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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

08 Oct 1999: Schlemmer, Lawrence

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LS     The Masakhane Campaign, the workshops that are run in local communities make things worse. They actually spread the spirit of non-compliance because they provide it with a rationale of sentiment. What happens is that you get together and you talk about non-payment and how important it is to pay and how we're all together and how it's terrible that nobody is paying, that only 25% of people in the townships are paying their water and lights and refuse removal and that sort of thing, and the people come together and they sing and they dance and they have a great time, a lot of fun in the sun about how we're all not paying and how terrible it is and it spreads and the people who are paying go home and say, I'm a bloody idiot, but it was a nice party. Now I needn't pay but I'll go to the party again. Now literally, that's the way it's happening and we've got to stop the decline. The more you talk to civil servants about corruption, the more they think: why am I such an idiot? I haven't got a rake-off yet but I'm told at this conference that 30% of my colleagues are taking rake-offs.

POM     Why shouldn't I join them?

LS     Precisely.

POM     I'm the only dumb one around here. I'm the only one not on the take.

LS     I'm the stupid one. I went to China a while back and talking about these things, the Chinese government says, we don't talk about these things, the less you say the better. We just carry a big stick. You make the odds absolutely clear but you don't moralise about any of these things, you just say, it's not on fellows because otherwise your picture will be on the wall in Beijing.

POM     Your head will be off.

LS     Your head will be off. No, I'm not going to any more. I've been to so many crime and corruption conferences that they're coming out of my ears.

POM     Why is it that in that sense nothing changes? Is it just almost that they're all based on a series of assumptions about human behaviour that turn out to be entirely false? What you're finding is no-one ever thought that this is the impact it might have. It might just spread the word that other people aren't paying and therefore you should join the crowd rather than be one of the few who are paying and subsidising those who are paying.

LS     That's it, it creates a subtle awareness. I'm also busy with some research on AIDS.

POM     You are? Oh I want to talk about that.

LS     And I'm very worried that some aspects of the AIDS awareness programmes are increasing the risk exposure of young people. It's a tough one to investigate for obvious reasons. It's very difficult to investigate but so far there has been a lot more debate, awareness is increasing all the time but behaviour is going in the opposite direction.

POM     That's really interesting. I went to, talking about conferences, I went to the Lusaka conference because I edit a public policy journal and I did a special issue on AIDS back in 1988 in the States when it was just beginning to hit its peak. At that point they thought that heterosexual transmission was going to increase and once it didn't it dropped off the public agenda. It was only a disease of gay people and drug addicts. The gay community managed to police itself very effectively and reduce rates and who cared about drug addicts. I'm now doing an issue that I've scheduled for Spring 2001, it takes about 18 months to put these things together, on AIDS in Southern Africa dealing with the social, economic and demographic impact of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, or Southern Africa. So I was using the AIDS conference to make contact with people but even though the conference was supposed to be about the social and economic impact of AIDS there was virtually nothing presented on those topics at all. It was all either half science, physic papers again, or community activists saying what they were doing at the local level and the air was pessimistic.

     When I have come here one of the questions I have put to the various political elite is what's the most important challenge facing the country as it enters the new century and they all either come up with breaking crime or creating jobs, the usual list. And I say, what about AIDS? And there's a perceptible pause, like, Oh! Well of course AIDS is a problem but it's not just a SA problem, it's a regional problem and we have an AIDS awareness programme and ministers mention it in speeches. That doesn't work, it hasn't worked in any other country. Awareness does not translate into change. There is no relationship between the two in any other country that I've looked at in terms of behaviour and awareness and money spent on education programmes; some scientists will tell you it's a pure waste of resources. It makes the people feel good that they're doing something about it, saying, oh we have an AIDS programme in place, but it's not affecting the rate of infection.

     There was even one suggestion from a man I need to go back to, and I will get you his address and how to contact him, his e-mail number at least, his name is Max Essex, he's head of the International AIDS Institute at Harvard University and they run the World Conference on AIDS which is going to be held next year in Durban, then in the off-year there are continental conferences, everyone gets together. He would maintain that in Uganda that the AIDS strain was different than the strain that's in Southern Africa so they're dealing with a different strain, strain C here which is more resistant to drug treatment, more resistant to every form of treatment. What happened was that it wasn't so much that there was a public awareness programme and education and all of that, it was that the disease ran through the population and took its course and petered out. It was like a tornado, came, struck, ran through and lost energy and followed the normal course of any disease of this sort. So of course when rates began to lower the government said all our policies have worked whereas their policies in a sense had nothing to do with it. So I was actually thinking of going back to Uganda and having a look more at - talking to scientists there as to whether or not it was the course of the disease, that it simply ran out of steam, and now according to Essex the problem is that the strain here in Southern Africa is being re-exported back into Central Africa so Central Africa can now begin to expect a second bout. But I would like if you would consider it, it's over a year, that perhaps you would do an article, sharing some of that?

LS     You see I've got a study in the field, a nationwide study on awareness and practices and I want to run some multi-variant analyses. It's linked to a television programme that runs here called 'Soul City' which has been what some people regard as the only successful form of propaganda.

POM     That's on SABC?

LS     Yes it's on SABC and it's on radio as well, but I don't know whether it has been successful. It may be counter-productive. We are looking at that and we're also looking at the inter-relationship between awareness and behaviour in terms of a whole variety of different questions and indications. So, yes, in a month's time I daresay I will have the first national data set on attitudes and practises are around the topic of AIDS. At the moment it seems, you see one of the things that perplexes me, you talk of it ran its course in Uganda, but now it seems as if we're going to peak above Uganda.

POM     Yes.

LS     Well above Uganda. I can't remember the figures but if Uganda peaked at around 40% infection rate, we seem headed if you plot the curve and you look at the proportion in age cohorts that are HIV positive, we still seem to be on the steep upward slope in those provinces where we're at over 30% already. So if we were going to peak at 40% we would be on a slightly declining trend.

POM     The rate of increase would be decreasing.

LS     Right, at this point, you'd start noticing it but we don't appear to be that. We appear to be heading for something like 50%. Well it could be more. I hear that they did an investigation among teachers in Swaziland, I don't know if you heard about this, this was not publicised very much for quite understandable reasons by the Swazi government, but what they found in a sample of teachers is that 76% were HIV positive. That's something that knocks spots off Uganda.

POM     Is this, I won't say, classified information or is it out there somewhere in the public realm in Swaziland?

LS     I don't know. They're shifty about it but nevertheless it was a leak from a Department of Health investigation.

POM     Is there anybody you know who is either here or in other countries looking at the society through what people talk about, we must invest in training and we must provide people with skills? They're not saying, well 50% of every rand we're spending on skills is in a way a waste of time because the person is going to die of AIDS within ten years so you should develop to AIDS in what areas should you develop it, put the money into as distinct from training? What's the point in having a trained or skilled -  ?

LS     There are people looking at that. I've forgotten his name.

POM     One name, I think, in the University of Natal, Whitehead?

LS     Whiteside.

POM     Whiteside, that's right.

LS     Whiteside is quite competent. There's a fellow up here called Anthony Kinghorn.

POM     He's at?

LS     He's on his own. Do you want me to get these names? I'm very absentminded. And they keep abreast of Whiteside's research. He goes around making presentations mainly to government on the effect of AIDS but he's a medical doctor and he talks about the medical aspects. He always refers to the Harbottle Brothers when you talk about the economic impact. We've done population projections just a few months ago as part of an investigation we're doing into the longer run demand for services and I'm afraid we're going to have to do the damn things again because we were using, at that stage, the best available life tables from the insurance industry. I can see that just over the last six months as measured by clinic samples -

POM     Yesterday I was with Essop Pahad and brought up the question that ANC ministers or whoever, whomever I have spoken to has never said AIDS is the country's number one priority. Thabo's out there talking about African renaissance and there are conferences and it's high on his agenda, a Renaissance Institute is I think being launched on Monday and talks about developing a social movement that would mobilise all of Africa behind the idea. My question was going to be: why isn't he doing the same with regard to AIDS? There would be no renaissance because there would be no people. It's on the agenda but it appears that it's an afterthought as though, well, it's not really something we can do something about.

LS     The main thing is they don't see it as anything that they can be held accountable for.

POM     So you don't have to go before the electorate and say they can't pin the responsibility for the increase in AIDS on you?

LS     From time to time I've made presentations to government officials and I've pointed out that in some countries, like Senegal for example, the government acted very, very smartly and intensively at the early stages and they seem to have contained it below 10%, well below 10%.

POM     It's good to just keep in touch with you regarding the research. As I said by the time I put it together it will be published in March 2001 so there's time. I want to feel that they're doing something. Even in the States the effectiveness of education programmes has turned out to be minimal, there was a big push initially for the use of condoms, it's not even advertised now. The only effect that campaign had was that women carry condoms with them. The Lusaka conference was that trying to get the African male to use condoms is a joke. Indeed I was at one of their press conferences which they held on a daily basis and the Minister for Health in Zambia, who was the host, gave details of how Zambia was going to push television and radio awareness programmes that males had to use condoms and the collective body of African journalists there just burst out laughing. That was their reportage of that subject. This isn't even worth reporting, it's not going to happen. I'm glad that someone has mentioned the word to me before I mentioned the word to them.

     To move backwards a bit to our more usual stuff, if I said to you there is a party running for re-election and on the main issues in the country around which there is some consensus across all racial groups, crime, economy, joblessness, education, the electorate gives it failing marks and yet it goes into an election and it does better than it's ever done before, what would you say?

LS     I'd say 'hope'. I think the ANC was very good and I think they researched this. I saw my friend, perhaps our mutual friend, Stanley Greenberg, around often enough to know that they were researching it, but they decided to avoid specifics and with the slogan 'A Better Life for All' they pedalled home. I think that SA in some respects is like a collective bar-room where people will begin to talk themselves into feelings of optimism. I think this is quite frankly what happened. What I was saying is that there is still bonding between the ANC and its supporters. There is very, very little sign of creeping cynicism and therefore when the ANC pedalled hope in the form of a better life for all, it engendered enthusiasm.

POM     Enthusiasm and people voted for it. Now if I were a member of the ANC, or an African, say, and I was fairly disillusioned with the performance of the government, what choices are open to me?

LS     Well if you were a member of certain minorities within the majority electorate, if you were a smaller linguistic group in, say, the Northern Transvaal, Mpumalanga or a tribal conservative in the Eastern Cape, the UDM was an alternative. No doubt about it, and it did attract some of this disaffected vote.

POM     Did it have the infrastructure? Bantu Holomisa says the ANC spent R22 million on their election, we were able to raise two million. We just simply couldn't get our message out.

LS     That's right. That's true but I think their message got out nevertheless simply by virtue of the personalities of Bantu Holomisa and Roelf Meyer. And they were a winning combination. They were generally approved of in the electorate. There was great awareness of them but it did take a fairly structured disaffection for people to actually go as far as to vote for them. There needed to be something which made you a bit different from the general mass of ANC supporters. In other words, some kind of minority situation, traditional allegiances one of them and minority language groups in the North West and northern parts of the country, parts of KZN, in other words some sort of social differentiation unlocks the possibility of people saying, right, I'll look at another party. But if you see yourself as being a core member of the typical majority consensus, if you like soccer and you in a sense feel that your party is the ANC and that there is nothing which alienates you from them, then Holomisa or anybody else had no purchase on that. You need some kind of social differentiation for an opposition party to get purchase on and there was nothing for most. So it did well and I think it will do well again.

POM     To what extent could one say, if one took a correlation and just broke it down along racial lines, and say that Africans voted for the ANC in overwhelming numbers, that whites voted for either the DP or the NP and that coloureds split themselves with the NP becoming a slightly more coloured party than it was before, in fact maybe the coloureds being on their way to taking over the NP and the remaining whites in the NP either moving towards the ANC or moving towards the DP. Could one say this was a racial election? There was nothing surprising in it. The oppressed were not about to turn around after five years and vote for their oppressors. You were making the point that

LS     It is an original factor. What we found in 1991/92 is that there was very considerable sympathy for the NP. As a matter of fact if you put the NP and De Klerk together you could get it up to almost 25% among the Africans. That has been a carefully crafted sentiment. It has been the result of consistent, in a sense, propaganda to strengthen that perception and it has become strength.

POM     Sorry, the perception that?

LS     That there is some sort of a distinction between liberation and oppressor in the country. That was blurred in the early nineties, it's now much more crystallised and I think it's been as a result of debate in the media, it's been a persistent theme. Another theme which has run parallel to it is the notion that liberals are racists which has been very effectively promoted, not, in fairness, by the ANC as much as by the rather frothy intelligentsia that figure so prominently in the newspapers and in radio and television. They have in a sense carried that message through and whereas in the early nineties we could find nothing of that sentiment among the masses in surveys, not it's very prominent, it's very prominent indeed. In other words it's the social construction of a perception which has taken place. In that sense I mean they're not original sentiments. There was a very real conception in the early nineties that business had opposed apartheid among blacks. Now that perception has been turned around. At the very time when business is unhinging itself to try and prove its bona fides, now it has become fashionable to say businessmen are racists. Now it's a social construction of a sentiment to the extent, now this is where I come back to your question about the race, I don't think that it is a kind of primordial racial divide in our politics. I don't buy that. There are a sufficient number of exceptions to make it quite clear to me that it's a far more complex process. But what we have, and I think the core is the fact that we have a very, very divided middle class and the two core interests in Africa that are most opposed to one another in terms of their perceptions, the two categories of interests which are most polarised are the white versus the black middle class because of the whole issue of affirmative action. This operates in one direction for the minority middle class and in another direction for the majority. It's a core interest which affects your job, getting easier loans from banks. It pervades the whole field of perceived   whites, coloureds, Indians and blacks, you will find considerable commonality.

     (Break in recording)

LS     You were asking whether there's a racial division, some sort of racial fault line in our politics. I think that we find in our surveys sufficient commonality of interests and perceptions and attitudes among the masses of the people to suggest that there isn't any very deep racial cleavage. There are differences but the really distinctive differences, the fault line if you like, is between the white, coloured and Indian on the one hand and the black middle classes on the other and it's around entitlement, affirmative action, equity and all the redistributive mechanisms which have been brought in by the government. It's a winner for the black middle class because it pervades all their interests, occupational, educational, financial from bank loans to access to housing, it really is a different mindset that you have between the minority middle classes and the majority middle class and because the minority and the majority middle classes provide the commentators in politics, they provide the journalists, they provide all the communications functions in the society, that division between the two middle classes is communicated downwards and that produces the appearance of a racial divide in our politics, a sharper divide these days than there was in the early nineties. But as I said, it's a constructed divide, it's been constructed by the commentators call them the chattering classes on both sides, call them what you like, but they have set the agenda and created the sentiments which produce the appearance of a racial division. I don't think it's really race but it coalesces around race because of the racial division in the middle class.

POM     You said in the early nineties, 1991, 1992, that in the black community the NP and De Klerk perhaps had a support base of up to 25%. This is one of the questions I've been repeatedly going back to people with and it is this: in whose interest was it to have a quick election? Would the NP have stood to gain more from an earlier election? Would that kind of base of black support plus the support of the IFP plus the support of other homelands, did it stand a fighting chance, so to speak, to pull an upset on a still very disorganised ANC newly back in this country?

LS     I'm quite sure that had there been an all-race election in 1992 or 1993 the NP would have done much better. It would have been closer to 35% or even 40% The period of rather aggravated relations between the ANC and the NP in the initial, not the government of national unity, that arrangement prior to that - I've forgotten what it was called.

POM     Executive Council?  (Transitional Executive Council)

LS     That started to polarise perceptions and it gave the ANC a great platform which they used well, they used it very skilfully. They used the negotiations very skilfully. They were far more skilful than any of the other parties so it would have been in the NP's interest to have an early election.

POM     So the so-called or the now proven third force violence was really undermining whatever support De Klerk might have had in the black community rather than undermining support for the ANC, the thesis being that black people would see that the ANC couldn't even protect them from violence, what kind of government would they make.

LS     No that didn't work because each episode of third force violence gave the ANC excellent press and they used it very well. It didn't help, it was counter-productive.

POM     If one were cold and cynical and said De Klerk sanctioned third force violence as a way of undermining the ANC, in fact what he would have been doing would have been undermining himself.

LS     Absolutely. I agree completely.

POM     So the breakdown at CODESA 2, not the collapse in the negotiations which happened after Boipatong, but the breakdown in CODESA 2, to whose advantage at that point would that delay in negotiations have worked? Did the ANC gain more from the delay, did the NP gain more?

LS     No the ANC gained more from the delay. It gained more from the delay because it created a focus of interest and publicity is always a good thing. The ANC used the time better, it had better communication. There's no doubt about it. It also made the NP more apologetic because the NP was divided, internally divided on the issues around the delay so they lost coherence and they appeared clumsy in the media. So it helped the ANC, it was remarkable.

POM     So when the ANC say the NP engineered the breakdown in CODESA they are propagating a myth?

LS     Well put it this way, they may not have been propagating a myth. There may have been people in the NP delegation, which was very divided as I said, that saw an advantage in the breakdown of CODESA. It's just that the NP didn't utilise, couldn't utilise, hadn't thought through, hadn't made an analysis of the situation. Look, to be quite frank the NP had an unbelievably poor analysis of the whole situation of transition. It was almost pathetically naïve, fortunately so. Had they been sophisticated in their analysis we could have had a much, much more delayed outcome and the possibility of a very serious breakdown. To some extent the transition needed the collapse of will and analysis and strategy that the NP produced but you had Pik Botha on the one hand, and people like Roelf Meyer, who had no conception of how the future democracy was likely to work, out of touch and I think deceived quite considerably by their officials. You had De Klerk who, despite his good cover-up, was remarkably uncertain about how he defined and analysed the situation.

POM     When you say cover up?

LS     He covered his uncertainty quite well in the way he presented himself. He has a natural charm and communication but he was far from certain. I'll tell you quite frankly that I can recall a conversation I had with De Klerk where he put to me some of the views that were being put to him at that time by his lieutenants like Botha and Roelf Meyer. He was struggling to know what the right reaction should be.

POM     What were the views being put to him?

LS     The views being put to him were that he should go with the flow and really try and get as close to and develop a sympathetic consensus with the ANC as rapidly as possible. Now the ANC would not have allowed that. To that extent Botha and Meyer and many others were naïve because the ANC would not have allowed the NP to draw a rent from any association. They are sufficiently smart to know that they would have had to drive a wedge in some way, even if it meant creating an issue. Nevertheless that was the one view. The other view being put to him was: take a tough strategic stance, you still have power in your hands, you still have a great deal of influence, use it, be prepared to draw a line and say, no, no, no I'm not going to talk about that, it's not negotiable, or something like that. Now he was between these two views. I really don't think he knew which was the better way to go. He hadn't analysed the situation and for outsiders like us, academics, well we can analyse that situation any which way and, as I said, perhaps it was fortunate for transition that the NP was so poor at defining its own strategic interests.

POM     So when De Klerk released Mandela, I'm making this a statement because I know you have to run, when he released Mandela, unbanned the ANC and set the negotiating process in motion, he really hadn't sat down beforehand with his advisors and said, OK we release Mandela, what next? What is our strategic plan? We enter into negotiations, what will we hope to achieve and what will we settle for? Where do we draw the line in the sand? What's negotiable, what's non-negotiable? And if contingency or plan A doesn't work what's the fall-back plan, plan B?

LS     None of that, none of that. When they released Mandela they relied on dialogue, communication and they had Kobie Coetsee talking and they believed, they were so confident being a government that had run the country for so many decades, that they had a kind of underlying or intrinsic authority and leverage in the situation. They believed that they could wing it, that they could rely on talk shops. It came as a very great shock to them when they discovered at that first conference down in the Western Cape at that hotel near Somerset West that the ANC was ten steps ahead of them on strategic thinking.

POM     Which meeting was this? Was the meeting at Arniston?

LS     No, no, it was near Somerset West, near the main road, that big hotel. Lord Charles Somerset, there was a big meeting in the Lord Charles Somerset Hotel. I forget the date. I'm absentminded. It came as a shock to them. They didn't realise the strategic sophistication. They felt that they had some kind of halo of authority around them as the government, but that was taken to pieces by the ANC quite quickly. There was no plan A, plan B, fall-back positions, minimum demands, anything like that. It was a great waffle, great waffle. There was very little, with the exception of one or two people like Niel Barnard, there were very few people in the NP's intelligence operation that had any kind of analytical ability. Niel Barnard was an exception but there were too many voices. It was an untidy process.

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.