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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
23 Oct 1996: Johnson, Shaun
POM We're going to discuss the topics: (i) the prospects for a multi-party development in South Africa, and (ii) whether or not a form of public financing of political parties would help in the development of democracy or whether or not in the long run that could prove to be more of a hindrance than a help. So perhaps I should start with the constitution itself in which the preamble states that the country shall be founded on the basis of a multi-party democratic government. What is your definition of a multi-party democratic government and are there any features associated with it that you consider indispensable to the effective working of a multi-party democratic system?
SJ I'm not going to answer with academic rigour, I'm going to give you strong impressions. Firstly, it's been my publicly stated view from the beginning of the CODESA process, the negotiations process in 1990, that multi-partyism is here to stay in South Africa. There were great fears particularly among the white community that the old saw of the African one man one vote once system was going to apply here. I think multi-partyism has taken absolutely firm root and other than calamitous developments, which I don't expect, multi-partyism will go through 1999 and will into the next century. One can't predict too far into the future. That's the first point.
The second is that in my view multi-partyism is a necessary condition of my definition of multi-partyism, it is not government of national unity although government of national unity, which is at its crudest a contrived coalition, was a very, very useful device and a very important device I think to see through the transition in South Africa, it was never a necessary condition of multi-partyism. Now we have the situation of where the National Party pulled out of that government of national unity and I think the fact that the political sky didn't fall in simply illustrates my point. If the IFP were to pull out before the election, in fact I expect them to, before the next elections once again, it would be no threat to multi-partyism. So one has to distinguish completely between a tactical agreement, temporary agreement, and the basic principle.
A very banal definition but I suppose the most accurate for me of multi-party democracy is that any number of parties can exist and act freely and compete freely in the system. There is no definition whereby multi-partyism requires any certain number of parties and there is nothing to say that those parties should enjoy a certain amount of support. So we have a situation in South Africa where more or less you have the ANC enjoying 60% plus of the vote, the National Party 20%, the IFP 10% and the rest made up by the rest. It wouldn't matter in principle if those changed. For example, if the National Party became smaller, as long as the constitution provides for any party, including ones that haven't invented themselves yet, to compete at regular elections and we satisfy those criteria in South Africa. So I don't know if that answers the first part of the question?
POM So the question of there being other parties that have the possibility of being an alternative government or where there is at least a chance of their assuming power at some time in the foreseeable future for you is not a major consideration?
SJ Well I believe that all of them do have that potential. My political analyst side of me will tell you that they are not going to take power, the ANC is going to win the majority of the vote for a very, very long time to come, but they all have the potential to do so and indeed any new party that wished to form itself could do so. There is one other element that I should add, of course, is that the constitution should provide, as it does in South Africa, that the entry levels into parliament are not punitive. In other words that a party doesn't need to enjoy massive national support in order to be represented in the National Assembly and in South Africa that cut-off point is pretty low which has allowed small parties like the ACDP and the Freedom Front or whatever to be in the National Assembly. That to me, what's going on today in that building just over the road there, shows you multi-party democracy because anybody who wants to be in there can be in, including parties that have opted not to be in, like the Conservative Party on the right hand of the spectrum and AZAPO, the Azanian People's Organisation on the left. The point is that the structure of the country is such that if they decided to compete in 1999 they would be able to and they would very probably get a few seats. That means that the system is in place and I think inviolable, that no dramatic tinkering is going to be done with that.
POM But just to push the point a little and not to make it analogous, but in, say, Northern Ireland for example where the Unionist parties had commanded since 1920 over 60% of the vote and the Nationalist parties had between 35% and 40%, the decision made by not just the British government but the British and Irish governments was that majority rule is not democratic rule because the same party, given the nature of politics, is securely entrenched in power all the time. Do you have a situation here where one party appears to be, or likely to be, entrenched in power for the foreseeable future, where no combination of opposition parties has much of a chance of displacing it and what are the implications of that for the development of an effective opposition to an ANC government or an ANC dominated government?
SJ I think you need to answer that under the heading 'principle' and under the heading 'practice'. Firstly let me say on your tape recorder very clearly that I don't dare hold myself out as anything like an expert on Northern Ireland.
POM Let's leave that out of it.
SJ But I would make a couple of founding points, one being that it is not an issue in South Africa as to whether it is one unified nation state. It is an issue in Northern Ireland vis-à-vis the south, so there are differences. The British involvement makes it different.
POM I'm not using them really as typical, I'm just talking about entrenched.
SJ Our situation is almost classical. We are a single geographical nation state, a polyglot population but a single geographical nation state and voting rights are agreed to and established just simply in terms of age and qualifications. So thereby I will come back to my point 'principle and practice'. I can see no justificatory principle for saying that if a certain party in free and fair elections, and that's a point I want to come back to, and under an agreed to and widely supported constitution by the populace, if a certain party can extract the voluntary support of the populace then you can't put any limit on it. If the ANC were able to, it's never going to be able to, to win 80% of the vote or 90% of the vote fairly then that's the kind of democratic outcome that everybody must accept. Now this is the 'principle' side of the argument. So I don't think that there's any argument at all for tinkering with special checks and balances if that's what people have voted for. It's as simple as that and it needs to be simple because apartheid was complicated and apartheid has complicated things in every possible sense of the term. So the outcome needed to be clean, pure and democratic, and that's what it is once the GNU phase is gone, which will be 1999. That the 'principle' side.
In the area of 'practice' I think it would be undesirable for us, and by us I mean the interests of the entire country put together, leaving aside party political interests, it would be undesirable and unfortunate if one party, in this case the ANC, were to increase its support levels to the point whereby it could simply ignore any kind of opposition. But saying it's undesirable and unfortunate is completely different to saying something should be done to stop it. It must be let the best party win out there. I don't foresee it happening in that way although, and this is a view I've held from 15 years before the ANC was even unbanned, is that the simple fact of the matter is that the majority of South Africans, given a free choice, support the ANC. It's as simple as that. The percentages will vary over the years, they may go up a bit from 60%, they may come down a bit from 60%, and that's going to be quite an interesting phase of politics because I think that some realignments are inevitable, that the National Party, I don't know how much detail you want to go into, but the National Party certainly sits in my view at a ceiling of 20% at the moment unless it can dramatically reinvent itself racially in terms of its leadership and its appeal. And in order to do that it would need to look at dramatic things like changing its name, like going into some form of either weak or strong alliance with other parties. Just as an aside I believe that if Chief Buthelezi had been a different kind of person and different kind of politician and had run a different kind of organisation, we would have seen a joint National Party/Inkatha grouping by now commanding about 30% of the vote, but that's simply history has made those bridges impossible. So I think the more interesting thing are realignments. Many people place a lot of store in saying that over time the ANC is itself such an omnibus movement, holding to its bosom black millionaire capitalists and unreconstructed Stalinists in some areas, it's just the nature of the beast, held together by this magnificent personality called Mandela, and it's own history.
POM We're talking about, I hate to use the phrase, I've heard it so many times, the broad cathedral of the ANC from unreconstructed Stalinists at one end to capitalist millionaires on the other and the talk or the belief that at some point there must be a break-up or some form of political realignment. How realistic (a) is that, (b) would it be a good thing, and (c) how would it affect the development of what I would call effective parliamentary opposition, and you tell me whether or not you believe there is effective parliamentary opposition to the ANC?
SJ I think that there has been some wishful thinking on the part of the smaller parties who are sitting and hoping that the ANC will begin to fracture in a major way which would, to bring it down to real nuts and bolts, which would bring its support base down below 50% and therefore open up all sorts of opportunities. Of course just in reference to my earlier remark about possible alliances, if the ANC support were to drop for whatever reason then you would suddenly find that people who had not agreed to be bedfellows before would suddenly smell power and cobble together an alliance, but that's really just futurology that I think is not going to happen. So I think the wishful thinking was that there is going to be a massive schism in the ANC. I don't see that happening although it is possible that elements of the ANC on all sides may either opt out of the broad church or in some very rare cases go to other parties but that's going to be small beer as far as I'm concerned. We've already seen the Bantu Holomisa kind of faction, whatever, which has not left the ANC but been booted out. You may find more of that disaffected, populist radicalism but I have never, and I have never seen it happen in Africa by the way in all the transitions that I have covered there, there has always been the prediction that the so-called moderate rump party would eventually give way or soon give way to a radical populist organisation led by, here, Winnie Mandela and Bantu Holomisa. It's not going to happen I don't think. The ANC support, it's a phrase that I like to use and have used often, which I call "the liberation dividend" is in currency for a very long time.
Now the ANC fought this fight from 1912, they have got a lot of political capital in the bank and it's not just going to be given away by a couple of orators on the side. So that might happen, you might find that on one side of it that some of, say, the black business people begin to be uncomfortable with the ANC, I doubt it myself, that may peel off. But that's kind of interesting but it's not going to change the basic power structure. The area of great interest, and I am not personally confident enough to give you a clear prediction on this, is whether the South African Communist Party as a block will be forced by circumstances over time to stand on its own electorally. Now that would be extremely interesting. I believe that the SACP will resist that outcome fiercely because it's much better for the party to fight within the structures of the ANC alliance and of course some of its leaders have been great heroes both of the ANC and of the CP, but there certainly have been elements within the ANC who have said over the years that eventually the paths must diverge and that would be quite interesting because I honestly cannot tell you what the SACP would get in the way of support as a stand-alone operation. One could certainly talk realistically in terms of 10% and more which begins to become quite significant, and obviously it's in the interests of the National Party and all the opposition parties to see that split happen. It's going to be very interesting to see how the ANC manages that process.
Your second question was about effective opposition. Well, the National Party is in a dreadful position as opposition because firstly it's history is so appalling and it's being re-run on television every night now with the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, so it's not easy for them to take the government on on mere issues of the day because this whole catharsis is occurring at the moment. And secondly, my earlier point which was that the National Party will have to broaden itself from being a white and coloured party into one with significant African support before it could be very effective opposition. But there is opposition in this country in the sense, and it's an important one especially from a newspaper point of view, in the watchdog sort of sense. Even the tiny little Democratic Party, which has 2% of the vote, is bloody active in picking up on scandals and watching - you know the normal scandals of government and fingers in the till and all of those sorts of things. So there's a high degree of this horrible word that we all use now called 'transparency', but there is a high degree of it and it is very important. Our papers are very free. Our decisions as to what to publish are not restricted by anything other than the common law of the land and that's quite extraordinary because I grew up in the days of the states of emergency and being locked up and those things. So there are those checks and balances but there isn't an opposition party in the sense of Blair and Major, that is it going to Blair or Major. It's going to be Mandela and then it's going to be Mbeki, that's quite clear, but there is oppositional politics and it's very powerful.
One thing, a small element but which may be of interest to you when you get down to the detail of what you're going to write, that I strongly disagree with and others strongly disagree with, is that there is still a clause in our constitution which disallows MPs who are elected for a certain party to cross the floor, and I think that's - it's not a crisis, the overall effect is in fact what goes on over there is very inelegant and very messy, but it is democratic, it's bloody democratic, it's true. But I think that that is a bad clause and a restrictive clause because it holds back the fluidity which I think fuels and helps the democratic process.
Just one over-arching point which I'd like to make is that we need to keep reminding ourselves as South Africans that we are babies in the game of democracy, we're toddlers. Whites like to think that they understood a form of democracy because there were elections and all the paraphernalia and whatever, but the fact is that not one of us, black or white, is experienced in the matter of democracy and we are working our way through it now and it puts us in a very interesting position in the media because we're having the debate which Britain went through years ago, the US went through years ago, and that is: what is the proper role of the media? If you are criticising government are you being disloyal? Now there are certain ministers who will phone me, and have indeed this morning, and say, "How dare you? This is traitorous. We're trying to build a nation here." Our answer is always that we are very much behind the patriotic project of building the democratic society but that if ministers screw up or are found to be corrupt or whatever then it is absolutely our duty under all circumstances to publish it.
So I am just giving you that example to say that we're quite inexperienced and people get a little bit scared of the unpredictability of politics. If there are very hot exchanges you will find that people get worried, there's something terribly wrong because it didn't used to happen. Is the government going to collapse? Bantu Holomisa, Winnie Mandela is being fired. Oh my God! Is the government going to fall apart? FW is going into opposition politics. Does this mean the sky is going to fall in? So people are just having to really get used to the fact that it's a robust game that is quite unpredictable and quite messy and I think the more monolithic and party-linish the politics are the worse for the country. So this fluidity is pretty good. I'm pretty damn happy about where we are in terms of the political superstructure in the country.
POM So to take up on that point, you don't think that the fact that the ANC enjoys this liberation dividend, and will for a long time, therefore almost making it certain that it will be in power for a long time, that that creates an uncomfortable base from which to develop democracy, that the kind of developments you talk about which really depend upon the give and take of political competition and the normalisation of that in the process will be absent?
SJ No, I would say it provides a very challenging base from which to build democracy. In theoretical terms, yes it would probably have been easier to build this robust lively democracy more quickly had the numbers been different, had the ANC had, say, 50% and the next 30% or whatever, made it a bit closer. But so be it, the people support the ANC and that's it. If the National Party can find a Nelson Mandela and reinvent itself it has the potential to grow, so I really don't think that any tinkering of that sort can be countenanced. But I would add a rider to it which I think makes us different, as we are different in so many ways from other African countries and other post-colonial third world countries, is that the world has changed so dramatically that it's not enough just to look at the picture internally any more and say, "Well the Nats have got 20%, the IFP has got 10%, therefore opposition and checks and balances and whatever equal 30%." It's not that any more. It's a recorded fact of our history that the collapse of Eastern Europe was a direct contributor to our change here, FW de Klerk will say this on the record, that if the Berlin Wall had not come down he would not have made his speech.
And that leads up to this point which is that whereas there used to be two strong competing ideological blocs out there competing for the favours of medium sized countries like ours, there are no longer those two blocs, there's only one, it's a fractious one but it's only one and that has meant that this government, let's say theoretically or hypothetically it developed its support base up to an overwhelming level like 70% or whatever, then of course you could argue that it can now do whatever it wants, that's very bad for democracy, it can do all sorts of crazy things as we have seen happen north of the Limpopo.
The fact is that the checks and balances now come from the international community, they come from the absolute realisation by the government that it has got to be part of the global economy or die. If it's got any hope at all of delivering, which is crucial in our country, if democracy is going to be built you have to at least indicate to the poorest people not that they are going to become rich overnight but that their lives hold out the opportunity of improvement. And particularly, because I always like to relate to individual people on the ground rather than party spokesmen, individual people on the ground, to generalise, want to know that their kids are going to have more opportunities than they did. If the government is going to do that it requires the growth rate, it requires the international disciplines that are imposed. If you want to hold the Olympic Games in the country you can't turn it into a Gulag. So for all of those sorts of things I think that the roots of democracy are really being watered by a whole range of elements. The reverse element is the dire poverty of all of our neighbours which is a real issue for us in this country because of the massive influx of desperate people. Democracy is the only way to go as this century comes to an end and unless something else very dramatic happens in my lifetime that will be the case for a long time.
POM So in the light of what you said, on a scale of one to ten where one would be relatively unimportant and ten relatively very important, where would you place the development of a strong, viable multi-party system on that scale?
SJ Well it's the cornerstone of everything so if I were to turn the question around and say how important would it be if that did not happen, it's a ten. It's the cornerstone of everything, but I believe it's happening. If multi-partyism, if I'm wrong and multi-partyism were to be defeated in this country there would be no hope.
POM I suppose what I'm saying is, to put it slightly differently, how important is it for the development of democracy that in the short to medium run there become some form of viable alternative to the ANC as presently constituted as a government?
SJ An alternative government, a plausible, alternative government? Well it's not going to happen in the medium term and I don't think it's a necessary condition. That is a low priority. But I don't want to be misunderstood on this. The strengthening of the other parties in themselves, because you've made the question very specific, as an alternative government, i.e. Labour Party versus Tories, it's simply not a question, it's not going to happen. But the survival and the growth of other parties, whether they exist at the moment or will come into being, is absolutely vital. If the other parties, let me try and turn the question another way to answer it, if the other parties were to fold up their tents so that it became de facto a one-party state that would be absolutely disastrous. So if underlying your question is: are efforts to bolster multi-party democracy and to help us through our infancy in multi-party democracy important, yes very.
POM One argument that has been made to me is that if you did have, let's just say 'a viable alternative', is that politics in the country would become electorally driven as each party strove for advantage rather than what you need at the moment which is transformationally driven politics and that it would be much more difficult for a government to take the dramatic steps that are necessary to eliminate imbalances or to restructure the whole socio-economic system because it would be looking at what effect will this have, what impact will this have on our vote and who is going to take advantage of it, so politics would become more petty rather than more transformational.
SJ I agree with the construction you've put on it but just to re-stress the point is that it's a totally hypothetical question because whatever analysts might say or whatever, unless we've truly misunderstood our history, it's the voters who have decided that the ANC will be the party for the foreseeable future and that's going to continue. It's simply going to continue. In fact at the moment we have quite an interesting mix and I think quite an enjoyable mix of what you call transformational politics which is a product of the ANC being self-confident enough about it's numbers to pursue the RDP and various other projects, but on the other hand you do have some pockets of very serious electoral politics, one of them being this very province that we're sitting in where the effect is quite clear - the other being KwaZulu/Natal where the IFP is in power of course. The effect being quite interesting, and I wouldn't really like to be held to justify every element of this statement but there's some truth in it, is that I think the politicking in both of these two regions is of a lower quality and a lot more petty than it is in the areas where the ANC is just going to walk the next election because everybody is thinking about the next election. But it's also terribly necessary, it is my view that it was hugely important that the ANC did not take all the provinces, hugely important. And I say that with no love lost between myself and either the National Party or the Inkatha Freedom Party, but that that was really quite important because people needed a mirror in which they could see themselves somewhere, not just to say we've been totally obliterated.
So I think that there's a mixture but there is the seed, the germ in the argument that you put to me which I've heard before which is a little bit dangerous if you take it to far, which is to say we are now nation building here, we are transforming, therefore we can't afford to be diverted by things like open electioneering and stuff on the hustings and whatever. Well, that I think is self-serving usually as an argument and it's very, very dangerous. We've seen it happen in many other countries where it is supposedly a temporary phase and it becomes permanent. And it goes against everything that I've been arguing about us getting good at democracy and starting to enjoy it and the spats and the battles and whatever that's the lifeblood of it, so the electioneering part is important here as much as anywhere else.
POM What is the role, since the constitution provides for multi-party democracy and even suggests that the government should play a role in strengthening multi-party democracy, what do you think the government should be doing to strengthen multi-party democracy and what role do you think that the public financing of political parties might play in that process?
SJ I think that the government's role is firstly and profoundly to ensure that the individual liberties that are provided for by the constitution are absolutely unassailable. That's the first thing because from that individual liberty comes eventually the ability to form a political party and have your say if you want to, unlike the position in, say, Nigeria at the moment. So that's the first thing. The second I would say is educative and this all comes back and ties into my remarks about our democracy being in its infancy, is real education about how this system works, why it's interesting, why it's changed, why it's more transparent, all of those sorts of things, and then I would personally draw a very, very thick line between that and the next step of funding political parties. The first thing that I would say is that there are priorities way above and beyond the funding of political parties such as building houses, feeding people and all those obvious things, getting the health service right.
And secondly, that it will always, the same debate is being held in the press by the way, should the government fund new newspapers in order to increase diversity? There is always the danger, no matter how squeaky clean your particular government or minister may be, of political manipulation if you hold the purse strings, it's obvious.
And thirdly, that if a political party, as for that matter a newspaper, is genuinely an expression of popular support in one area or another then it should be able to find a way to fund itself. And in this country at the moment I think, and quite pleasingly, unlike America you don't have to be a multi-millionaire to be a political leader of note. You don't have to have a party machine that has millions and millions behind it. You just need an idea that touches a chord. The media is open enough to reflect those ideas and so I would be extremely wary of government funding. Foreign funding is a different question.
POM OK let's deal with it. How about in elections where smaller parties would be at a distinct disadvantage just because they are unable to attract the kind of financial support larger parties have and because donors tend to give to parties they think are going to win not to parties they think are going to lose, and if they think that the ANC is going to be in power for the foreseeable future it makes sense to donate to the ANC rather than to any other parties. So how do you compensate for, again, the manner in which people make practical decisions?
SJ I think there is some precedent in the way that the last elections were held. I can't recall the exact details now but some funding was made available to parties that could at least produce a list of a certain number of names which would at least get them to first base in terms of having some kind of profile. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact maybe it should be extended, I haven't thought about it enough, as long as it is done completely and utterly openly and audited. So if some foundation in Germany, for example, wishes to support a small Christian Democratic party in South Africa that's absolutely fine by me, every piece of foreign currency that can come into the country is good for us as long as it's done openly. I don't have any principled objection to it and perhaps the government would make available, as I say, that minimal seed money to let parties that can show that they've got 10,000 supporters, or whatever it is, at least have some sort of basis. But after that it's each person for themselves and they must then do the political work which will in turn lead to the support. The second leg of the thing would be that the media, and you can't instruct the media but I think we're fairly sensible media, should take it upon itself to make sure that people are aware of the options and give those people access and that applies not only to the private media like ours but to the state funded media as well. And these are not difficult things to do and there are precedents.
POM Would you make a distinction between public support for political parties as political parties per se and some public support for political parties contesting elections in order to level the playing fields so to speak?
SJ Absolutely, and that can demonstrate a certain degree of support. And what is that degree? We have to argue it out and see what's fair.
POM And on the media, do you think particularly with regard to the public media, that each party should be entitled to a block of time not proportionate to its strength but against a formula?
SJ Probably. Especially in a country as you've described it where power is so clearly vested, democratically vested in one party. I think that that party which is government would do itself only credit by erring towards allowing these voices. So, yes, but there are always sensible ways of working this out. You don't want to say, "We believe that the South African Broadcasting Corporation from beginning to end of the electoral process must give equal time to every party." It's nonsense, some of them are tiny little sectional parties. You could very easily suggest that at the beginning in one big week, say, that all parties will be given equal time to establish their bases, that newspapers will back that information up by letting everybody know what's out there and then let the thing go and we make our news decisions and the SABC makes its news decisions simply on the basis that the leader of the African Christian Democratic Party making a statement to a crowd of ten is not the same as Nelson Mandela speaking to 100,000 people. This then gets into the area of news values. But those sorts of inventive ideas and if they are done with goodwill and a generosity of spirit I think would be good for everybody.
POM Some people would say that the idea of any political party, leaving aside the ANC, taking steps to enhance the electoral prospects of opposition parties is simply not in the realm of real politics, it doesn't happen, that it won't happen, that once you have power what you seek to do is not just to consolidate it but to increase it.
SJ Well let me answer that in this way, I was born in and have lived in a country which has confounded those sorts of statements time and time again. In 1989 many of us were dismissed as totally unrealistic, pie in the sky people, by suggesting that the ANC should be unbanned and would be unbanned. That was one. I have sheaths of cuttings till of eminent sages saying that this was beyond the realms of reality and complete nonsense. It happened again before the election where the weight of opinion including all around the world, especially in England, was this election couldn't come off, simply couldn't come off. Well it did. And to make the point more clear is that it came off specifically as a result of visionary compromises which were not in the immediate interests of any of - they were not in the short term interests of any of those parties. The principle of deferred gratification actually applied both from the National Party and from the ANC.
I like to use the phrase which I used in my book to describe why it worked here, and this is journalese but it gives you a sense of it, is that at the crucial moment in CODESA in the negotiations when they came to the agreement which led to the elections one leader gave more than he was forced to give, De Klerk, and another leader took less than he was able to take. Now that is not how the world works, including in Northern Ireland at the moment if I may say so, and that's the basis of the miracle. To say it again, De Klerk gave more than he was forced to give. He was not defeated militarily and he most certainly could have hung on to power for a long time since in a bloody and nihilistic and stupid way but he could have done it and that's normally what people do. And Mandela on the other hand opted for sunset clauses and all manner of compromises when he could have waited and taken more. So that's the nature of the compromise. So if that has been able to happen on that grand scale then I'm enough of an optimist to say that we might confound the critics again if the ANC can be persuaded that these kinds of gestures are in the interests of the country and in the interests of multi-party democracy. They have done things like this before.
POM Just a little aside, five more minutes, do you think that since the National Party has withdrawn from the government of national unity that the ANC has become more autocratic, that the Holomisa saga could have been handled a lot better but that it was intended to send a very definite message to 'elements in the ANC' that this was the way the game was played and they had better adhere to the rules or they would be stamped upon? In that sense, in terms of its internal disciplinary structures, the statements from people saying, "No individual is above the party", are kind of eerily reminiscent of statements that might have been made by the NP in the bad old days in terms of how things internally work, that you can dissent within but not without, you dissent but you don't go public?
SJ Well I would say, just as an aside to start my answer, that the Holomisa case was pretty extreme. It's not an unknown development in developed western democracies for party leaders to boot out people who have really pushed the edge of the envelope, as the Americans say. And Holomisa was a pretty damn extreme case. I think it was very badly handled in the way it was handled but I think it did come to the point where the ANC - there was no way of continuing with this person in your party. So I don't see it in as dramatic terms as you've drawn it. I would say probably, I have to give you a bit of a nuanced answer here because this is a nuanced place, but I would say probably yes, since the withdrawal of the NP from the government of national unity and from the Cabinet, the ANC as a parliamentary party is probably more self-confident and pretty sure that it can throw its weight around within parliamentary rules, these things happen. My own view is that it was a great pity that the NP pulled out at that stage, it was too early and I think that it was done in a fit of pique which was wrong. It was inevitable that the NP was going to pull out before the election but I think it would have benefited the country had they stayed in for another year or so. So it's a pity.
But I would come back to one of my original points which is that there are so many checks and balances beyond simply the voice of the leader of the opposition and the size of the other parties and these are international checks and balances and economic checks and balances and all of them, that the ANC cannot become, without totally changing the direction of our history which I don't expect it to do, and totally isolating itself from the world again, cannot become an autocratic party of the sort that we've seen in many other African countries. It simply cannot, firstly, by the nature of its own composition, secondly by the way in which the world's political landscape has changed and thirdly because democracy really has turned people on in this country and they will fight like hell if it's seen as being taken away. So I would distinguish between a more arrogant tone and a deep and fundamental change in politics.
POM Last question refers to disclosure. My understanding, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that at the moment parties can take donations from any individual, any corporation, any government, any foreign company, in fact any source and there are no limits on the amounts they can take and no legislation that requires disclosure. Probably a three part question: (i) do you think there should be limits on who can give, (ii) should there be limits on the amount they can give and (iii) what should be the degree of public disclosure as to sources of a party's funding?
SJ I say this from one point of weakness and that is that I don't know what the norms are in the United States, for example, or Britain or whatever. I would be quite interested to find out. We in the media had great fun recently, and this is a way of coming to answer your question, in that the whole Holomisa fracas brought out the fact that Sol Kerzner, the hotel magnate, had made fairly significant donations to both the ANC and the NP and we had tremendous fun with that at the expense of the politicians and him. But it did point to quite an important factor. It would seem to me, and again without knowing what the norms are elsewhere, it would seem to me desirable that every single donation made to a political party should be in the realms of public information, it really should, who the person is and what the amount is. It doesn't take a genius to work out that the larger the amount of money the more beholden the party will feel, whether it says so or not. It's horribly naïve to say that there's no connection. So it should absolutely be public. I think there are some restrictions at the moment in that firstly donations cannot be anonymous which is quite a useful thing because that obviously would have been the way to get around it, for a party to say oh well it's anonymous, but to know exactly where it came from and do the favours quietly for those people. And I think on the question of limitations probably a healthy public debate would set a limit. I don't want to put an arbitrary figure on it but clearly if somebody were in a position to give a party a billion rand I would have serious worries about who ran that party. But where you set the limit, I think you would need a public debate on it. Just as with everything else, the more openness in the way that it was done the better and the situation at the moment is not acceptable, it really is not acceptable, and some of the parties, including the ANC I think, have handled the whole issue very ham-handedly. You know we've had this recent - were you here over the last few months?
SJ So you followed the whole Sarafina scandal? I mean, what a balls up, and a very clear indication and then this great smoke-screen of the anonymous donor and whatever. It just showed up all the weaknesses beautifully of the system. It also showed the weakness of the position of the Public Protector. So these are all the checks and balances that I'm talking about. You have a free media, they get their teeth into these things very, very quickly. I think that there will probably be quite a healthy lobby for reform in this area of party political donations before the next elections and I can tell you that our newspaper would be very loud in its support of that reform.
POM We talk about priorities, how important of a priority is it that there should be some form of public assistance for political parties especially during elections? Is it just something that's at this point in the country's development and the problems it faces, something that's academic or something that deserves real and serious attention now with a view to looking to the long term, not to the immediate?
SJ Do you mean public support in terms of South African government funds or do you mean support from external sources?
POM I mean from South African government funds.
SJ I'm not sure that I've applied my mind well enough to the question but I would say that it fits in somewhere between being not urgent; higher than that and somewhere below building the economy and creating jobs. So if I'm forced into doing it on a scale I would put it at five or six.
POM OK. Thank you ever so much.