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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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: Naidoo, Jay
POM Minister, I had just asked you regarding the provision in the constitution that governance shall be by multi-party system, (i) what you would regard as a viable multi-party system and (ii) whether you consider there are any features associated with it that are indispensable to its operation?
JN Well the features of a multi-system will include the holding of regular general elections for different levels of government at the national, provincial and local level, that is adjudicated by an authority that is impartial and will act outside any political interference by the existing government, a commitment by society to allow parties to form and to challenge for the winning of such elections without any interference and obviously operating within the strictures of the law and constitution, and the sovereignty of the legislature to make laws and to decide on laws again with due recognition of its sovereignty. Beyond that there are other features, peculiar features of South Africa are a Constitutional Court which is the highest court adjudicating on matters that affect people's constitutional rights and an independent judiciary that again is exercising it's authority outside of any political interference from the ruling executive and, for me, a very important component of that multi-party democracy is the vibrancy of civil society, the consultative nature of our democracy and we are very often accused of consulting too much and over-consulting and I think it's a healthy feature coming from where we're coming from that we have a rigorous process of policy discussion before final decision making. We have statutory bodies that embody consultation as an important element of our democracy, for example NEDLAC, the National Economic Development & Labour Council, which is a major socio-economic Council bringing together labour, management, government and the community interests. So those are some peculiar features of our democracy.
POM Now would you distinguish between what some people would call a dominant one-party democracy and a competing party democracy where competition is used in terms of there being a possibility that an opposition party will in fact assume power at a succeeding election?
JN Well democracy is democracy, it's like a woman who is pregnant, you are either pregnant or you are not pregnant. You can't qualify democracy. That's an element in our society that really is reflective of the vested interests of the past. You can't say that you have a democracy and every person shall have a vote and then when people exercise a vote you then say well maybe they weren't qualified to exercise that vote because they all voted for a particular party, namely the ANC. The issue of multi-party democracy is you present a platform and a policy platform of what you represent, you determine who your leaders are, because there are democratic processes within the ANC to determine who the leaders are, and then you go out and you canvas. Those are the features of democracy. I don't think that there's anything in the United States that makes it a more viable democracy than South Africa, or United Kingdom, you have two equal parties. What makes them more democratic than South Africa where people have made the choice, their individual choice? It is not manipulated, it is not in any sense we shouldn't under-estimate the intelligence of people, they exercise their choice. So those that argue that a democracy requires two equal competing parties are making nonsense of democracy. That's my view of the matter. They are entitled to their view.
POM A lot of people here talk about the inevitability of political realignments and some talk about that the alliance simply can't hang together, that it's diverse parts represent interests that diverge once apartheid has been defeated. Do you see the alliance as something that will last not just through the next election but, say, for the foreseeable future, that the church is broad enough to accommodate a lot of different interests, or do you think that in the longer run there will be a divergence of interests within the alliance itself leading to separate political formations?
JN There is no political party in the world that doesn't have divergent views within their party. I think a political party that has one point of view alone is not a political party, there is no freedom of thought. Within the alliance we certainly encourage the democratic spread of ideals and the debate of ideas. I don't think that in the foreseeable future you're going to see a dissolution of the alliance. Those were the prophets of doom that predicted that the moment we came to power you wouldn't have an alliance. It hasn't materialised. The alliance is based on a programme. The programme is transformation. How do we get services to our people, whether it's water, electricity, telephones, whatever, and how do we ensure a diversification of the ownership of our economy, and what is the role we play in Africa or the developing world? So that's what the alliance is based on. It's not based on some sentimental attachment to a romantic ideal of what we stand for. It's based on very concrete objectives. When we have achieved those objectives or have made sufficient progress on those objectives then there is no need for an alliance but for the foreseeable future we have achieved political liberation in this country. I think we're very far from having achieved the economic transformation of this economy and I think that's the major challenge facing the alliance, that you have a majority of our people who are still excluded from the wealth creation of this country and we've got to address that issue.
POM Do you think at this point in time that, the argument has been made to me by some people that what you need at this point in time in South Africa is a very strong government because if you want to bring about the transformation that you need, you need the strength of the people behind you whereas if you had a more what would be called competitive party system it would be electorally driven, everybody would be out for, as they do in the United States or in the UK for that matter, trying to win the extra point so that transformation would get lost in the process. So is it in fact better for the country for now and for the foreseeable future to have a strong party government rather than a party system which might be more competitive but at the same time be an obstacle to transformational politics?
JN The first thing is that we needed a government of national unity to bridge the transition. We don't need a government of national unity now. In fact we don't need the Nats to rule this country, which is what we've been doing since they left. It didn't create an enormous crisis and it's not going to create a crisis because they really have nothing to contribute in terms of where we want to take this country, and they don't have a transformation agenda. So I think it's natural progression to get to a point where they are the opposition and you have a majority party like a normal democracy. Yes we do need a strong government, a strong government committed to transformation that is prepared to make decisions and decisions that may be unpopular as well with its own constituency and that's what we're moving towards and that's what we are now. We're moving very decisively determining what is the agenda of government, what is our agenda of transformation and we are implementing it. In the last couple of weeks here we have had three major bills from Education to the Termination of Pregnancy Bill and the Telecommunications Bill, and all those three bills the opposition party has voted against, but they are transformation bills and that's what we implemented. We have a very clear programme of transformation and we require strong government and a majority party in parliament to drive that agenda. That's what we are as the ANC.
POM Many people have said to me that the debate in the portfolio committees in parliament is between members of the ANC, between members of the alliance, that the members of the National Party or other parties just sit there and don't have an awful lot to contribute. Is that your experience?
JN I think the ANC, we're just members of ANC in the parliament, we're not members of the alliance, the ANC has a long history of rigorous debate and so, yes, there is debate. There is debate between parliamentarians, there is debate between the parliamentarians and the executive. It's normal democracy, but we learn to accommodate each other and we're still united in the transformation agenda. It's a question of tactics rather than principle.
With the Nats we have matters of principle difference with them, and the same with the Democratic Party, matters of difference of principle. The Nats and the Democratic Party basically don't have a commitment to transformation and basically are guided by a philosophy which is unbridled, rabid capitalism and free marketism, which is not existent anywhere in the world. I would consider them to the right of Margaret Thatcher. The world is not governed by that type of politics any more. It's governed by a notion that there is a very important role the market plays in an economy, there's a very important role the government plays in an economy, there's a very important role the private sector plays, there's a very important role for civil society and that we have a commitment to deliver the basic needs of our people and in the process of doing that we create economic opportunities for all our people, not just the affluent and the elite, and we encourage partnerships in achieving the goals that we have because as government we cannot do it on our own.
They have a point of view and their point of departure is the government has no role and that government should get out of the economy, government should reduce it's size. Basically there should be no government. It's almost like an anarchist argument. So it's a philosophical difference between us and the Nats and the DP and it's matters of principle that we disagree with each other. One is for a transformation agenda which we have as a government and the other is opposing that transformation agenda because they still remain parties whose constituencies are either those that have benefited under apartheid or those who are so threatened by change and so paranoid about change that they withdraw into racial fears. So in a sense they don't represent the forces of the future.
POM So De Klerk's dream of this new National Party that will transmogrify itself and somehow start attracting a large number of African votes, is this wishful thinking of the most fanciful kind?
JN It is, it's an absolute myth because a party that invented prime evil, which is state hired, and paid assassins to murder people who opposed its rule, and that's the reality, that's what's coming out of the Truth Commission, that's come out of De Kock, has no remote chance of ever winning any significant support in the constituency that bore the brunt of those attacks. Secondly, I think that their most senior enlightened leaders are leaving, among them Leon Wessels, Pik Botha, I'm not sure how long Dawie de Villiers has, but a number of the very senior people who guided the party in its attempt to transform are leaving, deserting the party. A number of their very senior black politicians, etc., complain of racism in the party and it's very difficult for them to get senior positions within the party. They have withdrawn from the government of national unity. They are actually a weakened force. They have no influence on the executive process, they have no majority that can stop us taking any bill we want through parliament so they are an ineffective force and cannot offer their constituency anything else. And they are still a party that welcomes and embraces people like Magnus Malan and Vlok. You wouldn't get the leader of the National Party to dissociate himself from Vlok. He still defends Vlok even to today. You would find that that party has lost its support even of its most traditional supporters in the security forces, that the people coming before the Truth Commission, the security forces consistently say, "We were the hired guns, where are the politicians who gave us the orders." So in a sense the National Party is there but it's ineffective. I don't think it really has a capacity to offer any viable alternative.
POM Do you think the Truth Commission has now opened Pandora's Box and that what's there is going to come out and that it can no longer be controlled or managed?
JN Absolutely, and it's a fascinating example, it's a very important laboratory this for the whole world. I think this is the most successful Truth Commission that's ever existed in the world. It's now moved to the point of victims coming to lay down their brutalities against them to the brutalisers coming to say, "This is what we did", and those people then saying, "We were acting under orders." And so, yes, it's going to open a Pandora's Box which is good because we need to make sure that this never happens again and we need to record it. This is the history that is being recorded and it's an important signal and for me the unfortunate part about the whole thing is I don't think there is sufficient response from whites to accept responsibility. We've had a very important thing in Stellenbosch and Paarl I think it was where entire congregations of the Afrikaner Church went and asked for forgiveness, for keeping quiet when those brutalities were taking place. I think what is required and what would be a magnificent gesture would be the white community in our country coming out and saying, "We are sorry, these brutalities took place in our name and we are committed to making it up to you", and not, I mean at the moment all you hear is a litany of complaints from the white community, standards are dropping, crime has gone up (as if crime never existed in our country), and so it's just a litany of complaints which tries to say, well, majority rule has meant black rule which means incompetence. And rather than saying, "Listen, we are fortunate to have President Mandela, we are fortunate to have a government that is committed to real reconciliation, let us acknowledge what happened in the past and let's acknowledge our responsibility even if all we did was keep quiet and vote for the Nats, we are responsible for what happened."
POM But they won't do that.
JN And unfortunately there's not enough of that.
POM Why do you think that is?
JN I think it's two things. I sat next to a woman going down to Durban once and we started talking and she said, "Listen, I put the TV on and I see these poor people on television and I want to tear my hair out. I put the TV off, I can't bear it to know that this thing took place in my name." And then I said, "Well is it the same feeling amongst your family and associates?" She said, "No for them they don't even watch it, for them it's there on the television, it might have been a completely foreign country." So that's the two reactions you have but I think increasingly now some of the Afrikaner congregations are starting to say, "Listen let's accept collective responsibility."
POM Is there a huge element of denial going on too? Just that it's kind of them and there was us and 'them' are responsible but not us and we never knew and if we had known oh my God!
JN Absolutely, I think that's the key to it is that it happened, "Jesus, how could that have happened, how could they have done that?" But not accepting it was done in their name. And when we said all the time, in 1987 I probably said the same things to you of how they were brutalising us and the newspapers in this country used to say, "No that's just a figment of your imagination." Let's go back to 1990 when we talked of the third force. Take the newspapers and go through it. Editorials would say this is a figment of the ANC's imagination. People, even newspapers that claimed to be anti-apartheid, denied the existence of the third force. That was not too long ago. Four years.
POM Do you think that in a way that the ANC and perhaps President Mandela in his role as the national reconciler has gone too far to try to allay the fears, or the supposed fears of whites and that somehow they have gained the impression in the last year and a half that this transformation could be entirely painless, that it's going to cost them nothing?
JN No, we would do exactly the same thing because it doesn't cost us any money to claim, to be committed to reconciliation. It doesn't cost us anything and we have to reconcile. So you've got to set the goal as reconciliation. But what we've got to do is develop a new patriotism. The opening of that new patriotism is to say, accept collective responsibility, to say I kept quiet and I recognise that these atrocities were committed in my name and therefore I am committing myself. If I am a teacher I will commit myself beyond my teaching to do something to help my fellow countrymen and women who suffered because atrocities were committed in my name. It requires me to give something whether it's time, whether it's a skill, whether it's money, where it's opportunity. That's the new patriotism. It requires us to go and say how do we work as a partnership to build this beautiful country of ours. That's all we're asking, we're not asking for any retribution. We're asking, these things have come up in the open, we are now going from that past to this future, how do you help build the bridge?
POM But it's still almost like there's a stubborn refusal among their political leadership at least to take that step?
JN Precisely, and I think that it's almost an equation being drawn between the struggle against apartheid and the atrocities of apartheid. I'm not saying that everything we did was justified and that we did not make mistakes. We did make mistakes, but we fought the struggle in the name of justice, in the name of equality. You can never equate that to what apartheid did to us and I think to try and do that is really perverting justice in our country. In that context I'm not saying that we didn't make mistakes, we did make mistakes and we should account for those mistakes.
POM The moral framework is different.
JN The moral framework is completely different to what we face. And so we're not requesting retribution, we're not wanting retribution. We want reconciliation. Reconciliation means a commitment to a new patriotism.
POM It also means an acknowledgement of wrongdoing. At some point you can't say, "We never did wrong, we just made maybe a mistake but hey we all make mistakes."
JN Absolutely, and I think that's where the National Party has fallen flat on its face. It has not accepted responsibility for atrocities committed in its name and for which they can't hide their involvement. Sooner or later it's going to come out.
POM When it does come out, assuming that it does, what should be the process that should be followed at that point? If in the end the finger points that F W de Klerk knew of events that he said he did not know of?
JN He must apply for amnesty.
POM Should he be required to step out of public life?
JN I think it's amnesty. He has to ask for amnesty. No-one is excluded from asking for amnesty if they committed certain deeds, committed any atrocities and there shouldn't be a separate law for different people. It's a painful process, it's a process most countries evade because it's too difficult to deal with, even more complicated here because we're trying to transform the country which means that certain standards are dropping. You can't in hospitals, where the majority of people have no access to any health care, continue to have five star tertiary hospitals. There is a role for tertiary hospitals but you need to use the same resources to get primary health care down to the rural areas and townships. So it's an understanding of those challenges and sacrifices that we have to make. Ultimately all we ask is that there is complete disclosure.
POM What should the government do to strengthen multiparty democracy, and I want to ask it in three contexts. One would be in terms of strengthening elements of civil society or giving more power to portfolio committees or things like that. The second would be in terms of the public financing of political parties either at election time to some degree or at constituency level or for day-to-day activities. The third part would be the role of the media and the access, what access should political parties have to the publicly controlled media to get their messages out, particularly at election time?
JN Well in terms of civil society I think civil society is indispensable and we should find clear ways and public funding of mechanisms of consultation that formally bring into the main stream of decision making civil society. In terms of legislature certainly the parliament is re-looking its role. It still operates very much in the orthodox role it operated in the past. It's looking very innovatively and creatively at its role in the future, and what is its relationship with the executive and what is its relationship with civil society and the people more broadly. I think the parliament, and the Speaker, is certainly carving itself a very powerful role in the society here which is something I welcome.
In relation to funding, funding is available at the moment. There's a system of public funding of political parties, there's funding of constituency work and there's an obligation on us to make sure that MPs are involved with constituencies but there needs to be very transparent funding of political parties.
In relation to the media, there's a privately owned media and the publicly owned media. The history of South Africa is a privately owned media being owned by the major conglomerates in our society. There's freedom of the press in South Africa but freedom within a particular ideology so it's not like the United States or Britain, Britain is better example, but there is freedom of the press but broadly aligned. There are newspapers that support a particular policy framework of a particular party. It doesn't mean they are mouthpieces, it doesn't exist in this country. We're the majority party in this country and there's not one single newspaper one can say broadly supports the policy frame, not the policies, the policy framework and direction of this government. It's an abnormal situation. But that's the situation as it exists and we're not going to change that. Perhaps as you diversify ownership in the media it will begin to reflect more the normal democracy that you have in many other developed countries. There is just going to be, I think, a requirement for us to improve our communications as government and, secondly, for us to encourage the training of investigative journalism and improving the quality of skills of journalists because very often there's no ethics in journalism here. There are such incorrect facts in stories that in the United States you'd be suing for libel and there's very often not the challenge, the contact, if you quoting a source to go back to the party.
POM I've noticed it.
JN That's the thrust of your story and say, "What is your comment?" So I think that's a weakness that we have to address as a media. Thirdly, I don't believe government should own radio stations or government should own media. I'm not one in favour of that. I think we can introduce an element of the type of C-span operation you have in the United States because I think there must be a way of public information being available to people and it's of public interest what's happening in the parliament. So I think it is an important thing.
POM Where would you see the role of the SABC?
JN I think the SABC is governed by its editorial charter. It's independent of government. It can't be held accountable to government. The only accountability for the SABC is to the parliament in terms of the financial support they get, to see that there's not been any abuse of the public finances. The same rules would apply to anybody accessing public finances. But editorially I think that matter must remain completely in the hands of management and the board.
POM Do you think that at election time that time should be made available on the SABC to political parties?
JN Well it's been already the situation on advertising, that there's a calculation on advertising what each party will be entitled to based on what is their support within society. In terms of, again it's not something that I would want to be involved in, the SABC would have an editorial charter. If they are in the course of, say, campaigning for an election parties are going to lobby for greater time on the air and I don't think that we should get involved in that as government. It's entirely an issue up to them and it's a board that is, it is currently happening, there are public hearings at the moment for the board of the SABC. I've got no involvement in that. It's parliament's decision which they send to the President and ultimately we delegate our authority to that board and it's the board that should then examine this issue and make any final decisions. I think there has to be a principle of equity of treatment in relation to the support the political party has in the context of an election. In relation to advertising on radio and television and newspapers it must be based on, again, electoral support and there can be some public financing of that but it needs to be very transparent.
POM How about disclosure of donations to political parties? Should there be full disclosure? Should there be limitations, caps on the amounts individuals or corporations can give? What about foreign money? Should foreign governments be allowed to make contributions or are contributions OK as long as they are fully disclosed?
JN You see that's an issue I think Valli Moosa is more qualified to answer than I am. I think the eventual goal is to move towards disclosure. What happens in the transition to that is really a matter on which we've got to have more debate. I think ultimately there should be a goal to have full disclosure with appropriate checks and balances because unfortunately there are very powerful vested interests in our society that have the financial means to influence policy of parties and I think we need to be very careful about that. In the ANC we haven't had substantial debate on this issue to decide. I think at the moment we've taken the view to say that the issue of donations to the party are something that are confidential between the body giving the donation and the party itself and we've maintained very adamantly that any money given to us is with no strings attached. If there are strings attached we won't accept the money. I think at some future date we're going to have review that.
POM So if you were to look down the road and suggest four or five things that you would like to see done that would deepen democracy, what would those four or five things be?
JN I would think first of all a commitment to training. I think we need a major human resource development strategy to enable people to compete to be able to develop the opportunities that are open to them. I think there needs to be much greater effort on our side to involve ordinary people in decision making and consultation, very much like what we did in the struggle against apartheid building a grassroots movement. It's very difficult but it's a challenge we face of how we're able to get to that point. Thirdly, I think we need much more balanced debate in society on what is the role of the media and what is the media's relationship with the executive. I think there we certainly need to look at diversification of the media; ownership of media is an important issue. We need to look at the impact of electronic media and extending, for example, the Internet to people in rural areas, etc. to make accessible information and that information obviously needs to be translated into knowledge. I think that's where a bigger challenge is. How do we turn high levels of illiteracy into computer literacy? We need to act very decisively to restructure our restructure our security forces, to act quite decisively against crime while at the same time preventing some of the abuses that could arise.
POM Let me ask you a question I am often asked with regard to the police, in the mid eighties and late eighties the South African Police had this reputation of being one of the most ruthless, most efficient in the world, could always get its man or woman, infiltrate any organisation and dig out whomever they wanted to dig out, and yet here they can't pick up a criminal on the corner of Bree and Sauer Street in Johannesburg. They can't get inside the syndicates, they seem to be totally inefficient.
JN Remember in the past almost the primary goal of the police was to smash the ANC, smash the resistance. The first line of defence of the police was the criminals. Very often criminals acted as informers for the police and criminals were used to suppress ANC activity or alliance activity or political activity and there was very deep-rooted corruption in the police. And that's the challenge that faces us today, of how to transform the police from being a police that depended on torture and brutality to extract confessions, to a police force that now operates in a democracy, that needs to rely on investigation, on forensic evidence in order to track down criminals, bring them to court, provide the evidence for the prosecution to arrest and then having a judicial system that is efficient and processing those criminals and then having a sentencing authority that is able to keep them in prison so there's a certainty from the point someone commits a crime that if they're caught they're going to go to jail. That's what we don't have and we're still trying to reform the criminal justice system to get to that and that's a major challenge.
I would say that we didn't have an efficient police force in the past. We had a brutal police force and very often they brutalised people to get confessions and very often those confessions were wrong but they struck such terror into people that that terror was able to extract, use it to extract information. So the way you wanted to get to ANC you picked up someone who was the brother of an ANC activist and you basically killed him or tortured him till he gave you the evidence. You can't do that. It's a democracy now. So they are a bit paralysed. How do they do that? And that's a challenge of our democracy that suddenly people have rights so if there is a demonstration you can't go and beat them up. You've got to have public policing. What is public policing? How do they understand it? They've got to learn, you've got to teach them. How to handle in public crowds. But also the democracy has given criminals democratic rights which is a problem. Today you catch a car hijacker and they know because the law says in 24 hours you've got to charge the person, you don't have enough evidence, we haven't got the police properly trained to get the evidence before they arrest the guy, the guy is out. He gets a top-notch lawyer. So we're caught in a Catch-22 and that's what we're trying to address now in parliament. We're strengthening the bail conditions, strengthening the money laundering laws, strengthening the criminal justice system, plugging the loopholes, training the police again, training the magistrates, it's a mammoth transformation. It's not so simple.
The last problem I was saying to you of the issues that I think are important to address is corruption, to root out corruption. Corruption is not something new. Our system has been inherently corrupt.
POM But does it worry you? I think there was an IDASA poll or something that indicated that the perception is that there is more corruption now than there was before.
JN It's a perception I think that was very deliberately created and unfortunately created by a media that never had substance, so they created a perception that suddenly people were into government, they were into power, they were in the gravy train. I have never been poorer than I am now and in fact I was more well off as a trade unionist than I am as a minister and just the level of debt that comes along with this job, and so if you look downstairs, I just walked through the garage the other day, and look at the cars that MPs are driving. So in that context you've got to say to yourself, we've come into government, I'm not saying there are no elements of corruption now in the new system, in the new people that have come, but it was created as if there was this - and the media plays a very important role. We come in with different ideas, we come in with a different style, we come in new. How many of us knew how to run a parliament? I think at one level there was quite a systematic onslaught that demoralised a lot of people in this parliament but if you go into parliament today you will see, they may not be sitting in the chambers but they are sitting in committees, they are working hard. And I think that somehow, at least now, it was almost a reaction as well, I don't want to get over-sensitive about this issue, almost a reaction to a government that's predominantly black coming into place. And what are the traditions, the culture, the style that it brings with it which even to the most liberal of journals and newspapers in this country ultimately was not really acceptable. What was I portrayed for the last twenty years of my life? You go and look in the newspapers, look at from the Business Day to the Financial Mail to the Sunday Times to the Afrikaner newspapers. I was like a Satan, like I was a devil incarnate to the white community. That's how they portrayed us. To the black community I was completely different but the blacks didn't worry, so when they talk about Naidoo is seen to be, he's opposed by the majority of the people, ask them which is the majority you're talking about? The majority of whites, the majority of people? I think that we inherited that perception and so it's almost as if people want things to go wrong and say it shows you we were right.
POM Want to be proven right, they want to say "We said blacks couldn't do it".
JN But I don't think we must get over-sensitive. I think we need to stand our ground, do what we have to do, try and do it as competently as we can and not become paranoid about it. If you look at the economic area there is virtually not one single, virtually, not one single African economics journalist in this country. What does it tell you?
POM I'll leave it at that. Thank you very, very much for the time.