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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

14 Feb 1997: Naidoo, Jay

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POM     Let me begin with probably a very odd question and the odd question is that the first time I met you was a time you won't remember, it was in October 1987, you were in Khotso House, a building that was subsequently burnt down, you had a small rack outside in the lobby where people could put books that they brought in  to donate to COSATU and when my friend Marcy and I caught you, you were still as elusive as you ever were  but you actually said, "Come on by", and we came on by and saw you and about four of your colleagues for about half an hour. We were doing a study about the use of pension funds, union pension funds for investment purposes and were interested in what you had to say about that then. What stands out in my mind is that at that time you were in dire, stark circumstances and here you are today sitting as a minister in a free South Africa. If you had to look at yourself how would you see the changes that have occurred in yourself as you have made the transition from being the founder and mobilising force behind COSATU to being the mobilising force behind the RDP, to being in the very sensitive position you are in today? Who is Jay?

JN     You should ask my partner that question. I think the history of not just Jay but many people like Jay is the reality of what we went through and I am one of the millions who were evicted from our houses because of the Group Areas Act, that as a child had to deal with never being able to go into a park because it was whites only, never understanding when I was a child why we couldn't board certain buses or go to movie houses or go to the beach I chose, and a reality of seeing injustice, and one of my most important influences was my mother who was a housewife but the very important thing she taught us as children was respect for people.

POM     Now she was a housewife?

JN     She was not an intellectual, she wasn't political, but her value system was very important and I think that's what formed the basis of my life, that I am driven by a mission which says that I would not tolerate injustice, I would not tolerate prejudice and dishonesty.

POM     Now you grew up, where did you grow up?

JN     I grew up in Durban. So that's been my mission and that's what's driven us as protesters, as student activists in school and then political activists in university where we were the generation of '76 basically and driven by the ideals of being part of the Black Consciousness Movement inspired by people like Steve Biko. I'm proud to be black. And then emerging from that period of '76 to more radical thinking of not seeing all South Africa's problems in racial terms but also seeing the exploitation, that the bottom line was that a form of apartheid was the physical separation of people, the racism, the laws and the arbitrariness of the government of that time, but the content of apartheid was the exploitation of the black majority.

POM     Just going back, when was the first time that you became conscious of an injustice being done against you that was like a hammer over the head, that stuck in your consciousness and formed part of the way you have become and behave?

JN     Four years old. I got kicked out of my house and we had to move to a new place.

POM     Where were you living?

JN     In one part of Durban and then there was what is called the Group Areas Act.

POM     Yes I know, but where were you living in Durban?

JN     So I removed from an area where I was born and a house where I was born in Greenwood Park and had to then settle down in an area called Reservoir Hills. Let me just say from the time I was in school, primary school, I think the first conscious act I made politically was when I was probably ten or eleven years old and when we had the choice to, you still had a choice in those days, to decide whether to learn Afrikaans or learn Latin and I chose to learn Latin.

POM     Congratulations!

JN     I don't know why.

POM     I learned Latin in school through Gaelic. That means I learned one dead language through another dead language.

JN     Two dead languages! I actually regretted that later because when I grew up the only people I heard speaking Afrikaans, this is in Natal which was the last outpost of the British Empire as we call it, and the only people who spoke Afrikaans were the police and those in authority, so I had no understanding that there were people, ordinary people that spoke Afrikaans like the coloured people here, like the African people in the Free State or Namibia, and I regretted that later because a large number of our membership in COSATU came from these communities. I suppose the first conscious thing I did was refusing to learn Afrikaans and that was in probably 1968.

POM     Were you kicked out of school?

JN     No, no, we had a choice in those days. It was the last generation that had a choice. The future generation were compelled to learn Afrikaans until 1976. So that's it, my first political act.

POM     How were your parents, would you call them not revolutionaries but obviously anti-apartheid? There's a big difference between what's happened to you - what kind of influence did she have on you that gave you this thing?

JN     She was a very spiritual person as distinct from being a religious person. She didn't have much time for rituals but she was committed to the type of society that we are all striving to build now and that's the values that she taught us. If someone came to the door to ask for a plate of food she gave them the food that she ate that day and the plate that we would have used and that taught us very important values. I was the youngest of seven children so a lot of my brothers and sisters had gone to university and when they came home with friends they would be African friends as well so I had that early influence and the brother elder than me was part of the building of the South African Students' Organisation and played a role in SASO, that organisation. So I had a whole range of political influences in my early childhood.

POM     Who was the political influence?

JN     Well the earliest period was certainly the idea of seeing Steve Biko, this was in the late sixties, and going to meetings and seeing in the front row the Security Police with their big overcoats and bulges under their arms and knowing that they were armed and having someone like a Steve Biko standing there in front of them really ignoring their presence, ignoring them, and that taught me courage and conviction. That's my earliest memory of political activism and that was an important influence in my life and then later, obviously, the trial of the Frelimo leaders, the leaders that organised the Frelimo march in support of Frelimo winning its victory in Mozambique and those were the SASO people that were charged in 1976. Beyond that it was really coming into interaction with trade unionists. A very important influence on my life was meeting people whose names will never be told in the history books but whose influence on people like me is immeasurable, of worker leaders who could not read or write but what they carried in their heads and what they carried in their attitudes -

POM     How did you first get enjoined - ?

JN     Oh that's a long story.

POM     OK I'll skip that till the next time.

JN     But basically I was a student activist, I was very active in SASO and then very active at a community level and community activism. What happened in 1977 is that I was at the University of Westville studying science and when Steve Biko was killed and the organisation was banned a lot of us had to go into hiding and so we abandoned studying and in that period a number of us, hundreds basically, left and went into other areas. We recognised at that point the limitations of student politics and what we got involved in was community organising. In 1978/79 a lot of us went into education. I became a teacher and tried to work with kids in communities and it was only in the end of 1979 when I recognised that there were even greater limitations in this and there was a fledgling union movement development under COSATU which was in fact very, not hostile, but very adamant about separating politics and trade unionism. So I went in late 1979 and volunteered to work for the union in organising and I was given the responsibility of organising at a factory in Durban.

     At that point I had to not disclose that I had been involved in very heavy organising within the political arena and community organising. There were a few of us that went into trade unionism not having the support of those we had worked for in the political sphere and the community sphere and not having to disclose to those that we were going into where we were coming from, but there was a small grouping of us that recognised that building the trade union movement will become a bulwark against the regime and that was, I actually feel at the end of the day, because the core of apartheid was economic and therefore we had to attack it at that point and so the trade union movement we recognised would become a very key instrument in the fight even politically against apartheid and the type of political organisation and worker leadership we would develop in that process would ensure more genuine transformation takes place. And that's what we went into with a mission and it was remarkable. There was a huge amount of fear about joining unions, there was incredible victimisation by management, there was victimisation of us as organisers. We couldn't get offices, we couldn't get meeting places.

POM     When I met you in 1987, it wouldn't have been - ?

JN     1979 was when I went into trade unions. 1987 we would have been in what was called COSATU House, it was at the bottom end -

POM     South African Council of Churches?

JN     No, no. It depends whether you met me late in 1987 or early in 1987.

POM     I met you in October, 7th October.

JN     Then it would have been beyond when our building was bombed.

POM     You had just moved.

JN     We hadn't moved, our building had been bombed in the lower part. That was following the railway strike. So our building was bombed probably in May of that year and we temporarily went and had our headquarters in Khotso House and then moved out there a bit later. So the early period of trade unions was incredibly difficult and complicated and full of obstacles, just getting the resources to try and build a union and very often, I mean all of us worked voluntarily and if you got paid you were lucky and you had to share that. We never had transport and I used to hitchhike from factory to factory, sleep in the fields or sleep on the beaches.

POM     I want to stop you there and take you from that point to where you are now. You are now a very successful man, you are one of the senior ministers of government, you are one of the senior policy makers in the country, you can snap your fingers and have a car at the door to get you from A to B if you want to go anywhere, and less than 12 years ago you were sleeping on beaches. So is there a difference between the Jay Naidoo of then and the Jay Naidoo of now, or is it easy to lose contact because your world is so full now of official obligations, things you have to do, that you slowly start losing touch with the very grassroots that in a way moulded and created you?

JN     No. I think what you see is a change of the form rather than the content. I am still driven by the same mission and if at any point I feel that I am not meeting the obligations of that mission, which is to deliver to our people a better quality of life, then it makes no sense to me to be in government. I am adamant about that and therefore it doesn't make me a career politician. I am not a career politician.

POM     How often do you get to meet the people?

JN     In the last year it has been more difficult than in the time that I spent in the RDP office where it was a lot of meeting people and now we are beginning to re-institute that, but to deliver the goals that we have in this portfolio we have a very close working relationship with the unions in the sector and the organisations in the sector and in fact our whole approach to the portfolio that we are involved in is how do we build on the strength of organisations that have been key in the defeat of apartheid. To take this article that you've got before you that talks of the issue of liberalisation and competition under the Telkom -

POM     This is the open markets. God you've a keen eye, you notice already what I've written down.

JN     If you take that article which is an article -

POM     How did you judge that  article?

JN     It's ideologically driven by a view in our society that we should deregulate, we should ensure greater flexibility of the labour market, for employers to pay what wages and what conditions they want to impose that will reduce the role of the state to be minimalist, that would really at the end deliver us to what are rabid free marketeers. That is a perspective of an important body of opinion in our society mainly represented by those that currently own the wealth in our country, which is the white conglomerates.

POM     Which hasn't changed since we talked last.

JN     It's virtually not changed and so for them beyond the commitment to the new South Africa in theory their motives are profit driven. I don't want to use that as a generalisation but in the debate we had on Telkom's liberalisation that was certainly the issue in the one instance of saying we are restructuring Telkom as a telecommunications operator in South Africa in order to deliver services to the millions of people that have been excluded in the past. To do that we have to bring in a strategic equity partner, so we are not ideological, we are very practical. We are saying we will sell 30% of the equity of that company to a foreign partner that will bring in capital, that will bring in the technology and bring in the expertise that we need in management. While we accept that that foreign partner is coming here to get a return on investment we are going to place obligations on this company to deliver services to the rural areas, to connect up with schools, to connect up hospitals, libraries, clinics.

POM     Why isn't that reported here in this article of the Business Day, for the record, this Business Day of the 10th February?

JN     OK I must give you the response that I wrote to the article as well. So the view of that editor was that we had therefore in preparing this company for the competition that will come and ensuring that their obligations are to meet certain important RDP targets and if they fail to meet those targets there are penalties that we impose on them, we have given Telkom, in line with most international practice, a period of five to six years of monopoly on fixed line voice telephones, that means carrying of voice on telephone lines. Other areas of telecommunications are already deregulated and there is competition whether that is paging or trunk calling or two cellular phone operators, etc. But their view would be open up the competition now. Basically what you would have is a number of foreign countries whose markets are already saturated and who have built up the power of these companies in Europe and North America to 100 years of monopoly and are now seeking new markets, to allow them to come here to what are the important areas of revenue for Telkom, which is mainly the corporate sector, and therefore ignore the provision of universal service to the majority of people. Now that's an ideological issue where you will have a section of our society saying we don't care about those that are less fortunate irrespective of whether that was a consequence of apartheid. It's almost a patchwork argument that says if you haven't made it it's your fault. What we are saying now is the state must play a leading role in how the market operates in order to ensure that the socio-economic goals of the reconstruction and development programme are delivered to our people even if it means us going against the tide of a very important and powerful lobby in our country and so that's why I say, for me, I haven't changed.

POM     You now want to move between three things, they're all connected. You as the primary leader, whether you like it or not, of the trade union movement in the period that I've known you, that's from the 1980s into the 1990s before you left to go into government, and ideological in the sense of workers' rights and the Freedom Charter and nationalisation and the ownership of the wealth of the country by the people in the country, I want to put that in one place, to advocate of privatisation which is a leap of 1000 to some people, maybe a leap of only five to you, and two, something that you were talking about in between, that you've got to find a marriage between the two, of between where you'd give domestic monopolies as long as they serve the needs of the people. You can't allow globalisation to become the driving force of a newly emergent democracy, you can't allow the World Bank and the IMF to say we are laying down all the ground rules and we're taking away part of your or most of your sovereignty. First, how do you charter your movement from a fairly ideological trade unionist, to an at least passive privatisation person, to trying to chart a course in between, and how do you relate that most importantly to Sam, Sam Shilowa your successor at COSATU and the attitude that he takes towards GEAR as being in a way after a year it still comes back to me after talking to him and other people, COSATU still feel fairly bitter about what it is? How do you reconcile those things to you personally and ideologically?

JN     The first is that we were ideological but we were pragmatic. The first negotiating forums in this country started between trade unions and employers. So the accumulated experience of negotiations and taking offices and trying to merge into a series of compromises to commonly accepted goals is the history of trade unionism in this country and so while we were very political you must understand we were pragmatic, pragmatists, and we recognised when we needed to make compromises. Just to understand our opposition to privatisation -

POM     The opposition of COSATU?

JN     Opposition at the point when we were in COSATU. What we had was a situation where the state was recognising that change was inevitable. Then we went through a process in which they sought to dispose of the key institution of the state, the parastatals, dispose of them before the change came and to place that in the hands of the private sector and very often in the hands of their friends because the parastatals were key, the state owned institutions were key in establishing Afrikaner capitalism in this country. So the way the state used the instruments of the budget and the civil service and the way it did its procurement built up Afrikaner capitalism. And so from our perspective those institutions were vital in order to carry out a programme of a democratic government because not all those institutions, but the ones delivering basic services which included amongst them the ESCOMs, the Telkoms, the Transnets, the ISCORs, so in an earlier period, I think it was 1990, a conference was held on economic policy by COSATU in which we said that the basic services that are provided to our people, that relate to the improvement of the quality of life must remain in state hands. We took a position to say we will then engage on which institutions we need to retain and which institutions we need to dispose of. We are not naïve to believe that everything the past government set up and owned was therefore sacred ground, in fact the contrary. What we wanted was a very specific agenda.  We wanted to stop the state restructuring unilaterally and to force them into a discussion on economic policy. We succeeded in that mainly through the strike we organised against the imposition of VAT. So what happened is that the state was forced to stop its restructuring.

POM     That's the one that Barend du Plessis brought in?

JN     Yes, that's when he had to be dismissed. The VAT strike allowed us to mobilise public opinion against unilateral restructuring. The outcome of that VAT strike was the end of unilateral state restructuring and the setting up of the National Economic Forum which brought now into the loop of economic decision making the trade unions and including the employers and government. That was a precursor to what we now have in the form of NEDLAC, the socio-economic council. So our philosophy was how do we move to a point where no one stakeholder can impose their arbitrary will and that's why in a sense our philosophy has been that we need to build a consensus on what part we choose on the economic issues relating to the role of NEDLAC. That was why we opposed it. It wasn't because of this purely ideological reason. It was the point impressed on them having come into government we therefore have got to make an assessment.

     For us the state owned institutions are a key vehicle for public investment in infrastructure. Infrastructure is important to us, infrastructure development, because we want to deliver services to the rural areas and black townships, to deliver services to the majority of people who don't have electricity, water, sanitation, telephones or anything else, public transport. What is estimated now, the cost of removing that backlog is close to R170 billion over the next ten years, of just bringing the standards of the majority of the people, not even to the highest level that you have in the white areas, of just being able to deliver a basic service to them.

     Now in looking at this question of state assets we have to look at how we structure the public sector because that is what the RDP calls for, restructuring of the public sector to deliver the RDP. That means we have got to make an assessment of every institution we own and in the case of restructuring of state owned assets we made a decision that first of all we will do it on a case by case basis, secondly there is a fundamental need for restructuring and transformation, thirdly that we need these institutions to deliver key elements of the RDP programme whether it's telephones or whether it's electrification, fourthly the state on its own can't do it because we don't have the capital, we don't have the technology, in many cases we don't have the management expertise in these state owned institutions.

POM     At what point did, I would say like St Paul on the road to Damascus where he got struck by lightening, when did you discover that things were not A or B, that it wasn't socialisation, nationalisation, that in fact - ?

JN     I think the point is that when we came into government we came in not having an understanding of government and the problems we were inheriting. I think if you take any country that is going through a transformation we have done remarkably well compared to many countries in handling the real issues of transformation, but the problems we inherited are enormous. If you take the situation of three items on our budget, the budget is a key instrument for redistribution, three items of welfare, administration costs and salaries account for 91 cents in every rand. Welfare, the administration costs and settling the debt that we inherited, 91 cents in every rand. If we want to do anything else we've got 9 cents in every rand. We're locked into a catch-22. It's realities like that -

POM     So settling the debt, how much would that be roughly?

JN     It's the second biggest line item in our budget. So that reality then forces us to look at how we use our resources more effectively. Therefore when it came to state institutions or state owned enterprises we said first of all what is our policy, secondly what are the policy options we choose in restructuring and that could be either we will retain 100% ownership of an institution, we may set up new institutions like we are doing now to set up and transform the DDSA into an infrastructure bank, or secondly we may decide to dispose completely of certain assets, which is in the case of Aventura which is holiday resorts which we have no interest in running, thirdly, we may decide that we want to bring in a strategic equity partner because of our requirements for very specific input of technology, of management and capital, or alternatively we may decide to privatise something completely or enter into an option, a joint partnership with the private sector.

POM     What I'm interested in, all this is logical and fine to me, but I'm interested in that privatisation was like a Thatcherite concept and those of us who grew up any time associated with Margaret Thatcher feel that she was not just the Iron Lady -

JN     You see that's where it's changed.

POM     Where did you change? Where did you and your colleagues change from saying we are on the left in this way, to moving and in fact occupying the ground of what would previously be called the right wing white economic way of thinking?

JN     But you see that's where you're wrong because you're arguing from an ideological point of view that this is where the right is. We're arguing from a very practical view of how do we deliver the services that are required by our people. The issue is the goal and the outcome, not the strategy.

POM     Some of you must have been very powerful -

JN     Of course very powerful, of course we are powerful but there was a reality.

POM     - from an ideological movement, how was that battle of ideas fought and won?

JN     I think the most important issue was the collapse of Eastern Europe. For us that was a reality that what had been built up there was really at the end of the day state capitalism and that the concept of building socialism in the form that it took in Eastern Europe was not appropriate and in fact it failed to deliver better quality of life to people and ended up with a situation where even though you had rapid industrial expansion you had simultaneously that stagnation setting in and you had the same elitism you would have in any capitalist country. So I think the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe had a massive impact in the early nineties on the politics in the movement in South Africa and very important in that debate was a very important article written by Joe Slovo that looked at the question of had socialism failed.

POM     I remember it.

JN     So an important political debate started in the movement and I think that was shaped by the reality that political power was now within our reach and how do we practically grapple with the fact of the matter that we are essentially a capitalist country, that capital is in the hands of the white conglomerates, that you have a large dispossessed majority, economically disenfranchised majority, you have a fluidity of the financial markets with the globalisation that you can't underestimate and the recent currency volatility is an example of that and that this is the world we're living in and therefore a recognition also that there is a market reality, the reality that there needs to be a market economy. A critical choice for us is what is the role of the state in that market economy and how are we able to shape it in such a way to ensure that the socio-economic goals of the RDP have been achieved and what are the partnerships we require in achieving those goals between ourselves, the private sector, the labour movement and civil society?

POM     Let me ask you then about the relationship between the RDP and GEAR where again COSATU is in complete agreement with the goals of the RDP but are far less, to put it mildly, enthusiastic about the way they talk about GEAR that was introduced first as being non-negotiable, this is government policy, this is joining the world community, we're making economic policy, we were laying it down and we weren't going to be buggered by internal domestic concerns, we were serious about going after world money and foreign investment. You are now hailed by the World Bank as following, far better than European countries are in terms of trying to reach their monetary union, you're doing far better in making your deficit the percentage of the GDP but at the same time you're angering your trade union movement.

JN     Well you know the exercise of power is often more difficult than the opposition.

POM     That I know, so I wonder how you do it.

JN     There are not simple answers to this, we live in the real world. The fact is that we don't underestimate the influence we've had on institutions like the World Bank.

POM     What do you say to Sam?

JN     But this is the point that I made to Sam, is that we have had a major impact on institutions like the World Bank. We have not accepted money from the World Bank yet. The practice of the World Bank and the financial institutions as well, they have been very careful to ensure that their input plugs into where we are going to. The reality is that I think that the fact that the World Bank is able to talk more broadly about socio-economic issues -

POM     Who is?

JN     From the World Bank. A more important contribution has been by the experience of South Africa and he should go and talk to them and find out about that influence that we have had on their policy making. I think in Africa they moved away from the attitude of saying that they have the blueprint and they are coming in and they tell governments what to do, the structural adjustment programme. But let's make this distinction, the issue of structural adjustment it depends from which angle you're taking it. To argue that there is no fundamental restructuring to take place in South Africa would be a wrong premise to work on. In fact what we require is a structural adjustment programme as designed by ourselves because what you want to do is force expenditure out of its old pattern and force the deployment of civil servants out of the old patterns into new forms that meet the needs now of all our citizens. So basically to say to me that I will want to make sure that in health we restructure the budget of health to shift out both people and money from the huge white elephants we have here serving usually the white community in your urban centre, to providing primary health care in the rural areas of Transkei, it's correct that the structural adjustment builds that. That's fundamental restructuring. There's nothing wrong with that, that's in fact to implement the  RDP. Restructuring is a reality. We live in a real world where international finance is an important component of what happens to countries' economy.

POM     I'm not publishing anything until the year 2000. So I am here today sitting with you this afternoon saying, Jay I've a problem, my members are down my neck, they think GEAR is anti-worker, it's putting stringent - they are cutting this, they are cutting that.

JN     But that's where I think - I don't think they are cutting. What are they cutting? All we are saying is that we need to set specific targets for the budget deficit. Why? Because the debt repayment that we are making -

POM     But he's got to tell his workers.

JN     He's got to tell them. This is exactly what I said to you already.

POM     The workers don't work with concepts for debt reduction, they work with what's in their pocket.

JN     Yes absolutely, so what is in their pockets?

POM     Sam is worried about what's in their pockets.

JN     If you're talking about expenditure I will take the example of this one rand that we have of taxpayers' money and explain how that one rand is used. At the end of the day if we can stop using our money to pay back debt and use that money instead to build schools and clinics that worker is going to understand why debt reduction is important. Now I think the other issue is a confusion that GEAR has replaced the  RDP. It hasn't. GEAR is purely the macro-economic fundamental and an important part of the RDP but not the only part of it.

POM     The RDP is the vision.

JN     And the RDP was very much the vision and the broad framework and the targets we set, so the housing ministry is still setting its target for a million houses. In telecommunications I am still setting a target of 1.8 million telephones over the next five years. The electrification target is still in place, so are the water targets, so is health, so is education. So I think there is a confusion that we've suddenly abandoned all of this work and now are pursuing just a fiscal strategy. A fiscal strategy is one component of the overall economic strategy of government and all departments have set very specific targets that deliver on the RDP including the ones that the Labour Department is delivering to the union movement.

POM     Why has this confusion arisen and been allowed to - ?

JN     The confusion is mainly because it's a weakness within the alliance, it's a weakness of how we are developing policy. The fact that government is confronted by these major contradictions and obstacles, has got to devise policy and move ahead and the structure of co-ordination within the alliance, is not able to accommodate the level at which we are moving. I can just speak of telecommunications, every day there is something new that happens as we move through this process of restructuring. We don't have the structures and the movement can internalise that, take that back to the grassroots, consult on it and then come back. One of our biggest problems of delivery is we tried to implement the RDP by a consultative process in which we got bogged down because we spend more time discussing where we should build a clinic rather than building a clinic and sometimes two years after the fact we're still in consultation because we've reached agreement with one group and another group stands up saying, no but I don't agree with that.

     So the point comes at which government has got to govern. The very same principle we used in the trade unions when we called the big mineworkers' strike. It came to a point where Anglo American was dismissing 10,000 workers a day. You couldn't have a consultation that said let's go and talk to every mine and see whether the workers are ready to go to work. The executive met and it took a decision, we end the strike, we have not won the strike and if we don't end it now we're going to lose the union. It's the same dilemma that we're presented with. We've been elected with a mandate and we've got to govern in terms of that mandate and obviously there's got to be a consultative process but we can't consult every hockey club and secondly we can't have consultation that delays and pre-empts delivery. I think that's where within the movement we've got to find the appropriate structures that allow us to drive that delivery.

POM     I want to take you back to some of the questions that I asked you the last time I talked to you, just reflective questions after I looked at your responses. One is this that I've been trying to really understand and still have difficulty understanding because I get so many different responses from not only people like yourself but people in positions like yourself, it is how does the political decision making structure in South Africa work? What I have heard, and correct me if I am wrong, is that the National Congress of the ANC is held every three years and it lays down the broad parameters of policy, the National Executive is elected and the National Executive becomes the decision making authority and that under that are the ministries who carry out broadly the policies laid down by the NEC, so that in a way the government ministries are subordinate to the authority of the NEC rather than vice versa. The cabinet implements as laid down by the NEC rather than the cabinet making policy and giving it back to the NEC, and that under that you have parliament. How does it work in your mind?

JN     No. First of all the RDP, which is the broad platform and framework of policy goals that have been established and to which the ANC, COSATU, the SACP and civil society have been committed to, and that's the broad policy framework. What then happens in the ANC is the ANC -

POM     The RDP is A, that's the top of the apex.

JN     Yes. The ANC and COSATU in its National Congress, the ANC in its National Congress and other organisations will meet on a regular basis and define more detailed policy statements so they are the sovereign policy making structures within each organisation and very often they will define policy based on elaborating the RDP. The NEC is responsible, and it meets on a more regular basis, for example once every three months, and will be responsible for ensuring that that policy is implemented and it's given the authority to amend policy based on the objective conditions you find yourself in. You can't be locked into policy that becomes irrelevant after a while. So they are given the policy to implement and the day-to-day running of the NEC of the ANC is left to the NWC, National Working Committee, which meets on an even more regular basis. Between the different organisations there is then an alliance forum and there is what is called the RDP Council which brings together all civil society and obviously the core of that RDP Council which brings together all different organisations from the churches to the progressive organisations that have been part of the anti-apartheid movement and part of the Mass Democratic Movement, the core of that is the alliance of the ANC, SACP and COSATU. Now that's in the political organisation. Now what happens within government is that we are ministers appointed by the President and acting on ANC policy so we've got to take the policy framework of the RDP, we've got to take the policy direction that comes out of the National Congress and then define that into more detailed sectoral policy, for example to produce a green paper on telecommunication which will go through a period of extensive discussion and consultation.

POM     Does that go through the NEC?

JN     No, no, it will be based on what comes through the NEC and it is basically taking the NEC to a policy direction and then saying OK now we've got to elaborate on this, because the NEC can't deal with the detail, they are there to deal with the principle. And so the detail of policy direction then goes through another consultative process which is usually, like in telecommunications, given to the National Telecommunications Forum on which sit all stakeholders in telecommunications from the business community to the trade unions to the civic organisations and so you arrive at a process where it basically becomes a white paper, it goes back to parliament. Parliament in its committee on communications will then decide it wants to have hearings before it takes it to parliament so there's another point at which people can come in and make presentations. So the policy then goes to parliament, is adopted - this is the formal policy on telecommunications as we have now established for the next period of time. Arising from that white paper is then legislation, you draft the legislation. Now you want to implement legally that policy so what we've got to do in telecommunications is we've got to pass a law and the law has got to set up a South African Telecommunications Regulatory Authority to regulate this. It's got to set up a universal service agency to ensure universal service is delivered. It's got to set up a human resource development fund to ensure that we are developing human resources. We have got to set up a universal service fund to make sure that rural villages are getting funds to develop. So that becomes a law. Now we are then responsible for implementing that law so we've set up the institution, we've set up the capacity, we have the law in place, we're now making sure that Telkom or the industry delivers in terms of that law.

     So this is how we take it from a point of where you start off with the RDP, you go to a policy direction of the ANC, you come forward to how that is elaborated within a department, how it goes to a white paper and then becomes a law and underpinning and cross-cutting, that is how do you align all these different policies towards a common goal and what is this common goal?  On elements of GEAR, as you said now, beyond RDP we set a macro-economic target of a 6% growth rate by the year 2000 and a labour absorption rate of 400,000 jobs per annum by the year 2000. So how do you align all of these policies in a way that gets you to these targets? I think based on elaboration and discussion and dealing with those misunderstandings we will be able to clear up a lot of confusion that has now existed between different organisations relating to the relationship between GEAR and RDP.

POM     Do you think that the differences that one sees in newspapers or the media between how COSATU has reservations about GEAR and how COSATU make a distinction between GEAR and the RDP, do you think they have now been resolved or that when Sam talks about rolling mass action this year, what's he talking about?

JN     But Padraig, I think my biggest failure in the past would have been where COSATU agreed to everything government does. I think the biggest failure we would have made in the past is to have a situation today where COSATU agrees with everything government does. So you must understand that COSATU is a trade union organisation there to defend the interests of its members primarily. Beyond that it has political goals and economic goals that seek to advance the interests of the vast majority of people and therefore their commitment to RDP. But COSATU is not the ANC and the ANC is not the SACP. We must recognise that there are going to be contradictions. A tension between these organisations is not unhealthy. It's actually a healthy sign of democracy. Our critical challenge is how we manage the contradiction so they don't become irreconcilable but the vested interests in our country that have acquired power under apartheid see the alliance as the single biggest threat to their ideology and so, yes, you're going to have concerted attempts to try and break up this alliance that defeated apartheid.

POM     Very quickly, since we're in the last minute or two this time round, do you still see, as you said the last time when we talked about it, that the attempt by the National Party to reconstruct itself either under a new label or under a new umbrella or whatever is still an absolute myth, that it just simply can't, it just misses reality?

JN     Absolutely. I think the NP is going to close one of these days because there are irreconcilable factions within it, one committed to maintaining a type of racist ideology based here on trying to carve out an Afrikaner homeland in the Western Cape and another that sees that unless they break out of the mould of minority politics and make inroads into the black community that they are not a party of the future.

POM     But can they ever make inroads into the black community? What's your betting? If you were a betting man what would you say, in the next 20 years?

JN     I think it would be very difficult for the majority of black people in this country.

POM     Even for a significant number?

JN     For any number of any significance to see the NP as a vehicle for transformation.

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.