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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

25 Sep 1996: Milne, Vic

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VM     I am with the Elections Task Group. I was the Co-ordinator of the Elections Task Group which falls under the auspices of the Department of Constitutional Development, but it's separate from them.

POM     Mr Milne, let me begin by asking you a rather open-ended question and that is that Chapter 1 of the new constitution states that South Africa is founded on the value of a multi-party system of democratic government. How would you define a multi-party system of government?

VM     I would understand by that that there would not be one-party rule only, in that although one party would have the majority through elections the elections would be competed in by more than one party so that there would be competition and opposition and that there would then be parties in opposition to the ruling party.

POM     When you say parties in opposition to the ruling party, do you put any minimum threshold of strength that those parties have in order for an effective multi-party system to operate? In other words would you differentiate between parties other than the ruling party comprising say 10% of parliament as distinct from 30% or 40%? At what point do you get a real functioning multi-party system?

VM     I certainly feel that there must be a threshold. It's open to debate whether that should be 5% or should be higher but certainly I wouldn't think it should be lower than 5% so that the door would then be closed to parties that do not have any proven support or power base.

POM     But I'm talking in a broader sense, the opposition parties between them should command about what percent of the total seats in parliament, say.

VM     No I don't see it that way, but I might be wrong of course. I see that any party that has proven support, and that can prove that in an election, would be part of the parliament and then each party would have to decide for itself whether or not to form an opposition and clearly the party with the majority would then be the ruling party but in terms of opposition it would depend on whether there was a coalition or whether one would take the party with the most support other than the ruling party as the opposition, but it doesn't need to opposition only, it could also be for co-operation.

POM     But if you had three parties, one commanding 10%, one commanding 5% and the ruling party commanding 85%, would you consider that to be an effective multi-party system?

VM     It's possible but I think it's unlikely in terms of our set up where you have the ability of a party that holds more than two thirds of the seats to change the constitution and things like that, to take certain important decisions on their own, it would imply that if a party has more than 66% of the seats they could virtually be a one-party government and that I would think would be unhealthy.

POM     Are there any indispensable features that you would associate with a multi-party system?

VM     I think it's freedom of speech in the very real sense of the word and also the ability to be able to be heard so that even if a party knows, as is the case in many of the provinces, most of the provinces, that one party could actually decide but if they took into account the views and the input of the other parties that would indicate a system of multi-party government, multi-party democracy. But the converse would then also apply if they paid lip service only to the minority parties or ignored them completely then that couldn't be classed, I feel, as multi-party democracy.

POM     How important is this issue to you personally? Is this an issue that you have thought about or something that has just come to your mind now that I am asking you about it?

VM     You know I'm specialising in the local government side of things and in the elections particularly so I hardly consider myself the right person to voice an opinion about this sort of thing. It is not something I've given a lot of thought to except in my personal capacity and there I feel that there is a very grave danger of going along the road of a single party state because of the over-whelming support for one party.

POM     Do you think you can have an effective multi-party system in South Africa without there being party alignments or party realignments?

VM     At the moment I think so. I think that the other parties, certainly some of the other parties have got influence. If one takes the DP, for instance, although they don't hold much support in terms of number of seats, they do I think form an effective voice of the minority and hopefully that will also be the case with the National Party having decided to go into the opposition and most certainly even the IFP with the few seats that they hold, I think that their views are listened to and taken into account but there is, of course, the danger, and this one sees very clearly in some provinces, of the governing party riding roughshod over the smaller parties which have very little support.

POM     This again I am asking you your personal opinion, but after the 1999 elections a lot of political commentators talk about political realignments being in the wind. Personally do you see political realignments taking place, do you see the break-up of existing alliances and new alliances being formed along different ideological fault lines?

VM     This is very much a personal view and rather an uninformed one and I think that if one notes the differences of personal opinions within the ANC that it's logical that sooner or later there will be realignments, but it doesn't seem to be based very much on matters of principle and policy but more on matters of personality and I personally doubt that that will take place before 1999.

POM     After 1999 do you feel it's an open book?

VM     No I wouldn't put it that simplistically. I think that sooner or later there's a very good chance that there will be a split in the ANC and that people will then choose sides in terms of parties on the basis of philosophies and what the parties stand for rather than now merely associating the party with the liberation movement and it being basically the party to vote for in terms of transformation.

POM     Do you think it's possible to have a vibrant democracy without a strong multi-party system?

VM     It's not impossible I feel if one sees the signs that are evident from time to time of healthy expression of differences of opinion even within the ruling party on the one hand and on the other hand sound common sense being spoken by parties and persons in opposition and being taken heed of. I think that would make it possible to have a healthy multi-party system, but not automatically.

POM     When you talk about realignments in the future along philosophical or policy lines, what kinds of realignments would you, for example, envisage?

VM     I think that it's a pity that at the moment it's very much on racial grounds and the sooner one can go from that stage to the ideal situation of people voting as South Africans and deciding not on the basis of past preferences, if one could put it that way, but really on the basis of present policies that I think is very idealistic and it will take some time to come, but I think that would make for better government.

POM     When you look around the world can you point to a country that you would regard as being democratic but that does not have a strong multi-party system or a multi-party system for that matter?

VM     I don't think I'm qualified to answer that except to say that democracy in practice is very seldom genuine democracy irrespective of what the situation and what the country is.

POM     Do you think you can have an effective opposition without a strong multi-party system or is it a necessary part of an opposition being there?

VM     I think having an opposition is a very necessary and a very healthy thing for any government because it would be remarkable if some government was able to remain objective and to be democratic in the sense of serving the people who elected them without having some body, some watchdog body, whether it's within or outside of government to check on them and to remind them of what they should be doing and in fact to see whether they are acting in the interests of the people.

POM     Again, and this might be slightly repetitious but I am trying to get at a point for the researchers, how would you distinguish between an opposition and an effective opposition?

VM     I think you could have an opposition in name only in the sense that the majority party outside of the ruling party would then be the opposition party, but it would be entirely dependent on what they did with that position. Again to use the example of the Democratic Party, which was by no means the second largest party in parliament, that did it quite effectively by taking a stand on points and by calling the ruling party to book. Whether it worked or not at least it was giving some kind of transparency to government for the ordinary people.

POM     There's often a debate that goes on particularly in developing countries and that is that democracy sometimes gets in the way of development because democracy by its nature is slow and cumbersome and you have to go through processes and procedures whereas the need for development is urgent. If you looked at South Africa and it came to a matter of it being necessary to make some trade off between the requirements for an effective democracy or the need for urgent development, on which side of the argument do you think you would come down?

VM     I feel very strongly that there is the need for development but certainly in South Africa at the moment, and hopefully for a long time to come, it's also the need for democracy and I think there's going to be a growing temptation to sacrifice democracy at the altar of development, although at the moment of course there is a paralysis on development because there is too much, I won't say too much, but perhaps too much emphasis on the form instead of on the product. I believe it would be a great mistake to go ahead with development at the expense of democracy as you might get the wrong kind of development very easily because you find, for instance in Jo'burg, a Metropolitan Council, a rather remarkable volte face where they were totally opposed to settlements far from the centre of town and have in fact gone along that road because of being faced with a very real and very pressing need for housing for the homeless people. I think it's going to be more and more critical to have an effective method of having people, people's wishes and people's needs taken into account by government because, of course, democracy is only the government of the majority by a few chosen representatives and if they were to take this upon themselves to decide without any kind of consultation, without any accurate knowledge of what the people want and need, it would be steering towards disaster.

POM     So would I be correct in summarising what you've said as being that if it means going a bit slower you would rather see full adherence to democratic processes even if it meant things were slower getting done than to push ahead vigorously with getting things done at the expense of going through the complete democratic process?

VM     I think to put it the other way round, development will not be effective if done autocratically.

POM     When you look at the most important issues facing South Africa, on a scale of one to ten where would you put the development of a strong multi-party system where one would represent it's not very important and ten would represent it should be one of the country's major priorities?

VM     I don't want to be held to this, but seven.

POM     Since the constitution recognises a multi-party form of government what responsibilities do you think the state has in guaranteeing it?

VM     I am not very sure about that, I am not at all sure about that. I would hope, probably naïvely that it isn't up to the state to make sure that they have an effective opposition, that it's really up to the people to make sure that there is an effective government and an effective opposition, so I am hesitant to suggest that it's the duty of the government to make sure that there's an effective opposition. It would be very strange if the ruling party went for that.

POM     Why am I saying that? I think I'm saying it because there is in the constitution, "The Republic of South Africa is one sovereign democratic state founded on the following values", this is Section 1D, "universal adult suffrage, a national common voter role, regular elections and a multi-party system of democratic government to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness."

VM     I understand that. I interpret that differently. Again, as I say, I might be totally wrong, but I understand that to mean that it would be wrong of the ruling party to attempt to have a one-party state, that would be totally wrong. I don't necessarily interpret that to mean that it's the duty of the ruling party to capacitate smaller parties to form an opposition. But you know in many countries you have the single party state and other parties would be outlawed and not able to freely contest an election and I think that's the intention of that provision of the constitution.

POM     I think I'm turning to the question of funding of political parties. Do you know how political parties are funded at the moment?

VM     No, I know that they weren't funded for local government elections and I am not familiar - I know that they were funded in terms of their support at the ballot but I have more personal knowledge of trying to capacitate parties prior to the elections during the negotiating stage. This is referring to local government, and the experience was very unsavoury in that it became a problem that parties, or rather the people representing parties appeared to place an entirely undue importance on their personal capacitation in terms of funding.

POM     When you say "they placed undue emphasis on it", it became a criterion for the selection of candidates or - ?

VM     In my experience it was very badly abused that people tried very hard to get money for capacity-building, as they called it, so that they could compete on an equal basis with what was then called the statutory parties and in fact what happened was that the few people who were representing the non-statutory parties who were then not included in government merely used the money to pay themselves.

POM     Do you know how the political parties in general are funded or fund themselves?

VM     No, I'm not an expert on that at all.

POM     So you've no idea whether some money comes from the state or whether most is raised by contributions from individuals?

VM     No I can't make a contribution to that question, I'm sorry.

POM     Again, the constitution has provisions for the public funding of political parties. How would you define that? It's undefined in the constitution itself.

VM     I think the public money comes from the people, not from the government because that's actually the basis for it and it really means that the people are then paying for the parliamentarians and that is logical. But I think what we're referring to here is funding for parties other than for people who have been elected to parliament and that I understand to mean would be that public money, which is money raised by taxation in its various forms, is then used to fund parties and the idea being that they would then be able to compete and that it would not be a steamrollering by the majority party. I'm not very au fait with this.

POM     But do you think it's a good idea that the state should supply some level of funding to political parties so that they can - ?

VM     My initial reaction is that it's not a good idea, that that's not a well thought out response.

POM     Would you differentiate between, even in that context, between state funding of political parties so that they can operate on a day to day basis, i.e. maintain an office, employ a secretary or whatever, as distinct from state funding for the purposes of elections?

VM     My answer to that is that my experience is that whatever the money is ostensibly used for in many cases is not the genuine purpose to which the money is put and therefore I have very strong reservations about the funding of parties in any form and for any purpose.

POM     Well if there were such legislation, and the answer to this in light of your previous response might seem obvious, would you favour provisions in the legislation that would require a strict accounting by the political parties on what in fact the moneys are used for?

VM     Yes, and good luck in trying to get it. Try to do what the ACDP -

POM     If you were asked, "Well, we're going to have public funding?" Do you say if we are going to have it and it's going to be a necessary evil then I am in favour of the funding of parties so that they can operate on a day to day basis, or I am in favour of the funding of parties so that they can operate effectively in parliament or I am in favour of the public funding of political elections either in total or in partial?

VM     I would rather choose funding of the administration of the parties so that they would be able to have a moderately competent administration so that any correspondence addressed to them they would receive and they would be able to send correspondence that they wished to do and that they would have somebody to take messages and be able to respond to messages, in other words have an administrative structure and for that be funded by the state. I would rather see that than funding for them once they are already in parliament because they then are pretty well compensated and I have a bit of a problem with the funding of parties for contesting an election by the public.

POM     Given the distribution of the vote at the moment and that in a certain sense money follows the parties, i.e. the strongest parties tend to attract the most money, do you think you can have a strong or viable multi-party system here without some form of public funding of political parties?

VM     Yes.

POM     For example, how, if you were the PAC?

VM     Put it the other way around, I don't think funding would make it any more vibrant and more successful.

POM     So you don't think that if parties like the PAC or the DP or other small parties had access to more funds that that would in fact have an impact on how they would perform electorally?

VM     I don't think so but I may be wrong.

POM     Just as a matter of interest why do you not think so?

VM     Because the evidence of vibrancy in the opposition that there has been has largely revolved around individuals and what they do. We, I say 'we', but in a certain situation the representative of the PAC, for example, had an influence which was totally non-commensurate with the support that that party enjoyed because of the personality of the person concerned and I don't think that would have been improved or made worse by funding of the party.

POM     Do you think that's a fault in the system, that a personality can have an impact that is out of proportion to the standing of the party in the parliament itself and among the population?

VM     No I don't think so, I think that's natural. Probably a good thing.

POM     If I said to you, OK there is going to be public funding, what arguments could you make on its behalf? Can you think of any good arguments to make on its behalf?

VM     Trying to make me devil's advocate? I haven't thought about this.

POM     What arguments would you make against it?

VM     I know that there is an investigation going on, I know that the minister and Roelf Meyer went overseas about this but I haven't really studied it at all. I haven't formed an opinion.

POM     So you haven't thought about the problems that might be associated with the public funding of political parties. What problems pop to your mind?

VM     No I haven't at all, it's just that there are a lot of red flags that are flying at the thought of capacity-building by giving money to parties because of the very serious abuse that we've had in this kind of situation in the past.

POM     Are there other red flags that you would point to that should make one very reluctant or sceptical of the efficacy of the public funding of political parties?

VM     I don't know enough to answer that.

POM     Do you think that in the absence of the public funding of political parties that South Africa is in danger of becoming a one-party state?

VM     I don't think that there is a danger of South Africa becoming a one-party state for two main reasons. One is that within the ANC, the governing party, various contradicting views have emerged and have been expressed and certainly strong personality differences, for whatever reason. On the other hand I think that the degree of disillusionment and disappointment in a large section of the perhaps uninformed electorate is likely to mitigate against the ANC becoming a completely one party controlling government.

POM     You have mentioned the word 'personality' a couple of times, do you think that the politics of personality are more important than the politics of philosophy and issues?

VM     I think it's very much personality. Yes, I think South Africa has still got to reach the stage of looking at issues and principles and philosophies rather than the broad picture that is now associated with certainly the ruling party as a liberation movement.

POM     So in the absence of public funding how do you envisage a party like the Democratic Party raising enough resources to perform better in elections to improve its relative position in parliament?

VM     As they did in the past, as all parties have done in the past, I think if they do not have enough public support they shouldn't be in parliament and if they do have enough public support the public that supports them will hopefully place them in a position to be able to compete.

POM     But do you not need money to get your message across, to build a public support for what you stand for?

VM     You certainly do and a lot of the money for parties, I suppose most of it, comes from members and supporters.

POM     But what I'm getting at is if you're a small party it means you have a small resource base to draw on, if you've a small resource base to draw on, the opportunity to get your message out is very limited and if that is limited then your chances of doing better than you have done in the past are very constrained.

VM     Yes I hear you but if we get to the stage, and I hope we do, that parties do stand for something instead of just stand against something, it might then be necessary to capacitate them.

POM     Do you think, again, if there were some process of public funding of political parties, that South Africans in general would see it as another form of the gravy train?

VM     Yes.

POM     They would just see it as politicians lining their own nests?

VM     Because of the unfortunate tendency of a lot of people and a lot of organisations, which has become knowledge, of abusing financial assistance.

POM     Do you see this as abuses that have taken place primarily, or the ones that are in the public mind that have taken place primarily since the new dispensation has come into place or do you think there is just a pervasive - ?

VM     No I think it's generic.

POM     But the current scandals are scandals that arise - certainly don't help to

VM     They don't help but I'm not at all suggesting it's only since the new dispensation came about, unfortunately not.

POM     Looking at the other side of the coin, do you think that whether or not there is public funding of political parties that parties should be required to disclose both the individuals and the companies and the amounts they receive from individuals and companies?

VM     I'm not sure. I've given a little bit of thought to this and in some ways I feel it's not necessary and possibly unfair to require disclosure of personal income, but if it does relate to the official position and to the party there seems to be a strong reason for having disclosure.

POM     I mean disclosure in the sense that should a party be required to disclose the individuals from whom it receives financial contributions, the companies from whom it receives financial contributions?

VM     Sarafina? You're talking about Sarafina. I think that most certainly the government should disclose the donor in the case of moneys that are given to the government. Whether this should be done in the case of parties I don't see the need for that, but that's also not a well thought out response.

POM     So if I were the ANC and I raised 100 million rand last year I shouldn't be required by law to say I raised that money in the following way; I got a million rand from Mr X and a million rand from Mr Y, five million rand from company Z, ten million rand from country A?

VM     Yes I don't see why they should, but as I say it's not a proper response.

POM     Sorry, when you say it's not a proper response?

VM     It's not a thought out response.

POM     I'm sorry for all the interference on the machine. This is my first interview and obviously I have some bugs in my machinery to move out.

VM     Why pick on me?

POM     Well it should have been Mr van der Merwe but he cancelled. Do you think, again I'm getting at the question of priorities and debates about priorities, do you think that putting money aside to fund or help fund political parties could be better spent, put to other uses such as building houses?

VM     Yes.

POM     Delivery of services?

VM     Well I think that's obvious from my previous responses.

POM     So on a scale of one to ten again where one would be not very important and ten very important, where would you put the issue of public funding of political parties? I have an idea of where this one is going to be.

VM     One.

POM     One!

VM     It's not a well considered response I must say. I might be persuaded otherwise because I haven't really given this any thought.

POM     Do you see yourself becoming more involved in the consideration of factors like this, if there is a larger debate about how political parties should be funded?

VM     That depends entire on what happens, this is a personal thing affecting me now you're talking about, that would largely depend on what happens with the new Electoral Commission.

POM     But as an individual can you envisage a discussion around your dinner table about the government has a proposal to fund - ?

VM     Yes, I don't imagine it would get much support, the funding of parties.

POM     Probably talk about how the Springboks are doing would elicit slightly more conversational interest.

VM     Are we talking about the hockey Springboks?

POM     The government has talked about, and Deputy President Mbeki at one point looked for access to public broadcasting at least, for a half hour or so to be put aside so the government should be in a position to explain to the masses what in fact it is doing. Do you think that's a good idea?

VM     I see a lot of merit in that as long as it could be the view of the government as opposed to the view of the party, even though in many cases it would be the same, but the emphasis should be on what the government is doing rather than what the party believes.

POM     In a situation like that do you think opposition parties should be given a chance to rebut what the government is saying?

VM     I think that the opportunity is there in terms of the ordinary coverage of the media in respect of current matters but what I understood by what the Deputy State President was proposing is that things that the government had embarked on, in other words it was already a factual situation, should be explained and communicated to people better because although there is ostensibly a lot of transparency and there is the ability for transparency, in fact a lot of people don't know what's happening, and that I thought was quite a good idea.

POM     And that would cover radio and television?

VM     Anything on the public broadcaster, because the media very often doesn't find non-contentious and undramatic things very newsworthy.

POM     How would you rate media coverage of government?

VM     They jump at anything negative and contentious.

POM     So you think they emphasise the negative and put very little emphasis, or not enough emphasis on what's going right or what's going well?

VM     Well if you use the last elections, the local government elections in KwaZulu as an example and the fact that a miracle took place and there were peaceful elections, it did get some coverage but not as much as the isolated and, fortunately few and far between, incidents of violence which made much better reading apparently.

POM     Do you think this is a natural bias of a free media?

VM     Yes.

POM     It's not really much different in any other country.

VM     Yes, aimed at increasing sales.

POM     Again, and this is personal, not related to your professional position, but if it came down to the use of media for electoral purposes, in the United States all media is purchased, parties purchase the media, in other countries each party is given a block of media time and they can use it as they wish, in other countries they use a combination of the two, which do you think is the better system that better serves the public purpose?

VM     I think it's a better system in practice, for practical reasons, to let the parties pay for whatever media time they get because any formula is almost impossible to apply and of course you've got a multiplicity of small parties which would all insist on equal time with the bigger ones.

POM     What I want to go back to and try to tie together is on the one hand I hear you saying there is a need for a strong and vibrant multi-party system, that it's your belief that such a system will emerge in South Africa  -

VM     Well I hope so.

POM     At least it's your hope that it will but you believe that the necessary, so to speak, political infrastructure is there.

VM     I think it's political dynamics more than political infrastructure which will hopefully mean that we have a more natural division of political opinion than there is at the moment.

POM     And you don't think that public funding of either political parties or elections would have much of an impact on the manner in which this process develops one way or another?

VM     No I think it's going to be a very fundamental thing of trying to have the division across the board not based on race, which is very predominant in my opinion at the moment, and I don't think money would help to effect that change.

POM     When I mention money in this political context, to what degree is the notion of corruption in the back of your mind or is it there? Does it form a sub-context to all questions relating to the use of money for political purposes?

VM     Are you talking about corruption within a party or corruption in the government?

POM     Corruption, take one and then the other.

VM     Corruption within a party I don't think is the right word. I think abuse of the funds within a party is a very, very serious danger, very great and real danger. Corruption within government I think is totally a different matter and not related to funding of the party. So that doesn't influence my views.

POM     So would, at the end, I be correct in saying that you believe that if taxpayers' money was used to fund political parties that the probability of abuse is so high that the endeavour shouldn't be undertaken in the first instance?

VM     It's not just that. To put it more positively, it would be very difficult to have proper value for money, or reasonable value for money in terms of a return for the money invested. I think it would be rather unlikely.

POM     When you say 'value' could you just elaborate a little?

VM     For the public. In other words, if state money was given to parties to strengthen a multi-party system it would be quite wonderful if it happened just by putting money into it. I can't see it.

POM     You can't see it strengthening a multi-party system?

VM     Not just throwing money at it.

POM     OK, thank you. Is there anything you would like to add?

VM     I would just like to reinforce what I've said throughout and that is that I wasn't prepared for a discussion regarding the funding of political parties and otherwise I would rather have declined because I don't consider myself equipped to discuss that with any kind of authority.

     If you've finished here I'd like to say something.

POM     This is money that was given?

VM     In the pre-pre-interim phase of the transition of local government, at municipal level in other words, where you had the distinction between statutory parties like the National Party and the DP on the one hand that were largely capacitated by having officials in the employ of the local authorities to do the technical work, whereas on the other side with the non-statutory parties like the ANC and the PAC and the ACDP and so on that didn't have any foothold in government and then couldn't use the resource of the officials, of the bureaucracy to help do their work, there was a strong case for giving the non-statutory parties the capacity to get technical expertise. But in fact what happened when the money was given to those parties the money was entirely used to capacitate the political representatives by paying them money, in other words they gave up their jobs and they were then entirely dependent on that money, rather than using that money to get technical expertise. It didn't work in the way it was supposed to.

POM     They really used it for fund raising purposes, for campaign purposes rather.

VM     No not at all, I'm talking about the individuals that were the negotiators for the parties. They used that money as self-imbursement and that I experienced great problems with. There was a tremendous prominence placed on the importance of giving money to them as 'salaries', if one would like to put that in inverted commas, rather than giving them the capacity, additional capacity to be able to compete on an even keel with the statutory negotiators.

POM     So when they had the choice between using the funds given to them to either pay themselves or to find the expertise - ?

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.