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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
30 Sep 1996: Du Plessis, Barend
POM Mr du Plessis let me start first with things we haven't talked about before and that is the De Kock allegations and the last week in cross-examination prior to sentencing he has made a large number of allegations involving two State Presidents, a large number of senior military personnel and others. Does this surprise you? Do you think he's telling the truth or is this the fabrication of an imagination gone wild?
BDP I don't know whether he's telling the truth because I have no knowledge whatsoever of that kind of thing even happening during the time of our government. So if he is fabricating then he has got a very fertile mind or imagination. On the face of things it would seem that if all is not true then at least a large portion of it will be true.
POM Will that surprise you? Will it surprise you that that kind of activity was going on for so many years?
BDP It would have surprised me almost out of my wits in 1990, 1992, at the time when I was in government, when I was just leaving government, but everything that has been revealed since has probably conditioned me into not being as surprised as I would have been otherwise. That these things happened is a fact and the question is only to what extent did it happen and who was involved. That would be extremely interesting for me to know exactly what the liaison was between that kind of operation and operator and my former colleagues, all senior government officials for that matter.
POM Did you sit on the State Security Council?
BDP Yes indeed and in fact I was the first deputy minister to be allowed in the State Security Council. While I was Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs & Information I was allowed to sit at the meeting, against the wall, not to participate. When I became Minister of Education & Training in 1983, I became a member of the State Security Council and obviously as Minister of Finance I was also a member of the State Security Council. There is an important aspect about the operation of the State Security Council vis-à-vis Cabinet which I think few people understand or know of and that is that President PW Botha at every Cabinet meeting that followed a State Security Council meeting, reported the salient points of decisions and proceedings that had taken place at the State Security Council meeting. He reported that to Cabinet and he gave opportunity for questions and the implication therefore is that the State Security Council ministers are not the only ministers who are accountable for what was decided there but also in fact the whole Cabinet. That is a most important decision making structure fact. I can tell you now that as far as my own personal knowledge was concerned I had no idea whatsoever that the kind of De Kock activities happened. One knew that as far as international espionage was concerned, there people killed each other sometimes because maybe all the James Bond movies conditioned one into accepting that and things that one heard from time to time.
Secondly, as far as across-border operations were concerned, there we were all aware that these raids did take place. We were not always, and I will have to consult the records, informed beforehand that they were going to take place because that would have created a chance that somebody would leak it and it wouldn't take place. But it was always reported on rather extensively. So, one accepted that. For example, there had been ample warnings issued by Mr Vorster already at the time when he was Prime Minister that, listen fellows if you harbour ANC terrorist camps or whatever in the neighbouring state regard yourself as our enemy and we feel that we have the right to go in and go and clean it up. That happened in Mozambique and Lesotho, in Swaziland, in Angola and so on, so one was aware of across-border operations but never, never in the least was there any mention that there should have been, let alone that there had been, cases already then where people inside South Africa should be so-called 'removed' from society or eliminated or killed or murdered. So that came as a complete surprise to me when De Kock started revealing it. And obviously the greatest shock of all was that we might have been involved in the assassination of a foreign Prime Minister. If we had to kill all foreign Prime Ministers against apartheid we would have had to clean up the world. I mean it's ridiculous to, if one had to make a statement, if a country were that silly to approve that one would go and assassinate a Swedish Prime Minister. If that can be proven that that in fact was a security operation from South Africa it would have been the most futile thing that you can imagine.
POM When one reads accounts that the national security management system operated to a large extent independently of the Cabinet, i.e. that the securocrats almost were like a government of their own accountable only to PW Botha, is that an exaggeration or a misunderstanding of the decision making process? To your knowledge were all things reported back to Cabinet or was there a kind of a sub-structure? Could there have been a sub-structure that authorised operations such as we're talking about?
BDP I am not aware of any sub-structure or that it ever existed authorising such actions or being reported to when such actions did in fact take place. I'm not aware of that at all. The methods applied by the securocrats and their machines were never authorised at Cabinet or Security Council as such. We assumed that at least we're a civilised country and you go about these things according to international norms. If you had to counter attacks against your country or isolation or whatever then you had diplomatic means, but if people perpetrated or planned to perpetrate terrorism against your country then certainly you applied force of equality. No, I'm not aware of such a structure but I can't imagine that if I were Minister of Law & Order or Minister of Defence or Minister in charge of the National Intelligence that I would not have been aware at least of some of the things. Then if certain things happened and it appeared as if there were departmental agents involved then certainly a minister should have asked the questions, the particular line function minister.
POM How much time would you say, during the time you were in government, how much time in Cabinet was devoted to the threat posed by the ANC in a militaristic kind of a way or the general unrest that was taking place in the country at least on a fairly lavish, lavish is probably not the right word, on a fairly extensive scale from the mid eighties onwards?
BDP A very substantial portion of Cabinet time went in that direction obviously to monitor it, to counter it in a variety of ways, including the provision of services, etc., and to get the necessary structures to contain it; to be aware of it in advance and then to contain violence and uprisings and unrest and so on. An enormous amount of time was devoted and virtually all the time obviously of the Security Council meetings went on those topics.
POM What was the context in which these matters were discussed? Was it like the context of again the total onslaught, the communist threat or the internal threat of subversion or in any sense in the way of that this kind of thing was going to last until blacks were given the franchise or until things changed radically?
BDP The context was always that there was a total onslaught and that there were forces inside of South Africa and outside of South Africa, South Africans, supported by a variety of nations planning to overthrow the government by force and therefore we had to react by way of state of emergency giving us special powers to lock up people, to lock up the leadership. And in the meantime Magnus Malan from day one that I heard him in Cabinet always said, "Mr President", I can still hear it in my ears, "The ultimate solution is 80% political and only 20% military. We must find a political solution. We can try and stabilise the country but we must find a political solution." While I cannot recall that I ever heard what the defence force's views really were, I believe that is why Chris Heunis, Constitutional Affairs, was mandated and the negotiation process was begun, that's why the tricameral parliament came about as an interim measure towards working out a general franchise which will not be hostile to what the National Party perceived as inevitable, the protection of group rights in South Africa. So it was pursued, not always I believe with the wisdom of hindsight, with the same vigour and with the same investment of time and money and resources. I mean the political solution was pursued but certainly it did receive attention. But Magnus Malan certainly had a very strong point of view, eighty/twenty.
POM Was there any sense in Cabinet or in the inner circles of the National Party that the inevitable was coming, it was really a matter of containment until you could devise a solution that would protect, say, National Party or group or white or whatever interests but that there was an inevitable day of reckoning?
BDP Well we had to distinguish then between the times of PW Botha and FW de Klerk. In PW Botha's time my impression was always that we were pursuing a vigorous military style and security style anti operation with a view to paralysing the ANC's terrorism structures and getting them to a situation where they may understand that they were never going to win the war and that it was much better to get to the conference table and to take a much softer stance. In other words the security actions in my view were not only to contain the security situation but also to weaken the ANC and to soften them up with a view to eventually reaching a political settlement and what that exactly should have been, there were small committees trying to work that out, and there you had the inevitable clashes between the old style apartheid kind of thinking and newer thinking in terms of the guarantees for group rights and that kind of thing. That developed in parallel to containing the security of the situation.
POM We all know now that there were contacts between the government and Nelson Mandela and meetings for that matter between ministers and Nelson Mandela going back to 1985 and then 1987 and that there were regular meetings after 1987. Was the Cabinet apprised of these meetings in any way?
BDP No, not at all. We were kept completely in the dark. I was anyway. I don't know who the others were who were involved. I hear that Minister Kobie Coetsee as Minister of Justice had many discussions with Mr. Mandela. He certainly kept that to himself. I don't know if he discussed that with Mr PW Botha or who he discussed it with but he certainly didn't discuss it in private or officially in Cabinet meetings with his colleagues. Never. Eventually Mr PW Botha, after having had Mr Mandela in his office and having had his Private Secretary take a picture of them, said to us that he had had him there and that he had talked to him. That was already very shortly before ...
POM 1989 I think.
BDP That was just before his stroke.
POM Did that surprise the Cabinet when he said that he had had Mr Mandela in his office and had his photograph taken with him? Did he give any indication of what they had talked about? It certainly wasn't just a social occasion.
BDP He gave very scant detail to us of what they had talked about. We were very surprised, pleasantly surprised that at last something is beginning to happen but he certainly did not tell us in any detail, not to my recollection, what they had discussed.
POM In hindsight, given that the Cabinet was in the dark about secret negotiations that were in fact going on for the better part of five years, would it surprise you that there was also a kind of dirty war, so to speak, being conducted that Cabinet was being kept unaware of?
BDP It certainly surprises me now to hear what kind of war was in fact being waged, that you had agents literally killing people, torturing them. That is unheard of. If we had known that in Cabinet we certainly would have had a major uproar in Cabinet. There is no way, not even by implication, that we would have condoned that kind of thing. As far as Mr Mandela and Mr PW Botha's contact is concerned you must remember that I think it was in 1986 or 1987 already, and I told you this before, where Mr PW Botha mandated me to tell Mrs Thatcher that he was planning to release Mr Mandela soon and that he respectfully asked her personally to refrain from asking for Mr Mandela's release and to get her government to do likewise in order to, when he did it, to get the Conservative South African leadership, like Buthelezi who already then had said that he will never speak to Mr Botha again unless Mr Mandela is released, for them to get the credit instead of some foreign power, some foreign statesperson getting the credit. And that was also not discussed in Cabinet at all. So to me personally the contact between Mr Mandela and Mr Botha was perhaps not that surprising.
POM So were you surprised when you were asked to convey this message? You say this was in 1987, was it?
BDP Let me date it. The evening before I saw Mrs Thatcher they caught our agents with a blow-pipe piece of apparatus that had been stolen or had been obtained from a rocket manufacturer in Britain and these agents of South Africa were arrested in Paris and it was a major political embarrassment of course. So the next morning when I walked into Mrs Thatcher's office she said, well she had just expressed her complete dissatisfaction with what had happened and she said that she had a minister of the South African Cabinet visiting her that morning and she wanted just to repeat to me what she had said outside. So that is the date. It's either 1986 or 1987. No, I wasn't surprised because I still believe that it could have been possible in Mr PW Botha's time to make a lot more progress but somewhere every time it was thwarted, you know with the Rubicon speech, with adapt or die, and so on. It would seem that in person to person to Mr PW Botha you could go a long way moving him away from rigid apartheid thoughts and then the moment you thought that you had made progress then something happened which made him revert back to a very different position. So I wasn't surprised, I was delighted, but he didn't follow it up.
POM Turning to events of today, in the last year one has seen a pattern of events erupting like the Holomisa affair, the Sarafina affair, the Mbeki/Sexwale saga, reports of the Auditor General about widespread misuse of money and mismanagement. Do you think these are a sign of politics normalising in a kind of a way or are they the sign of a country that's veering off in the wrong direction politically?
BDP I would prefer to ascribe it to the first one and that is also my conviction that it's normal, it's a kind of a political puberty that the ANC is going through. It's all very well to sit in various countries in the world as exiles or in South Africa as academics or political activists and to think about the ideal South Africa that you will help design and help implement and help govern if you get the power. Now they've got the power and are finding out that the ideal situation is not to be achieved this side of the grave anyway, it's a multi-variable equation this one. That is one aspect, coming face to face with reality, that you bring in people who have no experience of management, no experience of state finance management, which is a different kettle of fish altogether. They might have had degrees in political science and even commercial degrees, it's different if you get into the state. There are different regulations and so on. The British left us with a very sound bureaucratic basis in this country, good administration. The Afrikaner learnt a lot from the Brits in that respect. But the Africanisation or the economic empowerment or then affirmative action programme was so rapid that you've got a lot of relatively inexperienced people despite the fact that they might be highly qualified academically in a lot of key positions and you get a lot of chances being taken and people descending upon people without experience, selling them all kinds of ideas, consultants that will solve all their problems, now spending R100 million plus a year on consultants.
Another equation, another variable in the equation is the question of ambition. You know the moment you get into a position of power then why can't I be president? Why can't I be minister? Why can't I be premier? Why can't I be in charge of this, that or the other and how am I going to get rid of that fellow, I didn't like him anyway so I might as well give him more grief? It's arrogant, absolutely arrogant of Holomisa and blatant, I don't know to describe it. He came into power with a coup. He's the one that when Pik Botha sent him to me to get R100 million for increases for his civil servants and I refused, the day after that he raided his civil servants' pension fund to give them an increase. I said to him the previous day if you're going to do that where are you going to get an increase the next year or where are you going to get money again to pay that increased payroll the year after that can look after itself? His response was in the vein of the year after that can look after itself. He had no idea of finance and despite the fact that I said to him what is the in-pocket position of his officials against those in SA. He didn't levy the right taxes. His Director Generals put much more in their pockets than a South African Director General although they earn the same salary because his tax rates were lower. Now he wanted to give them increases and improve their position even further. It made no impression and for him to talk about all kinds of mal-administration or whatever, that is ridiculous. Sincerely, I think the ANC totally under-estimated the complexity of governing a country such as South Africa both from a political point of view, legislation point of view and fiscal and monetary administration point of view.
POM Well in that sense then are the reports in the press of waste, mismanagement, corruption, gravy trains, whatever, is this due more to inexperience, is it the logical fallout of not knowing what to do rather than some insidious intent to steal and clean the coffers out?
BDP I don't think that one can ascribe it to either of them, you will have to find a combination. We heard the other day about hundreds and hundreds, I think even a few thousand cases, where government cars were just used for personal and private purposes. Now the person doing that certainly did not do it out of naiveté, he knew full well that he was using the government's car. Maybe he thinks the government now belongs to him and he can share it. I don't know. I think it's a combination of inexperience, incompetence and also a lot of opportunism and even theft.
POM Is this a natural, you used the word puberty before, the ANC is going through a kind of puberty, is this a natural progression as the country evolves towards a more mature political system?
BDP I certainly hope so. I think there is enough intellectual material to mature pretty quickly in reasonable control and administration and then motivation to root out crime and theft and so on. It all goes hand in hand. I certainly hope and pray that it will not be a feature of our country, that we will not just be another third world disaster in respect of corruption and theft and so on.
POM There are many who would say that there is nothing that the current government is being accused of that couldn't be equally levied against the various National Party governments, that when they were in power that they too were rife with corruption, mismanagement, misuse of money. How would you compare the two?
BDP I think one must accept that theft and various forms of corruption and crime, these things have been a feature of governments since man first organised himself into a kind of a society. That is not the question. The issue is, how does one respond to it and what kind of measures do you take? Do you have the right people, correctly qualified people to design and implement these measures and to exercise the necessary controls? I don't know. With so many very well experienced people leaving and being encouraged to leave the civil service and getting new people in, chances are so much better for people who want to abuse a fluid situation like that for their own purposes. I think one's response is important and the government certainly would like to do it but it's not only a matter of saying you would like to do it, what do you do about it? Where do you find the right officials?
POM Looking back, if you were to compare previous National Party governments and the current government, is the current government in terms of corruption any worse than previous governments in the country?
BDP I think we had quicker response and better control and I don't think we had the same frequency of attempts in the old South African government. In the homelands we had no control. Once we had given them their money via parliament they went ahead and a lot of the cases that have come into the open of corruption and so forth come from the former homeland governments, so it cannot all be ascribed to this particular government. But I think the present government is genuine in its desire not to have that happen or to have it reduced to the absolute minimum and to act very strictly against those who perpetrate this kind of deed. But we were aware of theft and of corruption in the previous government but we acted immediately. We had the same desire. I am not aware of any corruption in Cabinet circles certainly.
POM When one looks at the decision making structure that the ANC employs when it sets up disciplinary committees, when it frowns on its members going public, when it wants to present a united front and that all disputes or differences are kind of within the family and should be swept under the mat publicly, is it any different in this regard in how it proceeds than the NP was in its day?
BDP No, no it's not different. The NP had a very strict caucus code and there was ample opportunity inside the structures of the NP to be extremely critical of leaders, of policies and we had all the necessary mechanisms to have those issues addressed without intimidation on the particular person, or retaliation against such a person. The ANC, however, professes to be so transparent, that there is nothing secret. If that is their stated policy, contrary to ours where we had a very strict party discipline cum caucus structure, if they then come and say that they're completely open and transparent and despite that they say to Holomisa, "Uh-uh, you should have come to the kitchen first before you went out on the street", that is an indication of maybe where they're beginning to understand what is the difference between theory and practice. But certainly since they are so adamant that they are completely transparent it was a major mishap for them to react against Holomisa the way that they did. I believe that Minister Skweyiya is now taking a slightly different line, saying that Holomisa was entitled to say whatever he did.
POM But he's still fired and he's still gone.
BDP Well he has destroyed himself, he has destroyed himself in the process. There's no doubt about that. From that point of view they are no different from the NP except we didn't say that we were conducting our business in a transparent fashion. We had a party discipline and everybody knew about it. We had a caucus discipline and everybody knew about it. Once the caucus had decided to do something and you didn't like it you had to leave the party. Also, even if you didn't leave and you went and talked outside about it you were just kicked out. Period. Everybody knew it. We didn't profess to be so democratically squeaky clean inside the party but the ANC did and now they're getting rid of Holomisa because he merely criticised fellow leadership in the Truth Commission.
POM So do you find it a little bit hypocritical or is it just mere politics when the NP or the DP take shots at the ANC for becoming a closed organisation and conducting its business in secret and behaving in an anti-democratic way?
BDP I don't think that it's hypocritical. I think it's pure politics and I think it's right. If your political opponent professes to have a certain viewpoint and he transgresses it then it is your right and duty as an opposition party to take them on in public debate. I don't think it's hypocritical, I think it's right. The ANC, well when they announced their transparency they invited that kind of comment and it's only fair in politics that if you then do a transgression that you must expect the flak to come your way. I would have loved to be there myself on that one.
POM The Sarafina affair, why in a 'normal' democracy, or a mature democracy or whatever, she would certainly have been gone by now. The case I like to cite is Lord Carrington and the Falklands, that he resigned because he felt he hadn't taken note of certain military movements in that direction by the Argentineans and he felt he should submit his resignation. Here you have a major, at one level, screw-up, and it's not the screw-up, it's the actions following the screw-up maybe that may be more important by a minister and Mr Mandela kind of imputes all kind of ulterior motives to those who ask for her resignation. Do you think that her actions in this regard warrant her resignation or that, again, it's all part of a larger learning curve and that while she's doing a good job she should be retained as minister?
BDP I think she made such a disaster of the Sarafina thing that the only proper thing for the ANC to have done is to have asked her to leave the Cabinet. It was a major flaw in Mr Mandela's handling of governmental affairs to come to her defence every time. She has obviously not told the truth to parliament or to the press or to the public at large. If she did that on purpose, if she hid something, then the very ethic of parliament would prescribe that she should resign. If she was telling untruths of a different kind, a different variation every time to parliament and to everybody else as a result of not having received proper information every time then she is clearly sufficiently incompetent also to have been fired and if that incompetence on her side is caused by incompetence of her department then heads should roll there as well. But the whole thing has been extremely badly handled and is being extremely badly handled in such a way that if they kick out Holomisa because he caused embarrassment to the party I think this is an even greater embarrassment. And Dr Zuma, not only on account of that, but on an accumulation of faux pas that she's made, she should go. Oddly enough she's regarded inside the ANC as one who has delivered. I don't know where she has delivered. She's certainly delivering our best doctors to all countries that would take them. She's personally responsible for the exodus of a very, very large number of doctors from South Africa. Now if that is what she wants and that is what the government wants then she's delivering. But from a report card point of view she has failed miserably and it is contaminating Mr Mandela's image as a superior and highly respected statesman to keep on defending her.
POM How about in general, say from a political standpoint, is there an effective opposition in the country? Will there be an effective opposition in the country without radical political alignment and is that alignment likely to occur?
BDP I think it is true to say, well it's my conviction anyway, that there is no chance of effective opposition in this country based on the number of voters supporting different parties, no chance of that being achieved in the short term in South Africa. It doesn't exist now and it's extremely unlikely to come about even in the next decade for the simple reason that there is no other party, theoretical player, existing or in theory that can mobilise the masses away from the ANC. I think the momentum of the combination of the romanticism, the charisma of the leadership and the long struggle will carry the masses into the camp of the ANC for a very long time. If ambition and strife inside the ANC become so vehement that a strong leader or leaders will break away and form a Workers' Party and begin branding the ANC as a sell-out to the wealthy and a sell-out to the west and a sell-out to the IMF and so on, then there may be a significant breakaway of workers and so on. But by and large I think the ANC is there to stay even if there is a break-away.
I believed before that the most important South African political event to the end of the century is the disintegration of the ANC. I still believe that. But in terms of numbers a break-away of the communists, who provide a lot of intellectual input to the ANC, will bring about nothing significant. A major and unlikely event of a Workers' Party being formed will be significant but certainly not fatal to the ANC. Opposition in the form of vociferous, professional, credible, in line with world thinking and the prevailing wisdom as far as economics and other topics are concerned, that kind of opposition there will still certainly be. There can also be a realignment, a finding of common ground between the NP and the DP and even Volksfront or Conservative Party and certain elements even in the upper class or the middle class people in the ANC who have now all of a sudden started earning good money and if the government takes away too much out of their pocket by way of taxes then they may be moved to vote for another party but, again, extremely unlikely.
POM I'm sure I've asked you this before but I will ask it again in case I didn't. The NP's dream or vision of a new National Party that will be multi-racial, that will attract significant numbers of black voters, that will, and I think I'm almost taking the quotes from Mr de Klerk at the last annual conference or this year's annual conference, where they will strengthen their hold in the Western Cape, will take control of the Northern Cape, will hold the balance of power in Gauteng and hold the balance of power in Natal and the other provinces, is a lot of this wishful thinking? Do just the facts of history, the past, the very things you've talked about in terms of momentum of what a liberation struggle is and how the after-wash carries on for a long time, do you think it's fantasy more than reality?
BDP You can't regard South Africa as a non-African country. So quite apart from the things that I said earlier, South Africa in certain very important respects must also be looked upon as an African country. Democracy in all its manifestations as experienced and as well-established as it is in the US, UK, Europe and elsewhere, that kind of first world democracy has not really been a successful transplant on to Africa so far despite all the antidotes and so forth. We can look at Zambia, we can look at Zimbabwe, we can look at a variety of places and therefore to the extent that South Africa is still an African country, also in that respect there is no way that the NP or another party with a very substantial white leadership and support and therefore clearly a whitish image can become a major political force with mobilisation of the predominantly black masses. Yes it has become a multi-racial party in terms of relative numbers maybe even, well certainly more so than even the ANC. In the Western Cape the coloureds have gone en masse to the side of the NP but there are also other factors there, some of which come from the fact that they were brought into the tricameral parliament by the NP. In the previous regime they were not white enough and now they're not black enough and there is definitely an anti-black feeling that helps mobilise a lot of coloured support for the NP in the Western Cape, apart from the fact that I believe there is good government and that they deliver. The Western Cape has a culture of its own. There I think the NP can really achieve what F W de Klerk wanted to achieve countrywide but countrywide I don't think it will happen. Also I believe the NP is unlikely to grow significantly while leaders from the previous era remain in their positions. Ultimately, I don't think leaders who, for a long time were part of a system denying the masses the democratic, economic and social rights they enjoy today, can credibly today profess to be the protectors and custodians of those very same rights on behalf of the very same masses, and that against the very same party, the ANC, who is perceived as having fought for and brought about those rights a lot of perceptions of and faces in the NP leadership will have to change for the NP, or whatever remains of it, to make an impact.
POM The talk of developing, and the constitution provides for a multi-party democratic system, is really again more fanciful language or ideal or theory rather than what will be a practical reality in the foreseeable future?
BDP I believe so. I believe so because just like in all these other African countries where you've had a virtually one-party state, or one party really dominating the entire scene, also there the constitutions make provision for multi-party democracy. Here maybe we're more westernised, maybe we're more highly developed. Maybe all the ANC exiles that have lived elsewhere and have come back now can influence their following much quicker into a western type democracy, culture, than elsewhere in Africa. But I don't know. I think FW, the NP will in terms of where it started off, make very significant progress but I think that it has a very low ceiling relatively speaking measured in terms of the numbers of the ANC. Again in terms of substance of opposition and the way that it is presented the NP will play a significant role in that democracy. But certainly when it comes down to voting even if their arguments were irrefutable, they will not attract the numbers of the ANC.
POM They're not going to get significant numbers of blacks to vote for them. That's just fact.
BDP Not in the short term and the NP will have to rely, I believe, extremely heavily on the disintegration of the ANC which in the short term is extremely unlikely. Thabo Mbeki is far too astute a politician to allow that to happen.
POM Do you think Thabo has done a fairly good job in marginalising what are called the internals, I mean you've had - Ramaphosa is out of politics, Molefe, Lekota, they're all in trouble in one way or another, not because of their performance. In fact they may be among the people who are giving superior performances but they belong to the internal wing of the ANC and the externals are really consolidating their power.
BDP I think Thabo is extremely competent in securing his own position and securing the maximum stability in the succession process. No doubt he's, I believe temporarily, gotten rid of Cyril Ramaphosa unless Cyril gets so involved in the private sector that he sits there with golden handcuffs, but certainly Thabo has no opposition at this stage, no real opposition at all.
POM There's been some loose talk of the ANC dividing, the internals forming their own party and the exiles being another party. Do they understand that hanging together is hanging on to power, division means losing power or the potential to lose power?
BDP I think you've answered the question extremely competently. Major divisions get papered over when there's the possibility of losing power altogether. I've been through that in twenty years in political life. Forget it, it's very seldom that it happens and ultimately even potentially substantial breakaways diminish into relatively insignificant breakaways when only those people who are absolutely so committed now, that have committed themselves so badly and made their presence so undesirable among their former colleagues that they just have to leave, that they are compelled to leave. I think of in the NP's history the Herstigte Nasionale Party, I think about even the Conservative Party.
POM Last time, and my time is up I know, you were fairly scathing in the way you thought South Africa was going, that it was going downhill, that it was becoming another African country, that standards and the like were just going to hell. Since I've seen you since then, or taking a longer view, are you more optimistic or is that still what you think?
BDP That's basically still what I think. Maybe I've just become conditioned in my reaction that I'm not so agitated about it any more. You get used to missing the potholes of our previously world-class freeways. But the public health system in this country and education, these two structures, in terms of the standards that we would have liked to see at the time when we started the negotiations, have gone to the dogs.
POM Do you think the average black person has now available to him or her a lower standard of education and a lower standard of health care than would have been available say in 1993, 1994, the last years of the De Klerk government?
BDP I think you phrased that question very cleverly. Maybe as far as the lower than average black is concerned the education system will be better for him and his children and the health system will be better for him and his children because of the discrimination that obtained in the past. But that's not my most important concern. Maybe that's the concern of the ANC as far as their voting power is concerned. If I look down the road to the future of this country and it's utter reliance on international investment, it's utter reliance on that thin layer of first world entrepreneurship, business acumen, administrative ability and development skills in terms of the economy to provide the means, then that first world South Africa is no longer what it was. If a German comes here, quite apart from the crime, and a top German businessman was shot dead in front of his house the other day and another one had his little boy kidnapped, a top multinational businessman coming in here into this country and investing his own money or his company's money, can he be sure of the health care being equivalent to what it was before and that having been for so many decades equivalent to the best that you could get anywhere in the world, the answer is no. Maybe in certain private hospitals. And the same goes for the education system. Maybe that is still OK as far as certain private schools are concerned but even there there are certain doubts what the government in future will do with the private schools.
So what I'm saying is that that first world medical care and education and dispensing of application of justice as far as controlling crime is concerned, those things are certainly not what they were even if you look back only a few years and that is my concern. Let me tell you what is a question that people of my age, middle fifties, what we think. We ask ourselves where do I go and live my last ten, fifteen, twenty-five years of my life? Can I really go and live in a place of retirement where I used to want to go and live because I must now make sure that I'm near a private clinic. I can no longer rely on the provincial hospital. I must now make sure that it is a safe environment. Much more than before that kind of consideration with your own health, your own safety and so on, that is the kind of thing in terms of relocation inside South Africa when you get to retirement age, which have become questions all of a sudden.
My children, my second child, I've got one child already living outside. He's a doctor. The second one will become a doctor now. He's not going to give two years more of his life to Zuma's two years of so-called 'additional training' and not one of his classmates is going to do that, not a single one. They're going to do their housemanship here and then they will leave and do another housemanship elsewhere in the world and just tell Zuma to go to a nice warm place. They're not going to have nine years of training. The cynical answer is, a cynical statement among the students by the way, is that with the kind of material that they allow now to come into medicine, as measured against their school leaving examination marks, they do need nine years of education and not seven years as in the olden times. But young people also say where do we go and live so we have access to proper medical care for our children and for ourselves and where do we go and live to have proper schooling? Those who have no mobility, those who don't have the money to pay, what's going to become of them? I'm talking even about middle management. You've never seen such an exodus of trained people like you're seeing now. It's a pity. And the emigration numbers do not reflect the true situation, since very few formally emigrate, they just leave.
POM Is that entirely or almost exclusively due to the crime situation and the government's inability to get control of it or is it due to a general perception that it's ineptitude and the ineptitude is not going to go away?
BDP There are fundamentals, the crime situation, the health system, education system. These are the things that compel young people to hit the road. Another very important factor is affirmative action. Like Dr van Zyl Slabbert said the other day in an address, if you're white and you're male you're wrongly coded, you've got a problem. Where do young white people go and young coloured people if they don't have a profession? Affirmative action has taken its toll already. I'm not saying that it's necessarily completely unfair what's happening, I'm not saying that it should be stopped, I'm not saying that there shouldn't be affirmative action. I'm just saying that that is part of the phenomenon why young people go to the UK and they become bouncers, they become barmen in Australia and they try to get work permits doing every sort of thing if they don't have a profession.
POM The rates strike in Sandton, is this an ironic turn of the screw or how would you categorise it in a broader sense? What does it mean?
BDP Well it's a reaction of civilised and educated people saying to the government or to the authorities, this is now enough. You've got our names on your record, so far we've been paying and now you want us to bleed ourselves white to compensate for those others that don't pay. I'll give you a typical example; there's an educated gentleman living in a very smart apartment block where a friend of mine lives. The chairperson, the lady of the Body Corporate came to her flat the other day, her apartment, and said to her, "Listen we've got a problem and we just want to inform you that we have a gentleman here and it might come into the press, we've got a gentleman here, we've now been battling fifteen months to get him to pay his levy. He refuses. He doesn't want to pay the levy, he doesn't want to pay for water and electricity and we're now cutting it off and there's going to be a huge uproar and I'm just telling you." What has happened in the meantime is that they did that and this lady has had now so far her windows broken, a huge rock thrown right through her garage roof, through the tiles on to her motor car, also damaging that. There isn't a pay culture among many of the former strugglers and the people in Sandton are just saying, now listen, just because you have our names on record and just because we've been regular payers doesn't mean that you can just carry on taking taxes from us, go to the townships, get something there as well. There are billions upon billions upon billions of rand outstanding on service accounts and the rates and taxes and on top of it many of the councils are increasing their own personal allowances by 90%.
BDP Ninety. It's absolutely ridiculous and that is why the first world section, that little head of the huge heavy snake of the economy, that little head that drives the economy, the little power source is being intimidated by way of taxes and levies and so on and they're not going to take it. I don't know what it's going to lead to but it's that kind of civil disobedience that's also going to happen among your highly civilised communities. They're paying for their water, they're paying for electricity, they're paying for what they use but they're not prepared to pay the levies, the taxes, an increase of sometimes 400%. And you've got millions of people living in townships and they don't pay anything.
POM Do the people in the townships have the means to pay?
BDP I have no doubt that if you go into the townships that you will see an economy there. People are buying food, people are buying clothes, people are travelling in taxis. Why don't they pay for the electricity that they need? If they don't want electricity, if they don't want clean council water fair enough, let them look after themselves in another way, but they start throwing stones and they riot if electricity is taken away and if water is taken away. They want it and they want it for free.
POM Is this culture so ingrained it's going to take a long time to break? Or what could the government be doing to break it? Do they simply put off services and risk the consequences?
BDP Well there was this campaign, Masakhane, pay for what you enjoy kind of thing with very, very limited success. It is so ingrained that it's become convenient. So ingrained that it's become convenient that it will take a long time of education to change their minds and the government will have to take the initiative in that regard, and authorities. But who's going to pay for it in the meantime? The few that they have the names on record of? I read in the papers yesterday some letters about people paying income tax. You've got my name but all those that you don't have names of, are they paying? Is a kombi taxi operator paying income tax? Is your spaza shop owner in the townships, are they paying income tax? These landlords that sell land belonging to private companies. I'm aware of a piece of land over 300 hectares belonging to a public company, a listed company on the Stock Exchange, that money comes mostly from policy holders and a few black landlords just set up themselves two, three years ago and started selling plots at R200 a plot on this company's land. This company, what kind of recourse has it got? 6000 squatter units on their land. The people who sold the land for R200, they're not paying income tax, they're not paying VAT, they're not paying transfer duties on land they simply stole.
POM So are you better off than you were two years ago? Is the quality of your life or your standard of life better off than it was?
BDP I have generated additional revenue for myself, that's why I have been able to maintain my standard of living and even improve it in certain respects. I believe that there are still opportunities. I'm not stealing from the Receiver of Revenue, he's getting what he's supposed to get. That's ingrained. I give to, I don't know what the English equivalent is, give to the king what ...
POM Give to Caesar what is due to Caesar.
BDP Yes. I think there are tremendous opportunities but there is so much apprehension and fear among people of my age saying that I won't stand in the way of my children, in fact I will help them to find employment elsewhere in the world, but as far as I'm concerned my few years I can't go and start afresh elsewhere so I'll stay here and I will enjoy what I can here.
POM Two very last quick questions. One, did the NP make the right decision in leaving the government of national unity?
BDP No doubt in my mind that it was the right decision. They should have done it a long time ago in fact, with the wisdom of hindsight again, since they were unable to secure an entrenched system of power sharing. Now they can start structuring themselves as a separate unit and they have taken away the possibility of their former political colleagues passing some of the blame on to them. They're not sharing accountability any more. If the government of national unity just delivered and it was plain sailing all the way and everybody cheered and said hoorah when they arrived on the scene that would have been politically maybe a bad move, but the government has not so far created the image that they are really delivering so they left it and they can be the opposition and they can now take a stance. Very good.
POM Is the macro-economic plan one more plan like the RDP that will be talked about for a year and then go the way of all other plans or is this for real this time?
BDP I think it's for real. I think it's for real because it's Thabo Mbeki that identified with it. He is to be the next president. There's no way that he can become president and have an albatross around his neck that he was the author or the promoter of just another failed plan. No, I think it makes good sense, it has the right promoter, it has been sold to the IMF and to the World Bank and so on and the business community and certain responses and commitments have emanated from it and it will make it an essential part of the future way of life. Abandonment or just it falling into disuse will be politically and economically fatal and the ANC can't afford it.
POM Will it generate not just the rate of growth but the job creation which is the main problem facing the country?
BDP I think the job creation part is very ambitious and it relies extremely heavily on international investment and on international competitiveness and in order to achieve that as far as competitiveness is concerned productivity is the key word and it's a very terrible swear word in the vocabulary of Sam Shilowa and COSATU, but they will just have to accept that you must get paid for the calluses on your hand and not your union card. So productivity is the order of the day and the currency can't be expected to take a punch all the time, which is the refuge of weak fiscal and productivity management.
POM The foreign investment so far isn't really materialising.
BDP It's not materialising. Sorry, that brings me to a point that I wanted to allude to, and that is that without stopping the crime and without getting a reasonable tax system those things will not materialise. So productivity-wise, to be internationally competitive we will have to get people to work and to be internationally attractive for investment productivity is one thing, but then all the other social things, and I have my concerns about health and education as I said to you before, and very severe reservations about the ability of the government to contain the crime.
POM This is the final question, in terms of foreign policy do you think that foreign policy here is often thought out in terms of what the consequences of it might be in terms of foreign investment or lack thereof?
BDP I don't know if I'm sufficiently qualified to comment on that one. I have heard very severe reaction to certain foreign policy statements and invitations to Iran's president and Gaddafi and associating themselves with Fidel Castro and so on. So foreign policy from that point of view, looking at the inventory of faux pas made so far, foreign policy doesn't appear to have been very substantially influenced by international investment considerations.
POM OK. I'll leave it at that for this time. Thank you once again.