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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
21 Oct 1996: Schlemmer, Lawrence
POM First let me start with the constitution itself which provides for a 'multiparty system of democratic government'. How would you define that and are there any features that you think are indispensable to a multiparty democratic system, an effective, viable democratic multiparty system?
LS I was going to say I think that one has got to see this in its formal terms and then to look at the informal aspects because formally I think we have everything in place for a multiparty system, not only the formal, at it were, guarantee of a multiparty system by the constitution but all the other rights and freedoms in the constitution really underpin a multiparty system, a competitive democratic system completely. So in the formal sense everything is in place, there is freedom of association, there is freedom of speech and with those two things, at least there are provisions for these, one has the formal requirements. When it comes to the question about an effective multiparty democracy one has got to look at the informal aspects and there I think there are a few problems. The first problem is completely open access of all the parties to all the areas of the country for potential recruitment. Now in our last elections this was definitely not the case. There were areas of the country where the ANC people felt unwelcome and there were incidents where it was made very difficult for them to canvas particularly in rightwing areas in small towns. Similarly for the DP, Democratic Party and the National Party and the PAC, some parts of townships were almost closed off to them by a highly mobilised system of street and area committees which made it very difficult for them to hold meetings to get a message across. So even though I think that much of the impediments, the constraints, have probably weakened over time there is a need for some kind of role by an Electoral Commission to make sure that the parties themselves ensure that other parties have free access to all areas.
The KwaZulu/Natal case is perhaps the most critical recent case where the local government elections produced what can only be an artificial result. I'm not saying that it's an unfair or invalid result but it's rather too polarised to represent any kind of socio-political reality where the IFP had overwhelming victories in the rural areas and the ANC had overwhelming victories in the black township areas of the urban parts of the province. Now this is simply too good to be true. It cannot be that the IFP has that degree of support, that almost exclusive support in the rural areas and the same goes for the townships. In other words opposition people or the political minorities definitely did not feel free to bring out a vote. Now this is something one has got to address if the system is going to become a proper multiparty democracy.
POM How about the question of the comparative strengths of the parties, you have for the moment at least, and maybe for the foreseeable future, a situation where one party is predominant and it's dominance is likely to last and therefore even though there are regular elections the prospects for a change in government or another party or a coalition of parties even for that matter becoming an alternative government are pretty slim.
LS I have tended to fear that in the past very much, so much so that I felt that South Africa was indeed a candidate for a one-party dominant system as opposed to a one-party system. Just recently I've been looking carefully at the evidence for a paper that I've been writing and I don't think it's quite as bad as all that. I think that there is no doubt about it that there is a clear majority of supporters of the dominant party who are hegemonically orientated, they don't like opposition, they would like to see a withering away of dissident voices in the country. But there is a significant minority of supporters of the ANC, I can't say on the basis of my evidence whether it's a 20% or 30% or 40% but it's significant, it's somewhere in that region, who would genuinely be worried if their party had no opposition and for that reason even though they may not switch to vote for opposition parties if their party was becoming super dominant in the sense of an entrenched dominant party system that could last for decades and decades, their enthusiasm for voting would decline very substantially. In other words they would become passive and that would allow the opposition parties a chance to improve on their position simply by virtue of the fact that they would be able to mobilise their supporters and perhaps somewhat of a balance would be restored not so much by competitive politics but by a differential turnout. Already we've seen this very, very slightly in the local government elections where if you look at the overall results of the local government elections the ANC, it's share of the vote dropped from the roughly 63% of the elections down to about 58%. Now that was not due to any defection of ANC supporters to the National Party or the DP or the IFP but simply due to the fact that fewer or a lower proportion of ANC people went to vote.
Now this may be multiparty democracy by default in a sense. It's not the perfect prescription but it's certainly better than nothing and it certainly means that the kind of mass symbolic voting, the sort of stadium politics that one has encountered in some other third world societies is not going to work in South Africa. Already we are seeing that the turnouts to mass meetings have fallen off for all parties but including the ANC. They now no longer can fill a stadium. Sometimes the turnouts for meetings are embarrassingly low. Curiously I think that although one sees certain disadvantages in that sort of political demobilisation, too much political demobilisation is a bad thing. But similarly I think that the almost hysterical level of super-motivation that one knows can exist in the world doesn't exist in South Africa and that's probably a good thing. I think that there are very real chances that by, perhaps not by 1999 but certainly by the elections thereafter, the ANC will probably be much closer to 50% and the opposition parties together will be creeping up to 50% so that although the government won't change I don't think there will be that supreme confidence of having the nation in the palm of your hand, as it were, which would lead to bad government and authoritarian decision making.
POM This is all premised on differential turnouts among different sections of the electorate where white voters, IFP voters, DP, whatever, PAC voters, remain fairly highly motivated and turn out in much larger percentage-wise numbers than ANC voters who will become relatively passive.
LS That's right. You see I don't even think one need talk about race in this regard. The issue which is coming to the fore as the really critical issue in government or in party choice is funnily enough not economic policy or all the things that the parties like to pride themselves about, it's the issue of social morality and social discipline. Now crime has forced this through as the dominant issue and political minorities in this country tend now to be those categories of people, and they can be white, they can be Coloured people, they can be Indians and they can be conservative, morally conservative Africans, deeply Christian Africans, people who feel that there should be a greater emphasis on law and order, a restoration of social discipline and greater responsibility by the ordinary citizens in the country. Now moral issues like this to my mind have a great capacity to enthuse voters, to make them feel committed, to make them convinced that they must go out and take a stand by voting. I premise this scenario that I gave of politics edging towards a fifty/fifty balance on the basis of a moral revival among many Africans who would then vote with opposition parties on the one hand. Now these people have tended not to vote up to now, funnily enough. In all my opinion polling there has always been a large category of people who have said, we have no party. But if you look at their social attitudes they are the moral brigade, they are the law and order people. They tend to be the social conservatives and although they haven't voted for parties up to now, and I'm not talking about a swing away from the ANC, these are the kind of people who still start gravitating towards opposition parties. Similarly on the ANC side the enthusiasm will come down. Call it multipartyism by default but the question is, is this good enough? Personally I think it's about the best we can expect.
POM Some people have this belief that the ANC must inevitably split, that 'if I hear one more reference to the broad church of the ANC I'll go crazy', but to use the phrase that it just can't keep all its various constituencies under the one roof, that they were glued together by their opposition to apartheid, that absent apartheid and the legacy of apartheid that glue becomes loose and divisions particularly on socio-economic matters or economic policy are inevitable, at least that's the wish. How realistic a scenario do you think that is or (i) do you think division is likely to occur in the foreseeable future, that being not just 1999 but well into the beginning of the next century, (ii) if it does take place along what lines is it likely to occur, and (iii) will there be a realignment of politics in any respect along racial lines? It would seem that at the moment if anything politics are becoming more racial in the way that whites tend to vote, even more than they did in 1994 the local elections to vote for white parties and Africans for the ANC and Coloureds for the National Party and so forth.
LS I think the divisions are there, they are already there, they will always be there but the party won't split in the sense of splinter parties hiving off and forming viable political competitors because if that were to be the case then the PAC would have already picked up something out of the quite considerable dissent which exists, the sense of disappointed expectations, of frustrated aspirations, which is widespread in the ANC constituency. My reading is that about 40% to 45% of ANC supporters feel that the government has not lived up to its promises and very often the majority of these people are intensely aware of their blackness, they have a sense of entitlement. Now if they were going to go for some kind of opposition they would have already started voting for the PAC even if it was merely a protest vote but they haven't. The PAC has not budged. If anything it's lost support. So I don't think that given the nature of the kind of political culture that one has in the townships anybody who thinks that it would be possible to set up an opposition party with a chance of success would be crazy. The only condition under which a party like that could be successful and that would mean that it would need the support of the trade unions. A couple of weeks ago everybody was saying that the split between the government and the trade unions appears to be terminal. Far from it. Already there are signs that the trade unions are shifting towards making concessions on macro-economic policy and they will meet the government and they will resolve their differences. Whether it will be good for macro-economic policy is another matter but we're not talking about that. The fact is I cannot see a workerist party becoming established here just as at a certain point in Zimbabwe some of the very same people actually, individuals who would try to establish a workerist party here, were actually involved in trying to establish a workerist party in Zimbabwe. They got nowhere, absolutely nowhere. There was a sense in Zimbabwe among the workers at that stage that the major party was simply too dominant, too ever-present in their local constituencies to make anything like that conceivable. It did not seem to them like a fight even worth getting into and Mugabe kicked them out, deported some of them, imprisoned some of them. Some of them are around here, sort of moving motions in the trade union movement to try and get something off the ground, there are various study groups, but I can't see it, it's simply not possible in those constituencies to organise.
Unfortunately, now this comes to your second point, unfortunately the political partisan counter-balances in this country seem to depend on population diversity. In other words the whites, Coloureds and Indians are going to become the node around which opposition politics revolve and they will gradually draw more and more Africans and that will become a non-racial, very mixed, very, very, to use that rather unfashionable term, multiracial kind of an enterprise. To that extent you will have some bridging of the racial categories which will be good. On the dominant party side I am afraid that it's going to remain a predominantly black party as long as this major problem exists in our society and that's the breakdown of social discipline. This is what hits people most. It's what is dividing people more than anything else in the past and when whites don't support the ANC it's not because the ANC is perceived to be a predominantly black party, it's simply perceived to be the party that they associate with loiterers, dirt on the sidewalks, people who steal supermarket trolleys and leave them lying in rivers and all that kind of thing. It's a pseudo-racism if you like but as soon as a black person stands up and says, "I don't like it either", those whites tend to want to go and embrace him or her so firmly do they feel, so emotive is this concern about social discipline.
So I'm not worried about racial polarisation. It has the appearances of it but it's appearances created by a different kind of thing. It's in a sense the poor ANC got wrong-footed. They came in and all the advisers and all the other people climbed in and said, "Now is our great chance to build a great new South Africa full of progressive, really forward looking and constructive social policy", and indeed the quality of the white papers have been excellent in terms of - as policy documents they are better than anything that we've ever had in the past but they forgot about one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government and that is social control. In other words now they have realised that this is actually where government starts, not by authoritarian means but simply that taken for granted first step in any system of, in any society, that there must be a certain minimum level of adherence to norms and standards. And I am afraid that they lost in the first few months of progressive politics, they lost their grip on it. Now they are trying to get it back but it's much, much more difficult now. This slippery eel has escaped and they are trying to catch hold of it. And that is what divides us and I think that's what opposition politics ...
POM When you talk about norms and standards you are referring to not just law and order or to the operation of the criminal justice system?
LS It's a very wide spectrum of things. In virtually every area of society there is a problem. There is absenteeism in the police force, it's high. There is absenteeism among school teachers, very high. There is a youth culture in the townships particularly involving brutalisation of women, of young girls at school, which is quite appalling and where the community leaders feel powerless to act because they fear reprisals from the youth gangs, these thugs, these macho creatures that wander around and really do behave as if women are their possession. There is a high level of crime. There are high levels of loitering. Our country is probably one of the dirtiest and most littered countries in the world. I have travelled quite a lot, I have seldom seen a country quite as dirty as South Africa. I have seen parts of countries that have been dirtier but on the whole it's quite disgusting. There is a high level of default on rents and service payments but there is also a high level of default on ordinary hire purchase. There is a high level of default on paying television licences. In other words wherever you look you see some sign of the fact that we are not really a very responsible society and we have a curious kind of mismatch. On the one hand we have a new law coming in making for choice with regard to abortion on demand, now I have got no real problem, I'm not socially conservative myself, quite frankly I'm the last person, I've always been socially very liberal and I could hardly claim to have any conservative social credentials. But it is very odd in a society where you have what the Minister of Health recently said, the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the world, for sexual morality or the norms of sexual morality to be further undermined, because that is the effect it has, of having abortion on demand. Usually the action of government given the high rate of teenage pregnancies is to try and counteract that pattern, but there's none of that. In other words we haven't really found a centre of gravity, a kind of a coherence hasn't emerged certainly in the ANC where in a party that's been in government much longer these things, these counter-balances, the checks and balances, the trade-offs, tend to fall into place much more naturally. Here they still have to be created. It's understandable.
Now this is what politics increasingly is about. I'm just doing a study among businessmen, I'm trying to find out why they don't employ more labour. I can hardly get them to talk about production economics. They drive me crazy, all they want to talk about is crime and the discipline of the labour force. They shift aside all the things that I'm really interested in and that is how they make their calculations about labour intensity versus capital intensity and it's almost to me as if they are doing this without really thinking about it but what they are really worrying about is crime. You go to homes, you ask people what is the dominant problem; now it's unemployment and crime, unemployment and crime. It's ceased to become interesting to do social surveys on problems any more because you can predict the results. I think in this situation we will get moved towards a counter-balancing system I've spoken about. The ANC is not perceived to be doing very well even by large, I wouldn't say majority, but by large proportions of its own supporters.
POM Now there was one survey I think that sticks in my mind, I think carried out by the HSRC, where crime emerged as the primary issue among whites, 33% or something, but as a relatively low priority among blacks, 19% versus unemployment of 42% or something. Someone made this point to me in a different context and it was that the attitudes that count are white attitudes because it's from this that foreign investors and the international community take their cue and if they see a white community in South Africa that is edgy, unwilling to invest in itself, preoccupied to the point of almost paranoia with crime and social breakdown, then they stay away from the country.
LS Incidentally just on that, crime has been creeping up the agenda among blacks and it's now the third most important issue. But I think what is significant about that is the nature of the two most important issues, it's very difficult to find something that can challenge unemployment and the housing backlog, for example. Crime has overtaken concerns about education and all sorts of other things, health, so there's no doubt in my mind that it's now become a consensus issue in the country. Whites may not be as concerned about unemployment but everybody is concerned about crime. Now you're quite right, I think it is keeping out investors, it's causing South Africa to develop a body language which simply doesn't look good. In other words it almost doesn't matter what Trevor Manuel says abroad, the body language of everybody is that this is not a good place to be at the moment and the worst thing about crime is that is has a halo effect and this I am finding in my interviews with businessmen, both black and white, because of the crime rate and because the government is not seen to be addressing it they then leap into a generalisation about government to the effect that it's incompetent. In other words crime has become not only an issue of fear and insecurity but a symbol of competence and that's the worst thing about it. Being a symbol of incompetence is almost terrifying for the ANC and quite frankly I've just come back, this morning I was looking through a new set of results I've got from businessmen and women, but I just feel it's so desperately unfair to the ANC. I've asked the businessmen and women to indicate whether they feel optimistic or pessimistic about a whole range of things, about 30 different things. They are pessimistic about everything and it all starts with crime. That creates a mood effect and a set of perceptions and everything else is just slotted in. These guys are screwing up on crime so they will screw up on everything else. Terrifying.
POM I want you to go back to a point you mentioned earlier that kicks back in my mind to previous discussions that we've had, and that is political realignment and geographic pervasiveness of the ANC in the townships or the culture of the ANC, and the question of tolerance. Now the tolerance factor was a much talked about factor in the run-up to the elections and even afterwards. Do you think that if a number of people in the ANC, say the United Democratic Movement or whatever you want to call it under Holomisa, now this is pure speculation I'm just using it as an example, said, "We're going to establish a political and we're going to establish branches in the heart of Katlehong and Thokoza and all along the East Rand", would they just be bundled out of the place by the ANC, that it would not be tolerated as distinct from not attracting the numbers or not attracting the dissenting or even aggrieved or dissatisfied members of the ANC?
LS I think that initially he would have a fairly broad appeal and certainly the turnouts he's getting at meetings indicate that he's got a fairly broad appeal, but this bundling out would certainly occur. Holomisa himself would not vanish. He would draw back to a core of support which is unfortunately ethnic and already there has been talk of Holomisa having a polarising ethnic effect in the black community because his appeal would ultimately be to his home-boys, the Xhosa-speaking migrant workers from the Eastern Cape, particularly the youthful ones who think he's a hero, they think he is tremendous. And I must admit as a politician the guy has got appeal. He's actually a very nice person to meet and talk to. I don't think he's much of a politician but the fact is his situation seems to be such, given his connections through his cousin, with the Eastern Cape traditional leaders that he would eventually become a minority ethnic leader, very much a kind of poor man's Buthelezi in the Eastern Cape. Now once again I don't think that's awfully good for multiparty politics in the pure sense. He's not putting forward a different programme, he's not putting forward different views about how the government should be run. It's symbolic appeals. That's why I said we will get multiparty democracy or something approximating it by default. We're going to get it because of diversity, not because of real policy competition which is what it should be. But diversity is better than nothing. I would rather have multiparty democracy based on diversity than no multiparty democracy at all.
POM I just want to go back to the tolerance factor, absent again Holomisa, would there be tolerance in strongholds of the ANC, townships, for alternative black political parties beginning to organise that are in effect breakaway groups from in one sense or another from the ANC or will they just be chased out of town?
LS I don't think there's very great tolerance in the townships, just as there isn't very great tolerance in the more conservative white areas but I don't think that is the main problem. The reason why lack of tolerance became an effective constraint on democracy before and round about the first elections in 1994 was the extent to which a lack of tolerance could be imposed. Now at that stage you had lots of foot soldiers, you had the street committees, the area committees, you had the self defence units, you had various young lions formations. In other words there were all sorts of collective factions that could be called in to give the PAC a hard time, for example on the West Rand where the PAC really tried and they were put to flight politically several times on the West Rand. Now those movements weakened and even though people may not be tolerant there are now many areas where you can hold a dissenting view and not be beaten up. But what I guess I'm uncertain about is the extent to which the governing party would try and resurrect those structures. There are fewer people available to resurrect because a lot of them have got jobs now, a lot of them are City Councillors and they have now got other things, as I said in this paper of mine, they have got other things to worry about. They've got hire purchase, they've got small BMW motor cars which is ultimately very captivating. So the degree of intolerance that caused Bill Johnson and I to find, for example, that nearly three out of ten people said it is difficult to hold views which are not in agreement with the general view in this area and neighbours are hard on people who disagree politically, those were at very significant levels. I think that's declined but it's a matter of degree. So in answer to your question: some degree of coercion, if you like, soft coercion will be there but less than it was in 1994. That I'm convinced of. So we are improving in that regard.
POM OK, so if we take it (i) that there is unlikely to be for the foreseeable future, whatever that means, a kind of split of some sort in the ANC that divides the African vote and makes for realignment with other parties and if following your scenario multiparty democracy is most effectively promoted through differential turn-out rates and multi-racial diversity ...
LS And ethnic diversity.
POM - and ethnic diversity, what should the government be doing, or do you think it likely that the government will do anything, to promote a strong multiparty system?
LS I think that the one thing that a government can do to promote a strong multiparty system is to promote the importance of issues and programmes. Now for our kind of population the electronic media are most important, radio particularly. I think radio is mixed. By and large the quality of comment on the radio has improved since the old days of the National Party government. I think that the early morning news and public affairs programmes are more interesting to listen to now than they used to be. The trouble is that this is all at a fairly high level of abstraction and means zilch for the man and woman on the street, they don't understand it, this is intellectual stuff, eggheads. What radio should be doing far more is actually using the multiparty system to debate issues, to actually get the leaders to come in and put their points of view, to have debates involving the real people. In other words to have Thabo Mbeki and F W de Klerk debating an issue, to have debates with the IFP and with the PAC, and to plan these debates in such a way that they are sufficiently clear, orderly and simple, in actual fact to train the politicians to come down to the level of the ordinary people. Now I don't know whether governments ever do this because they would be in a sense strengthening their enemies and I wouldn't hold it against the ANC if it didn't do this because what government on earth would actually train F W de Klerk or Ziba Jiyane from the IFP to prepare himself well to get his message across to people?
POM Take votes from you.
LS Yes. That's the job of the SABC and the other radio stations that are going. Unfortunately radio stations are also run by eggheads. They are run by people who are either intellectuals or who think they are intellectuals and the latter are much worse than the intellectuals, the people who think they are intellectuals. So they have these convoluted and complex debates full of cut and thrust and sharp comment. It means nothing to the people, so I think there's a failure on the part of public communication here and if we want to get a multiparty democracy re-established there has to be a movement, a popular movement among people to try and resurrect it in the debate. I listen quite religiously to radio in the morning because I don't have time to read the newspapers so I have to pick up along the way and I have various ways of picking things up from contacts and it's all much easier than reading incompetent journalism and while I enjoy the early morning radio and I enjoy the various programmes it is very, very seldom that I encounter a programme which will make sense in a squatter camp. Now I don't know, I don't have enough comparative experience, whose responsibility is it to try and make sure that the public broadcasters or radio companies or whoever start becoming concerned about ordinary people. We are concerned enough about ordinary people in the lousy music we play, God knows, if ever you get down to the level of the lowest common denominator listen to the music, but you move from the music, which is junk, to comment and then it's sort of pseudo debates in a university faculty and we need to improve the music and lower the level of the debates on politics, something like this. I think it's up to us, the ordinary people, I don't think we can expect the ANC to do it.
POM You mentioned earlier on that the SABC has become a polarising influence in the country. Could you elaborate a little on that?
LS The SABC has taken, now it hasn't done this deliberately, let me assure you, I don't think there is any male fides on the part of the SABC. On the Afrikaans programmes, for example, you've got comment and you've got journalists that work for the SABC who are quite far ahead of the rank and file Afrikaners on issues and I know from my own experience in Afrikaans communities because I come from an Afrikaans background that there is nothing that is quite as infuriating as when the person who is supposed to be delivering the service for your community has a value system which contradicts everything you think, not that I think, because I don't have conservative Calvinist values any more, but I know how some of the Afrikaners I know and my relatives feel about it, it drives them almost blind with rage. They don't mind a member of the ANC standing up and talking about the merits of, say, the representation of pupils on school committees. They say, "Oh well, you know, that's what that kind of politics is like." Where you get an Afrikaans commentator standing up and saying that pupils should be entitled to challenge the authority of the school principal, now take that into an Afrikaans community, they nearly go bananas, I can tell you, the rage that it creates. In other words there is nothing as bad as a turncoat and where the SABC is making a mistake, and I don't think it's deliberate because they really don't know enough about the different communities they are supposed to be serving, is they don't allow communities to speak for themselves. There is always this middle level of smart guys, the chattering classes that will come in with glib, smooth, convinced arguments and that tends to irritate people. So that is the kind of polarisation that I'm talking about.
Another thing is the SABC has inherited a problem which is much more complex and that is the problem of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. Now here we've got a really complex issue because nobody can deny that we need the Truth & Reconciliation Commission on the one hand, it is necessary to somehow normalise the situation and to have at least some sort of symbolic redress for all the things that happened in the past. Now that is one powerful moral imperative. At the same time there was another one that came out of the negotiations and that was the almost equally strong, or perhaps equally strong moral imperative of putting the past behind us. It was in a sense the unwritten script in many of the settlements in the negotiations that we will bury the past, we will agree to work together. The Truth & Reconciliation Commission, for perfectly justifiable reasons, is negating the other one and quite inadvertently it's having an effect of alienating people. As much as it is reconciling it is alienating. I don't know, you see just this morning somebody got up in his amnesty plea, a former police General, and claimed that PW Botha had ordered the Khotso House bombing. Now that is entirely plausible, I find nothing surprising about that. Many people had assumed that we could quietly bury and forget about PW Botha, that it would be a good thing to somehow purge him out of our system. Now suddenly he's been brought back, all the angst, all the animosity, all the enmity is back because PW Botha has been brought back and put among us. Now I'm not sure that Archbishop Tutu and Reverend Boraine actually understand that this is one of the consequences and that sooner or later they're going to have to come to terms with this. I defend their right to do what they are doing, make no mistake about it, but you know nothing is as simple as that and there's something else ...
POM There's a phrase 'good intentions randomise behaviour'.
LS That's right, yes.
POM Just to move back a step. On a scale of one to ten, given the priorities and the problems the country faces, how important is the investment, whatever that is, social investment, intellectual investment, political investment, financial investment, to establish a strong multiparty system, where one is relatively unimportant and ten is very important?
LS I would say it's 9½. If you think about what the mature democracies have, often in a mature democracy some quite alarming things can happen. For example, in the United States a couple of months ago they couldn't pay civil servants' salaries for a couple of days and they had to shut Washington down, as you know better than I do, because of disagreements about the deficit. That was a serious little sort of blip on the chart for the USA but a foreign investor looking at that wouldn't say, "Oh my goodness, gracious me, is this country coming apart?" because that foreign investor whether he or she understands or knows it or not senses that there is a system of checks and balances in that country and that nobody can run away in any particular direction and things cannot go into a downward spiral because there is a kind of organic pluralism. In other words outcomes in that society are the result of a fairly integrated competitive process which in the end makes sense and there is nothing as reassuring, to use this horrible word, as an organic unity. Organic unities are reassuring because they have emerged, they have come into being over long periods of time. So one has faith in America, one has faith even though millions, God knows I don't know how many millions of German trade unionists marched in Bonn earlier this year, I think it was April or May in a huge demonstration against the welfare policy of the government, nobody said "Is Germany coming apart?" Yes, there were big problems for Kohl but they realise that Germany is much bigger and more cohesive than this particular incident.
South Africa's problem is that too much appears to depend on too few people. Too much is expected of Thabo Mbeki after he takes over from Mandela, just as too much is expected of Mandela now. There is regional dissent in many countries. The north of Italy wants to break away; nobody thinks that the future of Olivetti is at stake. But Buthelezi can create the impression that Durban harbour somehow has an insecure future in South Africa. Too much depends on Buthelezi and there are many things the country has to do in order to create that reassuring interaction which is larger than politics but I think it has to start with political pluralism. It has to start with a greater density and interaction of political initiatives than we have in South Africa and that I think is why multiparty democracy is a 9½ out of ten.
POM Just to look at one last argument that has been raised, it has been an argument against right now the development of a strong multiparty system, and the argument was that if you did have a competitive political system at this point in the country's development that the politics of the country would become electorally driven not transformationally driven and that would be to the detriment of transformation and development, that parties would be scoring political points off each other and jockeying for electoral advantage rather than looking at the real needs of the country and the sacrifices that must be made and the responsibilities that must be assumed in order to bring about the fundamental changes that are like the jumping off spot for future development.
LS If somebody could define transformation for me then I could respond to that better. I think in most instances what people mean when they talk about transformation is precisely the sort of things that political parties should work into their own programmes and if the argument is that somehow electoral politics will curtail transformation, or the implication of that argument is that we should have some sort of redemptive hegemony for a while. And indeed if you look back in Communist Party literature, not only South African but more general Communist Party literature, that notion of hegemony has been alive for a long time. That's in the idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat, a dictatorship that the proletariat had very little share in, which is usually run by apparatchiks and intellectuals, because the proletariat is made up of normal people, they actually understand realities far better than intellectuals. So I have got very little sympathy for that argument. It sounds to me like the old Leninist hegemony all over again. If transformation is really necessary for this country, and there are areas where it is, there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn't be debated and negotiated in the electoral process.
POM Moving to the question of financing of elections and the financing of political parties, what's your understanding of what political parties are allowed to do under the current law with regard to fund raising?
LS Well my understanding is that parties are allowed to collect money from well-wishers and benefactors and that they need not disclose who gives them money, that they can collect money from their own members, obviously, through ordinary membership dues or extraordinary membership dues, and certainly in terms of the rules for the last election each party was entitled to a particular grant, an amount from the government, which was very important for the smaller parties. It made a hang of difference to the PAC for example. That's my understanding of it.
POM What about the public financing of political parties to further a multiparty system and there I would distinguish between financing parties in parliament, financing parties in their day-to-day operations and financing parties in elections, and should a distinction be made between parties already in parliament and emerging parties and while I think the constitution talks about funding would be 'proportionate and equitable', is there not a certain contradiction between the two?
LS Look I don't think that parties should be financed in parliament. The parliamentary representatives at the moment get rather too much. One must assume that public representatives have a sense of duty and mission and that they are going to use a part of their own salaries to travel around because they are supposed to live their professions and at the moment we have additional allowances to MPs to organise things in their constituencies and that sort of thing and all of this is open to abuse and I know that it is abused very largely, or very substantially. I think that the MPs should get a salary and that they should be allowed certain tax advantages because of the extraordinary amount of travelling that they do and they should have a certain amount of free travelling and that is it, no further support for parties. Parties should tax themselves to do that. So we've gone a little bit too far on that because there is this allowance for parties to MPs to get an allowance to run constituency offices and that sort of thing. That is supposed to be the job of voluntary organisation of political parties. Then financing parties in elections, I think the government has got to make a contribution to try and level the playing field somewhat and the contradiction which you mentioned I agree with, it can't be proportional and equitable at the same time. So you've got to try and hit a mid point between proportionality and equity and I think a simple mathematical exercise, take the slope, the degree of the slope of proportionality and divide that by two so that you reduce the slope of inequality by 50%, by half, and fund them on that basis. That at least gives the smaller parties a little bit of a hand and reduces the proportional advantage of the big parties, it's a straightforward mathematical exercise. There's no ambiguity to it so that if a party gets 6% of the vote it will get 12% of the government finance.
POM And if it gets 80% of the vote it would get 40%?
LS Yes. I think that one would have to see how the mathematics of the situation work out. Perhaps it would be affected by the steepness of the slope to start with. I haven't thought it through.
POM If it added up to 300% we're in a problem.
LS In other words a fairly clear cut decision and that's it. No arguments about it.
POM How about political contributions? Should they be limited to individuals and/or corporations, should foreign fundraising be illegal, particularly money coming from foreign governments? Should parties be required to disclose the amounts they receive from individuals, corporations or foreign sources?
LS I'm at sixes and sevens about this. I don't know. My first inclination is to say that foreign grants should be limited.
POM That's from individuals or governments or companies, or from all three?
LS From any source, but perhaps there's a certain amount of chauvinism in this. I see it as a complex issue. I've got no hard and fast opinions. We are a global village. The economy, the world economy is an international economy and quite frankly if Japan wants to fund the Republicans or the Democrats to lobby for freer trade it is part of the international process. On balance I think I must take a sort of a liberal attitude to this and say let money come from wherever it comes. Perhaps I would say this, that it should be published because that is the only constraint I would strongly argue. There I think it's absolutely necessary to be transparent, it should be published. But other than that let the money come from wherever and in whatever amounts.
POM On media, should one distinguish between the use of public media and private media and in the public media should blocks of time be made available to the parties during elections? Should equal blocks be made available?
LS Definitely. The parties can get differential amounts of assistance from the government because obviously a majority party has got to travel further to get to see all its constituencies than a smaller party. But when it comes to the media there is absolutely no reason to give additional help to the strongest by saying that a two thirds party should get two thirds of the media. I think that what one should do is to say all parties above a given level, because there are crazy little parties, tiny little things that will arise just for the sake of getting television coverage, so in other words all established parties above 1% of overall support should get equal time. It will actually do the public good to hear the views of the PAC or the ACDP or one of the smaller parties. There I think the media is the one thing where you can try and equalise.
POM That would be public media?
LS Public media. Private media can do what they like, they are private, it's their money. If they want to just punt one party it's their business.
POM So essentially you are for public financing in part of elections but that otherwise it should be up to the parties themselves to raise their funds, that they should be allowed to raise them from whatever sources they like but that disclosure should be definite?
LS Yes. Mr Kerzner should be seen to be giving money to two parties at once and the parties should be seen to be receiving it. I don't mind, that's good.
POM So if you had to do this on a balance sheet, make the arguments for the public financing of political parties and the arguments against the public financing of political parties, what would your balance sheet look like?
LS Well obviously my balance sheet is about fifty/fifty which is why I've argued for dividing the slope of proportionality by two. Bandwagon effects are powerful, there's no doubt about it, and I think that bandwagon effects by their very nature and the terminology 'bandwagon effects' are not anti-democratic as such but they lower the quality of democracy. So public financing should at least go half way towards countering bandwagon effects. Fifty/fifty, my balance sheet is fifty/fifty. I can see the dangers, I can see the advantages, so let's try and have a qualified form of public financing.
POM Do you see that qualified form of public financing as being necessary to the emergence of a viable multiparty system or do you think a viable multiparty system can emerge independently it?
LS In a society which is not dominated by government to the extent that ours is, by government as an institution, in other words if we had a lower proportion of government expenditure in the GDP, I would be inclined to say let the parties fund themselves. But here because of the size of government there is an underlying inevitability of a kind of an intended patronage. There is intended patronage as well but even if one were to get rid of that simply by virtue of the fact that government is so large and that the party controlling the administration at any given time is so very influential as a result of that and people are so dependent on government, there is such a large proportion of people who depend for their total livelihood on pension payouts, government pension payouts. For that reason I think government has got to counteract its influence and fund its oppositions to some extent, to the extent that I've indicated.
POM And lastly, it almost slipped my mind, are there any countries that come quickly to your mind that South Africa should be looking at in terms of how they finance their political parties, or how political parties are financed?
LS I don't know enough about it, I really don't know.
POM And the second is, again on a scale of one to ten, how important is some form of funding of political parties, or a form of funding along the lines you've outlined to the development of a multiparty democracy where one is unimportant and ten is very important?
LS I would say it's about four, importance of four. In other words there are other factors which count more heavily to it. On a scale it's about four.
POM That's it. Thank you ever so much. As always it's a pleasure talking to you.