This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
28 Aug 1998: Skweyiya, Zola
ZS. We have been asking on the same issue, why are we not getting -
POM. We can work on that. The plan is still there, we just want somebody to work with.
POM. Minister, let me begin by saying that you probably have the most difficult job in government. You were faced with the task of rationalising 14 to 16 departments of everything. You were faced with the task of reducing the number of employees in the public sector. You were faced with the task of restructuring the public service itself, especially with regard to the application of affirmative action. You were faced with the task of having to identify ghost employees in the homelands and the TBVC states. You were faced with the task of having to apply retrenchment packages and continue to face that problem and you were faced with the problem of trying to root out corruption in the public service. You have had two reports in the last year, the report of your Director General regarding the state of the provinces which essentially said that most would not even come up to a passing grade in terms of administration and few passed the passing grade. You had the report of the Presidential Review which also came to a similar conclusion with regard to the public service as a whole and even suggested a reversion to four provinces and a concentration of more powers in the President's office.
. Questions: differentiate between the problems you face at the national level and at the provincial level?
ZS. Let me start with the provinces. In the provinces, because of course you know very well that we had no provinces whatsoever, we had to start afresh from the beginning to create the provinces and secondly, most of the provinces had to depend on the staff that they inherited from the former Bantustans and the issue is that the majority of them, I would say, were not fit to be there, to say the honest truth. I know it's painful to say it because at the beginning we thought that at least the existence of those provinces would assist the government in making the public service more representative but in essence we found that the majority of the people were not trained and they didn't have the capacity.
POM. Would this even apply to the more senior levels?
ZS. Almost everything. There were good people but not everybody was good enough because the majority of provinces, the Bantustans actually, depended on the consultants or people that have been sent to them by the former apartheid regime to go and work there who were mostly white. So they would go and work there and come back to Pretoria so when we took over we found that really they didn't have the capacity and most of their deficiencies were mostly around the issues of financial management, human resource management and almost all of them had no idea, almost all, whatsoever and the function was not there. And of course creating the provinces themselves was a hell of a difficulty. We had to rationalise all the administrations that were there.
. Also the second thing, the creation of the provinces itself, created a new problem because there was a little bit of tension and even some hostility from almost all the provinces to see the government at national level interfering in the affairs of the provinces and they would not accept that there were problems. So in the final analysis, knowing that there were these problems, what we needed to do was to intervene and we could not do that legally, we had to do that politically. You understand what I mean? At the beginning we did that by using, for instance in the seven ANC provinces, to use the ANC to the effect that this is what we are going to do and the President has ordered us to do that, and it was only then that we were able to look into it and of course afterwards there was an inter-governmental understanding that this whole issue - or in KwaZulu/Natal of course they were very co-operative and they did that and later on the Western Cape had to agree.
POM. It was also very co-operative?
ZS. Well they had to because at least at that time there was still the NP in government. So in the end we did come up with a report which found that the majority of the provinces were very weak, they didn't have the necessary capacity. The only provinces that one could say they would be in a position to run themselves were mostly Gauteng and the Western Cape, and that report was very difficult to be accepted by the provinces.
POM. I must tell you that I have talked to a number of the Premiers in the provinces and brought the issue of the report up and they all dismissed the report by saying, well it was a poorly conducted report and doesn't really reflect the state of the way things are.
ZS. When was that?
POM. This is in the last year and a half since the report came out, all the Premiers.
ZS. They have all accepted that.
POM. That they have problems?
ZS. That there were problems. All of them had to accept that and the report did really raise a lot of issues which were very sensitive for everybody and they way in which it was done also, we had to co-operate with them.
POM. Politically again?
ZS. Politically and also every other thing, and all of them because they could not get what was happening. They only were more defending themselves but the issues that had to be put to them was that this is irrespective of the province, there is only one public service and that this is a government and without them admitting these deficiencies then there would never be any solution to that.
POM. If provinces borrow money from banks who is responsible ultimately for the repayment of that money?
ZS. It's themselves, the provinces themselves.
POM. But they don't have revenue generating powers?
ZS. That is the problem. Those are the things that had to be stopped, those are the issues that had to be stopped. The measures that were taken, for instance, by the Minister of Finance against the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu/Natal were meant to stop that, that they should know that the new constitution specifically makes that very, very clear and that if they are getting any money from the national government they have to return that money and that is what is happening at the present moment.
POM. Have banks been so informed that if they lend money to the provinces - ?
ZS. They know.
POM. They know.
ZS. They know but they are making a lot of money out of that.
POM. Are they depending in a certain way that if crunch comes to crunch that the national government will step in and bail out the province?
ZS. That's what they thought at the beginning but it has turned out that it is not like that.
POM. And they know that?
ZS. They know it, it's in the papers right through and I think the Minister of Finance has said that many times in the government. So those are the issues, that lack of capacity that existed at most of the provinces. At national level also there were a lot of problems. First of all there was an administration that we inherited from the old regime which was mostly, I would say, white and was uneasy in general about this new government. There was quite a lot of dead wood that was there, there is still at the present time. So in order to deal with those issues what we had, that is why we could - you know that the constitution forced us to take everybody for questions of stability and continuity. That's why one of the first things that came up was that we should not keep people within the system when they don't want to be there, so that is why we introduced the voluntary severance package.
POM. You introduced the severance package?
ZS. Yes, the voluntary one because we didn't want to retrench people. During the rationalisation, of course, we could dismiss people at the beginning.
POM. That wasn't against the constitution?
ZS. No, the constitution allowed that and the law but it turned out to be very expensive, very, very expensive, hence we came back and -
POM. How much about?
ZS. I am not sure, I can find out, but very, very expensive. We re-negotiated the voluntary severance packages but that also had its own problems and the effect was that the best people left the public service and we were left with -
POM. Some of the best people left?
ZS. Left, and we were left with people with whom we could not really - we didn't think that they were worthwhile amongst the people that we inherited. Of course there came another issue which was new now, I'm talking about the present moment, that we didn't appoint people directly from the liberation movement, from outside the public service and all these other issues and at Director General level I think to make the public service more representative, that I think has gone very, very well but of course it also created new problems of tensions between the heads of department and the political office bearers.
POM. At the national level how many of the DGs are people of colour?
ZS. I can get the numbers but I think almost all departments have changed people.
POM. But did the new people coming in, if you brought in a new DG say with a PhD, perfect academic qualifications and whatever, but he walks into the public service for the first time without any training of having been in public service, how long has it taken or is it still taking for those people to get on top of their departments?
ZS. It takes some time, it did take some time but it depends on the individuals. We did get quite a good crop of people to lead the departments, at DG, Deputy DG, Chief Directors and all these other things, but it took some time for them to accustom themselves to the new public service and I think now I can say we do have quite a good lot of people, number of people whom we can depend on.
POM. Did you find yourself in a situation of having to hire back some of the people you had retrenched as consultants to aid in the transition?
ZS. Well in the provinces there were some like that. But also in the provinces the issue was that there was a little bit of a hurry to dismiss people. It was not a question of being black or white, it was mostly people who worked for the Bantustans and the new people who were in the liberation movement coming in into new positions which caused a lot of problems actually.
POM. Now they had to be given retrenchment packages too?
ZS. They were given, in fact at the beginning the majority of them, some of those who took it but also at the same time others did not do anything, those people remained. I would give you two examples, unfortunately. The example of the Eastern Cape which moved very fast and dismissed all the people at the top and put in new people, and the example of the Northern Province which never dismissed anybody but just absorbed people from outside. The end result is that in the Eastern Cape at the beginning some of the problem that the Eastern Cape had is the lack of experience in general of the people that had been absorbed into the public service and their dependence at lower level on the people that were there before that new administration came into power. This caused quite a lot of problems but at the present moment I think it is being resolved by training the majority of those people and I think to a very much extent the Eastern Cape has moved very, very fast in the last 18 months since the Tcholo Report, my DGs report, because there is a lot of training that has been going on and people have accepted that there are problems, some of them, for instance I would say the issue of the new people coming into the public service, coming from the liberation movements and as activists who did not accept the role that they were holding at the present moment of being implementers of policy. They mixed up their role as politicians and their role as managers so there was a lot of tension, in fact it is not only a lot of tension, we are in the process of resolving that issue in general.
. Whereas in the Northern Province while there is a lot of stagnation of some sort it is only now because the head of SAMDI is there that we are beginning to tackle the issue. We are dependent on people from the Northern Province who came from the former Bantustans who do not have the capacity but because their government or political office bearers were either reluctant to carry out the demands of the rationalisation process it has led to the fact of the collapse of the administration, specifically the Education Department, because for the last two, three years there have been a lot of problems with education, with the exams and every other thing, and I think it is only this year that we will be able to resolve it because the head of SAMDI has been working there, Harry Ngkulu(?), for some time. He is from the Northern Province. It's only now that they have been able to do that. I think we will have better exams in the Northern Province.
POM. When you recruit people for the civil service do you recruit them on the basis of a competitive examination or is it done by an interview process?
ZS. It's an interview process. We advertise, which is proving a little bit too expensive, but advertise in the newspapers and people apply.
POM. And this is from clerical level all the way up? It's all done by advertising?
ZS. By advertising, people come forward and then there is a selection.
POM. An interview board. Who does the interviewing? Is that the Public Service Commission?
ZS. No it used to be done by the public service but now it has changed, it is done by each and every department itself or some departments take two people from themselves, other people from outside the public service, for instance academics they sit on the interview panel.
POM. Let me get to one of the major problems that you face and that is you were tasked with dramatically cutting the size of the public service, something which has not happened.
ZS. No, it has happened.
POM. It has happened? Dramatically?
ZS. Dramatically. I would say so, we don't want to fight over the issue. It has happened, I think more than 130, 140 people have left the public service.
POM. 140 thousand?
ZS. Thousand. Thousands of people.
POM. Now they have left through retrenchment packages?
ZS. Through retrenchment packages, all of them. That does not necessarily involve the people who left because of old age and all these other things.
POM. How many altogether?
ZS. I can give the numbers. We will fax them to you. That has happened but the only problem was that the then Minister of Finance gave a number of 300,000 people within three years.
POM. Had to be retrenched?
ZS. Yes retrench 100,000, 100,000, which was politically untenable, politically untenable, but we could not come out openly and say we differ on that issue simply because it meant that the majority of the people who needed to go are the people that come from the worst under-developed areas of SA where there were no jobs, Northern Province, Eastern Cape and to a certain extent KwaZulu-Natal, because most of them would not have the necessary skills.
POM. So you were in the invidious position of being asked to get rid of large numbers of employees at the same time as the formal sector of the economy was losing jobs? So you were creating - rather than the government being the employee of last resort as it is sometimes called, you were contributing towards unemployment.
ZS. Sure. That was exactly the thing, that was the basic issue. And politically it was not acceptable to the ANC, 300,000 people, how do you - I mean when there are no jobs already and in the worst developed areas of the Eastern Cape and Northern Province where there are definitely no jobs whatsoever. We could not do that, it was just not possible, but we didn't want to go and fight that, but quite a number of people did take out these severance packages. The only problem we faced, as I said before, it is the people who had the best skills who left. That is the problem, a very big problem. The second issue is that we cannot compete with the private sector on the question of remuneration and all these other things, we can't, it's just not possible.
POM. Just coming back to the numbers for a minute, do you have to over the next couple of years - well obviously you're entering an election year so you're not going to be very big on retrenchments and creating unemployment of any description, but how many people do you need to get a lean, mean and efficient civil service at the national level, leaving the provinces aside?
ZS. The only problem is at provincial level. The issue that is there is that with the agreement on the voluntary severance packages one of the agreements is that we could not retrench people simply because they had no jobs in the public service so we had to keep these redundant people within the public service and try and get them some job, somewhere within the country. That was the weakness of the agreement in general. It is only now that we have got a retrenchment package that we have negotiated with the unions which we are going to sign in two weeks. But also there, I know everybody is shouting about that, yes, we are going to be able to do that but this Labour Relations Act which is in place, it is going to be very difficult to fire anybody. But insofar as the government is concerned in general we would say we have that but it depends on each and every minister and each and every director general to fire the people. Secondly, the issue that is there, you are not doing that thing alone. You are doing it with the unions which are very much will organised.
POM. The unions are a big problem. They're well organised.
ZS. Oh yes, they are.
POM. They're tough, they can bring sections of the government to a halt.
ZS. Sure, they will.
POM. And they will, so what action do you have to deal with militant unions who say we're simply not going to accept what you put on the table, we're going to stop the Post Office, we're going to stop transportation, we're going to stop health care, we're going to stop education, until we get our way.
ZS. No they can't. The question is that it all has to be done within the legal mechanisms that we have, the Labour Relations Act and it's a very tedious process. I know most of my colleagues think that since we have got this instrument they will be able to throw people out. It's not going to be like that. They will have to ensure that the people go out in a more agreed manner with the unions. Insofar as the COSATU unions are concerned there is a general agreement that this should take place.
POM. So even if you have, if I was, say, in the Department of Welfare and I was for all intents and purposes a redundant worker with a desk with nothing to do, you don't have the capacity - you can offer me a retrenchment package which I may refuse in which case I sit there at my desk doing nothing and getting paid every week.
ZS. This is what has been happening now, up till now for the last 18 months. Now we've got this instrument, this agreement with the unions on retrenchment, as far as we are concerned it will be agreed to. In principle it has been agreed but it has to be signed. The unions want the bargaining chamber.
POM. That's their - all of them?
ZS. All of them, there are about 18 unions, 18 to 21 or something.
POM. It makes it very easy!
ZS. So it's not as easy as everybody thinks it is. So what will necessarily take place is the fact that we have this, if we want to retrench worker A there are certain steps that are agreed to within the law which have to be carried out. I hope that we will be able to satisfy everybody.
POM. Post-1999 does the constitution then provide - is protection for civil servants over?
ZS. No it's over now. It is over, we have got a new constitution, if you get my point.
ZS. We've got a new constitution since 1996. What was there, constitutional compromise that was there so far as the public service was concerned in 1994, 1993/94 -
POM. Was that all jobs were protected.
ZS. Was all were protected. But now the new constitution does not protect the jobs but it is an instrument that comes from us, the Labour Relations Act, that protects the jobs of almost everybody.
POM. So you can't just say, like in the USA for example, General Electric, just giving the name of a company, in fact they did this, they announced on a Monday morning that it was retrenching 40,000 employees and people were given two weeks notice and that was it.
ZS. No, it does not work so easily in SA, the Labour Relations Act does not allow that.
POM. So you cannot dismiss -
ZS. As easy as all that.
POM. By saying - ?
ZS. There are some certain steps you have to follow. I think it's a question of three months and all these other things. You have to tell them and all these other things, negotiate them.
POM. They can appeal against it?
ZS. Yes, sure, they go to the CCMA.
POM. Even if you say, listen I've a budget of R100 billion and that means I can only employ X number of people, I can't do it?
ZS. Yes you can. That's why - it's not as easy as all that. It's not easy at all. It's not like that when you go in there you just dismiss somebody like that.
POM. So you can develop a plan and say this is what we must do and then find that either the constitutional realities or the legal realities preclude you from implementing the plan which in fact government is tasking you with doing. On the one hand they're telling you you've got to cut the size of the civil service. On the other hand they're passing legislation that makes it impossible for you to fire people.
ZS. That was my point of view when this Labour Relations Act was put forward. The basic issue that the ANC in government should not forget that it is an employer and that it is the greatest employer. At that time we had about 1.3 million people that we were employing, although the number has gone to about 1.1, 1.096, I'm not sure now, but we are still the biggest employer in the country in general. So whatever applies to the ordinary private sector firm also applies to the government in general. Those issues were never taken into consideration in the drafting of the Labour Relations Act in 1995/96. So it is one of the problems. Although we have, as I am saying, we have disagreement of the workers on the questions of dismissal and voluntary severance packages being dumped but everybody still has to go through according to the demands that are laid out in the Labour Relations Act.
POM. Now is the bigger problem with regard to retrenchments in the provinces or in the central government?
ZS. The provinces more, it's in the provinces.
POM. But you have direct control over the provinces?
ZS. No we don't, we have given that to them, I don't want them. No, no, we don't want them. The new laws have devolved all those powers to each and every province or each and every department. It's no more that I am the one who fires everybody. They have to do it themselves. Hence you see that the question of rationalisation did not move as fast as it was planned. It was supposed to have been finished by 1995 but because everybody would not be seen to be firing people from our constituency nobody did it and the end result is that they are still there those people that needed to be fired, except at national level.
POM. So you can send out 'a command' saying as minister we need to cut, say, 100,000 people from the public service sector in the next 18 months, you send that down through the central government departments and you send it out to the provinces, then is it up to each province to do that.
ZS. To do that.
POM. Do you set a quota for each province?
ZS. It sets its own quota.
POM. It can set its own quota? What if the province refuses to fire the people?
ZS. The money. We know how much they are supposed to have.
POM. But you're now giving them a lump sum allocation.
ZS. One of the financial problems that is there is because the majority of the provinces still have too much personnel which is not supposed - they didn't do it in 1995, 1996.
POM. So then they don't have the - ?
ZS. They don't have money to deliver the services that they are meant to be delivering. The whole budget only ends around the issue of personnel.
POM. So you have this dichotomy again of where you have people sitting at a table, redundant, being paid fully, taking money that could be used to deliver services, where the Premier won't fire anybody because he doesn't want to be seen as somebody who is firing people?
ZS. Sure, that is the basic issue. He knows that, don't you know that? You know that there are these redundant, in the provinces, redundant people, it is true. It's a big problem in SA.
POM. Ghost workers.
ZS. Ghost workers are a completely different issue.
POM. Are they still a sizeable problem?
ZS. In different provinces yes. In the Eastern Cape it's over. I can say so, yes. What we did in the Eastern Cape was we spent about the whole of 1996/97, through that, working very closely with the Swedes and the British to look at the personnel and all these other issues. I could say, I think I'm waiting for a report that it is over in the Eastern Cape. There were many not only ghost workers, ghost teachers and ghost schools and ghost hospitals.
POM. Were people getting raises every year as well?
ZS. No, no, you go and register that in such a village there is a school and there is a hospital and the money goes to you, the government is sitting somewhere in Pretoria and does not know that, keeps on sending money and different individuals are pocketing that money. In Swaziland it's an issue too. In the Eastern Cape, I don't know how many there are, but we have been able to go through it but it needs political direction and action by the Premier.
ZS. Corruption is a lot too.
POM. That's still a very big thing.
ZS. It's a very big thing, a very, very big thing unfortunately. The Heath Report, seven billion rands.
POM. Seven to ten billion and it said it had uncovered about 5% - if you extrapolated that the amount that would be recoverable through corruption would wipe out the budget deficit.
ZS. Yes it would, if we could get rid of that. On the question of the clearance of ghosts it has enabled the government of the Eastern Cape to meet some of the demands that are being put on it presently. It is a good example that we can do that and of course because the issue has been so publicised I think it is beginning to get the support of our public because people are coming up one by one, writing letters and all, but we still feel that it is not enough. There is a need for a campaign against corruption in SA, mal-administration and all of that.
POM. Do people now distinguish between - one of the things I used to hear for years was that the level of corruption now is no different than it was in the apartheid years except the difference is now it's being uncovered and in the apartheid years it was not uncovered. Is that rational - ?
ZS. I wouldn't say so. There never was under apartheid any campaign to ensure that there is no corruption. What has really happened is that the corruption that existed under apartheid continued in this new government and it is only now after this campaign, to be exact, first of all the Tcholo Report, secondly the appointment by the Eastern Cape of Judge Heath to look at corruption in the Eastern Cape, and generally the campaign that has been going on right through from everybody, people complaining that people are becoming rich and all these other things. It's no light thing and many people would not admit it but it's the role that has been played by the media in ensuring that this thing is exposed and people who are part and parcel of it -
POM. You think that's a positive role?
ZS. It's a very, very positive role in the effect that they expose this and people become aware of it generally. It's only now that we are beginning to get control of that, we are getting to grips, we are now in control, getting to grips with it. Specifically it's a pity to say also, mostly in the former Bantustans, I wouldn't say also because of that mal-administration that existed then this encouraged this whole question of corruption within SA.
POM. How about the misallocation of resources, and this really applies in a way to teachers. I saw one report that recently was issued in KwaZulu-Natal that shows that in the Department of Education & Culture there is 75% under-staffing. Under-staffing.
ZS. Under-staffing? Our problem is mostly - I don't know. These are the issues that the unions raise. The unions are maintaining, for instance, to the effect that we say we want to downsize the public service when in some areas there is no need to downsize, there is a need to increase people. For instance, they quote the question of education, they quote the question of health and social welfare and the police in general. Hence there is a lot of resistance to the issue of talking of downsizing. They maintain that we should right-size and that is one of the problems that is going to be raised at the present moment that the Education Department is facing, as you say, and the fact that, what did Bengu call it, redeployment of teachers in general.
POM. But teachers object to being redeployed. So you're in a double bind.
ZS. I think this might be right. For instance, in the Western Cape there were too many teachers and there still are, whereas in the Eastern Cape and some other places there are not enough teachers. So what was meant, what the Education Department, they would not go the way we were going insofar as downsizing is concerned, what they would do in their bargaining chamber, because at that time they all still had their own bargaining chamber, they would redeploy teachers so this issue now has caused a lot of problems. For instance, there is the quota issue of the Eastern Cape. Not only are the teachers from the former Bantustans under-qualified but also there are not enough. So what was thought was that some of the people that are excess people in the Western Cape or Gauteng, mostly these urban areas, could be redeployed but this has met a lot of resistance from teachers because they have been living in those areas for years.
POM. They're mostly women.
POM. And their families are in the Western Cape.
ZS. No, no, I think this is possible.
POM. Is it not possible, say, in a sector like education, since it's the obvious one, that a teacher must meet minimum standards in order to be qualified as a teacher and if you don't meet those standards then you're going to be dismissed. It's not a matter of retrenching, it's that you're not trained to be a teacher.
ZS. That was a basic issue. That is a problem that most of them, when you see the teachers wanted to go into the streets, it was that issue. Some of them are not qualified to be teachers.
POM. And so what do the unions say? Do the unions say no, you can't fire any of our members?
ZS. Yes, they say you must retrain them. There are not enough teachers so retrain these people. The government says yes we can retrain people, there are enough resources I am sure within the department to train anybody but the issue that remains is are they the right people to be there, at least the teachers that we want. It's not people who have degrees in African languages like Zulu, Xhosa and Biblical Studies, we don't get that. What we need is people who have got Maths, Physics, Science and all those other things and if you are not able to do that then you have to leave. That is the problem they are discussing at the present moment. So what they do, government allows people to retrain themselves, to improve themselves. So what they do is to continue in all this, for instance if you have matric -
POM. But government hasn't made it mandatory?
ZS. It is not, not that I know. They say OK they are training and they are all training in all these subjects like the Biblical Studies, Theology, Zulu, Xhosa and all those other things, which is not what is wanted. I was dealing with a case like that yesterday, people who wanted to do PhD and I said no we're not interested in that in the public service. What we are interested in is issues around management and all economics and all these other things that will help this department. I am not prepared to sign for somebody to go and do a PhD in Zulu and Afrikaans or whatever it is, or Biblical Studies. I am sorry I am not party to that. The government is agreed on that. That is the issue that is the main thing that they have got.
POM. So Breyten Breytenbach can wait a couple of years before he can start doing a PhD in Poetry.
ZS. He can. I'm not saying we're underestimating or undermining African languages but that is not the main thing, the economy does not need them so much at the present time.
POM. Your implementation of affirmative action, would you say that's on track or gone over track?
ZS. No it is not over track, it is on track.
POM. On track.
ZS. But you know at the beginning there was a lot of just wanting people to come simply because they happen to be black, but I think the majority of departments are beginning to re-look into that, whether people are really qualified for that because the output has not been very encouraging.
POM. Coming back to budgetary considerations, if you have to make further cuts - if you had to just give a rough estimate, how many more people have to be cut?
ZS. No, I can't say. I don't want even to say that because it put us in trouble last time.
POM. OK. This figure won't come out till the year 2001, so God knows where we will all be at that time. Is provision made in your budget for not only salaries and pensions and whatever but also for an amount set aside within the budget itself for retrenchments? You find within the budget the money for them?
ZS. The money is there in each and every department and of course everybody who leaves, leaves also with his pension. The money is there.
POM. So as you look at the next - the rest of this administration, (i) what do you want to see achieved that you have not yet achieved, and (ii) given all the constraints you operate under what is the difference between having all the right plans and all the right policies laid out on paper but being unable to implement them because of legal restraints? In a way that's a metaphor people would say for the country, that the problem is that this is a great government for producing green papers and white papers and pink papers and purple papers and the policies are terrific but when it comes to implementation there is a huge gap between policy formulation and policy implementation.
ZS. That's actually the crux of the matter we are facing at the present moment, the question of policy implementation. Actually it's an issue that we have raised with the Presidential Review Commission, that we do have the right policies and I think very commendable policies but the issue is how do we implement those and that also hinges on the capacity of the public servants in general.
POM. By capacity now you mean it's training to develop skills and management skills?
ZS. Training and skills and management skills, that is one of the issues that we have. That is why this year insofar as the management is concerned we are moving everything that we can to train people as much as we can. I would say given the example of my department it is that we took almost everybody. I think we hope that everybody has gone through training and on top of that as part of the funding that we had, we took half of our management and sent them to Britain and another third we sent to Sweden for training in management. They are all coming back now, they have all come back and they're trying to implement that. Hence some of the divisions, the tensions that existed before are no more there because everybody is understanding exactly what needs to be done. Also at the same time we have informed the unions that in the present year, because one of the things that they demanded was money for training, we told them in each and every department there is money and that within the whole of the public service there is 1½ billion rands that stands - not every department has been making use of that.
POM. Is there a co-ordinator? I'll talk to Fran afterwards.
ZS. So the unions have been informed of that and it's only now that the unions also are beginning to participate.
POM. Do you find that the unions, these were unions that existed from the old era -
ZS. Most of them are new.
POM. They're new?
ZS. Most of them only came after the unbanning of the ANC.
POM. But most are very militant, everyone is in this country is very militant.
ZS. They are competing, they are really competing.
POM. Do you see them as a long-run problem, that there must be a way of co-opting them into some kind of almost co-operative effort rather than seeing themselves as adversarial?
ZS. No, no they do, many of them. We have changed that, we have really changed that. They were very adversarial in 1994. We have told them that there is a question of co-determination and co-operation that needs to be done here and that whatever policy we have we will put it in front of them that they should work on that. Even now when the issue that has been here, mostly in the paper, when we could not because we had promised - we had a three-year agreement.
POM. On the pay increase?
ZS. Yes, a three-year agreement and we were supposed to give R6.5 billion and we told them we can't give them the money simply because it's just not there, the money is needed for services and that we have to get this agreement on retrenchment. Really in the final analysis they accepted that although there was a lot of resistance, a lot of days that were spent convincing them outside and outside the unions.
POM. Do they understand or is it made clear to them that being a public servant in a society where there is so much poverty and inequality that you are in fact part of a privileged class and that for you to be looking for 6% and 8% increases a year when there are 30% - 35% of the people living in abject and total poverty is not exactly an example of a spirit of national renaissance?
ZS. We've been trying to do that. We have been trying to do that. We have been saying that to them.
POM. But just in general, it's a question that intrigues me. In South Korea when the economy went under you had these pictures on television of people going to the banks or handing in their wedding rings and their trinkets or whatever.
ZS. You can't expect that from South Africa.
POM. Why is there so much, or is there so much difficulty in creating what President Mandela once referred to as the new patriotism, a sense that we're all in it together, that unless we all make sacrifices now our future, our children won't have the benefit of the freedoms we gained in the future, that we must come together as one and sacrifice on behalf of one another? It seems to be there's more an attitude of I'm all right Jack, it's up to you to be all right too.
ZS. The issue is that we are not a homogeneous society like Korea, we are a divided society and I think much commendable work has been made, has been done by the President and government to try to bring people together but that does not necessarily mean that we are all united in general. If you look at the unions themselves, the basic issue that is there is most of the white unions who are mostly in the management and the black unions who are mostly representative of the lower strata of workers -
POM. That's in the public service?
ZS. In the public service in general.
POM. So management have their own unions?
ZS. Oh yes. That is one of the issues we are trying to do now, to remove them from the bargaining chamber.
POM. So you have a three tier civil service. You've got the DGs, Deputy DGs that are now mostly people of colour.
ZS. Yes, yes.
POM. Then you've got middle management which is mostly still white.
ZS. And black, specifically in the provinces the majority of them are black.
POM. OK, and then you've got your lower tier which would be?
ZS. Mostly black, but also you've got the professionals and all these other people.
POM. So when people talk about that the civil service, it's one of these clichés thrown out, the civil service is still dominated by whites, that's not exactly correct.
ZS. It used to be.
POM. Used to be but it's not true any more, but it's still used as an excuse, if things go wrong you say well it's the old white dominated civil service who are putting obstacles in our way.
ZS. No, no, even the constitution, that's not true. It's not true at all. Of course in the management, management level, there is a very strong white presence specifically management plus also the professionals. They still are very, very strong there. But to say that they are the cause of all the problems that we have in the public service it's not so. Actually there is beginning to be a division even in the civil service between the management and the top management and the lower echelons.
POM. In terms of?
ZS. In terms of how they see things, in terms of their demands. For instance all these four years, it's only the mostly lowest paid workers that have been getting increases, the DGs have not, completely for the last two years or something like that. Deputy DGs the same thing, it would stop most probably at director level, the majority of them have not. So they are beginning to complain. I am not talking about the whites, I am talking about the blacks, the comrades. Sure.
POM. Yes, because they're getting attractive offers from Cyril.
ZS. To such an extent we have to sit down with them and tell them it is necessary for them to remain in the public service after 1999. That's what I've been trying to tell everybody because my colleagues are only looking at their own departments, they are not looking at -
POM. Just as an example, Cyril sits on the NEC in the National Working Committee and he also is a honcho in the private sector. Do you ever take him aside and say, Cyril you and all these proponents of black empowerment with your nice Armani suits and your Rolex watches and your French cufflinks, you're creating a real problem for me. You're attracting away the best talent.
ZS. No, I've never done that, I don't think it's necessary. You can't stop people who want to leave. It is not Cyril, it might be somebody else, Oppenheimer or somebody like that, so you can't target and say you are the people who are -
POM. But what I'm saying is it's a matter of sensitivity that he would, as having an influence in business, say even as you want to attract the small or the relatively small pool of black talent, it is that we must try to reach some equitable division that we can't strip the public service of its best and its brightest because if we do then there will be no delivery of service and the problems of implementation are going to remain as big as they always were.
ZS. I would love to do that but we have not done that. They would say we are interfering in their private lives. They have a choice.
POM. But when it comes to the Job Summit, will you be involved in that? It will be business, government and labour, would you be there as a component?
ZS. I don't create jobs. In fact I create the unemployed.
POM. You create the unemployed.
ZS. So I wouldn't like to be involved, although I will go to the Job Summit but I wouldn't like to be playing any role. They can only help, the Job Summit, by creating alternative employment for people who are leaving the public service, all this supernumerary redundant people, they need to create the jobs.
POM. In your own opinion must that be done more in the informal sector than in the formal sector because in the formal sector as companies are downsizing because they have to compete in a global economy, it's a worldwide phenomenon it's not a South African phenomenon, you have jobless growth, so as the pool of unemployed even in the formal sector becomes greater you must look to other sectors of the economy?
ZS. We would like to do that, we would like to encourage that if it is possible, that the informal sector could be able to assist. That is the issue that almost everybody is talking about at the present moment. If you read today's paper where Jeff Radebe is trying that, he is saying he is assisting the people he is going to fire from the public service, from the Public Works Department, to create new jobs for themselves and creating some companies for themselves that they should be able to employ people. For instance, if we remove all the cleaners actually, to be exact we out-sourced all the cleaning in this place a long time ago.
POM. So does the problem of implementation and delivery come down to that the middle management structures are not sufficiently strong or that the lower echelons - ?
ZS. I wouldn't say so. The middle management at national level there is no problem. The issue that is there is most of the professional part of the public service, engineers and all these other things, we don't have them, they are mostly white all of them, doctors and all these other people. Black doctors tend to think that they have to go outside government to practise, hence there was this big protest against Nkosazana Zuma when she was trying to say that everybody must serve two years service to the government. We have that problem.
POM. So what is the problem of implementation then if the policies are fine but the implementation is poor?
ZS. The implementation is poor because of the lack of personnel that is skilled.
POM. Skilled, professional personnel who mostly are white.
ZS. That is the basic issue. Um, I wouldn't say so, it's mixed, it's moving towards being black.
POM. But they don't want to work in the public sector?
ZS. No they don't, the majority of them have left, the best I would say.
POM. So that's where the black hole is?
ZS. That's where some of the problem is.
POM. Well thank you ever so much. Before I complete this work I hope I see you once again.
ZS. No, no problem.
POM. Do you remember a conversation we had when there was a seminar in Boston one time when you were there with eight or nine of your colleagues, it was when you were going around the country but one session dealt with the New Deal and what had been done during Roosevelt's era. Do you remember a Professor Tom ...? He gave a talk and the essence of his talk was, when you draw up your new constitution make sure of one thing, make sure that your central bank is under government control and isn't independent.
ZS. Is not independent?
POM. Yes. Do you remember him saying that? And it's ironic that a lot of problems of the - I keep thinking of it every time I see Stals saying interest rates must remain at 20% and there is the government saying we can do nothing about it, the Reserve Bank is independent.
ZS. No we tried.
POM. You're winning a bit of it back.
ZS. We lost that badly. We tried during the negotiations but most people did not understand what we were talking about. I remember we even gave examples, a specific number of examples, Britain and all these other issues. They were not interested and the media was just misleading everybody so we lost it.
POM. Misleading everybody?
ZS. Yes on this issue, the independence of the Reserve Bank.
POM. Do you think the media are fair when they judge the performance of the public service or that they still don't understand the enormity of the problems you both inherited and the enormity of the problems that are involved in transformation and the contradictions and constraints that are on you as a result of legislation?
ZS. Quite a big number of journalists don't but quite a number of them have begun to understand. I think in Business Day, I can quote it on the covering of the public service, still the best actually because I think they have taken time to be able to understand what it is all about. The others have not understood in general what it's all about and we hoped, in fact we have been trying, we have been talking to some of them, they are only chasing the issues of scandal, corruption, that's all and even when those issues have been resolved they want to come back to them. Let me give you the example of the Eastern Cape, for instance, last week, in fact on Wednesday I had to answer a question for Thabo on the issues that have taken place on the Heath Commission in the Eastern Cape on the questions of corruption and the amount of work that has been done in the Eastern Cape on those issues. Nobody was prepared to accept that.
POM. Nobody was prepared to accept that?
ZS. That there is a lot that has been happening for the better in the Eastern Cape in general. Even when you tell them they say, no we're not interested, we are only interested when there is a scandal, the very fact that, for instance, all these issues I was talking about the ghost workers, the question of training that is taking place in the Eastern Cape, that they have started their own college to advance all these other issues for themselves, they have got assistance from different donors and the improvements that have taken place, specifically in service delivery in the hospitals and the roads, although there are still problems. The main problem in the Eastern Cape at the present moment is mostly the question around the rural roads that are there, that has not been resolved and that they have accepted as a problem but mostly it is not their problem, it is because the national government, both Public Works and Transport, maintain those roads don't fall under them, they have not budgeted for them. So it becomes a simple issue that definitely needs -
POM. So they say the roads fall under the provincial?
ZS. They would say so, something like that, but I think Valli Moosa now is trying to deal with that issue. We have been putting a lot of pressure on him.
POM. So here you have a case of rather than -
ZS. It's not Valli's problem, it's a problem between Public Works and Transport on who exactly is doing it.
POM. What is the relationship between provincial government and local government? Many people tell me that at least a third of the cases or maybe even more, local government simply isn't - again the skill level simply isn't there and things are not working.
ZS. That's a problem. It's a big, big problem because I don't think anybody has taken the effort to look exactly at what is happening in local government. What did happen, there were elections and first of all we put in new people from the democratic movement in these elections without changing the bureaucracy, it's still the old ones and that is mostly where the NP has stuck and where the Freedom Front has a lot of control.
POM. So if you looked at transformation through the three sectors, transformation is going good at the national level, good at the provincial level but is not happening at the local level.
ZS. Very little, very little.
POM. So even provincial government, even with its loss of professional staff, faces a second problem insofar as it works down to the local level nothing happens.
ZS. Nothing, nothing. We've got councillors who just sit there, papers, all those by-laws but it's not being properly run, specifically in the rural areas.
POM. In the end will the three structures not have to be looked at holistically? You can't have one branch operating at 110% and another branch operating at 10%.
ZS. They would have to be but it's a very big problem. Nobody wants it, I don't want it. Let Valli struggle!
POM. That's Valli's struggle.
ZS. That's Valli's problem. I don't have anything to do with that.
POM. You're going to send him back to smoking.
ZS. No, that is his problem, he must resolve it and the snag is that there is no budget for it, even the constitution doesn't make for that. They are supposed to get their own budget so how does he carry that out?
POM. Who are supposed to get their own budget?
ZS. The councils, municipalities.
POM. Through property taxes? How can you levy a property tax in a rural area?
ZS. The land belongs to the Chief. How do you get the money out of that? If you meddle into that you get into problems.
POM. I found it very interesting that Mangope's tribe in the end stood by him and said that the Chief can't steal from his tribe.
ZS. No, it's the top people in his tribe.