This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
16 Oct 1996: Holomisa, Patekile
POM. Let me begin with what might at first glance appear to be an odd question but it's a question that I'm trying to get replies to from everybody I interview now, and that is when you look back on your life in the apartheid years and you growing up under apartheid, are there one or two or a number of memories that have scarred you in a particular way, that are etched in your mind and in your soul from those times that you will never forget and will always form part of who you are?
PH. No, not personally. It could be about incidents that have been happening which are of common knowledge and things that may have happened to my relatives but with me personally there is nothing that has happened to me that I can say because I have never been in jail, nor was I in exile, nor was I in any way ill treated physically except the denial, which is general, of opportunities such as educational opportunities and that every black South African was denied.
POM. But in terms of relatives going to jail, did that happen in a number of cases?
PH. Yes I do have relatives and in fact one close cousin of mine, a son of my mother's brother, was killed in broad daylight by security police because he was found in the company of members of uMkhonto weSizwe in Umtata. He was also caught working underground with the ANC. That is the one incident that is pretty close to me that I always think of.
POM. Did the security forces give any explanation of why he had been killed at the time?
PH. Well they gave the standard explanation which was that they were in possession of arms of war, AK47 rifles and hand grenades and things like that and that they had shown an intention to shoot at them. But what is most offensive is the fact that none of them has ever been brought to court, or at least none of them were convicted. In fact in my understanding is they were not even arrested and charged.
POM. And at the time of his murder was he carrying weapons or did they just say afterwards that he was in possession? Was there any evidence produced as to what in fact he was doing or was going to do?
PH. It's difficult to say because in my recollection all of them were killed, none of them survived and as such one doesn't know whether the weapons that were there had been planted by the very same murderers or whether in fact they were weapons that they did carry.
POM. Do you know the identity of the security forces who carried out the act?
PH. No I don't recall the names of some of the police that were mentioned at the time, no I don't. I seem to think some of them have since died or something like that.
POM. How long ago would this be?
PH. It was around 1987, I think in 1987, 1988, around that time.
POM. Now when you were growing up, you're a Chief, could you just give me a little bit of background on the kind of upbringing the son of a Chief goes through, your schooling and how you emerged as head of Contralesa?
PH. Well I don't think I was given any special kind of training to be eventually a traditional leader. First of all I didn't grow up at my own home. I was taken away to live with the family of one of my aunts, my father's sister, who was herself married to a Pondo Chief, Chief Ndamase in Western Pondoland. This is custom or a tradition that is followed in many chieftaincy households that the heir to the throne must be taken away in order to protect him from incidents that would be motivated by jealousy by other contenders to the position. I grew up under those circumstances and I lived with that family until I completed my university education. I would go home only on special occasions when customary rituals had to be performed which required my attendance or when death in the family occurred involving a close relative, like my father who died in 1973 and my grandfather who died in 1979. Besides those occasions I was not allowed to go home. I did occasionally get visits from my mother who is still alive, from my father while he was still alive and also from my grandfather. They did come and visit me at the place of Chief Ndamase.
. There were many of us at Chief Ndamase's place who came from similar circumstances. He was a big Chief. I think he is the second senior traditional leader in Western Pondoland, second only to the King of Western Pondoland. So a lot of traditional leaders took their own children to be brought up by him because he was a stern personality, he was an industrious fellow, he was almost a slave driver. He himself worked very hard and when he brought us up most of us were not even aware that where we came from we were destined to be traditional leaders. We only saw ourselves as children, normal children. The types of menial tasks that we had to perform, one wouldn't think that this is the type of work that would be carried out by a person who was destined to be a traditional leader. We herded cattle like all other boys in the village. We tilled the lands, cultivated the crops, harvested them. We milked the cows, we fed the pigs and the fowls and everything else. There was no type of work that was done by normal rural boys that we didn't do.
POM. Now did you go to a special school or did you go to school where the local children also went?
PH. I attended the normal school, the village school, like everybody else. In fact at that time there was still a college of the sons of traditional leaders in the Transkei like was the case in the other former homelands, but when the time came for me to go to high school my uncle decided that, no, he didn't want me to go to that school. In fact like all his other children they all went to ordinary schools so that we could be in a position to interact with our fellow brothers and sisters in the broader black community.
POM. So when you went to high school, where did you go to high school?
PH. I went to a high school called Ndamase High School at Ngqeleni that is the same district where I grew up, and then I went to St John's College which was a prestigious high school in Umtata at that time to complete my junior secondary and then I went back to Ndamase High School to complete my matriculation.
POM. So when you were in Umtata were you a boarder?
PH. I was a boarder in both schools, both at Ndamase and at St. John's College in Umtata.
POM. And were the children who attended these schools, did they tend to be the sons of the black elite in the surrounding area whether Chiefs or otherwise? They had a certain social, economic status to be able to afford to send their sons to boarding school?
PH. No, well, I think it was normal for children of high school going age to go to boarding schools at the time. It didn't have much to do with the status of the family that took the children to school. As I say these were normal education facilities and institutions except that with St John's College the requirement at the time was that you must have had a first class pass at high school or at junior secondary school before you could go there. Hence a number of students who came out of that school came out with brilliant results at the end of the year.
POM. And when you finished high school you went on to college, to university?
PH. We went on to university. At the University of Transkei where I did my Bachelor of Arts degree I majored in political studies and private law. Thereafter I went to the University of Natal in Durban to do my LLB degree which I passed in 1985, I did it in 1984 and 1985.
POM. And then when did you assume the chieftainship of your tribe?
PH. I assumed the chieftainship of my tribe at the time of my birth.
POM. At the time of?
PH. Of my birth. In other words I have not yet been formally installed as a traditional leader because when my father died in 1973 I was still a child and when my grandfather, who died after my father, died in 1979 I was still attending school. So at all times I have been having regents. It's only that I have always been recognised as a Chief of my tribe, that is the Hegebe which is part of the Tembu nation. So it's on that basis that I am regarded as a Chief because I have that position.
POM. That's part of the nation that President Mandela comes from too, right?
POM. Could you give me an idea of how the traditional system works? You refer to the Tembu nation, the Tembu nation has it's King or Paramount Chief, King?
PH. We refer to him as King. It's those who undermine us who refer to our Kings as Chiefs or Paramount Chiefs. Let me start from the bottom to define to you the hierarchy of traditional leadership. You have first of all the head of the family, the husband and the father to a family. He is responsible for that family. Then we have a conglomeration of families who usually live in the same village. At the top there would be a sub-Headman. That sub-Headman is elected from the ranks of the heads of the families. He is responsible for that village and he is answerable to a senior traditional leader who is known as the Headman. Then the Headman is in charge of several villages which are headed by the sub-Headmen. That area is normally regarded as an administrative area, the area under a Headman. Then a combination of the administrative areas, each of which is headed by a Headman, constitute what we call a tribe which is headed over by a Chief. Now normally the administrative areas would be made up of people of the same clan and then the head of that clan would be the Headman, so that now a combination of clans under a Headman would constitute a tribe and an Nkosi, who is referred to a Chief. Then a combination of the tribes will constitute a nation under the head of the King. So that I fall within the rank of the Chiefs, the heads of the tribe. Hence I said that I am the head of Hegebe tribe which is part of the Tembu nation. The Tembu nation is made up of several other similar tribes.
POM. Now would these tribes be related by blood lines?
PH. You mean tribes that constitute the clan?
PH. Well not necessarily except through intermarrying.
POM. The speak the same language.
PH. They speak the same language, they have generally the same customs and traditions.
POM. So could you give me some idea of the ...?
PH. The lines of succession?
POM. That's one. Two, then of the duality of your life. You're a traditional chief and you're also an Advocate in 'the modern world'. Thirdly, you're a member of parliament and fourthly you are head of Contralesa which is the organisation that represents the bulk of traditional chiefs throughout the country.
POM. So could you go through how they interact with each other?
PH. OK. Let me start with the one I had indicated myself, the question of lineage. One of the attacks that is usually levelled at the institution of traditional leadership is that it is not democratic because the person who holds the position is not subjected to election. He doesn't ascend to the position by virtue of merit. It is by accident of birth. Well we counter that by saying that the element of election is required in instances where there is no other method of conferring legitimacy on to a leader but in our situation we have, our custom dictates as to who should be a traditional leader and that person, if the custom dictates that it be that person, that person enjoys legitimacy whether he's competent or not competent. Now to come to deal with the question of competency or otherwise, this is the office we are talking about, the institution. We're not necessarily talking about the individual. The individual symbolises the office and in turn in fact he symbolises the nationhood or the tribal identity of that particular group or the clan identity of that particular group. So he doesn't work alone, he has to work with councillors.
. Now the sub-Headman has his own councillors who are the heads of the various families that constitute the village over which he is in charge and then the sub-Headmen in turn constitute the Council of the Headmen so that the Headman is at all times in touch with the communities through these Headmen. They are the eyes and the ears and the mouth of the Headmen. In turn the Headmen constitute the Council of the Chief Nkosi and then in turn Nkosi will constitute the Council of the King. So at all times there are people who are going to advise and in addition to those there will be other members of the community who rise to the ranks of being councillors to traditional leaders without being nominated or elected in any way but because of their interaction with the Great Place, the Great Place being the Palace of the traditional leader. These are men who are recognised for their knowledgeability about the history of the community or the tribe, the customs and traditions of that tribe and their wisdom as well as their leadership skills, so they all constitute the Council of the Traditional Leader.
. So that when it is being said that the word of Nkosi is final, what that means is that when they say his word is the law it means that the community, I mean the issue hasn't gone through the various hierarchies of traditional leadership. Then once it comes to the stage where a decision has to be made then it is binding on the community because it has been discussed at the sub-Headman's level in his own imbiso and later at the level of the Headman who constitute imbiso and the Chief constitutes imbiso and the King, and the imbiso is not about a gathering of members of the tribe being addressed by the leader. It is about the leader informing the community that an issue has arisen and a decision needs to be taken on it. Then the community on its own deliberates on the issue and comes up with a decision. The Nkosi, that is the traditional leader, will then make a decision on the basis of what has come out of the deliberations. Hence everybody is expected to obey that decision because it is a product of the deliberations of the community and it is usually said that Nkosi is the voice of the people. It is because of exactly what I've just described. That is it on that front.
. Now, the other role, in fact the traditional leader is not only the administrative head of his community. He is also the judicial officer, he is the judge over his own given territory of jurisdiction. He has to try cases and here again he does this in council with the assistance of the various officials I have described. So he is a judge in the centre. He has to be knowledgeable about the laws of the community. He has to be a lawyer because even if he is characterised, the judicial system is characterised by mediation, the need to reconcile and to rehabilitate, it is about the law being enforced and being respected, so you have to be knowledgeable about the law. Nowadays our laws have tended to be superseded by the white man's laws, the received laws, and you need then to be in a position to balance these laws. You need to be able to see to it that if, for instance, you cannot find justice within one form of system you should be in a position to suggest that a certain form of justice system has to be followed like customary law. If you find that customary law is not going to be suitable then you can invoke the western law that has since been referred to as common law. Like I say, decisions affecting the community have to have the involvement of a traditional leader. Hence he presides over the council meetings, he also presides over imbiso which is the assembly of the community as a whole, the parliament of the people. That is where laws are made so you have to be in a position to know what laws are being made, how they are being made. You are in effect a parliamentarian as a traditional leader.
. Even though my uncle, the one who brought me up, wanted me to become a doctor because he thought that was a more lucrative profession than any other, especially at the time, I tended to be interested more in subjects that leant towards the direction of politics and the law, hence I decided to study for law and I majored, like I said, in politics and then in political studies and then I studied for law because as a traditional leader I regard myself as a lawyer and because I was interested in politics I got involved in the struggles, in the activities that were aimed at the achievement of liberation. I came to be involved in politics. In fact towards the end of my studies, I think towards the end of 1985, I decided to go and consult the ANC in exile in order to get advice from them as to what I would have to do once I completed my studies because I thought at the time that I would be required to take over my position and among other things my taking over my position as a traditional leader would have meant my being part of the parliament of the Transkei, which would mean that I would be part of the system of apartheid. Like I said, I had been involved in student activities and all sorts of things when I was a student so I wanted to get direction and indeed I met senior leaders of the ANC, some of whom are here in parliament and in government and they all endorsed the position that I should take my position because the policies of the ANC are that the institution of traditional leadership has to be recognised.
POM. That's the position that the traditional leader has to be recognised?
PH. Yes. The position of the ANC is that the institution of traditional leadership has to be recognised and is going to be a feature in the lives of the people of South Africa even after liberation. In fact the suggestion was even made that I should join the Transkei National Independence Party which was the ruling party in the Transkei at that time so that the ANC would have one of its own people inside the system. So that's how I came to join the ANC and that's how I came to be a member of the Regional Executive Committee on two consecutive terms when the ANC was unbanned in the Transkei.
POM. That's when you became head of, when did you become head of Contralesa?
PH. I became head of Contralesa before the advent of the new South Africa, before the political organisations were unbanned. That is I joined in 1989 and I was elected as President until now. Well of course there were elections in 1994 and I was re-elected as President. So while the organisation was still under banishment, was still banned, I continued to work with it underground. At the same time I headed the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa.
POM. How many leaders were accounted for in the council? How many traditional leaders?
PH. In the Congress of Traditional Leaders? Oh, it's difficult to say because membership is not limited only to traditional leaders of the rank of Nkosi, that is the Chief. It is open to all members of royalty, all royal family members, children and wives of traditional leaders. But at the last count the registered membership was in the region of some 3000, that is the registered membership but there are many, many more than that. But the traditional leaders of the rank of Nkosi who are the main traditional leaders are in the region of 800 plus.
POM. That's spelt? Nkosi? Amakosi?
PH. Amakosi, yes.
POM. So how many people do you think overall traditional leaders represent?
PH. Well it has been suggested that it is about 19 million people.
POM. Nineteen million?
PH. 19 million people live in areas under traditional authorities.
POM. Could you give some history of the relationship between Contralesa and the ANC and when there began to be cracks in the direction that it seemed the ANC wanted to go and the route that Contralesa was holding to?
PH. Under the leadership of Tambo, which was the time when Contralesa was formed, the ANC was supportive of the institution of traditional leadership, supportive of Contralesa, also supportive of the fact that it had to project itself in spite of the difficulties and the apparent contradictions, that it had to be there as an independent body of traditional leaders, it should be in a position to attract traditional leaders from across the political spectrum. It recognised, the ANC of the time, that the constituency that Contralesa had targeted for itself, that is of traditional leaders, was a conservative constituency because we are custodians of the customs and traditions of our communities and once you become a custodian of a community like the judiciary you tend to be conservative. We were also a constituency which was susceptible to being reactionary because we were forced by circumstances to work closely with the government which was an oppressive government in order to safeguard the interests of traditional leadership and the interests of the community. For instance, now if you would be aware, the 13% of the land that is said to be under the control of blacks in South Africa is the land that constituted the homelands, it is the land that is under traditional leaders. In fact it is the land that the blacks in South Africa, under the leadership of traditional leaders, successfully protected from being taken over by the colonial invaders. So if the traditional leaders had not decided as a tactic to work closely with the government it could be that the whole of South Africa would have now been completely and totally under the control of whites and that traditional communities of blacks wouldn't be having any part of the country which they could own in terms of the historical position which dictates that the whole of South Africa should have been under the control and ownership of blacks.
POM. So do you find the position that the ANC now takes with regard to what the role of traditional leaders should be in regard to local government one that is simply not workable because it so contravenes tradition or one in which an accommodation of the 'modern' and the 'traditional' have got to be married together to produce a workable outcome?
PH. It's unworkable.
POM. It's unworkable as it is?
PH. It's a recipe for conflict. In fact there is already conflict in most of the areas in the countryside. It's either that there's conflict or that these structures that have been put up are not working properly. They don't deliver because traditional leaders, whether or not the constitution recognises them, which fortunately it does in terms of the constitutional principles, regard themselves as the leaders of their communities, as local leaders and they don't see anything wrong with the system.
POM. And the people regard them as such?
PH. And the people regard them as such. They don't see anything wrong with the manner in which the system itself operates. There could be problems with one or the other traditional leader as an individual but the system itself, people don't see anything wrong with it. If you remember what I said as I tried to describe it, it is a consultative system of government. So this one is in fact an imposition of leaders over communities because even the system, the electoral system that was followed, is undemocratic, unrepresentative because the communities were required to vote for parties and not for ward representatives which is the most representative form of government, democratic. Now you find that it will be the party that selects its own candidates and then the people would be voting for Mandela as leader of the ANC, or for the ANC because they like the ANC, only to find that the people who have been chosen by the party are not the types of people they would have wanted to lead them.
. This may sound reactionary but it is a reality. You find that some of these leaders now, local leaders, are unmarried women or even youngsters who don't even have homesteads of their own and in terms of tradition you expect that it be a man or a person who has his or her own homestead, who has responsibilities who is going to be in charge of the affairs of a community. Now most of them are youngsters who had been activists at the time before liberation and most of them had to challenge the authority of the time. I think most traditional leaders appreciated the fact that they had to be active but that doesn't qualify them to become leaders. You can be an activist but it doesn't necessarily mean you have to be a leader. So these are the types of leaders that have been imposed by this system because the people didn't have a say as to who should have been elected to be their representatives in those councils. So there is that stalemate now between traditional authorities and these local councils and moreover these local councils are supposed to deliver and you can't deliver without land and the land in terms of custom is still in the hands of traditional authorities and they cannot take it away. They have to come to the traditional authorities and ask for land in order to put up any projects that they want to put up as the development of the community.
POM. So you came into some conflict with the ANC in regard to this matter?
PH. In fact that was what gave rise to the problems that the ANC has with me and Contralesa and the institution of traditional leadership. They failed to listen to traditional leaders, they failed to listen when traditional leaders said, no, we need to have representative and legitimate local government structures and as traditional leaders we are that. Traditional authorities are local government.
POM. Why do you think they failed to listen, for an organisation that is supposed to be so attuned to what goes on and feelings at the grassroots?
PH. I think it is because it is hungry for power like any political party. It is hungry for power, it wants all the power for itself even though it agrees to multi-party democracy and all those things. And at the same time it undermines the traditions and the customs of the people of South Africa who are in the majority. You are going to ask me why is it doing that? Well I do not know except to state what is happening which is that they are undermining the institution of traditional leadership which is the custodian of the customs and traditions of Africans in the country and they hold power. They want to take that power away from traditional leaders. It's natural for political parties not to want any institutional structure to have power that it wants for itself, that it could use.
POM. Is there a difference within the ANC, or elements of the leadership, that you know or to whom you presented the case on behalf of Contralesa or with whom you have consulted, are there those who are appreciative of your position and feel that, yes, indeed a way must be found to accommodate traditional leaders else we're not going to have local government in many parts of the country? And is there a difference between elements of the leadership that are, to just make a crude classification, that are internal and from exile? Do the exiles have a different stand on this than, say, what would be called the internals?
PH. Well I wouldn't categorise it along those lines because the internals themselves, so-called, there are some who appreciate the importance of traditional leadership. There are some who undermine it, who are contemptuous of it. The same is the case with the exiles. There are some who want it to be respected and to be given proper recognition like was the case under Tambo, but there are some who are not. The same would be the case with some of those who have been in jail. In fact I would imagine most of those who were in jail, particularly the older generation, they appreciate that you cannot do anything in the rural areas successfully without the support of traditional leaders. But the main body of the leadership of the ANC, as characterised by members of parliament here, is worried about the direction that the ANC is taking. They want the ANC to do more than it is doing and it is failing dismally to give leadership in this direction.
POM. You said the majority of MPs are concerned?
PH. MPs yes.
POM. They are concerned with the actions of the NEC?
PH. That's right. The failure by the ANC to give leadership. They have been calling on it, I don't know, since 1994 to give direction on this issue. In fact they sympathise with me for having done all the things that I did, having led a delegation of traditional leaders and people together with the IFP leaders who came to that meeting in his capacity as chairman of the House of Traditional Leaders in KwaZulu/Natal, Nkosi Buthelezi, to present a petition to the President.
POM. Now this is an issue which you and Chief Buthelezi find yourselves both aligned and I assume that's held against you, that the enemy of the enemy is the friend of my friend?
PH. Yes, which is stupid in fact because as I have said in I don't know how many memoranda I have sent to the leadership saying that the ANC has failed to win the electorate in KwaZulu/Natal because it is perceived as a modernist organisation which wants to destroy the institution of traditional leadership and what it stands for. Hence the people are going in the direction of the IFP. It lost the elections again, dismally, in May this year, or was it in June? I think it was May, the local elections. The ANC lost them in spite of boasting that in fact it did very well in the cities. The bulk of the people of KwaZulu/Natal still voted for the IFP in spite of its bad record in relation to the liberation struggle. So I said those things to the ANC, that you need to have a strategy which is going to assist you in winning over the people of KwaZulu/Natal and who cannot have a strategy that is going to exclude the question of traditional leadership. You cannot hold successful meetings as the ANC in the rural areas if the traditional leaders are opposed to that, and most of them are within the IFP and there's a lot of killing, there's a lot of violence taking place there because of political differences and traditional leaders are the key to the resolution of that violence because they should have a dispensation which is going to take them out of the need to participate in party politics and become the traditional leaders of their communities as a whole and you cannot do that, you cannot take them out of the clutches of the IFP unless you give them the respect that is due to the office of the traditional leader. So I had to interact with the leadership, with Nkosi Buthelezi in his capacity as a traditional leader even though he is the leader of the IFP and uses his position as traditional leader in order to gain political points, but he is a traditional leader, he is the one the traditional leaders listen to, even the King did not listen to him unless, even though they like him, they love him, they would do anything for him, but they do not, they perceive Nkosi Buthelezi as the one who embodies what Nkosi in KwaZulu should stand for.
POM. Is there a concerted effort within the ANC to place modernisation, to attach almost an ideological value to it, to place it above all other considerations?
PH. You see the problem is that Johnny doesn't know what his ideology is any more.
POM. They don't even what?
PH. You don't even know what the ideology of the ANC is any more, you don't know it. It used to be a party that embraced socialism even aside from the alliance with the SACP, as a body, as an organisation. Later on we were an organisation that embraced a mixed type of economy such as you find in places like Germany or the Scandinavian countries. And now we are clearly, we have seen from pronouncements that are being made on an ad hoc basis by some of the leaders, including the President, that we are a capitalist system now. They are embracing the free market system. So ideologies that you used to hold dear as the ANC are no longer there. We no longer know where we stand now. You don't know when you stand up what part of the ANC's ideology you are articulating.
POM. Do you think this is one of the reasons why the government sometimes appears to be indecisive or that while it will state a course of action it won't follow up on the course of action?
PH. Because some groupings within the leadership are assisted by private consultations who would come up with policy positions and then they will pounce them upon the unsuspecting public and membership of the ANC and say this is the policy of the ANC. And now this goes against the position that people have known to be the position of the ANC and then once people start speaking up against that position then suddenly you find a government seemingly back-tracking, as you say it will be failing to proceed, to implement a decision that it has announced. So there is the lack of that culture of consultation which characterised, I think, the ANC while it was still in exile, the bulk of its leadership, and that culture which characterised the United Democratic Front which in fact brought about the unbanning of the political organisations and the release of leaders from jail. So there was a lot of consultation then.
POM. You hear people saying at one time or another that there are deep strains within the ANC or within the tripartite alliance and that it's only a matter of time, not before this election but after this election, until the alliance breaks up. Do you see that kind of realignment taking place within the ANC or do you think that the fact that a party has power, and a lot of power, can keep a lot of differences, make it susceptible to being able to live with a lot of differences among its ranks as long as it holds power because by breaking up you start giving up power?
PH. I don't think the alliance is likely to break before the 1999 elections but I think it's going to be necessary for it to break after 1999. We are in a transition phase now, even at the time of the 1999 elections we will still be in a transition phase. It will be the first time that we will be, for instance, implementing fully the new constitution which is a constitution that has been adopted by a democratically elected Constitutional Assembly. But beyond that it's going to be necessary for the alliance to break up because the strategic objective for which it was founded or formed has been achieved, which was the liberation of South Africa. Now we are fast heading towards a modern western type of a society, at least in terms of a government, and as such it's not going to be healthy to have the government on one hand either holding at ransom the workers, organised workers, or the organised workers themselves holding the government at ransom because the government can withhold certain things maybe from organised labour because it has this alliance with them and it has the resources. At the same time organised labour can exercise and flex its muscle against the government to force it to do certain things. There are bound to be contradictions because their interests are not going to be necessarily the same any more. The interests of the workers will be the interests of the workers and the interests of the government will have to be informed by the interests of the business community, the professionals, the workers themselves and everybody else.
POM. But aren't the interests of the workers and the interests of people who live in rural communities also different?
PH. Well they are not that different because the bulk of those people are still responsible to their families and relatives who are living in the rural areas.
POM. Even though they are living in cities?
PH. Even though they live in the cities.
POM. So does the extended family concept still work even though this is one of the most rapidly urbanising countries in Africa?
PH. Yes it still does. It's not as strong as it used to be of course, hence you find so many people leaving the countryside to settle in shanty towns, in shacks and squatter settlements in the periphery of the cities. It is because the workers now no longer carry out their responsibilities for their families. They have since found their own new families, founded new families in the cities. Hence now you find that out of desperation people leave the rural areas in order to come and settle in the cities in search of work because, again, the land is no longer in a position to sustain the livelihood of these people. It has been over-used, it has been over-grazed and it has broken down, it has dilapidated, soil conservation measures are no longer in a position to check the carrying away of land.
POM. But it would seem to me that one of the problems the country faces is this incredibly rapid rate of urbanisation. In the absence of there being jobs to meet the inflow of people one would think the government would look to developing policies that would create employment opportunities in rural areas or that would foster rural development in a more sustained way and that to accomplish that they would need the full co-operation and enthusiastic support of traditional chiefs and if they don't have that enthusiastic support then that's not going to happen.
PH. Like I said, the traditional leaders still hold that little land that we have and for any development to take place it needs land, the availability of land, access to land, and I don't think traditional leaders are going to easily give up that land for purported development if they are not convinced that it is going to bring about the betterment of the lives of the people in the rural areas. What is more, the government should be concentrating more on getting a big chunk of the 87% of the land that is still under the control of whites who are in a tiny minority. It is not expending enough energies. It is tinkering with the question of land, the problem of land. We are concentrating only on restoring the land that was taken under legislation since 1913 and that is not going to be enough to address the problem of landlessness. Some people are not even going to be in a position to prove their claims. And what is more this is an expensive exercise because the state has to pay market related prices as compensation to those landowners who fall foul of this law. But that is not going to be enough even if it were to have vast sums of money. We need a programme that is going to facilitate the settlement of communities on the vast tracts of land that are being occupied and used by a few white farmers. But that is a sensitive matter and it's not easy for a government which has come to power on the basis of national reconciliation.
POM. Two issues. One, you live a lot of your time in the city when you're in parliament, you're either in Cape Town or - I don't know whether you go to Pretoria?
PH. No I only go to Umtata.
POM. Umtata. When you are here in Cape Town do you experience a life and a preoccupation with concerns that have very little to do with the constituency you represent, i.e. constituency of traditional chiefs?
PH. Well they are not represented in this parliament.
POM. Or of millions of people who live in the rural areas?
PH. Yes, the concentration is more on issues that are related to the lifestyles of the whites. We are busy trying to, which is good at the same time, to transform the institutions which previously were the domain of whites only but we are not doing much to address the problem of landlessness on the ground, the problem of the lack of employment opportunities in the countryside. We haven't come up with a formula.
POM. Are the concerns that are being addressed primarily, since you said they revolve around white issues, are ones of transformation or ones of trying to alleviate their fears or whatever? But do you think those tend to be urban issues?
PH. They tend to be urban issues. In fact the unfortunate part of it is that even the press and the media is urban biased. Of course it is controlled by whites and they see and report only from their own perspective. There are many MPs here and senators who come from the rural areas who know what is happening. They are concerned about what is happening. They speak on the platform but they are never listened to and the press doesn't carry their messages. They do not highlight what these people are saying. They come up with simple solutions that will be suitable to those conditions but nobody bothers to listen because even as we speak here we go the following day and read the press and listen to the radio and watch the television and the leadership will respond to what comes out of the press. And you will find that the press in fact will report more on what the DP says, the ACDP says, the National Party says, and yet they are minority parties who are concentrated in the cities. They will not listen to what the general rank and file members of parliament, who come from the rural areas, have to say.
POM. When you go back to Umtata and go among your tribe, do they ask you what's happening in parliament?
PH. In my tribe they are not that much concerned about what is happening in parliament because I think they know that their representatives are not there.
POM. They don't have representatives in parliament?
PH. They don't have representatives in parliament, they only have representatives of political parties. They do not know, for instance, who is responsible for my own district which is Nqanduli because my party took me to represent other areas.
POM. That seems rather silly.
PH. It is. It is because of the party list system, it is because of the party list system, because people don't know who - they voted for Mandela when they went to vote, they didn't vote for an individual, so they were sending you child of so-and-so to go and represent them, so that there is no accountability. Well MPs do go back to their constituency offices and meet the regional leadership of the ANC there but they are not perceived as the MPs of a given area by the general membership of the constituency.
POM. In essence you are saying you go back to Umtata and if the people in the area have concerns, they are not supposed to come to you they are supposed to go to some other MP who may live in an entirely different area? And that too doesn't seem a very workable or representative system.
PH. It's not, the party list system is not representative. It's representative of the parties but not of the constituencies.
POM. Is there any movement within the party to move to a constituency basis?
PH. The party is not interested in that. Look at the constitution that has come out now. It still perpetuates the system of political party representativeness rather than constituency based representation or election.
POM. Now in the draft of the constitution that's been sent to the Constitutional Court what improvement has been made in the position of traditional Chiefs?
PH. There's no improvement at all. There is a sop that has been given in an attempt to woo the IFP back into the constitution making process. It was not intended to address the concerns of traditional leadership and those who believe in the institution. It talks of traditional leaders continuing in terms of the interim constitution in a like manner as is found in the interim constitution, to being ex-officio members of local councils that happen to be responsible for their areas of rule only until 1999 or until new legislation is implemented which means that the future of chieftainship in terms of the constitution is still uncertain.
POM. Which means that, if I'm interpreting you correctly, is that now in rural areas traditional Chiefs are ex-officio members of the local council?
PH. That's right.
POM. Do they have the same voting power as elected members?
PH. Well that provision has not yet been implemented but our interpretation of it is that they do have all the rights because they are eligible to be elected to executive committee positions.
POM. OK. But also under the draft of the constitution?
PH. No they are not even mentioned in the chapter relating to local government.
POM. So this arrangement only lasts through 1999?
PH. Or until new legislation is made. This could be earlier than 1999.
POM. How does that mollify Chief Buthelezi?
PH. It doesn't. That's why he also didn't come back to the constitutional negotiations.
POM. Why do you think that the leadership of the ANC is so intent on marginalising traditional leadership? Is it because they see or think that traditional Chiefs worked with the government in the past so they want to punish them? How can they fail to understand the culture of their own country in such a fundamental way?
PH. It's difficult to say. You did ask the question before and I still don't have the answer. I don't understand why they are doing this. Well there are all sorts of suspicions one might have which would be ideological. The SACP for example is known to be against class defined positions. They want everybody to be equal and the institution of traditional leadership doesn't lend itself to equality in the sense that we assume our positions by virtue of birth in terms of our customs. But one doesn't want to sound like the government of the past which always blamed the SACP, but in the absence of any plausible explanation one wonders as to what the position of the SACP is because it is deafeningly quiet on this question except for a few members who will write in their magazines about their dislike for the continuation of the system of traditional leadership. But still the ANC is in the leadership position and it is the one that is supposed to do these things. I think it's on a suicidal path, like it is on a number of issues. It doesn't seem to be handling controversial issues that are emotional to the public as they should be doing. Take the question of the death penalty, take the question of abortion, these are issues that the general populace have strong feelings about but one doesn't believe that these are things, they are handled with the sensitivity that they deserve.
POM. Who runs the country? Is it the parliament, the government or the National Executive of the ANC?
PH. Well I think it's a combination of these but at the end of the day it's the National Executive that takes the decisions that are to be implemented by the executive and are to be followed by parliament. You would know that the National Executive takes decisions, it has taken a decision on the question of abortion and it has tentatively taken a decision on the question of the death penalty. The President himself has said it is not going to be reviewed even though a representative conference recently said the National Executive Committee must review the policy of the ANC on the death penalty. So the position that has been adopted, particularly on the question of abortion, by the NEC has to be respected by the caucus of the ANC. The caucus is required to vote as a block in favour of the bill even if your conscience in terms of your religion or your culture is against you giving your vote to a bill that allows the types of things that are being allowed. So it's the National Executive, I think, that is leading. But at the same time one has a sense that even within the NEC there is no unanimity in terms of the decisions that are being taken. You do hear people talking, members of the NEC, you will hear them speak on issues that appear to have been addressed by the NEC as if they were not even part of that NEC.
POM. I've heard that. Coming back to this thing of tradition versus modernity, is this going to become an issue of increasing contentiousness, one that's not going to go away?
PH. It is. In fact you even sense it within the ANC itself in small things like a person will address a meeting of the ANC in his own mother tongue and it is sometimes a revolt against the imposition of other languages like English, the assumption that if you speak English everybody understands and learned fellows will just speak in their own languages. If in the election of people to positions of some authority in parliament like the chairmanships you tend now to detect that there will appear to be concerted moves to get someone from a particular language group to get that position.
POM. So there are divisions within the ANC along cultural if not ethnic lines, could be cultural or ethnic whatever you want to call them.
PH. Because you will find that we won't have an India in that position, we won't have a white man, or won't have a Xhosa speaking person, or won't have a Sotho or won't have a Venda and that we will have this one, and that you will have in India, or that we will have a Muslim or that we will have a white person and so on. So there are those undercurrents that need to be addressed which will force themselves upon the ANC for it to address.
POM. You find yourself in this kind of peculiar position now.
PH. I think I am fortunate because I am able to speak without embarrassment about those things because I am a traditional leader, I am a tribal leader and to be a traditional leader I have never tried to be identified by the tribe, so I am not ashamed about that. In fact I am proud of that, but others they wouldn't want you to hear them talk like that.
POM. But I mean unenviable in the way of you are a very strong voice if not the voice for traditional leadership.
PH. In terms of the constitution and Contralesa I am, yes, the voice of traditional leaders.
POM. And at the same time you're a member of the ANC caucus which has a counter-posing position regarding traditional Chiefs. You are required by the caucus, or by the constitution of the party to vote along party lines.
PH. Even for this constitution I wouldn't have voted, I would have abstained. I would have voted against it, the final text, if it was not for the fact that caucus demands that I vote for the constitution, because everybody knows that I am not happy with the provisions relating to our institution and our customs in that constitution.
POM. I don't want to get into a criticism of the ANC because I want to be talking to you over the next three or four years and see how things develop, what I'm trying to get at is, and this relates to Bantu's case as well, a lot of people that I've talked to said it wasn't necessary to expel him.
PH. No it wasn't necessary. He could have been brought into line by other means.
POM. It could have been handled much better. So was the ANC sending a message?
PH. What message?
POM. Saying that dissent is not acceptable.
POM. But he's not the kind of person to retreat.
PH. He is not the kind of person to retreat, it's not in his nature, especially when he's right.
POM. But the fact that the ANC had with a little bit of deliberation the option of being able to ...
PH. No it showed a lack of leadership.
POM. Suspension, whatever. There are any number of courses or actions they could have taken.
PH. They could have reprimanded him or suspended him but they didn't do that.
POM. Yes. So why the harshness?
PH. Well maybe he angered the President. It could be that the President was angry, he is that kind of person, the President. When he's angry with you he acts accordingly. I think it may be, I'm not sure, but as a tribalist in the sense that I recognise tribal identities, there must be that kind of trend within his clan. There is a nephew of his called K D Matanzima, he didn't want his path to be crossed and he did it overtly.
POM. Sorry, this is who now? This is?
PH. K D Matanzima and Mandela, they are showing similarities in the autocratic manner in which they deal with dissent.
POM. K D Matanzima is?
PH. K D Matanzima, former President of the Transkei, founder of the Transkei.
POM. Yes. He and Mandela are related?
PH. They are related. They come from the same clan. They are Madiba, Matanzima is Madiba too.
POM. And what clan is Bantu from?
PH. We are the Hegebe. We were part of the Tembu but we are the Hegebe clan and they are the Madiba clan.
POM. But you would both fall within the Tembu kingdom?
PH. That's right. In fact through inter-marriages of our forebears we are related closely. In fact I also married it too, the daughter of K D Matanzima who is in a way a granddaughter of the President.
POM. This is all about family when one gets down to it. It's a family quarrel.
PH. It is because he could have called him to his place and said, "No, no, no, Bantu you shouldn't be doing it this way." But then also Bantu he tends to be stubborn. He did try but I don't think the President tried enough to rein him in, talk to him as a son that he is supposed to be.
POM. I'm nearly done for today.
PH. Are you going to ask me about my own disciplinary action?
POM. Oh yes I was, of course, that's the one all this was leading up to.
PH. Well I was, because of my actions ...
POM. You were called before a disciplinary committee?
PH. A disciplinary committee headed by Kader Asmal.
POM. Yes. Now on the charge being?
PH. That I brought the organisation into disrepute.
POM. Because you disagreed with it publicly on the issue of traditional leaders?
PH. That's right. I took the government to court as Contralesa. I discouraged people from voting. What in effect we said was that we are not going to vote as traditional leaders of Contralesa in the elections because we do not know that they are going to bring about representative democracy and the respect for the institution of traditional leadership. And then we marched to Pretoria, as they said, to present a petition to the ANC of which I am a member. Well I defended myself. I said I wasn't wrong, I was acting at all times in my capacity as a traditional leader and as the leader of Contralesa and that I was not violating the policies of the ANC. I didn't say as an ANC MP I am opposed to this and this and that. I never said that. But then they dismissed that and they convicted me and they imposed four penalties. One, that I be reprimanded severely. Secondly, that I apologise to the ANC and to the President of the ANC. Thirdly, that I be demoted from my position as chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Land Affairs. And fourthly, that I be suspended from the organisation but the suspension to be suspended for a period of a year to allow for me to be rehabilitated.
. I appealed against that decision to the National Executive Committee in terms of the constitution of the ANC. The NEC was unable to deal with my argument, return argument, at the time that it was supposed to because of the complexity of the issues I raised and they decided to set up a sub-committee of three people made up of Dullah Omar, Penuell Maduna and Baleka Kgositsile, the Deputy Speaker now, to process my appeal, as they put it. So they made a report to the NEC in its next meeting, that was in August, 18th August this year. The recommendation was that the decision by the Disciplinary Committee must be upheld, must be confirmed because they found nothing new in my representations in my return argument. Well when they informed me of that decision, which was confirmed by the NEC, which was confirming the Disciplinary Committee decision, I wrote back to the Deputy Secretary General who had returned to me informing me of the decision of the NEC and I required the record of the proceedings to find out as to who attended that meeting because I was made to understand that even the complainants, people who complained, laid a complaint against me to the NEC, were present in the NEC meeting when it dealt with my appeal. Even those who were sitting on the Disciplinary Committee were present, I was informed, and I was not allowed to come and make representations for myself in the NEC when it met. So I wanted to know why those things happened in that manner. They haven't come back to me. I wrote to them I think on 22nd August. I am still waiting for a reply.
. So the decision has not been implemented. They have not reprimanded me, I have not apologised, they have not demoted me. I am still chairman of the Committee. They have not suspended me. I am still President of Contralesa and I will speak when I want to speak.
POM. Do you see this as more of an example of the indecisiveness you talked about, they simply don't know what to do?
PH. They set down their own rules and procedures and they don't follow them. They declare themselves as an organisation that respects the law, that is transparent and all those things, respects human rights and so on. Now they just trample upon them like that and when you raise this against them they are unable to do anything.
POM. Where I was going to pick up was I had asked you whether or not the ANC was a democratic organisation.
PH. And I said in terms of the policies and the principles it is a democratic organisation, but in terms of its practices it clearly is not. For instance, the caucus is required to rubber stamp decisions that are taken behind closed doors in meetings of the NEC of the organisation and even when those decisions are clearly controversial we are not in a position to reverse them and even take them back to the NEC.
POM. And the elections in 1999, is the ANC going to do better than it did in 1994, as well as or not as well as?
PH. If it continues in the trend that is going on it is likely to do very badly in the 1999 elections. People are either going to do the worst, which I hope that is not going to be, by voting for parties like the National Party or they might withhold their vote and not give them where they belong, to the ANC, because there is no alternative to the ANC at this stage.
POM. And if the whole issue of traditional chiefs remains unresolved what position will rural communities or traditional chiefs take at that point?
PH. Currently traditional leaders, they are people who are calling both within the ranks of traditional leaders and outside, for Contralesa to become a political party in order to be the representative of the rural masses. Personally I don't think the time is opportune for traditional leaders to form themselves into a political party because among other things they are still holding a lot of baggage from the past. They worked closely, for whatever reasons, with the past regime, the apartheid regime both in Pretoria and in the various homeland capitals and the people like the system of traditional leadership. They may not like some individual incumbents in those positions but it's the system that they like and the strength of the system lies, in my view, in the fact that it is above party politics. The moment we go down to the level of party politics we are not going to be any different from everybody else and the prestige or the respect and the honour that we enjoy now, that we enjoy because we are traditional leaders, is going to be lost and the influence might not be there.
. So what needs to be done is a lot of ground work. The traditional leaders need to use structures that are available like the tribal authorities which are recognised by the constitution, the Houses of traditional leaders and the National Council of Traditional Leaders, to make themselves relevant to the needs of the community. They are, of course, at least the Houses and the Council, advisory bodies whose advice may be taken or may be discarded by the government. But if they go and report what they have been trying to do to the communities using those structures then the people will take them seriously and who knows they might force them to become political parties in the end. But I don't think that would be advisable, at this stage at least.
POM. Do you think, just finally, that part of the ANC's thinking may be that even if they were to be opposed in some way by traditional chiefs that the people would vote with the ANC anyway?
PH. Like I said, they would either withhold their vote if they are so aggrieved by the ANC or vote for it nonetheless because there is no alternative. Traditional leaders do have a lot of influence but it doesn't go to the extent that the people would want to throw in their lot with them rather than with the ANC which is the organisation of liberation and it is too soon after liberation that they will easily forget what they have gone through before. They have made mistakes now maybe because they are power drunk or something, which would be natural, and I think people are much more perceptive than to allow inevitable mistakes that have been committed at this era of the transition to take that as an inherent weakness within the ANC itself.
POM. OK. Thanks ever so much for the time.