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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
04 Mar 1997: Ngubane, Ben
POM You began by making this interesting observation that the government in South Africa at one level is brilliant in terms of having ideas but is unable to translate those ideas into practical policies that reach the people on the ground. Why do you think this kind of gap continues to exist even after three years?
BN Well essentially politics, liberation in this country was so much premised on an idea, the ideology of democracy, of freedom, as opposed to the training of people to do things. There are very few black people who are entrepreneurs, who can take a piece of ground with gold in it and turn it into a mine. We don't have that sort of training and I think that's where we miss out and we need therefore to draft in the private sector skills into translating what are beautiful plans into houses, into clinics, into roads and so forth.
POM Now many people say to me that the private sector still isn't kicking in in the way that it should, that its efforts are half-hearted or non-hearted as distinct from fully committed.
BN My perception is that the private sector doesn't yet trust government. I don't think they are fully convinced that we have a similar agenda. Somewhere lurks the idea that they might one day be overwhelmed and things imposed upon them and that there will be government intervention in the economy. Government must come out with a very strong commitment and message to the private sector that this will never happen, that in fact we depend on them as much as they depend on us to make a climate for making money, we depend on them to start making the money happen.
POM Now taking GEAR as an example of the government policy on development and growth, three quick questions about it. One, is it being implemented? Two, have the difficulties with the trade unions been satisfactorily ironed out? Three, is privatisation going to be almost half-assed and therefore unworkable because it's not going to be done the right way or, four, is there a real commitment on government to face the difficulties with its own political allies and make the tough decisions that must be made if GEAR is to work?
BN Well GEAR unfortunately was super-imposed on the RDP, text book as it were. Now you cannot take a system such as the RDP which essentially concentrates on social expenditures, social services and not really first of all finding the base for that type of development, then you come with a strategy document which says we shall have a growth of 6% in two years time when in fact the expectation is that government would deliver, government will find the money somehow. The RDP must tie, I know they are attempting that through the Masakhane campaign, it must tie service delivery with income, with the government revenues, and government revenues come from taxes and so the industries must be productive so the trade union movement must be disciplined and not just go on strike at the drop of a hat. The salaries must be related to what is actually delivered by the worker, and so on and so on. So the problem with GEAR is that it is not based in terms of ANC politics themselves on the full acceptance of the market forces as the determining forces for any type of growth.
Now I know that GEAR has been welcomed by business, we have all welcomed it, but until the ANC tackles the socialism aspect in its thinking, in its whole political rhetoric, it is going to take time, it has to be ratified by the opposition, by the unions and the South African Communist Party. Those are very important partners. I don't see how they are going to manage to overcome them and just ignore them. The problem is buying in easily and so the whole process of deregulating our economic system in terms of doing away to a large extent with exchange control, privatising parastatals and all the state corporations, effectively dealing with the state debt issue. What is happening is that because of pressure, only yesterday the Minister for Education had to say he is going to find money for students for subsidies. We know that the money is not there so it means actually increasing the state debt because of political pressure. As long as they still make those concessions it's going to be very difficult to reduce the state debt although we may achieve to reduce our deficit before borrowing every budget cycle but if the debt rises at the same time it's going to cause a very -
POM Trading Peter to buy Paul. Do you see that there is still this ingrained attitudinal problem that while they can put it on paper, that when it comes down to having to either break with or make really tough decisions with their partnerships, and whether it's the SACP or the unions, that they will not be capable of doing it so that you'll end up with some kind of compromise that simply won't achieve the goals?
BN Precisely. It will not instil confidence in investors because we need fixed investment here, people must put in factories, they must put in all types of infrastructure. They won't do it when they are not certain that the government is 100% committed to deregulation. I can see the problems. You promise your followers and then you get a landslide to victory, you promise that you will deliver everything to their doorstep. It is very difficult to swing over now and say, guys go back and work for whatever you get. That is the problem they face so it is going to be a bit of a protracted process getting a reappraisal of our whole approach to economic development. I think the government, Mbeki is no doubt committed to doing everything possible to get growth going in this country following the whole framework that has been employed in the Asian countries as far as deregulating markets are concerned and therefore getting investment flows coming, but I am not sure if they are going to give him room, especially COSATU and the SACP. But I really wish him well as far as we are concerned in this province because we have always believed in that type of approach, self-help, self-reliance has always been what the IFP preached to the people. That is, governments will provide the general framework of support in terms of social security nets, we make sure that the disabled get their welfare grants, the old age pensions are paid, we would always support that, but we say the private sector is the first creator of wealth, the government is very poor when it comes to generating wealth.
POM To switch for a moment to your becoming Premier of KwaZulu/Natal, what does this mean in terms of the orientation of IFP politics? You've had the resignation of the Secretary General, you've had Walter Felgate, largely because of ill health, being side-lined, you've had the resignation, many people have said to me not resignation but in face forcing out of Dr Mdlalose. What are you supposed to do? What is the change in thrust and direction that you want for the province?
BN Well we want to qualify these other issues. Frank Mdlalose has been for a long time not really well and for a long time has laboured under very heavy loads of the pressures of violence, of having to run the Ministry of Police in addition to his Premier's duties, of really having to broker peace with Jacob Zuma of the ANC. That's occupied almost 90% of his time. Luckily for me I come in when peace is almost there. We need to consolidate it, there is no doubt, we need to ensure that there is political tolerance at community level, in the localities people must have branches, whether the ANC or whatever party, and our people must accept it and the ANC has equally to accept our people.
So at this stage that sort of base is being laid, so I think I will have room first of all to conduct more substantive negotiations with the ANC in terms of governance in the province. We still have to write our own constitution by the way which must embody our uniqueness as a province and promote our comparative advantages in terms of government, framework. But I have a better chance now of going into government and really implementing efficiency, effectiveness and economy in government operations, of streamlining spending, of right-sizing a bloated civil service, of putting government on line virtually in terms of ensuring an information technology infrastructure right through government which links up, obviously, with the private sector in many ways, and of soliciting investments because we are a stable environment, there are good policies in place. We don't have much room in terms of economic policy but there is still a lot that we can do to create a favourable user-friendly environment in terms of accelerating all the processes that are required, for instance, if someone wants to establish a factory, negotiating with the local governments to reduce electricity tariffs so as to reduce energy costs and that sort of enabling mechanism we are going to do.
POM What would you say are the biggest challenges you face and how do the challenges you face differ from the challenges that Frank faced when he became the first Premier? Well violence is one.
BN Violence is one.
POM That's nearly solved is it?
POM We were talking about the challenges that you would face and one was that the violence -
BN I think the violence issue, its back is broken now because there is far more effective policing. A lot of people are being investigated and bring brought to book so it means the police are starting to do their work. How violent that investigation is that's another matter. I've had people complaining that it's only ANC deaths that are being investigated and not IFP deaths so we will have to see about that through the figures that come out. But the fact that it happened, the campaign that Jacob Zuma and Frank have been engaged in, I think that has been so.
Then there's the issue of under-development of the majority of the people in this country. Vast tracts of territory, which were the old KwaZulu/Zulu territories are congested with people being turned into despots because there is over-grazing, there is soil erosion. We must find resources to first of all probably get extra land, in some cases to give room to those people who want to do farming seriously, small scale farmers to engage in farming because that itself is going to teach the rest of the community, the rest of the Zulu people that it can be done and government then must have rehabilitation schemes to conserve the land in the rural countryside through proper sanitation, proper water provision, proper demarcation of grazing lands and promoting knowledge. This we are doing of course already through poultry schemes, establishing training centres for poultry farmers, for the raising of piggeries, for vegetable gardens. That is going to create some type of income and once people experience income they experience a bit of wealth in relative terms. I think it will propel them to work more and that will tend to uplift their desperate poverty in the rural countryside.
And then of course the provision of infrastructures such as schools, roads and health services. That's another huge challenge. Telecommunications can go a long way to bringing services to the countryside, to the clinics, to the schools and to the communities themselves. The fact that we are now putting up multi-purpose centres, every community is getting their hall built. If we can put telephone shops there and in some cases training courses for budgeting purposes, running their accounts more effectively, training in domestic science, quickly choosing the right ingredients for a meal and saving at the same time, we will go a long way. I think that is doable. Then of course the big thing of ensuring that the comparative advantages we have, the two ports, the beautiful terrain for tourism, the whole mix of eco-tourism, game parks, cultural tourism, if we can start building on that quite seriously in terms of the planning, the provision of services, the hospitality industry.
POM It seems that in one way the Western Cape got the jump on tourism, it has become identified with the Western Cape and not with the rest of the country.
BN Sure, but we can steal their thunder, we can still steal their thunder. We need to have an effective, not a bureaucracy, but an effective private sector company which really promotes tourism. Western Cape has done well because I think they have the people who know what the tourism industry is about. Then also to have targeted investments, to create those types of clusters that really satisfy the needs of the tourists. When the tourist comes here he must be quickly brought to where his interest is whether it's game parks, whether it's mountaineering, the Drakensburg route, whether it is cultural tourism, meeting the people, seeing the crafts. There must be craft centres properly created in the cities. There must be cultural events at the Playhouse, at our local theatres. All these things must dovetail in such way that the tourist's needs are all catered for and there we can stimulate tremendous growth and employment that is ready made as it were because tourism creates far more jobs than the formal industrial sector in terms of need for training and skills. And then of course creating confidence, investor confidence, the business confidence. So far we are lucky that repeatedly KwaZulu/Natal has come out with a much better business confidence index than the rest of the country.
POM Why do you think that is, despite KwaZulu/Natal being associated with this endemic violence, why does the business index come out?
BN Because by and large there have been far less disruptions to industrial production in this province. Unless the people are scared off by some issue the Zulu people are very good workers, they are essentially very well disciplined, they are well put together, there is good structure to family life and the relations are not hostile. There may be political hostility and fighting but black and white relations are very good, very friendly. There is no threat as far as that is concerned and I think this will be a major element. A businessman who lives in Durban North other than the off-chance that someone hijacks him or breaks into the room, he is perfectly at ease. The whole political approach in our leadership here has been not to interfere with business. We don't even have a trade union that is really in our pocket because we have never seen the need to create political trade unions and so forth. So we have a lot of benignness permeating the province and of course there are real advantages such as water, such as space to put your factory, the fact that there is an efficient harbour in Durban and Richards Bay, a good rail infrastructure. It offers itself as an ideal location for anyone who wants to manufacture for export or to import inputs into the manufacturing process.
POM Do you think that the local elections were a watershed of sorts for the IFP when it had to begin to face whether it would continue to be the party of the rural community or that it would have to become more diversified in order to not just be a party of the rural community, it had to become a modern political effective urban political party as well?
BN Well I think that question has exercised us, our National Council, very, very much and of course our President has said this is the key challenge. This is why he said those people who feel they cannot run the race must excuse themselves now so that there is full commitment to work at maximum speed right through to 1999 because of this realisation that we work to win back urban support. We have to create policies that are very clearly spelt out to business, to communities and to everyone, hence our mission statement stressed that while we believe that government should not interfere in the economy directly it still has to play a role in providing safety nets, social safety nets, and he proceeded to say that we are going to be delineating our political positions far more clearly, articulating them far more clearly in policies. And of course being business friendly, improving our communications with the people of the province and the people of South Africa those are the resolutions we have taken. So it was in the process, I won't say the elections, but the elections were actually a very good indicator that if you neglect this type of work you end up losing particularly even the urban centres.
POM So would you think that, to put it crudely, that in the ideological battle, battle is probably the wrong word, but in the ideological exchange between those who saw the party primarily as a party that should represent tradition and the rural community and those who said no we must break through and if we're going to become a national party of any consequence we have to become an urban party, we have to become an urban political party, would you say the urbanites have won?
BN I wouldn't say the choices are that stark. The realisation is that we need while maintaining our traditional base, I wouldn't even call it a rural base, you know traditionalists are very important to us, represented by traditional leaders and traditional communities with the whole stratification out there and getting the Amakosi or the Chiefs to also participate in primary rural government because that has been the thing for ages, not making them feel threatened by the new order. We are actively engaging in pursuing those positions but at the same time realising that we have a constitution which is a very modern constitution, very liberal and very democratic and that we live by that. And so our whole party system has to function right across the spectrum so that it appeals to modern technology, draws it in as an aid and as a mechanism, draws in business practices and so on but creating a symbiosis or a synergy out of this type of diversity. Certainly that's a very strong realisation.
POM Are there party structures, I find it ironic that taking the three major parties in the country, the National Party, the ANC and the IFP, none of them have a Secretary General.
BN Actually we haven't really seen the need for a Secretary General who is political. I think this has been the problem. We see the Secretary General's job as administration, making sure that the offices work, that the statistics are collected, that we measure our performance right across constantly and therefore make adjustments, not so much as political. So to us, I am not even sure whether we are going to have a proper, a typical Secretary. The United States doesn't have, your parties there I've never heard of a Secretary General of the Republican Party or Democratic Party. It's almost a Soviet thing that, so we can very well do without it. A lot of people have said the Secretary General left because he was stopped from modernising the party. I don't think that's the case. What happened was probably being young and inexperienced, he was very energetic, but what in fact he did was to do things that did not have the support base. I will just give you an example. I was the Regional Chairman of my area before elections in Empangeni, Richards Bay, then I get elected to be a national minister so I move to Cape Town. Without even writing me a note or phoning me he holds new elections, fresh elections for the chairmanship in my region so people there elect a new chairman. So I say, well fine that's OK, but that sort of thing in politics can be very disastrous because it can affect a lot of people. Now a lot of other people who were in my committee suddenly found themselves out without even being present at the election, the local election for the posts, positions, were very upset by this. So he unfortunately managed to create a number of such incidents.
POM Accumulation of tension.
BN That's right. And then when he said that he wanted to modernise the party it amounted to, so is this what you want to do, just go in there and push on without even proper consultation with the structures and everything, impose your will, which many people saw as being undemocratic in itself anyway. Unfortunately this was interpreted by the press to mean that he is being sidelined because he wants to democratise the party, modernise it, which was not true.
POM Just moving a little off target, do you think now being Premier, constitution in place, that you have the sufficiency of powers that you need to govern the province in the way in which you want to govern it?
BN That is totally inadequate. You see we have a constitution that in many ways mimics a federal constitution but at the same time puts a lot of overrides through national legislation, what we can do, imposes the national constitution not just in general terms of a framework, piece of basic law, but in actual critical terms. I would just give you an example, if you were going to go the federal route then as Minister of Police I should have a lot of decision making powers in terms of appointments in the management corps of the police and so on. All that is done centrally. The Provincial Commissioner doesn't really have to take instructions from me, he takes them from Mufamadi. Now those things undermine whatever advantages we might have through what appears to be a federal type of dispensation, but in practice you start undercutting those advantages, equally so in terms of education policy, health policy, agricultural policy. You have very little limited room in the final analysis in terms of original ideas.
POM So you're taking over a job that just by the nature of the constitutional dispensation is going to be a very frustrating one.
POM Because you are inhibited from exploiting ideas, resources, and being in control of functions, like policing that normally would be under a Premier.
POM Do you think that as time goes by more Premiers, like with the new National Council of Provinces, that the provinces are going to start making a larger stamp on policy and in fact that the second chamber will in fact become maybe something that was never envisaged by those who created it?
BN I think there are beginnings of this already because the chamber reaffirms the individuality of provinces. Now when you do that you make them feel they are entities, they get together in their own chamber in the National Council to represent commonality of interests. I don't think the government thought about this seriously because secondly it is going to make inroads into the roles and the privileges of national ministers. I can see we are suffering the same problems whether ANC or IFP Premiers that we don't really have the power to do things that should be done. We have to wait for affirmation from the top. I mean the Minister of Water Affairs has got his own ideas about supplying water when in fact I have got real urgent situations where there is no water. I need boreholes, but we have all the time to refer to him. All these are not practical solutions and I think we will be this up in the NCOP. So I expect that we will gradually start amending some things in the constitution over time to start addressing the issue, probably starting off with a lot of delegation of authority as well as decision making to the level of the Premier.
POM In the time left I am going to ask you what I would call rapid response questions so that you can just react to the question and answer. One, the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, is it working or not working?
BN At the level of the individual I think it is not working. As part of the national catharsis, tremendous, it's created an arena where we can all air the wrongs that happened and bring them out but this must translate ultimately to satisfaction in the home, in those families that suffered. I have not yet heard of any compensation that's been paid, of social and welfare assistance to families who lost fathers and breadwinners, of community reconciliation at community levels. It's not happened. Until the TRC translates itself into that community action it's going to be irrelevant to a lot of people.
POM Do you think that as more and more security people come forward and make admissions to the crimes they participated in and real atrocities and they are doing it because they're applying for amnesty, they're not doing it because they're sorry, they feel no remorse. As you look at them on television it's almost as if they're looking at their watches and saying I've another 15 minutes to go before I qualify and I'm out of here. And you feel that in the black community that there is a growing resentment that people, in fact hundreds, are going to get literally off the hook for murder, for mutilation, for all kinds of destruction.
BN Yes, from the people who have commented, this is precisely it. These guys are getting - I mean someone admits killing my brother, suppose, he admits it and then that's the end of the story.
POM He walks.
BN He walks, I mean what is that? It's ridiculous. At least if he may walk, then the state must then take the responsibility of atonement and that atonement is in terms of saying OK this thing happened in your family, this is what assistance we shall give. Probably the government would subsidise the children's education and that sort of thing. Unless it translates into that it's going to be more traumatic probably for a lot of them.
POM But there's no atonement on the part of those who are admitting to the crime.
BN Sure, but if the state takes it upon itself to atone for them I would still say OK that is something. They have admitted their guilt and the state has taken the trouble to really make up for them, but it invalidates people's faith in justice if people can just walk free after admitting how many times they slit Mxenge's throat and how cruel they were to him and then just walk off, that's definitely demoralising.
POM Is there a continuing belief in the IFP that in fact the TRC is still kind of a witch-hunt?
BN Well we believe quite strongly that we were correct because the TRC is not serving the purpose that we would want for it, to cement true reconciliation in the community and then to right the wrongs of the past. It is not judicially based sufficiently for those processes to take place so it can be turned into a political process which my party believes very strongly that it is just a political road show. Very few ANC people have come before the TRC and in this province thousands of people died from political activists that are known, people know who killed them but none of those people have gone there so it's always been one sided. The people who committed the necklacing are known in the communities but there's been no attempt even by the ITU to bring them to book, to charge them for those offences. Police have got reels of video tape which they invariably recorded at such scenes but it seems all to have disappeared so my party definitely feels vindicated in many ways that this was a charade but I do accept that as a form of a national catharsis we needed this type of medicine to purge ourselves of this horrible past but it still leaves a lot that could have been positive about it.
POM I suppose my point is that if there are not remedies taken to deal with what you talked about then black anger should increase not diminish.
BN Oh yes.
POM White security people will take a walk.
BN Sure, absolutely, but you see the disadvantage of that is that undermines the justice system, it destroys faith in it and then it undermines the very work of the TRC itself in serving to reassure people that justice has been done.
POM F W de Klerk, (a) is he finished because the Afrikaner establishment decided that his time was up, (b) is this notion of trying to, and I know I've asked you this before it's after months, have you modified any of your thinking, create a new party that will somehow attract large numbers of black voters is mere fantasy?
BN Well actually when De Klerk moved out of the government of national unity he promised that he is going to create an effective and vibrant opposition. All that he has managed to do is to create an impression that whites criticise government whenever it tries to do something for blacks. That's the only thing he's managed to do so far. He has not gone into a systematic analysis of the weaknesses of present policies, how they will improve delivery and how they will improve the justice system. It has been just rhetoric. So his whole move has not carried any weight particularly in the black community and I suspect even with his own former constituents. But secondly, for them to propose that we form an alliance would be suicide for us because they carry the baggage of the past. In the Western Cape I think their party has not done much to stimulate trust and confidence in most of the black constituency. They remain very, very much of a coloured and Afrikaner type of party.
POM Is this kind of a blindness to what they did in the past, that they actually believe they can turn around and dump their baggage and say we're new?
BN It's a continuation of the same expression you see in the TRC when those people, securocrats, come there. They think they did no wrong so what's the fuss about. Roelf Meyer let me down so many times in the negotiations. It was pathetic and really painful. He can't come back to me and say I must join him in one party. There's just no way that there could be such trust generated over this short period of time. He's still the same Roelf Meyer. Equally so FW, I was there at meetings when he assured Buthelezi that we will fight for federalism, that the rights of the provinces, that even group rights like of the Zulu people, will be protected, and he ditched all that. So I can't see Buthelezi actually having faith in him to be prepared to join him.
POM My final last question which will only take one minute. If the IFP stay in the government of national unity until 1999 then how can it credibly mount a campaign against the ANC when in fact they will have been part of the government which it now is turning around and criticising?
BN We are criticising the ANC even right now in the government of national unity. We are there because we came in on a constitutional mandate which prescribed that certain percentages give you so many cabinet seats. It wasn't a love relationship with the ANC. We will do our best to promote our own vision in terms of emigration and in terms of control of migration and getting citizenship, in terms of jails, in terms of the arts and we will put our own perspective to that. We are not doing it out of favour of backing. So we feel quite justified to stay there until we choose to depart. I am not sure whether we will wait right up to 1999, the party hasn't taken a decision on that, but even if we did we are carrying a huge campaign right now on the ground winning membership for our people. I was at two meetings yesterday. The enthusiasm that is there is just too incredible.
POM Is this in KwaZulu/Natal?
BN Yes KwaZulu/Natal.
POM How about outside KwaZulu/Natal?
BN Even there we are busy working in Gauteng and Mpumalanga. You see what we stand for is what the ANC can never deliver. The ANC does not understand that the person in the countryside wants security in terms of what he knows and that is accepting that there is a role for culture, for traditions, that you are not going to impose people they don't know to run their lives, you will respect their institutions. On the other hand the ANC is totally devoid, even the constitution of this country addresses only human rights, human freedoms. It does not look at the person in the community in solidarity with the community. It looks at him as an individual entirely and that's where they make their mistakes. The Amakosi and all traditional leaders, be it in Venda, Lebowa, Transkei are absolutely hopping mad with Hanekom and all the new legislation on land tenure and so forth. So it's going to be our day.
POM Thank you, thank you very much.