks later. Can you talk about it at all, and again this is not for publication until the year 2000, about why you think that happened in the first place?
PJ. No, I don't know what the reasons were. The explanation I was offered by the President was no different from the explanation that was publicly offered which was that the departure of Liebenberg had created a numbers problem about how many seats in the Cabinet the ANC had as against its partners in the coalition and therefore he had to drop one Cabinet minister. Now that led to a lot of press speculation, I think in part because most people in the media didn't consider that an adequate explanation especially in view of the fact that the President said that he could not fault my performance and that I was one of his ablest ministers. Now the press speculations, I don't know whether they have any substance or not but that's the way it goes. I was brought back to Cabinet in the context of the NP leaving the government of national unity which of course created a completely new situation compelling the President not only to re-shuffle but also to find people to fill the posts that were vacated by the former NP ministers. So that I think was quite rational.
POM. I think what surprised me was that in reading his autobiography, very early on in it he said as a boy he learnt, an incident involving a donkey or a donkey ride, and he said he learnt a very valuable lesson and that is never do anything that allows people to lose face and that you mustn't take an action that allows the other person to lose face. And yet in the way he treated you it seems pre-emptory, sudden and not designed for you to lose face but certainly put you in a position of appearing to lose face. Did you see it that way at all?
PJ. Well I didn't feel as if I lost face. I was satisfied in my own mind that I had performed my task to the best of my ability and had done, I think, some pioneering work in the field in South Africa. We had lifted Posts & Telecommunications out of what it was in the past which was sort of an add-on to the Department of Transport and put it centre stage as one of the ministries that was going to be important for South Africa in the future, especially in the 21st century. We were responsible for initiating a very important public consultative process through a green paper and telecommunications policy. I had just published a white paper on telecommunications policy. Both processes, the public consultative process and the white paper had been internationally well-received and acclaimed as outstanding. So as far as I was concerned I hadn't under-performed. In the field of turning around both the public data about telecommunications and it's future I think one had brought it out of the ivory tower from being a pastime of eggheads and computer and cyber space buffs to something that concerns ordinary people about not only the quality of their lives, that is ability to communicate amongst themselves and with each other, but also in terms of it being an instrument both for development and entertainment, education, etc., for ordinary people. No-one had ever done that before.
. With respect to our postal service which wasn't so much a Cinderella as a backwater in our communications networks, losing money, we arrested that deterioration, had devised new policy directions in which at least one could foresee a time when the postal service would pay for itself and even make a profit rather than being dependent on government subsidy. In terms of all those things I didn't feel I had under-performed so I didn't feel I lost face in the least. One, of course, leaves it to other people to judge and you defer to their judgement in terms of your own performance. Other people might see things you don't see. The Chinese say, for example, that why you need a mirror is that the blemishes on your face you can't see yourself it's only other people that can see them and it's only when you look into the mirror that you see the blemishes on your own face. It might well be that I was impressed with my own performance and perhaps I needed a mirror, but I don't think so.
POM. Do you dismiss the inevitable speculation that results in situations like this that it was because of your independence in the Cabinet, that you were prepared to be a voice in opposition often against positions that the President himself would hold?
PJ. It's possible, it's possible that those were the reasons but I have always understood the ANC as a movement in which we respected the fact that the individual might sometimes march to the beat of a different drummer. It's possible that that was the reason, but that wasn't the reason I was given. Of course the press will speculate if the reasons that are preferred don't seem to be very substantive and I suppose it was inevitable in that context that they would then speculate.
POM. How do you see your role now both within the NEC - let me differentiate between the NEC executive and as a member of Cabinet?
PJ. Well the two roles, of course, are distinct in that in the one capacity, NEC of the ANC, one is participating in the leadership of a political party. In the executive as a Cabinet minister one is participating in the executive of the government. But one tries to relate the two to each other. In government I have always seen my role as being within the constraints of what is politically possible pursuing the objectives, the aims and the programme and the political platform of the ANC. Now that obviously has to be tempered by a whole range of other interest groups and constituencies that exist in the larger society. One wasn't perhaps as conscious, while being in the NEC of the ANC, of the clout that for example business, big, small and large, plays in the greater society out there and one was always, of course, very conscious of the weight of civil society because we inter-acted with that a great deal. One was always conscious also of the importance of the trade unions. One was always conscious, I think, also of the importance of the religious movement.
. But of course weight in social discourse and political discourse and within a political system does not always derive from numbers. Strength can derive from a whole range of considerations. In the case of some elements in the business community that I had to encounter as Minister of Posts & Telecommunications their relative weight lay much more in the economic leverage they had in the society and if those interests were not attended to the ripple effect of them going up or down or in some way being jeopardised or enhanced in the society, of course extended far beyond their own narrow limits. For example, in the area of posts one became aware of the fact that there were a handful of fairly large companies, commercial companies, using the mail, mail order business, and those were the firms whose relative weight as customers of the postal service far exceeded the millions of other South Africans who write and receive letters every day, because these are people who use the postal services twice, three times, four times in one week and in each case it's bulk mailings, thousands of items going through the mail. And then, of course, these peak at various times of the year. At Christmas they go through the ceiling and at various holidays they peak, certain months of the year they then slump and then pick up again, etc., etc., etc.
. Now you are talking here maybe twenty business houses but their weight in the whole system, the postal system, far exceeded their small numbers and the numbers of people who not only depended on them because they were their customers, their clients, but also the numbers of people who depend on them because they kept them in jobs because it was these people's traffic which was being handled by postal workers on a day to day basis. If those people went out of business people's jobs would be lost and if those people were out of business the investment you had put into improving, upgrading, etc. the postal system, all that would just go down the drain. So one becomes then conscious of little things like that.
. One was aware, of course, that with changes, especially the technological changes that have taken place in the last thirty, forty years, especially electronic communication services, the business letter which also was a very important item of mail in the past had declined in importance because it had been replaced by faxes and then now of course you've got e-mail and all that sort of thing, far faster, far easier, a lot less sweat, and all the attendant problems to moving paper that you have to fill, create huge files and so on and access those files, all that is now a matter of the past. You file it electronically. You never lose it. You have to make copies it's no sweat. All that sort of thing, right? One was aware of that but the impact that that had then on something like the postal service I only became conscious of it when I actually became minister. That has in fact put postal services throughout the world into very, very grave crisis, except in the least developed countries. The US Post Office, for example, virtually collapsed about ten years ago because of that and it hadn't planned and anticipated developments such as those. In the US now postal services have been replaced by a whole range of courier services and the post office has to compete against those private postal services. Here, because I think we are not at the leading edge of the technology, we might have the opportunity to adapt to that change and take account of it provided we move with a little bit of speed.
POM. Let me relate that to two things, and that is the need on the one hand to adapt to the leading edge of technology to compete in the global economy so to speak, vis-à-vis the need which means becoming more capital and technologically intensive, vis-à-vis the need to maintain jobs and keep jobs, and look at that in the context also of your new portfolio in Environment where the need to balance environmental considerations against growth considerations in the economy may mean that in some cases you lose jobs, i.e. as in the closing down of the mine the other day, or in the development of new industry or whatever. What kind of path do you carve when unemployment is the overwhelming problem that no-one seems to be able to get their hand on at all, but there are other equally important considerations that must be balanced against the need to create jobs?
PJ. Well how we coped with it or how we tried to address it in the area of posts was to look at that problem over time rather than as something that you can have a quick fix solution to. The technology is there to stay and it's very fleet footed. The technologies that came on stream twenty years ago are now completely obsolete and some that came on stream five years ago are on the verge of obsolescence. So that trend of new swifter technologies coming into operation and also coming on stream much more quickly and therefore rendering existing technologies obsolete faster, I think that's a trend, that's a continuing trend. So you face up to that, that's the first reality you have to face up to. There is no way you are going to reverse the trend. That's that. But the business letter is going to be something that's phased out. But at the same time one recognises also that those capacities and those facilities are available only to a certain segment of the population, the business community and those elements of the community who have the discretionary income to be able to invest in swift and rapid electronic communications. The vast majority of the people are not going to be able to do that, at any rate in South Africa at this point in time.
. So you try to make up for what you're going to lose on the swings, on the roundabouts, but those things are gone for ever but the roundabouts of thousands of people who want to write and communicate will always be there for the next ten, twenty years, they will still be there. What's more with your educational and other programmes coming on stream, the number of people who become literate is also going to increase so the volume of people who will be writing is also bound to increase in the next twenty, thirty years, factor those two things into it. Now they will never be of such numbers that they would be able to make up for the absolute numbers of business letters that are no longer going to come through your mail, but at the same time too as those people become literate and want to use your postal system they will also become acclimatised, they will expect the same rapid information transmission. So you make those things more publicly available and accessible.
. The route that we propose for the Post Office, for example, is installation of public fax facilities at the Post Office, that the Post Office runs, so that instead of the normal letter which you write and you put a stamp on and you put it in the mail, you are able to actually go to the Post Office and use a fax, of course at a slightly higher rate than the normal letter so you can transmit the information just as fast, introduce also publicly available electronic mail systems. So instead of going with a fax which they put in, you can actually go to the Post Office and type in to a publicly owned or Post Office owned computer an e-mail letter, queue it and send it off and it's there in a couple of seconds wherever in the world you want to send it to, make those sorts of things accessible to those people. Now in that way you're addressing two things, you're making the technology that's available more accessible to people and then you're also beginning to cope with the escalation that you anticipate in demand.
. Now in the field of the environmental portfolio, there again you're faced with the same sorts of problems and we shouldn't see development and environmental protection as opposites, we should see them increasingly as moving together, as twins rather than as opposites, growth but growth with responsibility to the environment and to one's future because if you look at growth in the same sense as 19th century industrialists and early 20th century industrialists looked at it, at growth at any price, you can end up with people walking around with masks because of pollution. So it's growth within the constraints of what is going to be environmentally safe and what is going to secure the future of the planet and the future of humanity, so not growth at any price. Now that of course does mean that we might well as a country and as industrialists and as business have to invest a little more instead of having a huge smoke stack, invest a little more in ensuring that your smoke stack industry doesn't poison the work force that's going to be employed there. It means that if you're going to have a mine like Grootvlei which is going to pump effluent into an important nature reserve perhaps we should examine what we need to do to treat the water before we pump it out of the mine, etc., and it is investing a little bit more. And at the end of the day I think what we have to do is to persuade both our business community and our work force that that additional investment at present might look like an additional cost but in the long term in fact it's a smaller cost because you're going to pour the smoke into the atmosphere and, all right, you'll get your steel, get whatever you want, but you're going to have to make up for that in people's lungs going to pieces and you're going to have to spend a lot of money on hospitals and this and that and the other. So your social costs are going to escalate whereas if you put a little bit here you might find that these social costs, because it's not as if the growth at any price type of approach has not meant that it's cheaper, it might be immediately cheaper but in the long term it sometimes turns out to be a lot more expensive.
POM. A problem your government will face is that between now and 1999 it must do something that's tangibly clear to people that the job situation is being improved.
PJ. That they're getting jobs.
POM. Now if you at the same time are engaged in trade liberalisation and you've got this flood of imports coming from, number one, low wage countries, and number two, countries that have absolutely no respect for the environment at all whereas you are trying to develop an economic policy that respects the right to a living wage and respects the environment both of which mean higher costs in the short run, you're running into, you're losing ...
PJ. You could find yourself in a bit of a bind.
POM. The textile industry is probably the most immediately ...
PJ. And others. To be sure these are considerations which one has to weigh very carefully but at the end of the day I would say that you will find that come 2001 you'll say, phew it's a good thing we did that. You just take the example of mercury poisoning of thousands of Japanese along the coast of Japan, so much so that they can't even fish the tuna in the Pacific in and around the Sea of Japan, they have to fish for tuna over here and the Japanese eat a lot of tuna because in the sea food chain the tuna is at the top end and the mercury poisoning is the ... and by the time it gets to the tuna it's highly concentrated, they can't eat the tuna there. Now that is a cost that Japan has to bear which no-one thought about when they were dumping the mercury waste into the ocean, but that's a cost they have to bear. Now just as people say we shouldn't invent, there's no need to invent the wheel twice, I would say it is wiser not to invent a wheel that doesn't work twice. We should learn from the experiences of other countries. Do we want to go through the same process, to poison our tuna here so that in time we won't even be able to export it to Japan? No obviously that would be a foolish thing to do, so we don't take the route of the Japanese and say growth at any cost, we say no, we're not going to poison the waters around here with the mercury waste in order to achieve some elusive goal of growth because in time we will find that we have to go and fish, not that we eat that much tuna, we'll have to go and fish for tuna I don't know where, Australia or New Zealand or some place.
POM. But do you not think that's a difficult thing to get across to the person in the township who says I want a job, don't be telling me about that.
PJ. No, no, it's a hard choice to make, it's a very hard choice to make but at the same time unless one is willing to take those tough decisions at this point in time later on in life you pay four times the price for it. You take, for example, the farm worker tuberculosis which is playing havoc amongst our lower income communities in this part of the world, absolute havoc, and tuberculosis was something that's now past.
POM. It was eradicated mostly.
PJ. A killer which is behind us, we've overcome that, but it still played havoc here. Part of the reason for that is industrial waste and industrial pollutants in the air which are damaging people's lungs. Now you can continue and say growth at any cost and bugger up people's lungs and we'll get the growth, we'll get the jobs but with your whole work force, or half of it tuberculotic. Does that make sense? Those are the things that one has to weigh up carefully. I think also what has to be gotten across especially to the investor, because it's the investor usually who considers these hurdles. I don't think the work force consider them hurdles. People who work in mines don't consider the installation of high quality safety measures a hurdle, they say, gee this will save my life. People who work in mines insisting, for example, on all sorts of devices to protect their lungs as a hurdle, they would say, gee this will save my life. They wouldn't consider an insistence, for example, on let's say longer periods of training and acclimatisation rather than the hot-house methods that are used here as a hurdle. They would say this is taking me seriously as a human being. It's the investor and what has to be gotten across, I think, to the investor it is that these costs for the immediate might look like hurdles that they have to jump but in the long term they will find that far from being impediments the actual costs will be much, much reduced in many, many terms, in social terms and also in terms of just the relationship between employer and employee.
POM. I'm going to throw a number of quick things at you so you can react pretty quickly. One is the constitution. On a scale of one to ten where would you rate it?
PJ. As a progressive, liberal constitution it probably rates 8½. I think it's one of the most liberal constitutions in the world. I am hard put to think of a more liberal one right now but one doesn't want to give anyone full marks. I can't think of a more liberal one myself. I think it goes far beyond anything that any of your classic liberal democracies have done up to now. It's more far reaching than the US constitution, for example, in terms of the rights of women. In the United States they are struggling very hard for the Equal Rights Amendment to secure the rights of women. It's common cause in the South African constitution. The rights of people, recognition of different sexual orientations of people and so on, that's common cause in the South African constitution. No problem about that. The rights of the variety of religious groups and people of various types of religious persuasions, that's again secured far beyond anything that you have in the German constitution, the US constitution, the French constitution, the rights of children. In the human rights area I think it goes far further than most other liberal democratic constitutions. I would say in terms of coming to grips with the pluralism of modern societies it goes much further than most other constitutions. I don't think there is any other constitution that has taken as seriously the plurality of modern society as this one in part, I suppose, because of where South Africa came from, the struggles waged in this country.
. One of the greatest vices of South Africa was that the plurality of the society was never acknowledged by the previous rulers, or if they gave recognition to it, it was in order to twist it for purposes of domination and South Africa conventionally society in turn has been defined in terms of the interests and recognition of the whites and their prerogatives and their claims but the rights of everyone else were thought to be irrelevant. Now I think that struggle has sensitised people in this country not only to the rights of ethnic and racial groups but also the cultural claims of a whole range of people, the claims of a whole range of sectors of civil society from your housewife, your consumer, your students, your workers, your neighbourhood groups, you name them. Some account is taken of them in the business world, so that pluralism I think is given recognition far, far beyond what there is in other constitutions. I would say also as far as trying to create the mechanisms for the adjudication and resolution of the tensions that will arise in any society as a result of its pluralism we have probably worked hardest at trying to create an institutional framework for the resolution of those tensions without them blowing up into antagonisms. I would say in those terms it's a very, very good constitution. Yes, 8½.
POM. The withdrawal of the National Party from the government of national unity. You finally achieved majority rule. Is it a good thing for the country?
PJ. Well majority rule is the central paradigm I think of any democracy. Democratic institutions are on the one hand designed to search for and seek and arrive at consensus but they also recognise that consensus is not always attainable and therefore minorities have then to defer to what majorities prefer. Now how those majorities are defined and how they will be defined is an ongoing and a continuous process. At a particular point in time because of the character and the nature of the previous regime in South Africa majority and minority are defined very much in racial and ethnic terms, but I think increasingly they will be redefined. Now you have a majority of South Africans who are pro-democracy and that pro-democratic majority is not coterminous with any racial or racial ethnic group or racial ethnic cluster or racial ethnic coalition, but you have a majority of South Africans who are for women's rights and again those are cross-cutting of racial, ethnic and other ties. You will find that there is greater weight perhaps in one group as against another and there are lots of other majorities that you will find in South African society which are cross-cutting and as it becomes, I think, a normal, whatever that might mean, democracy you will find that those majorities congeal around certain issues and break up around others and then re-congeal around other issues and sometimes you will find that people who cleave to one majority on one particular issues will be part of a minority in another one.
POM. But in the end do you think that the National Party had either two choices, get out there and try to redefine itself as an opposition party or wither on the vine as trying to be a junior partner in a government of national unity and at the same time trying to be the main opposition party and that the duality made for a schizophrenia?
PJ. Well the NP was very much in a schizophrenic position but that schizophrenia derives from its past and it derives also from the role it chose to play in the present. I don't envy them and of course that schizophrenia created terrible tensions in their own party as you can see. Even before the NP decided to leave the government of national unity the schisms and tensions in the party were evident. One of the principal architects on the NP side of the new constitution, Leon Wessels, announced some time ago that he is retiring from politics and leaving the party. Roelf Meyer, also one of the key architects from the NP side, moved out of the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and they put him as Secretary General of the NP. Since their leaving the GNU the one person who could actually be called an elder statesman amongst them, Pik Botha is leaving politics also.
POM. Is he an honest statesman?
PJ. No I mean an elder statesman. He's been around longest amongst those guys, leaving the NP. I think these are the ripples on top, on the surface indicating turmoil down below in the ranks of the party. So I am not surprised myself that they found themselves having to leave the government of national unity because obviously it was producing all sorts of problems within the party and its cohesion probably was threatened. At the end of the day I don't know, maybe the NP having chosen to structure its identity a long time ago around Afrikaner interests and then later around white interests and then latterly around the interests of minority groups, finds itself in a cul-de-sac because all these sort of define you out of power.
. Now of course as I say as the society moves towards whatever normalcy in a democracy might be, majorities and minorities will be redefined. But at present and for the moment a majority/minority have been racial ethnically defined. Now if you say you are the party representing minorities you are defining yourself for the immediate future out of power because the African population comprises 75% of the total population of South Africa. Are you saying you're going to fight for the interests of 25%? Then you start defining yourself out of power by doing that because by definition you're not speaking on behalf of the 75%. So it has, I think, to undergo a radical rethink, a radical redefinition of itself. There is an attempt to do that I suppose on the part of the NP which is why De Klerk is increasingly talking about clustering around certain values and value systems, etc., etc. which I think is this neo-conservative agenda similar to that which you get from, I suppose, your far right conservatives in Britain, to a certain extent your CTU, CSU coalition in West Germany, while Newt Gingrich and that lot in the United States have got a very strong racial connotation as well, much as they would like to deny it, so maybe those are a good example. It is that sort of neo-conservative agenda that they are trying to use as their redefinition and to structure a new identity for themselves.
. How attractive that sort of neo-conservative agenda can be for a population like that of South Africa where a small fraction, a very tiny fraction of the population who are comfortably off, I don't know. The NP might well find that a huge part of its present constituency will find that neo-conservative agenda unattractive. Think about the Western Cape here, the coloured working class constitute a large part of the NP constituency and they are very poor. They are under-educated, badly housed, large numbers of them depend on welfare. How can that neo-conservative agenda sit well with people like that? So it has to really think very hard about how it's going to structure it's identity.
POM. Those remarks are very important in the context of a conversation I had just two days ago with Roelf Meyer and I was saying, "Do you really believe that the National Party can attract a large number of African voters in the short to medium term? To me this sounds like absolute pure fantasy. First of all it is condescending. It means that the people would so easily forget what you've done to them in the past and that if you have any chance of doing so you must transform your party. You must become an African party." And he said, "Yes, we must." Now do you think that an attempt on their part, or on his part, to start leading the party in that direction would result in such schisms again that the tensions between those who see it as the party that represents Afrikaner and minority interests and those who want to make it more encompassing would be so great that the party simply can't hold together?
PJ. I was listening to an interesting radio programme when I was coming in to work this morning of Peter Marais who is the MEC in the Western Cape here and MEC for Economic Affairs, Chris Nissen and a journalist Rianna Roussouw and Jakes Gerwel talking about the coloured people. Actually what was supposed to be the issue was supposed to be racism as a factor and as a card being used in the municipal government elections in the Western Cape targeting in the main the NP and arising out of incidents that happened in Mitchells Plain last week when NP coloured supporters called the President a kaffir and things like that. Now that incident in itself demonstrates one of the dilemmas of the NP. I wonder what for instance the African members of the NP thought, because they've got them there in the back benches and they've even got one on their front benches, Mavuso, and Mandela is called a kaffir by fellow members of their own party, what they thought because I don't know that they're going to call Mavuso anything different? To them he's also a Kaffir.
. And Peter Marais could not actually deal with that problem except in the usual sort of way, "Oh you know you can't always account for the more boisterous elements amongst your supporters", blah, blah, blah, that sort of thing. That's part of the dilemma because what the NP have been able to do with respect to some of the coloured working class in the Western Cape is to in a sense give them a leg up in the racial hierarchy that they have constructed, that you no longer, like the second tier, up here with us you are on the first tier you see, and like us new arrivals and recent converts they've got that same sort of fanaticism. The average white NP supporter, even the most backward, would never these days refer to the President as a kaffir, but the coloureds who have just been brought into the family over-identify by using the terms which the old members of the family used, 'kaffir', it just rolls off their tongue without any shame or embarrassment, and this is one of the dilemmas that the NP finds because as long as that is so, and you see that definition as being the party that's fighting its intermediate definition from being a white party to one that fights for the interests of minorities, has placed it in that sort of predicament because it's had to recruit unto itself this element in the coloured working class who over-identify with whiteness and therefore call Africans kaffirs. After all this is part of that protected minority, but in order to be a meaningful party it has to win those very kaffirs into its fold.
. Now how is it going to do it? And that is its problem. The prospect of doing that is going to require, and I think this is perhaps the significance of Roelf Meyer being put into the Secretary Generalship, because Roelf Meyer is seen as probably the most enlightened of the NP leadership. He is the most capable of doing that and I think also probably regarded as the only person who has gone the farthest down the road of distancing himself from the discredited past of the NP. Now whether he has distanced himself sufficiently to be able to transform the NP into an African party is another question. The other big problem that the NP has, and it has it both within the African community, the Indian community and the coloured community, is that they have never been able to attract any people who are considered worthies, to use a loose term, in their communities. The coloureds, the Peter Marais, McKenzie, Abie Williams, they are not considered the people of stature, of standing within the coloured community, they are not highly respected, not the sort of people where if you go into the coloured community and you say, "Oh no I met Abie Williams", people would say "Oh!" and people become green with envy because he is so highly respected, considered a man of standing, or McKenzie or Peter Marais. Equally in the Indian community the people that are attracted, even less so in the African community. I mean John Mavuso, you go to Soweto and you say, "Oh I had tea with John Mavuso", they would say, "Oh really? You might get him to see his problems." Those people, they are not considered people of standing in those communities and they have never been able to attract anyone like that. Most of the time the people they have been able to attract to themselves are people who are considered discredited in the host community, native community, whatever you call it. So this is the other problem. Now what they are going to do about that I don't know.
POM. The rand and the economy.
PJ. The rand is going up now that the Nats have left the government of national unity. Isn't that something? I had always thought that there was some truth in the rumour that Sir Tim Bell put about that confidence in the South African economy depended on De Klerk being there but apparently quite the contrary. The rand was doing a nose-dive while he was in there, then when he resigned it picked up again.
POM. Why do you think it took such a drop?
PJ. Well I have heard lots of speculation but I haven't given it a lot of profound thought. Everyone agrees that it was over-valued and that it had to find its natural level. But I think there was a lot of speculation that also occurred around the rand especially when it was perceived to be going down. If now it is steadied, and it seems to have over the last week, I think that's all for the good. The devaluation of your currency of course sometimes has the significant impact of improving your exports. Our big problem in South Africa, of course, is that we are a net exporter of raw materials rather than manufactured goods. What that does I'm not so sure. The obverse of that is that it costs much more then for you to buy the imports that you require for your own economy so it doesn't impact very positively on your balance of trade.
POM. Unemployment. Stuck. No improvement being made at all. At the same time we pick up Business Day every other day and you see that corporate profits are soaring. Where are the corporate profits going? Are they being ploughed back into technology that eliminates jobs or are they being distributed to shareholders or are they being siphoned off into other investments that are essentially non-productive in terms of creating jobs?
PJ. What I think we're stuck with is, I think, limited growth but growth without job creation and perhaps we need much more rapid growth, to increase the growth rate to something like 6% to make that sort of impact. But of course one of the problems I think is that new technologies tend to be more capital than labour intensive. One is going to have to look much more at your public works programmes for the immediate, for your job creation programmes, and one is also going to have to look to your small and medium size enterprises and encouraging those as job creators. They tend to be much more effective job creators than your large corporations. Perhaps not sufficient attention has been paid to encouraging that sector because I think you will note also that even with your black economic empowerment programmes lots of those are targeting the big corporate giants rather than seeing the emergence of small and medium size enterprises. There is nothing illegitimate about targeting the big corporate giants, I think that's proper and correct, but perhaps we need to pay a little bit more attention to your small and medium size enterprises.
. One hopes to be able in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism by encouraging a much more rational and well-rounded approach to our tourist industry, to use that as one of the vehicles of job creation especially in the service sector, and then also in the Ministry of Environment I think one can explore the possibilities of job creation there by looking at what Environmental Affairs encompasses, I think, everything about humanity's living space on earth from the big issues like toxic waste and oil slicks on the ocean, etc., etc., the ozone layer. But the micro-issues like the living space people occupy, for instance, in the townships; they are notoriously filthy, under-serviced with respect to everything, whether you are talking about your sanitation services, whether you are talking about your garbage removal services, whether you are talking about provision of things such as fresh drinking water, clean drinking water, electricity, etc. All those things are very lacking. Electrification programmes I think are very important and they are proceeding. Delivery of clean water I think is also proceeding, but issues such as your sanitation and your waste disposal services I don't think they are receiving the requisite attention and they would do a great deal in terms of improving the living space that people occupy.
. Now those are areas which can be areas one would want to look at with a view to creating jobs employing such technology, what was called soft technologies in the heady days of the 1960s. One thinks also for example of the greening of your townships. You go to any of the better-off suburbs in South Africa, especially those that are historically white, and tree lined avenues, the yards full of trees, orchards, whatnot and so on, which makes a tremendous difference in terms of just the living space people occupy. A township that has any avenues is exceptional. One may have decent playing fields and green spaces, it's almost beyond the ken of most . Things like that can also be seen as other means of creating jobs especially for people where they live, like in terms of improving the quality of the spaces they occupy and live in. These are things that have crossed my mind and which I would like to try to devise programmes to address in this ministry. I'm not saying it's going to create thousands and thousands of jobs but provide an honest living at any rate.
POM. Without significantly being able to improve the job situation where does the country end up? Do you end up with two South Africas, the haves, the have-nots?
PJ. We have that already, we might even be moving towards three South Africas sometimes when I look at the streets of our cities; the haves, have-nots and the have absolutely nothing. The numbers of street children and street people, never mind children, when you go to any of our public parking lots and you have doubts, the homeless who make a few shekels to keep body and soul together by directing people into parking bays and so on, very, very degrading circumstances. There's a whole community here in Cape Town referred to as 'bergies' which means people who live on the mountain, in caves. They live quite literally in caves here on the mountain. That's where they sleep at night and they come out during the day and you will find them all over town, the homeless people. All the major cities, beggars and beggary is much more visible than it used to be in the past and it doesn't seem to be going down.
POM. I hear you saying one thing, that one way forward here is through massive public works programmes on the plane that Roosevelt introduced during the New Deal era. On the other hand I hear people saying the road to growth is that we must cut public expenditure. In a way they are antithetical.
PJ. They are and the one, of course, has never been seen to work, at any rate in the 20th century. You take your Thatcherite prescriptions, cut public expenditure, every time I go to London now I am more and more alarmed at the parallels with Victorian London. one was brought up on your Charles Dickens' novels and so on, and it's quite alarming when you think about it, it's not as if you're talking about a third world country, you're talking about a leading member of the European Union and there are literally thousands of people who are homeless, sleeping on the streets, sleeping in cardboard cities, to say nothing about New York. New York is absolutely appalling and visiting New York when I was living in Lusaka, Zambia, which quite literally is very third world, there were more beggars in the space between Times Square and Grand Central Station in New York than there were in the whole of Lusaka. All right the size of the cities, of course there is no comparison, but that to me was quite amazing because that's the richest country in the world and with all it's capital it has more beggars than a third world country. Quite, quite, quite alarming.
. So I am not certain where that gets us, and there is a prescription now that has come from the pundits of big business, the growth for all strategy which proposed a two or three tier labour force, one that is absolutely rightless at the bottom and then one that has quite a number of rights at the top, how different that is from the old apartheid dispensation I don't know. It might just be that it's not racially defined but essentially that's what you had under apartheid where you had a white labour force that had all the rights and a black labour force that had no rights at all. If that's the problem, we've tried that before and it was a fucking dismal failure. Why you would want to go back to that God knows, but that's the path that they are suggesting.
. What the Keynesian model does suggest to me is that you put money in people's pockets in return for an honest day's work. Those people become consumers, because you can't be a consumer if you don't have money, they become consumers and therefore what is produced in your factories, there are people to buy those goods and the human animal is like that. You give it a bag of maize today and then tomorrow it wants a little extra, maize and beans, and the next day maize, beans and peas, the next day maize, beans, peas and meat. Today you give it a small little thing like this and the next day it wants a refrigerator and a television. So once people have got money in their pocket and become consumers I think that can generate growth.
POM. That depends on massive government expenditure and you can't go against what international bankers say and foreign investors say.
PJ. Well it might go against what the foreign bankers and so on say but if the foreign bankers can come up with solutions that work I think one would listen to them. What is interesting, of course, is that the foreign bankers, foreign governments and so on when they have similar problems in their own country they tend to use that particular prescription, not the ones that they have for the rest of us. These are always prescriptions they give to third world countries, paying people peanuts and deprive them of rights and that's the way you will get growth.
POM. This begs the question, what degree do you have - you have political sovereignty but to what degree do you have economic sovereignty?
PJ. No of course we're not going to be able to break anyone's arm to make them do what they don't want to do which is, I think, the importance of our constitution and the institutions that have been created around it, that we have by choice adopted an approach which is consultative/inclusive and which tries to allow all role players and stake-holders the opportunity to make their voices heard. What one wants to work towards is the adoption of a national commitment to the eradication of the poverty that is the society. The time here in this country when there was the adoption of commitment to eradicate the poor white problem in the 1930s and interestingly enough the people who underwrote the study of the poor white problem in South Africa was the Carnegie Foundation. The Carnegie Foundation underwrote another study in the eighties here to look at poverty in South Africa and many of the prescriptions that they came up with consisted of what I am proposing which is government intervention and spending, etc., etc.
. You see it's not very helpful to my mind to sit in a classroom or in a seminar room or in one's study in Chicago and work with abstractions. Here we have to work with human beings who have a history, who have a past, who have aspirations, who have experience and you can't ignore that out of deference to some abstract model that you've drawn up on a piece of paper. What you have to face up to in South Africa is very different from what you're dealing with, let's say, in Singapore or Malaya or South Korea. You're dealing here with a highly politicised population who have just gone through an intense struggle, won and acquired certain rights which they never had before, are very jealous of those rights and that is the reality. I don't care what your model in Chicago says, that is what the South African population is, that's the reality that we deal with. You don't want to come here and tell those people two tier labour system, one that has rights, one that has not. We'll tell you to go to blazes and if you try and force that on them they set the country on fire. Forget that, we're not going to accept it. What you have to do is to devise a strategy which is going to give you growth and stability in the context of hard won political democracy. You have to match those two. Nothing else is going to work.
POM. Yet the message that Trevor Manuel was giving international bankers all over the world, he was almost going cap in hand, was, "Don't worry, we're going to maintain the same kind of fiscal discipline that was prescribed, keep the deficit down."
PJ. Fiscal discipline doesn't mean that you don't adopt realistic policies, it doesn't mean that you've suddenly become profligate and waste money. It's recognising what your priorities are and addressing those priorities in a realistic and disciplined fashion, not just spending money wildly.
POM. But yet foreign investors are taking the route still of wait and see. Is that a reality too?
PJ. Of course that is a reality.
POM. A strategy based on the assumption that you're going to increase or attract a lot of foreign investment is simply unrealistic.
PJ. I've always thought that that was a dodgy approach myself, that you acted as something to attract a lot of foreign investment. Of course you work at attracting foreign investment but you can't assume you're going to attract it. You work at persuading your internal business community but that doesn't mean you're going to persuade them. You enter into dialogue, and a continuing and exhausting at times dialogue with your internal business community. It doesn't mean you're going to convince them but you persevere at that. I must say that when I was in Posts & Telecommunications, perhaps it was the area that I was involved in that perhaps people were not as pig-headed as in others, but the dialogue I had with South African business I think most of the time was fruitful. I didn't feel I was spitting into the wind, when I was talking to South African business, in developing the communications and postal sector. They had bought into the Reconstruction & Development Programme. They began to work towards creating, designing not only projects but also products that were consistent with what we required in the RDP. They began turning their minds towards finding technological solutions which would address some of the key components of the RDP. So it's not as if it's useless entering into that dialogue.
POM. So do you think business is playing, beginning to play ...?
PJ. No, no, no, look I told you about this country when they produced this growth for all produced by the pundits of big business. A hare-brained scheme. No, no it doesn't mean that they are playing but I am saying that the dialogue is necessary and thus far my engagement has been fruitful, it doesn't mean it has been across the board for the government as a whole and for everyone it has been fruitful. The Minister of Labour entered into dialogue with business. That was fruitful and they were able to agree on the new Labour Relations Act. One can't make blanket statements.
POM. The last question, and thank you for all of the time. Come 1999 or whenever there is going to be the next election and things haven't improved materially that much, still unemployment hovers around 40%, 45% or whatever.
PJ. Well I hope it won't be. I hope that by then we will have broken the back of unemployment. But hypothetically, yes.
POM. Let's say that hasn't happened, there is not a visible number of houses being built or else the influx of people from the countryside looking for houses has overcome the pace of capacity to ameliorate the problem, it's always less than the rate at which the problem is increasing. What choice do the people have anyway? The ANC or who?
PJ. It's ANC or ANC. No, well, this is the scenario which to me is the worst case scenario because we will be caught in what I refer to as the "Zimbabwe dilemma" where there is no other party that people can realistically vote for with the hope of amelioration and therefore vote ANC not because they choose to but because there is nothing else. Yes, that would be a terrible outcome, terrible, terrible outcome.
POM. OK, leave it at that. Thank you, as always. When I see you again you will be ensconced in ministerial splendour.