About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

01 Dec 1996: Lekota, Patrick

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POM     Premier, let me first start with the observation that you have gone through a fairly traumatic series of events in recent weeks which culminated in your being removed, and your Cabinet being removed as the governing Executive in the Free State. I'd like you to go back to the beginning. What originally was the source of your problems in the Free State and what was the nature of your relationship with Pat Matosa?

PL     The root of the problem here really lies in the development of the events building up to the elections, shortly before the elections and beyond. There was a small section, very small section of members in the organisation particularly in the leadership of the ANC in this province at that time who were not keen to have me come down, but the vast majority of the membership and our alliance structures felt very strongly that I was the appropriate person to lead this province. And so by the time we went to conference in 1994, which was a conference which was to pull together the whole province and develop a provincial structure and leadership, the group that questioned the leadership particularly from the northern parts of the province very surreptitiously worked to prepare to get a different person on the leadership of the organisation as opposed to the government. They had failed to prevent my appointment to government, my leadership to government, and so they wanted on the second leg to deal with this. I would say myself, and many others in the province, were not aware that we were dealing with a problem of this nature so that by the time we went to conference in 1994 they had put out propaganda amongst the branches to say that as Premier I was too busy with the work of governance and that I would not have time to devote to the work of the organisation. Therefore, in the circumstances, they counselled that I should not be elected to the position of Chairperson, that somebody else should be elected to this position. Many people in the branches believed that there was an agreement to deal with the situation in this way, that I was part of this kind of thinking. And so on the basis of that people went to conference with this understanding and they felt well that's the way things should be.

POM     They thought you had already given your agreement to it.

PL     Endorsement to this position. We discovered only on the last day of conference what had really happened, that this is the chicanery, and many of the people were very unhappy about that situation, not least of course amongst those I myself was extremely disappointed to find that I was dealing with people that one could not really rely on. In the period that was to follow there emerged other things such as, for instance, suddenly the uprightness of some of the people in the leadership. I visited China around 1994, 1995, early 1995 I think, and when I came back one of the members of the Cabinet was also part of this group had been caught involved in a scandal in an attempt to steal cycads out of the Eastern Province and when I confronted him with this after my arrival he confessed to me that this had occurred, he had been involved in this but that he had already sent word, had already been to Premier Mhlaba in the Eastern Cape to seek forgiveness on this matter.

     In the meantime there had been during the election period the branch of the ANC in the goldfields town of Odendaalsrus, had submitted a complaint demanding that he should be disqualified, he should not be allowed to stand as a public representative and those complaints were sent to the office of the Secretary General. I must confess that I was not myself aware at that time of the specific complaints against this particular gentleman. But shortly after the cycads scandal and whilst we were still contending with that, it was a matter that had to be dealt with by our National Disciplinary Committee because it straddled two provinces. Our provincial disciplinary committee could not have had powers to deal with people beyond the borders of the province. Similarly with the Eastern Province, so the National Disciplinary Committee which has powers to deal with cases everywhere had to entertain this matter and we were satisfied with that. But shortly thereafter I was approached by a member of the public, a voter from the goldfields who complained that this gentleman and others were trying to dispossess him of his garage business. We looked into the matter, asked for the evidence to back up the allegation and that was supplied. It was a very convincing quite obvious case and it led directly to my removing Mayekiso from the Cabinet.

     Now maybe I should take a step back and say that by the time I was elected the Premier of the province, and this was one of the very early indicators of the problems that we were to experience later, it emerged that the leadership of the ANC, because the ANC at that time was divided into the north and the south, the leadership in the north had already composed a Cabinet of sorts of their own indicating who they wanted in what portfolio and so on but I had not been involved in that process. I then raised this issue and it was considered by them. I said there is a constitution that guides this process and how can anybody compose a Cabinet without even the presence and participation, for that matter even just the presence of the Premier. The interim constitution said that the Premier of the province will compose Cabinet after consultation with the leaders of the participating parties, not in consultation, after participation. So even with regard to that I pointed out that whilst a provincial Premier may be in a position to sit and consider opinions that are bandied about and so on, in the end he has to withdraw and then of course compose Cabinet as he saw fit taking into account whatever suggestions may have been made.

     That of course left unhappiness although there was no answer, there was no reply as to what you do about the provisions of the constitution. Now they developed then the attitude that forget the constitution, you have got only to think about the culture of the party so let's think about the party. Even with the culture of the party it does not nullify this constitution. Whatever else happens this constitution was adopted by the organisation. You look at the constitution, you do whatever you want to do but once you move to government your guiding document is the constitution.

POM     Of the country?

PL     Of the country. Or if you are Premier, in the position of Premier, that's what's going to guide you. But even at this time there was a suggestion that the constitution did not really matter.

POM     Of the country?

PL     Yes, that it was not very important. What was important was what the party thought and so on. I thought as we moved on understanding and discernment would prevail and that people would take very seriously the fact that there is a constitution and that whilst we pursue the policies of our movement they have got to be pursued within the parameters of the national constitution. You can't overrule that. So after the turmoil of that time things subsided and it seemed that we were settling into some kind of understanding. We continued to debate the issues and so on but the people who were keen on particular agendas were always restless. There were other problems that came up linking to individuals and so on.

POM     Now did you fire this individual?

PL     Oh certainly yes, I removed him, I removed him from the Cabinet.

POM     And there was no problem about that?

PL     There was a lot of problem because there was hue and cry after I removed him from the Cabinet but I resisted.

POM     Did the ANC NEC come in and say, "What are you doing? Give an explanation." Or would you say, "It's my constitutional right to fire a person in my Cabinet if I think he's corrupt?"

PL     Well certainly the national office raised the question with me as to the correctness or otherwise of this, so I pointed out that I had more than sufficient evidence of the violation of Section 149 of the constitution, that this particular individual had used his position or had tried to use his position to enrich himself or his family, but there was no question about the fact that that provision of the constitution had been violated, the evidence was there.

POM     Let me just ask you there, do you think that the NEC had the right to interfere with a decision that you made as Premier of the Free State when the constitution says that it is your prerogative after consultation with the party and the legislature to hire and fire members of Cabinet? That's your constitutional duty.

PL     No I do not think that the NEC should interfere or has a right to interfere with that. Nevertheless I think that the NEC, where a complaint is raised with them that maybe somebody has acted male fide, I think that it is proper that the NEC should check whether there was male fide or otherwise. That I think is proper because we must not only protect the right of a Premier to exercise power conferred on him in the constitution, we must also have a check on excesses that an individual Premier may well himself perpetrate knowingly or unknowingly. So when the issue was raised with the office of the Secretary General and they were interested in the matter I welcomed that because I felt that in the event there was ultra vires, I had acted ultra vires or acted male fide using powers that are there but used them male fide, then of course it was proper that that should also be checked. And indeed the NEC of the ANC, the Secretary General's office put up a commission which had to review the matter, investigate it carefully and work through it and found in fact that there was sufficient ground for me to have acted in the manner that I acted and in the circumstances the particular minister was given a warning and they said that he should have been punished. They thought that by removing him from the Cabinet that was already sufficient punishment and they prevailed therefore and pleaded with our structures that the person should not be recalled, that the dismissal from Cabinet should be viewed as sufficient punishment under the circumstances. So my position was vindicated even at that stage. Then there remained of course the case of the cycads which is still outstanding to this day, more than two years.

POM     This is which?

PL     The fact that this fellow had tried with others to steal cycads which is a protected species of plant from the Eastern Province, stealing them from there to here. That case is still before the Disciplinary Committee to this day. It's almost two years since that happened. So some of us began to form the impression that there is a reluctance to deal with some of these elements who are like this. Later on we discovered other discrepancies relating to this individual. For instance, inside the organisation he was once again found to have violated the procedures of the organisation by purchasing for himself membership cards of the ANC and then distributing among friends and giving them to his own friends and recruiting in this way. That again went to the National Disciplinary Committee, a hearing was held and he got a final warning.

     Now quite apart from everything else there was a growing pattern where some of the people in the legislature were tending to move and rally around this particular individual and rally around each other kind of forming a barricade to defend each other. I had my own views and we formed our conclusions about why they found that necessary to do. I do not want to delve into that at the present time except to say that there seem to be common interests with regard to this kind of behaviour and really that's been the most persistent problem. It's not been about who occupies what position because there was no question about the fact that I had been elected to that position by the overwhelming majority of our members in this province at the provincial summit, nor was there any doubt that in the period and up to now when the attempt was made to get the Provincial Executive Committee of the ANC to pass a vote of no confidence against me they lost because the majority just kicked that out.

     A week later we had another Provincial General Council which was attended, among others, by the Minister of Sport Steve Tshwete. He was present at the meeting of the PEC and actually chaired that meeting when there was this attempt to get a vote of no confidence and then of course these people lost. At the Provincial General Council in Welkom again he was present. There again the motion was put forward and in fact the opposition was humiliated. They almost actually got a vote of no confidence against themselves but for the fact that somebody pleaded that the majority who were now beginning to feel this way should hold back. But all along the way it is quite clear that some of the people were coming in to help resolve the problems whenever they were reporting back were not giving a correct report.

POM     They weren't even giving an accurate report?

PL     Accurate report on the situation, yes. One of the measures, misinformation that's going on, has been to give the impression that my support in this province came only from whites and that none of the black sections of the population approved of my presence here or my leadership, a fact which is gainsaid even by the current developments which shows very clearly that this has never been true. One thing, of course, that was unique about my leadership in this province is that I was able to rally and to win behind myself and the government the support of white sections of the population. That had nothing to do with the fact that I did not enjoy the support of the black community but they tended to emphasise that and to suggest that the fact that I had not become Premier in 1994 was that I was not supported by the majority of blacks.

POM     You were not?

PL     I was not supported by the majority of the black people in the province. But if you were to take a look, for instance, at the present moment you will observe that whether you go inside the ANC branches the majority of them will support my leadership even inside the party. If you went to COSATU in this province, the Mine Workers' Union, all the labour formations, you will find that the overwhelming majority will support my leadership in this province, the Youth League in this province, the S A Communist Party in this province, that is now inside of the alliance, but beyond the alliance most of the political parties that have got a presence in this province will say in spite of our differences in policy nevertheless we are satisfied with the leadership of the Premier here. And you will find that that will be the pattern with the church formations, with the business sectors, agricultural sectors. I frankly know of no representative sector that one could say does not support me. But the leadership at national has come to believe in fact this version that the support that I enjoy is only from the white section and nothing from the black communities.

POM     Why do you think that is as they could so easily find out that's not the case by consulting leadership in COSATU in the SACP in the churches, in the ANC? It wouldn't be a difficult job for them to find that out.

PL     I think as we sit here this afternoon I have no doubt about the fact that the majority of the leaders of the ANC now know that there is no question but that no-one would beat me at any election, at any level inside government or at the level of party if we went to elections. I think they would clearly acknowledge that it is quite clear that that is the position, which is raising the question at the present time, which many people are raising, is to try and get the movement to revise the decision that it has taken recently. Whether in fact the movement will do that or not is a different matter. It is a serious matter as it goes because it's raising questions not only with regard to the membership of the ANC but even with people outside of the ANC.

     With regard to the membership of the ANC and the alliance structures the question that must be confronted at one stage or the other is whether there is internal democracy in the party or not or whether there is selective internal party democracy or not. It is whether the organisation and it's leadership will be faithful to the structures it has set up and the processes that it has approved or whether it will throw those aside, as we have experienced here, in any situation that may arise. I think that question is one that will continue to be debated inside of the ANC because the manner in which the Free State problem has been dealt with essentially means that you can call an election today and say to the people of any province, "If you voted for us, the ANC, under this system your Premier will be so-and-so and he will work in the legislature with the following people in our name." And then people can evaluate that leadership, they can vote for the ANC on the basis of that leadership and that understanding and then maybe two days after the elections the ANC can come around and say, "Sorry we now want this person elsewhere, we want the other one elsewhere." And the question that that raises is from the point of view of the voters, what is the meaning of their vote? Does the vote of the ordinary voter hold meaning or is it just a formality for members of the public to go to the ballot and so on and give license for the party to do whatever it pleases any time and so on, or can the voters hold the party to the promises made ahead of election and expect that those will be honoured from the day that the voting has taken place and the results are known, until the term of office ends?

     That question is a question which we need to answer because if that question has to be answered and it says no, then it's a major commentary on what's happened in this province. But if it were to say yes that is so, it makes nonsense about saying that people will go to the elections to choose who will govern them from time to time because to what extent do they choose who will govern them? And to what extent can they hold those who they elect to power to account to them? Because you cannot separate those two questions, one inside the party, one in relation to government. I do not know in the coming period now as to what the pattern of things will be. It might be interesting if the matter were to be taken before the other institutions which are there for checks and balances for the protection of the rights of the public such as the Constitutional Court to exercise it's mind, to be seized with this question. If this pattern was to be allowed I am afraid that leaders in the various provinces and all of that can only be regarded as bureaucrats who periodically can be appointed to that position and then taken and appointed there.

POM     Well they are more or less like puppets of the ANC, accountable to the national leadership of the ANC. If you toe the line you're OK, if you don't appear to toe the line out you go.

PL     Indeed yes. And once you do that I think you reduce to nil whatever gains of democracy we have cherished and continue to hope will become the order of the day in this country. Really, these two issues for me they are critical questions. Jacob Zuma made a statement two weeks ago I think in Durban in which he said that the ANC is above the constitution of the country. I think it's an absolute disaster.

POM     No-one challenged that by the way.

PL     It's not been challenged, which in itself is sad and very unfortunate. I think in the coming period we are going to have to answer to that because if that statement is going to be the guiding light for the ANC then I think we are completely on the wrong route, completely. I cannot see that South Africa can be different from so many of the African countries which have got excellent documents on paper but when it comes to practice it's completely something different. I think if in the end that is really what we have fought for or what we are expected to have fought for and so on, then freedom will never really dawn on our side. I think we need to be dealing with that issue as early as possible. I think all of us need to take very seriously the implications of this and we must do so with foresight, understanding full well that once one brick on the foundation of any building was skewed one way or the other the rest of the building will never become straight. It will continue to be even more skewed the higher the building goes.

POM     Premier, I want to take you back two steps, one is that at some point in the last couple of months, at least according to reports, I don't know whether it was Steve Tshwete or whoever arranged a meeting between you and Patrick Matosa and it was agreed that you would not discuss these matters in public but allow them to be resolved through the structures of the party and that after that you subsequently went on a radio show and excoriated him and that as a result of that you were called on the mat.

PL     Some time in October I think, the Provincial Working Committee asked for an audience with the President who then said that he wanted me and others to be part of that. I went to this meeting and then after the discussions it was agreed that we should come back to the province because I had raised the point that I didn't think that the problems of this province could be solved in Johannesburg or in Cape Town and therefore we should really allow for the people inside this province to sort the problem out. We then came back and we came back on the understanding that Pat Matosa and I would provide the lead in terms of trying to get the conference of the ANC to bring it forward so that we have an early conference.

POM     That's the provincial conference?

PL     Provincial conference. That we would work together to facilitate the distribution of the membership cards, and similar issues. The first thing, of course, on our arrival we had intensive discussions with Pat Matosa but each time after I had had discussions with him he would now go back to the Provincial Working Committee which would overthrow a lot of whatever else had been agreed between us. About one and a half to two weeks after we had come back he informed me that the Provincial Working Committee had decided that they would no longer work to bring the conference forward. And that was a very essential part of the agreement. I had not been invited to a meeting to deal with this question and I just got this information from him that this was what they had decided to do. We tried to impress upon them, and I did on behalf of other people who were supportive of me, that let us get the conference, bring it forward so that we resolve once and for all this problem of the tension between chairpersonship and premiership, let conference deal with the matter. We could not move them on that and I say that once the Provincial Working Committee had taken the decision that he was not going to work to bring the conference forward there was no agreement now left. What was there left for us to work with?

     The second thing was the question of the membership cards. We said OK even if you're not going to work to bring the conference forward at least give membership cards to people. Let people have the membership cards and let them get ready for conference whenever that conference is going to be, because it's in your hands now and whenever you are going to call it we will be happy to give the membership cards and so on. We had, of course, spied a pattern in which membership cards were only going to those branches and sections that our friends knew were sympathetic to them which were very few and far between. You went to the goldfields there was complaint, you went to whatever, Kroonstad, my friends here and other people around here they couldn't get the cards but some of the other people were giving cards to their friends here and I raised that complaint with Pat Matosa over and over but it was coming to nothing.

     It is not true that I went on the radio to deal with the problems of the organisation there. The position is that as Premier of the province I had this radio programme where periodically I went on and people would phone in and ask me all kinds of questions completely unprepared for and on an occasion when I was on this programme somebody raised the question with me, "Why is it that you people are not dealing with corruption, that we can see clearly there is corruption here, there is corruption there, and yet there is a reluctance on you people to deal with this thing?" And all that I did was to say to this person, because I was talking in my capacity as Premier, to say, "Look perhaps I cannot say about the process of the leadership at the level of the ANC because Pat Matosa is the leader there, but with regard to government I can show you the track record of what we have done in government whenever we have found discrepancies. In the case of the stolen garage and so on and whatnot, first of all in the case of the cycads that matter was referred to the National Disciplinary Committee of the ANC. It has not been resolved to this day. I know it's a long time that it's taken but the matter has not been attended to there. I have no power, government has no power to compel the organisation to deal with that. You could raise that with the ANC or ANC structures. With regard to the question of the garage, you know government and I removed this man from my Cabinet to show that the promise we made of clean government, we are committed to that and in practice we do that. As to what the movement did with regard to that question, especially after the investigation had been done and evidence has been tabled, that you can raise maybe with Pat Matosa, maybe with the structures of the ANC."

     But the thing is I had to defend the record of performance in government and with regard to the fictitious companies that been had set up whilst he was head of Economic Affairs. I pointed out in government we set up a commission and the investigations are going on, some of these matters there is a disciplinary hearing with regard to officials, with regard to the overall investigation that matter is now in the hands of the Auditor General. It is being investigated and we will be telling the public the truth once the report is out. You can raise the question as to what the ANC has done once these fictitious things have come up. That is a problem that does not belong to government, it belongs to party structures and so on. You can raise it there. I did this contrast to show what the performance in government has been and the consistency with which government under my leadership had acted against corruption and left the other issues for party structures. That's all I did. And that's why I have said I am prepared to go before any hearing or whatever, and I want someone who must say it is wrong for me to have done this because I could not have said to people, no there's nothing going on that's wrong and so on. Something is wrong and all of these issues I was talking about, they were not new to the public. They were issues that have come out already, front page articles in Volksblad, some of them had been debated in open sittings of the provincial legislature of the Free State.

     I have a clear conscience as far as these matters are concerned. I have not a bit of worry about that, that anybody can question the bona fides. But it was precisely this, my political opponents were unhappy about the fact that I had answered in this way and referred systematically the questions that needed to be raised with them in that kind of leadership and they were concerned first of all with regard to that. They were unhappy about the fact for the first time those things had been said in the mother tongue of the majority of the voters who could then hear and who knew what question to direct to whom. Nobody can hold that against me so I can leave with a clean conscience that it will not help anybody anything to try and give the impression ...

POM     So were you then asked to appear before the NEC to discuss the case or were you summoned?

PL     No, all of us were called, we were all called there. What had happened in the interim is that Pat Matosa and those who are around him were unable to deal with these problems and were going to complain to say that I have raised this issue. Of course they cast it in their own way to try and show me as disloyal to the ANC and so on and the leadership, our leadership did fall prey to that.

POM     Why?

PL     Partly I think because some of the people there at national are not happy with the fact that some of the people in the provinces are performing quite well, creditably, and some of them frankly feel that they would have liked to have many of us in the provinces to be their proxies.

POM     Puppets.

PL     So that to say look that province supports me and that province supports me and so on, and when it is like that they can then of course - you can survive under their tutelage or so. But I've always hated bullies. I've always found it very difficult to live under the protection of someone either for good or negative purposes. I think I should have the right to live my life as I would like to live it and I think I should give my support to people who in my view have earned their support, not because they do me some favours or the other thing like that. I think it reduces the human being to the status of a sycophant, fawning animal and I don't think it's in keeping with human dignity. In any event I think the current conjecture is also about that, it is about who feels they can rely on you to support their intentions, their ambitions and so on. I am unfortunately not available for it. I haven't been available for that kind of thing for a long time.

POM     The City Press carried a story of a meeting between the President himself and you and the others from the Free State in which he supposedly dressed you all down and pointed out that the organisation was superior to any individual and any individuals who thought otherwise went the route of Bantu Holomisa, and he mentioned Robert Sobukwe, the founder of the PAC. Was that accurate, where does the President come into this in terms of the role he played or has played?

PL     No, it's really not accurate. Somebody inside the NEC of the ANC went to leak this information about the meeting to the press. It was quite clear from, the impression I formed as I looked at that article was that somebody who wanted to run me down went to do this. The fact of the matter is the President pointed out, spoke to us, he did refer to the history of the ANC and he did refer to some individuals, powerful individuals who had come up in the history of our movement, had been good but who at times had become headstrong, had become full of themselves and defied party discipline, organisational discipline and even went on to break away from the organisation thinking they might break the ANC and so on. And he gave some of the examples like that of Paul Mosaka(?) and later also gave the example such as that of the PAC. He always said that the individuals who thought themselves to be above the organisation sometimes went against the organisation and sometimes carried matters too far to even think they can and set up some other organisation that would challenge the ANC, but over the years Congress had come to prove itself.

     So, for instance, he was saying if you look at the case of Paul Mosaka's Democratic Party and you look at the case of the Pan African Congress and so on, they start off always with their flair and so but over the years they will come to nought, such as the PAC has come to nothing. And all that the President was saying to all of us, not to me as such, but to all of us who were there, was that we must be very careful how we deal with matters of organisation and never think ourselves to be above the organisation. The organisation is a much more powerful thing. Therefore to say that we have to be very patient, we have to be very careful not to destroy ourselves unnecessarily. The City Press of course, you need to be able to have understood carefully what the President was saying, I certainly didn't think that was a threat to me or a threat to anybody. It was a general lecture, political lecture, about why it is important for people to discipline, for the party to discipline and so on. He didn't mean that people may not express contrary opinions of their own where they feel that the party is wrong, but to do that inside of the prescribed procedures in the party. I saw that story in The City Press and I saw all that and so on and the very fact that the person who gave that information to the City Press distorted it in that way, or rather did not give themselves to it openly and put their name to it and so on, showed that they had some kind of motive. They wanted to put it in that way, to think that maybe they can besmirch me in the public eye and make as if I was the culprit or something, or perhaps even to provoke me to react to it. So I read it and I thought, in the old way my grandfather would say, when your neighbour's dogs bark at you don't go down on all fours and bark back at them because it is difficult for people to make out the difference between the dog and yourself.

POM     Now The Mail & Guardian carried an entirely different story saying that the real plan was to have you step down now with your Cabinet and this would allow a new election to take place for which you would be a candidate and that you would be re-elected and in a way the other elements would be purged, would lose and it would settle once and for all where the authentic leadership of the province lay.

PL     Well that was somewhat (exaggerated), that it was intended to favour me, I think that is not true.

POM     Did you understand when you stepped down that you would have a new election?

PL     We understood certainly on the occasion when we accepted this deal, the understanding was that we were resigning just to level the playing field and say have a fresh election and let's see who wins and that's that. So that is true but I think it would be a distortion, it is a distortion to suggest that that process was intended to favour me. I think those of course who understood that I had visibly more support in the province could easily have thought that this is so. What did happen, however, is that by the time we went to the NEC the goal posts were moved because having accepted the formulation at the National Working Committee meeting that we would resign and then we would have a fresh election for both positions and that all of us would participate, by the time we were there that was changed and the product became a completely different thing from what we had accepted.

POM     Who had changed that?

PL     Between the NWC and the NEC I do not know, I would not be able to say who did that. I did notice that by that time there was a general current that was like that. History will tell, I think people will write autobiographies and so in years to come we will get perhaps the truth.

POM     You know. Tell me. I'll trace it down. Give me a hint off the record.

PL     Clearly it didn't happen from the sky, somebody did it, but who did I don't know. I really don't know but I am sure that there are people who were right there. I am sure you will accept, Padraig, that I would not have been present. Whoever was doing this would not have wanted me to be present because they would have known that I would not agree with this. But I do know anyway that did happen.

POM     How does all this make you feel? You belonged to an organisation, you spent ten years on Robben Island, you have been at the forefront of the struggle within the country for years, you've had ideals that you've followed faithfully all your life, you've had an idea in your mind of the kind of government that would be brought to the people and the kind of way in which that government would not only operate but be seen to operate by the people, and yet everything seems to be devilled by political intrigue, by what appears to me to be an absence of internal democratic practice, what seems to me to be an absence of transparency on the part of the ANC, this gagging of anybody who talks to the press in the ANC on the threat of expulsion, is downright just, again, wrong. Let it all out there. What's wrong with that?

PL     Padraig, I think we must be very realistic and all of us must really be realistic, life is a struggle, or there can be no life without struggle. In the years that we fought for change in this country there are a few principles that we got extremely clear. We got it across the nation's thinking that it was wrong to discriminate against human beings on the basis of race, colour, religion and so on. I think we succeeded with regard to that and we got across the message that we needed freedom, a state in which people would be able to, well, just say freedom. A state in which, among other things, people would have a say in who governs them, education for all, a share in the wealth of the country. You know the ten clauses of the Freedom Charter? They are very generalised, broad principles. I think we succeeded in terms of getting that across and we won in the struggle between ourselves and the old order, we won on the basis principally of those broad principles and got to power. Some of us had in the years building up to 1994, had had time to see it and study the Freedom Charter clause by clause and even internalise it and we would repeat it off our heads. Others had time to engage in in-depth discussions as to the interpretation of those clauses of the Freedom Charter. We did that sometimes under the candlelight of township homes, in shacks, in hiding from police, sometimes in prisons. Others also studied this in the camps in Angola, Zambia and Tanzania, etc. Others did so, or didn't even have time to do that, we're not concerned about that. Others didn't even have the literacy to do that. When freedom day did come through, those who had had an opportunity to reflect on all of these things relative to the South Africa's population were a very small percentage and when you opened up for Congress and so on and people came into the movement in large numbers, well I should also have said that some of us looked at the Charter, read it and understood it and interpreted it against the background of the experiences in African countries, in Tanzania, in Zambia, in Angola, in the old Soviet Union.

     So you can see many schools of thought. People shaped by one struggle but against backgrounds which differ dramatically and suddenly we found ourselves in one kraal, but over and above that new individuals who have never even had time to reflect on that come into the boiling pot. And this afternoon as we sit here you can well imagine how many people now are here and you can see that there is a range across the spectrum of thought, something that understood and shaped their idea of freedom around the style of Julius Nyerere, others around the style of Jomo Kenyatta, both from reading and from experience, and others around the giant of Soviet Union, the giants of the Soviet history, Khrushchev and others and so there's a whole range of schools of thought that come into this. Not very different really if you look back in history to 1789 to the French Revolution and you can see how Montesquieu and various others leaders of that revolution spoke of freedom, liberty and equality, but that when the day of freedom broke you could see that there could be no question about the fact that Montesquieu could not have been thinking of equality between himself and the serfs of the French medieval society. On the other hand the ordinary peasant in the countryside understood freedom to mean that he would be free from forced labour.

     And so the word freedom, whilst a word that everybody thinks they understand, but each one of us tends to understand it principally from the material conditions from which we come. And therefore I'm not surprised when some of our colleagues will look at things and think, "Well I think Abacha was right", and "I don't think Abacha was right" And you can begin to see the patterns that might well suggest that unless we are able to find a common interpretation of that, and unless we are able to establish a common loyalty to the constitution that we have drafted, that constitution says it is not only for us congressites but every South African across the board and be honest to the word, the letter and spirit of that which is written in that constitution. The reality is different but for me I think, as I say, that life is struggle, we now must study another chapter. Really we need to start a chapter in which we are able to say to people, OK so far we have conquered apartheid, we have established equality for everybody, can we look in deeper detail to the texture of the freedom we are talking about and when we are talking about democracy not write a paper and put it there, beautiful words, but when you come to parties put it aside and do something different, to write that document and say this is the constitution of the country and say whether the provisions of that constitution are against me as a congressite or you as IFP or you as National Party, we will be loyal to that and it will become a common bond between us. Whatever else our views might be when it comes to this issue we will all be faithful to that constitution. Once you do that you will never be in a position in which you can say my party is above this constitution and all the other parties will not be able to say it. But if you say my party is above this constitution then why shouldn't everybody else in their own parties say, "My party is above this constitution." It means when this party is in power the constitution will remain this. When that party is in power the constitution will mean what that party wants and so on and then therefore there is no common foundation. The centre must hold and that is going to be a battle that all of us are going to struggle for and you look at that and you can see that if we are not able to get to that we will soon have a string of men and women marching to jail not because they have broken the law but because if you are my opponent and I don't agree with you and I can't beat you in the debates before the people and before the voters the easiest thing to do is to forget the constitution and take you and say you don't have the rights that you are supposed to have and lock you up in jail and next time it will be that one and next time it will be that one. So the struggle for democracy is not yet over.

POM     How many different senior people in the movement still have very different conceptions of what democracy is? That's what I'm hearing you say in a way.

PL     Maybe I'm not saying senior people. I think what I'm trying to say simply is that there are schools of thought, I think there will be people who will be persuaded to think what's happened is right but there will be so many others who will think it's not right. There are others who have not begun to understand what's happened here but who in a given period in the future will come to understand exactly what's happened and they will begin to say, "Goodness if I had understood at that time I would have realised that this thing is wrong." So there will be rebellion. The fortunate thing in history is that you make a small mistake today, as time goes on instead of becoming even smaller it becomes bigger and bigger and bigger.

     Few people realise now that the fact that a Premier, elected publicly and so on, is removed without due process. Few realise that tomorrow it will be a Premier in their province, their Premier will not conform, and suddenly they will find, goodness exactly what happened, and they will understand it for the first time then, whenever then will come. And then they will say, "No this is not right", and they will be told, "But you supported that so many years back when it happened in the Free State it was right, why should it be wrong here?" And suddenly they will realise, "Goodness if that is what happened then now I understand why people said it was wrong", and so systematically there will be an erosion. But there will be that erosion but there is a but and that's about whether men and women of conscience in this society will rise up and enough to sound the clarion call and not to sit back and say, well I've had the struggle with the National Party I would like to take a rest and leave it for generations to come, because the longer it lasts the more difficult it will be to correct. But as I say, struggle is life. I say that to mean life is movement, there should be no point to stop and say now I want to take a rest. The moment you take a rest life goes on, patterns go on and when you wake up tomorrow the situation will not be where it is today, it will be moved to there, and maybe to try and catch up with that situation when you get here it will be there. If it's a kilometre ahead and you try to change it by the time you have finished that kilometre it will be moved another kilometre and then when you move another kilometre it will be there. We must not fall behind. I do not know what lies ahead now.

POM     Just a few direct questions. If you look at the way in which the Bantu Holomisa affair was handled, which to many people again sent the rather chilling message that if you dissent and are cocky about it you just get your arse kicked out. If you look at the Sexwale/Mbeki saga and the culmination of whatever was going on there in Sexwale actually calling a press conference to announce that he would not contest the election in 1998 for either President or Deputy President, when you look at Peter Mokaba being drafted, so to speak, by elements in the Northern Province to run for the chair of the Provincial Council there and then a statement being issued that he wouldn't be available because his work load was too heavy even though Dullah Omar's work load was not considered to be too heavy when he ran for the leadership in the Western Cape, in fact other people were discouraged from running against him. And when you look at these kinds of things does it worry you? And when you're told repeatedly that good members of the ANC keep disputes within the family and don't discuss them outside of the family, do these things trouble you? Are these not signs of the beginning of the collapse in some way of intra-party democracy, democracy within the party itself?

PL     I would like to separate the issue of Holomisa from the rest of the issues. I think there is a certain dynamic of that case, a limited portion of it which forms a confluence with the others but there is also a part of it which doesn't fall in that. Nevertheless, leave that one aside. But with regard to the other questions, the other issues, I think they fall squarely inside the question that I raised earlier to say that there are two questions with regard to the Free State matter that we need to look at, the one is the question of internal democracy. I think when it comes to the question of internal democracy, which must also include freedom of conscience, I think it's a question that I already said earlier needs to be confronted, to be looked at carefully by the movement and I think at some point there will be some of us who will raise that question. From the point of view that those issues, that that question has not been dealt with, I think there is an urgency, there is tremendous urgency on our part between now and our next conference to debate those issues so that by the time that question, so that by the time we get to conference at the end of 1997 we are able to set a clear line that for the sake of those who are around and those will become members of Congress in years to come, it cannot be run like chieftancy where a certain chief, chieftancy you know you don't have a constitution when it's a chief, you do as you really like, there is some oral discussion that goes on generally. The meaning of a constitution must be common to all of us. The importance or otherwise of the constitution must be common to all of us. The level of its importance must be comprehended equally and respected equally by all of us.

POM     Who rules? This is my second last question, it's a quick answer. Who really rules? Is it the NEC of the ANC, the Cabinet and the executive or parliament? Where are the real decisions made that matter?

PL     Policy formulation must and should always be at the level of organisation, either the national conference, in between that National Executive Committee. Government is about policy implementation and policy implementation therefore must take place at government level and because policy implementation tends to be a matter that involves detail it must be left to those who have been entrusted with implementing that policy. Where they experience problems those people will always refer to party structures to say we are trying to do this but in the light of the realities it looks like we may need to make this kind of adjustment to policy so that we are able to make progress. But generally policy at party level, implementation at government level. People who are sent to government are given broad policy framework and they have got to enjoy some level of freedom to implement that policy within the parameters of what reality allows.

POM     Lastly, can you have a democracy that takes root among the people that allows institutions of democracy to be rooted, nurtured and take hold if you have a system of election which makes elected representatives primarily responsible to the party and not to the people?

PL     Up until not long ago I thought that as long as the party was strictly accountable even to its own constituency, that's limited because out of the 40 million people we have in this country you will find probably the ANC has got membership of something under two million, even if you become generous and say three or five million if you like, you would say what percentage of South Africa's population is that five million? It's very limited. But even as it's so limited that you would at least be held accountable, strictly accountable to that membership gives you a measure of comfort knowing that each one of your membership, each one of your members would tend to reflect views held much broader than that five million. But when you come to a position in which, as in the case of the Free State, you cut off even that membership that you have however small it may be, then I think it's extremely difficult even at the level of imagination to say that this party is a party reflecting mass support, mass based or community based voter opinion. That's something very seriously wrong with what we have done in the Free State. I think that's unfortunately so.

POM     Just to finish, I saw the press conference, not the press conference but with President Mandela when President Mandela was saying, "We are re-deploying Comrade Terror and we're going to make use of his abilities and his talents and his leadership capabilities", and you were standing beside him with an open shirt not looking that much happy and then you were asked afterwards by some reporter were you looking forward to your new job and you smiled and said, "Listen if you can get used to a jail cell you can get used to anything". How do you see your next job?

PL     I will go to Senate. There are many things I have had to do before which I was not very happy about. I don't look forward to it, sadly, I must say I don't look forward to it.

POM     It's not you.

PL     I have said as much also to the President. But as to what will happen I think history will tell. For the time being I'm content to say that it's not something I'm looking forward to at all but sometimes you don't look forward to a jail term but sometimes you have to do a jail term. I'm going to go.

POM     OK. Thank you ever so much.

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.