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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
18 Aug 1997: Zille, Helen
POM Helen since the last time we talked you've been involved in a major effort to either have existing legislation regarding the appointment of teachers, replacement of teachers changed. Could you tell me what that's about and for what purpose and what the obstacles in the way of doing this are?
HZ Padraig, it's very important for you to understand that we want the legislation of the appointment of teachers implemented. We're not trying to have the legislation changed. We want the legislation implemented. What the government is trying to do by decree is get round the legislation and the legislation is new legislation passed by a democratic government after a major commission of enquiry, after two white papers, after a draft bill that was commented on extensively and then the formulation of a new Act, in fact several, the National Education Policy Act, the South African Schools Act, a whole range of Acts which provide a very sound and solid and good foundation for the transformation of education and for equity with continuing quality and the improvement of quality where it doesn't exist. So the law is good and the law has been developed over a very long period of time with a lot of interests in education to make sure that there's a solid foundation for excellence and equity in the public school system and the new democratic laws governing schools are excellent laws. The problem is that the government is trying to get round those laws and that's what we're trying to stop.
POM For what purpose is the government trying to get around the laws?
HZ Well I've written a couple of articles on that and I should give them to you, but essentially we have the following situation. We have a shortage of money in the education system and we have to ensure that that money is equally spread and spent on each child and everyone agrees with that, which means that some schools have to lose teachers and other schools have to gain teachers. No-one has quarrelled with that, which means that in every classroom according to the funds that are available you're going to have a pupil/teacher ratio which provides the basis of the funding formula in each public school of 40:1 pupils to teacher in the primary school system and 35:1 in the high school system. No-one is arguing with that either. That ratio is essential as a funding formula if you're going to have equity in the public school system and that is right. The debate and the argument is around how to get there, how to get to that equal spread of government subsidy in the public school system. Now there was a lot of negotiation around this in 1995 and we reached an agreement across the board that the best way to do that was to enable each school to formulate a right-sizing committee, each school that was over-subscribed with teachers in terms of the formula, not objectively over-subscribed but in terms of the formula over-subscribed, that every school would form a right-sizing committee and in terms of negotiated criteria which included educationally relevant criteria as well as industrial relations criteria such as LIFO that they would determine which educators would be in excess, there would be attempts to accommodate those educators in schools where they were needed and otherwise they would be given a retrenchment package. That was the right-sizing mechanism that was negotiated and agreed. Its tough.
POM Yes, this might have involved in some cases teachers who were in hitherto white schools, exclusively white schools, being reallocated to a school in Khayelitsha or Guguletu?
HZ The idea was to create jobs in under-supplied schools and to freeze jobs in over-supplied schools and by creating new jobs in schools where they were needed one would way and above have opened new posts for teachers declared in excess at other schools and they would have applied along with anybody else who wanted a post in the new vacancies that were opened or would have been free to do so and on the basis of the normal procedures of selection, advertising posts, interviewing candidates and nominating candidates for posts. There were enough places to absorb teachers across the board on that mechanism, on determining which posts to rationalise and then to open new posts and allow people to apply for them. It was a mechanism in which the market was allowed to work quite strongly and it was a mechanism which sought to free posts where there was an over-supply and create hundreds of new posts where they were needed and those would have been in African schools, yes. It makes sense, as you postulate, to assume that most of the teachers who were being right-sized in that way would have been white teachers and we also made that assumption but it was the wrong assumption, and the reason for that was, which we found out very late in the day, the reason for that was that the schools that had had the most generous funding under the apartheid system were the coloured schools. The very highest ratio of pupils to teachers in the coloured school system during the tricameral years of apartheid were the coloured schools. They had 25:1 as a maximum ratio. Some schools went as low as 12:1. And so by far the majority of teachers in this right-sizing exercise, it came as a complete surprise to me, were coloured teachers. So according to the latest statistics they say about 95% of teachers on the redeployment list, which was agreed to to overturn the first agreement that we had reached after a longer period of negotiation, are coloured teachers. So the first assumption that bites the dust is that white schools were the most generously funded under the tricameral years of apartheid. In the co-option strategy of the National Party they really tried to turn South Africa into a welfare state for coloureds. That's why it shouldn't come as any surprise that the coloured people realised that a new democratic order will not be able to replicate the incredible advantages in housing, health and education that they received under the NP. It's just not replicable in a country this size with this number of people and the number of resources that we have to go around.
So what has happened is that the people under greatest threat from reduced state support and state expenditure are not white South Africans but are coloured South Africans which is why it's no great miracle that the coloured people in the Western Cape voted for the NP because the end of apartheid meant the end of massive privileges for minorities that had been supported as co-opted partners in the tricameral apartheid system and so it was amazing to me to see this but, for example, in our school we accepted the 40:1 ration very quickly, we absorbed large additional numbers of pupils and we had very few teachers to lose at the end of the day whereas in many other schools they opposed the 40:1 pupil/teacher ratio very strongly. They ended up opposing that aspect which we believe that one should not oppose and could not oppose in all conscience because that was in fact the only formula by which we were going to get equity across the education system and we preferred to look at how to meet those ratios very rapidly and retrain all our teachers to deal with big classes of divergent capacity. At that point the goal posts shifted and what we're fighting is the shifting of the goal posts.
POM The goal posts shifted in what sense?
HZ In terms of the mechanism to achieve the 40:1 ratio and the 35:1 ratio in high schools. That is the goal post that shifted. You will remember that the first mechanism that was negotiated in 1995 was the mechanism that led to the establishing of a right-sizing committee in the schools comprising representatives of the Board of Governors and teachers to determine according to specific criteria which teachers will be declared in excess. That proved to be highly controversial, especially in the Western Cape which has been better endowed with teachers than most other provinces. It was just before the local government election in 1996 that this became an enormous issue and because the NP and the ANC were vying for power in the Western Cape and because teachers are such an enormously powerful constituency in the Western Cape given the incredibly generous funding that the House of Representatives' system received through education, the ANC was quite desperate not to alienate that entire constituency and the risk of right-sizing -
POM The coloured constituency?
HZ Yes. And the risk of right-sizing and retrenchment loomed very large and the President then made a promise that while he was in office no teacher would lose his or her job. We couldn't understand that because we had just negotiated an agreement that would mean retrenchment but it would also mean the creation of hundreds of new posts and we knew that any good teacher would be able, successfully, to vie for many of the new posts that were opening but it would mean retrenchment in many cases. So we could not really understand, having been through this long process of negotiation, why the President was promising this unless it was just a political ploy before a local government election. Then it became apparent that in the last days of April 1996 the entire agreement that it had taken a year to forge had been overturned for a new mechanism and the new mechanism was the subject of contention.
POM And the new mechanism is that the state - ?
HZ The new mechanism is that nobody loses their job. OK. So you can volunteer for redeployment, you can volunteer to be on a right-sizing list. Let me just go back. The new mechanism has two elements, it's very important to understand this, the new mechanism has two elements which are inextricably linked. The one element which was completely new was called 'the voluntary severance package' which was offered across the board to all teachers in South Africa which gave them the opportunity to leave with quite a generous package and the longer your period of service the more generous the package and there was no discrimination, it was arbitrary, it was random, anybody who wanted to take the package could opt for it and the purpose of offering the package was to create a whole lot of artificial vacancies to absorb excess teachers at schools where they had been declared in excess, where there were too many. So the idea was that if we had perhaps four teachers too many in terms of the formula the hope was that maybe four would take the voluntary severance package and then it wouldn't be any more in excess. Now that's the one element, the voluntary severance package.
Now let me just talk about that because that was the most damaging aspect actually. What it succeeded in doing was in attracting or in providing a very powerful incentive to the most experienced and often the most able teachers to leave the teaching profession. So what it effectively did was paid millions if not billions of rands, I don't know what the exact figure is but it's many, many, many millions of rands, to entice the most experienced and often the best teachers out of education at a time when the very shortage of money that we faced was the rationalisation behind the need to restructure educators. So what you do is you first of all spent millions stripping your teaching corps of some of the best teachers. You spent millions but you haven't done anything at all at that stage to put any resources into historically disadvantaged schools at all, which is also supposed to be the purpose of the exercise. Having done that you sit there with a whole lot of artificially created vacancies so now schools that used to be well supplied are now by and large under-supplied as well. So you sit with a crisis across your system, an artificial crisis, one that didn't have to have been, because now you've paid for many people to leave and you're sitting with under-supply across your system. That's the first step. So a crazy notion simply to appease the trade union groupings who were arguing against the redundancy clause in the previous agreement, you create a whole lot of artificial vacancies mainly because members of teachers' unions didn't actually want to go to schools where they were needed. That's the first thing, which is actually crazy.
When I heard about the voluntary severance package I could not believe that we were going to go to use this mechanism to strip the public education system, to spend millions creating artificial vacancies for no gain and such a massive loss. Once they had done that they then said all of those vacancies have to be filled from what was known as a redeployment list. So the second part of the equation is the redeployment list. Now the redeployment list was made up as follows, you were only eligible for the redeployment list if you were currently employed on a full time basis in a public school and you could guarantee yourself a position at the top of the redeployment list by volunteering for redeployment. So if you were still in a school which had some excess teachers you could say, I'm volunteering for redeployment, and you would be guaranteed that you'd be the first choice for placement in a school that was under-resourced, that you would have the choice to go there. Now most schools currently are under-resourced because so many teachers took the package but many put their names on the voluntary redeployment list. The second basis on which you'd be put on to the redeployment list was LIFO, last in first out, which has also nothing to do with educational criteria. So the first is voluntary, the second is LIFO, and the third is through the right-sizing committee. So although you may have some good teachers on your redeployment list the chances are the weakest teachers will end up on the redeployment list. So what you've done is you've paid millions to strip the system of your best teachers, some of your best teachers, through the voluntary severance package and now you've got a redeployment list through which it is compulsory to replace people who, given the nature of the way that the redeployment list is compiled, are likely to be the weaker teachers in the system because no school is going to get rid of an outstanding maths teacher via redeployment mechanism, it just won't happen, or a good English teacher, or a good Afrikaans teacher, or a good Xhosa teacher. It's not going to happen. You hold on to your good teachers and you nurture them and that's been the case.
But I'm not denying for a moment that there won't be some, and probably quite a number of good teachers, who have been redeployed through LIFO, but given the discretion that was there in the redeployment system it was quite clear that no school was going to put an outstanding teacher on the redeployment list or even allow them to volunteer. You really nurture your good teachers and you try to hold on to them. Now the redeployment list was so restrictive that they didn't give you a list and say you can pick one of these. They said this is the person you must have to fill this post and they only allowed you to object if the person on curricula grounds wasn't right. So you couldn't say this is a bad science teacher because we'd like to see referees' reports or we know that this is not a good teacher, we've got a better science teacher. That wasn't the basis of doing it. You're only allowed to say this is a woodwork teacher and not a science teacher and won't fulfil our curricula requirements and then you still had to motivate your case. So merit selection wasn't part of this equation at all.
So what you sat with was a situation, as we did, and the irony was that it discriminated most against schools that had been most progressive in moving rapidly towards change. Take a school like ours, when we were told of the 40:1 ratio we said we have to accept it, there is no alternative, it's not nice but we have to do it because there's no other way we're going to achieve equity. We moved as rapidly as we could to get the largest number of black kids into our school for the reasons that I stipulated there. Our lower classes are 50% black, which meant that we had a large divergence of children from different backgrounds in one class which meant that we had to retrain our teachers and really focus them on being able to deal with this large divergence in a class and support the people who were under-prepared while not letting the people who are extraordinarily well prepared from pre-primaries and things like that fall off the table. And so it was a major effort in transformation in the school and having gone through that and having gone the right-sizing procedures as we had done, to then suddenly be informed that your teachers are just allowed to walk out of the door on a voluntary severance package and then you have to replace them by individuals decreed by the state without having the right to do interviews, without anything like that, is a huge blow to a school in transformation. If we'd still had five or six additional teachers over and above our ratios it wouldn't have been such a blow and many schools were in that position because they resisted the 40:1 ratio. Those schools, like ours, that really accepted the 40:1 ratio and moved very hard to implement it found themselves in the worst possible position because suddenly the goal posts shifted, you found yourselves five teachers short, having been through all of this process, and you find yourself in a position where you have no discretion and no say over who was going to replace them.
Now we have a very active employment equity policy. We actively search for good black teachers and we're finding them and we're employing them, but many of them are not on the redeployment list, many are new graduates, many are teaching in other schools at the moment who are not on the redeployment list. We've just employed a new black teacher, outstanding teacher, she's not on the redeployment list. To be on the redeployment list you have to have got there via the mechanisms that I've just described and you had to have been a person in permanent state employ which many of the outstanding black teachers are now. So we can have a conscious equity policy of getting a large number of black kids into the school, which we have done. You can have a conscious employment equity policy of getting the best possible black teachers to teach and to employ them and that's completely consistent with opposing the redeployment scheme as it's currently been set up.
POM Does this legislation, or this mechanism that the government is using for redeployment of teachers, apply only to the Western Cape or does it apply everywhere?
HZ No, it applies countrywide but they're implementing it here very vigorously because here there are many teachers in excess most of whom are coloured.
POM So this is all about politics.
HZ It's all about politics, yes. It's got nothing to do with education. This entire agreement was shaped by party political demands before a local government election and by industrial relations considerations. The interests of education had nothing to do with this, which is one of the reasons why it was thrown out by the courts. The court said this agreement was illegal in terms of the law.
POM And the government is now appealing?
HZ The government is now appealing but behind the scenes they're changing the law.
POM So they're going to come in with a law that reflects what they want to do?
POM So this is just steam-rollered through parliament.
HZ Well we're waiting for it. I've just got a set of minutes of a meeting which shows me that that's what they're planning to do.
POM Does this worry you as maybe a harbinger of how government will be in many respects in days to come? If on the one hand you as a government pronounce that the most important asset of the society is the child and that the transformation of the educational system is the key to bringing the mass of the poor out of their situation, to consciously tamper with it for almost trivial political reasons, given the amount of power government already holds, is nothing short of a sell-out of principle.
HZ That's how I would view it but the tragedy is the government is trying to appease the South African Democratic Teachers' Union which is predominantly an African union, very large union.
POM This is the union that just secured a 9% pay increase?
HZ Yes that's the one, they went on the mass action.
POM Took two days to get it.
HZ That's exactly right. The union is absolutely determined that they are not going to have their members subject to scrutiny. Those are their words. They are not going to have their members subject to scrutiny and they are not going to have interviews. So, for example, even our attempts to get negotiations going around at least being able to interview the candidates on the redeployment list so we can sort out the ones who are suitable for posts and those who are not suitable, was completely rejected out of hand. They said they will not have their members subject to scrutiny. In their view a job is a right, not something you earn, and therefore any attempt to make you accountable to a set of educational criteria to earn that job is unacceptable. So if you're currently employed you're permanently entitled to retain a job. Now if you know what the state of education is in many of the African townships you will see that often teachers are not there, exams are held in the middle of a term so that teachers can mark for the rest of the term and so they don't have to mark in the holidays. Sometimes for days on end there are no classes because there's a funeral to be held or any excuse that's going on. And the most critical basis of the new South African Schools' Act was to empower parents across the board to be able to monitor what is happening in the public school system and the people with a very real and most profound interest in the school system are parents and the Act precisely seeks to empower parents so that there is a partnership between teachers, the department and parents to improve the quality of education across the board. It's critically important. What SADTU opposes, the South African Democratic Teachers' Union opposes, is any attempt to bring any form of scrutiny on their members not only in terms of employment but also in terms of parental role in monitoring what happens in schools. They fundamentally oppose that. I think it's an extraordinarily large union and very powerful in those terms and I think what the government is worried about is its alliance with the trade union movement.
POM With COSATU.
HZ And all the elements of the trade union movement. And the South African Schools' Act was designed precisely to create a partnership to improve the quality of education and I completely support that Act. It's a brilliant piece of legislation. It creates that partnership, it creates the conditions for that partnership to work. It puts parents with teachers on the Boards of Governors of schools. It requires a code of conduct all round and it balances the autonomy of parents with the accountability to the principles of the constitution and equity in education so that you cannot abuse, as you could under the old Model C system, your autonomy as a Board of Governors, for example to exclude black pupils. All of that you cannot do any more because it's under the policy parameters of the state, which is right. But it balances that crucial accountability to democratic principles and policies with enough autonomy to make parents a significant force for quality in education. And that is a crucial partnership without which we are not going to get improved quality in many of the schools. We as an outstanding school, and Grove Primary is an outstanding school, are acutely aware of our responsibility to public education in this country and to admitting large numbers of black pupils who are under-prepared often and to give them bursaries, we run an entire bursary scheme so that affordability does not become a criterion, and to our employment equity policy. All of those are crucial but we have to maintain the principle of merit selection of teachers.
POM What proportion of teachers in the Western Cape would be members of SADTU?
HZ Well you see there are three major unions. One is SATA, South African Teachers' Association which is predominantly old House of Assembly schools, those are white. Then there are two unions, the CTPA, the Cape Teachers' Professional Association and SADTU, the South African Democratic Teachers' Union. The CTPA is coloured and SADTU is a combination of African and coloured and these are legacies of the past and the umbrella is NAPTOSA, the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa and NAPTOSA is an umbrella body but I don't quite know how representative it is because NAPTOSA fully supported our stand, so I am not quite sure how representative NAPTOSA would be of SADTU, I don't know what that link is very specifically. But the fundamental difference is that we're saying that you cannot simply equate equity with ensuring that all schools are raised to the same level. So that in fact if you've got a crisis in one school pertaining to the commitment of teachers, the qualifications of teachers and those sorts of things, we're saying that it's not the way to achieve equity by exporting those problems to all the schools that are working. Much rather we would see equity working in the way of creating a framework that builds excellence across the school system and it also builds equity across the school system and it ensures that good schools become equitable by taking in larger numbers of black pupils, and we are doing that and are absolutely committed to doing that, and by taking in larger numbers of black teachers, and we're equally committed to doing that on the basis that merit matters and that commitment matters.
POM So you have a union that says merit (a) doesn't matter and (b) there's job entitlement?
HZ By their actions they are doing that, yes.
POM And (c) there will be no retrenchments. So this is an important part of the public service sector which has to be cut drastically under GEAR, where the public service unions are lining up and saying essentially no retrenchments but pay increases, where already 93%, I think, of every rand goes to either salaries or debt repayment and there's only 7% left for everything else. So is this becoming a kind of a paradigm that is being used by other unions in, say, the health care sector?
HZ Most likely. Gill Marcus made a brilliant speech the other day. She said we've made a fundamental mistake in this country, we've equated affirmative action with employing anybody irrespective of competence. Affirmative action is not about that, it is not about employing incompetent people. It is about deliberately searching for competent people who would previously have been passed over because of their colour or their gender and it's about creating incentives to be excellent across the system and it's about looking for black people and women who have potential and who have capacity. It's not about employing people irrespective of their competence. Affirmative action is about deliberately searching for and finding and giving opportunities to black people and women who perhaps did not have those opportunities in the past but are absolutely committed to excellence, to performance and to realising their potential and to supporting them in doing so. That's what affirmative action is about. It has a very strong merit component even though you probably wouldn't judge people exactly equally in terms of opportunities etc. That's where equity comes in. The merit component is unassailable, it is about employing competent, keen, committed people who want to give of their best in a sustained deliberate way. It is not about people who believe that their job is a right irrespective of what they do and irrespective of merit.
POM How does this fit into the larger political picture?
HZ I don't want to be a trade union basher because I think trade unions have given an incredible boost to South Africa's democratisation process. They introduced the culture of negotiation into South Africa, they have been very, very important in turning the balance of power in this country, but the great risk is in our situation that trade unions focus so much on protecting the interests of their members that we're coming to a situation where other critical principles, apart from collective bargaining, are sacrificed and principles that are critical to make South Africa work.
POM Is this, do you think, conceived part in terms of - there's the part that says (i) find a way of appeasing a coloured constituency that's a very important coloured constituency hence it's application with such gusto in the Cape but it has national repercussions because if it's going to be implemented here it will be implemented nationally, and (ii) there's the element of SADTU is an important trade union, a trade union with powers, part of COSATU and one doesn't want to go any further in alienating COSATU, they are alienated by enough things, don't throw one more thing into the grinder, is it?
HZ You see I think it goes even more deeply than this. I didn't realise what deep ramifications this case would have for South African society and I've tried to work out why. I thought it would be a case we would challenge and we would win or we would lose. I knew the implications of either outcome would be profound but I didn't realise what a nerve it would touch in South African society and the nerve that it touches is that is says excellence matters and excellence is compatible with equity. And I understand why that is such a raw nerve in this society because so many people have been excluded from the ability to achieve that excellence. But if we look into the future and we don't want the future to be an extension of the past and if we don't want to destroy the things that work we have to build on the things that are good, make them equitable and make them inclusive and spread the strategies that make organisations and institutions work to those that are currently not working. It doesn't help in the name of equity to replicate strategies that have failed in the past in organisations and institutions that are currently working. Now that's an incredibly difficult lesson for people who equate across the board equality with equity and with fairness and with justice and see excellence as an excuse to maintain inequity. I don't know if I've explained that properly but it struck such a raw nerve.
POM I want to get your opinion on the macro picture. Where does COSATU stand, where does the SACP stand, where does the ANC stand as distinct from the government?
HK It's been very interesting because there's been not one statement condemning the Grove Primary School except from SADTU which has got a direct interest. I haven't seen COSATU make a statement. The ANC has specifically not made a statement, because I've been working very closely with ANC people, Willie Hofmeyr and Yusuf Gabu, Ryan O'Connell, and they all understand our case and they all understand how critical it is that these principles be established unless you want to kiss goodbye to the public education system. So there's a lot of debate in the ANC and a lot of tension in the ANC around what to do about this and they have chosen not to do anything, so you've seen no statements supporting the Grove and you've also seen no statement condemning the Grove or supporting SADTU's stand. I've been very, very careful in this particular situation to canvas the ground very, very thoroughly. The one minister who has been very critical of us obviously is Bengu, the Minister of Education, because this was his scheme. So it's been very important for -
POM Very critical of you?
HZ Yes, he's said what are we doing this for and we're going to appeal this case and that sort of thing, and accused us of being against equity which is of course the opposite of the truth.
POM But I thought you said the legislation as passed was very good legislation?
HZ It's very good legislation.
POM But that was his legislation?
HZ It was his legislation. That's the whole contradiction.
POM And he's an Inkatha?
HZ Who Bengu? Bengu is an ANC minister. He used to be Secretary General, I think, of Inkatha. I don't know what his position was but he had a very prominent position in Inkatha and then he fell out with Buthelezi and then he was kicked out of Inkatha or resigned, one of the two, many years ago, then went overseas and was overseas for many years and then came back as Vice Chancellor of Fort Hare and from there was picked as Minister of Education.
POM So the contradiction is that he produced a good piece of legislation and now he's trying to -
HZ Excellent legislation and now he's trying to subvert his own legislation and then hammering us for saying to him now implement your law.
POM But obviously he is being used as the front person by the government?
HZ I don't think so. I know that the government is torn about this issue and I know that more and more people in government, and especially the finance ministry, say we cannot afford voluntary severance packages as a means of right-sizing. It is totally unaffordable and it's making the whole public service ungovernable because what you get is the best people leaving, the worst people staying, and you get the best people leaving from the wrong positions so you don't resolve any of your problems because you urgently have to then place them. You've paid millions to get rid of them, you have to pay millions to replace them because the people that are left can't do the jobs they have to. It's a mad scheme and people in government realise it. It was Bengu's scheme and he's obviously got to fight for his political life to keep it but it was the scheme that ironically he worked with a guy called Roelf du Preez who was previously head of the Department of Education & Training and key in apartheid education who is now working out the formula for the new government and he's the guy who's behind this scheme as well and that's what galls me more than anything else, that it's the old apartheid officials who are working out these crazy new schemes which are every bit as crazy as their apartheid counterparts and who now are trying to change the law to subvert what was a democratic and good piece of legislation.
POM Why would the ANC be so hesitant, given one of its key dogmas being the future lies in our children and that lies in the education of our children?
HZ You must ask the ANC that, Padraig. There's a huge tension here. There's a massive trade union constituency that's coming more and more into conflict with the government. You see it in the Basic Conditions of Employment Bill, you see it in this particular instance. Trade unions are asserting their muscle and demanding the pay-back of the fruits of that alliance and I think the ANC is very nervous that the trade union movement could split off and start a left wing party. And it's not such a far flung possibility. It won't happen before 1999, that won't happen, but by 2004 it's a distinct possibility and I think the government is wary of that alliance and GEAR shows you that they understand exactly what needs to be done in this society. The growth patterns of the past year show you, and it would be a very interesting thesis to test, we've had economic growth and loss of thousands of jobs occurring simultaneously. Now one of the theses of that is that in a technological society growth happens through technological advance and not through expansion of your employment. But the other basic thesis that I would still like to test is that people are very wary of employing people because the dynamics that are set up with the major trade union presence become irresolvable. You employ people and you cannot get rid of them no matter how difficult it is to work anything out, so you've got a situation where you've got X number of excess teachers or N number of excess teachers and you simply cannot do anything except something that's entirely unaffordable to the state and detrimental to public education if you want to make an intervention in that sector.
POM But if you can't retrench, rather than trying to hire more labour you would always try to substitute technology for labour.
HZ Of course, precisely.
POM But growth without job creation or loss of creation is a worldwide phenomenon, it's all over Europe. But the other part is, two parts on it, I've talked to a number of people about GEAR and how it's working and the feedback that I get is that for the first quarter of this year that growth has been negative and could be heading for a negative growth for the second quarter, that the best that can be expected, and this is the scenario of Derek Keys supplemented by three or four other people with a knowledge of economics and the economy, that the best you can expect in the foreseeable future given the level of government expenditure, given the over-consumption features of South Africa in general, the low level of saving, given the very moderate amount of foreign investment, is a 2½% growth rate, maybe a 3%, but 2½% probably on average for the next decade or so which cobbled with the rate of growth of the population means that growth of income is just going, that there would be increasing unemployment, not increasing employment, not just due to technology but also due to the worldwide trend in the globalisation of economies, that massive unemployment will remain massive, that massive poverty will remain massive, that the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged or between the first world and the third world would probably stabilise at about the level it is at and that the only gainers out of this are going to be the new professional black middle class which will grow in size, won't be huge but will be considerable, but that overall you are not looking at economic transformation and to continually talk in terms of it is like talking about an Emperor with no clothes.
HZ Well if that thesis turns out to be correct the ANC is in very serious trouble.
POM What do you think?
HZ What do I think about the thesis?
POM There are certain facts there.
HZ Well I think it's a very plausible thesis, I think it's a very plausible thesis and even if we do have growth it doesn't mean to say we're going to have any employment creation.
POM How does this attach to the idea of 5% growth and a quarter million jobs a year? That's simply pie in the sky.
HZ Let me say that that is the biggest threat to the ANC and they know it which is why they are very worried about the trade union movement, and let me tell you why. I think inherent to the settlement in South Africa, the political settlement, was a commitment both by Mandela and De Klerk at the time, Mandela to getting his followers to accept incremental change, that transformation would be a process, it would take time. But I think on the other hand there was also a requirement from the advantaged sectors of our society, predominantly whites, that transformation would be real and that they would work to build the confidence in the system to ensure the growth that was required to create jobs and to redistribute resources. I think that the ANC can maintain the patience of its massive constituency through 1999 but I think that unless there is a very, very visible shift in access to resources and benefits by 2004 we will have a completely different picture and I don't think you're going to have the ANC being able to hold its centre at all and I think what you're going to have is a massive split away of the trade union movement and the left wing and a mobilisation around a much stronger socialist agenda. So it is, I think, absolutely critical for us to help the ANC achieve its core objectives which is to get a better life for all which is a wonderful phrase that absolutely encapsulates the heart of their policy. Our debate currently with them is not against that goal because we all support it, it's against how do we achieve that most rapidly and the last thing that you do is to destroy public education if that's what you want to achieve because your only mechanism to achieving that is by giving your population a leg up into that technological wave. That is the only way we're going to catch up and we're not going to lose out on growth.
POM I want to back that into a different scenario and that is, there have been two books, Patti Waldmeir's book that came out and then one by Van Zyl Slabbert and Heribert Adam, Comrades in Business. Just to give you a couple of quotes from them and then I want to place it in the context of what you're saying. One was:-
"When the chips were down Afrikaners meekly handed over power without ever seriously attempting to bargain any special group privileges. They even agreed to simple majority rule."
"Affluent Afrikaners sold out the poorer Afrikaners because they felt more confident in their ability to either survive in or leave the new South Africa."
And then finally, they conclude: -
"De Klerk's negotiators were really a part of Mandela's team in facilitating the transition to majority rule. It was a pushover."
You've got this whole theory of the cave-in, that in the end the Afrikaner didn't fight. That's one view. The other view would be that the Afrikaner, or whatever, the establishment allowed the ANC to win the wrong prize, that the wrong prize was that political power is always subordinate to economic power and they ensured a system that perpetuates almost according to all of their rules an economic system that places constraints on this country embarking upon the kind of transformation that is needed to bring about rapid redistribution of income, that it protects private property, that it enshrines capitalism. In fact you could call the policies, certainly the fiscal policies of the current government, neo-Thatcherite would be a kind definition, and that on that front whites out-manoeuvred and out-thought and out-played the ANC. Derek Keys once said to me when I asked him why did he leave government, he said, "When I had trained Trevor Manuel", i.e. when I got him to think like me.
HZ So what question are you asking me?
POM Do you see De Klerk in the end as having caved in?
HZ My perception is that he thought the power sharing would work in a more real way and I think that he put too much confidence in a continuation of government on the basis that they had at the negotiations, a kind of power sharing bilateral model. I think there was enough space for the ANC to ditch that model, which they did. But I think there was a very high expectation that it would continue and it was encapsulated by the notion that the government while governing would continue to negotiate a new constitution and I think to get that mechanism going they had to open a door a certain amount and have some strings untied, but I think the momentum that it gathered and the extent to which once power slips out of your hands you can't control chunks and aspects of it according to your fancy was an element that went beyond what De Klerk reckoned was solid. I don't think it was a voluntary cave-in, I just think that it was a process that achieved the momentum that they were unable to control any more.
POM But on the other hand they had not been the losers?
HZ Well the point that you're making on the other side is quite a different point. I don't know whether it was as thought through as saying we will lose political power to retain economic power because I don't think you could ever be sure that Trevor Manuel or anybody else would adopt the policies they're now adopting. I mean Trevor Manuel was a member of the SACP. As you couldn't be sure that in any way that power sharing would work at a political level, how can you be sure that a new government is going to adopt the kinds of market related policies that this government has adopted? There was absolutely no guarantee of that. In fact perhaps the indications were the opposite. I think the assumption you make that if the state was freer to intervene more in the economy and effect the radical redistribution of which you're talking that we would get a more equitable situation is a massive assumption to make.
POM I'm not making that.
HZ That was implicit in your question.
POM In fact the situation could in fact get worse.
HZ You could, and I think that is exactly the calculation of the people who head the government's economic policy, that the lessons of Africa and of Eastern Europe show that those means destroy your end and make your end unattainable and that the only way it is possible to achieve growth and a more equitable spread of resources is through plugging into an international economy based on skill, capacity and technology and allowing a large market sector to develop within that context.
POM President Mandela, I think two years ago, had talked about the need for a new patriotism and in fact it was Mr Motlanthe who is the head of the Mineworkers' Union, and I think his name is now being floated out there as perhaps the next Secretary General of the ANC, he believes that people should be working a 48 hour week and that this whole idea of a developing country trying to get off its knees and build itself, trying to have industrial standards that are first world, in fact in many first world countries a 40 week isn't enshrined in the law at all and certainly maternity leave with four months paid, I don't think there are three or four countries perhaps in the west that even have that kind of legislation. My point is that it would seem to me, he pointed to, one thing he had to say about the Afrikaner when they came to power in 1948 and they effected a transformation was that they had a will and they had a determination and then they had wrecked blacks in doing so but they had the will and cohesion to do so and what we lack is that cohesion and that will and that determination to make sacrifices on behalf of each other, that the future is for our children in a way, not for us. One gets no sense of that. Do you?
HZ This issue has taken a lot of my time and energy, thinking about things, and I once discussed this very issue with President Kaunda, it must have been two decades ago in 1979. I was asking him what it was that was seeing Africa going into economic decline. I simply asked him in an interview, I was a newspaper journalist, and I said given the fact that colonialism played a large role in destroying indigenous economies and indigenous societies what was needed to turn that around by indigenous people? And he said to me something I've never forgotten, he said we have to turn our culture round from problem accepting to problem solving, and he said until we become a nation driven by a commitment to solve problems we're going to continue to stagnate, or words to that effect. He made a very, very sharp distinction between a culture that was a problem solving culture and a culture that was a problem accepting culture. I have thought a lot of times after that of what makes a work ethic, what drives some people.
POM He never managed to change his own culture.
HZ No. He was battling with that question and it was a very useful discussion around that. I often grapple with what makes society have a work ethic and what makes individuals within a society take personal responsibility for getting things done and for going the extra mile and I can't answer that question. It's a profound question of culture, of context. I really grapple with that and in the context of a country which has become so unionised in terms of its work force it creates a very different culture. It creates a culture of rights, of expectations, of what people are owed, and that is not a bad thing in a country where so little has gone to workers who have played such a large role in creating the wealth of the country. So I understand it from that point of view and I think it's invaluable and useful in that context, but then how does one take that to saying what is our responsibility to give and to build and to go the extra mile to develop the resources that we require? I don't understand how those two things can be compatible, the culture of rights and expectations and the culture of productivity and of going the extra mile. But it's not just the trade unions that have that, it's a large amount of the bosses and the management who have that who think that the minute you've got a degree from a university you're entitled to a company car and a this and a that. Their expectations are quite out of kilter with a developing society, of management and increasingly of trade unions. There is no sense across the board that here we are in a developing country, we can't expect the same remuneration as you get internationally for these kinds of jobs and our commitment is to put in to turn this continent around and to turn our society around. I mean that's what we're all doing here at UCT and it's in a sense a weird environment because you've got Mamphele Ramphele who could be earning six times what she's currently earning if she went to the private sector. You've got Wyland Gewers who is a genius frankly, and I'm not using hyperbole there, an extraordinary manager and visionary who is her senior deputy who could also be anywhere he liked internationally. You've got a whole team of top people here who are earning fractions of what they could either in their own businesses, and some people have their own businesses out there but aren't working in them. They are here because of an idea and because of a commitment to get an outstanding African university going and what all of that means. And so an interesting vantage point is to try and ponder the question of why that ethos is quite limited in South Africa and whether we are ever likely to achieve that with whites saying we're going to make sacrifices, we're not going to earn a million, we're going to earn quite mediocre salaries for putting in hours and hours and hours of work, weekends, days and nights.
POM Just to give you an example and that is that Barney Pityana earning R400,000 a year, commissioners getting R300,000, the head of the Youth League getting R260,000 a year, isn't this almost barbaric in the face of - I mean how can you build a new patriotism if those who are supposed to spearhead patriotism and you say you deserve this amount of money because you're - ?
HZ Nobody at this university earns that kind of money, not even near that kind of money, not even the sidekicks of the sidekicks of the sidekicks.
POM Not many people anywhere earn that kind of money.
HZ Now you know I believe that the whole question of commissions should be an honour on which you are privileged to serve as your contribution to the state, not as a way of getting wealthy. And I know that in countries like Sweden and Norway, the Scandinavian countries, to be asked to serve on a commission like that is the crowning point of a rich professional life and an extraordinary honour and you do it pro Deo because it's such a recognition of what you've achieved, or probably for your expenses. Here it's a way of creating jobs for people you owe favours to in many instances. I'm not saying that all people are that, not at all. There are some excellent people who should be where they are. For example, commissions are created by kind of political balancing acts, not by saying who has a real record in X or Y or should be there or should be here. They are all part of the political compromise that continues.
POM So is the government in a sense, it's like you have the old saying that the oppressed repeat the mistakes and the habits of their oppressor, is there an element here of the ANC behaving more or less like the Afrikaner behaved in 1948?
HZ I think so but this is an extraordinarily touchy subject. I can't name the board that I was on, I sit on a number of boards in South Africa and I can't mention it because that would be breaking confidence and I won't say what decision we were trying we were trying to take, but the whole issue came up of the kinds of salaries people in commissions are earning and what productivity is resulting out of them and whether they have got their systems, management systems and structures up and running and what is required to achieve that objective. And it hit on extraordinarily raw nerves. I was mentioning one commission chairman and I was saying how is it possible that he or she could be earning X or Y and not even have rudimentary systems in place? And the black people in that commission bristled, the best response was just because blacks are earning this now whites are questioning it. And it's true that incompetent whites were earning that kind of money in the past as well for doing nothing but the point is we also questioned it then and it was precisely the kind of practice we were trying to change. So we need drastic down-scaling of these expectations from management and from workers. We're an underdeveloped country and we always have to have an ethos of service and commitment. Now I know that sounds trite and twee and like something out of a kind of born again philosophy, I know it's naïve in the modern world, but unless we develop that ethos of service which is there in some cultures even though it hasn't got a spiritual dimension in any way, but this is your duty, this is what you have to do in authoritarian societies, which causes the capacity for growth and development. If that glue that binds an ethos and a common commitment isn't there I don't know what you do. I'm sorry, that's not very helpful.
POM We'll leave it at that. You've given your hour.
HZ Oh Padraig, I hope that was OK. I'll give you the article that I wrote.
POM Oh do, please. You see, again, I think what you're saying is it is illustrative of larger problems that are on the horizon, that more and more there would be, particularly in the run up to this election where I would say you might see a certain degree of abandonment of fiscal restraint in budgets next year or at least in 1999. It's natural, that's what all governments do in election years which would exacerbate the problems that Mbeki will face when he takes over afterwards.
HZ I have such a fight on my hands after having such good legislation. The hours I've put into it, I can shape that legislation.
POM I never got round to asking you the questions I'd prepared at all. I decided I'm better off if I don't prepare questions.
HZ Read this, it's from the paper, people supporting me that actually make my case.
POM " 2000 members of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union marched on the school at Grove Primary to protest, chanting and toyi-toying and waving repulsive placards accusing the school of racism. These teachers had a couple of days to kill with four days to go before matric exams and SADTU decided to call its members out on strike. They were demanding a mere 1.5% more than what the government will accede to and this is good enough reason to bring classrooms to a halt, this crucial hour for children in matric. Who cares about the kids when a few extra rands are involved? These are the teachers who had the audacity to march on Grove Primary while they were busy teaching. Yes, some schools know what's best for their pupils. To demand that the school employ them without so much as an interview, now that's third world arrogance for you. These teachers, some of them leaving their own pupils staring at blank blackboards, obstructing the functioning of Grove Primary vindicates the case for a school to screen teachers and it wants to give pupils something more than usual South African mediocrity in education. What school of repute wants its state appointed teachers to strike and take to the streets at the drop of a hat and then all the little boys and girls suffer at the end of the year but at least it's a victory for equality in education South African style."
Now this I remember when the original article was in the paper and I think the media blew it up because apparently there weren't too many of them. It looks like a lot but there weren't too many and it was quite a friendly encounter.