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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
26 Oct 1996: Naidoo, Jayendra
(and L Bethlehem)
POM Let me begin with a statement from the preamble to the constitution itself which says that the constitution will provide for a multiparty democratic system of government. What's your understanding of what a viable multiparty system of government is and are there any features or characteristics that you would consider indispensable to the operation of a viable multiparty system?
JN Well I think firstly we need a multiparty democracy, we need an approach to democracy which allows for all citizens to express themselves, to organise according to their interests, social interests, political interests, and to do that the constitution must, correctly, underpin that regime by rights for people to express themselves freely, to hold meetings, to communicate. So I think the framework of rights is very important in establishing that. In our social condition with society still being relatively polarised there's not much space for effective opposition parties to develop because the opposition parties like the National Party, which is the only significant one, is wholly incapable of developing into a broad, society-based party which represents all sections, so it represents increasingly a smaller and smaller section, being increasingly discredited by its past. I think it has a very limited capacity to be an effective opposition but it exists and it should exist and it should be allowed to reform itself and it's entirely in the hands of its leadership to exercise its rights and it's judgement.
The other factor that I suppose impacts on the dominance of a single party, the ANC, is the ANC's own subjective effectiveness about the kind of party it is and it wants to be and how it organises itself, how it communicates with its membership, how it is able to operate as a governing party. I think the ANC does tend to lose a few supporters now and then because some of the hard policy positions it has to take, you've got to make more concrete decisions than you had to, or than the ANC had to as a general opposition party and that creates niches where other smaller parties can enter. If a party has got an anti-abortion view, some of the people who are ANC members who are opposed to abortions may find they will do that. But at the moment there is no party like that anywhere in sight and the history of the pre-election still weighs very heavily and I think that history is one of the most important factors. The other thing I think is quite important because in this situation, with or without a constitution, given the state of polarisation of society, you could easily have a move that undermines multiparty democracy except for the fact that the ANC has ...
POM When you say there could easily be a movement that could undermine ...?
JN There could easily be a tendency of force, a social phenomenon that undermines multiparty democracy, like we have found in, say, Zimbabwe, where ZANU PF became the overpowering single party and then sought to consciously close down the space for other parties and impose a one-party order. That thing is objectively possible even here given the state of dominance except for the fact that the ANC is a very broad church and has got a very long history of doing things, procedures for resolving differences and accommodating different points of view and that gives the ANC, I think, a very strong set of internal pressures that keep it open, that keep it flexible towards other opposing interests even though, like in all parties, there are people, individuals inside of the ANC who would become very over-zealous in their attempt to win voters and who would even conceive of ways of closing down the space by unfair means, but there are enough other pressures inside the ANC to make sure that the ANC is not able to easily abuse their position of political dominance that it has.
POM Let me just go back to a couple of points. One, you don't believe there will be any effective opposition to the ANC in terms of the development of a multiparty system for the foreseeable future and that it is the wishes and aspirations of the people that account for that?
JN No I think it's got nothing to do with the wishes of people, it's got to do with the incompetence and the ineffectiveness and the lack of vision and lack of credibility of alternate parties. The people may well have many different points of disagreement with the ANC leadership from time to time; the death penalty is one question. I know certainly within the trade union movement there are lots of rumblings in more ultra-left forces, if you can describe them as that, gathering momentum in critique of some of the government's policies around fiscal matters and so on. But at the level of the political parties, particularly those that are competing in elections, you've got the National Party that I think by the time of the next elections once the Truth & Reconciliation Commission has finished its work, there will be hardly anybody that's going to vote for them, there's the IFP which is being pinned back in its regional base but even there there are a lot of cracks emerging because it too was very closely tied to a system of patronage in KwaZulu-Natal which, once the system of patronage unravels, doesn't have much of a political cohesion as a party. Then there's the DP which represents ...
POM Two percent.
JN Well hardly anything really. The PAC which is moribund for some time because of the lack of vision and credible leadership. So you've got nothing. By the time of the next election you are faced with the ANC itself, it's shadow, because people will go to the polls to either vote for the ANC or they will decide to stay at home and play soccer or something because they couldn't be bothered because the result is assured or because there's nobody else they would like to vote for. So I don't think there's a big disenchantment, there's a very, very small disenchantment taking place but even those who have got different points of view I don't think they've got many alternatives and that feeds a certain amount of fed-up attitudes in the system because when you haven't got a strong opposition, even the members of the ANC don't get taken seriously enough because the leadership is not often as alert to the issues the members are raising.
POM So you would think that (i) the attempts of the NP to define itself as the new National Party is really wishful thinking rather than something that's based in political reality, and (ii) my subsidiary question would be given the preamble to the constitution which states that there shall be a multiparty system, what should the government be doing to encourage the development of a multiparty system?
JN Well this is a very difficult question. I think the best a government can do and a ruling party can do is to resist any tendency internally to close down the space for democracy, to close down the space for the media, to close down the space for critics outside, to close down rights for organising, to use bureaucratic means to interfere with other parties exercising their rights from municipal venues or whatever or change the rules which allow for you to excessively fund or to co-opt a state apparatus to your own political party. Those are the things that a ruling party can consciously avoid to do and I think the ANC has some possibilities of avoiding these sorts of abuses which are many of them subtle and take place naturally without malicious intent because there are a fair number of democratic traditions well established in the ANC. What the ANC can't do is go out and organise members for the NP or give another group of people a few ideas about what would be an alternative vision. [There are alternate visions that competing parties can ...]
POM Do you say the ANC can't do that?
JN No, no, of course, why should it? Why should any party go and get another party organised against it? That's for other people to do to organise themselves and time itself will tell whether there are groups, social forces and interest groups that can take that space.
LB That's also where NEDLAC comes in because democracy in South Africa through the idea of NEDLAC is not only about parties but it's also about other institutions which allow interest groups to express their views and opinions, to criticise and to have input. An institution like NEDLAC allows that kind of opposition and that kind of institutionalised influence over policy to be made not through party politics but through other kinds of forces, trade unions, business and community organisations. So in a sense that deepens democracy in this context where we have an ineffective opposition to government in parliament.
POM So you both would agree that at the moment there is no effective opposition in the known parliamentary sense to the present government?
LB If you think about it, the Western Cape, which is the second wealthiest province in the country, is in the hands of the NP and KwaZulu-Natal, which is the most populous province of the country, is in the hands of the IFP, so it's not that the ANC simply holds power without any opposition. There is at a provincial level especially some power and I suppose it depends on the extent to which the NP can reformulate itself as a centrist force, possibly with the DP and possibly with elements of the IFP, but I think I agree with what Jayendra has said that at this stage it seems like an unlikely project to succeed because of where the NP has come from historically, and also I think because of the fact that the ANC has become more centrist or closer to the centre than it was before so that, for example, the NP's economic policies wouldn't be terribly different from the ANC's. So it's not that, for example, they can now attack on a new ground and say well we've got a much better economic policy, because the economic policy I think would probably be quite similar.
JN It doesn't bring out the issue about democracy here and if parliamentary multiparty democracy is not the effective vehicle for exercising checks and balances on the ruling party our tradition of organisation of the trade unions, organisation of the employers, the unfortunately concentrated structure of our economy, the organisation of NGOs and community organisation and a tradition of alliances where there is still a fair amount of internal democracy so it's not leadership just becoming affiliated to a common alliance but Sam Shilowa has to go down to his members and constantly get their mandate for the things that he would agree upon with the ANC, and each entity in these alliances or these looser coalitions or institutions like NEDLAC comes forward with a fair amount of honesty and seriousness with which they are representing their own particular social interests and that does make our model relevant here in this country.
POM So just to talk about NEDLAC for a moment, in terms of the development of democracy, or the institutionalisation of democracy, what role does it play that is distinct from the role that political parties would play?
JN It doesn't operate in any like a political party.
POM No, I said distinct from.
JN It's a forum for where the government is able to reach agreements with the different social forces that are represented here and we've tried to make them broader so it's not just business and labour but it includes in the community representatives of the Civics and the women and the youth and the rural organisations, so virtually all groups that are organised at a national level in a representative way with members that they can take mandates from are able to get access to this forum. But through the existence of NEDLAC, through the processes, through the issues that have been discussed here, the agreements or even where there is no agreement, the information and exchange that is taking place, there is a milieu for government decision making, experts in government, legislative processes to be informed and to be empowered so that even when you get to the implementation phase you have got a set of partnerships. So it's a bit different, I think quite different to the role that a parliamentary party would have as opposition, raising critiques, etc. But the same critiques that an opposition party would raise in parliament about a particular piece of legislation also get raised here by a party whose interest is directly affected.
POM Then do you see in the short to medium term the development of the entrenchment of democracy coming through organisations like your own and NGOs rather than through the parliamentary system where there is, as you said a couple of minutes ago, ineffective opposition, so the checks and balances in a way have to become institutionalised extra-parliamentary rather than intra-parliamentary?
JN I'm interested to hear what your answer is on that.
LB I think it's most of what you were saying earlier but it's not either/or, it's not this institution or similar institutions rather than a parliamentary path. We clearly have a parliamentary path, the constitution underpins a multiparty democracy with all the kinds of freedoms that Jayendra spoke about that are absolutely critical to democracy, but we have tried to go for a model in South Africa which deepens democracy by having institutions like NEDLAC where the parties don't simply go through parliament or don't simply vote once every five years, but in an ongoing and comprehensive way are able to influence the decisions that are made by government. I suppose also that parliament really deals with legislation and here we are also dealing with policy so that there's an interaction with government departments as well which I think is also part of democracy.
POM Are organisations like NEDLAC becoming substitutes, not substitutes, are they in the absence of there being an effective parliamentary opposition to the ruling or the ANC, does the role of organisations like NEDLAC become more important?
LB Maybe it does because it represents an alternative way of influencing the policy debate. But I think we shouldn't overstate the ineffectiveness of the opposition. Certainly there is no question about an opposition that could take power from the ANC in the foreseeable future but especially on those critical aspects where one needs a two thirds majority the ANC does not have a two thirds majority. So, for example, changes to the constitution, etc., are not possible for the ANC without alliances and even on issues that don't come down to voting, for example, issues that are discussed in parliament and in the parliamentary committees, the other parties are able to extend some influence. I don't think we are in a situation which is close to a one-party state but at the same time institutions like NEDLAC help to deepen the democracy that we've established in parliament.
POM Would you differentiate between what one might call the framework of a multiparty state being provided for in the constitution but the practicality is that it doesn't exist?
LB It certainly exists. We have quite a vibrant multiparty democracy in this country but what we don't have is an opposition party that has a prospect of taking power from the ANC in the next election.
POM How would you distinguish between the two?
LB That we have very vibrant debates over the policies of this country and we have a party - OK it's a very vibrant debate and we have a party that does not have a two thirds majority and therefore has to take the other parties along with it in a whole lot of decisions.
POM That's not my understanding of the constitution that you have to have two thirds majority for the routine passage of legislation.
LB Not the routine passage of legislation but certainly for changes to the constitution.
POM Well let's distinguish between the two in terms of what would be called a parliamentary democracy despite the fine debates that might go on in parliament and the fine speeches; do opposition parties really have any capacity to change legislation as such? Are they really effective as opposition in parliamentary terms? And, two, are they effective as opposition in terms of being an alternative to the present government? Three, to run on with the question, should the government be doing anything to strengthen the development of party parliamentary democracy and if it should be doing something what should it be doing?
LB I and Jayendra can't really answer that question, but I think there's one question about there's a 50% that the ANC holds and therefore can pass legislation, like on abortion, where there is opposition. But at the same time I think the ANC has got a particular style and that style throughout its 2½ years has been a style of consensus building which started with the government of national unity which put people in Cabinet and there are still people in Cabinet who are not there by virtue of the number of votes that they got but are there by virtue of the fact that the ANC has been committed to a national unity or consensus building approach. So on many of the key structural questions of our society I think that the ANC has tried to bring in the views of the other parties and I don't see the ANC as a party which has simply said, well we have a majority and we will therefore push through whatever it is that we want. So I think that that consensus building approach has been a valuable one and it's something which extends into the creation of an institution like this.
POM I think we're on two different tracks, that the constitution in its preamble provides that there shall be a multiparty democratic system of government.
JN If I could just come in there. I think multiparty must mean something in our conditions that has got a meaning that is perhaps a bit different to the meaning it would have in the United States where the gap between those who well off and those who are poor is not as stark an extreme as it is here, so you can have two equally balanced parties dominating the scene that represent different social forces. The same in Europe. Here where you've got such a vast polarisation, not in attitudes, that follows the actual social economic polarisation. When different social forces organise themselves on a democratic basis where each individual counts equally well it will be for a very long time and until higher levels of income parity are achieved you will have domination of the party that represents a broad coalition of the poor. And that's what the ANC is. For some time to come the ANC will remain the only show in town in terms of political parties for the workers and their families and their unemployed relatives simply because of the large numbers, and as rural people are more closely associated to the workers than to the employers in Sandton or wherever.
So achieving multiparty democracy here is going to have a different form and maybe we need to be able to maintain an open democracy where any group, any interest group, ultra-left or whatever, can organise itself freely, where ultimately inside the ANC the different forces that are brought together in coalition you may well find a tendency emerging where the ex-COSATU delegates in the ANC are able to speak as a lobby on a particular point separate from another lobby in the ANC which represents a rural constituency and so on. I think that's the kind of direction that's important, where a lot of the focus for an open democracy must be on the practices inside the ANC, that they allow different interests to speak to their own particular interests. I think that's, for me, a much more interesting area.
We had a meeting the other day, former COSATU people, in Cape Town, there's one also today in Jo'burg, and that was quite interesting that the former trade union delegates who are now members of parliament feel a little bit constrained by the general pattern of the parliamentary party and the discipline that it imposes, they don't always get a chance to speak what the trade union viewpoints or interests are. And how to deal with that is going to be one of the interesting questions. I would say the emphasis is really not towards promoting all sorts of different parties but to promote an environment where different parties can try, if they have got the capabilities to try, if they position themselves well, but the rules of the game allow them to exist and to develop without closing them down by legal or administrative means. Now NEDLAC is not counter-posed to that but in the milieu at the moment when there is no effective opposition in sight it becomes the vehicle through which other interests that are not represented in the ANC, or which are weakly represented in the ANC, can have an influence on public policy.
It's very interesting as well that in a multiparty democracy is social and political stability and this kind of process has got enormous impact on political stability if it brings about changes in decisions so that there's a greater feeling of representation on what is taking place in society. I look with interest at the fact that Zimbabwe and Swaziland and Botswana and Zambia and Mauritius, these five countries in particular, and perhaps Madagascar, they have all made some initiatives in the past few months to send delegations here to look at this kind of institution because in this region of Africa where the choice is between the military or some other civil society mechanism, the only mechanism that brings civil society and ruling party formations closer together is some kind of instrument of social dialogue. So there's a lot of interest being paid to this kind of model which might have some regional kinds of applicability.
POM I've got three areas to cover so watch your watch and tell me when we're pursuing something at too much length.
JN We've got five minutes.
POM Public financing. On a scale of one to ten where one is relatively unimportant and ten is relatively very important, where would you place the development of a viable multiparty political system?
JN What is that?
POM That is the strengthening of parties to the point of being effective opposition.
JN By giving them public money?
POM Well I'll get to that secondly. One, how important is the development of a multiparty system itself in the country given the other constraints, checks and balances that you have mentioned that come into play anyway? Is it important or not?
JN It depends on the means. It's very important. On a scale of moral persuasion and the message and if it doesn't cost anything, sure. Put ten on it. And if it costs, depending how much it costs, it can go anywhere along that scale.
LB It just depends on how you define it. If you're saying that we don't have a multiparty system of democracy now, which I in fact think that we do have, and that the only way we could have a multiparty system would be for the ANC to have less than 50% of the vote. If that were the way of defining it then that I think would be an imposition on our society, then it would be undesirable.
JN In the States you put as much money into the system to allow parties to hold meetings and compete with each other fairly that can be afforded. I don't have any problem with that. What must not happen is that state resources are used to artificially prop up parties and enhance their voice to a greater extent than the people they represent, because you don't want to put in place a multiparty system which looks good on paper but is really based on some kind of patronage which is now being disbursed not through one party but through several parties. That's not multiparty democracy, that's multiparty patronage. So I don't think one should invest a lot of public funds at this stage.
LB You can make an analogy with the economic situation that you want to provide a market, a context in which players can operate but those players have to be able to compete and if some players can't compete and to prop them up artificially with public funds is unsustainable and undesirable.
POM Again the constitution says there should be 'equitable and proportional' funding of political parties, which is in a way contradictory.
JN If your bottom line is good it's OK.
POM Should there be support for parties on their parliamentary representation, on helping them to grow and disseminate their message or should it be confined to some base funding with regard to elections, or have you thought about it?
JN I think a party that has got absolutely no money and no resources has usually got absolutely no support. State funding should be for certain kinds of activities but if a party can't survive on its own ability to raise money from donations from its members or its determination to cut its own costs in various way - you want to make a pamphlet, you can get somebody to donate the paper, somebody to donate their time to write it, people to donate their energy to walk around distributing, it doesn't cost an enormous amount of money. I think that there should be some reasonable limitations. We've got too many things in this country to try and fund without having to excessively fund parties.
POM In terms of priorities where does this lie, on a scale of one to ten? Two, three, four?
JN I'd say, without responding to that scale, I'd say there should be adequate funding to allow the parties to resource themselves to do a good performance in parliament and to communicate their message to their members of what they are doing. That line, it's very difficult to draw that balance. What you don't want to do is create a situation where a party gets so much money that without the supporters it can distribute a million pamphlets. It should be able to reach out to its members effectively. That's good enough. It should be able to compete to some extent so you don't always get pegged to two percent of state support. I think proportionality should be also balanced with some base that is adequate for you to start to compete fairly.
POM I've two last questions. One is some people have said to me in the interviews I've conducted that right now at this point in time it's more important to have a strong party like the ANC, or whatever, in power so that you can have transformational politics and bring about the structural changes in the economy and the socio-economic system that you need as distinct from that if you had a number of parties that were competing in a very competitive way that they would be driven by electoral politics and therefore electoral politics are very different. You're looking for the advantage all the time. Which do you think, in the interests of the country at this point in time, is more important, that there be like an ANC in power with an agenda that's accepted by the majority of the people that it has the capacity to implement, or a situation where you would have a number of parties close to each other in electoral competitive terms who would be sniping at each other looking for electoral advantage towards the next election rather than dealing with the real issues that need to be addressed?
JN I think having an opposition which is effective in sniping would be a good thing. The sniping that the NP does unfortunately is not very credible, it does not have a lot of impact. But the ANC has also got so many different groups inside itself and groups positioning itself for the 1999 elections that it's not as powerful as is suggested by your question. In fact a few more decent groups sniping from an intelligent point of view outside might help the ANC to coalesce even tighter and become more compelling.
LB I think you're drawing a false distinction between the politics of transformation and electoral politics, I think really they are one and part of the same thing and there is sniping that goes on or opposition critique that goes on from within the ANC but also from the ANC's allies like in the trade unions but which nevertheless criticise the ANC. So we need to have transformational politics within the context of electoral politics and the truth is that there is an openness for parties to compete and the fact is that very few can compete effectively with the ANC. But one can't artificially impose support for parties that don't exist out there.
POM Just second last, some people believe, or some other parties believe, or constituencies believe, that the ANC will split, that it's like this broad cathedral that ultimately can't accommodate all its interests and that maybe after 1999 it will split into different parties or part of the alliance would break away. In your opinion do you think that's wishful thinking on the part of others or do you think it's likely?
LB I think it depends what the ANC does in the next seven years. Certainly there are different traditions in the ANC and there are tensions in the ANC. Whether or not that leads to a full-scale split in the ANC really depends on what the ANC's policies are and how they manage their internal conflicts. So I don't think one can say.
JN Tension in the ANC is nothing new. From before I was born there have been the same sort of tensions. I don't see anything that leads to a split in the ANC. You know the PAC broke away in 1959, maybe Holomisa creates another party now, that is not unnatural. But by and large there is no possibility in the short term of the ANC splitting and in fact people have been talking about it increasingly in the last ten years, the idea of the ANC splitting, and it hasn't come about. Look at the parties north of us in Africa like ZANU PF and so on. In conditions where you've got mechanisms that strengthen political stability and allow you to have your debates, have your conflicts, but without becoming like Liberia or whatever, and we've got strong enough mechanisms for that, then it's not a threatening prospect at all. I think there are far too many forces for stability to ever get into that kind of conflagration or political explosion like the ANC splitting. It's 100 years old, it's the oldest party on this continent.
POM 1912, a long time. Media, the use of media for electoral purposes, should that be made available in blocks of time free to all political parties or again should it be restricted in some kind of proportional scale to the parties that enjoy more popular support?
JN I haven't really thought about that and I don't have a particular view. The only media that we're really talking about here, of course, is the public media, the radio and television.
POM No I'm talking about public.
JN Public media, yes. I think there should be some kind of a distribution that's fair. I think there should be some fair distribution. I don't know if equal distribution is fair and if proportional has some limits, what would be fair under a proportional regime? To me as long as there's a reasonable access to the media.
POM One last one is when parties raise funds should there be disclosure?
JN I think so, very important, really. Our recent debacle about the Kerzner affair showed it. There should be full disclosure of funding. You want to know who is giving funds because that also influences your decision about who to support so I think voters should have that information.
POM OK, thanks. I will send you on a transcript.