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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
15 Oct 1996: Leon, Tony
POM Mr Leon, let me begin with an all-encompassing question and that is, is the new South Africa turning out to be like what you had in mind that a new South Africa might be like or is it not? Is it living up to your expectations of what a multi-cultural democratic society should aspire to be or is it failing to do so? Is it pursuing economic and social policies that are balancing the requirements for growth with the need for redistribution? Is it harmonising or polarising relations between the races? Is it slowly becoming more authoritarian and autocratic or is it becoming more transparent and open? Is it becoming more corrupt than in the days of the old National Party, to use that as a benchmark, or is just more corruption being exposed?
TL It's a big chunk. Well at one level obviously the new South Africa exceeds one's expectations. If I think back to when I got elected to parliament for the first time in 1989 one's expectations of the transcending and profound change that actually happened a few months afterwards were nil. I really didn't see that De Klerk or the National Party would embark on the course of change and I frankly didn't think anyone else saw that if they are honest about it. So the fact that we've got to where we have arrived now, in the manner we have, is obviously better than one hoped for because if there had been no fundamental change of direction by the then government we probably would have been involved in some high intensity civil war by now or in a state of such advanced international siege and internal paralysis that this would not be a very pleasant country to live in. So at that level, a fairly fundamental one, yes it's better than what one expected back then in say 1988, 1989. Now in terms of what the new government, given that we had a democratic election after a fashion and we have an essentially liberal democratic interim constitution and we have a commitment to a non-racial democracy from most sides in this country, I think those expectations have not been realised in the sense that we had the framework and I think what's come in terms of reality has been much grubbier than that.
Just to deal with certain of the issues you touched upon, I do not think there is a sense of either multi-culturalism or non-racialism in this country. Non-racialism was very much the battle cry of the ANC. In fact what they have gone on in a fairly unsubtle way is a form of Africanisation which perhaps was more in keeping with the policies of the PAC. We don't have any more a battle between capitalism and socialism or between redistributive economics on the one hand and market economics. I think we're now in a contest between enterprise economics and international competitiveness on the one hand and a form of corroded crony capitalism on the other. I think the kinds of economic advancement in this country have not been to the benefit of anyone except an expanded elite which essentially the expansion has been driven by the skin colour and a specific type of skin colour. I think it's very noteworthy the provincial leader of my party in the Western Cape, Hennie Bester, on Saturday, we had a party congress in Cape Town for the Western Cape, and he said where is this advancement, this empowerment for coloureds? Why is it that every consortium put together consists of black Africans? What about coloured people? He happens to be a white Afrikaner but he leads our party in the Western Cape where that's a very sensitive issue. Now I just think that touched something that was very profound and significant, that they have been left behind and the polls reflect that. So they would not consider themselves to have been fully empowered by the changes in the new South Africa. I dare say Indian people didn't need any empowerment in terms of the commercial sector but their economic circumstances have probably not altered very fundamentally and African people on the ground's fundamental conditions haven't changed but at the top there has been (change).
Now the difference is, of course, and why this has happened is that the moral suasion of the ANC is so great and the justness of the cause against apartheid is so profound that it's very difficult to stand up and question some of these assumptions and some of these new categories which are being created but there is a re-racialisation of categories in South Africa whether it's victim versus previous oppressor, whether it's an empowerment exercise or a redistribution exercise, whatever you choose to label it, that has happened and that I think has been very profound and I don't think it measures up to the idealism which was part and parcel of the liberation rhetoric, but maybe that's just reality in another guise.
On the issue that you also touched upon of corruption and transparency and all that we obviously have a more transparent political system now. We have more checks and balances than we had before but I wouldn't overstate them. I think the amount of corruption which has been exposed here in the first two years of the ANC's regime or government is probably fairly equivalent to the last ten years of the National Party's regime. The real enquiry that should be made is how did the National Party behave when they came into government in the 1950s in South Africa and you will find there they were figures of great rectitude. They had an appalling political policy but they were very, in their personal interactions and dealings and codes of conduct and behaviour, they were very ethical and very proper, they were very Calvinistic. We haven't seen that at all in the new ruling elite. On the contrary from almost day one it has been a question of using office and connections as a means of advancement and I don't think they've been terribly fussy about how they've done it and I think they've been fairly insensitive to the clamours and the calls which have arisen when one instance of corruption or wrong-doing or a misjudgement has arisen.
And to then answer your other question, which is what has been done in terms of race relations and reconciliation, I am strongly of the view that fifteen minutes of Mandela's time a day on South Africa, I think we get more than that, but just fifteen minutes is worth a lot more than 24 hours of various other people who might follow in his wake, because I think he is a transcending figure, I think he is a figure of considerable authority and I think he is man, as I've come to know on a personal and public basis, fundamentally of innate decency and I think he has the right political and national instincts in terms of nation building. However, even he has not been too fussy when his government and his party have been caught in severe acts of political embarrassment to play the race card, although he perhaps more than any other leadership figure symbolises nation building, racial reconciliation, he himself has discounted that concept and I think traduced it on certain key issues in trying to defend certain personalities.
So the judgement and the jury, as far as I'm concerned, has yielded a pretty mixed result so far and I think that the other problem that we have, which is a fundamental one, is that if you look at the government, at the ANC as an organisation, political party, it is a mansion with many rooms in it or a bird of many wings and plumes, and in consequence of trying to keep that organisation together, the consequence of that has been the failure to make critical policy choices. So you have wonderful pieces of paper such as the macro-economic strategy which was unveiled five or six months ago now at the time of this recording, and the results of it have been very, very modest and threadbare. There has been a failure to make choices. That is my real criticism of this government. They try on the one hand to featherbed trade unions and on the other hand they try and say we must be industrially and internationally competitive. Those two don't go together. They have tried to say we're actually in favour of the abolition of exchange controls but we're not going to do it any time soon. They have said on innumerable occasions we're in favour of down-sizing, restructuring or privatising state entities, we so far haven't managed to privatise a former homeland airline. Now it's the absence of those hard choices, or the inclination, as that famous American football coach Yogi Berry said, "When you come to a fork in the road take it." It's that kind of thinking which I think has cost this country quite a lot but I think we're going to pay the cost in years to come.
POM Now Van Zyl Slabbert, and I will get back to some of the things you said, but he said in an interview I did with him recently and I just took it down because it seemed to say a lot in a few words which I associate with him, he said, "The reason the government appears to be paralysed is not because nothing is happening but because too much is happening at the same time. A range of goals is being pursued with competing, sometimes contradictory, results and the government has neither the experience or the political will to establish priorities."
TL Amen. I've made that point repeatedly. What they have done, and just to elaborate slightly on that comment although I agree with it profoundly, is their concept of government is a big government that does many tasks well. That's their ideal. My party which is ideologically at the other end of the spectrum, has a view of a small government doing a number of limited tasks extremely competently. What we have at the moment is big government, inefficient government and a lack of prioritisation. So there's an absence of choices being made. I can pull out there, I just put it in my favourite file which is 'Government mal-performance' which I have to keep adding to.
There is a whole enquiry now in parliament on gender line function units being established and this is wonderful in a perfectly correct and stable society but when your fundamentals aren't in place, when law and order is out of control or not established, when you've got incipient anarchy in every major centre in this country, when you've got a net loss of jobs being created or not being created, and when you've got severe poverty it's not appropriate. But we are the masters of the universe, is the government's attitude. We're in charge now, we must show that we are in charge. But their writ does not run, it truly doesn't. If you can't basically keep your Minister of Justice secure in his home on the Cape Flats and he has to flee from there as Mr Omar had to do recently and when you have a situation where your policemen are going on strike then you're basically not in control of very much at all.
POM You alluded to it but is there an increasing tendency to play the race card? Now examples that stand in my mind are the Makgoba affair, that's one. The second one would have been the Sarafina affair and the debate between Barney Pityana and Dennis Davies. Is there an increasing tendency of that kind of a culture building among Africans which says that criticism from whites is not really constructive criticism but really whites saying you're not up to doing the task, you're black and you're not good enough?
TL Yes, I think that's perhaps the motive, that's the partial motivation. The other motivation I think, not that I'm saying they're behind it, but it's a fairly classical Communist Party strategy of first you demonise your opponents or your detractors and by demonising them you then marginalise them. If you call someone a racist in whatever context you're actually saying that his views or his criticism or his objections have no worth at all because they are actuated by something which is so unworthy we don't have to discuss it any further. So you never have to actually deal with the merits or the demerits of a particular issue. And that is the easiest and the most reckless kind of call. My colleague, Ken Andrew who's our finance spokesmen, tackled Trevor Manuel our maladroit Minister of Finance a few months ago head on because he also sought refuge or seeks increasing refuge in the racial card because of his own failure to deliver and Ken Andrew said, "You know in the old days patriotism was referred to as the last refuge of the scoundrel, it seems that racism is the first call of the incompetent." And I thought that rather neatly summed up what the real motivation is. It's actually a lazy, it's intellectually an idleness to actually not deal with the issues and, of course, it's very good from a mobilisation point of view if you look at the demographics of South Africa but it doesn't really advance anything and it certainly doesn't help build a nation. Some of it is genuine I suspect.
My interactions with Mandela himself, he keeps saying to me, "Well people have this perception that you and your party are white", well we are essentially so it's not a perception, it's a reality. I'd like it to be otherwise but there it is. And he says, "People could say that you are racist. I don't have that view", says Mandela, "But people could say that." So I suspect that when it all becomes too much for the old fellow and anyone else they tend to seek comfort from this fact that our detractors are really determined to stop us and they are all hanging on to white privilege, which I think is baloney, but it's one of the realities. It also makes the effect of it, and I keep having to warn my colleagues here, it makes for a degree of unhealthy self-censorship in the political discourse and that might or might not be the intended consequence of the race-baiters or those who play the race card, but it does because you immediately check yourself and say, "Well should I be saying this?" Now I'm not saying one shouldn't be sensitive to the kind of contemporary realities when one tries to be, even I who is regarded as the pillar of political incorrectness around here, but it can lead to an over-controlled form of self-censorship which is very dangerous and debilitating in terms of having exchange of ideas.
POM I experienced that in the early nineties here on the whole question of ethnicity, whether there were ethnic differences that had to be taken into account and many, particularly academics, I spoke to said yes there are but you can't talk about it because if you do so you seem to be an apologist for apartheid, so rather than being called that you simply don't talk about the issue.
TL Well I think that's quite true. I would say until, the man who really opened my eyes to the ethnic polarity in this country as a political weapon before the elections, which because the Nats so successfully managed to degrade and besmirch any discussion of ethnicity which was highly relevant and indeed respectable to the political analysis and was borne out by the elections, was a man who I think did a pioneering study from Duke University called Donald L Horowitz whose book I thought was brilliant in terms of analysis. The solutions were perhaps a little speculative, but be that as it may, about using really political engineering as a thing and he said the first election in South Africa will be a racial census and many to come and indeed that's what it was. One of the consequences of the ANC banging on the race drum and the election results indicating a degree of racial polarity which was fairly profound is that in fact we now do discuss ethnicity quite openly. We talk about 'the coloured problem' in the Western Cape. That wasn't spoken of before. We talk about distinctions within different communities. We are looking at these issues perhaps more objectively and more as phenomena and epi-phenomena of politics than we did before the 1994 elections, so maybe that's all to the good. I'm always told by one or two of my advisers that if your analysis of a situation is wrong and if you analyse it poorly or through rose tinted spectacles then your conclusions are inevitably also going to be incorrect. So maybe that is one of the useful by-products, that we can look at ethnicity as a political factor and as a major force behind mobilisation.
POM As you said it would appear that racial polarisation, not in a conflictual way but just in either a community way or a cultural way or whatever you wish to call it, that racial segregation in a certain way has taken a new form whether it's in terms of voting patterns, whites vote for white parties, Africans vote for African parties, that's essentially it, cross voting is really next to zero. Statistically it would be zero I think or close to it, and that's not likely to change.
TL It's not likely to change unless you have a fundamental realignment of our politics and parties which is something my party has some hope of participating in but I have to say, rather like the unicorn, it's much spoken of but not sighted. So, yes, I think that is correct that no party, perhaps strangely enough and one has to pay them tribute in this regard, in part the only party which is racially mixed at this stage, and it's the greatest irony of all, is the National Party and that is racially mixed as between Indians, coloureds and whites, in other words the minority ethnic groups, but they have succeeded at least among those three groups as certainly the ANC haven't and indeed if I'm frank about it my own party hasn't.
POM Let me just talk about them for a moment but I don't want to spend too much time on them. Do you think this vision of a new party, of a new National Party that can somehow attract large numbers of African votes to make it a 'contender' or a 'contender in a coalition' to be an alternative government is fantasy, that to think that Africans will turn around in the short term, and by that I mean at least a generation, maybe even two generations, and start flocking in fairly significant numbers to a party that oppressed them so thoroughly for the better part of fifty years is either not to understand what apartheid was all about or what it did to African people in particular or as I said is based on illusion?
TL Absolutely. I think the only purpose it serves is to give them some hope and they have to, the National Party has distinguished themselves from us because as an opposition party, which is in terms of performance if you read the newspapers and you see what people say, although they are ten times larger than we are we are probably as effective if not more effective than they are so the only differential they have from us is, for example, to say "Well we're much bigger and we have the prospect of again becoming a government." Now that's useful as a propaganda exercise although it's founded on a faulty premise. I think the NP as an institution is irredeemably doomed mainly because it argued with history for too long and its change, although it's been effective to the extent that it has mobilised ethnic minorities, it is already finding that as between the interests of its white voters and the demands of its coloured voters there is huge tension in that party. If it takes on board, if it could, significant black elements it would never be able to do what it's currently doing for example in the Western Cape which is operating as a red light to further African aspirations here, or keeping them at bay by mobilising white and coloured fears, so it becomes too contradictory.
But I think the fundamental problem for the NP and it's a problem for us, I don't want to sit here and say that it just affects them, is that you can't realign with yourself. In other words you're not going to become this party which is going to attract droves of blacks unless and until you have a component as part of that new formation which has credibility in the community you wish to attract and the NP does not have that in terms of the black population. It does not have authentic, even reasonably regarded African men and women in its ranks to act as a magnet. So I think, yes, there should and could be a realignment of political forces but the National Party can't do it on its own and it knows that.
POM Let's talk about that in two contexts for a moment. The first is the constitution says the country shall be founded on the values of a multi-party democratic system. One, is the government doing anything to foster a strong, viable, multi-party system? Two, if it's not what should it be doing? Three, is there a viable multi-party system in the sense of there being an effective opposition to what is for all intents and purposes an ANC government. Four, can you have an effective multi-party system without fundamental political realignments, what we're talking about is the break up in some manner, shape or form of the ANC?
TL Well there are a number of questions there. Let me start by saying there is a theoretical commitment by the ANC, most of them, not all of them, to honour that provision in the constitution about multi-party democracy, but as that famous American professor of jurisprudence, Ronald Dworkin is fond of saying, "Hard cases make bad law". In other words the commitment is there until it's put to the test and we just went recently to the Constitutional Court to argue against certification, my party the DP did this, of the constitution, on the basis that the so-called institutions which are meant to reinforce democracy were so weak, the barriers created by the constitution, that they consisted of papier maché rather than of steel girders. For example, the appointment and dismissal of the independent checks and balances, the Auditor General, the Electoral Commission, the Public Protector and so on, when the ANC got hold of those writing the final constitution, they had them appointed and dismissed on simple majorities which is obviously not empowering opposition and not empowering not just multi-party opposition but independent watch-dogs to preside over and check against majoritarian excesses and abuses and corruption and so on. Well that got altered to some extent by the Constitutional Court and the final draft is better than it was, it's far from ideal in terms of having meaningful multi-party participation and oversight of parliament.
Now we have a number of other instances, I don't want to waste time mentioning them. We have an Intelligence Committee which is multi-party, all parties are represented on it, it isn't secret, giving oversight to the intelligence function of the state. That's probably an advancement, certainly it's an advancement on what we had. Ultimately the chairman of that committee is appointed by the President after consultation with the opposition party leaders. Now that consists of me getting a letter from Mr Mbeki saying we intend to appoint such and such could we have your views. Or the Truth Commission was appointed on such a basis by way of a letter and after consultation, I mean there were hearings on the basis of who was going to be appointed, the ultimate decision was taken by the majority party even though there was the formality or the legal formalism of consultation, there was not the substance of it. The appointment of judges who are the critical arbiters, if you like, of the constitutional framework itself and the meaning of the constitution, judges are appointed by a quasi independent body in which there is multi-party participation in the Judicial Service Commission. But if you add up the numbers of the appointing body the majority rests with the majority party. So what I am saying is I think we have the form but not the substance of multi-party oversight.
Now you can say at the end of the day in countries like England and even the United States the majority party whether legislative or in an executive sense tends to do the appointments and that's quite true but those countries have a far more sophisticated and advanced concept and practice of multi-party democracy than we do. We have very little background or practice in it. I think it's rather weak and there is a great tendency here to shout down the minority. I don't just mean physically in parliament which happens frequently, but generally to listen with some degree of irritation and patience and then to go on and do exactly what you like. And I have to ask in these so-called 'hard cases and bad law' scenarios that when there has been a rallying together of opposition forces over, for example, Dr Zuma and Sarafina which was an interesting example, what has been the net effect? The net effect has been there was a huge hullabaloo, there were public recriminations, there was a massive press campaign, there was parliamentary scrutiny, there were debates, there were calls for her dismissal. She continues in office. Now it might be that the ANC is much more sensitive now to issues of playing fast and loose with donor funds from foreign countries or, in this case, from the European Union, but the net effect has been there hasn't been an effective check on the excesses of the executive in that one instance. So I think that's a salutary lesson. Now there are some genuine democrats in the ANC. I think for example the Speaker of parliament, Frene Ginwala, I think she has a commitment to multi-party democracy and to minority participation but I would say that hers is a minority viewpoint.
Realignment is the other question you raised. Yes I think that is the route, that's the ticket, that's how you're going to have it but I'm not holding my breath for the disintegration of the ANC and what I suspect might happen the disintegration of the ANC such as it might be will be to the left. I think there might be a breakaway to the left over time. I'm not sure it will be a breakaway that would be able to do business with parties like mine which are free enterprise, federal and individual freedom based. On the other hand you might then say, well if the ANC has shed itself of its communist and trade union baggage then a party like mine could go into business with them. What would be the consequence of that for multi-party democracy? It would be adverse. I think one of the duties of liberalism and liberals in this country is to establish counter-weights in democracy. There is a wonderful phrase in Afrikaans about democracy consisting of wikte in teen wikte, meaning weights and counter-weights. I'm not sure that we don't have too much weight on the one side and I'm not sure we don't have too much of a praise singing chorus of approval in the press, for example, too much party political control over the public broadcasters is another example, and that we don't have enough counter-weights in our society.
POM So to those who believe perhaps a little wishfully that a break-up in the ANC is inevitable, that the internal tensions between the SACP, the trade unionists, populists, pragmatists, free marketeers, socialists, what have you, are too great to sustain unity in the long run, again, would you agree or disagree with that?
TL Objectively I would agree with the statement. It is a very, very broad church and it's very difficult to keep such a movement together on objective or ideological grounds. On the other hand one has to ask, what is the ideology? They make, as I indicated earlier, as few choices as possible on questions of fundamental policy and they give as little offence as possible to the various wings in terms of hard decision making or results. But being a member of the ANC in today's South Africa is almost a bit like being a member of the Communist Party in the old Soviet Union. It is a necessary ticket to advancement and if you look at the people who have been enriched and advanced in the private sector in terms of black empowerment most, but not all of them, have been and remain members of the ANC because that's the ticket to ride on. Do people jump off a bandwagon? That's the question to ask. The answer by and large is no, people do not. Now over time there might be a change but I don't think it's going to happen any time soon.
POM So is South Africa practically speaking a de facto one-party democracy? There will be regular elections but you will have the same party returned to power for the foreseeable and indefinite future. They will pay, if they get returned to power again and again, they will probably pay less and less attention to minority parties and just one-partyism becomes entrenched almost by habit.
TL Well yes and no. On a simplistic level I think the answer is yes but at a more profound and analytical level the answer is no because there are forces of opposition in this country which do not necessarily reside in parliament. For example, my party which is very small, in parliament it's got 2% of the seats, represents an overwhelming number of the managerially and the academically and the professionally qualified people in say the white sector. We also, if you look at the current rates boycott in Sandton, which is a DP totally controlled area in terms of the last local government elections, we also represent a fair number of those who are paying their income tax and their rates. Now those forces in communities tend to have much greater weight than numbers in parliament suggest simply because they have a degree of economic power and they have a degree of professional skills, well not a degree they have the professional skills which are needed to keep the motor running in South Africa, keep the engine moving. So they can have a disproportionate influence and they do in some areas, not in all. Now those groups are never going to be happily reconciled to participation in the ANC although they might opt out of politics or out of the country altogether which is another set of challenges that face a party like ours and the country generally. But the point is those groups are strong, those groups are strong for reasons outside of numerical force.
Then of course this much over-traded concept of words 'civil society', it certainly exists more strongly in South Africa than it ever did in any comparable African state which became a de facto one-party state, very strong trade union movements. All right they are accommodated in the ANC theoretically but we know from their behaviour and conduct that they are not, that they take to the streets, that they don't swallow uncritically the macro-economic policy of government. I'm not saying they are necessarily, that any of their antics or behaviour is one that I agree with but they are a countervailing weight, there is no question about it. Then you have this myriad of NGOs, half of whom should probably fold up business and get proper jobs, but they are there, they're all looking for a causus belli of one kind or another to justify their existence. So they are another force that operates in society. So I don't think this is a one-party state even a de facto one except in terms of the majority party having very significant and continuing electoral support, but I don't think that's the definition of a one-party state.
POM What do you think government, and we're really talking about the ANC, could do or should be doing to encourage the realisation of that ideal in the constitution, of an effective multi-party system?
TL Well they could of course do much more. They could have required minority parties or empowered them to have a much greater say in the appointments and dismissal mechanism of these institutions supporting democracy from the Public Protector through to Constitutional Court judges, which they have deliberately avoided doing because they know that that would not lead to the appointment of people that they would necessary approve of. I would think that that is the most important thing.
The second element, of course, is the amendment of the constitution itself. If you think that the constitution, and I do, provides a reasonable framework for multi-party democracy and for the advancement of fundamental human rights then you mustn't make that document capable of easy amendment. Now in the first draft it was ridiculously easy to amend the constitution, a simple two thirds majority in one chamber. That's now changed to the extent now you've got to have both chambers, on the Bill of Rights you've got to have a certain fixed percentage of the total number, there's got to be a whole process gone through. That is better than it was but if they were really serious about empowering not just minority parties but empowering individual dissent and minority viewpoints and protecting them, then they would have made that Bill of Rights almost impossible to amend or extremely difficult to amend. Such is the case in Namibia incidentally where you may not alter the Bill of Rights at all, the fundamental principles of it. Ours you can. Well, so the government has conspicuously failed to meet that challenge presumably because they would find it very inconvenient and I think too often they confuse the party interest with the national interest but that is hardly unique of the ANC, most governments do that.
POM This leads to the question of who rules the country? Is it the parliament, the government or the National Executive of the ANC?
TL That's very difficult to assess at any time. I think it's a combination probably. In terms of the legislation that we pass, I'm not sure that any of those three are tremendously important in ruling, providing rules for the whole society because I think mercifully South Africa, like many other countries, is not in a position to do it's own thing entirely, it's part of a globalised inter-active network of economic and political forces which render seriously the question of sovereignty of national states, but we don't have time to discuss that here. But subject to that qualification the ANC, presumably policy formulation has a very clear reflection in parliament in terms of results. On the other hand they sometimes yield to pressure from within parliament but on the big questions I would say it's largely still executive, it's the government, it's the Cabinet. I don't know to what extent, and you would have to consult someone else, that the National Executive of the ANC busies itself in the essential policy questions. I imagine that they do. Occasionally, and perhaps not as often as one would like, the actual parliamentary legislative committees intervene and change things around and have a result and sometimes the minority parties.
So I don't think it's absolutely clear cut and I am not sure that the ANC itself is, as we've discussed earlier, so monolithically certain of what it wants that it lays down the law and then says, let's go and enforce this or let's get this through parliament as soon as possible. They tried to do that before, they tried to do that with the National Education Policy Bill last year and we took it to the Constitutional Court and although the Minister of Education won the court case it was a very pyrrhic victory because the interpretation that the judges gave to the meaning of the legislation was to render the minister's own powers almost nugatory. So what I am saying is they have created, if they were stupid enough to create a system with checks and balances even if they are weak and feeble, they have got to know that those checks and balances on one or another occasion are going to operate.
POM What about the public financing of political parties?
TL The whole question of financing of political parties, let's concentrate on the noun and take away the adjective as an introduction, is being a very contentious one and we have had a lot to do with exposing the Sun International money for the ANC and the NP in the last weeks. My party relies very heavily on private sector donations, in fact without them we would not exist. We don't probably get as much or anywhere near as much as the other parties, the ANC and the NP, but we are much better off than many other parties. There was public financing in the last election through the Independent Electoral Commission and that enabled parties to fight these elections. We are very worried and troubled by the failure to provide anything by way of the Ethics Committee disclosure of NP's interests which are relevant really, what a back bench MP does and earns and who pays him because he's got no individual choice, or he's got no decisive choice in what happens here. Political parties do have decisive choices. We are worried by the failure of the Ethics Committee, as I mentioned, to examine the question of private and public financing of political parties. One of my colleagues recently went to Canada, he's just come back, and he's very taken with the fact that in Canada there's a limitation on the amount you might spend in an election and (b) it's capped at I think forty cents per voter and it seems that we do need some limit like that and we do need to examine the question of public financing of elections. I think there's a moral problem of forcing taxpayers to pay for political parties that they don't approve of. On the other hand they might also be paying for multi-party democracy. It's certainly something we need to explore. It's something that we would welcome a proper investigation of. I don't think it is tenable, with all these charges of corruption and anonymous donors coming forward to bail ministers out of their problems and Sun International and prosecutions and all these current issues which highlight a profound problem, to continue with what amounts to the secret financing of political parties in this country. I think that's one issue. Now we obviously protect the confidentially of our donors because they gave money to us on a certain basis, not that there's terribly much advantage to be gained from donating to the DP unless you believe in the issue. I think along with other parties we would re-examine that situation but we don't want to do it unilaterally. I think we've got to look at public financing and go through all the pros and cons of it and the cost.
POM In general would you favour that political parties must disclose where they get their finances from, whether it's individuals or corporations, how much they are getting from individuals and corporations?
TL In general the answer to that question is yes but it would have to be subject to safeguards which I haven't considered and it would have to be subject to, as we used to say as children, "You show me yours and I'll show you mine", you can't do it on a unilateral basis. One worries that it will scare off donors completely, it's difficult enough to get people to give money to political parties. That might scare them away completely.
POM Should there be caps on the amount individuals or companies can give?
TL I think we've got to look at that, yes, I don't have a ready answer. I would certainly look at that and I think then you get into the American, Canadian situation of getting matching public funds and so on. I think that's got to be looked at as well. Whether this country can afford that kind of thing I don't know, but whether the country can afford huge anonymous donations going to one political party in exchange, apparently, for favours to be granted is another question.
POM Would the public perceive public financing of political parties as one more element of the gravy train?
TL Yes they would. I have no doubt about that that there would be a lot of public disquiet and that would have to be taken into account and the longsuffering taxpayers in this country consider themselves absolutely fleeced dry, or milked to an extent that is becoming unbearable for the average middle class person in this country. So I think another charge on the public purse would not be at all well received.
POM You mentioned the SACP a couple of times and there are a couple of questions I want to ask you to wrap up. One is, has it surprised you that the ANC, which for so many years talked about nationalisation of everything from the gold mines, breaking up the conglomerates, have become such advocates of the free market and have moved from nationalisation to privatisation? Are these tactical moves just made necessary by the fact that South Africa is part of a global economy and this is the reality of life or are they persuaded in a belief way?
TL I think in your question you actually provided a number of answers and I don't think it's a mono-causal thing, I think a number of those elements are there. It's globalisation, international competitiveness, the collapse of national boundaries in terms of trade and economic questions are enormously important, so we couldn't really do an Albania here even if the ideologues wanted to do it. You couldn't build a brick wall around the country in 1994 or the years which have followed that. I think as well, if you go back to my analysis at the beginning of what has transformation been in this country, it hasn't been an ideological transformation, it hasn't even been really a moral transformation although there have been elements of that. It's really been a racial transfer.
Now I think that among the new ruling class the concept of empowerment through three easy steps of getting your hands on a huge corporation in the private sector which you don't have to pay for but you can have highly rated paper and you take out a loan in order to buy a company and the company that you're buying is ultimately going to provide the money anyway. I'm crudifying a lot of very sophisticated financial steps. But the concept of racial empowerment has actually meant empowering people in the way of free enterprise, in the way of getting their hands on the levers of power and that's almost been an end in itself. So I think that's been a major driving force that there are very significant individuals who have been empowered very rapidly, from Cyril Ramaphosa to Dikgang Moseneke to Ntatho Motlana and they are enjoying the benefits of 'bourgoisfication' you might call it to be polite about it, and I think they are the major constraints on the ANC, as it were, reverting to its pre-1990 ideological situation.
But I think a lot of those positions were frankly drawn out at the University of Sussex or wherever. If you're sitting in an academic seminar or you're sitting in Zambia which is not exactly a model country or model economy, you suddenly find yourself at a very different situation from when you're having to govern the country and make it a going concern. So I do think that their constraints - my problem actually has not been that they've shifted positions ideologically, I think that's all to the good, I don't think they have shifted enough. I think there is an intellectual or conceptual acceptance of the market economy but there haven't been the consequential steps. You could ask about Carlos Menem in Argentina, elected on a radical Peronist trade union ticket as President eight years ago, gets into office, looks at economic realities and immediately presides over the biggest privatisation ever in South America. So he took more radical shifts. But that we should welcome it and encourage it, no doubt.
POM The second and last is, the ANC itself as a party political structure and it's handling of the Holomisa affair. One, could that have been better handled? Two, the ANC now appears to put a lot of stress on internal party procedures, party discipline, that no individual is superior to the party, which has a strange kind of ring to it, that it dislikes criticism, that it has a penchant for doing things behind closed doors, that differences are papered over, differences among their different sections aren't debated in public. They might be debated behind closed doors. They try to present a unified front at all times. In this regard are they much different from the old National Party? That's one, and two is, if you look at the background of members of the NEC, say, and you see that many of them were trained in the east and many spent time in exile where secrecy was obviously something very important, that that's the only behaviour they know?
TL I think that's correct. I think there's a big authoritarian strain there anyway. I think there's also a degree of genuine democracy within that organisation, more so than the NP. They are not as disciplined at the NP. There was no question in the NP's days in government that any member of the NP, any member of parliament, would in public even dissent from the minutest part of policy and when they did the whip was cracked, so it never got to that. But the NP came from a much more homogeneous political caste and were much, much more authoritarian in their conduct. In think the ANC is refreshingly less so.
However, I think Holomisa has indicated that on the big issues, when it really matters, then the whip will be cracked. It might be very cumbersome and they might be very incompetent to getting the procedures right but ultimately they will drive that person out of the party and I think what's interesting about that isn't just that Holomisa is a loose canon, I have no doubt my party would have had difficulty dealing with him in a similar set of circumstances because he speaks his mind and he is rather undisciplined in terms of any kind of political party orthodoxy, but was what he represented. He was the most significant homeland leader, he cocked a snoot at the previous regime, he was very popular in the ANC grassroots and the ANC's message was, "We actually don't care about any of that, we don't care who you are, what your constituency is, you have actually now gone too far and we will crush you." And that's quite a chilling message and it's a very salutary one for other would-be or future or aspiring dissidents or people who think that this is a party in which you can just do your own thing. So I think that's going to have an effect and, of course, one keeps hearing, and this is no more than corridor gossip, that the Deputy President of the country and the future President uses these exercises to purge the organisation of his challengers and of his enemies. I couldn't comment because ...
POM Just when you look at the organisation or the individual members when you talk about the more democratic elements and the more authoritarian elements, is there any correlation between those who were in exile being more authoritarian and those who were internal? Like are UDF members being more democratic?
TL There are some pretty awful undemocratic, deeply authoritarian people who were in the internal movement, and they tend to be the communist element inside. But I think broadly speaking, yes, I think the genuine mass democratic movement activists do tend to have a culture of democracy and democratic practice and consultation that is not present among the exiles or among communists, strangely enough.
POM Just finally, do you not find it strange that people, and I know a lot of them, I've interviewed a lot of them - most of them I think, I always find it anomalous to hear people who were trained in East Germany or in Moscow under very protected circumstances talking about democracy. It just strikes me they learned one set of values and preach another, but that their learnt behaviour is entirely different from the values that come out of their mouth.
TL Of course that's also true of many in the National Party who are now born again multi-party democrats, people whose political agenda was to not recognise that blacks were equal citizens and now they are embracing them. So you have a lot of those contradictions.
POM Any final word?
TL I think I've spoken enough.
POM You always have a final word.
TL I just think that, to make an obvious comment, the honeymoon is over. It didn't last that long. We are another middle, lower middle ranking country trying to make its way in the world and we're going to find that at the end of the day if we don't actually pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps this country will just sink without trace as a country which really has potential to rise above itself, which it did have or still has but the window of opportunity is not going to be open for that long. That's my impression. But to impress a sense of urgency about that here is not that easy.
POM But to somehow think, as I sometimes get the impression, that one of the legacies of apartheid is still this continuing goodwill throughout the world is going to result in a lot of foreign investment, that's another illusion that's been pretty much shattered.
TL It's a pipe dream and whether people regard that as fair or unfair it's a bit like being in love or in a relationship. Fairness has got nothing to do with it. The world and investment doesn't operate according to fairness, it operates according to sentiment and feeling and a number of objective conditions which we either will or won't have in this country.
POM OK, thanks.