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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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 Nov 1999: Eglin, Colin
POM This is in a sense a wrap-up. It's the last interview of my official ten year research period so it's a recapping of sorts and what I'd like to start to ask you: you've been involved in real apartheid politics and anti-apartheid politics for your whole career; you've seen the Democratic Party and liberal politics go through several mutations not only over the years, over decades; you've heard yourself praised as the party which was the lone voice of fighting apartheid; you've heard your party praised in its various mutations as the only voice standing against apartheid and now today the party is in the peculiar position of being accused by the ruling party that you did so much to free, in a sense, labelling you as apartheid reactionaries, as the last bastion almost of apartheid-like thinking, far more so than the National Party. As you just in a broad sweep, as you reflect on the evolution of liberal politics, the Democratic Party, how you've been involved in it, what stages has it gone through and how do you interpret these accusations that are now being heard against you? It's like to be called a liberal is like being worse than being called a rapist almost. It's the last thing one wants to be associated with.
CE Part of it may have a degree of substance, part of it is part of the game of politics. On the question, let's say, of us enduring more criticism than the NP maybe does at the moment from the ANC, is because we happen to be the official opposition and the NP is no longer the official opposition. In any parliamentary system the official opposition is the chief target of criticism and abuse by the governing party. I've been the leader of the opposition twice previously and I know it's a great difference between being just another member or an important leader in parliament and being the leader of the opposition. Suddenly you are there at the focus of government attention and government enmity and government criticism. So the fact that they should have shifted it from the National Party to us doesn't surprise me. I think it's part of the way politics works. One could see it when the NP was the official opposition and we were not as Progressives, we were only seven members, the government played it in exactly the same way. They gave the NP hell, you could almost see they were making us the good guys to contrast with the NP. So I'm not concerned that there has been a shift of venom, if I might say so, away from the NP towards us and that is because we tackled the ANC on full frontal in the general election and we became the official opposition and therefore in parliamentary terms we are the chief rivals and chief opponents. So that doesn't worry us.
Clearly there's been a change in the nature of South African politics and in the perceived role of liberals in the general sense. If you take the phase of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly when Helen was on her own and then there were just seven of us in the old Progressive Party, being anti-apartheid in those days was synonymous with being a liberal. Basically liberals were seen to be anti-apartheid and anti-apartheid perceived to be liberal. In fact it was a wrong perception. There were many people who were anti-apartheid who were certainly not liberals at all. They were hard line Stalinists, they were fascists, they were conservative tribal chiefs who were anti-apartheid. But there was a popular image that if you were anti-apartheid you were pro-liberal. I wasn't a liberal because I was anti-apartheid, I was anti-apartheid because I was a liberal and the way of expressing my commitment to human dignity, to individual liberty and all the rest of it was to oppose apartheid. Many other people opposed apartheid for other reasons. If they were black they opposed apartheid because apartheid was oppressive but it wasn't because they were liberals, but there were many whites who were.
So you had the strangest thing in the old days under the old system, the more vigorous you were seen to be opposing apartheid within the context of parliamentary politics, the more you were seen to be liberal. Now it no longer exists. To me the high water mark of liberal achievement was the acceptance of our new liberal democratic constitution and you can lay all the constitutions in the world in a row and put them on a scale of liberalism, liberal democracy, and you will find SA if it's not at the top of the pile it's fairly close to the top of the pile.
POM I just want to refer to that in a context of this afternoon I'm seeing William Makgoba to talk about African renaissance and Africanisation and what's this African thinking and what all this means or doesn't mean and the emphasis in that movement of whatever, or stream of thinking, of SA still being dominated by eurocentric values, and yet the constitution if one looks at it is primarily, as you said, based on concepts of liberalism that would develop if one is European
CE No I didn't say as developed in Europe.
CE No, no, I didn't say anything. I said here we evolved a constitution. I actually believe that liberalism, depending on your definition of liberalism, has its place in the African milieu as well. I think that most people in SA, most, let's say, disadvantaged people when you actually ask them what they want for themselves, for their families, for their future, whether they want freedom, whether they want choice, whether they want the right to develop as individuals, will say that's what we want. You say you believe in European liberal values? They will say no. But when you actually translate that into what each individual citizen would want for himself and his family, I believe they are basically liberal values. There will be one element where you can have a dispute and that is, I think, can you divorce the individual from the community in terms of a liberal value? I believe that my concept of liberalism and the individual is that the individual has the right to see himself as being part of a community. In other words that is if in fact a whole group of people see themselves as being part of a community, part of the element of society, then I think there's a collegiality between those people but I think there's a difference between saying that is how people express themselves and saying that the state must say you belong to that group, you belong to that group. I don't deny a liberalism group association or group affiliation but that must be a voluntary expression and not a compulsory expression.
POM So you are saying that one has the right to belong to not that one has to.
CE Yes, very much so. Has to belong to.
POM Has to belong to or is a member of a group.
CE Well you can be a member of a group but that may be I can't argue that with my skin you can say I'm a member of a Caucasian group but that doesn't mean to say that that dominates one's philosophy or one's personality. You all belong. I might be a Christian, I may be a heathen, but in the end how one behaves and how one reacts, what is the dominant factor in your life? It's a matter of choice and it's not a matter of compulsion. So I actually argue that the liberal philosophy, I think, is entirely in harmony with a philosophy which can be developed in Africa for Africans and I think it's a great pity that there are liberal black people in SA who tend to equate liberalism with eurocentricity.
POM This is a big issue.
CE I believe that it's a phase, it can be seen that way, but I will say that most people that I meet go down the street and there have been surveys done, "What is your attitude? What are you looking for?", you will find most of them want freedom, they want dignity, they want to have opportunity, they want to have a right to choice, they don't want to be pushed around. They want to have the right to associate with whom they wish even on a group basis. In other words if they say we want to be part of, call it, a tribe they have got the right to do so. What you don't want is the state or the Big Brother saying whatever you like your life is going to be determined by your membership of that tribal group. If you take liberalism around the world it actually recognises minorities. If you think of what's happening in Europe on liberalism it is the liberals who fight for the right to be different. You take nearly all the campaigns protecting minorities, they are run by liberal groups and liberal parties and it is because they are acknowledging that individuals have the right to become part of the greater entity. So I don't believe that liberalism is what I call human libertarianism that therefore each individual is an island unto himself with no connections or no responsibility to other people. I would describe myself as a South African liberal and not a European liberal.
POM What would you say is the distinction between the two?
CE I think European liberals are two things: they tend to be more mechanistic in the sense that it's free trade, it's formalities of liberalism and there's a greater concept of the individual standing aloof rather than being collective. I think in Africa there will be a tendency for Africans to see their collective and communal responsibility and I think in a society where you had such a differentiation between the various categories of people in the country, the need for some cross-cutting associations to help lift up the community is very important.
POM Do you see the ANC 'impose' people into different categories?
CE I must be careful, the ANC is a very broad church. The ANC ranges from Blade Nzimande who shoots his mouth off as the General Secretary of the Communist Party through to right wing tribal elders who are as conservative as can be, through to the middle-of- the-roaders, to Sam Shilowa who is a socialist. Who are they? They actually are a broad church which was legitimately and appropriately put together to fight a liberation struggle, but it doesn't represent a single philosophy at the moment.
POM In the longer term, again taking your extensive experience and participation in politics, is the identity of being 'the liberation movement' a sufficient identity in itself to hold this broad church together or will it inevitably ?
CE I personally give them I do not believe that it will continue indefinitely. Certainly for so long as real disadvantage based on a historical, racial past or perceived disadvantage based on that persists, then I think the compartmentalisation which arose out of the apartheid era will continue. But as that disadvantage and the perceived disadvantage recedes, as the coincidence between race and wealth and poverty changes so I believe you're going to get a fundamental change in the politics of SA. I think you will move away from the historical divisions to a much more practical and realistic division based on the needs of the present and the future. The historical one is very, very strong and you with an Irish background will understand that.
POM It's a long time. Yes, you can live with that for a long time.
CE That may well be but even within that, if you take within Ireland, leave out the Ulster part of it, in the end you're getting Protestant presidents and prime ministers of Ireland for a predominantly Catholic country. So as it moves ahead and as it's now having a new wave of prosperity so if there were divisions within that territory I think that racial and ethnic divisions will be there but they will be less important, they will be less dominant. So you will always have people who say, "I'm an Afrikaner", or "I'm a Zulu", or whatever, but that won't be the dominant factor that it has been in the past. It's a phase through which we're going.
POM The Makgobas and his supporters, including whom one would think is Thabo Mbeki, I went to this conference they had last year, the Renaissance conference, a two-day conference, and Mbeki spent the full two days there. This was when he was Deputy President. But they vented their anger on not the Afrikaner, whom they understand, the Afrikaner is a nationalist group, it has an identity, it has a set of values and that they understand. What they don't understand is what they would call the white liberal English speaking who were anti-apartheid and in a way got used to driving part of the anti-apartheid machinery but still think that they are in some way superior to blacks and can tell blacks what to do.
CE You must ask them why they say that.
POM Oh I will this afternoon.
CE If that's what they're saying I can't I don't want to interpret their mindsets. You must ask them what they mean. You use a number of phrases, you use 'liberal white English speaking', I don't think those three are synonymous at all. I, as a liberal, get pretty brassed off when I read in the newspapers nowadays everybody who is English speaking and wealthy and lives in the towns is quoted as being a liberal. Those wealthy, white, English-speaking liberals, bridge-playing ladies in Kenilworth, for instance. Damn it, Helen Suzman wouldn't have been on her own in parliament for 13 years if all of those people had been liberals. They were right wing whites and they were conservative, they had a kind of bias against the Afrikaner because of their own history but they weren't liberals. They might have had different views from other people but actually to just generalise and say because you're English-speaking and you're white and you tend to be middle income group or upper, therefore you're a liberal, is actually nonsense. I'm not saying that you aren't a category of person who is opposed to certain things but I don't believe that you are motivated by a liberal philosophy. I don't think being English per se means you're liberal. In fact the colonialism of the previous century was hardly a liberal phenomenon. But within that you did have the Wilberforces and people like that who were promoting a liberal philosophy but that wasn't what the Empire was about.
I'm just fascinated, I don't get irritated at all because people must say what they feel and think, it's better to have it all out. I do think you've got a fascinating phenomenon and I'm going to deal with it in a speech I've got to make in a couple of weeks time. I think the fact that we have got the ANC and the NP and everybody has agreed to that constitution, that document they've got to be highly critical of liberals so that they're not tainted with liberalism of their own making. They're almost embarrassed by having been co-authors of a liberal document. It's the same thing, you'll find the government if the GEAR policy has got elements of liberalism in it, the economic policy, they will go violently anti-liberal, we're not neo-liberals and all the rest of it. It's a political reaction to the realities. People say to me, "But Colin, you say you're liberal, what do you believe in?" I will just quote from this. That's what I believe in. So people may be embarrassed by what they agreed to but they actually agreed to it because deep down inside of themselves that's what they are.
I'm not saying that even this is not subject to interpretation but the thrust of this, which was accepted by everybody and which I endorsed personally, if people don't like, if people want to vent their spleen against liberals they can do so. All I am saying is, we were all together in the same boat when we drafted this constitution, so join the club. I'm not embarrassed by it.
I think there is a change of circumstances in that in the past you could be illiberal and oppose apartheid. Now that apartheid is no longer the issue you've got to have a much sharper definition of what your liberalism is, what it means and what it stands for. Now I see Sheena Duncan of the Black Sash, she's been highly critical of liberals because they aren't opposing the present government strongly enough. On the issue like the condition in prisons, on getting rid of the hawkers in Johannesburg, she's actually taking a tougher line than the DP would be taking on what is now an anti-government issue of a liberal nature. So I think before it was actually very easy, it wasn't physically and emotionally difficult to be anti-apartheid in the context of the white society of the sixties and seventies and eighties. It was quite tough being anti-apartheid but it was quite easy to define philosophically. You just knew that racism was wrong and that was the building block of your whole behaviour. You didn't start coming into the niceties of how liberal or how illiberal was it. You've now reached a stage where racism of that formally defined type is no longer there. There may be a subliminal racism, there may be a legacy of racism but the formality of it is not as easy to define as it was before.
POM Again in that context of race, and I'll go to the question rather than leading up to it; in fact I was talking over the weekend to Kobie Coetsee and he was talking about what had been his constituency area around Bloemfontein and how he would also get returned to parliament with massive majorities, it was as safe as a safe NP seat could be and this time it went Democratic and he couldn't find, when he would ask his former constituents, why they had voted Democratic, no-one would admit to actually having voted for the DP. But they had. Part of his explanation was that the reason why you attracted NP voters and perhaps in an odd way more importantly took away a lot of the support from the Freedom Front
CE Well they didn't have much support in any case, it was only 2%.
POM Whatever it was
CE It was just because they didn't exist really.
POM But they lost two thirds of their vote, whatever they had it moved some place else and it moved mostly to
CE I don't know where they moved to. There's a thing there, there's Louis Luyt's Freedom Alliance and there's now the Afrikaner Eenheidsbeweging (AEB), they got together more votes than the old Freedom Front used to have, so where do they come from? That's not the issue really. The DP, to everyone's surprise, and you can take historically that Afrikaner whites especially in the rural areas would have voted for a party led by an English-speaking Jewish South African which whether it was seen to be liberal or not in the formal sense was known to be anti-apartheid because that's always been anti-apartheid and anti-racial. Instead of people saying, oh that's bad for the DP, they should say, hallelujah , South Africa is joining the 20th century, or the 21st. You can argue about the refinement of the policies but I've got no doubt, and I see it in my new caucus, a lot of people came along for the first time who all see themselves as being fiery anti-racism, anti the past of apartheid. How you then structure the new thing, what policies you apply to get rid of that past, that is a matter for public debate but it's no longer I mean the voting of those people for the DP actually says they've turned their back on their apartheid past.
And I tell you that if those same people had voted for the ANC, the ANC would have said that's wonderful. So they mustn't come and say that, now they say that we're tainted because Jannie Momberg was a Nationalist, he won prize after prize as being the best Nationalist chairperson in the Cape Province for 25 years and when he joins the ANC it's a great victory for the ANC. When a similar Momberg joins us, "Oh, you're tainting the Democratic Party." It's nonsense. I'm not saying that all of the new people, just as all of the new people joining the ANC, are the same as the old people of the ANC but what it shows is there's been a sea-change in the white South African mind and that is they no longer hanker for the past and if the FF did badly it's got nothing to do with being right wing or left wing; no Afrikaner wants to go to an Afrikanerstad, they all want to be part of the new South Africa. Exactly how you manage that new SA is a matter for public debate but I think the magic of this last election is that it is the end of the apartheid era and now we can talk about the future.
POM It seems to me that, again just observing from outside, that it is the ANC who is more prone now to play the racial card, to say that your slogan "Fight Back" was a subliminal message.
CE Once again it's part of well first of all, given the circumstances of SA it's more politically correct to play the race card from the majoritarian point of view than from the minority point of view. It's easier for blacks to say you're just a whitey than for a white to stand up and say you're just a black. There has been a sea shift and I think the circumstances are that for so long the one category was oppressed and therefore to identify them every time as being no good is an insult. So that is a reality but I think it is a government in power which may perceive some whites to be superior. I've listened to Tony Leon in parliament, he's very aggressive, he's very blunt. I've never heard him talking down. He's talking frankly but that's not the same as talking down. It may well be that people who lack self-confidence in themselves like to abuse other people as a way of extricating themselves from their own inefficiency. But I believe those people are really confident in themselves and who are competent would not have that feeling. So I think there's a refuge for people to go into, well not group politics, all I can see is I went through it all in the days of the old Helen Suzman & Co., we were all known as boerehaters. That was a standard phrase from the NP, it means you hate Afrikaners. So when you attacked them because of the pass laws, you attacked them because of job reservation, you're just a boerehater. It had nothing to with us really being boerehaters, it's a technique that politicians use in a divided society.
You can go and ask other people why they use phrases and why they do that. I don't believe well put it this way, I think that the fact that the majority of Afrikaners at last emancipated themselves from the politics of the past I think was a very, very important factor of the last election. How it's managed now is also important and that's one of the reasons that I am actually here at this stage, and I obviously can't stay here for ever, is to see that having lifted our white politics to a new plateau of non-racialism that we now see that this has got to be carried through in a practical way to redress the legacy of the past.
POM Before we leave this area, do you still think there is a tendency on the part of the ANC to attack criticism of its governing as being a way of saying they're not up to doing the job, that blacks are not good enough? Or do they use this because it's a convenient kind of response?
CE I've not heard of anybody saying anything really disparaging of Tito Mboweni. Using him as an example, here's a man taken from this job, put right in the plum job of Governor of the Reserve Bank. I haven't heard anyone say because he's black he's no good. I think it's a nonsense one and I think it is a kind of a political refuge that certain people are taking.
Amongst blacks, whites, coloureds, Indians, Jews, Chinese, Protestants, Hindus and all this there's not always a subliminal kind of group feeling and loyalty. That's in any society but I don't believe that if I take the line - I can't say that there aren't white South Africans who say blacks are no good or there aren't black South Africans who say whites are no good, that may well be but I do not believe that that is the dominant thrust and style of the party to which I belong. I believe it flows from a criticism of the performance judged objectively and I can tell you when they say how tough you are on the ANC because they're black, we were a hell of a lot tougher on the NP who were white. If you think of how Helen stood up and I stood up and Slabbert stood up and we fought them on almost every bit of legislation, every bit of corruption and the information scandal which got rid of the minister. They might have said we're anti-Afrikaner but I can tell you that the attacks which the Progressive Party launched against what I call the white National Party leaders was much tougher than the attacks which we today launch against, call it, black ANC. So it's got nothing whatsoever to do with that. That people want to use it for political reasons one way or the other, that I can understand, that's politics. I'm talking about the reality of it. There are people who have got that view within the broader society, yes. I can only say the motivation, and I don't believe that the motivation, let's say, of Mbeki and of Mandela flows from a subliminal view that whites are oppressors and evil and all the rest of it. They clearly would say we are blacks and I'm white but they're not going to say therefore there's a fundamental difference in the values which you have. I'm not saying there aren't in society, I can only talk about where does the thrust come in in the political leadership.
POM Where the thrust - ?
CE You're carrying on about this thing. You're trying to get me to say something which I don't believe in and that is I do not believe that a party like the DP criticises an incompetent minister because he's black.
CE That the incompetent minister in self defence says, "Oh, I'm only being accused because I'm black." That's politics. But I can tell you that our criticism of the NP which happened to be white was much tougher in terms of their incompetence, their lack of performance, the areas of corruption than was the ANC. So don't come and tell me that when I criticise the ANC I'm criticising blacks per se. I was criticising whites when they were incompetent far stronger than I would be doing today.
POM They use that as a tactic, political tactic. It's one that hardens into a perception among the masses. The masses say the DP are they're the party who are against transformation, they're a party who are against
CE I don't know what the masses say. Let me say I don't know what the white masses say until they vote at the election. I don't know what the black masses are going to say when the ANC doesn't deliver on jobs. They might say, well there may be other political parties that are talking sense. I think, you or me at this stage to collectivise we know what leaders are saying because they are here. One doesn't know what thinking is taking place amongst black masses. But I would think that one of the ploys to prevent black masses from adopting the philosophy and policy of a liberal party like the DP is for the leaders to smear them as being racist or being anti-black, but that's part of the political game and a function of a party like mine. I am totally committed. We've got to break out of the relative confines of our support in SA into the black community and we've got to show not just by words but by behaviour that there's more in our policy for what you call the black masses than there is going to be in sustaining the kind of policy of the ANC.
POM In a sense the party that prided itself on being the guardian of non-racialism uses racialism whenever it's convenient to.
CE Well I don't know who you're talking of now.
POM The ANC.
CE Well you know something I don't see it. I don't know what the world they prided themselves on non-racialism.
POM Trot it out on every occasion, non-racist, non-racialist and yet their vote is strictly
CE I think they became non-racialist towards the end years. That was very good but they certainly didn't start as a non, they came as an African national party. They became non-racial, then you can have this whole discussion about the role of the communists within the ANC to deracialise them. But that's not the issue. I can't understand what your problem is. I don't believe that the ANC, as some would say, that we're black racialists. That there are individuals and that there's a tactical ploy every now and then to employ racism, that is part of what I call the down side of party politics in a competitive field. But I don't believe that the ANC is running around SA saying it's the end of national reconciliation, it's the end of the rainbow nation, let's go back to black versus white. Nobody is saying that. But that there will be individuals who take refuge in a racial slogan every now and then, that is reality but that's not peculiar to SA. So I think you must differentiate what I call the overall thrust of party politics with the behaviour and the unfortunate slips that show every now and then from individuals within a party.
Taking SA's past into account I think there's still a remarkable degree of national commitment to find common cause across the racial lines. I think it's still there. There is always a danger that it will not succeed and that there will be individuals who exploit the race card, that is a reality as well.
POM Looking at the election results, I'm now going backwards, in general in a 'normal' democracy if you had the governing party going into an election where the perception of their performance in government across all race classes, all groups, all segments of society, in every poll that was taken and survey that was taken, indicated widespread dissatisfaction with their handling of crime -
CE But it didn't necessary show widespread dissatisfaction with the government as the governing party.
POM Why didn't it?
CE They were irritated with elements of their performance.
POM Well, was the government's performance good or bad? And they would say, most of them would say bad, they would say it was unsatisfactory rather than satisfactory.
CE I know what you're getting at. Let me just say that we're not a normal democracy, our history is not that of a normal democracy. We are an emerging democracy which is being led by a constitution. We're not normal and as I tried to explain to you and I will say again, you come from a deeply divided society where there was privilege and there was oppression and that has an impact on the current political society and until one moves away from the realities of that legacy, either real or perceived, that will still be a very important factor of divide in a society when the chips are down. So that will be. That people who were of the oppressed community, or previously oppressed community, continue to support the ANC with Mandela still around as the President at that time, does not surprise me in the least.
POM Does it surprise you that they increased their share of the vote from 1994?
CE Well whether they increased their share by 3% or so
POM The three parties in parliament combined don't have 3%. There are at least three parties in parliament that combined don't have
CE It doesn't surprise me that they did that, that there's a degree of unity within the oppressed community. It's entirely understandable. You ask me whether the ANC is going to stay a united political party into the future of the next millennium and will stay in power exactly as it is; I would say no. But I don't understand why you don't want to understand the historical background of what is happening in SA. We are still a deeply divided society. Before, the dominant factor was the racial division because that was omniscient, that was the law. That's all been removed but you still have a division which is very substantial in society between privileged and under-privileged, either real or perceived, and until those two elements are brought closer together in some kind of unison I think the historical problem will remain in SA, but I don't believe they are all going to remain in the ANC. I don't think the Communist Party indefinitely is going to stay in what is developing into a quasi-liberal capitalist party. I don't believe the socialists are necessarily going to stay with the capitalists. I don't believe the tribal elders are going to stay. So you've got a society in which understandably there's a convergence on the ANC and it's appropriate that there should be for historical reasons, but that's not as I see the future. It may be that the ANC can change itself and find the compromise between all these other people. I think the reason for them coming together was entirely appropriate, it was to wage a struggle against the apartheid regime and that is an entirely legitimate reason. Churchill and Stalin were on the same team against Hitler and it was entirely appropriate. Nothing's wrong with it, but that's not what history says that history stays like that for ever.
If you would have said to me in 1994 when the DP ended up with 1.7% of the votes, seven members in parliament, if the question then was, "Are you going to survive?" De Klerk was still then the president, he was then the deputy president, he was the leader of the party and the NP had the majority of both English and Afrikaans speaking votes, if you would have said to me that within five years they would virtually disappear and be taken over by the party that they had pushed to one side, despised for 30 or 40 years, would end up out-manoeuvre them, I would say you've got a hole in your head. But that is the reality. It did happen. Where is De Klerk's party? Where is the Afrikaner? Where is the English in that sense? There's been a change, there will be further changes. You seem to feel subliminally that the one party that was going to remain omniscient and intact is going to be the ANC.
POM No I don't feel that.
CE I don't think so at all. But you're going to ask me what day, what year? I don't know.
POM The Congress Party remained in India for God knows how many years and then kind of
CE There's also now the third party. Even parties, even when parties remain together they actually change. If I think of one of the dominant economic issues that was debated five years ago, it was nationalisation of industry or not. Now the issue is how quickly can we privatise? It's the same political parties but the language has changed as idiom has changed. Who's going to have the vote? Dammit, the ANC said one man one vote and the Nats said over our dead body. It's not the issue now, they've got the vote, how do you now manage the new society? So I think there are kinds of new and interesting challenges emerging. I think that's going to require the skills of the politicians to keep their power bases intact but equally it's going to involve a restructuring of SA politics somewhere down the track.
POM But in terms of policy priorities what would be the difference between the DP and the ANC?
CE I can't tell you what the ANC's policy priorities are. You're asking me to define their priorities; I can only define what the DP's are. Then you'll say to the Nats, that's what he says the DP's are, and say to the ANC, where do you differ? I don't want to define what the ANC's policies are. There are a range of things. I don't think that the thrust or the differences are on the macro level at all. I think the differences are in implementation. If you take getting economic growth, how do you achieve economic growth in the society? The DP will say we believe that by allowing greater economic freedom, greater economic emancipation, less regulation you are going to get greater economic growth, greater wealth and therefore a greater share for everybody. There are other people who say, well no, you've got to manage this thing in a very strict way to see that the poor benefit. We believe the poor will benefit out of growth, it won't benefit out of controlled stagnation. So I think it's a question of how do you achieve it?
A very small thing, Motlana on the question of the Employment Equity Bill, one of the main attacks of the DP, it's going to damage one of the most important sectors to emancipate blacks economically and that is the small business sector. We said we are not a party of big business, they've got Nedlac, they can look after themselves. We've got two categories who can't look after themselves, one is the unemployed which are bigger than the employed in SA and the other is small business because they want and we said small business is going to suffer as a result of this Employment Equity Bill. They've now announced they're going to change it, they're now having a meeting with COSATU today to have a row about it. We're not saying we told you so. When we said it there were certain groups that said, "You're just racist", they also said, "You fat cats." In fact at the end they're going to do the very same thing, not identical but they actually understand that the problem that we identified is now a legitimate problem and it has to be addressed. If you go back to those debates they will say it shows Tony Leon as a subliminal racist or he doesn't worry about the poor people. A year down the track the minister says, "We're going to amend that part of the Act because we're worried about what it will do to small business." There you are. What is the reality? Is this minister now a racist because he's doing it or is he protecting privilege because he's doing it? But we said it and because they didn't want to accept what we said they threw at us all the kind of political invective that they wanted to. The reality is different.
I've been at the game long enough to come to say one endures some of the invective provided one is satisfied that what one is saying is not that the invective is not legitimate and you've actually got a legitimate thrust to what you're saying, you carry on with that legitimate thrust and in due course you will come through. I saw that in the white community, how they started changing. If I think of the invective that we endured in Helen Suzman's era, in the seventies when I was the leader, it was horrendous compared with the invective that the DP is enduring at the moment. But in the end, I can still remember in 1985 one of the most triumphant moments in politics was when in fact they then scrapped the pass laws and Helen had been standing up against the pass laws for 20 years with all the invective of, "You're a communist, you're a kaffir boetie", and all the rest of it, and I can remember when it happened there was a hushed silence on the other side and half a dozen NP members when it was over came over and shook her hand. It had happened. It couldn't happen: it did happen. And that was before 1994, that was under PW Botha.
I always say in the end I think to be effective in politics, and I've got a strong feeling, your policies have got to be relevant to the processes of the society. You can't adopt a policy which runs counter to the process. But the process of SA at the moment is how do you achieve economic growth and human development. That's what it's all about. I actually believe that our philosophy is entirely in tune with that. Whether we express it in terms which are persuasive politically, whether it's good for us in terms of votes on the fringes I don't know. But in terms of what this country needs and where it's going, moving in that direction, look at the paper every day, it is shifting in that direction. Some people will actually have to shout at the obvious protagonists of that to cover their backs while they adopt the same policy. If the Minister of Labour wants to adopt what I call a liberal policy in relation to small business he's probably got to take a hell of a tough line against liberals because that's the way you say, "But that's not us." It's a technique which is employed. Slam the person who is the obvious father to that thing in order to be able to do this and not be tainted with it.
I think there's a difference between the fundamentals of politics and the fundamentals of what is taking place and the political tactics or the political knee jerk reaction of people from time to time.
POM The future of multi-party democracy in SA: are you more optimistic about it now after 5½ years under the new dispensation? Taking the long view do you ?
CE In the long run multi-party democracy will only work if multi-party democracy delivers the goods for the people of the country. They're not going to continue with a system that doesn't produce a better life for all. So to me economic growth, and that must be transferred into human development. Just having an unnatural economic growth on the graph of development right now won't work. And this doesn't only apply in SA. I've said to all my friends, and they were delighted in the eighties, communism has failed. That doesn't mean to say that capitalism is going to succeed. And so in our country the one that apartheid has failed doesn't mean to say that multi-party democracy is going to succeed, you've got to make it succeed. I believe that the survival of multi-party democracy in South Africa is linked very much to our ability to get the economy going and with that to address the legacies of the apartheid past. If you're not going to get it going then I think you're going to revert to some form of popularism. I think the moderates will be squeezed out by the demagogues but gradually you'll get an attempt at centralisation of the whole political, economic structure because that is the alternative to liberal democracy, the multi party democracy.
So I think that economic growth has now become a political imperative, not only an economic fact, it's a political one. But that is the more generic term of multi-party democracy. I don't say that within that context you could not have a regional or ethnic factor which creates multi-party democracy.
CE Well you might get a Zulu based political movement over there or you might get a coloured based political movement, if I use two illustrations. That would be a form of multi-party democracy but that's not the kind that I'm aspiring to. I'm aspiring to a multi-party democracy which is not based on ethnicity but based on socio-economic policies.
POM Is the New NP moving in the direction one view is that the DP is now the party of whites, the NNP is increasingly becoming the party of coloureds and the ANC is
CE Be careful how you express it. Clearly a party that loses its white support and is left with only coloured support becomes more coloured but not because it's gaining in coloured votes, it's lost in coloured votes both to us, we got 7% in 1994 and we got 18% of coloured votes now. The ANC got 26% of them and now gets 33%. The NP reduced its coloured vote but it reduced it's white vote automatically. So they're not gaining in coloureds. They're losing coloured support but they're losing white support more rapidly. So they're not growing but in terms of their own composition they are becoming less white because they are losing whites faster than coloureds is also a reality. But I don't know where coloureds are going to go. I think there's a kind of divided concern and the fact is this, that the coloured community at large was less oppressed and less deprived than the black community. They were, but the laws and restrictions on them were less onerous than the laws and restrictions on blacks. So in fact they had limited privileges in that sense and so a lot of them say, well with the blacks arriving we're going to lose those limited privileges. It's a question of losing the advantages that they had. I don't think of it as racism per se, being anti black, but those are the realities of you are at the cutting edge of competition for jobs and for houses and all the rest of it. You had somebody looking after you before, you now haven't got somebody looking after you. For that reason they might want to consolidate to protect what they had. On the other hand they might see the ANC as a party that helps poor people.
CE That wants to help poor people. I think there's an ambivalence as to where they would go.
POM If I were to ask you what in the next 15 years is the greatest single challenge facing SA?
CE I believe that the greatest single challenge is securing, getting a dramatic increase in economic growth.
POM Dramatic means well over 3%? It means 5%?
CE 3% with your population growing at 2%, that's only 1%. It doesn't allow you enough progress let alone to get rid of the inequalities. In other words you've got both to get progression in general but you've got to get a redistribution taking place to get rid of the legacies of the past. So I would say you're talking more between 5% and 7% as a growth target. Also bear in mind that in order to become more efficient, we've got two revolutions come simultaneously to deal with. One is the internal one of getting rid of apartheid and transforming the society and the other one is making our economic society part of a global economy which also imposes different demands. It says you've now got to be globally efficient and generally global efficiency means reducing your workforce in numbers and seeing that what is left over is more skilled. Anything less than 3% growth means you're actually reducing your workforce. It's only when you get over that that you start creating more areas of employment to fill up the vacancies that you have created by reducing your workforce.
So, yes, that is number one but I don't think that the economic wealth can just be set, it must trickle down to the disadvantaged people. There's got to be some mechanism for seeing that your taxation is used to improve the educational base, to improve the infrastructure, improve the social services and social facilities. I think you've got to be very careful that you don't use the redistributive power of the state which it always has in any society in a way which will damage the ascent of the economic growth. But equally I don't want to say let's have economic growth and let's sit back and see what will happen because there's a grave risk that that will just mean that in fact the rich will get richer or there will be the new elite and you'll also get an underclass of people who are left behind. So I think there's got to be that very delicate and a supportive balance between the thrust of what I call the private sector economic development and the government to see that in fact there's a degree of redistribution and supportive mechanisms to support that economic growth rather than to detract.
POM In fact I think I saw a reference to a study, it's on my list of studies to get, that would indicate that since 1993 the poorest 20% are getting poorer.
CE It's happening in the States as well.
POM Sure. There it's dramatic, it's a dramatic gap between the top and the bottom in the last 20 years, astonishing. I mean in real terms. People talk about the US economy and how well it has done, a sustained burst of prosperity, but in reality the household income is in real terms, the average household or the median household income in real terms is no different now than it was in 1992 and it's with two jobs, not one.