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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

05 Nov 1996: Gordhan, Pravin

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(Second interview)

POM     Let me begin with a question that puzzles me a little. The nub of the question is, who rules the country? Is it the parliament, the government or the National Executive of the ANC? I say that in the context of yesterday's events with the NEC meeting with the Provincial Executive of the Free State and agreement being reached that the Premier and his entire Cabinet would be removed, that the matter will be discussed by the NEC and then ...

PG     I am aware of that decision. No I don't think that's an easy question to answer. Depending on the kind of issue you're dealing with who governs means different things at different times. At the formal level it's obviously the executive that governs the country. At an equally formal level parliament is expected to hold the executive accountable and to that extent and to the extent that it can enquire into policy issues parliament is also a role player in governing a country. But both parliament and the executive are constituted of political parties and there would be varying degrees of party political structures' influence in decision making, again depending on the kind of issue of the moment and so on that one is actually looking at.

     So in the instance of what you've just described about the Free State the party clearly had to play a role in trying to settle differences and bring about some kind of stability in the Free State but the party wouldn't interfere in the day-to-day running of the Free State as the executive and parliament normally do. But on the other hand there would be from time to time issues on which the party will have to take policy decisions. One example in my context would be how do we deal with a boundary dispute between two ANC provinces, Northern Province and Mpumalanga? How do we deal with traditional leaders where there might well be on a specific matter a policy vacuum? And in those sorts of matters the party can still have a role and of course the party is represented as in the party caucus on the one hand here in parliament, and on the other hand in constitutional structures of the party. So at different stages different structures will come into play.

POM     I suppose what raised it initially in my mind was what happened last year in the North West when Popo Molefe removed Rocky Malebane-Metsing and he was told more or less to put him back in place which suggested that a Premier did not have the right to choose his own Cabinet but that he could be overruled by the National Executive of the party.

PG     Well there again it was an instance of a dispute rather than the normal governance processes. I think in the normal course of events the ANC National Executive has left it to the Premier and the provincial structures of the ANC to determine these sorts of issues.

POM     Let me look for a moment at another policy aspect and that is the macro-economic plan. Now I have heard a number of views, one is the view that as was reported when the plan came out that this was non-negotiable, this was government policy and it went through. Since that I've talked to members in both COSATU and the SACP who say that's not really correct, it is negotiable and we've been given an undertaking that it is negotiable. One, I'd like to get some clarification on that point. The second point would be that here is a plan that is so different from what has been ANC or alliance orthodoxy for so many years with its emphasis on private investment and the private sector to cutting of the budget deficit which necessarily means cutting into social services just as it would appear to be in any other way. All the wage constraints, the two-tier labour market, embraced very much by business, frowned on by labour, frowned on still more by the SACP, where does this leave the alliance with regard to an agreed upon economic policy?

PG     At the one level I think the ANC, as you correctly point out, had its policy parameters but we're finding increasingly that as you move into governance policies developed outside of governance are not necessarily adequate to deal with the issues that governance throws up. And as I've pointed out, depending on the portfolio you're looking at enhancement of policy or development of new policy is now taking a form which either exclusively comes from the executive or comes from both the executive and the legislative bodies or comes from both of those and the organisational structure as well. Now if you look at my experiences on the local government side they are totally different. We are developing policies together with all role players. This weekend I was in a meeting with national provincial legislature, national provincial executive and ANC structures sitting together in one room and looking at half a dozen key issues that affect local government and developing policy. Two days later we took those policy guidelines from the ANC and used it in the portfolio committee to shape the current bill that is being debated in the National Assembly right now, with everyone's concurrence. No one party can say "I did it", on different issues different parties had a predominant role.

     So as far as the macro-economic strategy is concerned I think that the minister wanted to send out a signal to the so-called market that "I am in control, I have a policy, I know where we are going". On the other hand what COSATU and the SACP are saying is that within the context of that announcement we have got political space. Last Saturday we had a whole day caucus here in parliament, almost 300 people were present, and half the day was spent on a macro-economic strategy with the whole caucus, thoroughly debated, discussed, no necessary agreement on anything at this point in time but it's open to debate both within the organisation and between alliance partners.

POM     The response of the market if one looks at the rand or the fall of the rand or the depreciation of the rand as an indicator of market response, the market does not take the intention of government with regard to this plan very seriously?

PG     Well I'm not an economist I must confess so me and the market don't really know each other too well and the market sometimes sounds like a couple of banking houses who are powerful enough to do what they like and influence events.

POM     George Soros.

PG     He did it to Britain not so long ago.

POM     And Germany, not Germany, but to France and Italy and Spain.

PG     I'm not aware - but I'm aware of his experiences in Britain. Now if that's what the market is, well so be it, we have to live with it. But I think within the ANC, within the alliance, yes, there must be tensions around these sort of questions but then that's the essence of internal democracy in any event.

POM     Something I've noticed since I've been here since three months ago is that there has been a change in attitudes and there is much less optimism, there is a feeling that government can't get things done and when it comes to this economic plan that it's very adept and very imaginative at producing plans but when it comes to getting them implemented, the implementation just doesn't happen and the fact that this plan came out last June and you would say that last Saturday, that's four or five months on, it's still being debated with no decisions reached it means you're moving into a new financial year with no firm decisions made as to what the priorities are with regard to expenditure cuts.

PG     No that's not entirely correct. I think debating something doesn't mean that you can't implement something. This morning I was in a meeting discussing the housing policy. Now that doesn't mean that housing delivery is paralysed, it doesn't mean that you say stop to everything that is going on while we debate the matter. We used an interesting term, we said that we will be engaged in rolling policy development meaning policy will continue, but as you confront new challenges in the course of implementing what you consider to be old policy, you will have to adapt, you will have to develop, you will have to enhance, you will have to introduce new elements. So policy debate, particularly where we are in the transition right now, can't stop but that doesn't mean that there's paralysis. Yes, I think we ourselves are self-critical about the fact that not enough delivery is happening and that's something that we will have to give attention to. Most ministers will say we have done our quota of policy work now, we have designed the new institutions, most of them are in place in one or other respect. What we've got to do is now start getting those operational in a kind of full-steam sense rather than in the sense of beginning to do something. On the housing front, for example, we've been told that now that the policies, institutions, money and the ducks generally are in a row, we can begin to see new things, rather begin to see substantive development. But at the same time we recognise that there are some gaps and those gaps will require attention. And that I am sure is something that happens in all governments.

POM     What about local government? I forget which minister made the statement but the essence of it was that if you over-run your allocations you're on your own, you go bankrupt and the court can put a lien on the local council premises or whatever.

PG     Minister of Finance, but that's a bill that we've actually dealt with. That provision has now been removed from the bill. But there again let's look at what the reality is. We've been through about three steps now out of possibly four or five that we need to take to move apartheid local government to an entirely democratic basis. The first step was to get negotiating forums going. The second step was to create a pre-interim negotiated structure. The third step was to have an election. The fourth step was to get elected bodies now beginning to do work. But through the course of this you had to basically take apartheid local authorities or municipalities or townships or whatever and start knitting them together with completely divergent resources, capacity, development levels, levels of inequity, whatever you want to call it. We've come quite far in terms of taking this process, but the base was apartheid municipalities and that's what we still have and therefore this process that we've been through, these four or five steps that I mapped out haven't given us new democratic local government structures yet. That's still to come. All we have done is consolidated the old and therefore we've inherited the rubbish and all we've done is stabilised that in some way.

     Now you would have most of the towns, I don't have the figures on me right now, but most of the towns in South Africa, I believe over half of them have less than 10,000 voters. Some of them, maybe 100 or more of the 750 or 800 elected municipalities now, have a couple of thousand people, even less within their area of jurisdiction. Those are not viable and those are the ones that are going to run into the trouble. Equally important is the fact that they were built on a "whites only" rates base and that has now got to be spread wider and clearly they are going to run into difficulties there as well. There's a long story to tell you, I can go on for hours, but the simple point is that's very much part of the transition and what this bill attempted to do was to say the minister can now cap the expenditure which he has been doing in any event, it wasn't in this particular legislation. So that's there now. We've provided strict codes of financial control and accountability. It was there in some ways, it wasn't there in other respects but that's there now in this new bill that we actually have. We've cleared up borrowing powers of municipalities, if you want it locally what it is, what the process is, etc. And numerous other things. So even there I think local government is not in great shape but it's not in miserable shape either. Of course there are lots of problems but then we're moving, having accomplished this part of the transition we're moving into a new policy phase now, next year, and developing a white paper on local government as to how do you restructure all of these and what kinds of municipalities will you create which would be municipalities that would be in existence for the next twenty or thirty years.

POM     The initiative for developing legislation comes initially from the department or from the portfolio committee?

PG     It varies. In most instances from the department. If you're looking at this particular piece of legislation that we're debating today the concept originally came from a portfolio committee, the concept of what we call bridging legislation, that you have the old piece of legislation, you're going to have something new out of the white paper process, you require a bridge between the two. And we've influenced this content throughout its genesis.

POM     You have? And would you say that's generally true of portfolio committees, that they actually influence the legislation that comes down from the departments?

PG     Most, not all. We introduced over a hundred amendments to this piece of legislation, not just is and are. I would say at least twenty to thirty of them are very substantial amendments.

POM     How much more time do I have left?

PG     Eight minutes.

POM     Let me ask you about the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. It seems to me that a Pandora's Box has been opened and this process has now taken on a life of its own and can no longer be managed by people in the way they thought perhaps it would be. If the evidence starts mounting that senior military people and senior former ministers of the National Party were indeed involved in unlawful and criminal activities, is it sufficient that they should apply for amnesty or in the event that they don't apply for amnesty that they should be prosecuted? And should they have to stand down if they are still in public life? And finally, I was talking to somebody the other day who is a young man who was very active in the townships and had been on a street committee and had been involved in a number of so-called people's courts and had been involved in necklacing and things and the stories he told were every bit as chilling as the stories that were told last week about using the electric shock on people. Is there a moral difference between what the security forces might have done barbarously to somebody in taking their lives and what young comrades in a township, picking upon an individual with perhaps scant evidence of any guilt, does the National Party or others have a point when they say that not enough attention has been given to what went on in the townships, that that was equally as scandalous?

PG     No they don't, they don't. I'm not going to get into the minutiae of the debate but at a broader level I refuse to accept that my twenty years of anti-apartheid struggle can be equated to Roelf Meyer or Pik Botha or anybody else's twenty years involvement in designing and implementing an oppressive system. I refuse to accept that. I refuse to accept that my efforts at organising people and mobilising them against apartheid, at being involved in bringing arms into this country or whatever can be equated to anything that this particular regime did. Yes, I think when you start looking at some of the activities that took place in parts of the late 1980s there is something to be thought about in terms of how do you bring those kinds of people on board as far as the reconciliation process and perhaps amnesty process as well. But at a moral level I don't believe that you can equate the two. You can't take centuries of, both the establishment of but also the continuance of and the further development, of an oppressive system and equate it to a struggle against that system.

POM     My point is slightly different. I'm leaving MK and its activities and all that aside.

PG     I'm granting that there's a marginal area but we require further discussion which I haven't done sufficiently about the context in which all those things happened, what led to people actually doing it. Nobody has actually come before the TRC yet and said, "How did we recruit observers? How did we plant them in various organisations? What role did they actually play? How were they linked to the National Security Management System and what do they have to do with either breaking up organisations, creating armed conflict, etc., etc." And until we can understand the total picture how do we know whether some of the people who actually did some of these things weren't themselves agents of the apartheid system whilst there might well be others who were willing participants in this. So at a moral level I refuse to accept that what we did in the struggle is equal to what the National Party did.

POM     Do you think this point is entirely lost on the National Party? They just simply don't get it?

PG     Yes, I can understand where they are coming from because basically they have their political and personal egos to look after and also De Klerk and company haven't gone far enough to say that, "I know I made a mistake, that the things we engaged in, designed and implemented were horrific and today we understand the implications of what we have done, at that point in time we didn't." So if they are currently leading members of that party involved highly in parliament and so on, once they are exposed they must decide what is it that they want to do. I think we have gone out of our way, and if you come to my portfolio committee you will see graphic demonstrations of our willingness as the ANC to always be reasonable, accommodating, reconciliatory and inclusive in what we do.

POM     But yet you seem to get very little in return for it?

PG     Absolutely. There was one monkey speaking now, called Jaco Maree from the National Party, a guy that we carry continuously in our discussions despite the nonsense that he has to utter. We will negotiate with him to bring him on board but he will still stand in the Assembly now and attack us, yet his colleague, Fanie Schoeman for example, is a totally different animal, completely different person. He is the guy you can go to and negotiate with, you can debate a particular matter, he will put his perspective on the table, you will explain why you can't actually take his particular perspective on board or where you can take it on board you demonstrate how you take it on board, and we end on a reasonable note. So we've just come through a five-week process now where today even the IFP can't stand up in parliament and say, "We oppose this bill", because every opportunity was given to them to influence it.

POM     That's a tribute to your committee.

PG     But that's the ANC.

POM     What strikes me forcibly, I think more forcibly than ever, is that I see whites digging in their heels, this is a witch-hunt mentality and if stuff did go on we certainly never knew that we were brainwashed and it was a war and we're all being unfairly branded as being agents of a crime against humanity.

PG     It was Craig Williamson on the Prime Evil TV programme, and it's interesting that it's guys like him who are saying that every white South African who voted for the National Party must take co-responsibility for what we and the National Party did, ("we" meaning the security forces). If Craig Williamson can say that from within the bowels of apartheid's repressive machinery why can't the National Party politicians say that? And the quicker they own up, the quicker they open their files, the easier this trauma will be over.

POM     I know I asked you a variation of this last week but in that context of denial and non-admission and excuse making isn't it just fantastical for the NP to believe that somehow they can restructure themselves and attract a large number of African votes? Isn't it an insult in a way to Africans?

PG     It is, it is. It's a demonstration of their opportunism. It's particularly ironic because if you take their caucus downstairs, less than 5% of them would be considered to be reformed South Africans. Most of them still live very much within the trenches of the old South Africa. But at the same time we must acknowledge that party politics has its own dynamics and that if you take a bread and butter issue which affects a particular constituency or a section of it you can mobilise the people around you and they understand that politics very well and that's what they're implementing.

POM     But their possibilities of developing a larger constituency are really minimal at best and rather hopeless at worst?

PG     At this stage certainly, certainly.

POM     So a Roelf Meyer still can't do it?

PG     I think he has the imagination to do it. I don't think he's got the organisation to do it. He's intelligent enough and astute enough to understand how it can be done up to a point. I don't think he's going to entirely find himself comfortable in the black constituency but theoretically he has the capacity but he doesn't have the organisation.

POM     Would De Klerk in that context have done the better thing if at the end of the 'reform period' he had said, "I have done my part, I have brought the reform process as far as I can, I'm stepping out, I'm resigning", rather than trying to - he becomes what appears at moments to be a rather petty politician now in some of the remarks he made following the acquittal of General Malan, the remarks were downright petty.

PG     It's a marginal point, I don't know. We must give him credit for what he has done on the advice of obviously far more intelligent people than himself, but he hasn't been able to sustain the momentum of those kinds of decisions that actually swung South Africa into a new direction and clearly the double-agenda strategy of the period 1991, 1992 didn't succeed and when that failed they were at a bit of a loss. On the whole I would still give them credit, some of them, for being able to relate to us in a co-operative way and negotiate our differences in a co-operative way.

POM     When you say the double-agenda policy, was that the third force?

PG     The violence, third force, yes.

POM     Do you believe that the Roelf Meyer's of the world knew that this was part of policy or were outside of the loop?

PG     I don't want to speculate. It's hard to believe that somebody who is in government is ignorant of these things.

POM     We'll leave it there on that profound sentence. Thank you.

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