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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
17 Feb 1997: Kathrada, Ahmed
POM Mr Kathrada, let me begin by asking you - we've now reached the first stages of what one might call the final stages of the Mandela years; from your perspective given the hopes and aspirations you had during the long years of jail what are the major achievements of those years and what are the major disappointments? And as you look forward towards the post-Mandela years what do you see as the major setbacks or the major problems that exist to the further development of democracy in South Africa?
AK First of all to start off with the Robben Island years, the prison years, now in prison we never ever lost confidence that we were going to win. On Robben Island we never ever lost confidence that we were going to win one day, just as we never lost confidence that we will come out of prison. Yesterday I had occasion when I went out to Robben Island with Al Gore and his group I pointed out an inscription on one of the rocks on Robben Island, it was dated September 1980, and the inscription there, obviously done by a prisoner, was 'The ANC will win' and that was in 1980. It was indicative of a spirit that prevailed right through the years, even in the bad years that spirit never ebbed that we were going to win. What we did not envisage is that we will be in government. That was never ever discussed, not by the President and not by anybody else. What we knew is that the ANC was going to win and that happened.
Then we go on to the achievements since we came into government. One thing again that needs to be emphasised is that when uMkhonto weSizwe was launched in December of 1961 the official expectations, the official policy was never that there will be a military victory over the other side although individuals have time and again publicly talked of military defeats and so forth but that was unrealistic. The leaders of MK, President Mandela and others made it clear over and over again, reminded people that almost every struggle in the world ended at the negotiation table. There are very few that didn't. So that the aim of the armed struggle was really to increase the pressure on the enemy of the time to come to the negotiating table and not to be so obstinate and cause more and more bloodshed. And we succeeded there, we got them to the negotiating table and the rest is history of course.
Now what are our achievements? Again, to my mind they need to be divided. In my view the greatest achievement is not material, it is the change in attitudes, the acceptance by hitherto hostile, antagonistic people, by enemies, the acknowledgement that there is now a democratically elected government in this country. Even the right wing has now conceded that. Even the Conservative Party of Hartzenberg, they too acknowledge that there is President Mandela democratically. They don't like him, they don't like the policies but they acknowledge that there is this democratically elected government and there are various public displays of this change of attitude. One needs but to think of the rugby and the soccer, rugby being a white man's game essentially all the years, and when South Africa won tens of thousands of people took to the streets, black and white, celebrating South Africa's victory. Similarly the soccer which is a black sport, and when South Africa won the Africa Cup it was the same thing, tens of thousands of whites cheered. And that is happening more and more. This is not to say that all is now perfect, naturally there are a lot of reservations there still. In fact there are groupings of whites who have not yet acknowledged the generosity of the ANC government. The Truth Commission day after day exposes, reveals the tortures, the horrendous tortures that people had undergone in the course of the struggle. And what many whites have not yet accepted is the generosity not only of President Mandela and the government but of the ordinary black formerly oppressed people of South Africa, that they are not clamouring for retribution, not clamouring for whites to get out of the country or anything. They are still accommodating towards the whites and it is disappointing that numbers of whites still oppose things like affirmative action and so forth.
POM Just one point I would like to take you up on for a moment is that I remember particularly last year I was struck by the fact that so many whites were dismissive of the TRC in the sense that they felt, well, this was like blacks shoving it down their throats and they never knew about these atrocities and they weren't to blame and if they had known they would have objected and rather than showing any sense of appreciation and the need for them to acknowledge being part of that past it was that they were resentful, as though when there were programmes on at night summarising the proceedings of the commission, rather than listen to their past they would switch channels.
AK That is very disappointing really and it's again a replay of what happened in Nazi Germany where the majority of the population at that time, in Germany of course the majority, here it's the minority, enjoyed all the fruits of apartheid and oppression. They just stopped thinking and I believe that many of them were unaware of the extent of the atrocities but I don't believe that they were completely ignorant. There were court cases that were widely publicised, the media publicised many things. But I think that some of our white compatriots are suffering from induced amnesia, they don't want to know, they didn't want to know. They lived in another world. It is still significant that even up to day the vast majority of people who visit Soweto are foreigners. The white South Africans don't because they still want to live in another world. It is disappointing.
The TRC is not one-sided. The first part of the TRC brought out the victims, the atrocities committed against victims and people were asking when are the perpetrators coming? And now that has happened, perpetrators are coming forward more and more and revealing, exposing the atrocities that they had perpetrated against the people. That is very necessary as part of the healing process. And if you see - I mean I have not followed in detail the proceedings of the TRC but I gather and I think I am right that the vast majority of the victims who have given evidence there, even after the exposure of the atrocities by the perpetrators, the vast majority are not asking for retribution, their demands are very simple. Some want to know where their beloved were killed, where they were buried, can they be exhumed to give them a decent burial, etc., etc. These are basic human demands. It's something again that white South Africans must take note of. There is no overwhelming desire on the part of the formerly oppressed victims of atrocities for retribution. They are still prepared to open their hearts and accept the rest of South Africa and unite in reconstruction. And then lately we have had this other disappointing revelation, it's very disturbing, that there is a group of whites who are organised, who plan various things, not violent, but who plan to thwart the progress that we are making.
POM Is this on the business side?
AK Well the business people are responsible, the President revealed lately information of ten South African businessmen who went to America to tell the American business people not to invest in South Africa. These are South Africans. Again one must be very clear, this doesn't apply to all businessmen but there is this grouping and fortunately their existence has come to light through our intelligence sources and let's hope that we can put a stop to that because they are not going to achieve anything. If they succeed in thwarting investment and thwarting progress it just means hardship for everybody. There will be more crime, there will be more destabilisation in the country and everybody is going to suffer so these people are short-sighted.
POM In this sense do you think the 'struggle' is over or that you've got to maintain a constant vigilance against rearguard actions that are intended either to entrap you in some way or to slow progress or to show that South Africa is going the way of the rest of Africa?
AK I think that the danger of a mass white right wing uprising is not there any more. I think that was nipped in the bud with the 1994 elections when thanks to ANC negotiators they managed to split the white right wing with the result that we have General Constand Viljoen and his men and women sitting in parliament with us. So I think that type of a mass white uprising is not there. Whereas at the same time we would be unrealistic if we do not recognise that there still are pockets as is revealed in Worcester, bombing as is revealed in Rustenburg, as has been revealed again last week with this chap Ratte leading a group of ten people to steal arms. So that danger is there and they can cause, a small grouping can cause some disruption but by and large I think that danger is gone.
But while I refer to the mass emotions, the victories of South Africa in football and rugby were there, those could be ephemeral, a lot more work has to be done to consolidate that feeling, a lot of education has to be done. Unfortunately the media is not playing the role it should play, the South African media. They also tend to highlight the negative. Now when I was in America lately I had occasion in one particular instance when we were meeting with some members of the Editorial Board of the New York Times for instance, and just two or three days before then they had printed an interview with President Mandela, now it's the type of positive reporting which you seldom get in South Africa, where the New York Times printed statistics of material progress that has been made. On the other hand of course they also had slipped in unnecessary negative things which were not even factual. But the South African media is more guilty. What the New York Times printed they don't even print here, they don't highlight here. They don't highlight the material achievements which is unfortunate. A few months ago for instance there was a huge banner headline in The Cape Times about the brain drain and they highlighted the name of the former head of the Small Business Development Corporation, I forget his name now, now that was a banner headline. That news had been carried some months before, it was not unknown. Why the Cape Times chose once again to give it banner headlines I don't know, but it's unnecessary, it's unpatriotic to be constantly highlighting negatives when there is so much positive to talk about. Very soon there is going to be a publication which is going to be a comprehensive review of achievements, material achievements. What happens now is Professor Kader Asmal goes on record in saying 700,000 people are now getting water which was not there before, or the Minister of Energy would come and say that 400,000 houses are now getting electricity, or the Minister of Health will talk about the millions of school children - but this is done in isolation and not having the desired impact.
POM It's marketing.
AK Marketing is the thing and unfortunately we've also inherited a communication system from the old regime which has been very unsatisfactory. Now fortunately there has been a task group which has gone into it and recommended that that whole thing be disbanded, that it be replaced by a more effective grouping which will convey not only the achievements of the government but convey the reality of what is happening in South Africa. So hopefully that will come into being. But the South African media will have to play its role. They unfortunately are under the impression that freedom of expression is their monopoly, only the monopoly of the media. They don't acknowledge that just as they enjoy the freedom of expression so do we and when we criticise or point to weaknesses in the media we are accused of tampering with press freedom which is unfair. I think that we have got the right to criticise the media and no-one has suggested that there is going to be a clamp down on the media. In fact we can't do it with the Bill of Rights in the constitution, it's impossible to clamp down on the media without causing trouble for ourselves.
POM So when you look to the post-Mandela years and his presence isn't there, and he is a presence that transcends the ordinary activities of the country in a way, what do you see as the major setbacks to the continued progress of the country towards a fuller and more fruitful democracy?
AK It's true that President Mandela is projected as someone who is larger than life. There won't be another Mandela in a hurry, just as there was no Gandhi and Nehru in India and there was no Tito in Yugoslavia, there was no Churchill in England, there was no Roosevelt in America, so there is not going to be another Mandela in a hurry. But we must always bear in mind that President Mandela is part of a team. He does not make policy as an individual. The policy is at present and will continue to be made by the ANC National Executive and the conferences of the ANC. President Mandela has once again reminded people lately of how he was overruled by the leadership of the ANC, on matters on which he felt very strongly he was overruled. So he is an individual who of course enjoys tremendous popularity in South Africa and abroad but he is part of a team. We have got a very powerful team. In the three years almost that we have been in government that team has matured, it was dealing with a new ball game altogether, and even this morning the President of the World Bank over the radio remarked very favourably about what this team has achieved. So we have no fear that in the post-Mandela period there will be some dramatic setbacks. I don't think so. The team will continue the policy that is laid down by the ANC.
POM One thing I've been asking people and have had contradictory replies on is when it comes to the most important decision making structures who lays out what policy will be? Is it the NEC that is the key body and what is relationship between the NEC and government ministers, say for example the cabinet? Who has the overriding authority when it comes to the making of fundamental policy decisions?
AK First of all there's the three-yearly conference of the ANC that makes fundamental policy.
POM Sorry, the which?
AK The three-yearly national conference of the ANC which takes place at the end of this year again. But between conferences it's the National Executive of the ANC. I think with the exception of one, all ministers and deputy ministers are members of the National Executive so that between conferences it is the National Executive that makes decisions. But one thing we must acknowledge that there has not been that close working together between the two as there should be, not because of any defiance, it's been a practical thing.
POM That's between the cabinet and the NEC?
AK We have that knowledge but it's been a practical problem of time, not because ministers want to do things on their own and refuse to carry out - by and large ministers have carried out the policies of the ANC as set down by conference and as set down by the National Executive. There may be, and I can't immediately even think of any, where they have departed in a very big way, I can't think of any, but there needs to be closer working together and this has been acknowledged at this meeting, three, four day meeting that was held in January outside Johannesburg, that there needs to be much more closer working together between the two and steps have already been taken to ensure that that is going to happen. So, again, there is no fear that they will go their own way, the ministers and the National Executive.
POM Looking at the development of democracy there are many people who would say that in effect South Africa is a one-party, not a one-party state but a one-party democracy, that the ANC is so entrenched that by and large it gets its way when it wants its way. Do you think that it would be in the interests of the development of democracy in the country for the ANC to fragment so there are maybe three or four different parties all competing against each other in the political market place or that it is better for the country that the alliance for the foreseeable future holds together as a monolith even though within that monolith there are disagreements?
AK A healthy opposition is always welcome and necessary. It should be there. But there is no need for an opposition for the sake of an opposition. We had this government of national unity and we still have the IFP there. I don't think there has been a single occasion even when the Nationalists were part of the government, I don't think there was a single occasion when cabinet had to take a majority decision with the ANC having 18 ministers. It was always by consensus. What is unfortunate is that the very Nationalist Party people, and to some extent the IFP people, who are part of the government would be party to decisions and go out and behave as if they were not party to decisions. Now that's not healthy opposition. Healthy opposition is, one hopes, where they will in a responsible manner keep the government on its toes. That's always necessary and the President last week has emphasised this again in parliament in his opening speech, welcomes this healthy opposition and has appealed to them to act in a responsible manner: where there are criticisms to be made, make them in a constructive manner, bear in mind all the time that we have got this task of nation building, the task of reconstructing the country. That should be primary and that's what the opposition should also accept. As for the ANC fragmenting itself I don't think it's going to happen in 1999 for the elections but I think that sooner or later it has to happen. The ANC is still a liberation organisation, it's not a political party. Some people might claim that it is. I don't think it is. It's still got all sorts of elements in it. It cannot go on endlessly as it is. At some stage it has to fragment and become a political party, but in my view it will still remain the most important party in the country. I don't think there will be a split between ANC and COSATU and ANC and the Communist Party and so forth.
POM What kind of division would you see? Between the more conservative elements and more - ?
AK You know you can't even say that because when I look back at some decisions that have to be taken you will find the so-called radicals taking a stand, not always united either, and on another issue the radicals taking a very conservative line. So there are no clear cut divisions between radicals and so-called conservatives. They differ from time to time, often it's a question of personalities more than policy differences.
POM So when you talk about some inevitable future fragmentation, do you mean along political lines there being two political parties, like the ANC and a rump party or what?
AK What may happen is naturally with majority rule now there will be elements among the formerly oppressed people, the black majority, there may be elements who will demand and expect more for themselves. The whole question of entitlement, that we were the oppressed people, we should get more than others. The ANC doesn't believe that so you may have that grouping within the ANC who may break away at some stage, as the PAC did previously, so that you may have this ultra-nationalistic grouping. I think it's going to be small but it will be there. It's already there revived in the PAC for instance and the Black Consciousness people who still demand that there should be some entitlement for the formerly oppressed people. But by and large in the ANC there may be some seeds of that but it's going to be small, so that may be one grouping that may break away. There may be a more leftist grouping, non-racial but leftist, which may break away. I don't think the alliance itself as an alliance is going to crumble. There may be groupings within other organisations too, COSATU for instance, who may break away with one group taking the one side and the other the other way. I think the alliance will remain.
POM Where does the whole question of the coloured community fit into this? This is an issue that received quite extensive coverage abroad in the last couple of weeks, that there appears to be a sentiment in a considerable segment of the coloured community that they are somehow being oppressed under newly found freedoms under African rule, so to speak, than they were under white rule which is expressing itself in more tangible and open ways than before. One, do they have any validity to what they say? Two, why do they feel that way? And three, despite the best efforts of the ANC, and I know President Mandela has spent a lot of time working with the coloured community, why does it persist?
AK To some extent it is a carry over from what happened in the past. You take the Western Cape for instance which has always had a majority coloured population, in past years due to government policies Africans were excluded from the Western Cape and the NP systematically promoted this idea of a coloured preference area and they had the pass laws.
POM Africans weren't allowed in, influx control.
AK They were not allowed in, with the influx control they were not allowed in, and that was even more stringent because they wanted it to remain a coloured preference area. When Africans started coming in, and because of the employment situation also, they started taking jobs at much lower wages, salaries, and numbers of coloureds felt threatened so there has been an economic reason for that. Added to that the NP propaganda, especially in the 1994 elections and once again in the local government elections did take root where they projected the so-called threat of African majority rule as a danger to coloureds. It was not a coincidence or an accident that before the 1994 elections you had this invasion of houses that were meant for coloureds, empty houses that were invaded by Africans. It was not an accident that the same thing happened in Natal in so-called Indian areas where Africans invaded Indian homes. That was before the 1994 elections. Now that was orchestrated as part of the election campaign. It did have the desired result from their point of view. It did instil fear in the minds of the minority Indians and the coloureds that this is what's going to happen when the Africans take over in this country. So there is a carryover of that, there is the threat, economic threat which is real because of the employment situation.
On the other hand there has been an IDASA survey in the Western Cape here which proved that coloureds have benefited from affirmative action too. Unfortunately I don't have the statistics. Then I was attending a meeting in Gauteng last year some time where Deputy President Thabo Mbeki spoke, it was an Indian meeting, and there we had the same old complaint about affirmative action: my daughter had six As in her matric and she didn't get admission to Medical School but here's an African chap who got admission with an inferior pass mark. After having expressed themselves at this meeting and Deputy President Thabo Mbeki left, the Registrar of a particular institution came to me, and he's an Indian Professor, he says, "Look tell Thabo Mbeki that there is discrimination but the discrimination happens to be in favour of the Indians, here are the statistics." So there are these perceptions. Nobody has got statistics to show that affirmative action has disadvantaged any particular grouping. What we are saying is that there may be instances where there has been this. I mean I have talked to Indians, medical people, and I said, look, even during the apartheid years you Indians who were better off went to Dublin, Dublin opened up for you, the vast majority of South Africans who went to Dublin were Indians, qualified there, you went to Egypt, you went to India. The Africans didn't, they were not given passports although the governments of India and Egypt opened up and gave scholarships but the South African government didn't give passports so you should not be complaining if there are cases where Africans are being given preference over you. And we are tackling this head on. Naturally we don't want any of the previously disadvantaged communities to be further disadvantaged. It's a thing we are conscious of and we are tackling it. At the same time we don't want these misconceptions to be perpetuated.
POM Looking again at this process of the fluidity of politics in South Africa and the recent fairly vehement attacks on Mr de Klerk by significant elements within the Afrikaner community, (i) do you think that at this point in time it might be a good thing if he were to stand down and let a new order take over, (ii) and I know we've talked about this before but I want to ask you it on a continuing basis, do you think the likes of Roelf Meyer are sincere when they say they want to create a non-racial alternative whether it's within the structures of the NP or creating a new party that will be black led or do you think that white people are capable of doing that, again the movement for change must come from blacks, whites can't suddenly say we're going to create a black party from the top down and therefore we will win black votes, it's that it must move the other way, that it might be middle class blacks who will say we want to form our own party and have whites join us? Do you think it's any more possible or feasible than it was a year ago or is it a pipedream of sorts?
AK No I don't think even if the NP sheds its right wing element altogether that they will attract a significant number of black votes, they will not. Even the Indians and coloureds who voted Nat when it comes to a political party they are not going to join those parties and Africans certainly not. They are all tainted, De Klerk is tainted, Roelf Meyer is tainted. I mean no matter how much they try to distance themselves from the atrocities and the policies of the past nobody believes them because it's not true, they were all part of it. But of course human beings change. I have a high regard for some of the people who were Nats, Wessels in particular and Roelf Meyer to some extent although he was occupying an important position in the security establishment at some stage.
POM He was Deputy Minister of Police wasn't he?
AK Defence I think it was.
POM He was Minister of Defence.
AK Yes something like that. They are all tainted, but one doesn't want to hold that against them all the time. There was very close co-operation with Roelf Meyer in particular, between Roelf Meyer and Cyril Ramaphosa and one has to acknowledge that individuals do play a part in history and in this particular case it has proved again that individuals can have a significant contribution in shaping history. I would go so far as to say that these two did play that part, the relationship between these two.
POM Cyril and Roelf.
AK And Wessels. Naturally they had their teams around them but these were individuals who gave the lead. But I doubt it if there is going to be a new Nationalist Party under majority black leadership. It's not going to happen. The danger at the moment is although ex President de Klerk, who comes from an extreme right wing position before, in fact it was expected when the right wing broke away and formed the Conservative Party it was expected that he would go but for some reason he didn't. So he has got that background. To what extent he has moved away can be evidenced in the bold step he took in 1990 and one can't take that away from him. He did take a bold step when they legalised the organisations and released Mandela and others. That's to his credit. So you now have elements who were his allies of the time when he was right wing who now don't agree with him and accuse him of having betrayed the right wing. His future, I think, is very insecure. If he has sincerely and consistently changed and gone more left, as he did indicate in 1990, it will be a pity if he is overthrown. He hasn't been a good opposition leader but with the likes of Roelf Meyer and others he may shape up.
POM So far do you think his continuing presence in politics is a good thing for the politics of his own community and for the politics of South Africa or is it time for him to acknowledge in some way that 'my contribution to history has been made and it is better that I move on'?
AK I would hesitate to say that it will be a good thing if he moves out simply because who follows him? The only people who can follow him are the more right wing people and that would not be healthy for South Africa. As I said, De Klerk came from a very right wing position but he did change, he did move, let's hope he moved sincerely and consistently and if that is his genuine position it will be good if he stays leader of the party and not make way for Hernus Kriel and Tertius Delport and those extreme right wing people because that will take white opinion further back than it is now.
POM Coming for a minute to the question of violence, even in the last two weeks before I got here I have had six friends who have been victims of violence and one black young man who survived, one of these awful ironies to it, who was very active in the eighties and into the nineties and he survived the Security Police and he survived detention, he survived all of these things, and he ends up by nearly getting shot to death by two 15-year olds with assault weapons. After three years or whatever it seems to me that the violence is still as big a factor as it was before and some of the things that come out at the TRC are not just about people being killed but the almost bestial way in which they were killed. Are there factors underneath the surface of society here that in some way breed violence, breed disregard for life that more policemen won't get rid of, that have to be understood whatever they are and then dealt with in some way?
AK Well we have to distinguish between political violence and ordinary criminal violence. On the whole political violence has gone down dramatically. In fact for periods of weeks and months it's not there even, then it erupts again but dies down again. Political violence has come under control. Criminal violence has not. Statistically it has gone down but it's not dramatic. You and I and the person in the street don't feel that way, they don't feel secure. Unfortunately the apartheid years brutalised whole communities. In the townships children grew up day in and day out witnessing or being victims of police violence. 1976 with the uprising saw evidence of that where these young people who grew up had just now lost all fear of violence, they were prepared to defy the police with nothing in their hands, with stones. So while there was this brutalisation people lost all fear of violence. That meant nothing to them. It was an everyday thing. Children grew up, they saw little kids being shot. Through it all has been the socio-economic position, the massive unemployment, tens of thousands of children have been without schools, there is hunger, there is poverty, especially in the countryside. There has been the action of the farmers in evicting people who were living on the farms for ages who were now moved out into squatter camps, again without food, without jobs.
Then you've got the corruption we inherited in the police. Since 1994 this government has arrested over 200 police in KwaZulu/Natal on charges of kidnapping, rape, murder, robbery, over 400 have been arrested in Gauteng, police, not just constables, and these things are happening in other provinces so that we have got that corruption.
Then we have got since 1994 when our borders were opened up, it also facilitated the entry of international syndicates, crime syndicates. That's why you find that when a motor car is hijacked within hours or days it's across the border, a highly sophisticated operation. So we are facing all that. It's a very, very huge problem. We can increase the police force, we can clean up the police force. At very best it's going to curb the violence, it's not going to eliminate it altogether but it can dramatically curb the violence that is prevailing in the country and that's what we are aiming to do, is to clean up the police force as much as possible and increase it and make it much more effective to get crime under control.
POM Do you say, and these are all tied in, this is still the culture of non-payment of services, what can you say to somebody who doesn't have a job, that you have to pay for your services?
AK Well just yesterday I was talking to somebody from Gauteng, a councillor, and he says the tragedy is that non-payment has become part of the culture. We were responsible for that, we must admit it. The tragedy is that of the small percentage who are paying up a large percentage are pensioners who are paying up. The more well off, your teachers, your professional people, your nurses, they are not paying up and that is what we have to deal with. Now he was giving me an example of his area where he works, he is a councillor, he has got the facts. And now pensioners are beginning to turn round and say, "Why should we be paying when these people who are well off are not paying?" That's another big problem but that is not directly linked up with crime. That's another problem altogether.
The other thing that we must take into account are newspaper reports of yesterday, for instance, I don't know to what extent one can say they were true and the extent to which this was done when yesterday's papers talked of the systematic distribution of mandrax in 1976 to school kids. We don't know to what extent that is true. What is true is that they did try to influence large numbers of young people to carry out destabilisation. I am not for a moment suggesting that the 1976 uprising was a part of their destabilisation, I'm not suggesting that, but yesterday's papers did ask a question: to what extent were these young people high when they took part in these things? I don't think that they were. I mean we've met scores of them who wouldn't even touch drugs, but there may be an element of truth in that. I think that needs to be investigated.
POM So unemployment still is not dramatically moving and that's not the fault of South Africa. Unemployment in Europe is going up. In fact somebody gave me one of these interesting figures that the rate of unemployment in Gauteng is lower than the rate of unemployment in Spain or in Portugal. If you take out the industrial heartland it's actually quite a healthy, relatively healthy financial state, but yet you've got this 36% - 40% unemployment that just stays there which is related to crime because people that have no jobs they are necessarily going to steal to get bread and butter on their plates. Again it goes back almost to my first question, at the longer term, as you look back on your career as revolutionary, as a free man, as being part of government and as you enter the 21st century, and you're now one of the wise old men of the movement, what do you say to your colleagues that these are the things we must watch in the future if we are to really build on the successes we've had in the past, we must be aware of certain things, certain tendencies that can undermine all our efforts? What would you be pointing to?
AK When I talk to my colleagues in the context of the organisation we have to remind them all the time where we come from, the values, the ethics and morality of the struggle, the sacrifices made by leaders of that time. We would like to encourage the new leadership to carry on along that path. In other words when they came into the struggle they came into the struggle for the benefit of the people, not themselves. We have to make them aware that this is their responsibility to carry on along the path set by their organisation, by the leadership in the past. When it emerges we have to combat this attitude of entitlement. Fortunately it hasn't happened in a big way but the danger is always there, especially on the part of people who had nothing to do with the struggle, many of whom opposed the struggle. They are the ones who will come forward and say we are entitled to this, that and the other. We will have to prepare ourselves to combat that. So that we have to instil this patriotism again, the country before self, that has to be perpetuated. It is happening, fortunately, in the Youth League it is happening. The Youth League is growing very much and we have got a very impressive younger leadership that is doing that. We have to see that it spreads among the student organisations, the Student Congress, etc. That, I would say, is most important because unless you have that commitment to patriotism the country can't move forward as much as it should.
POM Yet then if you pick up the paper yesterday and you see that the Speaker of the House has to suspend travel privileges because the degree of cheating or corruption on reporting of expenses or the abuse of the discounted airfare is so great, how does that make you feel? These are members, this is parliament.
AK I didn't know that it had appeared in the papers yesterday but it was discussed last week and we were told that even among ourselves in internal reports that the situation had been exaggerated, grossly exaggerated and when a proper check was made it wasn't as serious as it was made out to be and those handful of culprits who were responsible had already paid up for their misdemeanours.
POM That didn't make it's way into yesterday's story.
AK No, I didn't see yesterday's story at all unfortunately. I had a very quick look at the papers yesterday but if it didn't emerge it's a pity because we were assured, because we had asked for statistics. We said if you're going to take drastic steps tell us on what basis you are taking these drastic steps. Is it large numbers of people who abuse this, in which case of course drastic steps are necessary. That is when we were told that it's a very small number of people and they have been identified, most of them have paid back, but that is the position.
POM A couple of last things. If you had to pick one word to describe the mood of the country right now, how would you describe it? What word would you choose?
AK I would say cautiously optimistic generally. I say cautiously optimistic because again you have this unfortunate division between black and white. There is more optimism among blacks than among whites. That's why I say if I have to take the average I would say cautiously optimistic on the whole.
POM The other, second last, is on this perception of corruption and many IDASA polls, for example, show that people believe there is more corruption now than there was in the previous government or at least as much as in the previous government, what's your own reading of the situation? Is corruption a problem or is it again one of these issues that's subtly used by either a biased media to create the impression that all Africans are corrupt and we always knew that and here we turn around and there's one incident of corruption after the other?
AK I think the one thing is that in the past corruption did not surface, did not become public. There was massive corruption. There were very few incidents where it came out into the open. I don't think that there's corruption at high levels at all. In fact I'm definite, there is no corruption at ministerial level. Even this thing that's been given so much publicity and is being revived again, the Sarafina thing, there was no suggestion anywhere that there was corruption. At the most it was mismanagement, at the very most. But yet the perception again by the media and by mischievous people was to perpetuate that and create that impression of corruption.
What is not being dealt with by the media is that corrupt people are being caught and punished. Now I was talking earlier about this New York Times article where the correspondent, South African correspondent, had given quite fairly the statistics of achievements. Then she went on and talked about the school feeding scheme, that there's massive corruption. Now there she went wrong. There was corruption in Mpumalanga. What she didn't say is that it was localised and the people, the culprits, were arrested and charged. She didn't add that, so she left the perception that there's the whole school feeding scheme had collapsed which wasn't true, and that is unfortunately again the media perpetuating this type of thing.
There is corruption, there is no doubt. There's theft going on by parliamentary staff. I am told that the cutlery, parliamentary cutlery and table cloths are being sold at The Parade here. So there is and it's unfortunate if the waiters are responsible. It's very unfortunate, it's painful because when we took over government those very waitresses and menial staff were being paid R700 a month. We have now increased that to R2000 minimum. But what are we getting? We're getting more and more demands, they refuse to work between twelve and three, I mean they refuse to serve tea at certain times and all sorts of demands. Fine, that's what workers will demand, but if those are the type of people who are engaging in these corrupt activities it's doubly unfortunate. But again it's being dealt with. As people are being discovered they are being caught, they are being arrested. I have just mentioned the police who we've arrested and the hundreds of cases that are still under investigation of police. So while there is corruption to some extent it is being dealt with as it surfaces.
POM OK. I will leave it there and, again, as always, thank you ever so much.