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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
18 Sep 1998: Nzimande, Blade
POM Let me begin with some questions referring to what one might call the 'roasting' you received at the hands of both President Mandela and Deputy President Mbeki at your annual conference, one, in regard to your criticisms of the ANC, the name calling, the smearing, the accusations are causing - they are calling it counter-revolutionary and of being no longer representative of the masses. Your criticism is not only of GEAR but of using such criticisms to denigrate the ANC with charges of treachery for having abandoned the RDP. Some of the words Mr Mbeki put in your mouth, or the mouths of your members, regarding the ANC were:- treacherous, laying of false charges, no longer represents the interests of the masses, that the ANC had virtually turned itself into an enemy of the people, of being hostage by conservative approaches to the budget deficit, of the ANC being responsible for all of SA's economic woes, of the ANC being counter-revolutionary, representative of the capitalist ruling bloc. Just taking that as a whole question.
BN Well, first of all we welcomed the fact that both President Mandela and Comrade Mbeki used that platform to raise concerns that they have. It was an appropriate platform in the sense that congress is our highest decision making body and delegates were there and we felt that just as we raised things that we are unhappy about with the ANC or some aspects of government policy, they also were entitled to actually raise concerns that they had. But what is important is that both of them were raising these concerns, their point of departure was that the alliance needs to be strengthened and that to weaken the alliance or to break the alliance would actually be playing into the hands of our opponents, even enemies for that matter because we still do have enemies in this country. So it was within that context that this was being raised and we welcomed it. However, we felt that the tone was unfortunate. We think that the same things could have been raised but in a different tone. Obviously some of the things that they raised were discussed by congress because we thought that they were important things. But in relation to Comrade Mbeki's, because his was more substantive in terms of engaging with our discussion documents and so on, some the things that he raises are perceptions which some of it you don't agree with. Just very briefly to give you an indication, we were saying in those documents there are weaknesses that are there in our organisations and we take equal responsibility for that, we're not pointing fingers.
POM When you say 'the organisation', that is?
BN The alliance. That whatever weaknesses are there in government and in the organisations themselves we take collective responsibility on that, so we are not just pointing fingers. It's very important also for the party to be understood that we didn't agree also with the idea of a watchdog really, because we are not watchdogs. I am in government. I have been in the trenches, just like many of those communists, in fact most of them are in the forefront of building the ANC. Many, many of them are in government, national government, provincial governments, hundreds, we have got hundreds of councillors throughout the country in local government. So we feel that quite a number of things that were being said we would approach them from the point of view of a debate that he's actually posing. As we say, the tone was unfortunate but we don't agree with some of the things were perceptions which we thought was giving particular interpretation on things that actually we did not mean.
But having said that we thought that they opened an important debate and what is that debate? That debate is a debate that has been there in the alliance for years, has been there in a particular form after 1994 when we have been in government. That is what are the respective roles of each of the components of the alliance at this period when we are now in government and how do we act as an alliance whilst at the same time being independent organisations. It's a long debate that has been there, three in this alliance.
POM Let me just give you three quotes. One is from President Mandela, he said: -
"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."
Then the Deputy President: -
"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 policies spelt out in the RDP."
Now my question is this, as I've told you I've talked to people from all shades of political opinion and I don't think I've come across a single person from left to right who thinks that GEAR is working. In fact they say, it simply is not working. And yet the ANC or the government has dug in its heels and said we have made a decision about that, rather than saying since the time GEAR was conceived of many things have changed and some of the assumptions underlying it are no longer valid and we need to examine those assumptions to see are they valid and to adjust the programme in the light of changing circumstances and assumptions about the future, but it looks as though they're not even prepared to do that.
BN That statement was unfortunate actually because the President himself had said earlier, admitted in fact that there was very little consultation around GEAR. He said that at the COSATU Congress last year that even the ANC was not adequately consulted about that and it was for that reason, for instance, that he said GEAR is not cast in stone. So the statement was rather unfortunate because it was like going back on that and in any case, in the alliance at the moment, that question is open for discussion. It is being discussed in the run-up to the alliance summit to try and find one another. So it's a matter that is actually open for discussion.
POM Has a date for the alliance summit been set yet? Will it take place before the Job Summit?
BN Not yet, not a fixed date but we want to meet before the Job Summit which means somewhere middle of October. That is where we are actually looking at. That's the date that we're actually looking at. Insofar as this is concerned, we are not going to change our position as the SACP about our criticisms of GEAR. We remain firmly, we believe that it is an inappropriate policy both in terms of this period and also in terms of implementing the RDP but nowhere in our documents have we said that the ANC is a betrayal despite the fact that we disagree. The way in which we approach that disagreement is that government is saying this is the best way to attain the RDP and we are not taking it as if there is a deliberate betrayal and we are saying no, this is not the right way to actually take the RDP forward. We are sticking to that and there are working groups at the moment of the alliance and one of the working groups is looking at macro-economic policy and we are discussing GEAR and the way we are doing it in these working groups is to identify areas of agreement and areas of disagreement and then propose measures to try and deal with the disagreements. So much as the President made that statement, that has not even affected the kind of discussions that are going on and GEAR is actually being discussed and the differences around that with a view of trying to find one another in terms of economic policy.
POM What would be the major planks of an economic policy that you would put forward at this point in time, given that if interest rates remain at the level they're at you have wiped out any prospect for economic growth, wiped out any prospect for jobs, Job Summit or no Job Summit. At 25% level interest rates forget it. One thing will reinforce the other, the rand will continue to tumble. If you keep relying on interest rates to stabilise the rand you're choking off the economy further and further and further.
BN We adopted an economic framework at our congress which has got these elements: firstly we are saying that interest rates must come down. We even took a resolution that we are going to embark on a campaign to bring the interest rates down. That's what we are taking to this Alliance Summit. Secondly what we are saying is that the problem we are having with GEAR, GEAR in fact arose under specific conditions when the rand was falling and it arose as a measure to try and protect the rand, not exclusively but largely it arose out of that context as well as to send positive signals to the markets. We are saying that's a wrong way to actually approach economic policy and is in contradiction with the RDP and the Communist Party is saying what we should have done is to develop an industrial policy for the country which says what's the nature of the industries that we have? Where do they stand in terms of the national economy? Where do they stand in terms of the international situation? Which industries should we be targeting for development? Which industries maybe should we be running down deliberately? And the state should play an active role in providing a framework with incentives and disincentives, the focus being on those industries that will be creating jobs and where we could even begin to try and direct investment towards that man. That should be the core and from which then you actually develop a macro-economic policy because then a macro-economic policy deals with then creating a financial in the macro-environment that will ensure that that industrial policy actually thrives and succeeds.
POM Is there anything in what you said that if I were Alec Erwin and I were sitting here that he would disagree with in what you said?
BN He wouldn't but he would concede that, yes, we don't have an industrial policy as yet which is the issue that we are raising. There are processes now to develop it, that he would consider that, that as of now we don't have a fully fledged industrial policy. Oh, and the deficits also. Can I just say that? Because part of our concern is that there is no magic around 3% target of a budget deficit and what the Communist Party is saying is that we are not saying that there should be no macro-economic or fiscal discipline, we are not saying that we should not deal with our debt, but the point which we are saying is that we are driving ourselves too harshly, unnecessarily so as a society that is emerging with such huge disparities and inequalities. So we have to review the budget deficit targets even if it might mean paying less amount to the debt but the moneys that you release you invest them in major infrastructural programmes, public works and so on, that would begin to create jobs and so on. That lays a better basis. So we are saying we are tying ourselves too much with this 3%. But also much more importantly, we are not as the SACP unaware that our economy is severely distorted, that we are a third world medium economy country, medium sized country. But what we are saying is that precisely because of that certain trade-offs will have to be made, even compromises, even sacrifices by everybody. Precisely because of that you then need to consult about your macro-economic policy and that consultation didn't take place. We feel that this is maybe where we could trade off and government feels that, no, it's in this other area. Because we haven't discussed that it then actually creates problems. The Job Summit is only now beginning to do that because it's consultative. Workers are saying for a start we are willing to sacrifice a day's wage to create a fund. Let us start, there are many other things that could actually come in. We didn't do that with this macro-economic policy, that's the problem. Unlike with the RDP, the RDP was developed through extensive discussions and consultations. Something as critical as macro-economic policy, particularly because we understand we have got to make certain sacrifices, you have to take people along. So those are the elements.
POM OK. Now you've raised probably what is to me one of the critical issues here. As I said, I've been coming here since 1989, I spend four or five months in the year, I talk to - among my study I have 18 families from people living in shacks in Orange Farm to people living in mansions out in Zeerust, at every income level, and I visit them all two or three times a year and get their opinion about the way things are going. One thing that strikes me is that there is no kind of high profile recognition that this country is in a crisis, a crisis of major proportions. There is no sense of cohesiveness, we are all in this together, we all have to sacrifice now if we are to have a better future for our children. Getting the vote is just first step, not the last step. Now the hard part comes, now we've got to build but we'll do it together. We'll all make sacrifices, black and white. You get no sense of that at all. Did you ever see a British movie with Peter Sellers called 'I'm all Right Jack'? It was made about 25/30 years ago about attitudes in the labour movement in Britain at the time that if you were getting whatever you wanted then you were OK and you didn't care what happened to the next fellow. Why is there that lack of social or national cohesiveness? Why hasn't President Mandela been able to bring back that, with his prestige and his moral stature?
BN To be fair to him he has tried that. National reconciliation he talks about but he further defines national reconciliation as meaning the realisation that the country is racially divided, that the country has got huge inequalities. I mean we are only second to Brazil in terms of wage differentials, for instance, and just social inequalities, socio-economic inequalities. He has raised those things and tried to say to the white community you have to make certain sacrifices in order to lift the country. Deputy President Mbeki has raised that in his speeches in parliament, two nations, using Germany as an example and so on.
POM But there's no indication that the white community is, number one, listening and number two, taking it to heart, and number three, they think they have been put upon in some mysterious way, that they're making sacrifices more than anybody else, that they're the tax section of society.
BN Well in any case it's not true this thing of tax that the white community normally says. It's workers actually who pay about 70% of the tax in this country, workers who are earning something like less than - I think the statistics if I remember that about 70% of the tax in this country comes from people who are earning less than R30,000 or something. In fact R30,000 may even be high, it might even be about R20,000 or less. That's the crux of the matter in this country, that's the challenge. We're trying to lay a foundation for that. The RDP was actually trying to do that. So the President has really gone a long way and also said to the black community there are certain sacrifices that we must make. He hasn't only said that to the white communities. That's precisely the reason why - and what I think we have realised and we have learnt over the past four years in government is that in order to do that you must provide both incentives and disincentives in order to do that. And also you can't just rely on talking to people. You have got to place certain measures in place, put certain measures in place, like the Employment Equity Bill which forces employers to try and embark on affirmative action. Whether that will succeed or not is another debate. All right. But also what we need to do, you need to lock people around concrete proposals and programmes, hence the Job Summit, and say let's have something concrete to demonstrate because the white community would say we are willing to sacrifice, but they are not doing it. So here is the Job Summit, what is business coming up with? What is labour coming up with? So those are the things that are actually also quite critical because you can just talk about it and then life will still continue as before. So you need certain concrete things and then say, commit yourselves, here is something.
POM Some whites have asked me that question. They say, what am I supposed to sacrifice? My car, my house?
BN No we are not looking at it in terms of -
POM Education for my children? In a way they're saying, tell me. What is it? I work all day, I get up at five in the morning, I'm at work at six thirty, I get home at seven o'clock in the evening, I'm tired, I have my meal, I watch some TV, I go to bed, I get up, I work.
BN No, that's not what we are saying. For instance COSATU is calling on every working person to sacrifice a day's wage. Is the white community willing to do that? We're not taking away your car. We're taking R500 for some, R800 for others, R200 for some and so on, maybe R2000 and we are also saying to big business, sacrifice a day's profit and put it into a fund which is going to go into major public works, infrastructural programmes and other programmes that are going to create jobs.
POM A day's profit a week?
BN No, no, just once. Just one day's profit. A once-off thing in terms of the profit that you make per year. Average, just sacrifice that, that's all. Once. And sacrifice a wage, one day's wage, just one day's wage. That's all in terms of whatever you are earning per week or per month or per year. Just one day's. These are some very concrete proposals.
POM One day per week or one day per year for workers?
BN It's one day per year. Not every year, just once. If I earn R1000 a day, all right, which means that I earn R30,000 a month, we are saying sacrifice that R1000 and you get R29,000 just once off. Not every year, just once off and we actually create this fund which is actually going to be handled through government with this consultation in terms of building schools, building roads and all those kinds of public works and some other such kind of social investments that are actually going to be productive. We are not saying give away your car. We are not saying give away your house. But many of those people who are saying that are not telling the truth because you will that there are still a number of people in the white community who don't want to open their schools to black kids. All right. Now there is something concrete. Here is a black kid from a single parent family and the mother is a domestic servant earning R400 a month. The school costs about R400 a month and we are saying let that child not pay, that's what the law says. But many of these schools are chasing these kids away. We are saying those parents then who can afford to pay, let them pay, which means if you are paying R400 a month, if it means paying R430 so that those kids who come from poor backgrounds can actually come to school, those are very concrete things. But they themselves are actually chasing these - there are so many things that could actually be done without taking away people's cars. For them to say that there is nothing that we can do, we are not also calling for philanthropy but we are calling for measures that are actually going to have an effect, a positive effect on society and a positive effect on the economy of the country.
POM Why do you think, and this is in a more general way, that in every country where there are blacks and whites you have the same pattern of racism, of income inequality, though not as big as it is here but you certainly have it in the USA. Washington DC it's like one little white sector where government is and if you take a tour around the periphery there are areas around it that are almost as poor as areas in Soweto.
BN I stayed in Washington DC for four and a half months in 1989 and I know exactly what you're talking about.
POM Why do you think it's so pervasive?
BN Well you see - Castro when he addressed parliament I think actually grasped the matter that this actually arises out of imperialism and colonialism . Way back, 16th century or whatever, black people were taken here and became slaves and those societies were built on slave labour. In SA what you are looking at was that blacks were colonised, defeated, colonised, subjugated and they were to provide cheap labour. Racism springs up of those material conditions, that these are less than human beings, they actually don't deserve to be treated in the way - it's cheap labour, you are looking at growing the economy, you are looking at making a section of society. Anyway, as far as I am concerned capitalist society in itself is unequal so it would look for all ways and means to actually find a way of making maximum profits and social stereotyping has become a very key component of capitalism. Wherever you go it is actually there because we are looking for ways and means of actually making maximum profits and then you need people who are going to be able to do that.
You get religious discrimination in some other countries which then is used as a basis actually to oppress those people who are regarded as following something that is actually very different, which the dominant values in society do not regard as something valuable and so on. So basically that's the thing. So we have this history of racism which has been inherent in many major capitalist societies deriving from this fact of imperialism and colonial conquest and so on and the need to make maximum profit and social stereotyping has been a very important instrument for the rich to actually make money.
POM When Nelson Mandela was in jail one of the questions when the secret negotiations was going on, and one of the questions that he was asked by this committee of four who used to visit him, I think they visited him 48 times between 1987 and 1990, one of the questions was, what kind of economy do you envisage in the future and what's the relationship between the ANC and the SACP? And his answer was twofold, number one, that the relationship between the SACP and the ANC was close, would remain close, they were allies and the ANC would be loyal to the SACP through thick and thin because of the contribution it was making to the struggle. Number two, that the alliance in one sense was a tactical alliance to overthrow apartheid, that while the SACP believed in a future that would be a socialistic future, at some point in time the ANC did not believe that. Can two components of an alliance indefinitely work together where your fundamental long run objective is different? For you it's a socialistic SA. For the ANC it's a non-socialistic SA. How ultimately do you bridge that gap?
BN It's a very complex question that, as you would anticipate, because I wouldn't even say the tactical alliance, it's a strategic alliance at the moment insofar as the main strategic objective at this point in time in SA - well if you look back before 1994 it was the defeat of the apartheid regime, but it went beyond that. One could actually say there are certain strategic tasks that need to be performed immediately after the defeat of the apartheid regime and if you ask me I will say basically there are three tasks. One is democratisation of SA. Number two is nation building and national reconciliation. And number three is reconstruction and development. The main pillar there is actually to address these inequalities, bridge these social and economic inequalities by principally focusing your attention of addressing the basic social needs of the poor in this country. That still remains a strategic objective. That still remains a common objective. Now if you had to break the alliance now I think that in fact you would unleash forces that we haven't seen in SA for a long time to come, if you divide this alliance, because all these three components have got a common interest in these three things.
Let me take it from an SACP point of view. We are fundamentally interested in democracy which means that people should actually have a say in their own governance, have a vote, participate in the day-to-day decision making of government whether it's through school governing bodies or development communities or debating about a budget and local government in a particular council and so on. It's important to strengthen that. At the moment our democracy is still somewhat, we have made a lot of progress but it is still fragile frankly precisely because of these threats and these divisions we were talking about and also precisely because of those socio-economic inequalities. But I will come to that. Democracy for us also is important so that everyone would have freedom to propagate his or her political ideas and you will have all political parties so that also in future at some stage when the time comes that the SACP goes it alone you have a firm democracy and you will have to go and convince the people why we are right, and if the majority of the people vote for the SACP in future, let it be so.
POM Do you envisage a time when that in fact will happen and that it will be a good thing for it to happen because it will mean a proliferation rather than a narrowing of the choices available to people?
BN That's the point I was coming to, that's why I was starting there. We are interested in reconstruction and development so that our people are pulled out of the situation in which they are in, the majority of our people. Nation building is very important, to try and forge a new South African identity because you know nations can fight one another. You only have to look at Eastern Europe, even in South Africa, you don't actually have this common national identity without suppressing the cultures. Now if you were to break the alliance now when our democracy is still fragile, when we haven't laid as yet an irreversible foundation for reconstruction and development, we have done a lot and I think we have laid a foundation but it's not yet an irreversible foundation.
POM The cement is still kind of soft.
BN Nation building - we still have a long way to go. Now a number of things, if I were to come directly to your questions, a number of things are possible. People tend not to see that. It is possible that the alliance might break in future and go its different ways although I am saying in the medium term that's not - I'm talking even up to ten years from now. So it might go different ways. The likelihood - for instance COSATU has taken a resolution to build the SACP into a strong party because they regard, they took a resolution last year at their congress because they say we don't need a separate workers' party, we have a working class party, that's the SACP. And they took a resolution that they're going to fund us. OK not to meet all our needs but indeed that is beginning to happen. Already we are - part of the meeting that I had come to today was actually to put some more flesh into that in terms of how then do we actually start this thing and make this a reality. That's one route, so there is a likelihood, though not guaranteed also, that the SACP and COSATU might go together, but also it's not guaranteed. You might find that COSATU decides to form its workers' party and the SACP stands on the side but that's not the resolution of COSATU at the moment. Even these other unions are saying, well, we will join the SACP the day you break your alliance with the SACP. Fine.
POM Sorry, you're saying they will join the SACP the day you break your alliance with the ANC?
BN Yes, like the other unions. Some of them are more sympathetic to PAC.
POM Is that NACTU?
BN Yes that's right. Many NACTU people said, well the SACP we would join it but we don't agree with the ANC's politics you see. The day you break and purify yourself into a working class party rather than aligned to ANC policies, we're not going to buy that opportunistically or whatever. We're not interested. We know what we are doing. Within the ANC is important. But there's another possibility that might happen. You know these organisations influence each other inevitably because they are in an alliance. It's also not impossible for the organisations to dissolve into one another, into one organisation, either to form a social democratic party or you find the bulk of the ANC membership moving towards socialism. So that's also not impossible. So you might have a break or you might have a dissolution into one another. It's very difficult to tell at the moment. It's a very fluid situation because if you look at the constituency of the ANC, who is really the constituency of the ANC? It's the working class.
POM Let me go back to two questions and they both relate to the working class and the rand and the poor. Government policy, Reserve Bank policy, has been to prevent further depreciation in the rand arguing that in the longer run, or the long run or the short run, it will increase the cost of living for people and make life more difficult. Now it seems to me, this is where I am asking out of total ignorance, that if I am a poor person or if I'm living in a squatter camp I don't give a damn about the value of the rand against the dollar or against the pound. I'm not buying imported goods, I'm trying to buy my next meal and my next meal doesn't depend on some import coming from the USA or some import coming from Britain, it depends upon me being able to get the basic necessities to eat which are made in this country, sold in this country and sold in stalls, in little markets and things like that. I don't go around waking up in the morning saying I wonder what's the value of the rand against the dollar. It's the first thing you hear on the radio when you wake up in the morning, the rand the dollar, the rand the pound, the rand the markets, this, that. What in reality have they got to do with the lives of people who are poor and jobless?
BN You see the point you are raising is actually part of the debate. If I can start with the Reserve Bank, as the SACP what went into the constitution, even for many people in the ANC for that matter, it was a compromise because we did make a lot of compromises. We are unhappy about the fact that the Reserve Bank, that government has very little influence on the Reserve Bank because we think that the Reserve Bank is actually pursuing neo-Thatcherite monetarist policies which are not in the interests of the majority of the people. We would like a central bank like has happened in many countries. It's not that SA would be coming up with something, even now with this current capitalist crisis, Japan is thinking of nationalising certain banks. If you look at places like Taiwan they have got a central bank which is a state bank and it's directed by the policies of the state. The reason why the NP was pushing for an independent Reserve Bank was so that we could not be able to actually transform that Reserve Bank so that it would continue to pursue its monetarist policies. We are hopeful though that with the appointment of Tito Mboweni as the new Governor, that is actually going to change because we even think that even with this thing of high interest rates that the Reserve Bank seems to be purely concerned about monetary policy and protection of the rand. We think the Reserve Bank has got a much broader role. Even if it's doing those things it must be within a broader context of the RDP and so on. We don't think that the Reserve Bank is actually operating in that manner at the moment but we made a compromise on the constitution. We accept the compromise as it is there but we need to actually find ways and means insofar as the SACP is concerned for the Reserve Bank to be able to respond to government policy because that government is elected by the electorate. It's not just that you get politicians doing things anyhow. It should be a government that's actually elected by the people and have given those people that particular mandate. So it is a problem, it is a problem.
POM What I'm saying is, do you agree that for the bulk of the people, the millions of unemployed and those living on the poverty line or below the poverty line, the value of the rand against other currencies is not a consideration?
BN Well I wouldn't agree that it's entirely not a consideration, but what I would say is that it should be a consideration insofar as basically saying: is the further protection of the rand a priority in terms of addressing these needs? Because you might find in fact that possibly what we might be needing now, if our inflation increases maybe from the 6% that it is now, 5½% or 4½% let's say, maybe to 10% or even 12%, it's not a bad thing if you are going to lower the interest rates, and also maybe if the rand also falls a little bit further, maybe that's not a major consideration if the package that we are going to come up with is precisely going to address the kinds of things that we are going to be looking for. That's what the debate is in the alliance at the moment.
POM Now do you know who agrees with you?
POM Do you ever hear of an economist called Milton Friedman. He was head of what was called the Chicago School of Economics which is a monetarist school and he believes in tight monetary policy.
BN I know Milton Friedman, yes.
POM He suggests for SA, cut interest rates, let the rand float.
BN Of course, we can't be irresponsible and say the rand can just fall to unacceptable levels. And also the value of the rand, the percentage of interest rates is not something that is fixed under any conditions. You have to take into account what are your strategic priorities at a particular point in time and they require this kind of mix in terms of macro-economic policy. We feel at this point in time as the SACP we should ideally be driving down interest rates, maybe inflation could rise a little bit. Maybe that's not too bad, provided, and maybe also as we say, the budget deficit target of 3% is too harsh. You need to set something less or higher depending on how you define it so that you are able to release funds. The other thing that we are saying also is about this government pension. There is a big debate about the government pension because what the apartheid regime did just before 1994, they changed the manner in which the state pension fund is operating. They changed, you will be aware of this I am sure, they changed from what one calls a pay as you go system to a fully funded pension fund. It means the people who are working -
POM Would pay into a fund?
BN No, no. You see the people who are working now are the ones whose pension deductions should be paying for those who are retired. That's what has been happening in SA but before 1994 because De Klerk and the NP they were scared that maybe when the ANC comes into power it might take away the pensions funds, which we were not going to do, of the civil servants, was to then fund the pension fund in such a manner as if every civil servant is going to retire tomorrow. I don't know whether you understand that? Yes, it's fully funded, fully funded. It's fully funded in such a manner that if every civil servant was to retire tomorrow those civil servants will be able to get their pensions as they are. Now in which society do you get that? Now you know the amount of money, therefore, that is locked in that pension fund is estimated to be R100 billion which could actually wipe out the budget deficit almost and that money could be released into these major RDP programmes. We are saying people who are working now should contribute to a pension fund and then that money gets taken to pay those who are retiring and those who are working now when they retire their pension fund will be paid by those who are working at that time. That's what happens in any society.
POM That's how the American social security system works. Those who pay now fund those who go over 65 tomorrow.
BN Exactly. Rather than putting in money there that gets locked as if everyone in the state system was going to retire on the same day.
POM How is that money invested?
BN I am not sure of the details but I think some of it goes into state bonds.
POM But they go into essentially low yielding - ?
BN That is what largely has been the case but the state pension fund is not a bad pension fund at all in SA in terms of what it is paying out. The other thing, for instance, that COSATU has been saying even with the private pension fund, is that (that's the kind of sacrifice that you are talking about) is that if I were to retire as a metal worker, working in a Toyota factory, tomorrow and be able to get (I'm making an example) R3000 a month because my pension fund was invested in a high yielding but totally unproductive activity, let's make a sacrifice and say that metal worker is going to get R2200 or R2500 a month and then you invest that money in housing, for instance. You might get lower yields by 20% or 30% but you are addressing the social needs at the moment. That's also part of the debate. Those are some of the concrete things that workers have said they are willing to consider and those are the kinds of sacrifices that you are actually willing to make. Anyway, I'm diverting a little. I was talking about the state pension fund, how much money is locked in there, because that state pension fund is fully funded as if everybody is going to retire tomorrow, which never happens in any society. That's one of the things that as the SACP we are saying we are taking to the alliance to review this thing. So pay as you go then means those who are retiring are being paid their pension by those who are working, so it's pay as you go instead of fully funded, yes.
POM Next year is election year. The ANC's stated objective is to achieve more than two thirds and this gave rise to concerns that it would use the more than two thirds to amend the constitution. Number one, are there legitimate grounds, do you think, after four years of experience of the constitution for perhaps some changes being made? Nothing, again, is immutable and written in stone.
BN You see when was it? On Wednesday this week we amended the constitution with the concurrence of all the parties because a constitution needs to be adapted. What were we amending? We were amending a clause in the constitution that implies that local government elections have to be by November next year and we were saying you can't have a general election in May, the date has not been set but it's likely to be in May, and then have local government elections in November. Either you have all those elections at the same time, which logistically would be a nightmare at the moment, in future maybe we might - ten years from now, or then make the elections the following year so that you give parties a breather and also you want to run away from election fatigue from the population because if you get a very low rate of voting then the legitimacy of that outcome is in question. We amended the constitution with the concurrence of all the parties, so a constitution as we learn certain things.
Now the question of a two thirds majority is not because the ANC wants to amend the constitution at will. There are certain things that we are not going to change in the constitution. I am talking about substantial things. We will retain a bill of rights. There is no question around that. We will retain a multi-party democracy. Those are the key things: we will maintain a non-racial SA in the constitution, a non-sexist SA in the constitution. And the question of a two thirds majority also is a little bit of a red herring frankly. Personally it would be nice to have a two thirds majority so that where we feel the constitution needs to be improved rather than to take away rights, we would not have to be quibbling with these parties. For instance, these parties were wanting to say we are not going to support this constitutional amendment unless you yield on other bills that are being discussed in parliament. You can't reduce the constitution to a bill, the level of a bill. So they used that even to the extent of not being able - no constitution, I don't know, the US constitution is what amendment now that you are talking about? What number?
POM Oh God, 22 or 23.
BN That's right. And in a country like SA which is in transition you might find that many of those amendments are made within the next four to five years in order to improve. Let me tell you, for instance, an area where we would like to improve. It's in the area of the relationship between provincial and national government insofar as funding is concerned, to improve on that from our own experiences because we find, for instance, that there is a disjuncture with certain national norms at national parliament. But those are not easily implementable because provinces determine how they distribute their own budgets.
POM Budget allocations.
BN So you say in Education we pass a law that such and such a thing must happen, you must fund, let's say, adult basic education by so much. We don't have control over that, not as much as we would like.
POM Would the same thing apply to teacher/pupil ratios?
BN Exactly, without taking away the power of the provinces but to be able for national norms to be implementable because we in any case determine those national norms together with the provinces. But now provinces can then turn around and say, well look what is happening now, almost 80% of the money we would like allocated to adult education gets taken away by this province, all of it, and be given to schooling. Yet we have 12 million illiterate adults in this country. I am just giving an example. That's an improvement for delivery. So it would be nice to have a two thirds majority but not to change the fundamental pillars of the constitution.
POM You've talked about SA having a multi-party democracy and there are multiple parties, during the speech that President Mandela gave at Mafikeng he was scathing in his criticism of the NP, the DP, the UDM, every party as being either out to destroy the ANC, to undermine the ANC, that they were contributing nothing but opposition for the sake of opposition, that the third force was still alive and well, and one got the impression that he saw the opposition as having contributed nothing towards transformation and development, that in that sense it was not a 'real' opposition offering alternative policies or arguing or debating policies on their merit but merely opposing - if the ANC proposed A they would propose B. If the ANC proposed B they could propose A, and they would just do anything to oppose as distinct from trying to enhance the process.
BN Yes. You see that speech, it wasn't saying therefore we do not need an opposition, but it was actually calling the opposition to be aware that what it is doing largely, parties like the NP and the DP, are fighting for the retention of past privileges. They are not coming out with policies on how do we ensure this, get rid of squatter camps in this country, how do we equalise education? They oppose every education measure that we pass which is actually aimed, well most of it let me say and most policies, they haven't opposed literally every piece of legislation, but even where they have supported they have supported with big qualifications, with big buts, and I think that it's important that as the ruling party we actually point out that the role that they are playing as the opposition is OK but that was not meaning that therefore we will get rid of the opposition or we would like to get rid of the opposition if we have two thirds. We are not going to do that. We think that SA needs to be a multi-party democracy because if you get rid of the opposition then you are taking this country back to war.
POM But if you were, after four years in parliament, on a scale of one to ten, if I were to ask you what has been the contribution of opposition parties to making the National Assembly more democratic, more effective, of participating in not only the debate about different forms of transformation but coming forward with concrete ideas that you could consider, with amendments that were actually good amendments rather than trite amendments, where one would be nothing and ten would be fantastic? What would you put their contribution at?
BN I think we will have to differentiate between the opposition parties, we will have to differentiate. But if you are talking NP and DP I would give them two, frankly, because every major piece of legislation, like for instance around land redistribution, they have opposed that. Even protecting the rights of labour tenants in farms, they cannot just be removed anyhow. You find people whose families have been on farms for 40/50 years, two generations or something like that, they opposed that.
POM You mean under the law now they can be evicted - even now?
BN Yes, that's right. Well we have changed that. And what was happening, for instance, is that some farmers, when we were discussing this legislation before it came into power, they started evicting people because the law can't apply retrospectively, and these opposition parties were not raising that. They should have been outraged to say you can't do this, but they kept quiet. Instead they accused us, the reason why the farmers are evicting people is because of these laws that we are about to pass. I would say if you are talking NP, DP and the FF it's two really. The IFP initially it was three but now it has improved a lot. You could be saying seven, even eight over the last one and a half years, a year or one and a half years. PAC really is an insignificant factor. You would maybe give them four or five. The small party ACDP you would even give them one. So that is how I would see it.
POM I had forgotten about them I must confess. You were born in Pietermartizburg so you would be more than familiar with everything that goes on in KZN. I don't know whether you saw a poll that was released today by Markinor that had, my God, had the ANC at 41% and the IFP at 19%.
BN I think they are under-estimating the IFP's vote. I don't disagree with the fact that we believe that we have the most support but I don't think that the IFP would be as low as 19%.
POM Do you think the symptoms of the violence that occurred between the IFP and the ANC have been dealt with maybe in a way in the last three or four years?
BN To a large extent.
POM The deeply rooted divisions, are they still there under the surface?
BN They are still there under the surface.
POM They could be inflamed at any time? Must great care be taken with how things are dealt with by both parties in KZN?
BN They are still there under the surface. Look, part of the reason why, you might be shocked when you hear this explanation, part of the reason why the violence has actually declined in KZN is precisely because we had said that violence was apartheid sponsored, it was sponsored by the apartheid regime. Now that the apartheid regime is no more, although some of the structures still operate in a third force way, but severely weakened. Before the IFP would come to Pretoria and they would go back with three truckloads of arms. It's not very easy to do that now. You have got to even go deeper underground in order to do that. So that's a sign of that. Even the improved co-operation of the IFP in fact has more to do with their own dilemma, that we no longer have the support that we had from the apartheid regime so if we tackle the ANC government head on there will be a lot of deaths but we might be wiped out in the process if we lose and there is no guarantee that we're going two win. Maybe then we had better co-operate with the ANC so that we maintain our positions and so on. But of course co-operating with the ANC, we are co-operating with such a big party which means that then you might not be in the same situation as you were before under the KwaZulu Bantustan, for instance. You will be a minority within that ANC even if you merge and so on. So that's the dilemma that the IFP is facing. We are not saying that there is still no prospect of an explosion. I am also not suggesting that that violence, much as it was sponsored by the apartheid regime, hasn't left a legacy of hatred between ANC and IFP people such that that can explode even if the apartheid regime is no longer there. But you no longer have that support on the side of the IFP. I don't think, you are right, we have dealt with the symptoms but not only just the symptoms but some of the foundations of that violence which was the apartheid regime. But the animosities, they are still latent. I think that the way things are going now there is hope, very much hope.
POM Just one final thing, everyone I've talked to in the IFP, that's from Buthelezi down, assumes they are going to be part of the next government.
BN Well I don't think that's impossible. As the SACP we don't have an in principle opposition to that.
POM But it's also a way, it's a healing -
BN It's very important to get the IFP not to be closer to the right wing forces and some of these third force elements that were controlling the IFP before. I don't have a problem to have a voluntary government of national unity with the IFP if that is actually then going to gradually do away with the conditions that had actually created violence. There is no in principle objection to that provided we are clear about our main strategic objective that is to get the IFP not to be closer to reactionary elements who could now and again want to use violence. No-one has gone, again, out of that even if we can defeat the IFP ultimately, if it aligns itself to the right and continues to wage violence. But at what cost? Many people would have died. We want to save every single life in this country that we can and do away with the basis of political violence.
POM Before you run, I always have a last question, I always get about three last questions out of people, it's part of my technique, but this is the last one. AIDS. When I came here first in 1989 Barend du Plessis was Minister for Finance and I asked him, "What provision have you made in the budget for AIDS?" And he looked at me. Now AIDS is growing quicker here than any place in the world: three million infected, 1500 people per day. They estimate that in KZN alone there will be one million orphans by the year 2005. Is government giving the consideration that this could turn into a national disaster or is AIDS still kind of - ?
BN Disaster, tragedy. No, we have put a lot of effort into that -
POM One in seven civil servants.
BN Yes. You were here when Deputy President Mbeki convened that meeting because it's actually trying to get the AIDS campaign onto a new level. In fact if there is one big threat to this democracy it's actually AIDS. But the reason why AIDS is growing so rapidly, the apartheid regime did nothing, absolutely nothing to actually deal with this. I am not, this kind of usual excuse that you blame the apartheid regime for everything, but this one we can actually blame the apartheid regime. They didn't budget for it, they left people in these squalid conditions, no awareness campaign. Any awareness campaign that has been done actually of any significance has been by the ANC. We are actually taking that as being amongst our top priorities. Of course we have got fiscal limitations, we are a medium sized country, third world country, all third world countries are faced with a similar threat in terms of AIDS for instance. I am not saying SA, we are wrong in terms of what we are saying, but third world countries, some of them are faced with being completely wiped out within the next ten to fifteen years. That's how serious it is. We are putting in a lot of effort. We can still do more and I am convinced that we are actually going to do more. This campaign of the Deputy President actually was placing this thing, virtually to say this is priority number one.
POM OK, I will leave you to your family. Thank you ever so much.
BN It's a pleasure.
POM I will see you again when I come back I hope.
BN That's right.