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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
07 Sep 1998: Leon, Tony
POM Mr Leon, let me ask you first an easy question. Your party has made a dramatic jump in the polls since I saw you the last time and the NP looks as though it's just slowly slipping away having declined from 20% in 1994 to I think 9% in the Markinor poll that was published yesterday. (i) What do you think accounts for the leap in support for your own party and (ii) what do you think accounts for what one would almost call a precipitous decline in support for the NP?
TL I think the DP has been pretty much at the cutting edge of opposition since the new parliament started in 1994 and have been fairly consistent and that has resounded very well with the electorate. We haven't done too many zigzags or U-turns, or whatever phrase one would use to describe it, which the NP did. They promised power sharing to their voters, they then got out of the GNU, they then said they would be an opposition and the moment they did that the party suffered from a tremendous loss of talented, experienced leadership culminating really in the retirement or resignation of De Klerk himself who was the living symbolism of the volksleirskaap, the people's leadership of that movement, former State President and Nobel Prize winner, and of course all the others who have left including their Gauteng leaders Meyer and De Beer who left within a year of each other. I think that is extraordinary if you think about it.
So that's been the one thing which has helped the DP because we'd been on a pretty straightforward course. We said this is what we stand for, these are our principles, where we can get support for them we will encourage the government where the government supports them, where they don't we will take them on, and we've done that and I think we've done it on many levels, local, provincial and national level and on many issues. We also tended to have a number of quite skilled parliamentarians at those three levels although we don't have the numbers. So that's helped project it as well. And I've been around for a while in politics and I'm well known to the electorate going right back to Kempton Park days, whereas I suspect that my opponent in the NP really rose without trace and he doesn't have that, it's not for me to say, but he probably lacks what we call 'street credit' in the minds of the opposition voters. He's a competent technocratic sort of fellow but probably doesn't excite their imaginations very much. So I think those have been factors.
I also think, just a final point, I think that increasingly there's a sense of betrayal among a lot of Afrikaans speaking people in former institutions which over-promised and under-delivered and I think this manifests itself on many scales and increasingly I think a party which espouses liberal democratic values, the right to the individual wherever he or she might be and whatever community they come from, looks a more viable vehicle than one which promised a sort of ersatz nationalism and failed to deliver on that and today has more or less fallen onto the same ground that the DP once occupied. When this happened in 1990, when the NP basically adopted much of the policy ground of the DP, that was calamitous for the DP because the NP were then in a position of power, influence and had the ability to enforce their writ across the whole country. Now that the NP policy-wise and ideologically-wise has more or less collapsed onto the same ground that the DP has always occupied they are doing it from a position of powerlessness and I think in that paradigm they are uncompetitive against the DP whereas when they had power and we were not in power they were more effective at usurping our support base, now the opposite has happened.
POM On that point in terms of both values and policy are there any kind of 'cutting cleavages' between the DP and the NP?
TL Well there probably are because I think that at root the NP in its one area of remaining support, which is among Cape coloureds, is still a fairly nationalistic organisation. We are avowedly a non-nationalistic organisation. They also tend to be very populist on certain issues whereas we would be rather non-populist I think on social issues like abortion, the death penalty, where the NP is against the one and in favour of the other. We're in favour of abortion and we have an open policy on the death penalty. They would tend to be in that sense more populist than the DP and we are socially a much a more liberal party than they are. They are socially a much more conservative party.
Economically I think we're both free market parties but I think we have a much greater understanding of the market mechanism, not just what it can do but also what it can't do and the social elements of government's behaviour as an addition to the market is one that we've got a very sophisticated position about with, for example, unemployment where we have got a pretty advanced package of proposals which we're sending to the Job Summit, namely of vouchers for the unemployed, a direct empowerment to poverty stricken communities by using market mechanisms but with a very, very targeted emphasis and with state intervention at that level. The NP will talk the mantra of free market economics but they are very, very silent on the additional mechanisms required to compensate for market non-delivery to the most impoverished section. Those are two areas that come to mind.
POM Differentiating between ANC values and DP values?
TL Well there all the difference in the world and that's increasingly becoming apparent. Since we last met, and that is on the one hand we are a party which has always been in favour of non-racial advancement, a merit-based society, the ANC has talk of non-racialism but it is increasingly using demographic representativity as a means of empowerment and compensation. That is complete anathema to a party like the DP and that's why we found ourselves on the opposite ends of so many debates with them and legislation and various bills such as Employment Equity which has perhaps been the most advanced and, I would argue, dangerous piece of social engineering introduced by this government and that really did separate the sheep from the goats on how do you make good the past. So I also think that the ANC, while having agreed to an institution which had the fig leaves of federalism is increasingly centralising, whereas we are a party very much in favour of the radical devolution of power. And then on the third issue, which is democratic pluralism, there is a clear division between their centralising, if I might use that expression, 'hegemonic tendency' on the one hand and our desire to promote pluralism and to promote independent actors in the overall society.
POM When critics of the DP say that what's happening is that the ANC is becoming increasingly an African party, that the NP is increasingly becoming a party of coloureds and that you're attracting white support mainly, your own support base plus those who are disillusioned with or felt betrayed by the NP and many others from the right to the left who see you as the more effective voice of opposition in government, somebody who actually stands up to the ANC whereas the NP, for the reasons you outlined, is not seen as somebody who confronts the government in a policy oriented way on issues.
TL Yes, South African politics is still, and perhaps more aggressively so, racially divided now than it was even at the height of the struggle and I think a large part of that blame falls on the ANC, that's where the blame falls, be that as it may. I think what's interesting though is the DP has risen enormously among minority non-white groups, Indians - we're now the most popular party according to that latest poll in South Africa, coloured support has risen from virtually nothing to 20%. At the same time the ANC, which never enjoyed much white support, has practically no white support at all and has enormously diminished Indian and -
POM Coloured support?
TL Coloured support has probably stayed the same for the ANC. What I am saying is, they must actually ask themselves the question why they have made themselves so deeply unattractive to minorities, not just the white minority in this country, and one of the reasons is that they have gone for the politics of scape-goating, they've gone for the politics of race calling and race labelling which I think has polarised the society to a point that it is more racially divided than it was in the late 1980s or early 1990s when at least there was an aspiration towards non-racial democracy. It has now become the kind of victors want to get the spoils of war by other means, in this case the constitutional and democratic triumph they've enjoyed.
So I think that's part of the reality but if I had said to you at the beginning of this parliament, and I've probably said it before in our interviews, in 1994 we were dismissed as a statistical irrelevance, what's a 1.7% party shouting the odds? So I think the first thing in politics is to have a base and you must construct that base in the most effective and pragmatic way possible provided that you don't sell out on your core values and your fundamental principles and I don't think anyone at any depth or with any serious discussion, other than the sort of cheap jibes that pass as newspaper commentary in our increasingly illiterate press in this country, has actually managed to sustain that argument against us. So I actually look at all this as a triumph. I think it's quite remarkable in a way that so many people who previously didn't accept the fundamental basics of either our policy or indeed our acceptance of the new constitutional order in this country, which we had always aspired to, are now on board the party. I regard that as a triumph, not as something to take fright from.
POM I was talking this morning with Gerald Morkel and, of course, the contrast between the NP and the DP came up but he said - you recently had won a by-election in the Bergvliet area which he said is almost an exclusively white area, whereas in Pelican Park which is across the road from the Bergvliet area, which is mostly coloured and Indian, you weren't putting up a candidate and that what you tended to do was to pick by-elections in areas where the population was predominantly if not overwhelmingly white rather than going into areas where the populations might be predominantly coloured.
TL That's a tactical organisational decision. We're not in a capacity to fight every by-election coming. I think the record book of winning the kinds of thirteen by-elections we have won over the last twelve months speaks for itself, it cuts across the whole country. They are significantly white areas but we won two by-elections recently, one in a place in Natal called Greytown which is about 40% Indian and black when we couldn't have won it just with white support given the breakdown of the support, and the Pietermaritzburg city centre area. So I think a rising tide lifts all boats and that is an old cliché, it also applies in politics. As you start projecting yourself as a party which has the capacity to win again as we have managed to do you will start increasingly attracting other communities into the party but we don't make apologies for being selective in by-elections, we fight to win now, we don't fight just for the sake of putting up a flag. I don't know what decisions went into why we did or didn't contest Pelican Park, I couldn't answer that question. I wasn't even aware of the fact that there was a by-election.
POM The TRC has issued this letter to about 200 current and former prominent political and public figures saying, "You will be named in our report as having committed gross violations of human rights and unless you apply for amnesty now you are laying yourself open to prosecution." Indeed Omar, I think, has already said those so named shall be prosecuted. Do you think if that were to happen that it would have an enormously divisive long-running impact on the country, putting back the possibilities of true reconciliation for years if not for ever?
TL I think it would. I think the TRC has been partly successful in exposing the truth, partly successful. I think it's been wholly unsuccessful and seems to have lost its way on the element of reconciliation. Maybe there was an inherent contradiction in its mandate and the legislation which set it up to start with, I don't know, though the way they've conducted themselves really has given so many hostages to fortune to those who wish to discredit it and its process that I think this would be just one more step in that direction. On the other hand, given the fact that if you don't apply for amnesty you lay yourselves open to criminal prosecution, that was always known right at the beginning of the TRC's mandate. But I think there are a lot of complications and problems arising from the TRC's modus operandi, from their perceived partiality, from their seeming zeal with which they have conducted certain of their investigations and their strange timorousness with which they have approached others. So it's been a less than even process and I would be very surprised if this didn't simply further that perception that the TRC is not about reconciliation, it's about truth for the victors. But that's probably an over-crude simplification or a crude over-simplification. We will have to see, I'm going to reserve judgement finally on the TRC until I see this final report but one can make certain preliminary observations on the record so far and, as my colleague Dene Smuts who is in charge of it from our point of view, the TRC, says, it's very much like a curate's egg.
POM A curate's egg?
TL Good in parts and very bad in others.
POM What gets lost, and I'm looking at a poll that was conducted at the beginning of August that 74% of Asians, 72% of whites, 62% of coloured and Africans felt that the TRC had contributed towards worsening race relations. Beyond what you said, at what point did it go wrong? You have suggested and in fact I gave a paper on this in Belfast last year with Alex Boraine and Alex hasn't spoken to me since where I said there were inherent contradictions between looking for truth, justice and reconciliation, that out of this you were neither getting the full truth, you weren't getting justice and certainly you weren't getting reconciliation and in that sense, in terms of its mandate, it was not succeeding and that it was polarising race relations rather than healing them, that whites feel angry that they're being picked on, that it's kind of a witch-hunt and blacks look at these old time security people getting up there and in vivid detail describing how they murdered or blasted to pieces or smothered people and they do it in a cold and rather callous and non-remorseful way, looking at their watches as though to say - in ten minutes time I'll have told the truth, I'll have shown that it's tied to a political objective and I will walk out of here and that's it.
TL Yes I would absolutely agree with that, I couldn't add to it. I think some of the decisions of the Amnesty Committee, which the TRC as a commission doesn't have control over, are some of the most extraordinary things I've ever seen. For example, the killers of Amy Biehl getting an amnesty was bizarre. It seemed to me to contradict the strictures laid down in the legislation. That I didn't understand, nor did I understand the reaction of the parents except to say that they must be in a state of extreme denial.
POM I know them, she used to work for me.
TL Most extraordinary. But, look, let me not sit in judgement on them. God knows they are not deserving of anyone's judgement, just one's incredible feelings of remorse and sympathy and understanding so I'm not ever going to say anything about them except to say I never understood the decision. I didn't understand the decision how Tutu's son who is nothing but a political bone of contention in any of his conduct at the time. I never understood Tutu's behaviour towards Winnie Mandela when he embraced her and said, "Well, can't you just say a tiny little sorry or something like that", after this preposterous parade of 37 witnesses who had put in graphic detail quite how murderous and villainous she had been at the height of her reign of terror. I don't understand those things. They defy logical explanation. So I think it's all contributed to a kaleidoscopic frenzy of seemingly partiality, incoherence, unreliability, strange decision making and very, very dubious judgements being passed at two levels both in the conduct of commission and in some of the decisions of the Amnesty Committee and I think that has contributed to a perception that you see.
POM You were talking earlier about the propensity of the ANC to centralise things. Do you see their decision to appoint premiers rather than the chairperson of provincial leadership to be premier as an indication of their wanting to bring the centre to exert its control over the provinces or do you think that they have a genuine case in saying there is one hell of a difference in the quality needed in an effective premier and the qualities that are often associated with the leadership of a party at provincial or any other level?
TL Well that might be the justification or indeed the motivation and that's a party political matter but it's absolutely extraordinary, even just leaving it at the party political level and not looking at its provincial or constitutional implications. If I was to say to my party, which doesn't exercise power in the provinces - well I'm appointing Mr Smith instead of Mrs Brown to be the provincial head of the party in the expectation that he might become the premier of a province - it would be extraordinary. I can't think of any other political party in the world that does this because generally the party at a provincial level will choose the party's provincial leader and the provincial leader, if they win the election, will become the premier. But I think it's simply a symptom of an overall tendency of which that is just one example and then five or six other examples which you could use to justify my contention.
TL Well I think perhaps the most dangerous, more even than that, is the bypassing of parliament itself in legislation by increasingly taking the guts out of legislation and leaving it to future regulation by a minister which has implications all over the country as well as on the national running of the state. It removes the legislative check over executive action which is one of the cornerstones of democracy. I think the desire of the national ministries to actually take away provincial functions and to turn provinces into nothing more than Post Offices - I don't know if you are in your researches and discussions having a meeting with one of the provincial MEC's, a very bright man in KZN, Peter Miller? But Peter Miller delivered an extraordinary budget speech where he pointed out that in the province of KZN 92% of the budget was for salaried personnel and they have little say over the personnel in the sense that all that is a result of a previous agreement at Kempton Park when they negotiated the transition, so that's a sort of fixed cost, and in transfer costs - in other words paying out pensions and disability grants and so forth, so they have only got 8% of the budget left over in a province for any sort of discretionary spending and spending on infrastructure whether it's roads, drugs and hospitals, whatever it is, and that is why the provinces themselves become little more other than talking shops at the legislative level and means of patronage for premiers on the one hand and, secondly, sort of Post Offices for the central government. We have the other situation, Safety & Security, although there's some legislation being passed to try and introduce local policing in this country, the reality is that the provincial police minister has absolutely no powers to direct the police in his province.
POM He can't even move one policeman from one station to another.
TL He can't. If you want to send up a helicopter to go and interdict criminality the permission has to come from Pretoria, not from Cape Town. So that would be another example of it. Then of course the desire, which is a centralising tendency of a different type, to actually take control of large chunks of civil society. Sport is a very good example, instead of leaving sport to the various sports federations and to the constitution which prohibits racism at least, is desire to actually control the composition of sporting bodies, even the composition of sporting teams. And universities, the amount of interference by the state, theoretically in universities now under the guise of promoting transformation, is far more acute than it ever was in the hey-days of the NP. Those are the realities of this country.
POM The ANC actively saying that it's seeking more than a two thirds majority in the next election: again, most polls show its support down to about 57% I think. But do you think it will help them or in fact will work against them or do you think it is conceived with the intention of altering the constitution in a number of ways or that it is just the case of a party saying we're out to maximise our vote, that's what most political parties do, they want to get as many votes as possible and it would be crazy for us to say we want to get only 62% of the vote so that there can be a strong opposition of 38%?
TL Sure. Let me deal with this on a number of levels and it's quite an important question. RW Johnson just did an analysis of the poll which you probably saw which shows in fact that SA is pretty - even black SA is pretty much 50/50 - and ANC supporters do not want an over-dominant government so actually it's a bad tactic to play for, never mind whether they will change the constitution or not because there's a contradictory message. Mbeki says they won't. His junior minister, Mr Mokaba, says they should and Mr Motlanthe the Secretary General of the ANC said that's what they would like to do. So I think there's a contradiction there. But the more relevant matter is whether South Africans of all hues and stripes want a more dominant government and the polling suggests they don't, but it's necessary for the ANC to introduce this chimera because otherwise why on earth should people vote for them?
Now how they present the reason why, they say we've got to get more control, it's our failure to have total control that has led to our failure to deliver. That's of course complete rubbish and it defies any logical analysis because God knows they've had 252 MPs here, most of them fairly useless as far as I can tell, and there's hardly been an impediment to the ANC legislating what it likes. Their failure to deliver is much more fundamental than whether they have 252 or 290 MPs, it's hardly going to help them. It might help them but it's hardly going to help the country. So I suspect precisely because they have not managed to satisfy the electorate they've got to find an excuse to mobilise the electorate again and the excuse will be, give us more power and then we will be able to deliver more. Of course it's intellectually fraudulent and politically unsustainable that argument but it doesn't mean that it's not going to be played. I suspect that they might find that it's not entirely appreciated on the ground. But then if I was designing their election campaign I can't think what else I would say.
POM What I find interesting about your reply and the reply of others is that when I raise the question with senior ANC people every single one of them have justified it on the very same grounds, i.e. what political party in the world doesn't want to maximise its vote and if people want to vote for us then that's their right and it's not up to us to create a strong opposition, it's up to the opposition to create opposition.
TL Well yes, fair enough, but we can contest that in the election, that particular philosophy and viewpoint.
POM What do you think when you look at their overwhelming majority in parliament and a fair proportion of their ministers are competent and hard working, why have they not been to deliver? Their excuse, or what they say is the problem, is the civil service, that in the restructuring of the civil service it takes time and it's not as experienced as it was, it's not as effective as it was.
TL But that was their own choice. They chose to drive out most of the old civil servants and bring in their own people and they decided that racial demographics in the civil service was the overwhelming consideration. Now those were choices you make but you must live with the consequences of your choices. If you gut the state of its capacity to deliver at the very moment that you expect it to deliver most, well you mustn't be surprised when the outcome is a sort of paralysis which sets in. If you set political correctness as one of your highest goals, as your crowning achievement in your first four years in office, you mustn't be surprised when economic performance flounders, notwithstanding many of the objective facts which have impinged on SA like they have on many other countries in the world due to the globalised nature of world markets and economic tendencies and trends. And also the reality is very simply that the ANC has failed to make some bold choices because it's constrained by the nature of its own alliance and labour market policy being just one example of several. But the fact is that we have implemented COSATU's agenda almost entirely and without too much dilution and the result is 100,000 people per year are losing their jobs in the formal sector. That's not a total surprise, it's what you get out more or less approximates what you put into a system, any system whether it's a computer programme or whether it's a government. There's an unwillingness to govern in a way.
Let's take these farm murders, 550 South African farmers have been murdered since 1994 in 2500 incidents, which is more than twice the numbers who were killed in the entire time of the Rhodesian civil war which included seven years of guerrilla activity. Now that's a frightening fact. What's the government's response? We will have a 'summit'. Whoever elected governments to run seminars and talk shops? You elect governments to govern and it's not even a question of money. We spend R20 billion a year on our combined police, defence and national intelligence budgets and yet we can barely put up a road block anywhere in this country. That's a failure and the failure is in our management, in our organisation, in our lack of focused priorities in this country. There are a whole lot of reasons but it really isn't because the civil service is readjusting. They chose as their first goal to gut the civil service of its most experienced people because they didn't trust them. Now that might or might not have been a right or wrong call, I think it was a wrong call, but what they have done at the same time is to incapacitate the state machine.
POM So to those who say the ANC's policies between their white papers, and they're terrific at producing papers, white, pink, green, gold, orange, whatever, but that what they can't do is translate good intentions into actual results on the ground, that their failure is not a failure of policy but a failure of the capacity to implement policy?
TL I think that's true but I also think that some of the policies have been wrong-headed, uncosted, un-thought through. Look at Dr Zuma, she is a classic case of starting with good intentions and not ever once thinking through the consequences of what she's doing properly or at all, at every level, from providing children and pregnant mothers with free health care right down. She never actually sat back and said now if I'm going to announce these steps, what's the effect going to be on the existing state hospitals? Rural clinics, good idea, wonderful, incontestable good. Was any thought given as to who's going to staff them and who's going to be there? No, so half the clinics lie fallow, if that's not the incorrect expression. She now says she agrees that doctors are going to be kept in the state service by allowing them to practice part time in private practice. She finds that the system is abused and she now is going to ban from September next year doctors in the state service working in private practices. Result? There's going to be no state health sector left I suspect. There will be very little left of the state health sector. So it's zealousness combined with a complete absence of pragmatism on the one hand and it's also wrong-headed policies often which fatally contradict each other. So you very often get the feeling the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.
POM How do you think an Mbeki government will differ from a Mandela government?
TL Well Mbeki is a bit chameleonic, he talks out of both sides of his mouth at the same time so it's very difficult to know. You know when he goes to Davos he talks the language of global capitalism, when he's back home he talks the language of racial transformation. It's very difficult to know exactly what the real Mbeki is going to do when he no longer is sheltering under the big tree of Mandela. So I just don't know. I must assume that most of the appointments in government, the replacements such as they have been, have been his choices. I have found them remarkably strange appointments some of them. I hear that Mr Shilowa is a great friend of his and is part of the inner circle. Well I hardly think he's been good news for the South African economy for the last four years. He might become house-trained if he goes into the ministry but who will come after him in COSATU? I don't know. He chastises COSATU and the SACP at their congresses and yet is strangely reluctant to actually confront them where he has the power which is in the legislature. So I think it's an open question. One has an impression, they say that Mandela was the man of reconciliation and Mbeki will be the man of transformation. Well God knows what that means and what it will lead to. So, once again, it's an uncertain question.
POM Do you think, you know the famous question that was asked by Ronald Reagan when he ran against Jimmy Carter was, "Are you better off now than you were four years ago?" And if this country moves into a recession, if it's not already there, where you will have this year declining per capita income, you could have a negative growth, you have, you say, at least 100,000 jobs a year being lost in the formal sector and there seems to be a monetary policy that says save - which you can't anyway - save the rand no matter how you push interest rates therefore stifling everything else and creating the basis for inflation and lowering standards of living as people have to pay more on bonds and everything else, the ANC isn't actually going into the election, I mean among their own constituents, in a position of strength. Many of them will be poorer off than they were four years ago rather than better off.
TL That's correct and that's why on objective grounds they would be thrown out of office if they were in any other kind of stable society, but that is precisely why the amount of racial and racist rhetoric will be increased and new platoons of enemies will be created and inspanned into the campaign and I suspect the level of what passes for background noise is going to rise considerably in all those regards. I think that we are going to find ourselves in a position where the racism of the ANC and the scape-goating of their opponents and the marginalisation and demonisation of non-ANC elements in society will increase precisely because it will be a smokescreen to cover the failures that you've identified in that question. So I'm not very sanguine about the next few months I must tell you.
POM Do you think in a way, this just crossed my mind the other day, that the crisis in the global markets with its ripple effect down into SA in a way is giving them a different kind of smokescreen, that suddenly questions about GEAR and whether GEAR is being implemented and how it's being implemented, questions about the non-performance of the economy before any kind of global crisis hit, have been subsumed under the mat and everything based on - oh, there's a global economy and we as a small country are at the mercy of a global economy and therefore we're not really responsible for the fallout of what global market forces do because we're just little boys on the block?
TL I think you'll see that to some extent and of course at one level that's perfectly true. I think the whole concept of a nation state and the concept of national governance making its choices independently of outside factors is increasingly a diminishing one and that what's true in SA is true in much bigger countries like the UK which is to an extent having this big question about whether they're going to subsume their national political interests into a European entity. That is true across the world but it will be played here to some extent. But I just revert to what I said earlier, I think what was largely going to be played upon is the fact that there are these enemies of transformation and positions of power and we need to drive the moneylenders out of the temple, you're going to hear a lot of that. There will be a lot of blame placing and name calling to justify that position.
POM Just to take it one step further, your understanding of what Mbeki means when he talks about an African Renaissance?
TL It sounds to me like an advertising slogan because if anything since he announced it, our own attempts to be a player in that have foundered, it seems to me, all over the place. The obvious example is the Democratic Republic of Congo and that debacle there which is ongoing. Our marginalisation exclusion from the very organisation we're meant to be chairing at the moment, namely SADAC, the failure to actually really show any visible signs of this rebirth in Africa because it might be a new slogan but it's the same old problems that manifest themselves, and even in inconsequential countries like Lesotho which seem at the moment to be massively destabilised internally and apart from sending a good judge along to go and re-count the votes for them, we seem to have a fairly marginal effect. So I think it's a good aspiration to say let's pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps but where are the bricks and mortar of this or, I might mix the analogies, where is the meat and potatoes to accompany the gravy? There has been very little sign of that apart from invocations of the words, so I am a little sceptical and cynical about what it means.
POM The DRC, what's been happening there has been fascinating for many reasons, but when I hear that the solution to the problem is almost like a South African solution to a non-South African problem, you have cease-fire, fine, you have negotiations among the parties, fine, you have free and fair elections, huge question mark. You have a government of national unity, that's fine if you get it, and you have the introduction of a truly democratic system of governance. Do you think on a broad scale this insistence particularly by world institutions on democratisation in countries that have absolutely no understanding of what democracy is, it's like just a word, it has no visual or political meaning to them, is a mistake? That what one ought to be doing is saying what we need in some place like the Congo is a long transition over perhaps ten, perhaps fifteen years, for you to start slowly creating the institutions that will facilitate free and fair elections and lasting democracy, (that the country is bits of territory with) very different tribes, mostly living in rural areas, and having elections and democracy is kind of delusional.
TL Well naïve at the very least. Padraig, I would say that the real problem in a place like the Congo, which is not like many other places in Africa, it actually lacks the characteristics of a nation/state, it's bits of territory over a huge land mass, as you say, with many different tribes. There's no basic binding infrastructure, there are no national symbols that are shared, there's no common sense of citizenship. Now in the absence of all those things you actually don't have the foundations for a democracy so I think you've actually got to say, well how do you ever bring about a sense of national unity of which one characteristic is of course the right to elect and dispose of your governments and that's very, very long term. On the other hand I suppose as we approach the new millennium or the next century it's a bit rich to say we're going to apply different standards in different parts of the world. But there are very extraordinary circumstances in many of these African states which just, as I say, don't meet the basic characteristics of the national state model. They just aren't, they're bits and pieces of territory with many, many irreconcilable elements in it in which there is incredible scarcity of resources over which there's very fierce competition of who is going to control them. So trying to graft on top of that some kind of sophisticated or even unsophisticated democratic model or version is highly problematic.
The question is what do you do? It's easy enough to point out the fallacy of those who have made this the existence and I suspect it's a combination of things of which democratisation is only one element and probably comes at the end of, as you suggest, a lengthier process. But democracy or elections is something that everyone understands and it's relatively low cost. To really make a nation/state out of the Congo is an incredibly high cost exercise and since the rest of the world has lost billions to the corruption of Mobutu it's difficult to know how much interest they have there. The interest in the Congo of course is because of its relative wealth and that's really what sustains interest in it. I think the rest of it is all a bit of window dressing.
POM Just two or three more things and quickly, these are related. Many people have said to me, because I've asked the question, is part of the problem in the country, of the paralysis of government and the inability to get things done, due to the fact that the constitution is too good?
TL Yes, well, I don't know that that's an inhibiting factor. It's certainly a little extravagant and a lot of things that we've set up under it I think are unnecessary or could have been more effectively and ruthlessly costed. We did an analysis in the DP, I think it's costing R300 million a year to keep these various commissions of various hues and stripes going which of course get a life all of their own once there is money and perks of office inherent in all of them. I think we're a bit over-pretentious in that regard. So you think of Gender Commissions, Youth Commissions, all this nonsense, they could all be subsumed into some Human Rights Committee and they could look after some of these things on a more modest basis than they are doing now, so I think that is one element. I think there's a fundamental problem more than the constitution and how ambitious it was, or over-ambitious it might have been as your question suggests, and that is I think it is a failure to accept what are the limitations and the implications of democracy itself.
I, a long time ago, some time in the early 1990s, came to the conclusion, and my conclusion has only been strengthened by some grim experiences since then, that the ANC itself was fatally divided between genuine democrats of whom there are some there but I would put them in a minority, and people whom someone else cleverer than me called 'instrumentalists', that you use democracies and constitutions as an instrument for power. I think, I made a speech on it a few weeks ago, I think the real ideology of the ANC, fair enough you might say that the majority is power rather than democracy or the advancement of constitutionalism and whereas the aspiration of democracy and the need for a constitution was a very useful propagandistic counterweight to the non-democracy and the bogus constitutions of the NP, now that the ANC is in charge of proceedings they have scant regard for the meanings, implications and limitations imposed by constitutionalism and the concept that the state is subordinated to the constitution and the constitution is adjudicated by the independent judiciary who have a testing power over legislation. That is why the delegitimisation of the judiciary is proceeding at such a pace in this country because they want their own men and women in there.
POM Do you have a copy of that speech?
POM I'll get it maybe on my way out?
POM Just two last things. One is the reaction to the, maybe these are connected, the reaction to the SARFU judgement was vehement -
POL What did it touch that evoked such emotion?
TL It touched a number of things but I think at root you have that wonderful phrase of Professor Ronald Dworkin who is Regis Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford University, was, still is I think, when he said hard cases make bad law, and I think that is the sum of it. It was very controversial. There were a lot of personalities involved and I think the fact that Mandela's evidence was called into question and then basically disregarded by the judge who set about diminishing it was something that's very, very hard to accept for a government or a party or a people who do not accept easily the iconoclasm which is always inherently at risk when you allow decisions of politicians to be made amenable to judicial scrutiny and override, which is exactly what that judgement was about. That's why there was so much on the past and on the personality of the judge. So I think that was a big factor in it. I also think that there seemed to be something wrong because if the people mandate the President and government to do X, who are these unelected persons, such as this judge in question whatever his background might have been, to upset that desire or the will of the people? But that of course is part of the contract that you have for the constitutional democracy and it is well known in other countries and this was the first real test you'd had here of the executive, whether it's the President, the Minister of Sport or whatever, running up against a hard-line judge who interprets things very differently and in fact for all the power, all the popularity, all the living legend state of the President, he crashed into a barrier there and it did not sit well with those who have difficulty in being comfortable with that concept. I think also there were a lot of racial dimensions and there was a lot of other stuff.
POM Again, was it a kind of a touchstone that touched on all those racial things that are under the surface and have not yet been dealt with in this whole process of reconciliation?
TL I think that's part of it as well.
POM Put that in the very last question which is, and maybe they're related, in Korea when the economy collapsed you had these pictures on TV of Koreans queuing up, handing in their trinkets and their gold and anything to re-sustain the economy. Now here you have a country that's definitely in economic crisis yet you would never know it. I, going around, you would never know it and there is no sense of national solidarity, no message going out of - listen, we're all in this together and unless we pull together and sacrifice on behalf of each other, the benefits of the liberation we won won't be there for our children, we're going to start imploding if we haven't already started to implode, but we are in crisis. The patriotism I think Mandela talked about in his second address when he was opening parliament in 1995, there is no new patriotism unless - I don't see it. I don't see a sense of national cohesiveness as, OK we're up against it and we're going together, as a nation, to face it, confront it and do our best. Rather you have this ridiculous situation of an economy going to hell and five strikes are announced.
POM You have the new Chairman of the SAA saying four years of the same practices and this airline is not just bankrupt, it's so bankrupt that it won't even be worth selling. What do the employees do? They go on strike. What's missing? Am I missing something? What am I missing?
TL You've missed nothing. You've analysed the position very well. What is missing is someone in the position of power and authority to actually put that message through and to stare down those who stand up against it.
POM You have an icon. You have the man with more moral stature than any figure in the world, who can give any message.
TL Then I think he squandered a lot of that on irrelevancies and side-shows.
POM Meeting people like Michael Jackson.
TL Yes, trivia like the Spice Girls, trivialised himself and his office because I think, frankly, he's tired and there is no-one who has actually got the guts to stand up and confront those who need to be confronted. And of course a lot of things should have happened in the first half of this government's term of office, such as restricting union activity, doing the sort of things that have happened elsewhere in the world and they weren't done. Instead of inhibiting them they were let loose and we're paying the price and you're now saying that these calls to self-sacrifice, restraint and all these things that are so important should happen on the eve of an election and it ain't going to happen. The only hope one has is it might happen early in the next term of the next government but I'm not that optimistic about that. Let's see when we speak next year.
POM My bet is, and I've made it with Trevor Manuel, is that I bet you don't think your budget with the budget deficit at 4% of GDP next year - I think like every government he will say let's spend the money this year and wonder how we deal with it after we're elected.