About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

12 Oct 1999: Heath, Willem

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POM     Just, Judge, so that we get the framework, perhaps you could give the mandate or the frame of reference of the Unit you are heading into the investigation of corruption and whether or not there are specific parameters put on that investigation or is it an open-ended investigation?

WH     The legislation makes provision for two different bodies, the one is a special court which is called the Special Tribunal and judges have been appointed to preside in the cases taken to the special court. I was appointed as head of the Special Investigating Unit which investigates cases and then takes the matters to the Special Tribunal for a civil trial, which is very similar to that of the High Court civil trials. We investigate not only corruption but mal-administration, unlawful acquisition of state property, negligent or reckless loss of state property or damage to state property. It also includes the protection of private individuals outside the government environment where somebody on the outside in the private sector would jeopardise the interests of a group of private individuals. We can investigate that although it's not related to any government institution. Those are basically the terms of reference. There is an open-ended mandate, so there is no time limit. It is supposed to be, I would like to believe, a permanent body because your anti-corruption bodies all over the world are permanent bodies. I think we all believe that corruption is something that's there to stay, although one would like to banish it at some stage. That's basically the brief: to investigate in broad terms corruption and to take the cases to the civil special court to make orders for the recovery or return of property or to issue injunctions or interdicts to stop the loss of state assets.

POM     How many cases have you investigated or brought to closure so far and how many cases do you have under investigation?

WH     We've got judgments in more than 500 cases which have gone through the Special Tribunal since August 1997 but we have settled many more cases. We've probably settled about 10,000 cases already and we settled by way of an Acknowledgment of Debt, people who admit that they have unlawfully taken state assets or state money, they admit that they have done so and then we get them to sign an Acknowledgment of Debt and then they either pay the cash that they have taken or they pay it off in instalments or they return the state property.

POM     Was this spat at one time between, not between yourself and Trevor Manuel, but Trevor Manuel asserting at the time that you were looking for, I think, increased funding, that the net benefit wasn't worth it, whereas in reality the unit had recovered a lot more in state moneys than it had expended in recovering those moneys?

WH     Yes, perhaps I must give you a wider picture than I've given up to now. The old Commission of Enquiry had similar powers but of course it was only one single body but which had the powers to make orders. I was running two functions there, investigating cases and making orders and, of course, then eventually it led to a split in the two roles. In the old commission we received a case from the Auditor General's office which was a test case for the whole country and the calculation made by the Auditor General's office was that if they succeeded in the case before the old commission we would probably have saved the government more than R8 billion. But of course that was a calculation based on a test case and they eventually succeeded before the old commission in a test case.

     When I became involved in the issue with Trevor Manuel, which was in approximately April of this year, we had under investigation between 90,000 and 100,000 cases, uncompleted cases. Those cases subsequently increased very substantially and at this point in time we've got more than 220,000 cases that we are busy investigating. That means that in theory each one of those cases, if they are opposed and if we find that somebody has committed corruption for example, each one could go to the Special Court if they're not settled. Obviously we will find in many cases that no corruption has been committed or no fraud was committed but each one is actually a separate case.

     Let me use an example. A case that was referred to us as a single case by the State President was initially the housing subsidy case in Natal. Now that's a subsidy case which deals with the subsidies that are paid to poor people to purchase a house. The total amount that they can receive is about R15,000. We received 54,000 files from the KZN government, so we had to investigate each case individually because it's each one an individual application and we had to establish in each individual case whether somebody was liable for repayment of the amounts. Another case, also a housing subsidy case, was in Gauteng where we received 108,000 individual applications and then cases dealing with 232 contractors who were contracted to build houses, suburbs of houses. So you can imagine how many cases are involved in that. There are many other similar examples.

     We have designed and developed many short cuts. Many of the cases we can actually solve by using our computer and going into the records of state institutions. To use a very simple example, if we get back to the housing subsidy cases, many people committed fraud just to get the money, Attorneys committed fraud who were involved in the conveyancing of the properties and they have sold non-existing properties. So by checking the records of the Deeds Office we could establish whether in so many of those cases an existing property was sold. So by going through the records you can actually solve a lot of cases.

POM     The government says that corruption here is one of the legacies of apartheid, that the same amount of corruption existed in apartheid days except that it wasn't exposed whereas now it seems to be so large because they're making a genuine attempt to expose it. One, do you think that that is a false argument for government to make, to distinguish between corruption in the past and corruption in the present? Two, were you surprised at the sheer volume of corruption that you seem to be dealing with? And three, are you surprised at the alacrity with which members of the revolutionary order so quickly acclimatised themselves to engaging in corrupt practices?

WH     My impression is that one had at least as much corruption before the election as one has after the election. It is of course more difficult to uncover that now because of the time lapse but we've got a large number of cases arising from the period before the 1994 election. I can mention examples maybe later if you are interested. So corruption was very rife in the pre-election days but it was much better covered. There was not freedom of the media. Now of course we have freedom of the media and therefore much more transparency. I think also the present government is more transparent than the previous government for the same reason and therefore the impression is created that corruption is much more rife now than before the election. I am actually convinced that there is no way that that perception is a true perception because of what we have already uncovered, especially taking into account the time lapse since 1994. I am also confident that there are many more cases that can be referred to us where the corruption took place before 1994. Our terms of reference actually go back to 1976 when the first homeland was established, and that gives you an idea as to how far we can go back, and we have got a large number of cases arising out of the activities in the old homelands. Corruption was extremely rife in those days but there I think it wasn't even as neatly covered as it was in the rest of SA. However, the fact that it was rather well known, nobody would seem to have done something about it.

     As far as the present government is concerned, I have already basically dealt with the question: there's more transparency now, they have established more institutions which are in the process of uncovering corruption and therefore that makes it also more transparent than it used to be. I think that the new government, or let me rather say members of the political groups and political parties really adjusted quickly to the new dispensation and many of them have actually become involved in corruption. We inherited a lot of civil servants from the old homelands who are now being employed by the present government. They were used to committing corruption in those days. They just transferred it to a new government so there was no real adjustment, they just inherited it or they just simply brought it over. I think in general people who were not involved in corruption before 1994 simply adjusted to the free for all scenario which we do experience at this point in time. And when I say 'free for all', there are many control measures but people do not implement them and they are not being enforced. There are various reasons for that. The one is that many state employees are ignorant of the control measures and therefore obviously they will not implement them or enforce them. Others are aware of them and they are just not productive enough to implement or enforce them and then of course you find your dishonest state employees who wouldn't enforce them and would rather abuse either the ignorance of their friends or colleagues or just make use of the poor control scenario.

POM     Are there any specific reasons for there being such high levels of corruption in the police forces? Is it a hang over from the amalgamation of the old homeland police forces, low morale, poor pay, a culture of corruption that had existed and just carried over?

WH     Yes, I think the factors that you have mentioned are actually valid and true factors that they have brought over. I think the amalgamation itself was a difficult scenario because it was difficult for them to adjust to each other, different cultures, different standards of discipline, and of course not only the police in the homelands were demoralised but the police in SA were demoralised. You will know that the police in SA had been fighting the war which was being fought by the ANC on the other side, so they had been used to violence. Many of them had never worked as police officers in maintaining law and order but they had been involved in fights or a war, if you want to call it that. They arrived back from the war, there was no debriefing, let me deal with the police first of all, they could not adjust to normal routine work and they became involved in crime. If you take the members of the ANC who had been abducted to other countries, in many cases abducted and in many cases of course they voluntarily left SA for training, they were not educated, they were not trained for any jobs, they were incorporated in the police and without a police training. That led to chaos and I think for that reason we are going to battle for many years to come to get the police as such well trained and well disciplined and with the necessary skills to investigate crime and to maintain law and order.

POM     We've been attending this week the ninth conference on anti-corruption and it reminds me of being at a conference on AIDS, thousands of people would gather together and say the situation is getting worse and you often wonder where are the advances being made. What do you think accounts for the fact that Africa is perceived to be, at least in the west, as being a corrupt continent, a corrupt place to do business, that it's all pay-offs, it's all bribery, it's all extortion, it's all misuse of government money, just part of the reason why the IMF and the World Bank lay down these extremely stringent conditions regarding accountability for moneys that are provided to governments in structural adjustment programmes? Is there a rationale for certain forms of corruption? I'll throw it out to you in one way, that I've heard it is that in the absence of stable democracy if you're in power you never know whether (a) how long it's going to last and (b) whether you'll ever have it again, so for your group or whatever you grab as much as possible, put your relatives in, nepotism is rife and you take everything you can because when you were on the outside and the inside group is going to discriminate against you in the same way. Two, that there are notions of the African family that it is an extended family, that if I am the employed person I am responsible for taking care not only of my own immediate family but for the extended family too and it's expected of me that I 'rip off' the system, that not to do so would make me outside of my accepted cultural practice rather than inside.

WH     Well it's a rather loaded question. Let me try and react to that and I will come back to your previous question as well which I didn't really reply to fully. I don't think it's only a perception which the western world has that Africa is corrupt, it is in fact very corrupt. The whole of Africa is corrupt and corruption is very rife. I think, again, that the lack of stability, of strong control measures, makes it so much easier for the government of the day to grab as much as possible, if I can then generalise, grab as much as possible for the very reason that they do not know how long they will be in power as a general statement. And because they are in control and because they experience the taste of power they make as much of it as possible in the shortest possible time. So they are in fact impoverishing their own countries by filling their own pockets and my experience is that it is not really the poor people who become involved in bribery, they do that from time to time, but the majority of the cases of corruption are linked to people who are simply enriching themselves, who are greedy, who may be wealthy already. They're acting in groups, in partnerships, in syndicates so that they are very well organised.

     To get to the scenario of a typical African culture, it is very typical that a person who is employed is not only seen as a person who must maintain the rest of the family, which is usually a very extended family, he is not only responsible but obliged to do so and that puts a lot of pressure on people like that. Their income, if it's a salary, is simply not good enough to maintain an extended family of 20 or 30 members and that will drive them to make use of the opportunities which present themselves to steal from the government and therefore try and maintain their families. However, although I would say that that is a factor and there are many people who do that, I still maintain that the majority of cases dealing with corruption are actually not corruption by a person who is forced to commit corruption because of the responsibilities that he carries, but because of the people who want to enrich themselves. So it's not only a perception. I think Africa as such is rife as far as corruption is concerned, corruption is rife, and in SA itself corruption is extremely rife here. But I think that in a context of Africa, SA may be one of the more transparent countries, Botswana may be as transparent, may be even more transparent, but compared to the majority of other African countries I think that SA may be more transparent and therefore the perception is that there is a lot of corruption.

     If I could get back to your question about the corruption in the police, corruption I think started there because of the poor salaries on the one hand so people had to find means to supplement their salaries, but the police were very often placed, and are still often being placed, in positions where they have easy access to money or where they have their contacts on the inside in government departments, or where they simply threaten people with force or violence and therefore they are extremely corrupt when it comes to corrupting other people in order to fill their own pockets. That is why you will find at the border posts, at the ports, that the police there, the majority of them are actually corrupt and we are investigating this at this point in time together with a number of other bodies in SA. The impression that we have, and other anti-corruption bodies have, is that the majority of the police and other civil servants employed at borders are corrupt and therefore it is extremely difficult to trace the corrupt people in the sense of confronting them, the one is protecting the other. When we moved to the KZN province for the first time we met with a special anti-corruption unit in the police and after we had spent a day there we discovered that many of them are corrupt and that they had links with syndicates. I confronted the Commanding Officer and she admitted that she knew how many had actual links with syndicates. The effect of that was, of course, that they would not proceed with the investigation or make progress with the investigations on the dockets that they had, they would give the information out to their colleagues in the syndicates and therefore they can cover up quickly before the police would even arrive at their premises or wherever they are involved in corrupt activities. The corruption is a major problem in the police. They have their own anti-corruption unit now, it is making good progress but I am afraid that it will take a long time before they could really get rid of corruption or at least manage corruption in the police.

POM     If I asked you more generally how SA reached a point where democracy is consolidated, that one can say it's had its second successful election, everything proceeded according to standards, there was an independent Electoral Commission, a free and fair vote, and in that sense democratic practice has been inculcated in some way into the electorate, but on the other hand you're saying it's a very corrupt society and the two must be on a collision course.

WH     Yes but I think you move on different levels. If you look at the elections that is a process which takes place where you find that the eyes of the world are on that process and it's closely scrutinised by representatives from all over the world. We had it in the first election, we had it in the second election and I think, therefore, that's on a completely different footing than the rest of the activities in SA. I'm convinced that we've had fair elections, that some irregularities occurred I will never exclude, but I think in substance fair elections.

POM     I mean not that the elections were unfair, in fact having been an observer at both elections the group I was with could find no evidence of gross irregularities, it was more mismanagement and inefficiencies and things like that, but that as an infant democracy grows and begins to develop its institutions on the one hand, on the other hand you have this pervasiveness of corruption that it's like a cancer at the root or at the foundation of the democratic institutions which the country is trying to build which in the end will erode the foundations of the democracy itself.

WH     Well first of all I agree that what's happening in the rest of SA is actually eroding democracy. I've said so often. I say that there's no true democracy if people do not get houses although they are entitled to housing in terms of the constitution. I say there's no true democracy if people do not get pensions which they are entitled to, if children are not properly cared for, and all of that is a result of the theft of state money. SA inherited a very corrupt country and although your elections may be democratic you can't get away from the inheritance. We inherited a poor country because of the corruption which existed prior to the election and the present officials, apart from those who had come over from the previous government, they had masters to teach them how to be corrupt and again that is why the syndicates are so successful because they find people very open to corruption, they find people are too eager to share in the corrupt activities because they will share the profits as well. So that is an anomaly which I find hard to explain but I know that factually we have a very corrupt country and that it is eroding democracy. I think that's also why you will find that when units investigate corruption and they come too close to politicians that there's an outcry, there's a sort of an aggression and that is because of the need to protect yourself, your own people, and at the same time you realise that corruption is going up. So I can't really put it in clearer terms than to say that democracy is not really a democracy in SA yet until we have achieved a situation where we can run a clean administration. The constitution makes provision for a clean administration and we haven't achieved that. We're very far from achieving that yet and unless the whole community fights for a clean administration we won't succeed in that.

POM     I want to go back to the Afrikaner's role in this. But do you have a population where there's a tolerance of a certain level of corruption, call it petty corruption up to a certain level, i.e. where the policeman is going to give you a ticket and if you give him R50 he will forget about it and you give him the R50 to not get the ticket and you drive away you don't think you've done anything particularly wrong, and in fact what you've done you've participated in an act of corruption and contributed to undermining one of the institutions of your country but you say it doesn't really matter. But the critical mass of these things in the long run does matter.

WH     I think there are two reasons why people do that, the one is they don't see much wrong in that so they accept it as part of the system. In other instances that's the only way to get access to some services and that's why they simply accept that they've got to pay for it. They may do it grudgingly but they see it as part of the system which is as bad as the first example because then they still tolerate that. So that is part of the system and I think that is something that will take a long time, it will take a complete reorientation of the culture of the people, before we can change that and you will find that culture amongst the poor black people, you will find that amongst the black state employees, you will find it perhaps more particularly amongst the white state employees because they are using their position of authority to force people to pay them a bribe before they will give them an application form for a pension, for example. Then you also find amongst the whites and probably the more conservative whites that they adopt the attitude - we've got a new black government now, let's take as much revenge as we can, let's steal as much as we can, or why should we allow the black people to steal everything and not help ourselves. So it cuts both ways all the time and both of them are extremely negative.

POM     Did the same factor in reverse operate during apartheid days where blacks would have said it's an illegitimate regime, it's an oppressive regime, so the more you can steal from it the more you can undermine it, the more you can make it crumble and in fact you're committing an act of liberation not an act of corruption?

WH     I think to a certain extent but I don't believe, if you can then discuss races as such, I don't believe that the blacks were as corrupt before 1994 as the whites were corrupt at that stage. Now you've got strong competition that both the whites and the blacks are corrupt. There may be many more black people in the country but proportionately I think both are equally corrupt. You will find that in your syndicates there are white rich people and black rich people are filling their pockets, but before 1994 I think that your black people were the people who were paying the bribes in order to get normal standard services and they were really abused by the white people in those days.

POM     I remember last year, it was the year of summits, the summit on jobs, the summit on AIDS, there was a summit on morals and one of the themes being that the country had lost its moral compass, which I think also occurs in transitions where people are moving from one set of values to a new set of values but they are caught between the two, the values they had and the values that are emerging. The more I look at the country, I try to look at it though the psychological prisms of what's going on in people's minds, how do they perceive things, the situations they are in, their relationships with each other, their relationships with family, with community. When one comes across a figure that one third of all violent crime is committed within family, it shows that the concept of family exists as an ideal rather than as a reality. Yet you have this extended African family and they talk about family in a way as though it's peculiarly African. There are dichotomies all over the place that are difficult or impossible to reconcile.

WH     I think there are lots of inconsistencies in this society and there used to be. If you just take the family relationship, apartheid disrupted the family life of the black people. Blacks were forced to work, well not forced to but by mere financial need they were forced to work on the mines far away from their families, they would go back once a year to their families so there was a complete disruption, no real family life. Very often children, especially if there was the opportunity to go to schools or to study further they had to leave their families so, again, a complete disruption whereas, of course that didn't apply in the majority of cases to the white people. So in a new dispensation we inherited already a situation where there was no true family life amongst the black people. Although they culturally accept the extended family scenario your true living together educational scenario of family life used to be absent in the old SA. That has not changed substantially yet because the fathers are still working on the mines, still a long distance away from their families. In many cases, of course, the families have now moved and they are living in shacks in informal settlements which in itself of course does not promote good family relations. So that disruption is still there.

     Now, of course, as far as the white people are concerned, they have gone through the transitional period with a lot of fears. They accepted, many of them, that we are going to turn into a typical African country where the whole economy would collapse. Many of them left the country, others who remained behind became so full of hatred that they are not prepared to co-operate with the rest of the country in building a new nation. So that causes disruption, especially in the conservative circles. I'm not suggesting there's no progress but there is an element of that.

     The transition period would always play a role I think in any country, that will have a disruptive effect on family life, on the economy, on every sphere of life in a country. But I don't think that the transition as such is a major cause in family life, in the economy or in the realisation that we're building a new nation. I think there are other factors, those that we've inherited, some of those that I've mentioned. I think that the present government must find it very hard to govern because they've got employees, white people from the old regime, many of them members of the NP, and then of course the blacks appointed by them. If you take the whites, many of them disloyal to the new government, many of them still trying to implement and promote the interests of the NP and therefore they sort of quietly and passively sabotage the attempts to a proper administration in the country. On the surface they would create the impression that they are co-operating but there are many of them who are actually sabotaging the new government.

     At the same time the ANC has appointed their own people in key positions, not people with the necessary skills but in many cases people that they owe something because they had fought the war and that, I think, was also an unwise step. I understand affirmative action, I don't have any problems with that, but it's unwise in the sense that they've not collected skilled people around them and that makes the administration bad and if your state administration is not going well it affects the whole life of everybody, it affects the everyday life of everybody. That brings you again back to the scenario where the poor people are still poor, they will remain poor for many years to come, education is still very poor and although we have shown improvement in the national financial situation I think the majority of the population are still not benefiting from it.

POM     One thing that has struck me over the years, that I've asked myself over the years, is that Mandela achieved a certain stature and I would be one of those who would be more critical of him than others. It's impossible to be critical of him now and I'm sure he laughs at the idea that he's not being criticised, but that he didn't use his moral authority to give the country a sense of a shared vision, that if it were to improve, if the poor were to get less poor, if wealth was to be distributed in a more egalitarian way, if there were to be real reconciliation, that people would have to sacrifice on behalf of each other. There was no sense of we're all in it together and together we will make it work and it's going to take a lot of effort and a lot of trouble and it's not going to be easy, but unless we do it together and understand that we have to sacrifice on behalf of each other we're not going to make it, none of us.

WH     The point that you're making is actually that he did not bring the people down to earth to realise what the basics are, that you must build a nation and in order to do that you must make certain sacrifices and that you must share. I think that he tried to reconcile the people by using his personality, his charm, and I'm confident that he had a lot of success in that. He persuaded a lot of very conservative Afrikaners to become almost loyal towards him. He had people in his own household who were Afrikaans speaking, conservative Afrikaans speaking people, and when he arrived there for the first time they were probably very aggressive and very anti him but they became friends and you would know of his visits to conservative people, Verwoerd's wife and that sort of thing. So he had major successes as far as that is concerned but having listened to your question I think there's perhaps a lot of wisdom in that in the sense that he did not organise the nation to build the nation, to build the finances, and I think then one can say at the same time that for that reason he wasn't a good administrator. Maybe Mbeki is a much better administrator, he may not be such a good politician, that we will only learn in good time. Mandela wasn't an administrator and I think he has maybe neglected the basics. He has given the people hope before the first election. Typical of the speeches that he had made and other politicians, saying you will get houses, you will get cars, etc. In fact many people believed it absolutely that the day after the election they would have their houses. I think many of the people, as a result of their ignorance, built up hopes which not even he tried to create. So he did make promises, typical political promises. But thinking back now I don't think that he encouraged the people to start right at the basic problem and say, well let's all make a sacrifice, let's try and build a nation, we'll have to share. Maybe that's right.

POM     Because I've never gotten any sense from people that they're engaged in well they're more proud of SA and more of this and more of that but there's no sense of (break in recording) - raise wages in a competitive global economy, you create unemployment. You don't have to be a rocket scientist any longer to recognise this, it just happens. They might talk a lot about joblessness but they take actions that speak contrary to what they say about the need to help the joblessness.

WH     Maybe that's not the strange feature of unions in the international world as well, they would fight for better pay without considering the consequences of that, but it also fits in with what you've just said to me. If we take another example, if we were really building a nation and if he had really encouraged the people to build the nation, he would have promoted productiveness and we have become even more unproductive, or less productive than we used to be under the old government, especially if you go to the government services, the administration. If you go to their offices there is such a lack of dedication, such a lack of productivity and he may have commented about that but I don't that he had actually actively canvassed that and I think he had the personality that if he had concentrated on that he might just have persuaded the people to be more productive. But they tried to please the people. They retained the civil servants of ten governments, I think ten, anyway a number of them, in the new government scenario. So there were far too many people employed by the government and maybe in order to save political face, to save votes they probably decided to retain all the civil servants but that was a mistake, you can't run a country productively if that is so. The fact that people will be losing their jobs I think in the end will not matter as much as when you've got a big administration and people are not productive. If your smaller group is productive, if the country becomes more productive, that will in itself create jobs for the people who would lose their jobs. I think you're quite right.

POM     To take the place of the Afrikaner, you suggest that during the years of apartheid corruption was just as pervasive as it is today though the extent of it wasn't as exposed or the transparency wasn't there, yet you talk about them in terms of being better at administration, at the delivery of services, of being more efficient. Are you talking about that part of government, the central government that pertained to white SA as distinct from all the homeland governments which were bloated, intentionally one might say, by the central government in order to create vast complexes of patronage and in a way consolidate whatever administrations were set up in these various homelands?

WH     When I refer to productivity or better administration I refer to the very small or limited national government. That same government created the unproductive homelands and a lot of money went into those homelands so from that point of view, of course, it was an extremely bad administration. But just simply looking at productivity in the government offices it was better in those days. In fact I've had many black people coming to me and saying, well we had better days under the old NP days with regard to your basic services. There used to be water, electricity I'm not suggesting water in the rural areas, but the basic services where it was used to run quite nicely. But that was extremely limited, that was on the national level, but they created the homelands which was a massive outflow, which created a massive outflow of finances, it created a culture of people who were employed as so-called government officials, in so-called governments, which were all puppets and that created a culture where there was no productivity, people did not learn to work, they were not skilled and they were given full opportunity to control the finances of those homelands. That in itself was of course bad administration.

POM     Then all of these people under the new constitution became incorporated into one consolidated civil service where nobody was fired and every inefficiency received official blessing.

WH     That's right, so in a new government you were faced with that situation. First of all they inherited that but I think maybe their planning of this new scenario was more difficult than one can envisage. It's probably not an easy thing to bring so many governments together and try and reorganise that and try and maintain some sort of stability. I wouldn't want to be too critical about that, they inherited a lot of problems, but they've had five years and I think that they haven't made sufficient progress to re-organise the state administration. They're trying to get rid of a number of people now but they could have started doing that five years ago already, they could have done that gradually. They could have explained to the people it's necessary to do that in order to build a nation and if they were then steadily building a strong economy, they would have built a stronger country with more employment than we've got at this point in time.

POM     To go back to one of the original questions I asked you, when you got into all of this and opened Pandora's Box, were you surprised, even knowing that there had been a fair amount of corruption in the country in the apartheid days and after apartheid, when you opened the box did the extent of the corruption surprise you?

WH     Oh yes, very much so. In fact I think I was shocked on numerous occasions. Maybe by now I'm just surprised when I discover more and more of that. I don't think anybody in the country had any idea of the extent of corruption. I think now I may be one of the people with a better idea than the majority of people what the extent is of corruption because the majority of people, although you tell them how corrupt the country is, don't actually experience the extent of the corruption as we do at the unit. But I am still surprised. We still discover new schemes of corruption. There's no end to that. When I was still a judge, up to 1995, I and I am sure the majority of people had no idea what the extent was of corruption. Obviously those who had been involved in corruption would have an idea of the extent of corruption they had been involved in but I think not even they had an idea of the extent, across the country, of corruption. So, yes, I've always been, since 1995, extremely surprised by the extent of corruption. And with the limited human resources I have I think we are still at the starting point of discovering how wide the corruption is, how extensive it is.

POM     Albie Sachs once said, coined a memorable phrase, he said, "We can achieve a miracle but we can't achieve the achievable." If you take on the one hand the pervasiveness of corruption at every level of society and if you take on the other hand the destruction of the family unit that has occurred over the years, the collapse in moral standards, or public moral standards, is this country a society in search of values?

WH     I think first of all we've got a culture of dishonesty. Secondly, we most definitely, and maybe it goes hand in hand with that, we've got a lack of the simple social skills that one would find in other countries. The values are just down.

POM     When you say 'simple, social skills' you mean like?

WH     Take family life, education of children, that is missing many children don't even receive a basic education that parents would normally give them because they are not with the parents or they live in circumstances where the parents both work or where the parents are so demoralised that they're not in a position to educate their children or they may be involved in criminal activities which a large majority of them are involved in. Therefore, those basic skills are not acquired by the children. If you go to the schools, teaching doesn't take place in these schools. The whole year is just a waste, so those basic things don't take place. If you look at your welfare services, we do not have enough Welfare Officers so they cannot cater for the basic needs of the welfare society. Religion is a problem because of the high rate of crime in our country, you find that that interferes with religion. You find that people are scared to go to church, they are scared to move around in their townships. They used to be scared anyway, that's been a position for many years. Cultural skills, social skills, educational skills are far behind and therefore all of that affects your moral skills, your moral values and that's why children grow up with the belief it's fine to steal, it's fine to be dishonest. That's why I believe that if you want to fight corruption you must start your educational process with regard to corruption at school already and we're not doing that. We should do that at university, we should go right through the community. All those factors have actually broken down your skills, your family skills, social skills, and of course also values in your community.

POM     In that vein, do you think that and in a way President Mbeki alluded to it in his opening address to the Anti-Corruption Forum that market driven values have become the only values that society not just adheres to but admires, it's the accumulation of wealth, we are all consumers, that's what binds us together. We all buy, we all want money, we all want more money to buy more things so that we appear to be more successful and that a generation of children are being raised in SA and maybe many other poor countries who watch television commercials I look at kids when they go to Sandton or to Rosebank and look at the variety of goods in the stores and I say I wonder what is going through their minds.

WH     If you take into account the extent of poverty, then surely access or at least the visibility of health, the fact that you can see health now in the hands of other people, your own people, will make you envious. Eventually it will, I think, govern your whole personality, it will change your whole personality because the only thing you want to have is the wealth that the other person's got or the community may be busy achieving. I think it's not healthy market related values that's taking place, it's an unhealthy one. It is the envy, it is the jealous desire to have that. So people don't want to acquire it and they're not working towards it to acquire it through hard work, better qualifications, better achievements, they just want to grab it and that's where your dishonesty comes in again, that's where your crime rate comes in, that's where your theft comes in and that's where your corruption comes in. People want to become rich immediately and I think children's minds are completely manipulated by the idea of things that they never had, which the parents never had, and which are in some cases rather accessible to them now because their parents have got access to money that they're not entitled to and that creates and actually promotes even further the culture of dishonesty. I think that's actually what he tried to convey, is that it's an unhealthy desire to look at market related standards. If it was a healthy one then one would rather look at education, promotion of employment opportunities but that's not happening at this stage.

POM     So if I were President and I called you in and I said, well Judge, you've been at this now since 1995, this is a new administration and I want you to tell me the ten most important things I have to do in order to start eradicating this culture of corruption, would you begin by saying, well Mr President you're not going to do it in your term, you may set certain measures in motion but it's only in the longer run they're going to take effect; or would you say, Mr President I can give you ten things, ten measures which if you implement will have a significant effect on curtailing the level of corruption and making people who engage in it think secondly before they embark on corrupt schemes or syndicates.

WH     Well are you referring to the short term or long term now? Short term solutions or long term solution?

POM     How does one balance them? How does one find that mix that maximises - ?

WH     That's why I'm asking the question because it's more complex, you can't say well these are the short term ones and they will definitely work and these are the long term ones. But if I can give a more general answer maybe to that: I would not start, that may be number nine and number ten, at punitive measures, I would not start by saying that we're going to send everybody to jail for a minimum period of so many years if they steal or if they are convicted of corruption. I would say let's look first of all at education in general, not only education in the sense of giving people school education but educating them to be honest. I would educate them on culture and social activities. I would teach them how to do their jobs. I would teach them what are control measures in the government, what is the sense thereof, how should you implement them and how you should control the people under you. I would then look at productivity because if people are productive there's progress and if people are productive they don't have time to consider dishonest schemes and to become wrong.

     Only after I've gone through those five, to use examples, will I say to him, but now you've got these institutions, Public Service Commission, the Heath Unit maybe and others, you would have to invest in them not only to confront the criminals but to advise me on the control measures that are not in place, to advise me on the corruption which is more common than others so that I can take strict measures against it. So I would see these bodies first of all as bodies which can give me the ammunition to prevent the corruption and then of course to take the punitive measures as well. But I believe that unless you re-orientate the people, and that's a long term process, unless the people in SA are going to be re-orientated with regard to honesty, productivity, etc., you will make no progress. So my advice on it will be you start at those points and then you can go from there.

POM     Just two last things, and while I'm writing I might come back to you again if you don't mind.

WH     You're welcome.

POM     Sifting through material. One is, does SA have a soul yet?

WH     I think SA has got a soul. I experience that all the time. Maybe it is because of what I'm doing. I'm addicted to that. It's my whole life and I experience that the people are sick and tired of dishonesty, the majority of the people, and although there may be then 20% who are dishonest, the majority of people are sick and tired of it. That's why I find that wherever I go, in the streets, wherever, people will come to me and say, "Carry on, fight them", and if you don't fight, you don't rest, they just carry on. I think there's a soul in SA which says we want a better life, we're prepared to support those institutions who are fighting for a better life. I'm just using my example because that's my own experience. So I am happy that there's a future as far as that is concerned. We've got it. There are a lot of good people in SA and who are really desiring the positive.

POM     Having opened this Pandora's Box what have been the lessons for you personally about the nature of human nature?

WH     Very much so. I think the positive things that I've just described they are the things that are keeping me going. I am disillusioned as far as dishonesty is concerned, as far as corruption is concerned, but at the same time the fact that so many people assist us, so many people come to us, so many people encourage us, says to me there are a lot of good people but you can never be clever enough to beat the dishonest people.

POM     Do you feel you've got the absolute backing of the government behind you, that you can probe as far as you wish and will get the resources to do that but there are some sacred grounds upon which you may not tread?

WH     I think as a person I'm not acceptable to many members in government and for that reason I can never say that I've got the absolute backing of the government. Furthermore I think that the activities of the unit come too close to some of the members in government who are dishonest and there are dishonest people. So, no, I don't have the absolute backing of the government. I would love to have that. I'm also not one of the members of the ANC, I'm not a member of any one of the other political parties for that matter, and I see how people who are members of the ANC who are appointed in key positions enjoy the ear of the government whereas I don't. I find it more difficult to get access to the government, maybe because I'm white and I think that's most definitely a factor. I think also because I'm straightforward and because I'm very independent that members of the government do not like that. Therefore I've got to fight all the time for their approval, for co-operation and for their backing. By saying that, of course, I do not say that they do not want to fight corruption but I think that they never realised that we as a unit would become so independent and become so successful and would actually be fighting corruption on our own. Now I'm not suggesting we should fight it on our own. Let me put it differently, I think they would prefer a scenario where they would control us, where they would be able to dictate to us but that of course would mean the end of the credibility of the unit and that would mean the end of the credibility in the eyes of the majority of the population and I can never allow that to happen. The secret of success when you investigate corruption is the independence of the bodies who are investigating and, let me call it that, prosecuting corruption. The moment they're not independent and the government can dictate to them then they cannot investigate it properly and objectively. I am just such a person, I'm too independent.

POM     You're the right person in the right job. I won't take any more of your time this evening.

WH     But you've got a tape that's running for hours.

POM     It goes backwards, it reverses itself which often gets me into trouble because I forget that it's reversing itself and after the direction changes it goes this way first and then it will automatically turn over and do the second side but sometimes I forget that I've done the second side and it will reverse itself and eliminate what I've done on the first side. So for somebody who makes their living by tape I am absolutely inept. I have lost interviews.

     We were just talking about the reasons for gratuitous, extreme gratuitous violence that accompanies crime where there is no need for it, where there is no resistance on the part of the victim, where they're quite willing to hand over everything they have, where they put up no resistance and yet they're just shot.

WH     I think it goes in fact much further than that. SA has been involved in a war and if you consider the American example of the Vietnam war and the question of debriefing, we had a lot of people and a lot of young people, young men who had been involved in a war for years and no debriefing took place. No attempt was made to assist them to adjust to community. They were used to violence for years. You can't expect those people simply to adapt themselves in a civilised community, go to work in the morning and come back in the afternoon. They will commit crime. It's part of their nature because it was part of their daily life. They were eating, they were sleeping violence. They will commit crime. And they're such a large number of them, black and white, so that has led to a lot of crime since 1994. Then of course poverty plays its role and because of the successes of crime and the fact that people get away with crime, they believe that they can continue with crime. Our criminal justice system is useless at this stage. It doesn't serve the purpose that it is there for. It doesn't play any role in deterring crime and that's why people, they're used to getting away with it, they will persist. The fact that a person is prepared to give away everything, if his car is hijacked he's prepared to give everything, it doesn't satisfy that desire to commit violence. That's why your violent crimes are so prominent, rape and murder and hijacking, hijacking which is accompanied by actual violence. Otherwise it's just theft of a motor vehicle. As long as we've got that generation of people with us we will carry on with this society which is rife as far as violent crime is concerned and people will just not settle down, will not lead peaceful lives.

POM     Despite the work you are engaged in, I always end up with last questions that go on for hours, what do you think is the greatest challenge facing the country as it enters the 21st century?

WH     To promote peace in SA, we still don't have peace. We've got people fighting against their own people and that applies to all races. We don't have real peace. We don't have safety. That's why there are whole communities where the people are still too afraid to walk in the streets, to go to the shops, to go to school, to go to church. I think if we can achieve peace we will achieve a lot and we can only achieve peace once we have succeeded in the rehabilitation process of people who had never formed part of a normal social society.

POM     If I said to you, I've asked this question of virtually everybody of any consequence and of no consequence (that's probably the wrong word to use) that I've interviewed, if I said to you well why would you not say AIDS which is cutting through South African society like a blade, will reduce life expectancy to the mid-forties by the year 2010, will completely skew the demographic balance, will make investment in education and skills problematic? We're talking about not a disease, not an epidemic, not a pandemic, we're talking about something that's reached plague proportions, yet nobody ever, that I've talked to, brings it up as the main challenge that the country has to get a hold on as it moves into the next century?

WH     I think because I believe that that is something that the people who are affected by that could in many cases, or can in many cases avoid that. But people do not comply with the simple basic advice that is given to use condoms, for example, or to stay away from sex at school level. That's why I don't see that as something that is really the number one to save the community. It is playing a major role in destroying the lives of people but people have got a choice there. When you are innocent in having sex with a person who has got AIDS you are innocent, but then you should still insist on safety precautions.

POM     Do you think at any point, and again this is a personal opinion, that if the level is not brought under control, and there's no sign yet at all that it is being brought under control, in most parts of the world where they've had AIDS' awareness programmes and education and all of that it has absolutely had no impact on the outcome. In the States where it affected two communities, the gay community and the drug community, it was brought under control in the gay community because they policed themselves, they had the cohesion and mechanisms. And of course the drug community had no voice, it didn't count politically. So then when it didn't become a heterosexually transmitted disease the white middle class lost interest in it, it wasn't going to affect them. Do you think that the government might be called on to take measures that could be in contravention of individual rights, that there might be at some point that the collective good supersedes an individual right, say with regard to privacy? Should I, as a doctor in testing you, find out that you are HIV positive, should it be a reportable disease like an infectious disease? Should I be in a position to be able to inform your wife or your sexual partner or whatever or should you be in a position to say any of that is a violation of my rights and even though I know I am infected and even though I know I will engage in behaviour that will affect other people, that's my own business?

WH     I'm a very strong supporter of fundamental rights but I am as a strong supporter of the limitation when it's in the general interest. Our constitution has got a provision which says that fundamental rights can be limited if it's in the interests of the community. For that reason if it becomes necessary to take radical steps, like those that you have mentioned, I would support that because that will serve the interests of the community as a whole.

POM     Should, for example, compulsory testing in certain areas, like in KZN where the figures are extraordinarily high, should there be compulsory testing if only to establish a true data base to get a grip on what is the extent of the problem because the data base is scattered and put together from various sources, it's not scientifically put together, most things are estimates, they're not scientifically based estimates.

WH     I would support that but then you would have to do it in general. You can't limit it to certain areas because then you are discriminating. But if that is necessary I would support that.

POM     I'll ask you a question because it also arose in the States and it comes around to a factor you mentioned off-handedly to me but which seems to be always present in this country but not talked about directly and that is the question of race. If AIDS were affecting the white middle class communities to the degree that it's affecting communities in impoverished, rural, black areas would there be a much bigger hullabaloo so to speak about the need to deal with the problem?

WH     Yes I think your white community would cry out and they would promote it. As far as I am concerned it doesn't matter which part of the population it affects, if drastic action is required drastic action must be taken. By drastic action I mean firm action.

POM     OK. That's my last I'll let you out of here before I think of another question. Thanks ever so much for taking the time.

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.