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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

11 Nov 1999: James, Wilmot

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POM     Wilmot, taking off from themes we explored in our last interview, you had been somewhat apprehensive about the direction in which government was going insofar as work conducted by IDASA; if it were seen as being critical of the government it was seen as being unpatriotic and you had mentioned the way it was dealt with was that simply access was cut off whereas before you could get directly through to ministers if you wanted to talk to the minister or to the official and now you got a secretary who told you they would call you back. Was that one of your reasons for leaving IDASA, that you had gone as far as you could take the institution, your belief that it was time for a change in leadership perhaps and, most importantly, under the Mbeki government are you now beginning to see increasing concentration of power in the President's Office, but beyond that right down the different tiers of governmental and state structures and a more subtle but still critical assessment by government of criticism of government?

WJ     I left IDASA because I had intended to be there for five years, coming from UCT, and thought that it was time to move along. So that was part of my expectation. I certainly didn't leave it because I found the going difficult in terms of pursuing the work of the government, I didn't even say that. At the same time some of the things that I was worried about last year remain good cause for concern and some not. I am quite impressed by the stability of the transition between Mandela and Mbeki, a stable transition, and as a president he is doing reasonably well in terms of being able to keep the stability going that we have had and also mediate between the competing interests that there are.

POM     Competing interests, by which you mean?

WJ     Competing interests in terms of what the most important priorities ought to be for government in terms of what it does in the next five years and I've always felt that we had too much of an agenda in the past and they would need to narrow it down and the key issues had to do with delivery questions. He has certainly put his stamp on how that is to be done and been quite firm about how from government's point of view that should be managed. Associated with that is a concentration of power in the President's Office that results partly from one crucial change in how ministers and director generals and the President's Office relate to one another. In the past when Mandela appointed his ministers he did not appoint the director generals. Mbeki appointed the ministers and the director generals and he meets with them as well.

POM     With the director generals?

WJ     With the DGs directly and he meets with his cabinet obviously, so that's right, but he also meets with his DGs which could make ministers quite insecure.

POM     Uneasy.

WJ     He would spend two days with them. He would devote a lot of presidential time to meeting with DGs on the issues that he would regard as important. Now the issues that he regards as important are important ones too nationally, I have no difficulty with that. It is important to have greater co-ordination between departments on questions to do with delivery issues.

POM     Which are at this point his priorities? What are his priorities at this point? What areas has he identified as being the four or five key areas that he wishes to concentrate most of his attention and resources on in addressing them?

WJ     It all has to do with the alleviation of poverty and the services that are connected with the alleviation of poverty. So it's social welfare, education, housing, public works, that kind of configuration of issues as related departments and a sort of driving effort to make sure that there is co-ordination among departments, between departments on that issue. So I don't quarrel with that. I think that those are important national questions and I think they ought to be addressed and they were not addressed in the way that they should have been when Mandela was president. But the manner in which it is being done and the structure of power that results from that is something that I think is consistent with my fear of concentration of power.

POM     How about the fact that he won't come to parliament to answer questions, in fact he hasn't appeared yet before parliament to answer any parliamentary questions, where you end up with ludicrous situations like last week when Penuell Maduna was being asked a series of questions and he said, "I'm not the President, I can't answer that question. You'll have to ask the President." Is this setting a bad precedent in terms of at least, well in the Westminster system certainly, the Prime Minister being required once a week to take questions from all quarters is what they regard as one of the 'hallmarks' of their democracy, and yet there is no accountability to parliament in that sense, public accountability for his actions. I think a study conducted by Professor Hugh Corder here concluded that ministers tended to be less accountable to parliament, that portfolio committees in the post-GNU period were less likely to be questioning of their ministers or to haul them over the coals given that their advancement and their careers depended upon a party structure and not on a constituency structure. If these trends continue, (i) do you agree that those trends are there, and (ii) if they continue and the major pieces of legislation with regard to transformation are already in place, though implementation is not in place other than the Open Democracy Bill and the Equality Bill and I think two other bills they have before April 4th, what's the role of parliament, what does parliament do? I was there yesterday meeting with a member of the Open Democracy Committee (he's a member of the opposition) and he said, "Normally I would never be late for a committee meeting but it doesn't really matter. I can go in, I can say my ten cents worth but it's not going to have any effect. I'm a rubber stamp."

WJ     I agree that those trends are there, the fact that the President attends parliament as infrequently as he does I think is a very bad thing the public image of where he makes himself visible is not one where that visibility is prominent in parliament. He's visible elsewhere in a manner that's been fairly carefully crafted. It is important for the SA public to see him in parliament and they don't, never mind the accountability question which is a problem as well. Comparisons are odious, but Mandela attended parliament, he thought that it was an important thing to do. Ministerial accountability, that trend is there as well and effort to be more forceful in terms of getting legislation through and the fact is that all legislation, as in the past, is drafted by the executive and then it's pushed through parliament very quickly. Although the debating opportunities are still there in committee structures, parliament is in a position where its role is diminishing in terms of decision making and being able to influence legislation. So that's worrying.

POM     At the same time you have, and I don't want to sound megalo, but dealing with the failings of structures are always easier to do than dealing perhaps with their successes, but you have this Redeployment Committee within the ANC placing key people in different sectors of civil society. Conceptually is what the ANC is doing any different from what the NP did in 1948, i.e. massive transformation accompanied by having agents, and back then it would be the NP now it's the ANC or supporters of the ANC in all the pivotal positions and organs of either parastatals or civil society or other opinion influencing areas?

WJ     The ANC's Redeployment Committee is the equivalent of the Broederbond. It's beginning to look like that.

POM     Is there an irony in this? Is this a classic case of the oppressed imitating the habits of the oppressor?

WJ     In a variety of ironic ways. That's one. The way in which black empowerment has proceeded is also an interesting parallel. Afrikaner empowerment had in the first instance to do with getting increased Afrikaner ownership over large assets either as a result of unbundling or as a result of providing new venture capital. Anglo American and the creation of Genmen is one example and it's a similar pattern. So black empowerment is about large corporate asset concentration resulting from some unbundling and provision of venture capital. It doesn't filter down, it's of the big macro style transformation. People obviously would be quite annoyed if one was to draw any kind of parallel between what the ANC does and what the NP did.

POM     Of course, but that doesn't mean they don't exist.

WJ     The framework in which this happens is a democratic framework and it's a legitimate framework. But the point about this model, call it a hegemonic model, where you govern by putting your people in the institutions that are central to a country, is a pattern of politics that is very similar to what the NP did. It's true, and I have some anecdotes about that, some obvious things like the Reserve Bank, for example, which I think so far is not proving to be a problem but it might be a problem to have your man in the Reserve Bank but part of the same political framework and therefore how is Tito Mboweni going to resist pressure from the President to modify interest rates? It's very hard to imagine Clinton telling Alan Greenspan to do that. So that's one clear example but there are other anecdotal examples of where there's, let's call it, political interference in independent decision making of bodies operating in civil society and at university level as well.

POM     And at university levels too?

WJ     Yes.

POM     Yesterday I was talking to a this is an aside from where I was going but most of our conversations here veer off in funny directions but I had been talking to William Makgoba and then to Kader Asmal and I was talking to Makgoba about the African renaissance, Africanism and this whole debate about Eurocentric values versus African values. In one sense I don't get it. I kept making statements to him and he said, "Your analysis is perfectly correct", but afterwards I forgot what my analysis was since I was doing it off the top of my head so to speak. But what is the issue here? Is there a nub or a crux of an issue, is it an elite issue that has little to do with the life of the poor person in a township who will never ever know what the word 'renaissance' meant, never knew that there was such a thing called 'Eurocentric thinking versus African thinking', has it anything to do with delivery, has it anything to do with the nuts and bolts of implementing a policy that has been designed into delivery on the ground?

WJ     I think it's layered because what it is is a legitimating ideology of some sort, this notion of an African renaissance. The question is, what is it legitimating? I think in response to that it is an effort to provide a framework for cultivating a new intelligentsia, alternative intelligentsia to the one that we've inherited and to provide an anchor for people to associate with this notion of an African renaissance, of intellectuals and academics who come from within the ANC in the first place and from organisations associated with that. Even though it might be a controversial one even within those ranks it nevertheless provides an anchor for people and it will be those in ten, fifteen years time who will populate universities and populate the institutions, educational and other sorts of institutions in the country. As a slogan at first we thought it had some intellectual content, but it's really a slogan. What is this thing? Because there clearly is no renaissance on the way and the preconditions for having a renaissance are not there. Africa is still mired in warfare and so on and so on.

POM     I raised this with Makgoba, I listed up all the conflicts and that half of all deaths last year in civil conflict took place in sub-Saharan Africa and having talk about a renaissance within an ongoing situation of this nature there certainly isn't peace in the Congo nor is there going to be. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that that's not a stable situation. This again is South African led and yet talking to people who are not from SA, and I think the Mail & Guardian got a very good cross-section of what I've gotten in other countries about people's attitude towards SA, that they think they're the Yankees of Africa, they think they know what's best for everybody, that they look down on other people and therefore they're in the least position to start leading, telling where the continent ought to be going and what it ought to be doing, that it's resented by other countries, and whoever is propagating these ideas here just don't get that.

     Two is on the question of Africanism and language. On the one hand this seems to say African culture, African language, African way of thinking (which I don't know what it is), perhaps a greater emphasis on community than on the individual, will be at the fore but these are contrary to the direction in which the whole global order is going, i.e. language might be the one. You have Penuell Maduna saying we could use English in the courts. We were with some of Judy's friends the other night having dinner and a doctor said whereas they used to get circulars in Afrikaans and English and now they just get them all in English and English is the language if the English don't have their Empire they won the language war in the sense that it's the international language and the language children must have if they are to make it in a global society. Is there a contradiction between saying on the one hand we must go back and discover our culture and our roots and our values and our thinking, and on the other hand saying we must adopt competitive world values, that the market place is a tough place to survive and you have to know how to do so? There's a different value system.

WJ     What we have is a modernising elite, a modernising elite that is very determined and very powerful and very modernistic, but they have to genuflect towards tradition, traditional values, whatever those things are, and they have to contain in the body politic institutions that are rooted in emerging communities around tribalism, have to contend with tribal institutions still. So that creates tensions and contradictions but there is no doubt in my mind that the elite that we have presently, the political elite, is a modernising one. So all this talk about traditional values and ubuntu and so on it's not nonsense but it certainly is not something that has any real weight to it.

POM     But if you're politically correct you pay due regard to it.

WJ     You must do that and you must be able to talk to Patekile Holomisa about traditional leader institutions that form a base of your constituencies. What's the language for that? It's a language of tradition and traditional values and African philosophy and so on. But if you penetrate what is the meaning of those things then it's not very clear other than the fact that there are certain habits and certain customs that do not correspond very neatly to whatever you conceive as the best of customs. This is a powerful model now, this elite, and I would not say that it's Stalinist but it certainly has some resemblances to the style of rapid force industrialisation that we saw in the Soviet Union in the 1930s and 1940s, an effort to push very hard to modernise.

POM     I often thought and had wanted somebody else to do it, to do just a small research report particularly on the exiles who came back and occupy most (or did in the first government) most of the positions of government and see where they spent their exile, where they were trained and to see what impact their training had on their way of thinking. Because if you were trained in Berlin or you were trained in Moscow you came back with a certain mode of thinking. Now you can drop the ideology but the mode of thinking, of how to analyse things, will be the same even though the outcome you want might be a different one.

WJ     It's particularly important if you were to conceive of political conduct as a consequence of let's call it calculated instinct rather than rationality. I would say that the instincts of most of the people in the ANC are not democratic and those instincts are cultivated and given a gloss through an educational process and I am sure that when this report is done it will be shown quite clearly that most of the key people were trained somewhere in Eastern Europe. The head of Intelligence right now was a Stasi man and we know what Essop Pahad's exposure was in terms of his own education which was Soviet, and you can go down the line. I think when the chips are down their instincts are not democratic ones. You should commission that report, it would be very interesting.

POM     I've been talking about it for seven or eight years now but I can't get anybody to do it. I could commission it but when you go round this would be a great thing to do.

WJ     You have to throw money at it.

POM     I don't have any money. Why don't you get one of your graduate students here to undertake it. I'll design it. They could do it as an Honours Paper, a thesis.

WJ     It's an interesting topic. By contrast, look at Kader Asmal whose instincts are democratic even though he might qualify here and there. He operates instinctively.

POM     Thirty years of drinking in the bars of Dublin and everything being open to discussion and debate and argument, it will bear preparation for coming into a democratic structure where you express yourself at least, or you believe that argument is not consensus but that differences are more important of opinion, are more important than reaching agreement on something. The Irish like to come away from a good argument believing that they have won the argument, not that they have reached some agreement with the other person because they were better at presenting their case or more clever in duping their opponent. Every device is legitimate as long as you score. That might account for Kader's proclivities. He used to give the Irish government, oh my God, so many headaches, so he revels now whenever he goes back there they have to throw state receptions for him.

WJ     Also there are people in government presently who came through the UDF, who were not in exile and the UDF democrats are another category. So when you're talking about people who were exiled and people who came through UDF ranks and be able to look at what I suppose light trajectories on how they

POM     It would appear that the exiles 'won', (put that in quotes) at least in the first administration and in the second that they came prepared on how to operate because they had thought about the taking over of power, whereas the UDF and the Mass Democratic Movement was more concerned with surviving on the ground here on a day-to-day basis and had no strategic plan as to where will we be when a new dispensation comes into being.

WJ     I would also say that one should worry about where the leadership for the next round of generations will actually come from because this is an unusual period and this is a formative period, so the values and the norms are being shaped right now. What happens in terms of the body politic is crucial at this point in time but we mustn't forget to think about how the next generation of political leadership will be trained and what kind of ethos they will be imbibing and what are the institutions; are they coming through universities, through party ranks, through party leadership training? What kind of leadership training exists? The NP has a Leadership Institute.

POM     Sorry Wilmot, can you recall where we were?

WJ     We were talking about leadership institutions associated with political parties.

POM     The ANC, you said, don't have a Leadership Institute.

WJ     Not as a separate one. The NP has got a separate body called The Federal Training Institute in Pretoria. Inkatha has a training institute. The ANC doesn't, it has something that is devoted simply to training but it clearly trains people. So how that's done is also an issue that somebody should write a paper on and ask the question: where are the next generation of political leadership coming from and what is the nature of their education?

POM     Just to move from that to government priorities and among them, I would assume, is the need to reduce the size of the public sector to get rid of excess public servants. Yet it would appear that given the labour legislation that they passed in the last session it's virtually impossible to fire anybody or to retrench them and that those who were are at the end of the sunset clauses, all those who would be retrenched, are now protected by the labour laws passed by the ANC government. Again, here is a dichotomy, you can't get rid of people.

WJ     Yes. This is true.

POM     I found the whole farcical situation about the Director of Correctional Services hilarious. Here is a man who has taken R1.2 million and named a scholarship after himself, given himself merit increases, in a normal public service or in the private sector he would have been fired on the spot and by the time his boss had finished telling him he had been fired his desk would already have been cleaned out and the locks on the door changed. Yet he drew it out over parliamentary meetings, he was going to hire a lawyer to look for a golden parachute, he got that he would be allowed to resign and receive his pension. It's not how you go about setting an example of how you are creating clean government.

WJ     What the labour law has done is make it enormously difficult to fire anybody. That's true. That applies not only to the public service but to universities, the private sector and so on. It's a real albatross and that is because the labour law is designed to protect the vested interests of categories of employees quite ironically. The trade unions had a strong hand in that through the Labour Department and so I'm not sure whether you've looked at the detail of the labour law but the steps you have to go through makes it such an arduous, complicated, difficult process that goes wrong, in legal terms, very easily. So it is a problem and on the one hand you have a finance ministry that says that these things must happen and you are now placed in the global order and our macro-economic framework and what have you, it's very important to downsize the public sector, on the other hand it can't be done.

POM     Talking of that, last year we both had been very critical of GEAR and saying GEAR is dead and must be abandoned, must be radically readjusted or whatever. Given the cuts in interest rates that have occurred, the seeming prospects for growth in the year 2000, do you think that GEAR now -or even there is talk about budget surplus do you think GEAR now has more relevance than it had a year or two years or three years ago, or that it really shows that the economy is at the whim of external forces and because the external forces have changed the country may start growing or it may not but it's certainly not going to create jobs?

WJ     The growth is still jobless, the investment patterns are not all that different.

POM     There is no foreign investment, it's down to a trickle.

WJ     The trading statistics are very stable. There is some growth here and there. The consumption patterns in this country are still very depressed and we might come out of that with the interest rate dropping as it has over the last year in quite a substantial way. There are fairly major sources of revenue coming with the increase in the tourist traffic that comes mostly into the Western Cape but somewhere else as well. So the patterns in terms of the economy are really much the same. What has changed is the decline in interest rates which will stimulate credit consumption but then the population hasn't saved very much and where the level of household debt has actually gone high. What will happen, my guess is, with declining interest rates it will affect different constituencies differently, but in terms of the consumer probably you're going to see increasing levels of credit in a population that is already in debt.

POM     So they're robbing one of the sources in a way of investment, saving being one of the components that are there for investment, it's reducing the resources that are available for investment internally, increasing their reliance on foreign investment which is not coming, therefore compounding the problem of sustained growth.

WJ     The other thing that has happened is that the price of gold, as it has been in this country's history, has been a major accidental source of short-lived optimism and the improvement in the price over the last month is a result of a series of agreements that I really am curious about, how they were done, involving Switzerland and the Swiss banks and other banks and really an agreement not to restrict off-loading bullion onto the market, onto the gold market and the impact of that is a rise in the gold price which then would give the gold mining industry some kind of boost and then provide the SA government through the Reserve Bank with its basis for its foreign exchange plans, which is what the pattern has been in the past. I don't know how sustainable that is. The price of gold goes up and then comes down. One day you're fine, the next day not.

POM     Agreements done like that can as easily be undone as physical circumstances in the countries in question change. They're not going to say, "Poor South Africa, this is going to have a huge impact there." They're going to say, "This is us." So, again, it's subordination of policy to western institutions. One of the contradictions I find in this whole debate about African thinking and Africanisation and African renaissance and whatever is that there is no better disciple of the IMF and the World Bank and no more strict adherent to the Washington Consensus than the ANC.

WJ     Correct.

POM     They fight tooth and nail about in terms of these institutions in emerging markets and at the same time I'm very proud that Trevor Manuel is now on the Board.

WJ     In a sense, just given what you've been saying, is that GEAR in a sense is irrelevant in many respects. It is relevant domestically when it comes to certain things but in terms of being able to, what do they call these things? getting the fundamentals right, is that that is shaped just by global forces so easily it makes the whole framework not an informed one.

POM     Well everyone says we have the fundamental rights but it's like, so what's happened? The answer is no-one seems to give a damn. I want to turn to just a couple of questions that are backwards, not forwards. One concerns when Mandela was released and the war in Natal was raging between Inkatha and the IFP. One would have thought Mandela with his sense, his vision of the need of black solidarity in the face of negotiating with the government, that one of his first actions would have been to meet with Buthelezi and to say, listen, we've got to work this out between us, we've got to bring an end to this war and this violence, it's decimating our people, we're killing each other maybe with a helping hand from the security forces but the security forces are not responsible for the killing of thousands of people, they might encourage it but let's get together. Now Buthelezi says Mandela did ring him, Mandela did thank him for his support while he had been in prison and they had maintained, even during the late eighties, a warm relationship and Mandela offered to visit him and the King and to lay a wreath at the grave of King Shaka and that they agreed on dates and then that Mandela got back to him and said he would be unable to do it. Then they were to appear at a joint rally in Pietermaritzburg and again Mandela backed off and didn't do it. His willingness to visit Buthelezi had been vetoed by the NEC in Lusaka and vetoed by the ANC in Martizburg under Harry Gwala. My point is this, in one of the chapters of his book where Mandela talks about when he made the decision to write to Kobie Coetsee making an opening to the government, he said he made the decision alone, he was then imprisoned on his own, the other three were on a floor above him and this gave him the opportunity to pursue it and he made a point of saying sometimes a leader must step out in front of his followers and make the bold stroke. Here is a conspicuous example of him not making the bold stroke, of him saying, "I'm a loyal ANC member, I will follow what the ANC says in this regard."

     One, do you think it would have made a difference had he gone to Buthelezi, if he had said to the ANC, "I'm going", but had he just, even leaving aside that, let's say the ANC said go ahead and do it, had he gone to Buthelezi at that point do you think it would have made a difference, (i) in the continuing course of that conflict which took 4000 lives between 1990 and 1994, and (ii) in the directions that negotiations themselves might have taken had the IFP and the ANC come in as a united front facing the NP government and not giving the NP government the opportunity to play Inkatha both ways?

WJ     I'm not sure it would have made a difference. It's a very interesting question. I'm not sure whether that would have made a difference to the level of violence because I'm not sure how much control Buthelezi and the people around him had over it, although I must believe that they had some control over it. So I am uncertain about that. I am much more certain about the fact that had he honoured Buthelezi, because that's what we're talking about, in the way that they envisaged then the negotiations would have been a lot easier and that Inkatha would have been a much more co-operative party in negotiations and the finalisation of the constitution which followed that, 1994. So our passage would have been a much smoother passage had he done that and it has to do partly with Buthelezi's personality. He's a very vain man and very needy in terms of affirmation and he wants to be honoured and he wants to be recognised. When he was asked to serve as Acting President nothing could have been nicer for him. He just loved it. So it's an appeal and maybe Mandela understood this and others didn't, but it was an appeal to his vanity and to his sense of royal grandeur or something that such things would have made a difference. You'd think a visit is not such an important thing but it's actually crucial, it's a matter of honour.

POM     There are two bits to this as I found out last week because I related this to Joe Matthews and he said he couldn't have been asked to visit Shaka's grave because the Zulu King does not go to funerals, period, and does not visit graves and this thing of laying wreaths on graves is a European thing, it's not something that we do. So I actually had all the faxes of my conversations with the King and Buthelezi faxed from Boston until I found the damn passage in which Buthelezi comes out, and the King, on two separate occasions and give their account of what happened and they both use the phrase 'visiting Shaka's grave, even though it's not our custom to do so we were prepared to do so for Mandela'. And Mandela was somebody who is also intimately knowledgeable about royal protocol. He makes the point again, while he was even in prison, of serving as an adviser, trying to advise the King of the Tembu. He knew what turning down the King of Zulus, saying I just can't make it, that that was insulting, against tradition, disrespectful according to his own values. So what do you think led him to be so easily persuaded by the ANC at that point?

WJ     I have no idea. The answer depends on who did the persuasion, who persuaded him from doing that and I'm not sure who the personalities are.

POM     So do you think if the personalities had been Sisulu, Kathrada, the guys who had been in prison and who had been out for a year, that would have been the voice he would have listened to because he really didn't know much about or Tambo, though Tambo would have been against it? Maybe I'll end on it. I have lots of questions for you.

     Very, very quickly, among all the things you said about what Mbeki's priorities were you never mentioned AIDS and everyone I've talked to when I ask them to say what is the greatest challenge facing this country in the next ten to fifteen years, not a single person from ministers on down at any level has ever said AIDS is the priority of priorities except Kader Asmal and then he did it in the context of education. Why on the one hand is it their hallelujah and everybody wears their pins and AIDS is a real problem, and not an understanding that you're not going through even a pandemic here, you're going through a plague and that unless enormous amounts of resources are galvanised will undercut the entire social structure of the country within a period of 20/25 years?

WJ     It's a national emergency and it doesn't have the colour of a political national emergency. When I look at Thabo Mbeki and how he behaves it's like he's playing to a tune. It's quite a limp response to the issue and that's remarkable just given the fact that it is a national emergency and it will wipe out a huge section of our population.

POM     Reduce, the projection is by 2005 life expectancy will be down into the late forties and by 2010 it will be down into the mid forties. So you're training people, even in education you're training people and for every rand you spend on them rather than getting a return of ten rands at least half that rand is going down the drain, the person's going to be dead. So the skills base you need is not being created, leaving aside even the consideration of the human toll and what it does to families. So what's the missing link?

WJ     I'm not sure. The Health Minister is very nice and sweet and actually quite good in many respects but there is no leadership coming from that ministry in terms of dealing with the question of AIDS and in fact they have been busy fire-fighting issues and we have a remarkable thing of the President declaring himself on a product, Glaxo and AZT, which is an extraordinary thing to do and then the Ministry of Health trying to fix it. So I am not sure what's motivating that. You declare yourself on the product but what you don't do is say that this is a national emergency and you come before the nation and say so and you line up your forces in a televised presentation, coming from the President, about this issue. So there's this national sense of I don't know, it's like a blob I feel that there's some attention paid to it and Thabo Mbeki would show his face in certain places where there will be a photo opportunity with kids. That's all very nice and so on, and they say the right sorts of things but there is no sense of emergency at all coming out of government which is extraordinary and hard to explain. I'm not sure.

POM     This whole issue of notification which the government appeared to be for, almost the pressure from NGOs not to do so reminds me remarkably of the pressure that came in the States in the mid eighties at a time when it appeared as if it was going to spread, become a heterosexual disease, but once it became apparent it was only going to affect gays and poor blacks who were drug addicts it went off the government's agenda. But the whole issue of notification for a while, particularly with the gay community, was a big issue and by a sufficient lobby they were able to ensure that it didn't happen. Here you have NGOs saying no, it would drive people underground. But if this is, as you say, a national emergency one of the first things you do is you try to gauge the full extent of it and what you have to deal with to mobilise the resources and one would think that notification is something even though it's not desirable, is necessary. That's what states of emergency are about. As I said to Cyril Ramaphosa, it's either a yes or a no.

WJ     That's a yes.

POM     I would like to take a bit of time, or five minutes, on the pathology of rape, the debate on which came to a screaming halt when Mbeki announced that the figures were based on pure conjecture and rather than there being a rape every 26 seconds, (it is not so much). Notwithstanding that child abuse, particularly the molestation of children, rape of children, gang rape, violence in the home, which I think accounts for 30% of all crime, what does it say about the society? What's out there?

WJ     It's horrifying. What is says about society is horrifying.

POM     You have 75% of all rapes are gang rapes. We're not talking about sexual gratification. Are we talking about anger, powerlessness?

WJ     I think that would be kind. I think that rape is part of the ritual of being a member of a gang, it's the entrance ticket. That's what's driving it. The bigger picture has to do with gangs obviously serving a certain social function, providing support, emotional, moral and otherwise to people, to kids at a fairly young age growing up in the townships mostly who are not part of a stable family life and find gangs, therefore, attractive. Then the internal rules of gangs, say on the Cape Flats, is that rape is often a requirement to membership and it's gone further than that as well. So what you have is a horrible thing that's self-reproducing with consequences of the kind that you were describing. Then a degree of pathology within households as well in terms of child abuse that takes place and spousal abuse that takes place mixed up with alcoholism that I think has always been there but now it's become much more open and is discussed, stories in the newspapers and so on. But it's a story about a very, very unhealthy, dysfunctional society.

POM     Which will take generations to come right.

WJ     I hope not, probably generations, but I think that there has to be some good start in terms of legal remedies and in terms of devoted, dedicated policing strategy to deal with the gang question. It's difficult. The LA Police didn't get it right but they made some progress.

POM     Sorry who didn't?

WJ     The Los Angeles Police a society made up of gangs in townships or in ghettos.

POM     Has there been much research done into that, into gangs here on the Cape Flats?

WJ     Yes, our Institute for Criminology does quite a bit, Wilfred Scharf.

POM     He's on sabbatical for a year.

WJ     Yes, he knows quite a bit about it.

POM     I must get in touch with him again when he comes back. Just finally, is the SA that is emerging the kind of SA you had envisaged in a post-apartheid era where you would have a democratic government or are the problems it's experiencing the product itself of the past and the way the past and the present intermix, really problems that you encounter in a country undergoing a fundamental transition and all the uncertainties and upheavals and breakdown in values and modes of conduct that come with that?

WJ     It's not the country that I envisaged. The one surprise has been the level of violence that has emerged. One could say that this is not untypical of a transitional society. Russia has a similar problem.  The type of SA that is emerging is one where you live your life by going from one security zone to another.

     With all that is associated with democratic institutions and the freedom that we have that we didn't have in the past and not being persecuted and not being harassed and not being thrown in jail and so on, has been replaced by a different kind of repression, some of which has to do with the present government, some of which has to do with social things beyond their control and it's a life of negotiating in a pre-determined way what would be the safest course of mobility. That's a strange life.

POM     What would be the safest course of?

WJ     Of mobility, of moving, of negotiating your way through this place. I spent three days at a friend's house in Amherst, Massachusetts, it was lovely. I was with my daughter as well, and they didn't lock their door ever. I remember that when I lived in Newhaven, or outside of Newhaven, Newhaven is not very safe, for a year and a half and you just never locked your door because nobody would come in and take your things, never mind commit acts of violence. That level of civic peace and respect for one another is, I suppose, a bit of a dream but that's what people also wanted in addition to having a democratic society and we don't have it in SA.

POM     I will just end on an anecdote on that, is that one of the safest places to live is West Belfast which is the epicentre of the IRA and the political violence and whatever, but what they call ODCs, ordinary decent criminals, don't function, nobody locks their door ever and you're safe on the streets at two o'clock in the morning and there is no rape, there is no mugging, there is no violent crime. It's extraordinary. Now maybe all that will change I'm beginning to think when you have all these former gunmen who can now no longer use guns on 'political causes' but still have access to weaponry, what do you do? Gang heists? I often wonder how many MK people are out there with weapons, former MK people, because they never got a stake in society, and two, because they never solved the issue of the decommissioning of arms here satisfactorily or ever.

     Buthelezi was offered the Deputy Presidency on the condition that he would agree to an ANC Premier in KZN and he turned it down. Now he's in his seventies, this is in a way the way he might say it, the beginning of the last hurrah one way or the other, it would have been a grand thing to end up as Deputy President and to be Acting President whenever Mbeki was out of the country, which is quite frequently, and to be attending functions and going abroad and being the statesman he always has regarded himself as. And yet over an issue related to politics in his own province he turned it down. Why?

WJ     I don't think he could have gotten away with it with Inkatha. That's all I'm going to say because now I'm going to throw you out.

POM     You can't just end on that. Will there be an Inkatha after Buthelezi?

WJ     I don't know about that. That's another discussion point.

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.