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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

09 Nov 1999: Zille, Helen

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POM     Should I call you Minister or Helen?

HZ     Would you kindly call me Helen, this whole new thing here they are extraordinarily formal and I've tried to get them to change but it's not possible.

POM     We did our first interview about ten years ago and this will be the last 'official' one with regard to this study.  When we started out did you ever envisage that ten years down the line you would be Minister for Education in the Western Cape? How did that come about?

HZ     Padraig, I really had no idea. If you had said to me at the time, I would have said it's impossible, it's not where I'm going, it's not where my life is taking me and it's now what I want to do. When we spoke ten years ago I must have just been starting my own business at the time and that business is quite a medium sized business today and I'm no longer involved with it but it's going very nicely. Since then I built that business up, then I went to UCT after having done a consultancy there for a time and was Director of Development and Public Affairs and then Director of Communication and now I'm in this position, so you've got me now two careers later as it were from where I was then.

POM     You've had more transitions than SA.

HZ     Yes, personally I've had more transitions than SA but I think that that is what the future is going to look like for everybody in the world of work, they're going to move from one project to another life project as and when they are adding value and feeling that they are being challenged by it. So I do believe that my kind of life of moving from one career to another is definitely going to be the pattern for the future.

     If I have to trace the path of how I got here it's precisely how I've done everything else in my life. My life has taken me organically into something that I've become involved in and then become passionately interested in and then something has opened up in my career to enable me to pursue that interest. That's happened every time. I started, for example, my business because I became passionate about trying to help facilitate a negotiate transformation and then there was a huge demand for that. And in the end from doing it voluntarily I began to be asked to be doing it professionally and people wanting to pay me for my consulting time and all of that and that's how it started, completely organically through my NGO involvements.  And my passage to UCT was when Stuart Saunders asked me to help him with precisely the same kinds of things within the institution and then he asked me to stay on permanently.

     My transition to this job was equally interesting because while I was at UCT - when did my elder son start school? He's now 15, he must have started school in the year that he turned 7, nine years ago that would have been, so in fact shortly after we had our first interview my elder son started school. Obviously I became passionately interested in his education. I wanted him to go to public schools. I believed that he would have a much better chance of mixing with all children at the time and it was just at the start of a major debate about the opening of public schools on a controversial basis but nevertheless giving governing bodies the discretion to decide that and giving school committees the discretion to decide that. My first involvement in the school was speaking very strongly for a decision to go the route that would enable the governing body to open the school to all races and have its own admissions policies. That was a progressive move although it was very controversial at the time for reasons that we can go back on and I became increasingly involved in the school and I became increasingly involved in planning the transition and transformation process of the school. Then I ended up facilitating that process at the school and then I ended up on the governing body of the school and then I ended up as chair of the governing body of the school.

     At that point we had the voluntary severance package and redeployment scheme, which you know about and which I've sent you cuttings about and about which you interviewed me some time back. That was the point at which the government was determined to right-size education along a formula that was driven by industrial relations considerations and not education considerations, i.e. it's main purpose was to protect the jobs of teachers who wanted to stay in education rather than looking at what was best for education. The means by which that was achieved was that the state offered voluntary severance packages to anybody who wanted to leave education irrespective of the value they were adding, irrespective of the role they were playing, and then had a redeployment scheme for anybody who didn't want to leave education who could then be dispersed into any vacancies that the department thought they should be dispersed into. Now this was a formula for disaster in the public school system, it would only apply to the public school system of course, and it was quite clearly predictable at the time that the best teachers, potentially, would be attracted to take a very lucrative voluntary severance package. Many of the most experienced teachers at any event would be attracted to take a very lucrative package and leave education, denuding the system of very good teachers. Many teachers who perhaps knew that they would not make it outside of the education system, or perhaps may not have been as experienced or competent, would want to stay and then be redeployed at the minister's discretion or at the department's discretion very specifically to any vacancy. That fundamentally undermined the rights of governing bodies to recommend teachers for posts on the basis of competence. I've written a whole lot about this.

     Now that was interpreted as an anti-transformation position, the position that I was taking. It was interpreted as an anti-transformation position. I said not at all. We're currently getting more black and coloured staff on the staff of the school that I'm chair of the governing body. It's an absolute policy to find black and coloured staff but like every other teacher we appoint staff because of their competence and appropriateness for the job and there are many black and coloured teachers out there who are excellent. We wouldn't take any teacher just because the state said we had to find a spot for them. It's critically important that education considerations rather than labour considerations and industrial relations considerations determine the filling of positions in education. In any other position one looks for candidates, one short lists candidates, one takes employment equity and affirmative action considerations into account and one appoints an appropriate person for the job. It's not simply to guarantee continued employment for everybody who happens to want to remain in teaching irrespective of past performance, irrespective of suitability and irrespective of the academic requirements for the job.

     So I said that this will be the death of the public education system if we pursue this route and furthermore all the middle class and welfare people, black and white, but particularly white, would remove their children from the public education system and put them into private schools and private schools would continue having educational considerations in the employment of staff and public schools will cease to, and then you will see what a discrepancy exists between them.

POM     In fact many of the good teachers to whom you had given lucrative severance packages would have just stepped across the street into a private school at a higher salary.

HZ     Precisely.

POM     It's like saying thank you very much.

HZ     And then you would have had the worst inequities of all which is the public system catering for poor kids whose parents couldn't afford an alternative in which they would have to accept that educational considerations were not the key criterion in the appointment of teachers to positions and all the wealthy kids were happily in the private system which had no such restriction at all. So I said, no, the public system has to retain quality. Quality is entirely compatible with equity but then you have to have employment practices that don't put industrial relations considerations and the protection of past jobs above every other consideration.

     So I fought a case against the National Minister of Education in court on that. You were here at the time, you interviewed me. I remember you started off that interview by saying why was I taking an anti-transformation position. I tried to explain to you that in fact my position was very pro-transformation and if at any point we tried to split and make an artificial separation between quality and equity we were in serious trouble in this country. We had to bring those two strategies together. I won that case as you know and in fact everything that I've said has been borne out, everything I said, and today everyone concedes that the voluntary severance package / redeployment scheme was a disaster and I could only manage to stop some parts of it but not the whole lot.

     At that point the DP approached me and said would I review their education policy. They approached me because I had been writing a lot about this and writing about public education policy and a great deal in the media, in specialist magazines, etc., from my experience as being chair of a governing body of a public school that was absolutely committed to transformation and still is. So the DP approached me and said would I please look over their policy and write a new one if I thought that it was defective, which I duly did. Then they asked me to please be a candidate for them on their list. So I considered that and I said I would be a candidate at provincial level rather than national level because I am passionate about education now. By that stage I was completely passionate about education having kind of meandered into it because I had a son who went to school and then I saw the challenge we had in the public school system. I became passionate about education and that's why when the DP asked me to stand for them I said I would stand at provincial level because that is actually where implementation of policy happens and that's where things are going wrong. So I said I would stand and I allowed my name to go forward and I was put on the list in quite a good position and I was duly elected and then because of the balance of power situation and because of the decision to go into a coalition government I was made Minister of Education and that's how it happened. I'm not a politician, I've never gone for this post, I've never gone for a political position.

POM     It's nice to begin at the top.

HZ     It is. I'm enjoying this thoroughly. I really love this job.

POM     What I'd like to do, I'd like to divide our questions and the time that you how much time have you?

HZ     I've got quite a lot of free time now. I had another appointment just now but I don't have one now so it's fine, it's been cancelled.

POM     I would like you to reflect on the last ten years, where the country was, where the country is, where the country has to go, the obstacles in the way of transformation. Is the SA that is emerging, is it the SA that you had envisaged when you were working so hard to bring an end to the apartheid system?

HZ     The present is quite another country from what the past was and now and again I get flashbacks to where we were ten years ago and I realise how much better things have gone than we have any right to expect. I had one such flashback on Saturday, a very powerful flashback where I was asked by an Association of Governing Bodies to speak to their members, this is an Association of School Governing Bodies, and I was asked to speak to their members. And I duly spoke. But the other speaker was a Marxist academic whose analysis took me right back to ten years ago when his analysis was the mainstream of the analysis of the resistance movement and the liberation movements. The basic analysis blames everything on capitalism, everything on the exploitation of the many by the few, turns people into passive victims of systems and structures and reinforces the politics of demand rather than development through initiative and enterprise, drives the notion of redistribution as the panacea and finds all faults with systems and structures and is determinist to the extent that if those can be changed transformation will follow, the doors of learning and culture shall be open, resources will be redistributed equally and therefore education will be equal as a kind of simple cause and effect relationship. Essentially what he was doing was arguing that none of the opportunities the governing bodies now had to develop their schools and manage their schools and take decisions around the future education in their schools were helpful because of the fact that what the government was trying to do was get governing bodies to do government's work and what they should really do was demand that government did its own work and see themselves as passive victims.

     That was the absolutely predominant analysis at the time. People will dispute it but you cannot believe when I heard it I said the key difference between then and now is that this person is totally on the margin today and although a lot of governing body members would like to see it that way because it would absolve anybody of taking individual responsibility they can see themselves as victims of the past, they can see themselves as passive recipients of support from the state and they can absolutely refuse to take any initiative or responsibility for improving the situation in partnership with the state. That was the dominant analysis at the time and I thought to myself, this is interesting listening and it's a nice déjà vu type flashback but there's no chance now that this analysis is going to be predominant. I thought on Saturday when I was listening, can you imagine if this kind of centrist, state controlled redistribution without any incentive for improvement or quality had become the norm in SA?

     Now Trevor is the exact opposite of that. Trevor Manual and the GEAR policy is a very important one, it's one that I support 100%. I think that national education policy is very good. I think that the SA Schools Act, as I told you in our previous interview, is a superb piece of legislation and I want the government to stick with that, which is precisely why I took my court case against them, but it's all about empowering individuals to use the resources that we're giving in a redistributive way absolutely to transform their own context. All good schools are doing that and have done that in the past. My involvement in the school was precisely an example of that kind of thing.

     So I could see just how differently the future could have unfolded with central planning, with ideologically driven transformation, with the notion of socialist redistribution rather than a market driven economy and redistribution through growth, and opportunity. I could see how differently our futures could have unfolded. And while his speech on Saturday was entertainment value and I wondered where he'd been, like Rip van Winkel, for the past ten years, I also had this very profound sense of how differently things could have been and I was so grateful that in fact the transition has been so ably managed to be quite honest at national policy level. The big difficulty is the translation of that policy into practice and the biggest challenge we have, the biggest challenge we have as a country is enabling all our people to see themselves as agents of a future and not victims of the past.

POM     And not as victims of the past.

HZ     Because if you see yourself as a victim it is the most disempowering thing. Now the trouble is that many people are victims, absolutely, but as long as you say there's nothing I can do here and when is the government going to do this and when is the government going to do that, just so long are you free from taking any responsibility for being at school on time, for preparing lessons for the classroom, for organising any teacher improvement programmes, for doing the most basic things that most schools take for granted. And then you say, well it's because we're disadvantaged, etc. Now all of that is true and all of the interventions that we are planning and having a massive redistribution programme for disadvantaged schools, all of that is necessary but without a strong sense of agency and people taking responsibility it is not going to happen and the biggest challenge we face is ensuring that we develop a sense of real human agency amongst all our people. It might sound weird to you but that's the biggest challenge we face in this country.

POM     How would this strategy fit into a province, like the Western Cape, where you have metropolitan areas like Cape Town and you have rural areas and you have townships and you have squatter camps? How many children who were in black schools, say in Khayelitsha, remain in black schools in Khayelitsha? How many have been moved out either by transportation means or other means to white schools? Has there been any 'lowering' of standards and maybe the loaded question: is the right of a parent to secure the best education possible for one's child one of those fundamental rights even if it means that the child is sent to a racially exclusive school? Is it a fundamental right, one of the basic rights an individual has to send his or her child to the school of his or her choice?

HZ     I certainly believe in promoting choice. In fact my whole policy rests on three things promoting choice, offering incentives for good performance and disincentives for poor performance. Those were philosophical foundations of it, obviously many practicalities that go with it. Now the fact of the matter is that if you look at the public school system there are very good schools in the public school system and none of them are exclusively white any more by a long shot. My son is in a class where there are a minority of white children. Two excellent schools, the high school not yet because it's working it's way through, but certainly the primary school. Now certainly people with means have choice and many people who do have the choice send their children to what would have been the formerly white schools or the formerly coloured schools and there are very good schools amongst those. I don't know a public school that is racially exclusive today. I have not seen one except the formerly African schools or some formerly coloured schools would still be racially exclusive. But the most integrated schools are the formerly white schools. They are the most integrated, in fact they are the only integrated schools.

POM     But in the townships schools would still be all - ?

HZ     All black, sure, absolutely.

POM     In the rural areas the schools would be all black so the integration is really confined to metropolitan areas?

HZ     The formerly white schools. Integration has worked far, far more strongly in many rural towns and villages where there's one public school to which now African and coloured children are having access for the first time over the last five years, and of those there are often a minority of white pupils now. So they are very integrated but it's all the formerly white schools. What you're doing is you're getting a movement from African to coloured schools and by African and coloured to formerly white schools and that's the movement.

     Now most people define transformation as racial head-counting to see that formerly white institutions are now integrated, and that's fine and that's valid. But the biggest challenge of transformation that we face is doing something about the appalling quality of former Department of Education & Training schools so that parents who don't have those choices can still get a decent education for their children. That is the biggest challenge in transformation. We are now at a point where we must stop looking at racial head-counting as an exclusive indicator, or even as the most important indicator, and look at what we're doing about quality, because frankly if you send your child to a former DET high school in many instances, not in all but in many instances, you're not sending your child to an educational institution.

POM     DET stands for?

HZ     Department of Education & Training and that's the language we use for the former African high schools. I've got a letter in today's Argus, go and look at it. Somebody wrote a wonderful letter about the work the way I'm doing my job, in the paper, so I wrote a reply and said thank you very much for this but I want to tell you, don't expect early results because the biggest challenge we are facing is in the former African high schools, which are still African high schools because no-one with a choice would ever send their children there because of the quality of that education, because of the fact that on average these kids get about 21 days schooling a year according to one study. The biggest transformation challenge we face is improving the quality of those schools. It's going to take 15 years to transform them.

POM     So when people speak of the mess in education, the mess they're really talking about is the teachers that Kader -

HZ     The quality of education in those schools.

POM     - was talking about in his address to SADTU in his usually mild and even-tempered way.

HZ     That's what he was talking about. I'll give you an example of what happened last term. I got a letter from my son's teacher saying I must come and report to the school because my son hadn't done his homework. I was thrilled. He's got a Muslim teacher, she's certainly not a white woman, she's a Muslim teacher. She's absolutely a first rate teacher and she would be because we only employ first rate teachers and she runs a very tight ship in that class and the minute my son wasn't doing his homework, comes the letter, I've got to come and report to her and speak to her about this. It's fantastic and I realise that she's making no distinction of persons at all, I was the Minister of Education and I had to go and report to her in the classroom. Fantastic. I was really pleased with that. My other son was late for school in the morning, didn't get up in time, I get a note from the head of the standard I must now please report as to why this is happening.

POM     Must report to?

HZ     To the school as to why it's happening and what we're going to do about it and there is a major warning now that he's not to be late again. It's absolutely appropriate and that's exactly how it should be working and I'm delighted that it is working like that. If I go to the African high schools I don't find one in which the children are there on time or anything like on time. They are still strolling in at half past nine in the morning and I say to the principal, "What are you going to do about this?", when I say to the Circuit Manager, "Why is this happening?", they say, "Oh it's always been like that." There's no sense that they've got to change that.

POM     Does this start with retraining an existing corps of teachers or training a new corps of teachers?

HZ     I don't know where to start frankly. I'm looking very carefully at what to do and I've got a strategy for next year, but one area that I can tell you we've had the worst possible investment in and that is in-service teacher training, that is the upgrading of teachers while they are in service. There has been a pitifully poor outcome for the investment that's been put into it. Pitiful. Things just don't change. So if you could get children into classrooms for enough time and get the quality of the input they're getting while they're in those classrooms up to scratch we would be making a difference, but it's those two critical issues.

     Children are supposed to get 195 days of teaching and learning in a South African public school. There was a study that estimated on the basis of the input of principals what children in former DET schools were getting and the estimate was 21 days effective teaching and learning a year. Now my sons are probably getting 230 each because of all the other programmes, because of the Saturday work, because of the orchestra in the evening, because of all of that. Until we get everybody having their fair teaching and learning time with a well-prepared teacher - that is our first shot and our second shot is getting good learning materials, good teaching methodologies and good text books into those classrooms which aren't there either. So next year I'm going to drive that programme and we're going to have to do it with a lot of support from information and communications technologies because the teachers on their own can't do it.

POM     So in a sense you're saying the crisis in education is a crisis in African education?

HZ     The crisis in education, it's a crisis, there are many aspects to it but we have to radically redistribute resources to get an equitable input throughout all the schools and that's absolutely appropriate and the redistribution formula is putting far more into historically disadvantaged schools than any other and that's also absolutely appropriate. The crisis is that we start with such poor institutions that frankly cannot fairly be defined as educational institutions but how do we turn those around and how do we maintain the quality of those from whom we're taking resources?

POM     Part of the problem is do you throw good money after bad? Do you invest in something that's so bad that it's not going to make much of a difference unless - ?

HZ     I'm now giving some of the most disadvantaged schools seven times more than I will give the least disadvantaged public schools and we will give the private schools nothing. I want a mechanism to measure whether that has any impact on education quality because if those schools just continue to absorb resources and produce no output then I'm throwing good money after bad and I'm taking money away from institutions that can deliver.

POM     How do you evaluate whether an investment - ?

HZ     I've got various evaluation mechanisms. I'm going to introduce benchmarking, random stratified sampling, etc., etc., for educational performance but I can also measure by whether schools start on time, whether they end on time, appropriately, look at attendance registers, look at compulsory tests during the course of the year, all of that kind of thing and I'm getting my benchmarking systems very clearly in place. What I am very concerned to do, because my policy is based on the combination of choice incentives and disincentives, is rather give incentives for good performance rather than looking at where performance is so weak and then concluding that therefore you need more resources. I've just been on a visit to many rural schools and I find there that in the main our investment is very good on the basis of my conclusion of what those schools are doing with very little. They are good functional schools with desperately poor children, often very well led by good principals who are devoted educationists, with a good staff who are also devoted educationists. And that is superb investment and value for money.

POM     Would the staff and the principals in this case live in the local community and be part and parcel of it?

HZ     They're mostly coloured, mostly the people that I'm seeing on these trips are coloured people, very good teachers, very devoted, very organised, and I think that our investment in the rural areas is very good. And our investment in the pre-primary school area is exceptionally good and our investment in primary schools is generally OK. It's when we get to the former DET, the black high schools, where we hit a disaster area and I'm still trying to find out why.

POM     When you say black are you saying that's it's African?

HZ     African. We've got excellent coloured schools. Livingstone was one of our best schools last year, a coloured school.

POM     But if you've a school, a disadvantaged school where you have a principal who by no matter what criterion you use is incompetent, giving him seven times more resources when he doesn't have the capacity to administer, to use, to innovate

HZ     I know.

POM     The only capacity he has is to waste.

HZ     Padraig, let me tell you one thing, the majority of black children are going to continue to go to these schools. There aren't enough formerly white schools to accept all of the demand because you have an inverse ratio to what you have in the United States. So there's a very limited capacity of these formerly white excellent public schools to absorb the numbers. They're right on capacity, they have waiting lists from here to next Christmas. So most children will continue to go to these schools and the labour laws are such that I can do nothing about firing people. I can't even put people on performance contracts. We don't even have a proper appraisal mechanism and every time I visit these schools and I say, "Well what is happening here?" They say to me, "Well it's the historical legacy and we can't do this, etc., etc." Now I accept that to a certain extent but now that I'm putting so much extra money into those schools I'm going to really make sure that that money is well used and I'm going to put project teams in there to make sure that those schools are properly managed and to make sure that lessons start on time and to make sure that their year plan is managed in those schools. And I'm going to put performance targets and improvement targets on the table and if it doesn't work I will be the first to make a major public hue and cry about the poor investment of our resources and let's say turn the whole philosophical base around a bit, reward effort, reward improvement, don't pump money into incapacity.

     But I do want to give people a chance and this is the whole challenge of agency. I am quite prepared to take previously disadvantaged schools, given them seven times more money than the more advantaged schools, and say, this is your opportunity to see yourselves as agents, not as victims and to really drive to make this school a good school. Now how are we going to do it? What is the plan, what is the performance target? Who are the partners that have to work together to achieve this? What are we doing? And I won't do it in a patronising way and I won't do it in a disempowering one. I am saying here are the resources, we recognise the legacy of the past, we need to do something about it but it can't be done to you, you have to take partnership responsibility in doing it, and that is the challenge of agency that I was speaking about previously.

POM     It's very funny, I have a question down here and it's about urgency.

HZ     I say agency not urgency. Seeing yourself as an agent not a victim.

POM     Yes, OK.

HZ     Agency and urgency are two parallel things but they're two different things.

POM     So my question has been framed as, if you were to identify the single greatest challenge in education what would you single out as the matter of most urgency?

HZ     The most urgent is to get people to see themselves as agents, not passive recipients of state intervention. I'll give you a classic case in point. I went to a school which had been seriously vandalised again and again and again and the schools in that exact neighbourhood were fine without being vandalised. I went along and immediately within the first 20 minutes I could pick up that this was a very weak headmaster without any drive, without any leadership, without any management skill. I asked him to take me around his school and there was a very dangerous piece of metal hanging off a beam in one of the vandalised classrooms and the children were running around all over the place and I said, "You know if this falls off that beam, if this is dislodged it's going to kill a child. What are doing about it?" He said, no, he's already phoned the department but they haven't come to take it down yet. I said, "What? Bring me a chair right now and you're going to get up there and take it down." Now that's what I'm talking about. That's an absurd example but it's what I'm talking about.

     And there are other examples of schools working in exactly the same communities who have turned themselves into absolutely superb schools through the power of human agency and through the leadership of a dynamic principal. Sid G Rule School, a school for coloured kids in a very poor area, is a classic example. I would send my children there tomorrow, such a good school.

     So that's the biggest challenge we face but at a more practical level the challenge we face is getting children into the classroom for the full day and getting well prepared teachers into the classroom for the full day, all week, every month for the full term and getting proper learning materials into those classrooms.

POM     Now how does the question of, particularly this would be in the poor and more disadvantaged areas, there have been some studies carried out in the States saying that the key to successful education of a child is not the school per se which the child goes to, but the involvement of the parent in the child's education, the active participation of making sure the child does the homework and standing over them, correcting them so they are part and parcel of a continuum in education. In the case of families where parents are illiterate or very poorly educated, where there's never been a premium put on education, do you experience more problems with children coming from that kind of background?

HZ     I think one does experience more problems with children coming from that kind of background but it's not because the parents don't put a premium on education, they do put a premium on education. They just don't know how to follow that through and this is where the schools really let them down. I think that a parent thinks that once he or she is sending the child to school the rest will take care of itself. Now I went to speak at Sizokanya, that is a new school built in a very, very poor area people mostly live in shacks, and I was speaking to a big parent meeting there and I spoke to them about one thing only and that was the need for their children to get their full teaching and learning time each year.  I went through all of the elements of that, starting on the first day, that means doing your applications before, getting your class lists ready before, getting your timetable ready before the term starts, arriving on time, leaving appropriately, teachers not taking off on pay day, etc., etc., you can go right through it, teachers in fact marking papers after school hours not during school hours. I went through the whole thing about the culture of schools having to change, to get just the full teaching and learning time to which children are entitled. Afterwards those parents got up and gave me a standing ovation for saying what would be entirely obvious in most former white schools. Now that is why they are sending their children to formerly white schools if they can possibly help it because they can see that all the basics are in place. When you give a parent a choice they always choose the best available option for their child. Always. And I want to encourage that and I want to give poor people more options and that's why I must make sure that schools that are accessible to poor people also function. So now when I said all of that, every word I said had to be translated in Xhosa, and I am sure that very few of those people could read or write but they knew exactly what I was talking about. And what would seem obvious to you or me or to anybody who has sent his or her child to a functional school was music to their ears, they recognise it entirely but they also recognise how far away it is from their present reality. So that's what we've got to do, we've got to shake up those schools.

POM     I want you to relate what you've said, my kind of obsession here is AIDS. I've been working in the field for 15 years and doing a book at the moment that's on The Social & Economic Consequences of AIDS in Southern Africa. AIDS and teachers, AIDS orphans, kids having to drop out of school to take care of other children, the whole question of investing heavily in education and finding that the return is low because the rate of AIDS is so high, particularly among younger age groups. Do you think, despite what the President has said and despite everyone wearing the AIDS pin, that there is a recognition that what Southern Africa and South Africa is facing is not a pandemic but something close to, approaching a plague where within 15 years life expectancy is going to drop by twenty years, where entire family structures are going to be changed, where the nature of the job market will be changed, where investing in skills and education for every rand you put in rather than getting two rand return you might be getting a fifty cent return, that there's not yet that will, that political will to say we are in the middle of a plague and it must be at the top of every agenda or else there will be very little to administer in the country twenty years from now because there won't be that many people here.

HZ     You see, Padraig, it's one of my top priorities, life skills and HIV/AIDS, to get that going next year. I've just come from a big and very important meeting this morning. I was very frustrated this morning because we're still going through the whole bureaucratic approach of putting forward five plans and measuring it against this and getting structures to work like that.

POM     You said you had just come from a meeting?

HZ     It's frustrating because the bureaucracy works incredibly slowly and I don't think we're grasping the urgency of this crisis. Now I've been to many AIDS programmes to watch what's happening in schools and I must say the information is good that's getting across. The functional knowledge that's getting across is good. The programmes are good, they are absolutely in your face.

POM     These are mandatory programmes yet or that's still - ?

HZ     Life skills is mandatory but it's the NGO sector that's coming in and driving these programmes in schools, and all schools want them, there's no question. In a recent survey the Department of Health found that about 97% of respondents in a random stratified sample knew about AIDS but only 8% used condoms. So the problem is translating the knowledge into behaviour patterns that change. I don't know how we're going to get this right because recently we had the very shocking development of the Mayor speaking at a big rally of teenagers, big stadium outside Cape Town, and she was saying to them that AIDS was the biggest crisis that they as young people faced and they would have to use condoms, and she was jeered. She was jeered by people who said to her, "Do you use condoms?" I mean, can you imagine, in a rally, not taking it in the least bit seriously and booing the Mayor when she tells them to use condoms. Now those children I can tell you have, I would imagine 80% have had an AIDS awareness programme in the school, but that is the response. When I went to a school once and gave an AIDS class myself one of the key questions that the boys kept posing to me, and they were boys of about 16, 17 years old, that age group, they said, "But we like flesh on flesh", that's their big thing. So I said, "Well you can decide but these are the options."

     So I can't say that my experiences are in any way indicative, I'm not trying to say that I've done any random stratified sampling of responses but the Department of Health says that awareness of how AIDS is transmitted is not the problem.

POM     That never is in any country, or in the US, particularly in the mid to late eighties when it peaked, when it appeared that the degree of heterosexual transmission might be creeping up, the middle classes suddenly became very concerned but when that didn't happen and it was shown that it was really confined to the gay community and to the drug community and the gay community was very well organised and it policed itself and the drug community had no constituency anyway, so they fell by the wayside. But no education programmes in terms of follow up studies resulted, awareness programmes resulted in behaviour change.

HZ     Has none ever?

POM     There's no correlation between the two.

HZ     But I think there is a correlation. If you look at the gay community in the US it was awareness of how this disease is spread that brought the behaviour change that solved the pandemic spreading. If you look at the middle classes in the US it was the awareness of how AIDS is spread that stopped AIDS becoming a heterosexual disease. What else was it?

POM     But the usage of condoms in the US is minimal and it's always women who carry the condoms around.

HZ     Well it must be because people are in monogamous relationships.

POM     Women carry the condoms with them.

HZ     You can't tell me that people in America are behaving like we're behaving here but just not getting AIDS.

POM     It's a different strain, there are five different strains and the strains that are in Africa

HZ     Well strains jump continents. There is no way that an African strain can be confined to Africa.

POM     Not only that but there are different strains within Africa itself.

HZ     I'm sure, but the fact of the matter is Americans or Europeans or Far Easterns or whoever you like can't be having as much unprotected sex as us and not getting AIDS.

POM     Well I put a big question mark beside that.

HZ     No, no, it's not possible. It's absolutely not possible. Frankly if people in South America were having as much unprotected sex with as many partners as we do in SA they would also have a very high AIDS transmission rate of whichever strain we happen to want it to be. I have absolutely no doubt about that. I think it's a lifestyle disease. It's not a particular strain of the virus disease.

POM     I'm going to dig up some papers for you. I spent a week in Lusaka at the conference on AIDS there about a month ago and it was most depressing.

HZ     What are you saying? Are you saying that if Americans had the same strain of the virus as we do in Africa AIDS would be as prevalent as it is in Africa?

POM     It would be much, much higher, it would have reached a level of where, for example, it would be a notifiable disease. One can trace the interest in America. It developed first in the gay community and the general population didn't care so the gay community began to look after itself.

HZ     If we didn't care it wouldn't mean that the people who are at risk of AIDS would look after themselves.

POM     The rate of transmission heterosexually in the US is about 2%. This was established before the programmes about the use of condoms, which are never put on the air now.

HZ     But you see the contradiction here. Here the government is clobbered day and night because they're not doing enough to stop the AIDS pandemic. I think there's quite a lot happening but it's not effective and the government is clobbered day and night because it isn't effective. You're saying in the US it's precisely because the government ignored people that they did something for themselves. Now that's an agency issue. That's precisely what I'm saying, it's an agency issue.

POM     One segment of the population.

HZ     Yes but the fascinating thing is it hasn't spread to the other segments of the population in any significant degree. Now why is that? It's because people learn from education.

POM     No.

HZ     No? Well I don't know. Then they must have lifestyles

POM     It's not a heterosexual disease, it's not heterosexually the strain of AIDS in the US is not the only heterosexual transmissions occurred through needles that drug addicts use.

HZ     But when South Africans go to the US they don't have sex? So therefore we don't take our strain of AIDS over to the US?

POM     No it doesn't work that way, or it hasn't worked that way. If you talk to scientists, international scientists who spend their entire lives, living day and night, 24 hours, on AIDS, they would say that everyone here points to Uganda, this is where all these programmes were put into operation and they would say the programmes had very little to do with the decrease in the rate of AIDS. What happened was that the disease ran its course, it's like that strain ran its course. It was like a hurricane or a tornado, it comes, it peaks and then

HZ     Don't you think that people change their lifestyle? Don't you think that people stopped having casual sex and sex with many partners and not using condoms?

POM     To what extent was that significant? A number of people may have done that but they would say it ran its course and making people aware, of course, is better than not making them aware but that usually it doesn't translate in any culture into changed behaviour. And just to corroborate what you said about the kids and the Mayor, in Lusaka the Minister for Health gave a press briefing on the days events or whatever and there were journalist from maybe 30 or 35 African countries there and she brought up the issue of how it had been stressed that men should use condoms and the entire press corps burst into laughter.

HZ     But you see they wouldn't laugh in America.

POM     They wouldn't but they wouldn't wear condoms either.

HZ     But then would they be in monogamous relationships?

POM     No but what you would have is that you would have this becomes the responsibility of the female.

HZ     But at least it's somebody's responsibility. I don't care whose responsibility it is.

POM     She carries the condoms around with her and says we're not having sex unless you wear a condom.

HZ     That's fine, I don't care who carries the condom around as long as somebody is carrying the condom around.

POM     But the strain isn't the same. I'll get you some papers. OK. We'll leave it at that.

HZ     I just don't believe that strains stay within boundaries, I don't believe that strains stay within boundaries.

POM     What they were saying now is that, as I told you that the strain here which is a new strain that has developed, is now being exported back into Central Africa so that Central Africa, the countries that thought they had overcome AIDS are now due for a second round of a new strain.

HZ     Why aren't we exporting our strains to other countries in the world like Europe or like America?

POM     Good question.

HZ     I think it's a lifestyle issue. I do.

POM     What's the prevalence among teachers?

HZ     Huge, apparently. I haven't measured it and I haven't seen the studies but according to the reports that I've read the prevalence amongst teachers is one of the highest that there is. Now one of the papers that I read was that in fact the more disposable income people have the more at risk they are of AIDS because the more they can buy sex. There's an American journalist, Don somebody or other, who writes regularly for the Mail & Guardian, I think he's a New York Times Correspondent who is based here, and he writes a lot about AIDS in the M&G. He writes very, very well.

POM     What's his first name?

HZ     I think it's Don, and he writes really, really well about AIDS and he basically says people say it's a disease of poverty but he contests that. He says the very poor communities who tend to live in stable structures and stable communities are not nearly as prone to AIDS as the middle classes where they have higher disposable income and therefore have greater access to many sexual partners. So teachers would fall into that middle income group and most certainly a study that I read in Swaziland and in KwaZulu-Natal paints a very bleak picture about teachers and HIV/AIDS.

POM     Do you have those studies or does somebody in the department have them?

HZ     I've read about them in the newspapers so I haven't actually read the studies. I know that Kader Asmal is taking them very, very seriously. What worries me a lot is the extent of sexual activity in schools of very young children. It does worry me enormously because (a) the children are at risk of getting AIDS and HIV but on the other hand it seems to me that all boundaries that I think are necessary to grow up with, that one has a sense of stability and structure, all those boundaries seem to be going. So in many cases people think there's nothing wrong, for example, with a teacher having a sexual relationship with a student. Now I think that that is a boundary that no teacher should cross and it should be a fundamental taboo, but it's ceased to be. And then children having sexual relationships very, very young.

POM     That would be grounds for  -

HZ     So we have to establish all of these codes of conduct and norms again and the extent to which sex is abused in our schools is a source of very great worry for me.

POM     Taking that into a wider context, one of the questions I have been asking people because it's become so prevalent in the last couple of years, it's kind of reached a climax of sorts this year, is the whole question of rape, the incredibly high incidence of rape. I read one report, I think it was the M&G last week said 75% of all rapes are gang rapes. Whether one disputes the basis of the figures or not the fact is you see it from two year old kids being raped to 114 year old grannies, a case reported in the papers three or four weeks ago. What is that indicative of in the society? It's more than dysfunctionality, why would this be coming to the fore now despite that it was always there and it's just higher rates of reporting, but it's more than just higher rates of reporting. The gang rapes in particular, it's not about sex but about power, rage.

HZ     Padraig, I wish I knew the answer to your question. I don't. I think that higher rates of reporting are a factor and I do think for the middle classes things have actually improved because pushing or forcing a women into sex against her will is now seen as unacceptable and women are empowered to say something about it whereas in the past it was a very common culture amongst all groups in SA, patriarchy being the one really non-racial institution, but I think many men across all groups felt that it was appropriate to push women into sexual intercourse even if they didn't feel like it and women felt quite disempowered to resist. Now that the definition of rape includes that I think that middle class women have been strongly empowered to resist that kind of behaviour, to speak out about it and that middle class SA recognises that is unacceptable in the main. So I think that that has improved and partly that has led to the higher rates of reporting now that that is seen to be completely unacceptable behaviour. I know when I was a teenager it was very unpleasant but it wasn't seen as something that men weren't entitled to do, especially if it was a man you knew and had gone out with on many occasions. I suppose not as a teenager but as a person in one's twenties that was seen as a thing that wasn't very pleasant but the kind of thing that men happened to do. I think that was a South African cultural thing across the board. I don't know if it existed in other countries. That is changing and for middle class, articulate, educated people the conditions are improving I would think because of the high exposure and because of the taboo that has now been publicly placed on it. I think the incidence of gang rape and these absurd rapes of two year old children and of 91 year old grannies and things like that are that level of pathology I have never come across before.

POM     This is what I'm asking, why here?

HZ     Yes. That level of pathology I'm at a loss to understand. But if I could speculate I've become very conservative in one area and that is about the role of the family in society. I truly believe that many of our pathologies are the result of the breakdown of so many families and the dysfunction of so many families and the failure to provide the role model of two adults taking shared responsibility for an ethical framework, for moral guidance, for support of development, for nurturing. I would have dismissed that as absurdly old fashioned in my twenties but now that I'm nearly fifty I can see what a crucial foundation the family is in society. In many parts of our society that model is the rare exception, the model of two parents, committed to each other even if they don't always feel like being, committed to shared responsibility in raising their children even if it is a challenge and difficult and a drain on their resources, committed to the partnership in doing so and committed to the supportive and loving environment the children need. It is the very rare exception in large sections of our society, so that you get usually single mothers battling against the odds to raise large numbers of children in highly inconducive circumstances, having to work all day to try and just make ends meet, having very few options about the schools to which they send their children, having the peer pressure, the strong push to get material resources, the pervasiveness of the drug culture and the complete dysfunction that that all creates, all of that combination. Whereas lots of that can be resisted if one has the basic family structure operating optimally with a dual income that creates a base upon which one can at least raise one's children with some values in some future direction.

POM     One of things that apartheid did was to destroy black family life.

HZ     It destroyed the social structure completely. I think apartheid was a very critically aggravating factor. I think urbanisation would have been far easier had it not been for the pass laws, it would nevertheless have been disruptive, hugely disruptive to traditional family life in the extended family model of Africa. I think urbanisation per se would have been highly disruptive to that, that particular form of family which was a very stable and a very enabling form of family. But in the urban environment it's been impossible to recreate that and the destruction that apartheid wreaked on the traditional family structure was a very aggravating factor. But how we're going to reconstruct families in an urban environment, even if they're extended families that work functionally, and give children role models and values I don't know.

POM     One of the big problems here with regard to the rape of young children is the widespread prevalence of the myth that you are a male with AIDS and you have sex with a virgin, a young virgin, that you're cured.

HZ     Yes I believe that that is a myth. I've read a great deal about it although I don't see where such myths come from quite frankly.

POM     It's there.

HZ     You see that's a complete tragedy. That's why men are raping younger and younger girls.

POM     I was explaining this to, I don't know the correct words, what you call them now these days, maid, domestic or whatever, but I was telling her make sure that if you're having sex that the male use a condom, even brought her a supply from Lusaka where they were handing them out right, left and centre, just keep them with you. But then I was telling her about the statistics on rape and I mentioned that many of the child rapes took place because of this belief and she said, she's a highly intelligent woman, highly intelligent, she said, "Oh is that true?" Her immediate response was to believe that it was true rather than to say how ridiculous, how awful.

     The last couple of minutes because I know you've got to get home and fulfil your part of the bargain. I'm going to tell that story about you being called to account by your local school to be a good parent and get your children to school on time. But what has the government done, would you say, in the four or five years it's been in power, what has it done that has been spectacularly right? What has it done that has been spectacularly wrong?

HZ     I think what it has done that has been spectacularly right is getting quite a number of very good policies on the ground, not on the ground, getting enough very good policies formulated. I think that has been spectacularly right. If one particularly looks at the macro-economic policies they have been spectacularly right; if one looks even at the broad education case, I am a strong supporter of the broad education policies. I think in the main policy formulation in key areas has been good. I think what has been spectacularly wrong is the incapacity to implement those policies through good management and through appropriate appointments in key places.

     What I also think is spectacularly wrong is the attempt to centralise the ANC's control by deploying ANC people to key positions in civil society and the bureaucracy and it's exactly the same as the old Broederbond policies of the past.

POM     I was going to ask you, concomitant with that question, apartheid was an experiment in social engineering with the Afrikaners deploying their troops in every organ of society, in key positions and as the ANC is centralising more and more power, the ANC in a sense, with different objectives perhaps, but in a sense doing the very same thing.

HZ     The ANC is doing the same thing, perhaps with very different objectives, but the fact of the matter is that the great risk of doing that in a society in transition is that increasingly people see that the only path to patronage is through party membership and that is inimical to multiparty democracy which we have to maintain in SA. Despite the fact that I'm a strong supporter of many of the ANC's initiatives I believe it's critically important now to build up a strong alternative to an ANC government because of the grave danger of concentrating so much power in a single centre and enabling that centre to establish that hegemony over the society. We need to avoid that crucially because with whatever purpose in mind, for example we saw in other societies in transition nearby us and internationally too, that the programmes start out to be very good, that the objectives are absolutely laudable and noble, that the first election delivers some semblance of multiparty democracy but as the ruling party is the source of all patronage and the source of access to resources and jobs, increasingly the opposition parties wither on the vine and the central party becomes all powerful, fails to achieve its objectives despite the fact that its objectives are very noble, then starts consolidating power to remain in power and ultimately provokes the kind of huge resistance that you're getting in places like Zimbabwe and Zambia. The critical thing is to get a stable multiparty democracy, at least two-party democracy, where the challenges can come through open democratic policies and where your access to state resources is not dependent on party membership or part patronage. That is critically important and it's important for the longer term as well and it's also important that policy directions can be challenged and open and alternatives can be considered and that comes in a multiparty context.

POM     Why do you think the ANC has chosen as the enemy English speaking whites who would have been anti-apartheid and who would have participated to the extent they could?

HZ     I don't think that the ANC has particularly chosen them as the enemy. Why do you think that the ANC has chosen them as the enemy?

POM     Because I've been talking to Africanists and they can't stop talking about English speaking liberal whites.

HZ     Africanists?

POM     Yes. People around Mbeki, the African renaissance, Eurocentric values that they've been wanting to impose on our children and want to impose on society rather than African values.

HZ     Well you must just ask which schools they are sending their children to. Just ask them that question. Ask them where they are sending their children to school.

POM     Probably to very expensive private schools.

HZ     Of course. You see the key thing is we must look at the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxis in SA. We must look at the difference between public and private morality in SA. There are very few people who bring the two together and you must just ask a couple of those difficult questions to see that what people do is quite often different from what they say. Now many white liberals have looked to the future and said it's crucially important for us in SA to preserve a basis for multiparty democracy and a basis for liberal democracy and therefore we can't do it from within the hegemonic party, we have to in fact challenge the concept of hegemony in an emerging democracy and people don't like that. So they will rail against it and say it isn't African, it's Eurocentric values, etc., etc., but the fact of the matter is that Eurocentric values or not it happens to be important to do that, it happens to be important for a market economy to have an open democracy because market economies tend not to flourish unless there is an open democracy and vice verse. So it's fine, it's very easy to pick on somebody because of their colour and South Africans are extremely good at that and it's especially easy to make race the dominant criteria so you can take somebody who was of government criterion so that black people could do well and do often side together irrespective of what their respective roles were in the liberation struggle. You might have had somebody who was, for example, in charge of a homeland bureaucracy being seen as a good ally to a black person in the liberation struggle whereas the white person who was equally active in the liberation struggle for whatever reason is marginalised now because they are so-called white liberal. It's what you have to live with and that's absolutely fine. In this country you've got to have a thick skin. When I was fighting the Grove case I was accused of being racist irrespective of my history and what I had done. So? You live with that. You can't be sensitive around here, you've got to say what is right, what is in the best interests of the most people, how can we establish a multiparty democracy that is stable and you've got to take the insults. If you can't take the insults it's very difficult to live in SA.

POM     I will quit it there.

HZ     I'll send you on some papers on AIDS and stuff.

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.