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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
08 Oct 1997: Kathrada, Ahmed
POM I came from talking with Peter Mokaba and I was asking him about this discussion paper that he has submitted for the ANC conference in December where he questions the nature of the alliance between the SACP and the ANC and suggests that perhaps the time has come for if not a parting of the ways but for some kind of realignment of that element, of the partnership. I think his argument being that it is rather difficult or unfair if I am on the NEC and I am also a member of the executive of the SACP and I go into the NEC and I take a decision as part of the NEC and that's an ANC decision and then I come out and I take off my NEC cap and I put on my SACP cap and I say, well as a member of the executive of the SACP I have some objections to the decision that was taken and that you can't run an organisation on that kind of basis.
Just with that as background, do you think that the ANC as an alliance, given the different pressures on its component parts, again COSATU's problems with elements of GEAR or the whole GEAR programme for that matter, that the ANC alliance is going through a kind of identity crisis, that whereas before while apartheid was here it was very easy to create glue around a common objective to get rid of something and now that that's gone that the glue that held you so closely together is becoming looser and that this has created what I would call an identity crisis of sorts?
AK No I wouldn't call it a crisis. At the same time there are elements that should cause concern not as between the formal organisations, the formal leadership at the formal level, but what does happen is every now and then individuals make statements. Now I'm now talking of many years when I was myself an active member of the Communist Party before it was illegalised, I'm talking of the late forties and then again with the illegal party when it was re-formed. I was present at meetings where it was acknowledged that the way the Communist Party was functioning in the national liberation organisations was wrong, that it functioned as a faction. Before going to a meeting of the ANC or the Indian Congress the Communist members, either Indian or African members, would meet as a caucus and take a decision on what line they should be taking in the ANC. So as far back as the late forties and early fifties already it was acknowledged that that was wrong and a decision was taken that that should not happen. They are there as members of the ANC and there is no party position as such, Communist Party position as such, within the ANC. I don't think that as an organisation the Communist Party has departed from that. I have got no reason to believe that they still meet as factions to decide on various matters but what does happen and that's obvious it's happening, is that in spite of their policy there are individuals in the Communist Party who still caucus. I found it with the last conference where there were communists with a communist list, not only communists on their list but people who are non-communists whom those communists would prefer to have in the leadership. I won't be surprised if there is a list in circulation again this year, but I think, I'm quite sure in saying that this is not an official Communist Party list but individual communists who would be doing that. Having said that I don't think that the position is so serious that the crisis - tensions do come and go from time to time but they are resolved. At least for the foreseeable future I don't think that there is going to be any major dent in the alliance. It will come, it will come after some years but I don't think at the moment there is any reason to fear.
POM I want to relate that to the leadership, maybe struggle is the incorrect word but I'll use the word anyway, in Gauteng for the premiership. Now the media right across the board, and this would include black commentators and white commentators, to a person said that there had been a sustained campaign against Mr Motshekga. Some black journalists even said they were rung up with smear information, there was a campaign to discredit him, it was portrayed as that he was the choice of the branches, of the people, but not acceptable to the provincial leadership and there was this kind of cabal ranging from Murphy Morobe through Jessie Duarte, all who would throw their hats into the ring with the object of putting their hats out and moving Frank Chikane in as the candidate who the provincial establishment would have preferred to see as Premier. In the end of course we all know what happened.
Now, (i) are the media getting it entirely wrong as to what's going on, and (ii) does this present a problem that the ANC must look at, that while they may have preferred provincial leaderships, leaderships always may have preferred candidates for positions, that by the nature of both your organisation and by the nature of the development of democracy in the country they are no longer in a position to impose their will against what is genuine grassroots, and (iii) might it show that the provincial leadership, and maybe at some other levels the national leadership, are out of touch with what people at the grassroots are feeling and that there's a lot of dissatisfaction out there that's making itself felt in different ways?
AK I unfortunately haven't been closely in touch with Gauteng although my constituency is there. I think that, and I'm not speculating, I don't think that it was so much a vote for Motshekga as a vote against the style of leadership, the incumbent leadership. I don't think that they have kept sufficiently in touch with their branches, not because of deliberate negligence, a number of them are in government positions and so forth and do less and less grassroots work in their branches. It happens with the MPs here and with national parliament eminent ministers as well where because they are so involved in their new duties that they tend not to devote as much attention to contact with branches and so forth. So I think that the branches are revolting against this style of leadership. I think of course that had Frank Chikane or any other person had time to work or visit branches more the outcome would have been different. There is also the element which we should not now just ignore, that rightly or wrongly, and I think wrongly, there was this perception that Frank Chikane had been imposed by the national leadership.
Now Free State revolted against that too with the Lekota thing, Northern Province revolted against that. The branches and provinces are more assertive now and they don't want people to be imposed on them. There is a perception like that. I am quite definite in my mind that the national leadership at least had nothing to do with it. There may have been individuals, I don't know, but certainly I have had discussions on this very question with numbers of national leaders and their approach was unanimous that we are not intervening in Gauteng. I was interested because Frank Chikane was a candidate nominated by my branch, one of many branches, but mine was one of them that nominated him and I was myself very conscious that I myself wouldn't do more than that to canvass people or something from the position in which I am and similarly speaking some of the national leadership including the President and I know his view was also that we must just keep out of this whole thing. And that's what happened effectively.
POM But is it saying that on a larger level that grassroots want change in the style of leadership both at provincial level and at national level, that they feel alienated from the structures and are sending a message?
AK I think they are sending a message against style of leadership, not so much the individuals but they don't want to be, what they perceive to be, dictated to. You take my area again, my constituency people, now the other MPs who are there are every weekend at home from here and working in the branch in the whole constituency which is quite a big constituency, there is no such problem, nobody has objected to them or criticised them, in fact they welcomed them. Provincially I don't know to what extent that is happening, with the provincial legislatures and provincial ANC leadership, I don't think they are as much in touch with their branch structures. Again I come back to it, it's the style of leadership that people object to, not so much the leaders themselves.
POM When the ANC looks at opinion surveys or whatever, on the one hand for the last year and increasingly in the last six months one sees at least in opinion surveys the virtual disintegration of the National Party. It's lost half of its support over a period of three years. The DP moves from 1% to 2%. It will remain the voice of a small elite. The PAC continues to be mired around 2% or whatever. Inkatha's basic support is seen to be diminishing even within KwaZulu/Natal. But rather than opposition to the ANC increasing whatever opposition was there is fragmenting in many different ways despite even, say, the birth of the Bantu/Roelf party. Does that make for a certain even subconscious degree of complacency within the ANC like we're going to win the next election because there is simply no opposition there so we don't have to work as hard or keep our toes to the fire as much as perhaps we should if there were a more vibrant opposition? There simply isn't an opposition.
AK I would not ignore that. Naturally I cannot be too specific but I think that every now and then they come across as over-confident. Even the media has said and even De Klerk and the Nats have said that they had no hope of displacing the ANC in 1999. Now that type of feeling might be existing quite widespread within ANC ranks that we are secure and there is no opposition. It may be so but there is no reason to neglect your work in your areas and as I have just said I do think that there has been, not deliberate always, but that contact is not as it should be.
POM I suppose I would put in the context that if it breeds a complacency or a security then either the organisation itself or, say for example, individuals within the organisation feel they can get away with things they otherwise wouldn't get away with. I'll give you an example maybe: in Ireland at the moment, well most governments end up to be coalition governments of one nature or another and all parties go round to form different coalitions after different elections, but yet the Minister of Foreign Affairs had to resign both as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as a member of parliament because of a scandal involving the issue of a passport or something, I don't know the details. He had to resign because the coalition partner, the junior coalition partner said that unless he resigns we're pulling out and the government falls whereas you don't have that kind of pressure here. No-one is pulling out, it's like saying we can deal with it internally and discipline the person, so that there's not the necessity for the same strict standards of accountability because you're only accountable to yourself and you're already secure.
AK No, we may be, and we can't discount the possibility of a crisis of over-confidence, that we can't discount, it can happen. Contributory factors are, as I just now said, opinion surveys and statements even by opposition leaders in which they have said that they can't displace the ANC in 1999 and that can cause complacency in our ranks.
POM I want to talk about the media for a little bit and the ANC's relationship to the media. Many people I talk to will say that there is an adversarial relationship, that the media is still by and large part of, or reflects the values of, the old order, that the media is somehow out to undermine the ANC, to point out its mistakes, the implication being that blacks can't do it, see we told you so. Is the media seen as a third force of sorts or is the role of a free media in a democracy as understood as it should be?
AK I wouldn't for a moment regard them as a third force but what I would say is we have been saying, and I believe we have got political power in this country, we haven't got the civil service, we haven't got big business, we haven't got the media. Those are very important elements in any government. I am not for a moment saying that we expect all these people just to toe the line but I was talking to Joel just now before I saw you and I said we have not got, unfortunately, the ability or the research facilities like the DP has. I would like to be in a position where our researchers would go into 3½ years of government and have statistics on DP statements over the years and of media editorials over the years and point out how many times they have had positive statements. I am quite convinced that DP and the media tend to pick on what they perceive to be negatives and highlight those.
Now when I was in New York last year and I was having a meeting with members of the Editorial Board of the New York Times, fortunately I was seeing them about two days after I had just received a copy of an article by their South African correspondent and I congratulated the New York Times for that article which is very seldom found in South Africa, the type of positive things they mentioned. Of course there were some negatives as well, one doesn't expect them to be all positive. There were one or two unnecessary things they said like President Mandela, the guardian President Mandela now behaved like an American congressman, an unnecessary remark like that. And when they point at scandals in the school feeding they made it appear as if it's the whole school feeding scheme has collapsed which wasn't the case. They should have said Mpumalanga or Eastern Cape, wherever it was, it had collapsed but the culprits were charged. They don't say that. But on the whole it was a good article and I had said to them that you never find an article like that in the South African media where they pointed out all the positives, and there are a lot of positives but the papers don't highlight them. At the most they have a footnote or a paragraph. So there is no adversarial relationship.
POM But many of these journalists now would be black journalists. How do you think they see their role? Do you know what I mean?
AK Well I don't know if they've got an agreed role they have agreed on. We have all sorts of elements, black elements in the media as well. Most of them have not been part of the struggle, they have come up fairly recently. Some of them have been in the struggle actually but most of them haven't. For one reason or another, and it has been mentioned that some of them are so anxious to protect their jobs, they won't say anything which their masters won't like. You have that element as well among black journalists. Then unfortunately I have been hunting for black journalists of the calibre of Thandi Khumalo and Ken Themba and others. I don't know why we are not producing them any more, black journalists of the forties and fifties. I just don't see them any more. Most of them, with the exception of a few, are mediocre or less than mediocre as journalists. Now I, unfortunately, can offer no reason why that is the position.
POM If you had to rate the performance of the media as the media, i.e. the media as operating not according just to your own standards should be a good media on a scale of one to ten where one is very unsatisfactory and ten is very satisfactory, where would you place them overall on their overall coverage of events in this country in terms of giving a reflection to the people of the country about what's happening in the country?
AK Well I'll stick my neck out and I'd say I'd give them four.
POM If you had to rate them on their impartiality in covering the government, i.e. the ANC?
AK Again, I'd rate them at four or less. I'll just give you a very recent example of the Weekly Mail, to my mind they are the very worst precisely because of what they pretend to be. I know of course that they carry a lot of, and they have carried, a lot of articles and so forth on subjects and topics that the other papers don't, but I think that there is a mindset in the Weekly Mail. About three weeks ago there was a heading on page 3, "ANC MP in prosecution scam." They wrote a fairly lengthy article, they named the person, the MP, and the MP they named was a Nationalist Party MP. Up to this day they haven't corrected it. But that's just one example. Their mindset is that if something has gone wrong it must be the ANC. If it's a scandal it must be the ANC. If it's corruption it must be the ANC. That's their mindset as it were. I thought that the recent change in the editors would have made a difference. In fact it's gone worse.
POM That's when Van Niekerk took over?
AK Yes Philip van Niekerk. Now to my mind it has gone worse. They arrogated to themselves a pedestal from which they are going to judge, they are going to be the champions of democracy and they are going to be the champions of anti-corruption, etc., etc. They arrogated that task to themselves. I am not for a moment saying that we should interfere with them but they cannot, to my mind, claim to be constructive journalists who would give a balanced picture. There is a lot that has gone wrong and continues to go wrong and will continue to go wrong, there will be many shortcomings but I don't like a position where they just concentrate on the shortcomings. Take Robben Island, now I can think of three articles that they've written on Robben Island and all of them are negative. We had the Heritage Day on Robben Island. Now they may have a point in saying a million rand was spent there unnecessarily, they may have a point, I'm not going to quarrel with that. But read through that article, there was a lot of good in that Heritage Day thing that happened on Robben Island. Nothing is mentioned of that. It's the million rand that is supposed to have been spent, and I'm told it's not even true that a million rand was spent. But they should have consulted, they should have contacted people that we spent a million rand, what have you spent it on? And also included the positive things. They didn't do that. That's the Weekly Mail.
POM Of the dailies which would you put at - ?
AK I would say that I judge them on an ad hoc basis, now and then they are OK, now and then they are not. Generally they are not constructive.
POM Now part of Cyril's group and New Nail Investments now owns Time, well doesn't black empowerment mean not that NAIL owns Time but that editorial change in the direction of the newspaper that reflects black empowerment, but if it's just a matter of buying shares and leaving the paper to do what it has been doing in the past - ?
AK Well even if Cyril had that power I don't think he would want to interfere in the editorial policy of these newspapers. I mean one would wish that they do what we want them to do but I don't think anybody is going to interfere with them. I don't think Cyril in the position which he holds would directly intervene.
POM So how do you bring about the change so that it's a free press but it's also not just a fair press but a press that sees itself in a way as part of civil society bringing about the transformation of the larger society, that it has a role to play in that and educating people, encouraging people to be part of the process?
AK First of all I would not ever advocate doing what the previous government has done and that is to have a lap-dog media. I wouldn't want to interfere. But what I would want to do, and I think that's a thing the media should realise, that as the media has got the right to criticise the government or individuals in government we have got the same right to criticise the media. I think that when the President and the Deputy President and others from time to time do criticise the media I think that is necessary and one can just hope that that criticism is not seen as an attack on the freedom of the media but genuine criticism of how the media is behaving. We have got that right and I think we should exercise that right more in the hope that a message will reach particularly the black journalists.
POM In the narrower context of that, because this is something I was looking at doing, I don't have the figures in front of me, but on the issue of corruption there has been this Transparency International that a couple of months ago -
AK In Peru they had a conference just now on corruption, international corruption, in Peru.
POM Yes, and I think South Africa was ranked 33rd out of 52 countries. It had rated it as becoming more corrupt, i.e. than the previous year or whatever. This obviously has an influence on the way businessmen abroad make decisions about where they are going to invest their money and the climate for investment in a country. Do you think, again, that the media overplayed the corruption issue and that they don't differentiate between what might be called 'new' corruption and corruption that has its basis in the homelands, the independent states or whatever?
AK No, I now remember the findings that you are referring to. Unfortunately I don't have the details but one questions the status of those people who carried out that survey because they have been contradicted by other well known commentators and findings which directly contradict what these people were saying. If I remember correctly this was some German organisation?
POM That's right.
AK And somebody had pointed out the status of this. It doesn't enjoy credibility. Side by side with this survey or these statistics that they had provided the daily press had carried an article that I can remember -
POM Which press?
AK The daily press, I don't know which one. It carried an article about how a grouping or an individual in South Africa is using the Internet to deliberately tell the Americans and the British not to come and invest in South Africa, highlighting certain information, most of it false. So that came more or less at the same time as this so-called survey. As far as corruption is concerned nobody hides the fact that there is corruption. What people should also accept is that this government is acting against corruption. Mpumalanga this morning or yesterday the Premier has taken action and that has happened in various provinces where the government has taken action against corruption, but that is not highlighted.
POM OK, this is from another publication which I don't know what you think of it, it's Southern African Report, it's a little news sheet. The publisher is Raymond Louw. He is referring to this report and he says: -
"Corruption is a major problem in the post-apartheid South Africa of today according to no less a person than parliamentary Speaker, Dr Frene Ginwala. She describes corruption in the public sector as widespread and a threat to South Africa's fledgling democracy. She says, 'Public service has corrupted the system of welfare payments, the collection of revenue and the disbursement of salaries and wages for their personal profit', she said in a recent speech to the Association of Public Accounts Committees. 'There is widespread criminal behaviour in the law enforcement agencies and in the functionings of the criminal justice system. Public property including drugs, medicines and equipment is stolen regularly in the public health sector'."
That's pretty strong language.
AK I would agree with that, but what I say is it's not new, it's now being uncovered and we are going public as we are uncovering these things. That's not new and it's not surprising. It's been there. In the little constituency where I come from we see it all the time, corruption in the police, corruption at other levels, corruption in the civil service. We see it all the time but we expose it which has not been done in the past.
POM Maybe the Weekly Mail is a good example, it's seeing itself as the kind of custodian of western liberal values and democracy, almost an absolute yardstick against which things should be judged. Do you think that westerners, or the west, when it comes to Africa in general have an attitude about corruption which they don't apply with an equal rigour to their own countries?
AK Well recent discussions with South African leaders and leaders in America and more recently in Germany, those discussions don't leave us with the impression that there is widespread distrust. Naturally people are worried about corruption but it's not a factor that has led to the slowing down of their interest to any dramatic extent. They do mention corruption from time to time, others mention crime, but I don't think there is any uniform attitude on their part. But in the government, government discussions, and the institutions that have been set up those are very positive developments which again refute this type of perception that there is such widespread corruption that foreign interests are shying away from South Africa.
POM My point would be that again it comes back to mindsets and attitudes. Is there a vested interest in media 'exposures' or whatever of corruption as the mindset being Africans are corrupt and here is just one more example of it and it's the more we can find and put out there the more we're - ?
AK It's the type of thing that the media looks for and focuses on. It's racialistic, whereas the media, in addition to doing whatever else they are doing, should continuously remind particularly white South Africa of what the ANC in particular with the President has been through, what the oppressed people have been through, what they have forgiven and one would expect a more generous spirit on the part of the whites. That is not there. I mean the fact that whites can now go from South Africa with a South African passport and no longer be regarded as skunks of the world, the fact that they can go and play games all over the world now and proudly as South Africans, so many things one can point to which are not there any more. They simply have forgotten all that. They seem to ignore the fact that had it not been for this transformation they would have still been skunks of the world. And the fact that there has been no widespread revenge against whites. One would have expected that, one would have expected an upsurge of feelings of revenge, retribution against the whites. It hasn't happened but white South Africa is oblivious to that. They continue to criticise and be negative towards everything. One would expect a bit more positive and objective responses from them.
POM I get that just from watching and following the proceedings of the Truth Commission. They report General A or security force B or C and give all the gruesome details of the atrocity carried out but it's not put in any context of saying to white South Africans, this is part of your past which you must come to grips with and acknowledge. It's done piecemeal, person A did a bad act, person B did a bad act, person C did a bad act, so all we white people can go around saying, oh gee we thoroughly disapprove of person A, B and C, but we don't recognise that it was the corruption of the system and the evilness of the system that created the conditions that resulted in that kind of behaviour.
AK It's the responses they're not getting, and the white leaders of the time have just deserted their foot soldiers who carried out all those atrocities. If you saw the Nationalist Party's submission they are not prepared to stand by their foot soldiers. Now that doesn't help in influencing white opinion. Every time these atrocities are exposed or revealed in the Truth Commission there is a momentary gasp of shock but that's where it ends and that's very unfortunate, that reduces the importance of the Truth Commission.
POM Talking of people who have deserted their foot soldiers, if I were to ask you to make, now that FW De Klerk has stepped down as leader of the NP and left politics, an evaluation of him what would you evaluate as his strengths and weaknesses, contributions, contradictions? Will history treat him more harshly than he is being judged now or will history treat him less harshly?
AK I would say first of all I must be positive about De Klerk and one can't be churlish about that although he tends to claim more than he should. Now I'm referring really to the negotiation period. If one goes further back in his own history he was regarded as being on the right wing of the NP, he was expected to have broken away and joined Treurnicht, at that time there was widespread expectation, and when he didn't join Treurnicht there was surprise that he didn't. That's his background. As President, or before he became President, the first talks took place with PW Botha, that was a major breakthrough when President Mandela met Botha. One can't ignore that, but at the same time Botha was not prepared to go further, certainly not at the speed which was required. Now there one must grant De Klerk his due. He had the foresight. I don't say that he converted on the road to Damascus but he was sensitive to the pressures that were building up. He could have the foresight of saying that if that situation, pre-1990 situation, had that been allowed to continue this country was going to be upside down, there was going to be widespread disruption and violence not only because it was going to be organised by the ANC and the liberation movement but the masses as a whole started ignoring apartheid or many aspects of apartheid. If De Klerk and the Botha regime tried to perpetuate the white beaches or the parks and so forth, they failed because the people in their thousands just went and ignored it. These people didn't have the capacity to withstand such an onslaught. People moved into white areas, your Hillbrows and Yeovilles and so forth, people just moved in their thousands defying the Group Areas Act. So one could find that happening.
At the same time in an organised form there was an upsurge in the activities and feelings among the people. So if De Klerk had not foreseen this there would have been widespread disruption in this country and bloodshed. But he foresaw it. If he was not going to give in to pressure he saw the necessity of it and he took the bold step. He took a very bold step and he said I am going to unban the organisations, I am going to release Mandela, because he saw that whatever step forward that was going to be taken had to be through negotiation. So that much I am prepared to grant him. But then there is a disappointment. After having taken that bold step he then goes and pulls out of the government of national unity when he could have been much more valuable as part of it and it would have been much more valuable to the country if he had tried to steer white opinion towards a more positive approach towards the government. But his pulling out, all right it didn't disrupt the government, but certainly it didn't help perceptions, it didn't help attitudes among the whites in particular. So one must criticise him for that. That would be my view for De Klerk.
POM How about his whole demeanour towards the TRC?
AK Again, that's where he deserted his foot soldiers. He was part of the security establishment at the time. Nobody is going to accept that the leadership of the NP was unaware of all this. Deaths were occurring, even the media, as gagged as it was, went public about Goniwe and the crowd who were killed, Biko was killed, people knew about it. For him to claim ignorance, I mean how can one believe it? He can't say that he never heard of these deaths and if he had heard of it why didn't he do something about it because it was done by his people while his police had custody of these people. So there he has been a tremendous disappointment and has to be criticised for the stand that he has taken.
POM And the third force?
AK The third force, unfortunately to my mind, still exists, it exists in the Cape here, in this gangster/Pagad war, it exists to some extent in Natal in Richmond. It does exist. We haven't been able to pinpoint the third force but it's there. We have got reason to believe that this very third force is supplying arms to both sides of the conflict. Their one aim is to disrupt.
POM This is in the Cape?
AK Even here yes. Elements on both sides. I wouldn't for a moment say the whole of this Pagad thing is part of the third force. But the motives are fairly clear, they want constant disruption in this country, they don't want stability and that is why they are doing that. Although it's much less now than it was before but to my mind it still exists. Now I am not able to say who is the central force behind the third force. It's difficult to speculate at this stage who they are or how well organised they are, it is difficult to say, but it is there. That's my belief and I think that's the belief of most of us now.
POM And the purpose of trying to create stability is ultimately what, since it's not going to bring down the ANC? In the end they are hurting themselves.
AK Yes but whoever is behind it may be short-sighted in what they are doing. They may feel that causing instability and disruption may bring down this black government and bring some sort of a white government or a government that's more acceptable to them. But it's difficult to speculate what their motives are.
POM Just finally, the Bantu and Roelf show. What are the prospects? Will it peter out at 2% or 3%?
AK No it won't peter out all together but those two are incompatible. They come from backgrounds that are incompatible. We know that for some time Bantu Holomisa was part of the state government at that time but he was not, to my mind, a very easy agent even at that time and I don't think that he and Roelf, that closeness or that warmth can continue. I doubt it very much. Together for a while of course they will have big meetings and so forth but it can't make much progress.
POM I asked each of them what they talked about when they get together. Thank you very much. I probably won't see you before you go to the States but I will be able to get in touch with you through Olive?
AK Olive, yes she will know where I am. There are some more invitations that have come through, one from the University of Missouri in St Louis, they have asked me, and then the University of Texas. This has not been formalised, feelers have been put to me by people from those universities.