About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

16 Oct 1996: Zille, Helen

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POM     Let me start with a different kind of a question and that is looking back to your childhood or whatever are there any memories of the impact of apartheid on your life that are indelibly stamped and that will remain part of who you are for the rest of your life?

HZ     Padraig, I would have to think about that because apartheid was so much part of the reality that it shaped us in everything that we did. I remember my first dawnings of political consciousness around these things very clearly. I remember, for example, when we started getting school lunches paid for by the government when I was at primary school and my mother was completely outraged by it. I remember that no other children questioned it and I didn't think that any of their parents did but my parents were completely outraged by the fact that white children from privileged backgrounds were now getting school lunches when the government had specifically stopped that programme for black children and I remember my parents talking about it a great deal. I couldn't have been in anything more than first grade or second grade, I was very young, I must have been seven years old, and I remember it being very powerfully brought home to me the injustice of that situation. I came from a highly politicised household so there was no sense of having to go against my background or having to develop a new political awakening. I came from a very liberal household and my parents raised me in that kind of context, unlike my husband who had to take a strong position and find his own political ideals and principles in total opposition to his background. So I was very supported by my family, that's one of my earliest memories of understanding structural injustice and I also experienced that as a profound injustice and I always remember being the only one who thought that way in my class, or seeming to be the only one who thought that way in my class and in the context in which I was growing up in a rural community and then even later in a not so rural community, in an urban community.

     I remember growing up, there was a black family who lived with us, we had a smallholding in Rivonia, and they were my friends and we played together from very young and I remember them not being able to go to my school and not understanding why and asking why, at that very early age, and then accepting that that was part of the reality. But that's how much it shaped us. You would ask why because it seemed strange and then that was how it was and you went forward with that kind of reality. I remember being profoundly affected by the police stopping black people in the street and asking them for their passes. I remember that as being something that outraged me every single time I saw it and there were times, when I was older obviously, in my twenties, that I would stop the car and get out and remonstrate with them. But that obviously, again, came from my parents, a very strong outrage at the injustice.

POM     Was this a common occurrence?

HZ     A very common occurrence. You'd drive along the street and you'd see black people being stopped by police and having their pass books checked and that sort of thing.

POM     I'm asking that in a peculiar context, it's almost the context of the one thing that I've noticed year after year coming here is that I never see any police on the streets.

HZ     When they were policing the pass laws you saw them often. They were marching around asking law-abiding citizens walking around peacefully to show their pass books and that was a very common occurrence. I saw that regularly because they were policing influx control and if you look at the statistics of people arrested and jailed for influx control offences you will see how active the police were in that area and it was evident. I remember that very, very clearly from my childhood at any event. The snapshots in my mind that stand out very powerfully, and the one that I will never, ever forget was when we used to go on holiday and my mother used to pack a picnic and we used to stop at the side of the road and instantly there would be quite a large number of black children who would come from almost nowhere to gather around to see what we would leave over and it appalled me that here we have this huge lunch and there children were so hungry that the minute they saw other people unpacking a lunch they would be around about to see what there was for them and it made it almost impossible for us to eat and enjoy a picnic lunch. And I remember we always used to leave three quarters of it on the table. That I remember very clearly from those kinds of days.

     I didn't understand the structural injustice of apartheid. I think I used to think apartheid was racial segregation of blacks and whites. I never understood the political dimension of trying to establish separate states for different ethnic groups and the structural and political injustice that went with that and the coercion and the repression and the oppression that went with that until I was quite a lot older. All I understood apartheid to be at that stage was segregation that my parents were opposed to and didn't understand and the government being nasty to black people. That's how I understood it, and thinking how unfair it was, but that's the way that I've been raised. And so it was those kinds of snapshots that really stuck out in my mind, but only when I became a journalist actually quite a lot later, because at that stage I hadn't studied politics and economics yet, did I come to understand the structural dimension, that segregation was just the frosting on apartheid, that wasn't apartheid. It was a profound structural political, social and economic ideology that was being enforced with massive violence and massive structural violence and I only saw that much later when I was exposed, for example, to things like forced removals which were integral to the policy, when I was exposed to pass law courts, when I was exposed to all of the things without which apartheid wouldn't have been able to work.

POM     But these were things you were exposed to because of your profession more than they being just day-to-day realities that you would have become aware of in the normal course of events?

HZ     In the normal course of events if white people didn't read newspapers like The Rand Daily Mail they were not exposed to these sorts of things, but there was an opportunity to be exposed if you read the courageous newspapers that were published at the time and if you didn't just dismiss that all as communist propaganda. But for many whites who did not read those newspapers and who certainly lived in a very isolated and cocooned environment there was no way that you would come to understand the structural violence of apartheid and you would have probably come to take it quite for granted that there were domestic helpers in your home whose children were living somewhere else, and for some reason it didn't occur to many white South Africans what a form of structural violence that was, that you have a woman coming into your house looking after your children, changing the baby's nappies, cooking food for your children, making your children school lunches and her children are somewhere else where she doesn't know if they're even being fed properly. Now that's a profound form of structural violence. But if you would have said that to anybody in that kind of context it would have not occurred to them. They would have said so-and-so is part of the family and that's how it is.

POM     I'm asking the question in part because as the years go by it's becoming increasingly difficult to find any white person who supported apartheid.

HZ     You see it is amazing how very few people there are that supported apartheid and no-one ever voted for the National Party, etc. One sees that and it's really amazing. I think it's got something to do with a paradigm, a conventional wisdom shift, a shift in the way people see the world and before the point of departure was that black rule would mean disaster. Today the point of departure is, I'm talking about the point of departure amongst the majority of whites, I'm not talking about the point of departure amongst the majority of South Africans, but the point of departure amongst the majority of whites was black rule will spell disaster, it has all over the rest of Africa, therefore political strategies necessary to prevent that are justifiable. That was the paradigm. Now the paradigm is, there is absolutely no way we can be part of a modern world and build a modern economy on the skills and competencies of a tiny proportion of our population who happen to be white and male, therefore we need to do what we can to develop an inclusive society and obviously we're part of a modern, progressive world that sees racism as abhorrent. It's totally different points of departures and the extent to which that has shifted in so short a time is what amazes me and says something about the capacity of South Africans to follow a leader and accept that kind of paradigm shift from both sides. But when you are entirely encompassed by a particular way of viewing the world which seems to be the way the world is and works because it's the only thing that you've known since you were little, it's very difficult to understand the moral culpability and the violence of that way of life if you don't actually experience it. So people will say, "Of course I didn't support apartheid because look what's being exposed now through the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and other things, we didn't even know about it. We didn't support that." What they were supporting, fundamentally, was a party that promised them that blacks would not govern them. That's what they were supporting and because now that seems so absurd in a modern world it's seen as a kind of anachronism that they left behind years ago. I don't know how else to explain it. But it's also nice to be on the winning side, you don't want to appear to have been historically wrong.

POM     To put a number of sub-contexts to it: one, the acquittal of General Malan and the other defendants, your reaction?

HZ     You know over the years,, Padraig, I'm not a conspiracy theorist but I think I can spot a conspiracy when I see one. Over the years when people have said to me, "South Africa is fighting a covert, destabilisation war in southern Africa, all of these sorts of things is the third force", I've started off very sceptical because I think I know apartheid is immoral but surely we wouldn't resort to those sorts of tactics. And every time it's the worst suspicions and the worst conspiracies have turned out to be true. And now that they've come to be conventional wisdom my view on that Malan case was that it was a prosecution designed to fail. It was a prosecution set up by McNally with a very poorly developed state case that was designed to fail, acquit Magnus Malan, assure that he and his henchmen are not in court again on these critical charges that they need to be found guilty of, and that even absolves them from the need to go to the TRC to seek amnesty. So I think it was orchestrated to work out like this from the beginning. That's my view on it, and I think that it's been the best possible outcome he could have hoped for because he's been acquitted on major charges due to a botched state case, due to charges possibly on things that they knew from the beginning they couldn't prove and it even exempts him from having to go to the TRC and make a serious confession. There is no way that the top military and police leaders did not know what was going on and were not central to coordinating the third force and Inkatha's resistance.

POM     Now to the extent that you followed the case and read the judge's verdict where he quite clearly states that indeed there were Inkatha people involved and that they were trained by the SADF and that what the state presented was a botched case and didn't prove, what must be done in a court of law, prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendants were in fact guilty, would you absolve the judge from culpability in the decision or was it a decision he had to reach on the basis of the evidence presented to him?

HZ     Well you see law courts are complex places. They have a certain set of rules and you have to reach conclusions on the basis of the evidence presented to you and if you're a judge what is your duty is to point out that the evidence presented to you was botched and try and expose the kind of conspiracy that I believe was there. But quite frankly it shows the limitations of legal methods in getting to the bottom of cases when the so-called upholders of law and order are at the heart of the criminality because they have all the levers to destroy evidence, to botch investigations, to make sure that a case doesn't succeed. So if you have the police involved in destroying evidence, in protecting and covering up guilty parties, there is hardly any way at all that the legal system can find people guilty with those methods. A legal system based on the law of evidence is premised upon an assumption that the forces of law and order will be that and that they will be above reproach and that they will serve the system of seeking evidence and punishing the guilty. And if that doesn't exist you have a charade of a system of justice through the courts, but quite frankly you can manipulate any outcome by the way you handle the evidence and by the way the people who's responsibility it is to uphold that system and to produce the evidence in court perform their duties.

POM     But on the basis of the evidence presented, do you think that the judge reached a rational, legal decision which by law he was obliged to do?

HZ     I can understand why the judge reached that decision but my view is that courageous Judges in the past in South Africa have gone to the spirit and the heart of an issue rather than the technical legal aspect and have said there is something much more fundamental here and the it's the justice system's role to start exposing that and focusing on that. I think that this judgement has done a great disservice to the cause of truth and reconciliation in South Africa and I think that the judge should have risen above that and seen the broader context rather than the purely technical issues before him. Quite frankly, I don't know how these things can work, but I would have sent the prosecution back to do their work better and I wouldn't have formed a judgement at that point.

POM     I just came from interviewing somebody who at one point in his career was close to President Mandela and probably is pretty close again now but they were separated ideologically for a number of years, but his reaction was that, he was talking about black elites and how the experience of black elites even during the days of apartheid were different from the experience of ordinary people, that Mandela was respected in the legal profession, respected by advocates, by judges, he dealt with white people on a day-to-day basis and there was this dichotomy between their working life and their political life. His point was that Mandela's response to the Malan acquittals was very much that of an attorney, that was that the judge reached a decision, that the judgement of the court must be upheld even if you disagree with it, that if you don't uphold the judgement of the courts you undermine the entire basis of the legal system and therefore invite chaos and disorder.

HZ     You see I think it was the response of a legal person, an attorney, but I think it was also the response of a President. He in his position cannot be seen to be interfering with the courts because it will undermine the entire constitution and as the President and as a lawyer and as a person who has to preside over South Africa's transformation he knows that it's critically important to build upon what we have. It's very easy to destroy the infrastructure of institutions and then never be able to replace them. It's critically important to take the kernel of what works in an institution or a system like the legal system and try and build on that and try and root out the bad parts and cut out the cancel and clearly he's got to do that. And what is the alternative to trying to transform and get our legal system to work? In principle it's one that's independent of the executive, it's independent of the political leg of government, it needs to be. It's working badly for all of the reasons we've seen in the past and that is primarily that the whole justice system and the police were used as instruments of a political policy through the state. What we need to do is change that and we cannot do that by compounding the errors of the past. That's what Mandela sees. And it's going to be one of our most profound problems to get the independent judiciary to work in practice as well as in letter and we're a long way from that because in this process of transformation a lot of people who ran the system in the past are still playing absolutely central roles, McNally being one of them. And the TRC is a desperate and probably going to be unsuccessful attempt to try and give relief to people who experienced profound injustice through the exposure of the truth, because we know that that won't happen through the courts of law necessarily at all. So you see these other mechanisms being brought to bear on the situation. But Mandela knows that the law and the fledgling systems as flawed as they are is all that he's got on which to build and he knows that if he brings that all crashing down on his head it will be impossible to build it. So I think that he was well advised to take that position as President but I think it's incumbent on a lot of us to be saying equally loudly that that was a flawed judgement that does a disservice to the judiciary. Does that make sense to you that answer?

POM     Yes. Just to move one step from that, you had all these revelations, I'll tell you what surprises me is that if one looks at the amount of space and commentary given in the newspapers whether it's editorials, columns or whatever, versus the amount given to the axing of Francois Pienaar as the captain of the Springboks, both events happening in the same week, there is no comparison between the degree of public outcry in the two situations, at least as reflected in the mostly white controlled media, to put it that way. What does that say? What does that reflect?

HZ     It reflects the priorities of the newspaper buying public of South Africa and it reflects I think, therefore, the priorities of the people who publish them. I think there is very much a sense in newsrooms today of producing what readers want and a much lesser sense of the advocacy and the vision journalism that somebody like Alistair Sparks or Raymond Louw or Lawrence Gander would have pursued. So I think that the axing of Francois Pienaar in this sport mad country and given the readership profile of newspapers was a commercial decision. I don't even think it's conscious. I'm not trying to justify it, I think it's outrageous.

POM     What I'm saying is, to the extent that newspapers are market driven and reflect the priorities or the researched priorities of their readership, this would be an indication to me to some degree of people's priorities, that in the end they didn't really care very much about the Malan trial and who murdered those people or whether or not the state was involved.

HZ     Exactly right.

POM     So is this the larger problem, that even as these things are being exposed and people are saying, "Well I didn't know about it and I certainly wouldn't have approved of I"', at the same time there's a countervailing weight that says, "But frankly I'm not really concerned about it."

HZ     I think that's absolutely right and this is the most amazing thing, that people because there's been so much publicity around the atrocities of the past, people can say and need to say to themselves, "I didn't know about this." And yet as this countervailing force that you describe, there is no sense of understanding that I pick up amongst most white South Africans of how lucky they are to be in a situation where the emphasis is so strongly on reconciliation and development and their role in the future of this society given what has happened in the past. There is no recognition of that. There is no recognition of the incredible goodwill and commitment to non-racialism that they've experienced. So all you get is snide comments and cynicism about people running institutions into the ground or not being able to manage X or not being able to manage Y instead of seeing, given where the logic of history looked as if it was taking us in the 1980s, how incredibly lucky we are and how extraordinary well we've done and how incredibly untouched whites have been in this transition. Somebody once said to me, so much has happened and so little has changed, and that's true for white South Africans, and for black South Africans actually.

POM     I want to get back to that, but yet you have a situation where you've had a relatively smooth and successful political transition, where the system works insofar as the constitution went to the Constitutional Court, which turned out not to be packed, which sent it back to the Constitutional Assembly, where the institutional mechanisms are slowly being put in place to make the system more responsive and democratic, where to a considerable degree the lives of most whites have not been affected in terms of their standards of living. In fact in the case of many of them their standard of living has gone up not down, particularly if you were a civil servant and you resigned and took your golden handshake and got rehired as a consultant. Then why are whites continuing to become increasingly sceptical about the future of the country?

HZ     I don't think all whites are but I think you're right that the majority are.

POM     If they've had to bear so little pain in the change?

HZ     You see that's a question that baffles me. That is honestly a question that baffles me and that is beyond my comprehension. All I can say is that they do not understand what is happening and what has happened and what could have happened.

POM     But they don't also appear as it's being exposed to really care about what happened except in the most superfluous kind of a way.

HZ     This is a question that continues to baffle me. I mean the debates you have about access of children into primary schools and about what that will do to the quality of the education and this and that, it's truly extraordinary. You would think that it would be in every white person's interest to do their utmost to get every black child into a decent school, if they're looking at their own interests let alone anybody else's. I can only say that it continues to baffle me and what baffles me equally is the continued patience and goodwill that gets demonstrated on the other side. I can't answer that question because I've got no handle on it.

POM     What interests me about the question was that I found that, one of the things I found in the last couple of weeks is that Derek Keys and Jeremy Cronin think alike.

HZ     All good thinkers do, they're both extraordinarily bright people.

POM     But he had said that the end of apartheid would mean a lot of pain for whites and little gain for blacks and so far it's turned out to be not an awful lot of pain for whites and little gain for blacks. But his larger point was that, again, he says many of the indices are all pointing in the right directions, that we are making progress albeit slow and with setbacks, yet you have whites becoming more sceptical and when foreign businessmen make decisions about investing here they look to what whites think and say, so that if this white scepticism is reflected in a reluctance of white business to invest in the country you're certainly not going to get foreign businesses investing here or if you get foreign businessmen hearing tales of crime and car-jacking and the state of anarchy that's prevailing, all coming from whites they are also not going to invest here.

HZ     I think there are countervailing tendencies. I think that that is true as a general statement but I think there's a lot of whinging and yet people carry on business as usual in some ways. I do think though that we have to see transition as a ten year period and it's a ten year period that I think would have started in 1994 and will continue to 2004 and we've had most of the political changes at the beginning of that period but we will not succeed in that transition unless we can start making change visible for black people through the improvement in their quality of life in all sorts of ways. And for that I think it's conventional wisdom that we need 6% sustainable growth which is why we've had this massive intervention of the macro-economic policy framework. It has been hailed as a document that establishes the policy we need to do what we have to do and I think that that is right and I think the one thing we need now is a major policy thrust to bring down the crime rate in some way, in some visible way. If we can do that the extent to which the international community wants us to succeed, the importance of our succeeding not only for ourselves but for the entire African continent, and the number of skilled people that we have here who really don't have the option of leaving and the quality institutions that we have that can all play a supportive role in achieving those objectives, I think add up to quite a good picture, frankly. I think that the macro-economic framework is the right one. The question is, can there be enough investment and goodwill for it to deliver?

     There has been a lot of lateral thinking, a lot of innovative input into how we bring the crime rate down. If we start showing some progress on that and if we start drawing some of the necessary investment to get the private sector growth and the export-led growth that we need for the macro-economic framework to work I think we have a really good chance. It's really important for whites to stop whinging and to start being positive about it. I agree with you 100%. It's equally important for people to see transition as an economic phenomenon, not only a political phenomenon, so you need, especially investors in the United States, to stop applauding the political miracle and get on with assisting us in helping with the economic so-called miracle because miracles actually don't happen. In politics and in economics there are no such things as miracles. It's the result of hard work, good strategy, careful planning and good policy. That's happened on the political front and it's got to happen on the economic front.

     The key uncertainly until recently for me as to whether we could do that economically was whether we would get the right macro-economic policy. I think we have got that and I think it's also been quite valuable for the government to see how outraged people are about the levels of crime because the only real populist uprising that we've had in this country has not been about housing or education or anything, it's been around the crime rate. I think that that's the only single issue you would have in South Africa in which you would mobilise a non-racial social movement, would be in opposition to the rate of crime and drugs and that sort of thing. It has not happened in the African community, it has happened so far in the coloured community but the signs are there that people have had enough and that the social fabric is disintegrating. So my sense is that the government's number one priority in order to get it's macro-economic policy framework to work, which I think is the right one, and until recently was the biggest question as to whether we could get the economic growth we need to succeed in this transition. Now it needs to show that it's got the muscle and the will to provide a context for growth and that is to bring the crime rate down. That's why I get quite encouraged when I read in the newspaper, for example, a major advertisement in the Sunday Times from Business South Africa, this new tracking device for vehicles, that they can find your vehicle wherever it is if it's hijacked. Now if we can start developing serious technology that counters crime and in fact helps economic growth and make the security industry the cutting edge security industry in the world using methods that are compatible with state based on the concept of the rule of just law, we will have made an enormous contribution. So I think that we've got a chance of doing that.

     We've also got to improve our policing and we've also got to get a legal system that can secure convictions based on a proper system of justice, not on the coercion of people into making confessions. So it's all of those areas that we have to invest massively in. We've also got to create an environment that makes it difficult for criminals. We've got to get good customs law, we've got to get good tracking methods, we've got to make the environment more difficult for criminals and I don't think that this issue is beyond us. It's going to take a lot more investment, it's going to take an overhaul of the leadership and the management of the justice and police systems in this country, it's going to have to take a lot of innovative technological development to make the environment very much more difficult for criminals and it's going to take individual vigilance. Look, I left my cell phone here and I walked out into my office. People overseas wouldn't do that. In Europe you wouldn't leave a cell phone on a table and walk out. And in the areas where you have had individual vigilance and people working together you can seriously bring the crime rate down.

POM     To finish off with one or two things. The first goes back to it's kind of a side bar of the Malan case, if people had known what was going on, i.e. that the state was using violent means, covert means to (a) combat blacks, (b) to combat the total onslaught and communism, and that this involved murder of opponents because they were opponents engaged in murder and sabotage and the setting of limpet mines and the like and that this was necessary to protect their way of life and their value system and to uphold and save the west, do you think most whites, given your knowledge of whites in your country, would have gone along with it, wouldn't maybe perhaps have liked it to be quite so barbarous but in principle wouldn't really have had any objection to it?

HZ     I'm afraid to say yes. You see these kinds of things were exposed at the time. The murder in jail of Steve Biko, people falling out of windows, activists missing and their burnt bodies being found on the side of the road. Those things don't just happen. The covert destabilisation of southern Africa. There was enough exposure for people to be aware of what was going on even if they might not have been aware of the barbarism and the extent.

POM     This is in a way, not to make the analogy but at least to draw a parallel, of Germans saying they never knew about the existence of concentration camps, never mind the holocaust.

HZ     You see the point is that I think the Germans actually knew less because they had a much more restricted press, ironically. I think that South Africans knew more frankly and had the opportunity to know more. There was no such thing as an independent press in Germany. There was no such thing as the tolerance of opposition in Germany and even here although the major opposition parties were banned and even though no black person had the right to vote and even though press freedom was severely restricted, these things were published and 'democracy' for whites did allow a platform for some courageous people to stand up and say these sorts of things, which they did. So I think there were quite frankly more opportunities for South Africans to know what was going on.

POM     So the sense, not of outrage, but of shock because I don't see any outrage, that's now being expressed at the De Kock allegations and the like, have at one level a false sound to them because people knew things were going on? You're suggesting people did know things were going on even if they didn't know the full extent of them and didn't bother to find out, obviously?

HZ     I think that many people would have been outraged if they knew the kind of things that were being at Vlakplaas for example, planned and done, the parcel bomb murders and all of these sorts of things which the government at the time tried to present as black on black violence. But what worries me about this is that there should be more of an outrage about these planned murders than there would be about an entire structure and system based on forced removals, based on separating families, based on not letting people come in to live in the cities. And that was certainly exposed again and again and again and again. Obviously these methods ultimately became necessary, the kind of Vlakplaas method, became necessary to maintain a system which was more and more being resisted. There was a covert war going on. The government liked to deny that there was a war going on because it wanted to maintain support and an aura that they were in control, but there was no doubt that in the war that was necessary to maintain that system the dirtiest possible methods were employed and I think, well people are certainly much more shocked by the methods that were employed to sustain the system, equal shock if not more is due to the atrocities committed through the day-to-day implementation of that system.

POM     But at the time would they have bought the propaganda that we're in a dirty war, our opponents are using dirty tactics, therefore our use of dirty tactics in order to preserve the life and values of the citizens is justified, we have to do it?

HZ     I think that that would have been bought as an argument and was sometimes made as an argument.

POM     Now with the TRC I see perhaps, maybe I'm using a jaundiced eye, but since I've watched it proceed, again, there's a diminishing marginal return to each revelation. Is there a possibility that as one revelation after another of misbehaviour surfaces that public shock, again I don't use the word outrage, diminishes and then people just get turned off and bored unless you nail a PW Botha or something like that.

HZ     No definitely, there's definitely that factor. When you see another TRC page people turn over the page.

POM     So would all of this, I suppose what I come down to and we've talked mostly about whites because I want to talk about them, lead to any fundamental understanding of the past that will affect their attitudes towards the present, stop their whinging and make them understand that there has to be a retribution of some kind whether it's paid in the form of higher works or sharing schools or higher rates or whatever, that this is a necessary part of building the future and that unless they understand that that it becomes more difficult, if not impossible, to build a non-racial future?

HZ     I don't know how we're going to get that understanding established and what amazes me is the constant defence of the slow incremental process that is mounted by people who were in the vanguard of the struggle. I mean Archbishop Tutu is the strongest proponent of the incremental way of reconciliation and forgiveness despite the fact that there's increasingly evidence that that isn't appreciated and taken seriously. And I think that one understands why people are demanding in some quarters Nuremberg trials, to say let's have some demonstration here that there's some seriousness about demonstrating how profound the structural violence of the society was, not even to mention the kinds of actions that were taken by the third force and by the professional hit squads. So in that sense the De Kock case has been reasonably effective but it's only taken one individual in the whole system and I do understand what he's saying when he says he's been a small cog in a very large wheel.

     But I'm actually not sure at this stage how one best benefits the country and the need to keep skills and the need to keep commitment going while at the same time instilling some understanding of the ease with which whites have passed through this transition. And I think what needs to happen is that it needs to be said more and more. It needs to be said repeatedly, it needs to be said by leadership and obviously FW de Klerk is in quite a difficult position because he's trying to build a power base in opposition and trying to define a role in opposition and it's much easier to do that on the basis of exploiting people's gripes and whinges and concerns about the future than it is to build a base of saying how well things have gone.

     And the great misfortune that is likely to perpetuate that is that we still have largely ethnically divided politics in South Africa. We only had 4% of whites voting for the ANC if I remember that statistic correctly. We had a lot of coloured people voting for the National Party, in fact the majority of their voters were coloured people, but that doesn't say anything about non-racialism. It basically tells you something about the coloured people looking for a separate political party to express their ethnic identity and opting for that one. So we're not getting cross-ethnic politics going to any significant extent and that is one of the reasons which makes it so difficult for leadership to be saying the kinds of things that need to be got across to white people in terms of the role that they need to be playing now, not least of all to express the gratitude for having been accommodated so seamlessly in a new society.

POM     There's a bitter irony in the fact that if you look at election figures that the NP is more multi-racial.

HZ     That is a bitter irony but you must understand that the NP presented itself as the party that would represent minorities, threatened minorities and society in South Africa can't simply be divided into black and white as it can in some other societies. Coloured people do see themselves in the main, obviously one can't just generalise, but coloured people do see themselves in the main as a separate ethnic group from black people and they see their future as more secure in many instances, and again I'm not generalising, with the white community because of the sense that they are both minorities in what they perceive is a threatening situation. But the dilemma for the NP is that if it ever wants to taste power again it cannot present itself as a party for minorities, it has to attract significant black support and so it has to get away from this ethnic debate. In the Western Cape this ethnic debate suits the NP very well because coloured people are in a majority and they can mobilise that and they can establish a power base in the Western Cape. But if they're ever intent on extending that power base beyond the Western Cape they find themselves in a dilemma because the more they use the arguments that consolidate their base in the Western Cape the less likely they are ever to extend it beyond the Western Cape. So I think that there is a bitter irony in that but it's understandable if one looks at the demographics and the interests of the different constituencies involved, apart from which, and it's a very difficult thing to say, but apart from the terrible indignities of racialism and racial segregation that coloured people did face along with all other black South Africans, in a socio-economic sense coloured people benefited probably most from the imposition of apartheid polices because they benefited from housing provision to a far greater extent, welfare grants and all of those sorts of things and that's why you now see quite objectively that the first people to feel the real squeeze of equity are coloured people because whites can generally buy their way into a privileged position. Coloured people are finding that they losing teachers that they can't replace through school fees, they are losing welfare benefits because the state hasn't got the resources to extend those equitably to all people across the entire population. So objectively coloured people are really feeling the loss of resources that equity is bringing as the state spreads resources through the society as a whole. I don't want to give the impression that coloureds benefited from apartheid, not at all, but in the system of racially defined welfare grants with more coloured people requiring welfare grants to give housing, education, state support than white people, they are feeling in a very profound way the pinch of the spread of equity to black people. So it's from a purely material sense you can see why it's in their interest to oppose the ANC government.

POM     Just three or four more things. One is a quote from Van Zyl Slabbert in which 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." Would you agree with that assessment?

HZ     You see I would except I differ in that a massive priority has been given to the macro-economic framework, it's been given a massive priority.

POM     What I've heard in the last week from three or four different people is what is again a lot of documentation has been produced and a lot of publicity has been produced, that when it comes to implementation, when you look for programmes being put into effect, that again there's an absence of action. They've got the right document but the follow-up is inadequate.

HZ     I rely on what I read and if the PR is good then it does tend to affect people. I think that there is a risk of that but my sense is that in the public positioning at least the macroeconomic framework has achieved priority. The second thing that needs to achieve massive priority is the investment and commitment to fight crime and to get the education system functioning properly and well. I think that Van Zyl Slabbert's overall view though is correct and I think that the political will is probably second to the ability. I think if there was the ability the macroeconomic framework would be given the priority which it has been accorded.

POM     But is one of the problems with the macroeconomic plan that even though it has been adopted by the ANC it has divided its constituencies. Some constituencies are behind it with a lot more enthusiasm than others and others are downright reluctant about it and one of the ways you deal with this problem internally is that you don't do very much. It's a matter of the priority is holding the coalition together at all costs.

HZ     You see there is a terrible difficulty in balancing the priorities but I think the fact that they didn't consult the SACP or COSATU and went ahead with announcing this macroeconomic plan or policy framework demonstrates that they were making it a priority. If they were putting the coalition or maintaining the coalition above the importance of economic growth they wouldn't have done what they have done. I think they've estimated, and correctly, that the ANC has enough political loyalty in the hearts and minds especially of African people, black people, to carry that party through all of these difficulties for another ten years and that they can capitalise on that loyalty to push through policies that need to deliver social and economic results by then, without which the ANC will then be in very serious trouble. So I think they've put the needs of holding together a coalition well below achieving economic growth because they believe that that coalition will hold anyway because of the loyalty of African people to the ANC.

     So my perception is that they have definitely given establishing that macroeconomic framework priority. They have slapped down people like Jeremy Cronin very hard because he questioned it. They haven't seen the questioning of it by even COSATU as being a profound threat to the coalition and if you read about the NUM conference you will see that they look at all of the possibilities open to the working class movement and they rejected the possibility of forming a separate workers' party because they know the infra-structure and the resources aren't there and the loyalty isn't there. The loyalty is massively and symbolically to the ANC. So my sense is, especially in that arena, the government has realised that they have that loyalty capital to build on and can look to the priority of getting socio-economic growth going as a priority over just about everything else, but that also has some sub-sections, crime which we've discussed being one of them. The question to me is not of the political assessment of that, because I think that that is there, I think of the ability to get it to work is a question that I would put quite high up on the agenda.

POM     Just let's relate what you said about the development of a multiparty democracy. The constitution provides for a multiparty democracy. At the moment and for the foreseeable future you have one dominant party and the likelihood of that dominance being seriously challenged in the short to medium term is pretty low. People talk about either one of two possibilities that you develop; one, is there an effective opposition to the ANC, that's question one; two, on a scale of one to ten how important a priority is it to develop a strong multiparty system and, three, if that were to come about can it only come about through political realignments? Are those alignments feasible or more illusory and wishful thinking? And if those realignments took place what form do you think they would take?

HZ     Obviously multiparty is essential for democracy, OK, a multiparty system is essential for democracy. But equally essential to a successful transition is to hold the centre in this country and the two aren't mutually exclusive. You can have a multiparty system with a very strong dominant party that holds the centre and that is a broad church bringing together all of the other constituencies. I think it is important to have opposition parties that have access to the media, that are effective and that are critical. It is equally important to have a government that is developing sound policies to have a chance of holding together the hopes and aspirations of the majority of South Africans so that we don't have disintegration while we are trying to consolidate this democracy. Therefore, it's crucially important that the ANC should be strong and should consolidate a support base that spans a very wide sector of our society and a very wide spectrum of opinion. And the heart and core of its support base is amongst Africans and it's critical that it should hold that as far as I'm concerned because for me that is the key to the patience that people have had in this transition. That's why I was so heartened by the macroeconomic plan because if it can work, and I think it's got a very sound basis to be able to work, eventually the waiting period will not have been in vain. But it's very easy in euphoric periods of liberation politics that people want instant results and the most amazing thing about our transition if you look at any bit of transition theory is that we've had a transition based on years of economic decline and yet we still have a chance of succeeding. Every bit of transition theory will tell you that that's not possible, that unless you can show people that their material circumstances fundamentally are changing you haven't got a chance of consolidating your transition. The only factor that I can find that explains why we might succeed despite that is the massive loyalty of people to a party that they believe will ultimately deliver and that's why that is so critically important to sustain and maintain. So it's critically important for me, whether the government is doing it or not, that they should make the macroeconomic plan the number one priority, throw everything into the struggle to get 6% sustainable growth, do everything they can to mobilise international capital as they are doing to establish 6% sustainable economic growth and then get a situation in which we can start delivering the goods so we can have a much looser multiparty system that can sustain itself without the crucial interim need of this ten years to hold the centre.

POM     So if I hear you correctly, what you're implicitly saying is that in the short run it's far more important to have a dominant strong political party that is capable of taking hard measures rather than a more splintered and perhaps democratic system in terms of multi-parties which might be driven more by electoral concerns than by transformational concerns?

HZ     If you have to put a stark choice like that to me I would say yes, that is more important, but the two are not mutually exclusive. I would be very opposed to a strong central party that did not respect the democratic process but I think the ANC is respecting the democratic process. I think what it is doing is relying massively on the symbolic support that it's built up and the loyalty it's built up over 75 years or however long it's been, I can't remember exactly how long it's been but for a very, very long time. Now if it was resorting to coercion and to authoritarian methods I would fundamentally oppose it but it isn't and a lot of people have the right to form all kinds of parties and are doing so. What is crucial though is that we have a strong party that can formulate the appropriate policy and can implement that policy and even though it does not delivery instant gratification it can maintain the support of its followers.

POM     Just on the question of a strong party, do you think that it's actions with regard to Bantu Holomisa were intended to send a number of messages? I suppose the first question is, could the matter have been handled better? And two, what messages has it sent? That's the second last question.

HZ     It's got to be the last one because I'm supposed to be at the airport. Look, they could have handled that better. Holomisa is quite right about the need to charge Kerzner and a whole range of other things and he's quite right about the demand for exposure and disclosure on all of those sorts of issues. The fact that he ran a massively corrupt system in the Transkei and ran that whole place into the ground and started promoting all sorts of people to General and Lieutenants and Field Marshals and whatever else you have in armies just when they were going to be incorporated into the South African Defence Force, his legion of corruption is profound but on the very specific point of Sol Kerzner he happens to be right and I think that the ANC has not done itself credit by the way it dealt with it.

POM     What kind of a message is it sending?

HZ     They're sending a message that this kind of internal dissidence to build an internal power base for personal political agendas won't be tolerated even if he's making a good point.

POM     Is it, OK, on your way to the door, in terms of its structural response, their internal mechanisms, there are procedures, this is a family, we can discuss things and then reach a decision and present a public face, nobody is above the party, no individual is above the party, loyalty to the party supersedes everything else, in that sense is it acting in any way that's significantly different from the way the NP used to act in the old days?

HZ     I do not agree with the way the ANC has handled the Holomisa case at all but I think the extent of opposition the ANC tolerates and the extent of discussion and grassroots debate and the extent of the input that ordinary people can make to policy formulation in the party and to questioning and getting responses is absolutely incomparable to the authoritarian methods that the NP ran. The ANC at this stage doesn't have a Broederbond that I'm aware of, although there has been this publicity given to some attempts from leaders in the black communities to start a parallel type of system.

POM     Yet on two major issues like abortion and the death penalty where the rank and file would come out against the leadership, the leadership has said, "Screw the rank and file, these are our positions." So there's consultation and consultation.

HZ     Yes but that's a caucus position. If the majority of the caucus opposed the death penalty you'd get a different outcome. Many parties operate on a caucus basis. Some allow a vote on the basis of conscience and I obviously would prefer that but I'm looking at the macro picture. I don't agree with the way Holomisa was treated. I think it was absolutely wrong and I think it was highly unfortunate and did an extraordinary amount of damage to the ANC and I think they probably realise that in retrospect.

POM     In 1999 will the ANC increase its share of the vote?

HZ     No.

POM     It will go down? Who will gain?

HZ     I think a number of splinter groups will gain but the ANC will be strong enough to sustain that centre I think.

POM     OK, thank you.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.