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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

21 May 1996: Eglin, Colin

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     Mr Eglin, when you look back at the constitution and if you had to give it a rating of one to ten in terms of its comprehensiveness and the guarantees it provides for minorities and the Bill of Rights and all the other provisions, how would you rate it?

CE     Well I would rate it in two sections, the one is as an instrument for providing a basis for governance I would rate it very highly, I would give it nine out ten, that is the executive, the legislature, the governance part. On the question of the protections I think they are adequate but there are some gaps in them and I would rate it something between seven and eight out of ten.

POM     What are the major gaps that you see continuing to exist?

CE     Well there are certain elements, for instance the limitations clause allows the government or allows whoever is in power to dilute the guarantees. Once you have a limitation clause that allows you to dilute the guarantees then under pressure the government is likely to do just that. So that clause is the most significant one because it has a bearing on all the others. Others deal with the property. We think that there is  an inadequate guarantee for property rights. Then there is the dispute over the issue of the strike and the lock-out. Whether either of them should be in the constitution or not I don't know, but as soon as you put one in and you leave out the other then you have a real imbalance between the rights of workers on the one hand and the rights of employers on the other. Those are the major ones.

POM     Would you, when you look again at the process, was it a process where in the end what the ANC basically wanted prevailed, or was it a truly inclusive process and did they go out of their way to make it a truly inclusive process?

CE     Well it depends on when the ANC started formulating its point of view. If you go back to when we started at Kempton Park, which is really the start of the process, they believed in a strict unitary constitutional system with very few checks and balances on the executive and a fairly slender Bill of Rights. Over the period gradually they have moved to a more complicated, a more detailed constitution with more rights for provinces and local authorities than they initially wanted. And also they have fleshed out the Bill of Rights very considerably. So if you say is this closer to what the ANC wanted six months before the end, yes it's correct, but if you say is it closer to what the ANC wanted three years earlier I would say no. So the party shifted and the ANC shifted as well but you had a reality. The framework wasn't set by the ANC, the framework was set by the constitutional principles. There were 34 agreed constitutional principles and that the ANC managed to fit its details into those principles is so but this is actually a constitution the parameters of which were set by the principles not by any one political party. In the end the ANC can say they like it, because they don't want to say they don't like it. I know that there are some people in the ANC who feel that the provinces have been given too many powers.

POM     I think the National Party thinks that too.

CE     Well, forget the National Party, we think they have got too few powers but that's another matter. But if you go through the constitution you will find there are areas which, if you look at the submissions of the parties which came in originally from March to May of last year, all parties have changed significantly. We are satisfied that in many key areas they have changed in the direction of the Democratic Party. Other parties might claim the same for themselves.

POM     Did you find this a more intense negotiating process than the Kempton Park negotiations?

CE     Well it was different. We were more part of the process here than we were at Kempton Park in that in a sense Kempton Park wasn't a round table conference, it was really a settlement at the end of a liberation struggle or war of liberation between the government in power and the parties out of power. So it was between the National Party and the ANC. It was, in a sense, a settlement in order to start the next democratic process. Smaller parties could help to make suggestions when there were sticking points and things like that, but really it was a power play between the De Klerk government that was then in power and the ANC was waiting to take over power. The CA process had much more of the spirit and the feeling of a round table in the sense that all of the parties were trying to achieve the best. Naturally in the end  you had the issue of numbers. However there was a great desire to reach consensus all along and that's why smaller parties like the DP were able to play a part. If the ANC had all along said, look we're just going for 66 and if we can get enough votes to hell with the rest. But that wasn't the style of the CA. The CA wanted to see if we could broaden the basis of consensus until it might even become unanimous. This made the DP role more significant than it would have been if you weren't looking for consensus.

     But especially under the pressures towards the end, getting the National Party on their side was important to the ANC because with the National Party they would have had some 82%. They were never going to get more than 90% in any case because the IFP was out and so getting the National Party on board was significant. Therefore some of the sticking points towards the end, especially the issue of education, which was essentially a National Party issue, the lock-out provision and the property issue were high profile, in that unless the ANC could resolve those to the satisfaction of the National Party the National Party wasn't going to come on board. So towards the end it had more of a bi-partisan approach on the key issues. Nevertheless the whole process was a much more rounded approach than the Kempton Park one.

POM     Do any special memories stand out for you in these last weeks of almost around the clock negotiations?

CE     Well in many ways it was memories of exhaustion and in a sense elation when it was all over. We think that we did score some significant victories. If you look at the structure of the executive and parliament and how they are put together and the relationship between the two, we think they are much more wholesome than they were in the original constitution. Those elements were important and we got a sense of satisfaction out of that. Also I think when the ANC reversed its decision on provincial powers and accepted the concept, at any rate, of exclusive powers for provinces which was a real volte face as far as the ANC was concerned. I don't think they went far enough, nevertheless we had been hammering away at this for some six months, the National Party disagreed with us. They said the provisions were fine when suddenly the ANC themselves turned round and said they aren't fine after all. So in those kind of areas one felt one had signal victories. Right the way through the text there were key phrases, there were key words which all add up to a significant edging of the constitution in a more wholesome direction in terms of governance, and a more protective position as far as rights were concerned.

POM     Did you find yourself, I think as you mentioned often at Kempton Park you did, as being the broker between the ANC and the NP?

CE     There was less broking to do in this one. The whole of the other was a broking operation. As I said, it was two parties negotiating and we happened at times to be a helpful facilitator. This wasn't the same. The theme committees, the sub-committees were largely done by multi-lateral round tables. There were only certain areas in which towards the end the two parties, larger parties, locked horns and there we did play our role because the two parties very often reached a tentative agreement and then it was brought back to a round table discussion and very often we managed to unravel that agreement and to get a new one. I wouldn't call it a broker but we were more able to play a meaningful role in determining the shape of a constitution than we were at Kempton Park.

POM     When you look at the last two years and the manner in which the ANC in government has behaved and has behaved throughout the constitutional negotiations, do you think that the country could easily move in the direction of a one-party democracy, that that's a very real possibility, that there simply isn't opposition there or won't be opposition there in the foreseeable future and therefore that they will become entrenched in their power and open to all the corruption that that brings?

CE     You've put seven questions in one over there. I don't relate my predictions of the future as to what's happened over the last two years because for the last two years you've had a government of national unity. So that is irrelevant. There is no doubt that the ANC is strongly in power and it's likely to stay in power at least for the next election or two because of the Madiba factor, the liberation factor, which will consolidate a large black constituency around the ANC. But the constitution itself guarantees that there will be a multi-party democracy. Not only is it written as one of the founding concepts of the constitution but right throughout the constitution the concept of regular free and fair elections, the concept of a special role for minority parties in the legislative process, all of these things are geared, even the fact that all political parties are going to have to be assisted financially to ensure that multi-partyism keeps alive. You might well have a dominant party for some time but there is no way that this constitution is going to assist this country to become a one-party state. In fact I think, I know very few constitutions which in very specific terms make sure that in fact one-partyism won't emerge.

POM     Do you think within that context that the ANC understands fully what democracy, what multi-party democracy is?

CE     Well the ANC is a very broad church. You can go from the leadership down to the rank and file, to the highly sophisticated politicos to the people who are unsophisticated and are more concerned about water and housing and shelter. I've got no doubt that at the leadership level there is a very strong commitment to multi-party democracy. The real test is, is the leadership going to be able to inculcate their supporters and the society, which is their reservoir of strength, to share that concept of democracy. At the moment lower down, at grassroots level, there is less tolerance than there is at leadership level. However, the real problem is that unless a government under this constitution is going to start delivering in goods and in services to meet even the moderate expectations of the ordinary people, you could find the ANC being subverted away from being a democratic movement to becoming a popularist movement and of course popularism might push out the moderate democrats in favour of the demagogues. But this will not be the result of the lack of a balance within the ANC. It will be the product of a government being incapable of delivering the goods.

POM     When you look at their performance overall, performance of the government of national unity, on what grounds would the DP be most critical? What would it be doing in government that the government of national unity is not doing?

CE     It's theoretical. We aren't in government and we haven't been part of the GNU that is past in any case. But if you want to look back, if I must give percentage points to the GNU, then in terms of directional leadership which really comes from Mandela I would put them well into the ninety percents. When I look to them on management I'd put them round about the 50%. When I look at them on delivery I'd put them at 15%. And I think the one thing that the DP would have been able to do is to improve the management capacity of the government. The problem is that the government is very weak on management. It's good on direction, it's weak on management, and the result is there is very little delivery. A DP component in a government would have strengthened the management and by the strengthening of the management, strengthened the delivery arm of government.

POM     What accounts for the weakness on the management side?

CE     I think it's a style of government. Some people are good at management. If you take Mandela, superb as the Lord Mayor of South Africa; koeksisters with the old tannies and Betsie Verwoerd, and patting the kids on their heads. I think that's wonderful stuff. I think the reconciliation and nation building is superb stuff but that is actually not what management is about. That is what directional politics is about. There is a shortage from the Cabinet downwards to people with managerial competence. And I think it's a style. If one looks at the management of the parliamentary process, I don't think the ANC component is as good on management per head of capita as the Democratic Party is. But I think that's a style of people and a style of politics.

POM     Is that, to use an awful word, a cultural thing?

CE     I think you've got to be very careful to generalise because I can think of some very poor managers in the DP, not in general, not necessarily at the caucus level, but elsewhere. And I can think of some very good managers in the ANC. To mention one, Cyril Ramaphosa, who I rate as a very competent political manage. Unfortunately he is so competent that he is now going into the private sector! You can always say averages, but I think cultural averages are very often misleading.

POM     When the DP in terms of its politics and how it evaluates political situations saw the departure of Ramaphosa, how did it interpret that?

CE     Well I don't think it interpreted it in terms of important trends in South African politics but I think it's a loss to South African politics in the sense that here is the number three man in the political hierarchy within the ANC and the one man who has demonstrated over the last two years that he has got managerial skills and I think for him to be removed creates a void both in the ANC and in our national politics. In that sense I think it's a great pity. However, the empowerment of blacks, advancement of blacks in the economy could become as important a factor as an advancement of blacks in politics. And so I think his decision to go there may be partly for personal reasons that he just feels he's more likely to get to the top quicker in business than he is going to get to the top quickly in politics. But I think it may also be an indication that he and many other people see the socio-economic transformation of the society as important as the political transformation of the society.

POM     Do you think that social and economic transformation is lagging considerably behind the political transformation?

CE     Yes, the political transformation took place with the election that took place in April of 1994. That was a fundamental political transfer, it was a transfer of political power and it was taken further with the local government elections that have taken place. So in constitutional terms the political transformation has taken place. You've still got to consolidate it and you've got to get it working effectively at all levels of government, but the constitutional or political transformation, let's say, has taken place to the extent of 80% - 90%. The socio-economic one is only starting to take place and is a much slower process because it's something that can't be managed as easily. In political transformation, you have a negotiation, get a new constitution, you have an election and you transfer power but you can't just create wealth, you can't pass a law and say everybody is going to have a job or everybody is going to be equal in terms of human capacity. Socio-economic transformation is clearly going to take longer. On the other hand political transformation is meaningless unless it's followed up by a socio-economic transformation.

POM     The one question that I have been consistently asking over the last two years of every minister, every public official I meet is, how can you create jobs? Where are the jobs going to come from? And no-one has given me any kind of satisfactory answer at all, in fact rather very broad sweeping statements.

CE     Well it is a broad question. You can ask how did the Koreans create jobs, how did the Taiwanese create jobs? You open up your economy to market forces and you have flat out training to increase the human capacity so that in fact the productivity can increase together with it. On the one hand stimulate the economy by having a user-friendly and investor-friendly political environment, have incentives to investment both internally and externally. And, at the same time, just to go flat out through education and training programmes to see that those people who haven't got the skills gain the skills as rapidly as possible. The Taiwanese, that's almost history, for forty years they've been at it. If you take the South Koreans it was a twenty year cycle that took them from a society with no economic growth to a society with sustained economic growth and an equalisation of both jobs and wealth. But you're not going to be able to create jobs if you're constantly hesitant on the growth side.

     One of the factors that has emerged recently, and which is disturbing, is the impact which the labour unions, and particularly COSATU, is having on the government. Here is the government that understands the message of  growth. It has got to understand that you've got to privatise; you've got to get rid of those things which could be better run by the private sector and you've got to use that money to create new jobs and new wealth. At the very moment when it wants to do this it finds it is the captive of the labour unions who don't see the future of South Africa in increased growth or increased wealth. They just see it in terms of how to retain the jobs they've got. So theirs is a closed shop which is saying there are 1.4 million of us, we've all got jobs, we want to hang on to those jobs. Whereas the government, and I think I've heard Jay Naidoo trying to explain to them, realises that there will be problems as we re-arrange the job pattern in South Africa. But if you privatise, if you open up your economy to real competition and to real productive forces you would have a much larger economic base in five years time from which to find the jobs. So people are always reluctant to transfer from one field of employment to the other and they don't want to run the risks that will be attendant in the early downward cycle. Yes, you're going to have to have a downward cycle in employment before you get the upward one. Unfortunately the risk we run today is that we will only have a downward cycle without an upward one.

POM     What amazed me, complexes me, is that I pick up the paper and Business Day every other day shows company after company reporting record profits.

CE     I think you have to be very careful, if you had said that two months ago I would have said yes, but you find in the last three months that especially those companies that are dealing with the consumers in South Africa, were showing a downturn. They are still making profits but they are growing at a slower rate than they were before. The ones that are doing well are the 'rand-hedge' companies, the companies that sell goods overseas and they now get more rands for the dollars which they earn abroad. If you take Barlows that reported today, they show a 27% increase but that's because there was a 61% increase from Libby, their company in Britain. So what is shown in the last few months is that there was an upturn in the economy at consumer level up until the end of the third quarter going into the fourth quarter of last year, but since then there has been a downturn in the internal economy and this is because you're having to pay more for fuel and other dollar based things. You're going to have to pay more for taxes so there is less money available for consumers to spend. So all the signals are those that are trading rands for dollars or the Deutsch marks or for yen are doing quite well, but those who are having to pay rands for dollars or Deutsch marks or yen are suffering. And those that are doing business with consumers inside South Africa are finding that the consumers have got less to spend. I don't think that the signals of the second quarter of this year are nearly as good as they were, say, at the third quarter last year.

POM     When one looks at the fate of the rand over the last several months, in particular over the last couple of months, and balance it against the fact that you had a budget that was well received, that you have a government that was regarded as being fiscally responsible, as being open to market forces, as moving in the direction of trade liberalisation and the removal of tariffs and becoming a more integrated part of the world economy, what accounted for its precipitous decline?

CE     First of all I think you must look at what the decline was. It wasn't a Mexican decline as you had a few years ago. It's a decline of some 15%, 15% - 17% over a few months. It could well have been a correction that was due in any case because if you really take the rand to the dollar over the last two years they've remained virtually constant at three point six and three point six five, whereas our inflation rate was way above the inflation rate of the people abroad who were purchasing from us. Clearly our cost per unit of production of certainly manufactured articles must have been increasing all the time and therefore we're becoming less competitive, so that I think that probably the rand, if you're taking merely supply and demand in terms of production and buying and selling, should have been subject to a gradual correction over a period of two years. It was sustained for a number of reasons because of the optimism that there was. And so it's probably gone down to levels that it would have gone to over an 2½ year period if you had not had what I call the optimism of the political miracle and as that optimism fades away and the political miracle becomes a little bit passé, so the harsh realities of the economy are.

     One has to say, yes, this government has exercised more fiscal discipline and more restraint than governments have in South Africa for 45 years, they have started reducing the budget deficits. So in that sense they are conservative but that's not what is needed in a country like this, that's not what all is needed. What you need in a country like this is not just to hold the fort but actually stimulate the economy. If you were sitting overseas and looking at what is happening in South Africa I think you would probably say, "I think there are too many question-marks." There was the first question-mark about Mandela's health. Well one day Mandela won't be here and people will have to get used to that. But you know we've lost two Finance Ministers, both of whom were bankers, in the course of 18 months, we've had Cabinet changes. We have had the walkout of Deputy President de Klerk and his six NP ministers. People overseas must say, "What is going on?" In other words they are not saying it's collapsing or it's falling apart, but they are going to say there's a question-mark.

     They also have just looked at the question of the relationship between the labour unions and the government and they were saying, look it's fine, they talk of getting rid of protective tariffs but we've just seen now the labour unions are not to get rid of them. The government has said we're committed to privatisation, called 'restructuring of state assets', and suddenly you find the major trade union saying you're not going to do these things. And when they add those together, and they see the trade unions forcing the government to strike out the lock-out clause from the constitution, they are going to say, "Well, if the trade unions have got so much power in that constitutional field can't we deduce that they'll have the same power in exercising their will in the economic field." There are just too many question-marks. I don't think that people are saying, therefore, SA is on the verge of collapse but they are saying that they want to see what evolves before they start investing a lot of money into South Africa.

     The other one is the question of exchange control. We can survive marginally without foreign investment but then we can't produce new jobs sufficient to meet our increasing population. The difference between just surviving and producing new jobs and raising the standard of living is the margin of money that comes in from abroad. Internally we can survive but our population grows and our economy remains static. If we want to move ahead in terms of job creation and improving the standard of life and human capacity we need foreign as well as internal investment. And at the moment the foreigners are looking at us and they are saying there are just too many question-marks including the question of exchange control. Let's presume Mr X is going to invest ten million dollars and convert them to rands at four point three, which is the current rate, and exchange control goes in six months time and suddenly it's five. He would have lost 70 cents of the rand on each of his dollars that he invested here. So his dollars which he changed at 4.3 rand to the US dollar, when he wants to take his rands out is now only worth five to the dollar.

     All of these questions. I don't think there is any sense that SA is seen to be falling apart. I think there's a recognised stability, but there's a difference between stability and progress. With the political reshuffles that have taken place people are asking, "What's going on?" De Klerk has been stumping the world for the last two years saying invest here because we're the government of national unity and that means that there's stability. And suddenly the very man who has been selling foreign investment on the score of the GNU now says that the GNU hasn't worked. He was travelling to Germany, to Australia, to America; that was his mission. Right at the moment it isn't a question of fundamental political stability and nobody is suggesting that the South African state is not in a stable political state. I don't think there's any doubt that the government is committed to financial discipline and fiscal caution. And these are two plusses. But that isn't what causes investment. That is why I say, you can't have investment without these things but you don't have investment just because of them. What we have got to get now in place is macro-economic policies which will stimulate growth.

POM     OK. Thank you for the half hour. Always a pleasure.

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.