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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

10 Sep 1998: Nqakula, Charles

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POM     Let me ask you first, and this goes back to the 'roasting' the SACP received at the hands of both President Mandela and Deputy President Thabo Mbeki at your annual conference in regard to your attitude to the ANC, name-calling, smearing, accusations of ANC being counter-revolutionary, of being no longer representative of the masses, your criticism not only of GEAR but of using such criticism to denigrate the ANC with charges of treachery for having abandoned the ANC.  Some of their words Mr Mbeki used to describe the actions of your members regarding the ANC were 'treachery', 'laying of false charges', accusations that the ANC no longer represents the truth of the masters of the ANC, that the ANC had virtually turned itself into the enemy of the people, for the ANC being responsible for all South Africa's woes, of the ANC being a counter-revolutionary representative of the capitalist ruling bloc, of the ANC (I think these are your words which Mr Mandela referred to) of being held hostage by the conservative approaches to the budget deficit. Then in Mr Mandela's unequivocal statement, "GEAR is the fundamental policy of the ANC, we are not going to change it because of your pressure. We do not represent just the workers but the entire country." What's going on?

CN     Well for starters I think we must be clear in understanding the tripartite alliance first because when we understand the tripartite alliance and how it works it will be better to understand the questions you have raised. The alliance is both a strategic and tactical alliance. What that means is that there is a political programme.

POM     But differentiate between the two for me? What is the strategic difference?

CN     I was going to explain that. There is a political programme that both, for instance, the party and the ANC agree on. In terms of the party that programme is a transitional programme, so to speak, because it is not a socialist programme but it is a programme which was designed to bring into place in this country a democratic dispensation which would be a thoroughgoing democracy, non-racial and non-sexist. Insofar as that national liberation programme is concerned, the party and the ANC, and of course COSATU, move together. That is the strategic alliance that we have and there are certain tactics that we must then bring into play to ensure that there are certain things we are able to do which will in the first instance ensure that programme is implemented, but secondly to ensure that each one of the component parts of the alliance has the leeway to implement its own programmes. Now from time to time, therefore, those tactics will not necessarily be complementary of each other. The tactics that the ANC will use will not be the same as the tactics that the party dealing with the same issue would use. That being the case you will find that there will be conflict from time to time arising out of those tactics and this is not a new thing. Throughout the years there have been phases when such conflict seemed to exist between, in particular, the ANC and the party. It was in the way in which that conflict was sorted out that has ensured that the alliance over many years has kept together and even in respect of what many commentators saw as a fallout between the ANC and the party during our congress, that issue is being addressed. It has always been like that. It does not pre-suppose that when that conflict arises therefore the alliance is doomed. It does not mean that.

     Now with respect to the specific questions relating to the issues that were being raised, again here it wasn't really that the party had suddenly become anti-ANC. In fact the truth of the matter is that when we raised weaknesses in terms of our national liberation programme, we took joint responsibility for this. It was not just put at the door of the ANC. We said that the entire movement, which included the party, has scored magnificent victories over the past four years of the democratic dispensation, but there also have been weaknesses, very serious weaknesses, and we then began to identify those weaknesses. It was not an attack on the ANC. Well the way that maybe we did this could have been over-bought but the fact of the matter is that we were saying all of us involved in the national democratic programme at this time have had those weaknesses. One of them was, of course, the question of our economic policy particularly at the macro-economic level when we are talking about the macro-economic policies of government, GEAR. Again we are saying in respect of GEAR that there are certain things that we could have done rather than sticking with GEAR which has not been a successful macro-economic policy and we pointed out why we felt it was not a successful macro-economic framework, among others how it has caused the shedding of a number of jobs during a period when joblessness is running rampant in the country and we made the comparison, necessary comparison between the RDP and GEAR and we were saying whereas GEAR was touted as an attempt to implement the stipulations of the RDP it tended to be at variance with those very principles embodied in the RDP. Among others we addressed quite clearly in the RDP the creation of jobs, not job losses, and there are certain prescriptions that are made in the RDP to address this very question. And of course we were saying if we continued in a situation or in a way in which we would not be mindful to the harmfulness of some of the policies that we have it would be interpreted by the masses of our people as a betrayal of their trust in our ability to transform this country and provide them with a better life as our slogan was saying in the campaign before the 1994 elections. The aftermath of our congress has seen in the ANC itself a discussion of that congress because the ANC was represented, so the NEC of the ANC did a full analysis of that congress.

POM     It would seem to be, when you say GEAR is a failure, everyone I've talked to for the last two years whether they are capitalist, communist, right, left, centre, say GEAR is a failure, it's met none of its goals. In fact not only has it not resulted in job creation it's resulted in job losses, a deepening of the inequality between income groups, the growth rate of 5% that was stipulated as being necessary to uplift the economy, not only has it not been met but this year there may even be negative growth. In fact it's going to be a lower per capita income this year than there was for a number of years, so the circumstances in which GEAR was conceived have changed completely in the last couple of years and at least one would think that one goes back and looks at the assumptions that were made when GEAR was formulated and ask are those valid today. If they're not valid then change the policy in the light of changing circumstances and changing assumptions about the way the world economy is moving.

CN     That's it. Well that is a point we are making. In fact we have been saying that even the so-called Washington Consensus is changing because there is an understanding that -

POM     The Washington Consensus is?

CN     Well the Washington Consensus is based in the main on policies, strategy and tactics that the IMF and the World Bank have been pursuing for many years. Even there you know there is a change of attitude because circumstances are completely different from what was envisaged a number of years ago.

POM     So when Mr Mandela, the President, comes roaring in and says, "GEAR is the fundamental policy of the ANC, we are not going to change it because of your pressure", there was an hostility and an anger to a lot of the remarks, or it would appear there was hostility just reading them.

CN     There are two things that were obviously happening, particularly in terms of his own mind. The first one is the fact that government at that particular time had to give an indication of its ability, of its strength to push through its own policies and, as we said in the party, he was in the main perhaps responding to pressures particularly on our currency, the rand, and other economic pressures that have been brought to bear on the country, the question of globalisation. He was responding to that particular issue and was therefore giving an indication to those who manipulate the markets.

POM     He was trying to reassure world markets rather than - he did that through the vehicle of attacking you.

CN     That's it, that's the first thing. The second thing was that he has formed perhaps in his own mind, or has been given the impression that there is now a programme of the left which is designed to attack the ANC, particularly in respect of economic policies and again he had to give a signal to say that, look, the ANC in the first instance is the leader of the alliance and if there are problems, which is a point he made, if there are problems let's go into a meeting and sort these out rather than attacking each other publicly. Those were the two main points he was making. Of course he had to make them in a particular way and given the fact that it is in his character - you know he is a very courageous person - it is in his character to raise things straight from the heart and that is what he was doing. It was not as signalled that the alliance was on its last legs, it wasn't. In fact in the end he re-emphasised the importance of the alliance as a vehicle to bring about the transformation that we are talking about. Of course in respect of the ANC's own President, Thabo Mbeki -

POM     Let me just give quick things that he says so you can put that in the context of the others. One was that, "It would be useful if the Communist Party could demonstrate to itself and the alliance what it is that our government has done which constitutes a betrayal of the trade policy spelt out in the RDP." He said that to your party. Then the week before at the meeting of the central committee of COSATU he said, "Given the practical policies of today the question must arise when we speak of the ANC/COSATU/SACP alliance, or strategic alliance, are we speaking of something that continues to exist or are we dreaming dreams that reflect the past? The question that faces all of us is whether we should now say farewell to the Congress Movement."

CN     Yes. You see again there if you take those things together, the first thing that he was doing, and this had been discussed before he even went to these two events you are raising, what had been discussed in the ANC leadership and in the National Working Committee of the ANC was how to respond to the public attacks that both COSATU and the party have unleashed against the ANC and indeed at the ANC's National Executive Committee the matter was again raised whether the ANC needed to remain quiet while the ANC was being attacked by these two organisations publicly, or to speak out and ensure that there is a correct understanding of what the ANC is and what the ANC is about. That was the question that he was facing. You see with respect to the RDP we still are unhappy about the fact that some people will say that GEAR interprets to the letter what the RDP stands for. It can't be when on the one hand your entire attitude is formulated by budget cuts, the budget deficit therefore which forces you to cut on very, very necessary services, for instance, and you say when you do that you are actually probably interpreting the RDP because the RDP is quite clear in terms of those matters. The RDP says there must be money, there must be funds which will ensure that servicing of our people is rapid and is appropriate. When you cut the budget for education what you are doing is contrary to the stipulations of the RDP because the RDP says you have to have adequate funds for education and we were saying if our problem is the debt that we were confronted with, if that is our problem there are other ways in which we can generate funds. We said, for instance, we were talking about the public pension fund and we were saying why not, because that money is money that is controlled by government but government then redirects that money into an investment company and that investment company does not return that money so that it is used for delivery. They don't. That money is used for other things that are not necessarily our priorities in terms of the needs of our people and we were therefore saying if the question of our international debt is a problem then government should use public pension funds to ensure that what is said in the RDP is implemented. You can't have a situation where on the one hand you are servicing a debt and therefore using much of the needed funds for delivery, and the funds that you have you give to someone else to use as they please.

POM     Give to - ?

CN     To this investment company.

POM     When the investment company - so you think the actual pension money itself - ?

CN     Right.

POM     - rather than being invested -

CN     Ought to be used either to service the debt so that money can be freed or goes directly into service delivery for our people.

POM     But then where would the money be to meet the pensions when they become due?

CN     Already that money is being used for something else. You mean that that investment is supposed to service the pension? No, this is a vicious circle. You see what happens -

POM     Let's say the total pension fund is a hundred rand so as government I collect that in pensions either from the workers or whatever and there's a matching contribution from government and that they take that hundred rand and they given it to an investment company and they invest it so that it grows. Isn't the interest left there so that - ?

CN     That's precisely the problem. We do not use that money to service the fund.

POM     The interest or the money itself, because when the time comes and people retire I have to dip into that hundred rand.

CN     We do not use that money to service the debt. The greater percentage of the debt that we are confronting is precisely that pension fund. It's workers' money that is the greatest portion of the debt that we have so when people say we should simply refuse to pay, we refer to it as 'apartheid debt' you see, we should refuse to pay this debt, it means that we will also not pay the pensions of the workers and we are saying therefore if we have to owe money then it must be money that is used for the delivery service for our people. That investment, as I say, is not necessarily, that money, for instance, is not necessarily being used to establish, to build more classrooms for education, to improve communications including the creation of roads, bridges, building houses. It's not being used for that. It's being used for something else. Therefore it is not directed at proper delivery prioritising the needs of the people. But it is money, that money that goes to that investment fund we pay for directly from the coffers of government to service the debt that we have. It's a vicious circle and we are saying, why not therefore take that money, not invest it in the way it is invested, and use that money to do the things that we want to do.

POM     So fundamentally when the Deputy President says, "We are confident that we have not departed from the perspectives spelt out in the RDI, I invite delegates to study the prescriptions and inform themselves and the alliance how we have departed from them and replaced the RDP with GEAR. The RDP identified a high deficit, a high level of borrowing and the general taxation level as to quote RDP again 'part of our macro-economic problem', accordingly speaks against increasing government spending as a proportion of the gross domestic product and says the largest portion of all RDP proposals should be financed by 'better use of existing resources'. It is because our movement as a whole understood clearly the economic challenges we face that it refused as it worked on the RDP to fall victim to a subjective and populist approach to the economy."

CN     What is better use of the resources of the country? Better use of the resources of the country is exactly what we are talking about. It is a resource of the country this fund, this pension fund is a resource of the country. How do we use it? We invest it. It goes to people who are not using that money to service our people. This is the point we are making. We are saying, therefore, if that money was available to our people we would not have the problem of having to cut because we are trying to cut the budget deficit. We wouldn't use that resource in the way that we are using it. That is simply one point.

     The other one was creation of jobs. So if you have a policy that actually destroys jobs then it is not implementing the stipulations of the RDP. You can't say it does and therefore there is a problem in the way then that we handle the human resource that we have.

POM     Has it been agreed upon by the NEC that the time has come when within the broad democratic and liberation movement there must be a re-examination of some of the assumptions that lay behind the initial formulation of GEAR, that GEAR mustn't be abandoned it may have to be amended?

CN     That's it. Those good aspects of GEAR will be retained. In fact some comrades are saying we need not even use that term GEAR, let's find a way in which we can address the problems that we have. Among others there is this thing about high interest rates which is a problem, a big problem for our people. There are many people who have mortgages and some of their houses have been repossessed by the financial institutions because they no longer can pay. The interest rates are so high, they are therefore affecting our people in a very negative way and it is our people in the main who have mortgages, these kinds of mortgages, and there are many civil servants who are losing their homes because they can no longer pay these high interest rates. That matter was raised in a NEC meeting of the ANC and the decision was finally that we need to pull together an Economics Workshop where we shall be work-shopping some policing proposals to bring to the leadership. There is a general understanding right through the tripartite alliance that we need to sit down and ensure that policies that we have do not impact negatively on our people. It includes everything, every policy that we have. Is our policy of housing, for instance, an appropriate policy? Does it deliver houses? If it does not deliver houses why not sit down and formulate a new policy within the framework of the general principles but an implementation policy that will ensure that indeed we are able to deliver houses to people. The question of the macro-economic framework, is it possible given the current situation and the current situation? Everybody, as you were saying, is saying that there is something wrong with our macro-economic policies and we cannot be impervious to those observations from many quarters including people who are not necessarily antagonistic towards us. Therefore, we need to sit down and examine these policies. There is an understanding, therefore, not just in the SACP and COSATU but within the ANC itself that we need to step back a little and discuss what needs to be done to ensure that we address some of the problems that we have.

POM     On the second point, given by Mr Mbeki before COSATU, "Given the practical politics of today, the question must arise when we speak of the strategic alliance are we speaking of something that continues to exist or are we dreaming dreams that reflect the past? The question that faces all us is whether we should now say farewell to the Congress Movement."

CN     Yes he raised that question at the COSATU Central Committee meeting but at the party congress he was emphatic on the necessity for the alliance to continue to exist. So even in terms of the COSATU thing, as I understand it the point he was making was: we are faced with two options, either to say farewell to the congress movement as we have known it or ensure that that movement is not just a dream or déja vu but that we are able to function in the best interests of that congress movement as it was conceptualised. That's the point he was making.

POM     If perchance after the next election, again he makes the point that, and this is a reference to the SACP, he said, "The idea that any of our organisations can build itself on the basis of scavenging on the carcass of a savaged ANC is wrong. This is because the death of the ANC would also mean the death of the rest of the progressive movement in our country." Would you agree with that?

CN     We have been saying this in the party, COSATU says the same, we cannot say in the party the death of the party will mean the death of everybody else. We cannot say the death of COSATU will mean the death of everybody else but the point we make which we believe is a good point is that each one of the component parts of the alliance adds value to that alliance and therefore we continue to say that a strong ANC will mean a strong party and COSATU. A strong COSATU will mean a strong ANC and SACP. And a strong SACP indeed will mean a strong ANC and a strong COSATU because we believe that each one of them adds value to the broader alliance.

POM     Each part of you complements the other. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

CN     That's it. And the point that he was making himself, Comrade Thabo Mbeki, relates to that question. He says when the ANC is dead it means that the others will die as well. It's the principle, it's the same principle that a weak ANC will mean that both of the other component parts of the alliance will be weak.

POM     Does the SACP have a future outside of the alliance? In other words if it were to organise, say not now and this is hypothetical, say, come the year 2004 and you decide that you are going to contest elections as the SACP as an independent political party, do you have the capacity to do so, do you have the capacity to go it alone?

CN     Oh yes, if the SACP or all of the component parts of the alliance were not bound in an alliance in the way that we are today and were not influenced in that direction by the policies that over many years we have adopted in respect of how we want to bring about national democracy in SA, the SACP would be able to mobilise for itself. For starters the SACP is a working class organisation. It would appeal to workers. Now whether the SACP would be in a position to form a government is another matter but the fact of the matter is that it would not be destroyed as a result of participation against others in an election process.

POM     Has your membership been growing?

CN     That's right, yes.

POM     What was it in 1994? What is it today, paid-up membership? Do you have any rough idea?

CN     Well if you take 1994 for instance, in 1994 we were possibly about 65,000. We are now much more than 65,000. I don't know what the current figures are but at the 1995 Congress, the 9th Congress, we were already 80,000 and it increases all the time. But as you know it wouldn't really be only that membership that would vote for the party. There are others who are not necessarily members of the party, card-carrying members of the party whose dream is socialism who would vote for the party in that situation.

POM     This is contradiction, the SACP is committed to socialism or the socialisation of the economy as the path to the future. The ANC rejects socialism.

CN     No that's incorrect. The ANC does not reject socialism but the ANC is not a socialist organisation. The ANC is a national democratic organisation.

POM     But it doesn't see socialism as the path to the future?

CN     The ANC has never said that. The ANC does not say socialism is wrong but the ANC is not a socialist party. The ANC has been in an alliance with the party precisely because it's not antagonistic to socialism. That's not in itself a socialist formation, it's not, but it's not anti-socialism.

POM     So you don't see any incompatibility with how you envisage the future and the path leading to a socialist society and the path that the ANC envisages which from my understanding of their thinking would not lead to a socialist society but would lead to a society more part of the Washington Consensus regarding the influence of market forces, global economy?

CN     Yes that's true but let's look at the allies of the ANC. Cuba is an ally of the ANC and Cuba is a socialist country. The Soviet Union was one of the biggest allies of the ANC and the Soviet Union had a socialist programme in place. There are many, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and so on, and the ANC, in fact if you go back and look at some of the pronouncements by OR Tambo on behalf of the ANC he made it quite clear that the ANC was an anti-imperialist organisation and the ANC saw socialists as its allies in spite of the fact that the ANC is not a communist party. So the ANC would not go out of its way to fight against communism, it wouldn't.

POM     This is a kind of a technical question. I'm asking it because -

CN     No, I understand.

POM     The next one is technical because I don't know the answer and I'd like to hear whether this has ever been discussed and if you know what the answer is. If, and I'm saying 'if', a decision was made that the SACP decided we'll go it alone, we will fight the 2004 election as the SACP, seek seats under our own right, not under the umbrella of the ANC, would that mean (i) if your members in parliament, if that decision were made, would your members in parliament then have to resign their seats because that would be seen as crossing the floor to a party away from the ANC to another political party, so that would be like somebody moving from the NP to the DP or whatever, crossing the floor you lose your seat. And (ii) would it put ministers who are members of both the ANC and the SACP in the position of having to choose between whether they wanted to ally themselves with the ANC or the SACP and if they allied themselves with the SACP then they too would lose their seats and have to resign their ministries?

CN     You see if we had to split the SACP from the ANC so that the SACP stood on its own in the elections the first thing that would happen is that we would no longer enjoy this principle of dual membership. You would either be an ANC member or a party member, you would not be able to enjoy the membership of both parties, you wouldn't. And immediately that happened whoever therefore made the choice, because the individual would have to make the choice to be either ANC or the party, so anyone including those who are ministers, those who are in parliament, if they wanted to become part of the SACP they would have to resign their membership from the ANC. The consequence of that is that they would lose their positions in parliament.

POM     I just wondered. It just struck me this morning on the way in.

CN     That's how it would be.

POM     Then as a new party, since you would be a new party -

CN     We would be an electoral party which we are not at this moment.

POM     Then you would be in the same position as the UDM, you wouldn't qualify for funding?

CN     No we wouldn't until we went through an election and proved our support in the election.

POM     Do you think that law should be amended? At least according to opinion surveys the UDM has 4% or 5%, it's got more than the PAC.

CN     That's only surveys. You have to go through an election to prove whether those surveys are correct.

POM     So you would not be in favour of giving them a penny?

CN     No. How do you determine? You see what those parties can do is to borrow money and if they believe they can win an election or have seats in the Assembly they borrow money and on the basis of what they have then they get that money after the election.

POM     This is another point. You've got a very strong ANC and you have all these other little parties, now if opposition to the ANC doesn't come from within the alliance which is committed to the same goals of the transformation of society and the empowerment of black people, then where can opposition come from when the ANC dismisses the DP and the Freedom Front and the NP as still being instruments of the old order who are against transformation, who want to maintain or are fighting to maintain in parliament the privileges of the white minority but who don't have the interests of the masses at heart, so they dismiss their criticism completely. Where can legitimate come from? If you are told to shut up in a way and get on board because GEAR is government policy and stop criticising us, isn't that a tendency to mute criticism? Isn't criticism part of democratisation and if you don't do it who is there and if you don't do it and COSATU don't do it who is there that can legitimately do it?

CN     Anybody is allowed to criticise. In the ANC itself there are many things that people will stand up and criticise and it's not true to suggest that there is no criticism in the ANC, I'm talking about the ANC. There is a lot of criticism on how we do things, some of the policies. That is why some of our positions are all the time being refined.

POM     But the ANC seems to want that criticism to be conducted behind closed doors at the meetings of the NEC or whatever, that you go forward as presenting a united front.

CN     That's right because in that way it should also be understood you are not confusing your constituents. You can imagine, in other places where your constituency is literate, you don't have those problems but in our own case this type of parliamentary process is a new thing. I will tell you why I am saying this. The other day I was home, I come from Craddock, a small town in the Eastern Cape (break in recording) ... We participated in quite a number and according to the press it is other formations that are winning those elections, those bi-elections, what is happening? And I had to say to them, you see in terms of our arrangements and agreements during the talks phase we agreed that 50% of the local municipalities would be constructed along the old lines because you have municipalities that are in place and we do not want to displace those municipalities. So you will have elections that relate to those municipalities only and elections that would relate to the new municipalities until after 1999 those municipalities will be merged to form one municipality. What that means is that you will have the white sections of a given municipality voting for people who live in those white sections and those who live in the black sections constitute a separate voters roll which is what is happening at the moment. But because some black people have now moved into the traditionally white areas and because there are a few whites who have been mobilised by the ANC in those traditionally white communities, the ANC has a presence and our feeling was that those who are there, it does not matter how many they are, should register the ANC, go to the polls as the ANC just to establish the presence of the ANC in those areas. It does not matter whether we are defeated or not. This is what has been happening so it is not the full might of the ANC that is being challenged in those areas, it's just a few people who are in white designated communities and therefore municipalities who vote for the ANC that have kept the ANC flag flying. Now if we were to have a situation that would confuse our people, where our people would be listening to various ANC voices, that would not be to the advantage of the ANC. You would necessarily need to deal with those things in house but when you go to your constituencies it's a united ANC and your constituency is not confused.

POM     So at the moment in local government there are many structures that are weighted in favour of the white minority. When you said there are separate voters' rolls, is there still a form of apartheid operating at the local level in many municipalities?

CN     Yes that was the arrangement, it was part of the agreement. It had to happen that way. Whether it was a convincing argument for the continued existence of that kind of thing or not is now immaterial. You have, for instance, Mpumalanga, I once went to this particular town in Mpumalanga to do a meeting there. The township in that area is part and parcel of the other outlying establishments like the mines, the mines, the township, everywhere where there are more black people is one municipality with a different voters' roll from what the situation is in regard to the entire community including white people. But it was an agreement that was reached.

POM     But that agreement will not apply post-1999 so there will be an integration.

CN     There will be an integration. It was part of the sunset clauses. After 1999 all of these structures will be integrated.

POM     I just want to go back to one last thing on GEAR and just ask you a couple of other things, I know that you're pressed for time, but since I didn't see you last year you owe me a couple of hours, OK? In your press release prior to the congress you and the rest of the leadership stated that, "The ANC has argued over the last two years that GEAR is an inappropriate policy and it often throttles the good social and economic policy it is endeavouring to embark upon." You say, "We need a better and more robust understanding of what we have to do as South Africans in order to ensure we do not lose our transformational agenda in attempting to please trans-national investors." Do you still stand by that statement?

CN     We still stand by that statement. Not only were we quite emphatic on that matter but our position has been vindicated. As I say there are changes in long-standing traditional views, internationally relevant to economic questions. People are now changing because they are saying we need to review our situation. Now trans-nationals have a particular agenda and that agenda simply seeks to generate profits. It does not matter what the situation of the natives of any country is.

POM     They're not accountable in fact.

CN     They are not accountable.

POM     To governments.

CN     Not at all, not at all.

POM     Sometimes they are bigger than governments.

CN     In fact dictate the political course in some of the countries where these investors have interests and one of the points that we made at congress which was a follow-up of the point we are making here is that even when we talk about democracy that democracy must be informed in the first instance by the actual conditions in the given country even in respect of Africa itself.

POM     So it says, "The SACP says South Africans must fight against the view that there is no alternative."

CN     Right, right.

POM     What alternative do you offer?

CN     This is the question that many people have asked. Now if both of us are in a very invidious position and we want to get out of that situation, the two of us, you cannot ask me if I have an alternative. We must sit down and the two of us must look at alternatives. You can't say, well what is your alternative, you say here is a crocodile infested river and you say let's swim across and I say, no we can't swim across because we will be killed by these crocodiles. And you say what is your alternative? The two of us must sit down and consider alternatives in a discussion. This is what we have been arguing for, that what we need to have, which is what the ANC is going to do, what we need is for us to come together, the entire alliance, and together begin to look at what is available, how it can be changed if it is possible to change that so that we are able to use it as a tool for transformation.

POM     Has a date yet been set for this Alliance Summit or is that still on the back burner?

CN     It was affected by the visit to our country, the NAM Conference and the visit to our country by Fidel Castro. It would have been during that weekend. It was affected by that but it is still going to have to happen before 30th October, that's when the Job Summit is happening.

POM     It will happen before that.

CN     Yes.

POM     So that you will go in with an agenda again that's -

CN     So that all of us contribute towards how - that some of the very important parameters of that Job Summit.

POM     This is a quote from Jeremy Cronin and I'd like to take it in the quick context of an editorial in the Mail & Guardian on 3 - 9 July, that issue, in which they stood up for you. It said: -

     "If the SACP can't debate the government's macro-economic policy what is there to talk about? The fact is GEAR has met none of its goals, we have slow growth, high unemployment and some but not nearly enough redistribution. We have not attracted foreign investors in meaningful numbers and prevented the rand from being eaten alive in the ruthless jungle of the international markets. High interest rates have crippled the economy and the high cost of money has meant there has been very little support to that end of the economy that concedes in our most vital and energetic and job creating - "

     'Concedes' is the wrong word - he's talking about the informal sector. The fact is, they are saying, is that the ANC is virtually assured of political power for decades to come. It means that the debates within the ANC and the alliance have great significance for everybody so in a sense you are your own opposition. You function as the bold liberation movement, function as the ANC in government but the only meaningful criticism that can come of policies developed come from yourself, come from within the alliance. I suppose my question would be, if you are part of a government, and this is the question that arose with the NP in a different way, if you are part of a government that makes government policy and there are many communists in the government who would have been critical to the cabinet's decision on GEAR, so your party has been part of a decision making process through your ministers and your MPs who are communists that embraces certain government policy. Do you then have the right to stand outside and say, well now we're going to disagree with that policy?

CN     That's precisely the problem. If anyone says we are part of government then we must be seen to be part of government. Therefore we must participate in the formulation of government policies. The truth even with those ministers, the truth is that those ministers do not participate in all of the policy formulation processes in government. There was a time when President Mandela himself indicated that the path leading to the adoption as policy of GEAR had been erratic. What happened was that only those ministries involved in economic questions participated in the formulation of the policy. After that there was an intervention, alliance intervention. The meeting happened on a Sunday and that meeting was not conclusive and there had to be a continuation of the meeting the following week and the continuation of the meeting was to simply indicate the process which was going to culminate in a discussion in parliament and the alliance was not invited to make inputs. It must be instructive to learn that the ANC for the first time discussed GEAR in August after GEAR had been adopted by parliament. The alliance, as the alliance, never discussed GEAR, not at any stage, not even now as the alliance discussed GEAR and therefore the point I am making is that under ordinary circumstances policy formulation starts with the majority party in government. It then informs what government does. There have been situations when policy has been formulated by government outside of the participation of the political party. We can't argue, therefore, that you were part of the processes because we were not part of the processes.

POM     So your ministers, sorry, ministers in government who also happen to be members of the Communist Party were not part of the decision making process that led to the formulation of GEAR?

CN     You see decision making at those levels means that someone will come to a cabinet meeting and they will say this is what I am going to be introducing in parliament and they give a summary version which will not pick up on weaknesses of such a policy and those who are in the cabinet will agree with such a bill and it goes to parliament. So in that sense they are part of the decision making process but we do not start with the decision making, we start firstly -

POM     Then after it's debated in parliament your members who are also, ANC members who are also members of the SACP would vote for the policy?

CN     Of course, yes.

POM     Now it's been voted for, your representatives in parliament - ?

CN     It's not our representatives. They are party members. They are there as ANC members of parliament.

POM     Voted on by your party members who are ANC, voted on, agreed upon by your party members who are ANC ministers. Then the party itself comes out and disagrees with it.

CN     No, because those people there do not represent the party, they represent the ANC.

POM     You've got to get a separation! One or two other things and they're different, away from GEAR. Oh yes, a statement by Jeremy Cronin, and I don't know whether you can recall when he made it. It says: -

     "You can already smell authoritarianism tendencies in the air. The ANC will win the next elections mostly by default because the opposition is so unfocused. There is a lot of jargon and not much thoughtfulness coming from the government. Mugabe epitomises where we could end up. We implement austerity but when we (that is the ANC) encounter resistance we give up for a few months. There are swings between demography and a managerialism. It holds terrible perils for democracy."

CN     Well I would not have made that kind of observation.

POM     You wouldn't.

CN     It's a personal opinion.

POM     Moving away, do you think the people, public, masses, whatever you want to call them, have any idea yet of the gravity of the economic crisis the country faces?

CN     No. You see this thing is very difficult to understand, it's very difficult to understand. When you are part of the so-called people in the street you do not know why suddenly food costs more than it did a few years ago, why the clothes that you wear cost more. But our people have gone through those spells for many years. It's not the first time that they have to be confronted by high interest rates, by inflation, all of those things, so they do not understand in fact what even causes this kind of spell. They don't know. All that they know is that it's becoming more and more difficult to ensure that they have a better life as we have said.

POM     Is that why there has been recently an increase in the number of strikes or threatened strikes as people find they are paying more for - well now they're paying more for their, if they're lucky enough to have a house, they're paying more on their bonds, they're paying more for food, cost of living is slowly going up. They don't know why exactly, all they know is that it costs them more to live and therefore they start looking for wage increases to compensate for the additional costs.

CN     No it does not really have to do with that. In fact if you make comparisons there have been more strikes in the past than there have been in the recent past.

POM     Since 1994 when the new government came in?

CN     Yes even since 1994. What causes strikes is problems that arise because of the attitude of bosses to a number of things including transformation and if workers were getting slightly more in terms of their wages and what have you there would still be strikes because they relate to quite a number of issues, not just the pecuniary interest. There are conditions, the overall conditions of employment which of course include wages but there are other things as well. There have been strikes that have related, for instance, to better welfare and health procedures for workers. There have been strikes that have related to the question of transformation, democratic transformation therefore transforming the work place and so on which did not have a direct bearing to wages. But of course during this year we knew that there would be a number of strikes because this year is for salary negotiations.

POM     Why is there no-one out there saying, delivering a message, we're in a real crisis, that they invoke President Mandela's concept of a new patriotism, just say we're all in it together and unless we all roll up our sleeves and work our way out of it we're going to fall into a quagmire and may never come out of it, that liberation and transformation means not just liberation to get everything you want now because we can't not only afford it but we're being buffeted by the global economy. Transformation means that our children will enjoy a better life, have an education, will have opportunity, will have equality, will have whatever, but right now we can't afford strikes, we can't afford wage increases that exceed even the growth of inflation. We have to accept that we all have to make sacrifices and unless we do that we will not build this nation. Why isn't that message coming out?

CN     That message cannot just come from Mandela, it must also come from business. What is business doing? Can business also say that well, we have made profits but given the present situation we are going to be using those profits for the following so that the lives of our people are better? There must be a context and that context we are trying to find via among others the Job Summit. In that context we are also trying to find via discussions in the alliance. There are documents that we have prepared, they are for the Alliance Summit, and in the ANC itself, as I indicated to you, an instruction was given by the MEC for the ANC's Economic Transformation Unit to come together and organise a seminar that will deal with these matters. That context needs to be put before the people of SA and the message you are talking about will have to come from everybody. It will come from government, it will have to come from business, it will have to come from labour and it will have to come from the politicians, all the politicians including the opposition if we are to say we are all in this kind of a crisis. That patriotism does not just relate to our people.

POM     So there's not that kind of national cohesiveness yet, that's not developed?

CN     That's it. We continue to have this kind of society that Thabo Mbeki referred to in parliament the other day and I like the way that Castro in fact defined this thing. It is not just two nations that are black and white. It's two nations that are either rich or poor.

POM     The haves and have-nots.

CN     Yes. If all of us were to understand that then all of us therefore make a commitment, which is the message that we should be giving to people, then it would be better for SA.

POM     Last question. I don't know whether there was a vote on the Electoral Bill yesterday, I haven't seen the newspapers yet today or listened to the radio. Do you agree personally or as a party with the NEC's decision that only bar-coded IDs should be the identification of use in order to vote?

CN     My own attitude as an individual is no and I've opposed this and I've said that it's necessary for us to create conditions for all of our people to be able to cast their votes. Let's be flexible on the matter. Those minority views were defeated and we are moving therefore with the attitude of the majority on the matter.

POM     What I don't get, I suppose, is that here is movement, the ANC, which since 1912 has fought for the enfranchisement of black people. It's been a hard, long, vicious struggle. You emerge victorious, universal franchise. Four years after gaining universal franchise you start laying down conditions, disenfranchising what may be by various estimates any place from two and a half to four million people. It doesn't make sense to me. They say well there's a possibility of fraud but the fraud would be so small compared to - I met with Judge Kriegler yesterday and asked him if all the IDs that are unnumbered, i.e. that could be duplicated, if all of those were used twice what difference would it make in the total vote and he said one percent.

CN     I'll tell you what worries the ANC among others, there is a lot of fraud that is happening in other services, the welfare services for instance, and if it is not fraud there is a lot of tardiness in terms of making available to people grants that they so sorely need. Now in order for us to deal with the fraud, and this fraud runs into billions of rands, money that could be used for other things, now the fraud is happening because our systems are not properly computerised. The bar code is used for that purpose because the bar code can't be duplicated and you aren't going to be paying welfare grants to ghosts which is what is happening at the moment. All the other identity cards are being used to pay to ghosts but if every person who receives welfare grants were using the bar coded ID when that is punched into the computer then only that person can receive that grant. It can't be anyone else. But it's not only the welfare grant system. Everything has to be computerised. It makes work easier and government is therefore able to save a lot of money from all of these services that relate to the identification of its citizens and the argument, therefore, that is being made that it would be better for us to insist on these bar codes so that at the end of the process there are more people who have bar codes who are therefore picked up by our systems in other services for our people.

     Now people who are missing out on the services are our own people. The question then should arise, because we are going for votes, should we be unmindful of the other services, the importance of the other services and therefore the necessity of the bar code. That's the question that people are asking. Now if you are a true revolutionary you would say, OK it does not matter even if I'm not voted for as long as I ensure that there are systems in place that deliver to our people. You would say that as a revolutionary. That's what it sees in the minds of ANC people. In my own case I was saying there are other ways and means in which this can be done and comrades in the ANC are saying the first one is to go and mobilise our people and give them this message that the bar coded ID is necessary for other things and as our people and because we want to deliver services to you it is necessary for you to have the bar coded ID.

POM     Some of the points Judge Kriegler mentioned were that, as a constitutional issue, that if the Electoral Law is passed, or bill is passed, that is in conflict with the Identification Act that was passed last year which said that all forms of ID were valid.

CN     You know what, let me tell you something else about all these other forms of ID. We don't have Bantustans any longer but in the 1994 elections we used Bantustan IDs. Now how do you allow a Bantustan ID to come into this system?

POM     As you said it should be something that you should sit down with among yourselves and discuss and come up with an alternative that if it is so without saying it necessarily means the exclusion of people who don't have a bar coded ID because those people are going to turn up at the polls, they're going to be told -

CN     No you see this thing is two phased. First of all you must be registered as a voter, you just can't turn up at the elections and registration ends at the end of February. The election has not happened at that time. If by the end of February you have not been registered you are not going to participate in the election. Now up to the end of February you can actually go to a registration office and at that registration office, before you go to the registration office there will be a mobile office where you go and apply on the spot for a bar coded ID and those people who fill in your form give you a receipt. Already that receipt has a number which is the number you are going to have which is what Home Affairs is presently doing. When you go and register the birth of your child already that child is given a number which will be their number. When finally they are 18 and can apply for an identity document it will reflect the number that is reflected in their birth certificate. Now that same procedure is going to be adopted. So you go and apply, you are given a number and you go to the registration office and you register in terms of that number. By the time the election happens you will have received your ID document.

POM     What if I had applied but I hadn't received the document and I arrived and I'm registered and I go to the poll and I say I never received my book but I have a number and this is my number.

CN     And on that basis you can vote. Like the people, if you go to the Registration Office on the last day of February and let's assume that the election is in March, it will not be enough time for you to get the identity document but you take this thing and you use that to vote with.

POM     OK, that's a very different reading.

CN     It's not a difficulty. So what we want to do as the ANC, firstly there must be a campaign, an ID campaign and that helps to mobilise your people for elections on the part of the ANC at least because people will be addressing rallies, addressing meetings and telling people about the importance of applying for this bar code thing. I was listening to people yesterday on the radio. Judge Kriegler was actually on the radio himself and there were other people who were on radio and this person was saying, "I went, applied for a change to my ID and it took a short time, I paid R5 and I've applied." Now what is difficult about applying for this thing? And for the ANC it becomes part and parcel of the ANC's campaign.

POM     But essentially you're saying that once you apply, you get a number and if there's some bureaucratic foul-up along the way which resulted in your not getting -

CN     You can still use that number.

POM     - a bar coded ID you can still go to the poll once you're registered and use the number to vote.

CN     That's right. They will look at that and there has to be accompanying documentation to show that you are who you claim to be and you vote. Yes.

POM     OK, thank you so much.

CN     It's not a problem.

POM     It's so good to see you looking so good and so healthy and confident. You must think you're going to get over two thirds.

CN     Well it's possible. You see I don't understand the people who are saying all sorts of things.

POM     They're arguing on the basis that that would allow you to unilaterally change the constitution.

CN     But even if we changed the constitution unilaterally, what is not in place now that we would put in a constitution considering the fact that we've always been - there's not a single one of the present political formations that have been as democratic as we have been. In fact our entire struggle has been based on democratic tenets. What is it that we will introduce in the constitution that will be undemocratic? And if we change we will change for the better of the people.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.