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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
14 Oct 1996: Camerer, Sheila
POM 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 democratic multi-party system of government?
SC I think the ideal western democratic model in the developed western democracies is where you have two parties more or less finely balanced, as with the United States and the UK and Germany, possibly even France, where you have two large parties and a floating vote in between or possibly, I suppose France is more appropriately operating in terms of a three party system where you have three fairly large parties and you have coalition governments that develop so at least it's a flexible system and you can expect with each general election that there could well be a change of government. Where we have the constitutional framework I don't think we have that situation here yet because we have one large de facto huge party and a number of smaller parties of which the National Party is the largest.
POM Are there any indispensable elements that you would associate with a viable multi-party system other than there being the possibility of a change in government?
SC Well I think we have to have the constitutional framework that allows it to happen and I think we do have that, so that's an indispensable element.
POM On a scale of one to ten where one is not very important and ten would be very important, how important is a viable multi-party system to the development of democracy and the inculcation of democratic values in South Africa in the future?
SC Well I think it's very important and I think it's an ideal to which we should strive to try and establish a greater balance between the parties. At the moment, as I say, we have this one very large party, we have a tendency to politico-ethnic allegiance in South Africa which I think is a problem that's endemic in Africa and we haven't escaped it but I think possibly we're going to be able to accommodate it more easily than other African countries south of the Sahara where you have one very large ethnic group or tribal ethnic group and a couple of smaller ones which then are perpetually dominated or dominated in perpetuity politically whereas here we don't have one very large group that is all in one political basket, so to speak. The only very large ethnic group is the Zulus and they accommodate at least two political parties in a fairly balanced way. It's true to say that the Xhosas tend to be ANC supporting, that is like the Broederbond of the ANC in a sense as the Afrikaner elite was the core of the National Party but there are not that many of them and so the core group would never win the election. There are less than three million.
POM Oh I thought there were about seven.
SC No, it's seven million Zulus and about two point seven million Xhosas. So you see in political-ethnic terms it tends to be more flexible than, say, our immediate neighbours.
POM So on a scale of one to ten, given present circumstances, how important is it? Is it a seven, an eight?
SC Well I think it's a seven point five, if you like. It's between seven and eight I would say because I think that our metropole, so to speak, our financial backers, the investor public out there, the international investor community, has the multi-party system, they know it works, they have seen what happened in Africa where it didn't operate, the tendency to dictators who tended to run the economy. So I think it's perceived by our support base outside South Africa as very important and I think there is no better safeguard for individual freedom and opportunity for enterprise than the democratic system. I think Churchill said it's a lousy system but show me a better one.
POM Are these issues of developing a multi-party system, the need for effective opposition, how to go about forming effective opposition whether it's broadening your own constituency or forming coalitions with other parties, are these things that you have given a lot of thought to, some thought to or are you just too busy to really devote much of your time to such issues at the moment?
SC Sorry, the bit that didn't work, the recording that didn't happen, I did add the rider to your first question in my reply, that in order to achieve a greater balance of parties our goal, which we announced in terms of policy at the beginning of the year, was to spearhead or facilitate the creation of an alliance of like minded parties to gather up the smaller parties into a determined group of parties to fight socialism and to prevent a one-party state happening, to play the opposition role and to aspire to achieve government eventually. I think it was a realistic approach in view of the size of the majority party and the relative sizes of the small opposition parties.
POM Are you calling this government a socialist government? Never has a party abandoned so many socialist positions so quickly.
SC Yes and a lot of it was influenced by us of course.
POM Do you think their change with regard, say, from nationalisation to privatisation, from command economy to free market economy, do you ever wonder about the swiftness with which that change was made, with which the ANC and SACP seemed to give up some of their core beliefs and adopt new positions? Do you think they are genuine or that it's expedient at the moment or that really they have little choice in the matter because in the modern world countries don't exist, sovereignty is a very limited concept, you live in a global economy and have to obey the rules of the global economy?
SC I think during the two years of the GNU they were well influenced by our participation in government and during the run-up period I think there was quite a lot of influence exerted by, for instance, Derek Keys in the consultative process that led to the constitution making. So I think we were a force for the good in that respect but I think also the realities confronted the top brass of the ANC. It's interesting that I think the returned exiles have been more anxious to give up their socialist positions perhaps, the returned exile group which seems to be pretty powerful in the ANC elite, who have lived in the rest of the world, who have seen the absolute failure of communism, have been perhaps more ready to give these up than the people who came from COSATU and the UDF where COSATU and the UDF cohabited quite closely. So I think there has been that dichotomy in the ANC that the returned exiles under Thabo Mbeki are really on top at the moment and so I think that's facilitated the change in approach. I don't think they've given up some positions. Socialism is held up as the ideal and I think there's a potential for recidivism particularly where COSATU exerts a lot of pressure on them as we've seen in the negotiations on the lock-out clause for instance. I would say that the direction is the right one at the moment.
POM When you look at the way in which what one might call a viable multi-party system might emerge there appear to be two alternatives. One is that a number of parties coalesce around the largest opposition party like the National Party and the second is that the tripartite alliance splits in some manner, shape or form and some part of that joins in an alliance with the other parties so you've got a left/right or political balance.
SC Both hold potential.
POM Which do you think is the more likely scenario?
SC I think it's quite difficult to say. There are a number of problems involved with both. I have said to you on former occasions where we've discussed this that I always regarded a breakaway group from the ANC becoming bedfellows of the Nats as a very long shot. It does seem that there's more potential for breakaway groups in the ANC now than I thought a few months ago what with the Holomisa shenanigans and so on but I don't think they would join us. I don't think their goal would be an eventual alliance with the National Party. It looks to me as if they're going in a more Pan Africanist direction, but it's really too early to say whether there's any potential there.
I think the National Party's view was, as we enunciated this, that we would take a lead and try and spearhead an alliance of like-minded parties. Obviously there is a limit to the number of parties you can think of in this alliance. There's the Inkatha Freedom Party, though that would be a great problem. They denied that there would be any such intention on their part to form part of an alliance and I think that if there was some sort of working relationship with Inkatha in the next election it would be a very loose one. It doesn't seem to hold much potential from either side's point of view. The DP has virtually disappeared. Every time an election result or a poll gets published their support base tends to shrink, so I think it's neither here nor there whether they want to hop aboard with anyone. And the Freedom Front seem to be shrinking too.
So in the end any substantial grouping would have to come from unaligned, I would say, regional groupings that aren't particularly wedded to the ANC but voted for the ANC in the last round because it was a black party, it was a liberation election, all sorts of reasons, but don't particularly like the policies of the ANC on certain issues and they might like our policies more and they might be for proper control of crime or better control of crime, the perception of government failure, anti-abortion. So I think there are groups that aren't particularly aligned to the ANC, local, regional groupings that might come aboard and there is always that chance of a realignment within the ANC. I mean the departure of Cyril Ramaphosa holds a bit of promise in that respect I think from the point of view of Roelf Meyer who I think has always felt that that would be the way to go, to have a central grouping, a centralist grouping that would be not particularly Africanist, would be definitely pro-market, social market, that wouldn't be radical particularly.
POM So it's not, you think, out of the bounds of imagination to imagine a party, call it what you will, spearheaded by both Cyril Ramaphosa and Roelf Meyer?
SC No, I would favour such a development myself but I think it's a long term thing. At this stage I can't see it happening in the short to medium term. I don't know what you call a long term, ten years?
POM I was going to ask you that. Does that mean our lifetimes?
SC But not before the next election that's for sure.
POM What should the government be doing given that the values of a multi-party system are enshrined in the constitution, what should the government be doing to promote a strong multi-party system?
SC I don't think that the governing party particularly sees it that way. There are certainly plenty of hotheads in the governing party that think that the majority rules, OK, and frankly they are very assertive and I don't think have any qualms about a near one-party state. I don't think they would particularly like the ANC majority to decrease, so I don't know what sort of commitment there is to assisting the other parties. The furthest they seem to have gone in the constitution making process was to allow for the leader of the opposition to have a special status, which we don't have in the present interim constitution, but that special status has been given, the leader of the opposition being the leader of the biggest opposition party would carry special subsidies, subsistence or support in parliament as a parliamentary office.
POM Just to finish up on this point, given the numbers, the fact that your traditional support base is diminishing just in terms of proportion of the population and that the same is true for the Freedom Front and that the potential electoral base for the ANC is increasing, realistically do you think that you can have a viable alternative to the ANC that is viable in terms of it being electable as a government without some kind of realignment within the ANC itself?
SC The only way that could be achieved is if there is a huge amount of dissatisfaction with the ANC. I've mentioned in my view the politico-ethnic factor is there but it's not overwhelming so I don't think that's the main criterion in voting necessarily in that big block of people that vote for the ANC because it encompasses tribes across the board, there are nine different ethnic groupings in South Africa in the black community. So that's one aspect of it. That doesn't block potential change. One has got to convince a lot of those people that the ANC is not doing a good job as government. Also I think it would be helpful if a prominent black leader would come aboard the National party for whatever reason, hopefully because he or she would support our principles that would be very helpful. We have to change our profile and our leadership level and the only way we can hope to become a governing party again is to be a partnership party, that we have support across the board from all the ethnic groupings in the country, white, coloured, Indian and the various black groups. I think we're the only party that really does have a fairly substantial proportion in the sense that, in terms of numbers anyway I think we got in the last election 500,000 black people voting for us and the indications in the opinion polls are that that proportion is not diminishing, it's gradually increasing although very small.
Now we have a big majority of the coloured community, we have a majority of both the white and the Indian community, a bigger majority in the white than in the Indian, and we just need to work on that black component. So all our attention must be focused on the black community and to be a party that is seen to identify with the black community's interests. All our advisers indicate that we will have difficulty being the party of the squatter camps, we will have difficulty being a favoured party of residents of the squatter camps. Our support base in the black community tends to be at a higher economic level. We don't appeal to illiterate people. Our party appeals to a basic minimum of literacy in the voter. I don't think we would necessarily want to change that. I think we would grow as the black community becomes more literate and able to support the values for which we stand and so on.
POM So you would be looking for part of the burgeoning new elite, new black elite?
SC Well lower middle to middle class, in economic terms I'm talking about.
POM Lower middle to middle class.
SC Yes I think that's our best potential. I think the top elite tends to go with the regime.
POM You should know.
SC The newly empowered.
POM Just on that, Mr de Klerk I think at your last national conference ...
SC Just to say the National Party has always been a lower middle to middle class party in terms of its economic support base.
POM OK that's clarified. What did he say? Yes, Mr de Klerk predicted that in 1999 the NP will have solidified its power base in the Cape, it will cut the ANC majority in Gauteng to less than 50%, will win control in the Northern Cape and hold the balance of power in Natal and the other provinces. Do you think realistically, and this won't appear any place, do you think there's an element of fantasy there or do you think it's realistic?
SC No, I think realistic is the holding on to the Western Cape, in fact improving our position and the possibility of winning the Northern Cape. In think in KwaZulu/Natal, KwaZulu/Natal all our research shows that that's our best potential in the black community to increase our support. Gauteng I think there is a real possibility because this is where the burgeoning black lower middle, middle class is developing in financial terms. The local government elections also showed that our percentage went up from 22% in the regional government and 26% I think at national level in the elections, it went up to just over 29% in terms of our elected representatives in the local government elections. I think there is potential to be a really viable opposition in Gauteng to get towards a fifty/fifty situation there. That's what we can - we may not make it in 1999 but there is potential there. I must say in the poor rural provinces I think we have less potential. It's very difficult to say we're going to hold the balance of power in Northern Province where we've got one elected representative in the legislature and two in the National Assembly. We've got a heck of a long way to go there and in Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape. The Free State is looking a bit better. I think our focus points have to be the Northern Cape to win that, Gauteng and KZN to improve our position to get more into a parity situation.
POM Would you think that the National Party is more of a non-racial party now than the ANC?
SC Yes I do in terms of our support base. We have real support across the board. The ANC's support base is overwhelmingly black, it has a tiny proportion of Coloured, white and Indian in terms of numbers. It really is very small.
POM So a higher proportion of your electorate is non-white as compared to white?
SC No, if you look at the number of votes cast for us and the ANC a much higher proportion of votes cast for them are black votes than us. We're much more balanced. If you say that the proportion of black votes as a proportion of the whole, presented as a whole, and white and Coloured and Indian, it's much more balanced than the ANC. I mean you're looking at 500,000 votes as a proportion of a million black to total in our case whereas in the ANC if you're looking at white to total it's minuscule in their case. You see what I mean? So the percentage is much more balanced of each group in terms of our total votes than the ANC.
POM What about, again, the requirement in the constitution that the government will give assistance to political parties for the purposes of development? First of all, are you in favour of or is your party in favour of some form of public financing of political parties?
SC We're not against that. We don't believe that there should be compulsory disclosure of donors because that will only benefit the governing party and be to the detriment of all the opposition parties. If the government is determined to go that route then we must scrap it and make sure we go the route of state funded parties based on a fair formula obviously.
POM OK let's back up a bit. Let's deal with the issue of government financing of political parties. Do you think this should be, to distinguish between three different activities, at the parliamentary level?
SC Well it already occurs at the parliamentary level in assistance to the members of parliament to maintain their constituency offices and that's done on a proportional basis, numbers of MPs.
POM But that reinforces the status quo. Those with the most ...
SC Well it doesn't necessarily in countries where it's practised. In Germany it hasn't reinforced the status quo necessarily, the fact that political parties are funded by the state. There has been a change of government from time to time.
POM Sorry, I mean by just funding at the parliamentary level. In Germany they do more than fund at the ...
SC Sure, but I'm just saying the beginnings are there. It's the first time that we've had this sort of funding on this scale for MPs to do their job and the funding doesn't go to the individual MP, it's not as though I can send my rent bill for my office in my constituency back to the secretary of parliament to be paid within certain parameters. All the money goes to the political parties on a proportionate basis and they dish it out as they see fit.
POM Can they deal it out as they want?
SC We individual members don't have any control as to how the party deals with it except indirectly we participate in the decision.
POM So the money need not necessarily be used to maintain parliamentary constituency offices?
SC Well it is, that's the theory of it but how the parties do this is up to them. Money gets paid to the party.
POM How about on a day-to-day, the financial help for parties to operate on a day-to-day basis?
SC As I say, that is something that we must look at seriously if the whole question of donations comes up for review. I would think it's preferable, I think the minority parties would do better if the state funded them and that private donations were outlawed rather than to have to disclose each donation because that sort of thing would inevitably benefit the party in government if you had total disclosure. Well it's obvious because the business community wouldn't mind to be seen to be funding the governing party because there's going to be no come-back when it comes to government contracts and so on. Let's face it, in this country the government is a huge provider of contracts for the private sector and of course minority parties aren't in a position to do that so they would be very shy of giving us stuff if it was going to be publicised. What most businesses do I've found in any case is to give us a proportion of what they give the ANC or otherwise give us the same if they are old traditional donors, they will give it to us but they also give the same amount to the ANC.
POM So they will cover their bets.
SC They do. Some of them give a bit to the DP as well.
POM They would be covering their bets in a sense against being punished by the ANC.
SC Yes, but if it was open it would be aggravated, that situation I think.
POM On a system of private funding you would be for non-disclosure?
SC Yes, no obligation to disclose.
POM No obligation to disclose. Two, should sources of funding be limited in terms of ...?
SC Well we can look at that. I have an open mind if there should be a limit to sources or any reasonable sort of provision we would look at.
POM Well where do you suppose your brothers are at the moment?
SC Well we believe that it's democratic. Funding a party is like voting, it's done in private. You don't say, for obvious reasons. So I think we would be against disclosure of funders and we would then support rather state funded parties rather than to go that route. In other words you outlaw private donors and have the state fund the parties.
POM OK. Or?
SC But I don't believe - we're against disclosure of political donors because it's of benefit to the majority party, clearly, especially where you have such an unbalanced situation as you do here.
POM Now while the National Party was in power what kind of laws were there governing funding?
SC Well the only law that came into operation that was perhaps unusual was to prevent overseas funding for parties but that actually fell into disuse in the sense that the ANC didn't become a political party until a month before the elections so all the overseas funding went to them as a, I don't know, welfare organisation or whatever, anyway as an organisation. And in any case that piece of legislation fell into disuse but there wasn't any. As far as I'm aware I can't think of any control otherwise.
POM Do you think that there should be a cap on the amount that individuals or corporations could give or that, again, it's a private matter between the party and funder?
SC It's a complicated matter. If we start tinkering with it there's sure to be abuse. I do think the one thing we should outlaw is foreign governments funding particular political parties. That must be undesirable in the sense that a foreign government is then thereby interfering in the political outcomes in a particular state that's not it's own in a sovereign state. That I really think ought to be outlawed. It's part of the democratic process, I believe, that the country donating to political parties is like exercising a vote in its favour. I think that if we have disclosure of political donations it will more or less work out the same as if you have the government funding the parties because big business will want to be seen to be supporting democracy so they will give the big whack to the governing party and smaller whacks to the other parties. Maybe they will reckon to themselves the easiest is to do it on a proportional basis if all has got to be revealed. In fact I've come across that sentiment among a lot of really big moguls in the business world so that's what would happen in any case if the government funded the parties. I presume it would be on the basis of support.
POM How about elections as distinct from the funding of political parties? Should, again, there be public support of parties for electioneering purposes exclusively, like if you're fighting the election in 1999 should each party get a lump sum of money from the government so that it can help get its message out or register voters or mobilise its constituency or whatever?
SC Well it's a complex issue. I wouldn't pretend that we should reinvent the wheel. I think if we go the route of government funding of political parties we should go and look and see what they do in, for instance, Germany and other countries where it's done. I really wouldn't like to be drawn on that. I really have no expertise in that field. There must be ways of doing it that work and we should look at them if we consider going that route.
POM How important a priority is the whole question of the financing of political parties, again on a scale of one to ten, public financing at least of political parties?
SC I don't think it's a constant issue. It crops up every now and then when there's a scandal but then it's left alone. I would say five. I don't think it's a big issue now.
POM It's not a big issue now among the parties?
SC I think we don't particularly want to tinker with it. We're happy with the status quo more or less except this foreign government funding. The ANC doesn't seem to be raising it at the moment either. I'm not surprised when I hear of all the millions they are getting as is revealed every now and then.
POM Would it surprise you if the ANC genuinely wanted to help other political parties become stronger, become more effective or do you think that if as a government they were to provide help that it would be to further the perception that they believe in the enhancement of democracy rather than that they really want ...?
SC The latter.
POM Very much, very much so the latter.
SC That's my perception.
POM Do you see the ANC as believing in democracy as we know democracy?
SC I think the overwhelming belief in the ANC at the moment is to exercise power and to carry on exercising power. There's a sort of new assertiveness in them in the last six months, or this year shall we say, which perhaps wasn't there, wasn't so evident before, but they've got used to power and they like it and they've only done it for 2½ years so I think they would like to carry on just like this.
POM Going back to the decision of the National Party to leave the government of national unity, my understanding is that you came down on not leaving at this point in time?
SC Yes I argued against it.
POM On the grounds that?
SC Well there were a number of grounds. I think I told you in that other interview. Basically I felt that our main focus was to improve our position in the black community and I didn't think that leaving the GNU would assist us. I thought it would be more valuable for us to have black leaders up there with Mandela and that was the strategy that was adopted earlier this year by our leader and I thought that was a good idea in order to enhance our influence or our image in the black community which I felt must be our main goal at this point in time. Also during this rather difficult phase of the Truth Commission revelations and the various trials that are being held I felt that we would be very isolated if we weren't part of the GNU. Those are the main reasons I advanced for not leaving.
POM Were you surprised that all the defendants in the Malan case were acquitted?
SC No not at all because I know Tim McNally having been Deputy Justice Minister and he is a very able chap if rather arrogant and cold and he, after the first witness, Opperman I think it was, who had given evidence, he quickly added another charge, conspiracy to murder, which hadn't been on the original charge sheet and I think he felt after he had listened to his main witness that the charges didn't have any hope of succeeding and the most he could hope for was a finding that there had been a conspiracy and clearly he wasn't able to prove that either. I think the judge found that certain unknown Inkatha operatives had killed the people at KwaMakutha but it wasn't proved that any of those who had been arraigned were part of it. I wasn't surprised at all.
POM The ANC have accused Mr de Klerk of gloating over the acquittals. I think that's the word that Cheryl Carolus used.
SC She played a bit of politics with it as no doubt Mr de Klerk did. It's become a bit of a political issue. I accepted that the Attorney General had every right on the basis that Attorneys General are independent and can decide themselves whether they have a case which they wish to pursue so I am not prepared to criticise Mr McNally in going ahead although I do think he was under pressure, from my own experience of what went on in our Justice Committee, when he was grilled by the ANC for failing to prosecute and lo and behold three weeks later the prosecution started. So my perception is that he was under pressure to do something but he's a highly intelligent, capable chap so I don't think he would easily bring a case where he didn't feel he had some chance of success. But as I say I think once he had heard the main witness he realised that he wasn't going to succeed on the main charges. I believe that the right decision was taken and as far as I'm concerned the judge found them not guilty and found that the charges hadn't been proved and that there was a reasonable doubt. They weren't proved beyond reasonable doubt. So that's our criminal law and that's it. I'm not prepared to second guess the judge.
POM Sure. I just want to go back to public financing of parties again. What arguments would you make on behalf of it and what arguments would you make against it?
SC About private sector funding?
POM No about public sector funding.
SC I think it's preferable for the private sector to put its money where it's mouth is and decide which parties they feel would best govern the country. It's like voting, as I said to you, so I think that's a disadvantage also if you swap to public funding. I think the ideal is private donations, also it saves the taxpayer some money in the sense that if government pays again it's a further burden on the taxpayer.
POM Now with regard to the money that parties currently receive for constituency work, which is given to the parties, do the parties have to account to parliament for the manner in which that money is used?
SC Make a report? Yes indeed as far as I understand it.
POM I can see this almost concludes one part anyway of our interview.
SC Is that the end of the Lake part.
POM That would be the Lake part so maybe we could reschedule.
SC Is that all right?
POM That's fine.
POM The question of media. In some countries the state puts aside a block of time on public media that's available to each party free of charge, do you think that's a sensible idea?
POM But in the case of commercial media that should be a commercial transaction with no restrictions on the amount of time a party can buy?
SC Yes we have a state broadcaster and I think all the parties should get time on the state broadcaster because otherwise the government hogs it because their ministers in any case are on the TV all the time, and on radio.
POM Should this be an equal amount of time as distinct from proportional?
SC I don't think we would ever get that realistically. I think one would have to look at some sort of proportional system although ideally we would obviously favour equal time. But it becomes a bit ridiculous if the ACDP that has two members in parliament gets the same amount of time as the governing party with 252. It's out of proportion to the support out there and very tiresome I should think for the viewers. So I think some sort of formula would have to be agreed between the parties realistically bearing in mind their support base. Yes, as far as commercial media is concerned I suppose there would have to be some sort of rules to govern it although I think it should be up to the parties who want to spend the money that way to be able to do so. I'm all for freedom in the economy. I mean I haven't really thought how one can manage the commercial stations. I suppose there would have to be certain rules but on the whole I would think that if parties have the money to spend they could decide how to spend it themselves.
POM Finally, priorities. If with scarce resources a government must make a choice between putting funds aside to help political parties, especially smaller political parties to either operate or participate in elections or devote those resources to things like houses, water, electricity where should the priority lie?
SC Well the priorities, I believe, should lie in housing, water and electricity and it should be left up to the private sector to decide which way they want to vote and which way they want to donate money.
POM OK that's very concise. If I can just summarise you from the top down it would be: -
1. That at the moment while there are a multitude of parties there is not a multi-party system in place that is competitive in terms of there being viable alternatives to the present government;
2. That the ANC itself is not that interested in promoting a viable multi-party system;
3. That if a viable multi-party system is to come about it will come about either because of a coalition of parties drawing some of the support away from the ANC, say from weak ANC support plus other parties or from a split in the ANC itself but the first is more likely than the second;
4. That on the question of funding that the funding of constituency offices and the like is being done;
5. That you would be against public financing of parties and elections in principle and leave that up to the private sector but that if there is to be disclosure of donations then you would move perhaps more towards some form of public financing in place of private funding because donors would be loathe to give to smaller parties, reluctant to be giving to the non-governing parties;
6. With regard to the media there should be an allocation to all parties according to some formula that would ensure that parties of weight are given more time than parties of nearly inconsequence.
Anything to add to that summary?
SC No I think that sounds right.