About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

25 Aug 1998: Gordhan, Pravin

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POM     Let me ask you first, why did you decide to make the move from parliament into essentially the civil service?

PG     It's not quite the civil service. This is an autonomous organisation. No, I have had 26, 27 years of very active life in activist politics and then parliamentary politics and, as you know, it's been a time which has been very exciting, lots of change, lots of ability to contribute to important changes in the country, but I reached a point where I needed a different set of challenges, and interestingly I've found it, and yet contribute to the public sector. This Revenue Service is the biggest revenue collector in this country. Without it the government won't be able to deliver anything on the ground. It, itself, is a fairly old organisation both in its history and in its content. It's 80% white, it's largely archaic in terms of its systems and processes and therefore it poses immense challenges in terms of engaging in a meaningful and real transformational process. And on the family side it allows me to have a family life, which is about time as well.

POM     Talking about it being an organisation that is still to a large measure steeped in the old ways, perhaps you could address a couple of things. One, the revenue base of the country: what is it composed of, how large is it? Two, how do payments break down, if there are figures kept, on a racial basis as to who pays income tax and who doesn't pay income tax? Three would be, what do the top 20% of income earners pay in taxes and what do the bottom 20% pay? One always hears the argument that particularly the income tax base is so narrow that to increase income taxes any further would just yield diminishing returns or would make the tax burden just unaffordable.

PG     Let me tackle the first one, the other two I will have to work on, get the data to you. I don't have data. But as far as the revenue base is concerned there are a number of historical factors which still impact on what we would call the revenue base in SA. The first is that income tax was largely concentrated in the economically active population. Now that included largely the white sector, if you can call it that, but it also included black employees who were in formal employment because the PAYE system actually reached them and the government introduced, I just heard this yesterday, the PAYE system in the post-sixties period when it actually needed to get reasonable revenue but also it had the co-operation of the employers to actually beef up the revenue collection process. So there was a particular mind-set/political moment when that particular system was introduced. There was an American academic who has been doing some work on this. That's the first issue.

     The second is that base as in numbers, the revenue base is increasing but there are still substantial sections of people who are economically active, not in formal employment but who are outside of our reach, so informal traders, people operating in rural areas, township areas, etc., who are not what we would call 'on register', they aren't registered tax payers at the moment.

     The third is that you have registered tax payers who engage in various forms of what we would call 'tax evasion', so although you're registered you're not paying what you should be paying. You're either engaging in fraud because the arm of revenue service doesn't quite reach you, you can manipulate all sorts of things and so on and so on. So in the South African context at this stage there is fairly significant evasion going on, people who are on the register but who are not paying their due. For example, and you can't quote it because I can't back it up yet publicly, banks in SA should be paying, after all their deductions and so on, a tax of about 20% odd, on the lower side of the twenties. In effect some of them are paying 6%. That's more avoidance than evasion but it's significant numbers that we are talking about at this point in time.

     Then there's a third category of issues which is around the tax avoidance and this involves working within the law but exploiting it to the maximum and where our laws might not be tight enough to capture people.

POM     Are these mostly individuals or mostly companies?

PG     Across the board. Then there's a fourth element, some of it is historical in this element as well, where, and this is recognised in other countries from my more recent interactions as well, where through the course of lobbying, government grants all sorts of exceptions and exemptions and tax reliefs and tax breaks and so on and in a sense that erodes your tax base. Now there's a trend emerging particularly in the western developed countries where the concept of tax base broadening is used to mean that you eliminate as many of these exceptions and exemptions as possible so that you bring more people within the net. In the South African context we need to do two things in summary. The one is to bring more people into the net by registering more people, but in the second instance also cut out on the exemptions and exceptions and ensure that the revenue base is expanded.

     The other historical element which also impacts on us, but I haven't had too much of a time to understand it yet, is in industries or sectors such as mining and agriculture which at different stages in South Africa's history had a favourable ear from government and would be granted particular forms of tax structure in order to facilitate their particular endeavour and I am not sure whether we've been back to those things and said the circumstances are different, different conditions apply now, therefore the manner in which you are taxed should also be different.

POM     So if I were on, say, the tax register and didn't pay taxes, roughly what are the odds that I would get away with it?

PG     If you didn't register?

POM     Well let's say (i) if I didn't register and (ii) if I registered but I didn't pay.

PG     If you end up in a reasonably formal business in an urban centre we are more than likely now to knock on your door. In the last 12 months or so as part of what has been called a 'tax based broadening effort' here we have had people from our offices actually going out to visit businesses, walking the streets. Because a lot of women are involved with that terminology it's not used here. But I can give you some figures on that. Thousands of people have been visited over the past year.

POM     Would these be mostly businesses?

PG     Businesses. And in fact up to somewhere between 30% and 40% on the average are found to be off register. These are some figures here. In the Eastern Cape -

POM     Would I be able to get a copy of that?

PG     Yes I'll get you a copy of this. It gives you a full idea of the number of questionnaires that were distributed, numbers that were registered or not liable for registration, numbers registered, the total, and what the default percentage is. You can see it goes up as high as 40%, 41%. So these are people who are operating in business, who might be registered for one tax but not for the other or for all of them and this endeavour has enabled us to actually bring them on register, so to speak, in some way.

     So the revenue base concept is, on the one hand, a difficult one but we're getting to grips with it. We also in the course of this year have been able to more scientifically develop a fairly concrete understanding of the different industrial sectors or economic sectors that we're working with, what are the trend lines that are emerging in each one, how do they impact on us in the revenue sense and getting a more scientific understanding of what is this base. Secondly, if you say how big is it, as we sit now some people would say we could collect another R20 billion if we just had the right reach and the right administrative infrastructure and the right personnel. We don't have that at the moment. It could even be more. Now what's interesting about it is that theoretically if we get our act together this year alone and let's say we can rake up another R20 billion we will be close to wiping out the deficit. It's a fairly significant impact that we can make.

POM     Just backtracking, is that in terms of budget priorities and is it understood that the revenue base must be expanded, that the loopholes must be closed, that you don't necessarily have to raise taxes but what you have to do is collect what's due? Are you given sufficient resources to allow you to develop the collection mechanisms that will enable that to happen?

PG     There have been significant changes in the last 24 months in this organisation in terms of political commitment so the budget of this organisation was, I think, about R300 million odd two years ago. It's R1.7 billion this financial year. It will probably go to about over R2 billion in the next financial year. So there's a significant commitment on the part of government. There's the recognition that the cost of collecting revenue compared to the collection of revenue by world standards is in fact low in SA. Most countries sit at a figure of about 1.5% to 2% in terms of expenditure versus actual collection. We're sitting at .75%.

POM     That would be if you were collecting R1 in tax it would cost you 20 cents.

PG     No, 1% is one cent.

POM     One cent.

PG     2% will be 2 cents. Ours is .75 cents. But we're trying to put together some of these figures and arguments. We're getting on top of it still. In other words our capacity can be significantly increased particularly in terms of skills. One of the things that has happened in this organisation is that post-1994 the more experienced people have left.

POM     Where did they go? Did they become tax consultants, i.e. go to the private sector and tell the private sector essentially what the loopholes were that they could exploit?

PG     Let's say they share their experience with the private sector and one of the reasons for becoming an autonomous entity is that we would then be able to match the private sector in terms of the kind of remuneration we offer and thereby be able to retain skills. So as of October last year it became an autonomous entity. There are similar developments in Canada, for example, to create an autonomous tax administration.

POM     Do you find in your dealings with business, as you gave the example of the banks paying what would appear to be a very low percentage compared to what they should pay, but do you find among business in general that there is an attitude of co-operation, i.e. that we are one of the main sources of revenue for a state that is strapped by revenue, that is trying to deal with and correct social inequities, or do you find them putting matters in the hands of their accountants and saying screw the government for every penny you can screw them for as long as it falls within legalistic bounds.

PG     That's the tax avoidance we're speaking of. The more loopholes your law has the more people can actually take advantage of those loopholes. So certainly it's in the culture in SA to test the Revenue Service to the ultimate. But I'm not here long enough to speak in too general terms. My impression is that it certainly isn't, but nowhere in the world is business pro-actively going to give you taxes. The culture generally in business is to avoid taxation to the extent that it can. What we do have, I think, is in some industries, among some areas of the economy, a kind of so-called gentleman's understanding that (a) we will pay our taxes but (b) there will always be a contested area, and if you have the capacity then you contest it. If you don't then we get away with it. I think that's a fairer way of describing the relationship.

POM     I go back to it, what are the odds I'm, say, a senior business executive and, I assume it's like any other country, I get my deductions made on PAYE but I also get a tax form to fill out every year and I can claim deductions for different things, if I make deductions that are dubious but I'm not taking advantage of the law, I can claim what I want to claim and you can if you get around to getting at me you can say 'unacceptable, unacceptable, unacceptable' and cross them out. What are my chances, given your present resources, what are the chances that you would ever get around to getting at me? Is it worth the gamble on my part?

PG     It's worth it but increasingly the chances are diminishing. What we have introduced 2½ years ago is an incentive bonus scheme which said depending on how you perform in the spectre of 18 indicators, for example, how quickly you assess an income tax form, how much of debt you collect and so on, and depending on how much revenue you collect by the end of a financial year, staff here are given a bonus which could extend up to 30% or 40% of its annual salary. But this is the last financial year for that incentive scheme to work. But what that has done is it motivated people to get the work going, to become a lot more rigorous and it's shown results. So slowly a new culture is emerging within the organisation which people out there are beginning to feel as well.

POM     Then you collect income tax, VAT?

PG     Income tax, VAT, customs duties, excise.

POM     What about VAT? Is there a lot of, again - ?

PG     That's probably the major area of fraud because of the nature of VAT where there are a lot of refunds involved and lots of things can happen there. Also essentially any business enterprise collects VAT on behalf of government and if you retain it you are obviously bolstering your own coffers as a business and the temptation to do so is obviously quite great so that there are two or three areas where you will find a lot of that fraud.

POM     Customs?

PG     Our Customs system is actually pretty weak. Over the last, again, 18 months there has a lot been done to patch some of those holes.

POM     I know, I read some figures about two years about the transport of goods through Durban and the figures on the avoidance of customs duties was absolutely horrendous.

PG     It's huge. Also there's VAT related fraud taking place on border posts. You pretend to take things out of the country and you can take it out and come back through another border post, and take it out and come back. So we've got one cigarette vendor who came through one border post 18 times with the same batch of cigarettes but each time you collect VAT because you're theoretically exporting the cigarettes. But, again, the organisation is trying to get on top of that and a lot of work has been done to strengthen border posts.

POM     How do you tackle the informal sector which increasingly accounts for a larger part of the economy?

PG     Again, I'm not on top of all of that but there is some work that has happened in terms of labour brokers in the construction industry, for example. Construction companies use labour brokers as a way of minimising their direct employment of staff and then labour brokers make sure that they keep their clients or contractees as casual workers and therefore not pay PAYE and those sorts of taxes. We're trying to get on top of that one. Then the second is the so-called independent consultant who sits at home and works. There's an awareness that there is this animal that's growing in the market place and who can deduct part of his bond or rent as an expense, so where offices have the capacity they are beginning to touch that area of the market. But of course there's this huge area out there where we haven't been able to reach yet, whether it's the hawker in the streets or the informal trader in the townships or elsewhere in SA.

POM     But you wouldn't put your priority there?

PG     Not at this stage. We need to just concentrate on the big guns at the moment and get our systems right. But at the same time we are planning a tax education campaign, we are trying to link up with the Masakhane processes, we are trying to get a communications exercise going to tackle the sort of tax morality but more importantly tax awareness question and in a month or so some of that will get off the ground. So we begin to create an atmosphere which the SABC has been trying to do in respect of their TV licences, for example, where you understand tax, you understand where it is going, you understand the contribution it makes and you begin to understand your obligations and duties as a citizen of a country. But that's a more medium term process.

POM     Has the Revenue Commission done any survey work regarding attitudes in different sectors? Like whites will invariably say, we are the only productive people in the economy, we're over-taxed to such an extent that we're being made to pay for the social services of the non-tax paying sectors of the economy and therefore our predilection is to not pay if we can not pay. You've got ordinary law abiding citizens saying, I'm not going to pay my television fee, why should I pay my television fee and somebody in the township is not going to pay theirs, why should I end up subsiding, in fact paying twice the amount because if everybody paid their television fee the fee probably would be half what it is, so in fact  I'm double paying, I'm paying for myself and I'm paying for defaulters.

PG     That's part of the problem that we need to attack in our communication exercise. There are probably more black individual taxpayers than there are white, just because there are more black employees than there are white employees in the market place, and that's not easily understood at this point in time. There has been no recent study in the sense that you're talking about but we have just identified the need for them and I think IDASA has done some recent work in that area as well and as part of this exercise of understanding the population that we are dealing with we intend to get into those exercises as well and build on that which has been done.

POM     So when it comes to transformation within the department itself, what are the major obstacles that you face in terms of that transformation?

PG     The first is - but there are a whole lot of them, at the human level. As I said the organisation is 80% but at management level it's almost 100% white. I'm the first black in my position or anywhere near my position in the organisation anywhere in the country. So the first is to begin to introduce black people at a management level and at all levels of management. The second is to get a supply stream going where we can get accountants and B.Com. graduates and lawyers or any other appropriately trained people from the black sector into the organisation. The third would be the culture question. There is still a pretty heavy public service culture so it's a rules bound, unimaginative, non-lateral thinking operation. We need to change that and we're beginning to do that already.

     The fourth is that the business systems, the income tax system that we're trying to replace in the next nine months is twenty years old. The technology until a year ago was very old, but there have been dramatic changes in the recent past. By the end of this year every one of the forty one Receivers of Revenue in the country and the forty odd Customs control officers will be on line. A new income tax system will be introduced. It was supposed to be January but now in April. Every office would have reasonably modern computers, at least the top twenty revenue producing offices by the end of the year. So there's huge technology changes that have been made.

     The Customs area is one where we've done a year's sort of patchwork. We've just designed a three to four year transformation process which will be launched in about two to three weeks which will unleash a whole lot of forces on the Customs side, bringing in new people, changing systems, technology, the works. Each of the components here were sitting in the last century as well so the last three months we've gone through every one of them and in a participatory way turned everyone around.

POM     Sorry, each of the?

PG     Divisions, so the finance division, the business systems division and so on, and the operations of the organisation. So there has been a major transformation exercise as a kind of first turn of the knob that we've just completed and we are about to start a second wave, if you can call it that. And we don't have the right kind of skills. It's scarcer in some areas than others. On the IT side it's an internationally felt problem with the year 2000 headache, or mega-headache emerging.

POM     Computers?

PG     Yes. Skills are very scarce. The US, the UK and other developed countries are beginning to recruit people from here so there's quite a drain on South Africa's resources.

POM     You in fact inherited, or the new government inherited a system that was inherently inefficient to start with so that under the apartheid government revenue collection was not given any kind of a priority.

PG     The obverse, I think it was deliberately neglected and the people here will tell you that any number of years -

POM     Deliberately neglected because?

PG     I'm not sure. I think that there are probably huge sections of the economy which had political advantage ... actually ran an honourable service so you actually had to engage in crooked exercises or leave huge holes. So your border posts, for example, in the 1970s needed to be sealed only to the extent that you didn't allow the so-called terrorists to come in but you needed to allow your own people to go out and destabilise other parts of southern Africa. So that's quite a culture to begin to patch up.

POM     Just talking about Customs, is the main problem there inefficiency, mal-administration or corruption?

PG     All of it. Not so much mal-administration but there have been elements of that as well and there's been a huge depletion in the number of people and, again, very, very old systems.

POM     A huge depletion in the number of people working at - ?

PG     At Customs, and Customs is the one skill everybody tells you that you can't be trained for at a university or a technikon, you've got to learn it as you work and so Customs people have their own unique culture all over the world.

POM     So where would Customs people who leave go?

PG     They go to the Clearing Agents who work on behalf of companies, who assist companies in the import and export processes, so there's a market out there for them as well.

POM     So, again, they're using their skills and experience to help importers or exporters how to avoid taxes, not how to comply with - ?

PG     Well they will have to work out a compliance as well. I don't think you can just engage in avoidance. You've got to make a system work as well. I don't think it would be entirely fair to say that they go out in order to attack the system but obviously if there are holes in the system then anybody on the other side has the right to try to exploit it. Our job is to make sure that the holes disappear.

POM     Where do property taxes fit into this?

PG     Local government.

POM     Local government are responsible for that? So do you have any direct or indirect control?

PG     They have their own -

POM     How about the provinces?

PG     At the moment many of them are doing their own collection but it's largely in terms of motor car licences and those sorts of things, so there's no major income that's coming in there. But we intend to develop our capacity to play a role in collection of provincial taxes if they begin to expand into the very significant areas like income tax, VAT, etc., which doesn't seem to be likely to happen in the near future. So we would like to see SARS developing as a national collections agency which has the right skills and systems in place to do anything.

POM     This goes back to a question I've asked other people. Provincial borrowing, the constitution, I think, doesn't give the provinces the power to tax but provinces are borrowing quite substantially. Who in the end is responsible for paying back the banks for the moneys that provinces borrow from them and sometimes it's quite considerable amounts?

PG     Well the constitution does allow actually provinces to tax provided that national legislation allows them to do it, just to get that one correct. So the minister could well pass legislation tomorrow to say provinces can have a surcharge on income tax or VAT or whatever the case may be. Then secondly, their borrowing I think is largely in terms of overdrafts that they operate on in terms of their operating side. Thirdly, obviously provinces themselves are responsible in the first instance but ultimately that's operated at the level of the ministry and Department of Finance who are beginning to set norms and controls and agreements in place which will ensure that provinces act in liaison with the national minister in terms of the direction that they're moving on the borrowing side. So I wouldn't think it's out of control but it's there and ultimately I imagine if a province can't cope with its debt then national government will have to carry it although the minister will probably make it very clear that he's not going to entertain any requests for assistance in that regard. But that's part of a political process that's constantly unfolding.

POM     I was thinking of it in terms of that if you look at what would be called, maybe, growing capitalism in Indonesia or South Korea or whatever, a lot of it involved the banks making massive loans to either business or to government itself and then either one finding that it was not in the capacity to repay and the banking system just collapsing.

PG     I don't think we're moving in that direction. The banks themselves are fairly cautious about how they manage their risks and from what I understand they have a very good relationship with the Ministry of Finance.

POM     In terms of, say, corruption, which is the greater corruption? Again, if I am a registered, I am on the tax roll but I don't pay, the chances of you catching up with me are what, fifty/fifty, forty/sixty, one in ten?

PG     It's moving towards sixty/forty I think.

POM     Sixty for you catching up?

PG     Yes.

POM     In terms of just corruption itself, whether it's on the part of Customs agents or people in business manipulating their VAT receipts and filling their own coffers at the expense of the state, how large would that loom in terms of the priority of the problems that you face?

PG     That's very significant.

POM     How would you list the problems in terms of priority?

PG     We have a twin-powered priority. On the one hand we need to increase our operational efficacy so that we can reach everybody we need to reach. And on the other hand we need to ensure that our enforcement and investigative capacity is substantially increased in order that we can get some control over the fraud and corruption that goes on. So it's a two-pronged approach.

POM     What are the penalties? If I have avoided paying taxes for the last - ?

PG     There are all sorts. You have a penalty, you are charged interest on your outstanding debt. If you are responsible for fraud you can get massive fines or jail time I think.

POM     Again, are the disincentives strong enough?

PG     There is some argument for some of the disincentives to be made stronger. For example, the interest that is charged on outstanding debt is one area that we're looking at. It's far too low at the moment.

POM     The States is absolutely horrendous.

PG     I'm sure.

POM     You begin with owing $200 and you don't pay it and ten years later you owe $200,000.

PG     We need to develop the punitive arm a lot more probably.

POM     But are you satisfied with the rate of progress being made or is transformation too slow?

PG     Here? I think since I've come here we've had both substantial and speedy progress. So although there's a lot to be done one gets a feel that the critical threshold has been passed in terms of developing the energy to begin to move in a new direction. So, no, I have no problems there.

POM     Do you work in concert with other agencies?

PG     All the time. On the Customs side will be the Police service, the Intelligence Agency, Justice Department, because they have to prosecute in some cases which they don't do too well. On the Customs side again with Home Affairs, Agriculture, Health and the police it's quite an inter-active process, an inter-connected one.

POM     Do you find cases of where elements in, say for example, the police service are working with Customs agents to engage in just corrupt practices?

PG     There are always allegations that you hear. In my personal experience I haven't picked up any but I am sure there are, particularly at the border posts.

POM     So the border posts would be the main problem. Where is most revenue lost?

PG     It's difficult to say, but the border posts would be one in terms of VAT collection and VAT refunds. The Customs will be another in terms of whether the goods have been valued correctly and whether the appropriate tariffs have been applied, VAT within the country itself in terms of whether it is paid across to government fully or not and all forms of income tax. So it's quite a changing area. But again I was told yesterday by this American person that's doing research that although we've got problems we're not the worst in the world amongst developing countries. In fact we are one of the better tax administrations. So with all the problems we have there's still a reasonably good platform on which we exist. If we get the present transformation process moving both more in depth and a little faster in the next two years or so we will probably have a reasonably good administration.

POM     I suppose what interests me is how ultimately will you deal with the informal sector which seems, as I said, to be the only sector of the economy that is -

PG     For example right now we are in the process of the first office outside of the old TBVC and homeland government areas, the first office to be established in a black area should be established within the next month to six weeks in Soweto. So that's our first entree into black areas where we begin to deal with the potential clientele there and begin to understand what their needs and requirements and perceptions are.

POM     Will the employees who go out there get 'danger money'? I'm only joking.

PG     There are already white employees in the municipalities that work in those areas.

POM     But the culture of non-payment was so deeply inbred, that barrier in a way has been at least semi-broken through and now you come on top of that with saying, well besides having to pay for your electricity and your water and your this and your that, guess what? We're going to impose another tax on top of you. It's obviously something that will meet with a great deal of resistance.

PG     Well people who are working will be paying tax in any event so it's not a totally foreign concept, so even if there is 50% unemployment in Soweto, 50% of the economically active people are already within the tax net and therefore you just need to make them aware because these are all deductions made in their salary process and in that sense, if you make that 50% aware that there's another 50% who needs to be part of that system, I think you have an interesting tension in that society.

POM     Have you considered other forms of - is the tax system a progressive tax system or a flat tax or a certain percentage of what you earn?

PG     In income tax terms there's a number of grades within which you pay a certain percentage at a certain income level and then over that amount you pay a certain marginal rate. Our highest marginal rate is 45%.

POM     45%. Which again by international standards is not that excessive.

PG     Precisely.

POM     So that when white people or elements in the white community talk about being over-taxed, compared to people in Western Europe or Scandinavian countries or America, it's 65% or something, it's simply not true. Is there any education going on?

PG     We need to become a lot more assertive in that direction. But again it's part of a wider problem where communication still takes place as part of the divided society and we haven't quite overcome that legacy.

POM     OK.

PG     Where can I get this additional information to you?

POM     You can send it, probably the best place to send it would be to the NDI office. Where did you get - I'm interested in fountain pens? Where did you get that fountain pen? What is it called?

PG     Pilot, it will be at any CNA.

POM     Are they refillable?

PG     I'm not sure, my secretary got it. No it's not refillable, no this one isn't.

POM     So you just run it until it runs out?

PG     Yes.  The NDI office in Cape Town?

POM     In Johannesburg. It's 26 Girton Road, Parktown. (P O Box 1868, Joubert Park, 2044).

PG     You're around for how long?

POM     I'll be around until at least the middle of September.

PG     I'll get it to you in the next week or so.

POM     I was going to ask you a couple of political questions but I guess you don't deal with political questions any more do you?

PG     Well in my personal capacity I can deal with anything.

POM     I want to ask you just a couple if you don't mind.

PG     There's somebody waiting if you don't mind, but let's go on.

POM     I'll be very quick, really just three. One is, do you agree with the NEC's decision that the Premiers of provinces should be appointed by the President?

PG     It might be a temporary solution to a temporary problem. It's more a reaction to the kind of political culture that's beginning to emerge at the moment. I think the more important point will be to see whether there are appropriate checks and balances and consultation processes not to make it look like a mechanical imposition. But it can't be a long term solution. In the long term there needs to be a democratic element from grassroots up as well, but it might be an interesting step to see if the current highly competitive and negative culture can be dealt with in some way by removing this as an incentive.

POM     Two, some people have said to me, quite a number, that part of the problem the country faces, or the government faces more accurately, is that the constitution is too good, that it's a perfect constitution for a perfect society, that it doesn't take into account some of the realities of what is still basically a third world country and that because of the very perfection of the constitution it either precludes or paralyses the actions of government in certain directions.

PG     I'm not convinced of that yet. The constitution sets out an ideal that you need to strive for and if there are limitations well let's look at them in realistic terms. If you amend the constitution to meet the realities of today, the question is what are you aspiring towards tomorrow? And right now maybe it just provides the right kind of tension to balance out any inclination towards ignoring constitutionalism altogether.

POM     So you give, in a way, short shrift to those who would say it's a too rights oriented constitution particularly in that this benefits, I won't say paralyses, but makes it more difficult to deal with the issues particularly relating to crime?

PG     I think we must first get to the limits of our operational development to deal with issues like crime before we can nudge the constitution or any element of it aside. In other words we haven't exhausted every other thing that we can do.

POM     For example, would you, a simple thing, be in favour of the devolution of more powers to the provincial commissioners.

PG     That the constitution provides for. It's up to the minister to do it, nothing stops the minister from doing it. It's in the constitution as I remember it.

POM     Now I had this out yesterday, in fact it was a Supreme Court Justice, you may be in a better position to answer, he says that the Commissioner of Police is almost like a tenured position, you're appointed and you serve out your term. Whereas my understanding would be that even as Commissioner of Police that you serve at the pleasure of the President, the President has the right to remove you if he thinks that -

PG     Any DG in government has a five-year contract .

POM     Which means that the Police Commissioner?

PG     I don't know about him.

POM     If you're a DG?

PG     Director General, any Director General of a department has a five-year tenure.

POM     So the President -

PG     No it's not the President, the minister. Automatically, once your contract is over it's over and it's at the minister's discretion to determine whether you continue or not.

POM     But the minister can't fire you in the meantime?

PG     Not quite fire you, you have a contract so you have to do it legally, correctly. It can be quite costly as well.

POM     The last one is how will history judge De Klerk and how will history judge Roelf Meyer?

PG     It will still judge them reasonably kindly as people who contributed to the change process. Roelf we will still have to see. The UDM is quite an unholy alliance at the moment.

POM     It's which?

PG     It's a covert, unholy alliance and their brand of politics is still going to be tested quite severely I think. There's an element of opportunism that's operating there at the moment and the question is whether they can get a moral fibre into their politics because if they don't then they are home for anybody and everybody with not much chance of direction. So there's a big difference between what your market is, your policy and what your real policy is.

POM     And De Klerk, will he be treated more kindly than he's being treated now? On the one hand many Africans hold him responsible for all the atrocities of apartheid. On the other hand Afrikaners hold him responsible for selling out the Afrikaner.

PG     We will have to wait for the TRC report and see what they say. They may not treat him too kindly.

POM     Your own opinion?

PG     I think you must give credit to the man where it's due. We will give him credit for what he did but there are a whole lot of things that he didn't do as well. I think at the end of the day he will get three out of ten.

POM     Three out of ten? That's just below a passing grade. Thank you ever so much for your time.

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.