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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

27 Mar 1997: Ramaphosa, Cyril

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POM     Let me begin Cyril with the remarks that you made a year ago. You said that the government was being too cautious, too timid. You said that 'we lack courage'. Has anything happened in the meantime to indicate to you that the government is getting courage, is undertaking the kinds of broader initiatives that you are talking about being lacking at that point in time?

CR     I think the government has, since we last spoke -

POM     It was May of last year.

CR     May of last year, since then they have come up with initiatives which I believe will go a long way in addressing the problems that they have on a whole number of things, for instance on housing they have shifted their policy now. They are going to be more intervening, they are going to participate more directly in the provision of housing. They are not just being cautious and relying on the market, the private rather, to provide housing. They now are going to intervene more directly which is what I expect of the government. They have come up with a macro-economic policy framework which had they been timid they would not have come up with. They have as it were, in my view, taken the bull by the horns on a number of fronts and are moving forward. The delivery process is moving on and I think it will  be more evident, it will be more evident in another 18 months exactly what the government will have started doing. I think they are taking gigantic steps now.

POM     If you had to measure where they were on a scale of one to ten, say a year ago, one being unsatisfactory and ten being very satisfactory, and where they are today?

CR     I would give them a good seven and a half.

POM     And where would you put them a year ago?

CR     A year ago in terms of their slowness, the pace that was being taken in terms of preparing documents and policy, I would have put them at four.

POM     I want to go back a little to a time past and that is the negotiations and the next time I see you I hope I will have a longer session with you after I've read Patti Waldmeir's book, I don't know whether you've read it yet?

CR     I want to get it.

POM     It'll be out here in June, but I'll be back before that and if so I'll bring back a copy with me. It's already published in the States which is kind of interesting, a bigger market over there. She called it a study in the psychology of capitulation. When you look back at that whole process, just the general impression one gets reading the various extracts that were in The Independent on the book, particularly on the relationship between you and Roelf, is that in the end they just about caved in, that after the Record of Understanding you had, to put it very crudely, you had them by the balls and it was just a matter of slowly squeezing until they had had enough. When all is said and done is that accurate, inaccurate? How hard did you have to squeeze?

CR     I think in the end I was a bit surprised. I was a bit surprised when they finally agreed easily to things we thought they would never agree to.

POM     Like?

CR     Oh a whole range of things. For instance on the government of national unity they had been on a platform campaign which said they would not agree to a power sharing arrangement which did not mean consensus decision making. In the end they accepted that. It should be decisions should be taken on the basis of majority.

POM     In the cabinet?

CR     In the cabinet. They had put this out as a major, major issue and in the end they accepted that it had to be on the basis of majority and I thought the talks would stall and halt and even collapse around that issue and it didn't happen. On a whole number of things I thought that we might have had a much more difficult run and we didn't. And I think they knew that they could not continue holding onto the power which they had lost. They lost power.

POM     Why do you think they just couldn't have held on, I mean they still had the full backing of the security forces, they still had the full backing of the state apparatus? What was the dynamic that - ?

CR     I think they were clever enough to realise that in the end you could not withstand the enormous support of the grassroots people, or opposition rather in their case, enormous opposition of grassroots people. The country had become in a number of areas ungovernable and they knew that if they persisted it could even be a lot worse. Security forces, I think, in the end had also lost the will to fight an unjust war or what they perceived was an unjust type of struggle. Even the civil service, that support, that allegiance that they had enjoyed over the years was being eroded and it was an erosion that started within their own ranks, I mean with people like Leon Wessels and a number of others saying apartheid has been a terrible mistake and once those cracks started appearing it was finished and they knew it too because apartheid could only survive to the extent that the key leaders at the top kept on deceiving the public and when a number of them started moving away and shifting away it was up, the game was up and they knew it.

POM     Yet you have FW de Klerk in his second submission to the Truth Commission saying apartheid was not a crime against humanity, he still talks about it being about a well intentioned experiment that failed. He does take responsibility for mistakes of the past but all their apologies are still couched in so many caveats as almost to make them meaningless. Do you not think so?

CR     I think with regard to a person like FW de Klerk, yes. However, there are others within the National Party who apologise unreservedly and those are the people who first saw the light and having done so started moving away from the policies of the National Party. FW de Klerk, in my view, is devoid of real honesty. As far as I am concerned he played a role in initiating the changes that took place in this country but he never changed himself. He has, in my view, remained a supporter of apartheid policies and that is why he has never been able to apologise unreservedly. Yet some of his friends or colleagues have done so and they have been warmly embraced and accepted by even those who suffered previously.

POM     Recently I was interviewing Roelf and he was talking about this task he has of setting up a new party and I said to him that unless the National Party or unless he put forward as part of a new strategy that the National Party unreservedly apologise for apartheid, recognised that it was an evil which they perpetrated and oppressed black people and acknowledge it and ask for their forgiveness, unless they do that that they haven't the slightest chance ever of attracting any kind of significant black vote. And he looked at me and he was rather puzzled that it was like if we went that far I would destroy the party.

CR     And that is what they need to do. I would advise them that they should just apologise unreservedly, not even begin to justify, not even begin to compare themselves or what they did with what the ANC did in fighting against the evil system. To completely lay themselves bare to the South African public and apologise is what they would need to do to survive. Other than that they are a party that will never, ever attract meaningful support from the black community. They won't, they can't.

POM     Why don't they get it? Why is there still this incredible defensiveness about 'we were fighting a struggle against communism and they were just as bad as we were and our atrocities were no worse than their atrocities'. They insist on this moral equivalence. You heard them saying now that the purpose of the Truth Commission is to document the gross violation of human rights by all sides during the twenty years in question, not to say that one side was more in the right than the other side. But at one level the Truth Commission can't do that because that wouldn't be true.

CR     That's true. I have concluded that they won't do that. They won't do that basically because they have not changed. They really have not embraced as yet the principles of non-racialism. They haven't. They down deep in their hearts still believe that they were right and it was possibly in the application of their policy where they went a little overboard and I think sometimes that they are a lost cause. I think it will possibly be the next generation that will have grown up with knowing that black people are equal to all that might be a bit redeemed. Sometimes I think some of them are beyond redemption. For people who were brought up to believe that they belonged to a superior race I kind of understand that maybe they do have a problem because it's been deeply ingrained into their sort of make up, into their being and because of that it's going to be very difficult for them to change completely. I think so.

POM     I want to put this in a couple of contexts so you can cover them all at once. One is, what happened to Patrick Lekota and the dismissal of the entire cabinet in the Free State? And I don't want to look at it just in his context, I want to look at it in the context of a precedent has been set where the NEC can step in and remove a government which in a sense says that in the election it could put a slate of candidates up that were very popular, achieve a large percentage of the vote, and then two days later the NEC could say we're removing all of you and installing a new government. In essence that's the precedent once one could find the conditions to justify it so that the provincial governments are responsible not to the people but to the NEC which seems not very democratic in a way. That's one.

     Two, who really rules the country? Is it the National Working Committee, the NEC, the cabinet or is cabinet really a subordinate instrument of the National Working Committee and where does the real decision making power lie? And related to that is the question of multiparty democracy, if there is to be multiparty democracy in the sense of there being effective - would you say there is effective opposition to the government now and if not what must happen for there to be effective opposition to the government? Is it a good thing there should be effective opposition to the government now given that the country is going through transformation and everybody should, so to speak, be on the same track? And I am saying that in the light of recent polls that show a majority of Africans quite content with the one party state and opposed to the concept of opposition as opposition being just that, opposition, people getting in the way. That's a mouthful.

CR     And they are all very different issues. Firstly, with the question of the NEC removing provincial leaders from their position, I think that needs to be seen in proper context. The first point is in the end in any organisation there is the whole question of discipline, there has be to discipline in an organisation. Secondly there has to be the question of the importance of their organisation itself and we call it the centrality of the ANC, that it is central in everything, the integrity of the organisation, its image, its effectiveness must always be central and it must be above individuals. When I say its centrality I mean nobody is more important than the ANC itself. The ANC is much more important than any one of its members. That's a point that needs to be recognised and realised.

     On the question of Patrick Lekota and these others, you must see it against the background of what I've set out and put it in proper context. What was happening there was that the ANC was being undermined as a result of the factional conflicts that were taking place in the Free State and the National Working Committee and the NEC had tried to get both sides to resolve the conflict, their differences, and that could not happen. In the end the NEC stepped in and decided that the best way of dealing with the problem is to remove all the key leaders in both factions because they had become individuals who seemed to be in the way of promoting the interests in the end of the ANC so both were removed and then a new Premier was proposed and other people were moved from other positions in the national parliament and so on.  Some people see it as a heavy-handed way of dealing with problems and I guess there can be many criticisms and in many situations, in fact in all I would say, nobody can claim to have a monopoly of truth, of the correct thing that needs to be done. So in this case I think there could well be valid criticism but at the same time the NEC had to do what it had to do to retain the centrality or to promote the centrality of the ANC in that province. So without siding, without siding with any of the two factions, it believed that it was taking the correct step.

POM     But it barred them from standing for leadership offices in the PEC and yet Lekota would say when he stood as an ordinary member he got over 350 or 400 votes which quite clearly indicated where the balance of power lay in the province and he maintains that the reports that were coming back to the NEC from people from Shell House who were sent to the Free State, that they weren't reporting accurately.

CR     Well that's a different matter. In the end the NEC felt that what was necessary was that what should be done is to stabilise the situation in the Free State and even put a bar on people standing who could have just continued to exacerbate the situation. It was thought that was the best way and it's been done and the province is relatively stabilised at the moment and we will see how things work out.

POM     What would there be to stop the - let's take another province, province X where the Premier is inept, is really not performing very well, where the administration is falling to pieces and he's just not doing the job. Hasn't a precedent been set for the NEC to say this person is undermining the integrity of the ANC, he's just dragging it through the mud by being ineffective and we're going to step in and move him out and move his cabinet out?

CR     That's effectively what also happened in the Eastern Cape. That's exactly what happened, the Premier was not really coping with his duties and he had to be talked to and he stepped down. He didn't resist or anything, he stepped down and now you've got a more effective Premier there. It's just like cabinet ministers, if a cabinet minister is not shaping up, even the top leadership, the President who is a President of the ANC, indeed it could even be President of any other political party, should be able to step in and say -

POM     But doesn't this make the Premiers kind of responsible not to their populations, not to the people, but to the hierarchy of the ANC if they perform according to the standards and norms - ?

CR     That's a vague sort of - that's a very thin line, there is clearly a thin line because you see we are on a proportional list basis. You don't stand on your own in your own name and right, you are standing as a representative of the party and since you are standing as a representative of the party you are just a phase of the organisation and the organisation in terms of the rules that it has, has the right to recall you, has the right to re-deploy you and that is precisely what the ANC is asserting. So it's not like the American system where the President stands for election and having done so is beyond the reach or the discipline of people who voted them in, of leaders of the party structures. In America if the President sleeps on the job and does all sorts of other things, short of having done something to be impeached, nothing can be done. They are stuck with that person for four years.  In the South African situation when you vote you know you are voting a party in which is filled at representatives, it's not the individual you are voting for, it's the party and the party, you have to understand that the party can take a number of decisions to shift and move people around and hence I use the example of cabinet ministers, and indeed even a President himself can be shifted from that position by his party if there is a vote of no confidence in a President in his own party.

POM     He can be removed as President of the party or as President of the country?

CR     He can be removed as President of the party and in the end that party having decided that he should be removed as President of the party will also at a national level say we have no confidence in him, and therefore it would start the formal, official constitutional processes that can lead to that if he does not go willingly.

POM     So who rules, who really rules? Where is the ultimate decision making authority?

CR     It is with cabinet. Once cabinet has been chosen and appointed and once the President has been invested in that position they rule, they govern the country. But they need also, they are guided by the party they come from. Even in the UK, in the UK, a good example, John Major rules but he is ruling on behalf of the Conservative Party and he is leading the Conservative Party. So he is invested with all powers and is accountable to the people and all that but also accountable to his own organisation. The last question you raised aligned to this was?

POM     Unfortunately I forget, it will probably come back later. I ask too many questions simultaneously. I think it was, yes, for democracy to flower, I mean right now -

CR     Yes, it is essential to have strong opposition parties.

POM     That doesn't exist. How would you characterise the opposition that exists at the present moment?

CR     We have an opposition. You know having an opposition, let's look at it. We are saying we want a multiparty democratic system. A multiparty democratic system should not only be seen in terms of having political parties, not only be seen in those terms. The constitution has a number of other checks and balances. To have a fully democratic system you need to have a constitution that will promote the rule of law, supreme law of the land. We have that. You need to have a judiciary that is independent. We have that. We need to have political parties that are strong and independent. I think we have, I would say, fairly strong political parties that are independent. Whether they can muster support sufficiently to dislodge the ANC from power is another matter. I don't buy this notion that in South Africa because you do not have an alternative to the ANC that can dislodge the ANC from power therefore you do not have an opposition, I don't buy that. You've had in Germany one party ruling the country for seventeen years, seventeen years.

POM     In Britain you've had the Conservatives for sixteen straight years.

CR     You've had in the UK, Britain, sixteen years.  Would anyone say that is a one party state? It is not. It is one party rule yes for all those years and they want to continue. John Major sees himself winning again and having another four year stretch to make it twenty, and whether he will win or not that's another matter.

POM     I don't think so! I wouldn't bet on this one.

CR     And they have had that position by sheer force of the appeal of their policies. The ANC in our situation has policies that are very appealing to the majority of the people. The platform that they went to the country on is transformation, we want to rebuild this country, we're a party that has a lot of experience in fighting against the apartheid system. They have that, they have legitimacy and they will continue having that for another, I would say, another fifteen years. So you could quite see the appeal of the policies of the ANC going on for another fifteen years and that is no fault of the ANC. I would be worried if there were no other political parties. You have seven political parties in parliament, six of them are opposition parties. They haven't been able to get their acts together and clearly no-one can blame the ANC. In the end to promote multiparty democracy the ANC through its majority is going to make sure that we pass a law which will even provide for the funding of all parties by government. It's not only to try and get money for itself but accepts that other parties must also get money and already now the ANC has agreed that its previous funders, like the Dutch and so on, should not only fund it, should also fund other parties. So as they come with programmes to promote multiparty democracy they are also funding other parties, including the IFP, including the Democratic Party and so on.  So in terms of democracy in our country I think you must not only look at political parties, you must look at freedom of the press. We have freedom of the press. You must look at organs of civil society. We have organs of civil society. And all these are not going to be sycophants of the ANC, they are not going to be singing the praises of the ANC always. They are going to be taking positions that may be against the ANC and we promote that, we encourage that.

POM     Now where, if you were to gaze into a crystal ball, where in the end do you see opposition in the sense of there being an alternative government possibly coming? Will it come from within the ANC itself? I mean there is continuous speculation about how long the alliance will last, whether it will last through this election but after that they've got divergent interests and the unions and the pragmatists and the SACP, the pragmatists in the ANC are drifting apart, there are increasing fissures between them, there's talk about a Workers' Party. Is this again white middle class speculation about what they would like to see or in your view is the alliance firm and will remain firm for the foreseeable future, that's for the next fifteen or sixteen years?

CR     I see the alliance continuing for many years to come. I have seen no reason why the alliance should be dismantled or terminated and one needs to remember why the alliance was ever put together in the first place. It was put together to bring an end to the apartheid system and if we accept that apartheid in all its ramifications and consequences still exists that task is not over. The transformation of this country into a truly non-racial, non-sexist and truly democratic country is still a project that's very much on the agenda so those parties to the alliance are very alive to this whole dimension and I don't see the ANC splitting. I think there are those detractors of the ANC who would like it to split, who keep on hovering like vultures over the ANC as though the ANC is about to die or to split. It's just not going to happen. I don't see that happening in the immediate future and the opposition should really come from those parties that are out there. They must get their act together. They mustn't hope that the ANC will self-implode and disintegrate. It will not.

POM     Last year, Cyril, I'd asked you whether the government was being too sensitive to the international bankers, the IMF and the World Bank, and you said yes. You said for instance on the question of the deficit, "We are being - and restricting ourselves - we are being told we've got to restrict ourselves to below six and yet others who belong to another school will say you can quite easily go beyond six and embark on major, major projects, infrastructural in nature and create jobs because that has a whole number of other spin-offs." Yet we have a budget that committed itself to meeting in fact the World Bank's definition of a 4% budget deficit which required a cutting in expenditure, some of the provisions regarding how the revenue side would be made up are based on assumptions at this point more than - i.e. there would be better tax collection, it doesn't mean that there will be. But in essence it was a budget that I would say, if I was to characterise it, that was to please the white businessman, to please the international community, to show that a black Minister of Finance in South Africa could come in with a budget that would please them but that in the act of doing that a number of important social goals have been sacrificed.

CR     Well I think one needs to look at this in context in much broader, I would say, globular context. I think what the government has done is a demonstration of the fact that they are operating in a global economy where the rules are made elsewhere. You no longer make the rules for yourself. They are made elsewhere and in the end certain economic fundamentals are determined no longer so much by yourselves that they are imposed on you and the government is responding to that. I would still say it would not have been a bad idea to make sure that we still have more money, a little bit more money for social expenditure, but in the end in order to be attractive for further and foreign investment certain sacrifices have had to be made and as the liberalisation process starts and is part and parcel of the concept of globalisation, you have no choice and that's what they have had to face. You have no choice but to toe the line and to pursue policies that will enable you to be attractive to foreign investments. That's precisely what has been done.

POM     I'll ask you three in a row again to collapse time. One is, in business have you encountered a different form of racism or do you confront racism in the boardroom, across boardrooms, with businesses within South Africa and outside? Two, when you travel abroad what are the most important concerns of businesses that want to perform joint ventures or to invest in South Africa? What are their concerns, what repeatedly comes up? Three, is life in business very different from life in politics?

CR     Well life in business is very different from life in politics. Yes, much more exciting, confronting new things on a daily basis.

POM     It's more exciting?

CR     I think business is much more exciting.

POM     When you've just put a constitution together!

CR     That done, that was very exciting, that done one is looking at other - at a more exciting challenge. It's through the business community that you are able to do a number of things to create wealth and to make sure that, in my view, there's redistribution, to empower people at a level that counts most. Of course government has an over-arching type of role that it can play but business is much more fascinating. And racism in the business community? Yes, there is, there is racism. Racism has infected every aspect of South African life and you still find it in the boardroom, in the way that emerging black business people and businesses are perceived. There is latent and subtle racism there and it's a continuous struggle and you have to continue dealing with them and with this problem as you transform. Even in business there is a reluctance to embrace the changes that have taken place in this country. There is resistance in fact, even resistance to go through meaningful transformational change.

POM     So in your view the private sector as such is not, particularly the business sector, is not yet playing its full role or not even fulfilling or playing an adequate role in the transformation process?

CR     No I don't believe so. It isn't. Some have tried, like Anglo, but overall a lot more still needs to be done in the form of empowerment. People are still trying to hold on to their own interests, they are safeguarding those. I see being in the business world as another site of struggle. It could never be easy going, it's going to be difficult and tough and that's the struggle that I've taken up, yes.

POM     When you're abroad, the concerns of foreigners?

CR     The concerns of foreigners about our country have shifted from the economic type of fundamentals to things such as crime, foreign exchange. Those are their key concerns and slow pace in privatisation. That's where their concerns revolve around.

POM     Is crime the major one?

CR     They make crime to stand out as the major one but together with that it's foreign exchange controls.

POM     This comes back to, again, it's like who has control of economic policy? You have a Reserve Bank that sets monetary policy which affects and almost dictates regarding exchange controls which exists independently of (break in recording) -  OK I'll drop that question.  A year ago I asked you why you left politics and you said give me a year and I'll talk about it. To quote you, you said you would like to see how a few things have changed and you would talk about it then.

CR     I'll talk about it in my book!

POM     You said right here, "I promise."

CR     Yes, I know.

POM     You said you promise. Cyril, you promised me. I take it absolutely on your word.

CR     I know, I know. Yes, you spoke to me in May soon after my announcement was made isn't it? Yes, wow.

POM     You said, and I quote you, "We must talk about in another year. I would like to see how a few things have change, I mean you've analysed and identified certain crucial things that have happened in the past and maybe in a year I will be able to talk a bit more freely." I said, "That's fair enough", and you said, "That's a promise I make."

CR     Yes but not now.

POM     I'm not publishing anything until the year 2000.

CR     I know. Come back in 1999 and my book might be out, then you'll read all about it.

POM     So, you can't comment on that yet?

CR     Not yet.

POM     So that when you said, I think it was last Sunday night on an SABC programme, that you had been re-deployed into the private sector it's not quite as simple as that?

CR     Yes, it's quite involved, it's quite involved.

POM     So when can I expect to hear the story?

CR     1999.

POM     My last interview with you in 1999. OK. Is that a promise?

CR     OK. If my book is not out and it might be out.

POM     Your book is coming out too?

CR     Yes in 1999.

POM     In 1999?

CR     Yes.

POM     So all these interviews are kind of a waste of time?

CR     No, you are covering a different aspect. My reflections. OK.

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.