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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

07 Oct 1999: Motlanthe, Kgalema

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POM     First of all I should say, Mr Motlanthe, that you had called for the ANC to get a two thirds majority in the general election in June and ANC supporters came through and gave you just about what you wanted. If I were to say to you that, let's say in Britain or in Germany or in Ireland for that matter, a governing party was going into an election where a majority of the electorate, including it's own electorate, thought it had lost the battle on crime, had failed to produce the jobs they said they would produce, in fact unemployment was higher rather than lower, where their satisfaction with the government handling of the economy was pretty low, where their belief that government had done a pretty poor job in handling education, normally you would expect that party either to be kicked out of power and replaced by an opposition or at least to do a lot less well than it had done before. Here you had a situation where most opinion polls indicated that even though the ANC was going to win people nevertheless were fairly scathing in one sense with regard to its actual performance. In the light of that what do you think accounts for the ANC not just receiving an overwhelming endorsement from the community but in fact exceeding its performance in the election of 1994 even though there was a lower turnout which was to be expected, you'd never match the first turnout. What accounted for that?

KM     Firstly the opinion polls were slanted and also that they were given credence by the fact that indeed a perception existed amongst many people that the first five years of government had created a distance between the leadership, by those in government and the people, that there wasn't that sufficient dynamic contact as it were. Once we set ourselves a target of getting high voter turnout and two thirds of the votes, the target served to focus our minds and efforts and once we got into the campaign of going out to the people to close that gap and interacting with them firstly listening to them, hearing them out, explaining to them the constraints and difficulties which we had experienced and our own commitment, reassuring them about our own commitment to continue with the programme of changing their lives for the better, they accepted. That's what accounted for that performance. In fact to our humbling experience they seemed to understand the constraints far much better than they were given credit for and in fact the passion with which they showed determination to participate in the vote was indicative of a people who knew exactly what they wanted and I would say the institutions which conducted the polls didn't seem to understand the value of freedom exactly: they thought that they could simply reduce the ANC to becoming but one other among the many parties which contested the elections.

     In the eyes of many, many people the ANC was seen as, and is still regarded as, the one organisation which contributed most towards the normalisation of the South African situation and also freedom itself. I am saying freedom in the sense that this is one achievement which is never factored into the score sheets of those who conduct these opinion polls. Their score sheets consist of only the material things, how many houses, do they have a job and so on. But to many people who have had to suffer under the old regime for, in the majority of cases, their entire lives, just this freedom meant a great deal actually and still does and therefore when they participate in elections any suggestion that that freedom could be reversed touches a raw nerve amongst the people. So the point I'm making is that it is a mistake to simply reduce the ANC to becoming any other political party. It is still very much the liberation organisation.

POM     You would have had your own internal polls, surveys done. Did you ask your pollsters to measure factors that you've talked about, the premium that people put on being free and how they valued that as above just material things?

KM     No we didn't ask that question because that is our understanding, we understood that. However, what our own polls indicated was that indeed there was a perception of leadership not being in touch, not being available to be in contact with people. We were pleasantly surprised to learn from those that we interacted with that in fact they did not only have complaints and were not only raising problems but they also had suggestions as to how some of the problems could be resolved and therefore these were people yearning for an opportunity to participate in changing this country for the better.

POM     What impact has that had, or what lessons did you learn from that campaign that you report back as Secretary General of the ANC to the organisation and say we lost touch with the people, the people told us we lost touch with them and we must rectify that and we must organise our structures differently or take precautions against that happening in the future? How has it affected the organisation of the organisation?

KM     Firstly one most important lesson which came out of the election campaign was the readiness of a broad cross-section of our population which is endorsing the transformation agenda and hence the resonance of our election message with their aspirations. Our election message was a simple one, we said we want to accelerate this change of 'we are creating a better life for all'. People are ready because the programme that we are following is a people-centred programme and the elections indicated that the people were themselves ready to be mobilised to partake in all this process, this project of transforming the country, and that they were not content to be just spectators and commentators from the sidelines. That's one important message that we learnt and that by not keeping in dynamic contact with them we were running the danger of creating exactly the same circumstances which prevailed when if you go to biblical, Old Testament, Moses was leading the Children of Israel from bondage, when he left them to go and pray, by the time he returned to them he found them already speaking in tongues and having created other manmade gods and so on. And that's a lesson that we learnt, that if you do not keep dynamic contact with the people, since nature doesn't allow for vacuum, there will be other people, charlatans, people  with really no vision, short term views, who would go in there and lead people in a different direction, or add or reinforce their despondency and lack of confidence in the future. That is why it is important for us all the time to engage with the people, to listen most important of all is to listen, to hear the voices of the people, their cries, their suggestions and to give information as well to the people.

POM     So they want to feel part of the process, not that a process is being imposed on them.

KM     Absolutely. The process is people-centred and from time to time we're going to hear the people out, take our cue from what the people say.

POM     So this is constituency week where the MPs go to their respective constituencies and is that one of the results that emerged, one of the practices that emerged out of the lessons you learned, that time must be put aside for MPs to go to their constituents, make sure that they go there?

KM     Monitor them so that those that play truant can then really be placed on the carpet sooner rather than later. That's one of the lessons and that is why the President of the ANC, and the President of the country actually, in his address to our extended National Executive Committee just before the elections said to the delegates that we needed to prepare, all of us, ourselves such that we are able to hit the ground running. That's what he said, those were his exact words, that even as we went into the election, I mean the final stages of the election campaign, he said that because there was no doubt, and there was conviction in all of us that we were going to emerge triumphant, that we were going to receive the mandate that we received, and he said that we could never fail the people, we should prepare even as the new government to be able to hit the ground running. In our election campaign we said to the people that the first five years we used to gain experience, lay down a foundation, put in place new institutions for democracy, develop policy, pass legislation and now all of that framework is in place we need this mandate to be able now to implement and take this process forward. That is why he said we need to prepare for us to hit the ground running.

POM     Looking at it from other points of view that I've heard, one is that the opposition parties had nothing to offer, they had no alternatives, that they had spent their time opposing almost for the sake of opposition and criticising for the sake of opposition without being constructive and certainly not being supportive of the process of transformation itself. To me there might be two other factors and one would be that if I were an African and in 1994 I had voted for the ANC and believed it would deliver a house and whatever, and I was still living in the same kind of shack and I was disillusioned, the idea of me going out and saying because of my disillusionment with the ANC's lack of performance, or the government's lack of performance, I'm going to go and cast my vote for the NP, or their sister the DP who while they opposed apartheid benefited from it, I'm going to go out and vote for my oppressor is irrational, I wouldn't do it. I might say I'm not quite pleased with how the ANC have performed but they're my party. In that sense the only choice they had, and there was no other viable black opposition party, would that have played a role too in how people voted?

KM     Well there were black political, predominantly political parties, the IFP, the PAC, there was a new party, the UDM, AZAPO which had boycotted the previous elections.

POM     Yes but they are minuscule parties.

KM     Yes but those are parties which present themselves as alternatives. The truth of the matter is that the majority of the South African population understands and appreciates that this process that we are involved in is without precedent. It is not something that we can copy from this or that country and it therefore requires commitment from all sides if it is to succeed and that the ANC which could focus on the past, years of oppression and claim for all manner of compensation and so on, but that the ANC instead, if you compare it with the NP's stance, compare it with the DP's stance, the DP would be fighting back, that it was going to fight back which saw the first five years as years that represented a loss, years which represented deterioration, years which represented a slight abyss and therefore that this was a party that was going to fight against that direction, fight back. Basically it meant fight back to restore that which existed prior to the five years in question and to the majority of the electorate that was seen as retrogressive and that the ANC was spreading the message of a better tomorrow and that in fact there is a future to look forward to and that that future we can ourselves create, have the responsibility to create.

POM     The ANC was saying a better tomorrow for the many and the DP was saying a better past for the few.

KM     So for a black person who would have, as you say, stayed in a shack, the performance of the ANC even with regard to delivery of housing was seen as unequalled because there's a difference that people do not factor into their assessment even of delivery in this regard. In the past housing, in the history of this country housing consisted only of rented stock for the majority of the black people and even now those of them who have had to acquire housing have had to go and obtain bonds, it's bonded property. Now the houses that government delivered to those who were without houses of their own are one-roomed houses, but the difference is that right from day one when this house is handed over to them the yard, the plot on which the house stands, belongs, is the property of that house, is the property of that family. There is no burden of the bond and all they face as a family is how to increase or improve on that one room but it is their property from day one. Now for those in big bonded houses once there was a meltdown in the money market and the rate of interest went up they then appreciated far much more the privileged position of those who were recipients of these one-roomed houses. At some point people who live in big houses, not the people who live in those houses, the one-roomed houses that were delivered by government, but the people who live in bigger houses were saying, well, how can government give such small houses? Because they are looking at it in comparison to where they live, not actually understanding that where a person who has never had a house of his own or her own, who lived in a shack which didn't actually belong to them because they could be moved at any time, for those people to be given a solid structure, one-roomed structure, a stand which belongs to them, they say - all of this is yours, from now onwards you have the right to do whatever you want to do. The sense of ownership, the pride which flows out of that kind of ownership, the freedom from all kinds of financial pressures, convinced those who still live in shacks that indeed there was a commitment to address the housing and in fact look forward.

POM     These were non-bonded houses?

KM     Non-bonded.

POM     They were given to the people, saying this is your plot of ground, this is your one-room house, you're on your own, improve it any way you can but it's yours.

KM     Nobody could come and ask you for this or that. All you have to do is pay for your electricity and water and rates.

POM     So you're saying in an ironic kind of a way that some better off people who had bought houses and were paying bonds when the interest rates went up were complaining that why should they be paying bonds while other people were getting houses for free?

KM     So I'm saying the delivery of houses had more value than those who live in big houses were actually willing to attach to it in many respects. You will recall that people, I mean we grew up, I grew up where my parents lived in a rented house which never belonged to them, it only belongs to them now, and throughout the uncertainty of tenure was always there. It was valid to raid people for permits, there were conditions as to

POM     So you would have to pay the local council, they would have to pay the local council rent, there could be rent increases that they couldn't afford.

KM     Yes, and there were people, the tenants were registered. Members of the family were actually registered on a blue card and if you were staying there on a visit you needed a visitor's permit and the superintendent at the office could send out the local municipality police to go and raid houses and they would arrest those who were there without the necessary permit, and even as my parents' child or son once I turned 21 I was compelled to go and rent a bed in a hostel. Those were the conditions and that's why I'm saying for many, many African people freedom meant freedom from all of those kinds of things. If you add to that those of them who were homeless, a house with a stand it's an achievement, a delivery which is beyond words.

POM     I read one very interesting, in fact I came across it the other night, an interesting poll done by the Indicators, published in the university magazine that's published by the University of Natal, but it found that the strongest support for the ANC came from the poorest of the poor, their support was most intense, committed. As you moved up the socio-economic scale, even on supporters of the ANC, support became less intense and I thought their explanation was very revealing and it was that if you had nothing and you were given water, just water, rather than having to spend five or six hours a day getting water, that was a huge change in the quality of your life. Even if you got nothing else your entire life had changed and that other people further up the socio-economic table took it for granted, just go and turn the tap on and it's there. So even though their per capita income hadn't gone up their lives had in fact changed and it's that these non-quantifiable changes in a way were as important as the quantifiable changes.

KM     That's why I was saying firstly you have to take into account the value of freedom from all of the discriminatory practices, laws and oppressive legislation, all of those things. Just that freedom has a value that many, many polls take for granted but people themselves don't take that for granted. If you add to that access to running water in rural communities, clinics, schools, electricity, if you add to that and in urban areas you add property in the form of a stand and a one-roomed house, the amount of things that they see government, contrary to most opinions, that the ANC has failed to deliver on houses and so on, those are views expressed, as I said, views held by people who themselves live in bigger bonded houses. At that time, there was debate about the sizes of the houses being delivered without taking into account that those were being delivered without the recipients having to fork out a cent. Looked at from that point of view it's a real delivery, it's not like something that you could just inherit.

POM     The Afrikaner vote, the Freedom Front, it looks as though the Freedom Front simply imploded and that the Afrikaner vote went to the Democratic Party, not the National Party. What do you think were the dynamics at play there and do you think that Afrikaner nationalism coloured the vote for the Freedom Front, it's foremost, at least, political advocate, is no longer to be taken as a serious threat to the future stability of the state?

KM     My own view is that people, including the Afrikaners, really what they want is a secure future, not outside of the context of SA but firstly starting within (break in recording).

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.