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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

24 Nov 1999: Buthelezi, Mangosuthu

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POM     Minister, I want to take you back in time and that is when we met first, this is immediately after President Mandela's release from prison, and he says in his diary that you were one of the first people that he called, that you were close, that he wanted to thank you for your support of him while he had been in prison, your insisting that you would not negotiate until he was released and the organisation unbanned.

MB     Quite. Now in the course of that conversation does he ask to visit you and the King?

MB     Correct.

POM     And this is the first conversation?

MB     Correct.

POM     And does he ask to lay a wreath on the grave of King Shaka?

MB     Yes.

POM     Did you consult the King or say that would be fine?

MB     I informed the King.

POM     And the King said there would be no problem with that?

MB     No.

POM     So that was at the very beginning?

MB     It was the very first conversation.

POM     Where he said, "I would like to visit you"?

MB     That's correct, yes.

POM     In the meantime now Mandela doesn't quite describe it that way in his book. I'll go back and tell you what he said.

MB     That's very interesting, fascinating, absolutely fascinating.

POM     In his book he says that he called you to thank you but he doesn't say that he asked to visit you and the King.

MB     Yes, but of course there is even written evidence that when he wrote to me, when my cousin, the father of the present King, died, King Cyprian, that ceremony when he died, he wrote a letter lamenting the fact that the King had died because he was hoping that when he was released I would accompany him to pay his respects. So that is a precedent because it has always been his trend of thought and he did see other traditional leaders in the Transkei and other places as well.

POM     Now he did say that he wanted to see you. Now he says, he goes on to say, that after calling you and thanking you, but not mentioning anything about a visit.

MB     Even dates were fixed.

POM     OK. Then he says he went to Lusaka and brought up the visit, or the idea of visiting you and the King, with the ANC in Lusaka and that he was voted down.

MB     Pardon? I was voted down?

POM     No, he was voted down.

MB     Oh I see.

POM     They voted down the visit. He said he returned from Lusaka, he telephoned you and the King and explained that Walter Sisulu would be coming to visit the King in Nongoma not in Ulundi.

MB     Exactly, it's accurate.

POM     That's accurate, OK. He said when he was at Victor Verster the King had invited Sisulu to visit him.

MB     Because the insulting thing about that is that we never took independence, we were always part of SA and we worked with the ANC all along precisely because we rejected apartheid. Then for Mr Sisulu to say that he wouldn't come to Ulundi was ridiculous, the more so that even a capital like Bisho was created just now whereas Ulundi was the capital of my patron father, King Cetshwayo. It's where it was burned down by the British in 1879 and today they're operating from Bisho and also from Mmabatho which was the capital of Bophuthatswana. You can see how ridiculous it is that they wouldn't come to Ulundi, even judging by subsequent actions.

POM     Just as an aside I was talking to Joe Matthews yesterday and he said that you and Roelf Meyer had had some negotiations in 1988/89, it was called 'The Obstacles to Negotiations Commission.'

MB     Yes, correct, that is correct.

POM     One of the things that you were offered during the period when they were trying to get you to accept independence is that they even offered you white Natal.

MB     Yes of course.

POM     They offered you Durban and they gave you the whole lot and you turned that down.

MB     Absolutely. No, on the principle that I couldn't accept on the basis of grandiose apartheid. I believe in federalism, I believe in devolution of power. KwaZulu-Natal I wish, like other provinces, should have had a certain measure of autonomy but not on the basis of apartheid you see. I wouldn't accept that.

POM     Just to cover that, because we can do it very quickly, the Obstacles to Negotiations that you discussed with this committee headed by Roelf Meyer or whatever prior to Mr Mandela's release was the release of Mr Mandela, the unbanning of organisations. Were there other obstacles in the way too?

MB     Then, of course, I said their release from jail and the return of the exiles was non-negotiable.

POM     Return of the exiles.

MB     I said it was non-negotiable. Under no circumstances would we agree to sitting down with the government if all that didn't happen. That was not negotiable.

POM     To go back to Mandela's account. Mandela says the King did not find anything about Sisulu coming to Ulundi acceptable. He quotes the King as saying, "I am the King, I have invited him to come and see me in Ulundi and he has no right to say 'I will see you elsewhere'." So the King refused to budge.

MB     But that is not true, it isn't true that. You must remember that at that time, it's before the King's mind was poisoned about me, we still worked very closely with the King. The King used to come to – the King even now in the Legislative Assembly, he has got a house in that complex, I mean, rather, an office, precisely because he was the King of the nation and when the nation therefore met in Ulundi either in the Legislature Assembly or whatever he used to come there. One of his wives was in fact residing in Ulundi.

POM     Queen Thandi?

MB     Yes. Correct.

POM     I met her there. I couldn't find the King and I couldn't get through to his office so I spent the whole day sitting outside her palace in Ulundi until she came home in the evening and then I introduced myself and she went inside and got on the phone and she said, "Go to Nongoma tomorrow morning at ten o'clock." So the King did not say to Sisulu - or do you know?

MB     No he did not. In fact it's the first time I hear that. I've never heard of it.

POM     At this point, OK. Now did Mandela at any point, these are in the first months after he was released – ?

MB     Of course he did because he started dithering after that.

POM     This is what I want to ask you.

MB     But clearly he stated why he differed, that he was a captive. In fact I even said at the time he had become a greater captive than he was in jail, I said, because of these people.

POM     Did he at any time during this period inform you that the National Executive Committee in Lusaka had turned down his offer to go and visit you?

MB     No he never said it. Never did.

POM     Did you even ever know that he had raised the question with the National Executive?

MB     It's the first time I hear about it. It's interesting you know, Professor, because before that there was a time when Dr Oscar Dhlomo, who was the Secretary General of the IFP, afterwards exchanged some notes with Mr Mandela, after his operation. He had actually wanted me to visit Mr Mandela in jail. In fact then some people who were go-betweens decided that I shouldn't go to see him, but Mr Mandela sent a message suggesting to me that I should go to Lusaka to see Mr Tambo.

POM     That you should go to Lusaka to see Mr Tambo?

MB     To see Mr Tambo, yes.

POM     Did you ever?

MB     No I didn't.

POM     You didn't do that. OK.

MB     The conflict now and the vitriol was of such a nature that I could not have ventured to go there because if there was any person they hated it was me. The language they used –

POM     I still have the huge file you gave me when I met you first, I think it goes to 600 pages, of derogatory remarks that had been made about you. They are still on my shelf at home in Boston. In May then, Mandela says that in May 1990 he persuaded the ANC of the need to make a visit to you and the King, and I quote him, "The King approved but a week or so before the visit I received a letter from him saying I must come alone. This proved to be the last straw and the National Executive Committee would not give in to such a demand."

MB     In fact I'm not aware of this.

POM     "I told the King that I could not come unless I was accompanied by my colleagues. The King regarded this as another slight and cancelled the visit."

MB     Well I really don't know but I'm not aware that the King insisted that he should come alone. I definitely do not remember that. I don't think that is true. But I don't want to speak for the King on that matter.

POM     Then he says, "My goal", he goes on, "was to forge an independent relationship with the King separate from my relationship with Chief Buthelezi. Fidelity to the King in KZN was far more widespread than allegiance to Inkatha." Is this showing a double agenda on his part? He's trying to play one of you off against the other?

MB     Yes. Most definitely, playing one against the other. Clearly so. Which in fact they have tried to do subsequent to that, as you know.

POM     He also says in February 1990 he went to Durban and addressed over 100,000 people at Kings Park. He says, "I told them to throw their guns and their pangas into the sea and end this war now." He says his call fell on what he calls deaf ears. He then says he was so concerned that in March 1990 after one very bad spasm of violence he announced on his own that he would meet you at a mountain hamlet outside of Pietermaritzburg.

MB     He distorts things.

POM     He found that such a meeting –

MB     It didn't go on like this.

POM     He found that such a meeting despite the fact that the – personally he says he found that such a meeting, despite – that personal relations between you were close and respectful. He says that. He says that, but again when he raised the idea of going to Pietermaritzburg to meet you at this mountain hamlet that the ANC called such a meeting an anathema to the ANC in Natal and they wouldn't agree to it, they said it was dangerous and they vetoed the meeting. He says he went to Pietermaritzburg but did not meet with you. Now did he ever offer again, write to you, phone you to say let us meet in Pietermaritzburg?

MB     This is distorted because on January 29th 1991 Mr Mandela led a delegation of the ANC to Durban, even the present President was part of that delegation, Mr Zuma was there and others, and we met at the Royal Hotel. Then there were decisions that were taken there and one of them was that in order to address this violence we should also address joint rallies of our people. As it happened, then there was a rally scheduled at Taylor's Halt outside Martizburg so I phoned him and said here is an opportunity, let's go and address this together. He agreed. The first time I heard from Dr Oscar Dhlomo, he was Secretary General, saying that Mr Mandela is no longer coming. So I phoned him and asked him whether this was true. Then he said Mr Harry Gwala was a member of the South African Communist Party and a busload of ANC people from KZN travelled all the way to Johannesburg to stop him from going there with me. That's what happened. So although some things are true there is distortion.

POM     That's what I wanted to get at. I want to get rid of the distortions.

MB     This is what happened, what I am telling you.

POM     That would bear out then what both Joe Matthews had said. Joe Matthews said the very same thing.

MB     Oh yes, quite.

POM     His account of that meeting is the very same as your account. Now then I come to the question, do you believe that had an early meeting gone ahead between you and Mr Mandela as planned after he was released and the two of you had met and your respect for each other was terrific and he felt close to you, and he says that, that you could have resolved whatever differences were between you, that the two of you could have together resolved to go on joint rallies to different communities throughout KZN, together tell all your people, "The war is over, lay down the arms, the new enemy is the government we're going to negotiate our freedom with, we must go in there together not fighting each other." And do you think that if (i) that could have happened (and I know you don't like to speculate) but knowing yourself and knowing him, do you think you would have worked out your differences and that if this were done that your appeal to your communities would have worked and that thousands of lives would have been saved between 1990 and 1994?

MB     In fact Mr Mandela wrote me a letter in 1989 in his longhand where he said that he was hoping that when he comes out of jail we should get together and address this thing which is a disgrace. That letter, I am sure, is available. It was a disgrace that our people were killing each other. So in the light of that I was convinced that that was correct too. If we had done so I am quite certain that the violence would not have escalated to the extent that it escalated, especially in the nineties.

POM     And do you think that if that had happened that relations between the IFP and the ANC could have improved to the point that you would have been able to approach negotiations as a joint team working on behalf of all blacks in SA?

MB     No doubt about it. There were differences of strategy only. We never had differences on philosophy except, of course, we had differences on the issue of violence. But yes, as Christians one would say that one doesn't embrace violence but at the same time it was a strategy that we didn't think that it was the right strategy to embark on the so-called armed struggle. Secondly, we didn't think it was a good strategy to advocate sanctions and disinvestment because we said that would impoverish our own people and destroy the poorest of the poor. Those were the things we differed on. There is no reason whatsoever why in negotiating the future of SA we could not have worked together. There is no reason, I find no reason.

POM     And the outcome of the negotiations in terms of there being a more federal structure and all of that could have been much different?

MB     It would have been much different because even the little poor imitation of a federal state which we have with provinces was actually because of our pressure. But of course it's hardly addressed the issue of devolution as we in the IFP wanted it.

POM     So does this, and this is like a natural follow up, does President Mbeki's tendency to concentrate power in the executive to appoint ANC Premiers in the provinces that the ANC wins, to make the DGs of departments sign contracts with the President's Office, to centralise – ?

MB     There is centralisation of course and I think I and my party are not very happy with that because we see it as a move towards more and more centralisation. But what is even more on that subject are the meetings now that the President says he wants to hold bi-monthly with all the Premiers. That really is too much, to call them together from their provinces and have them get marching orders from him. That is not really conducive to any devolution of powers to them. It rather strengthens not a co-operative government as they see it but a corporative government.

POM     So would you think that the provinces now have less power and particularly those that have ANC ministers or Premiers are more under the thumb of the central government than they were when Mr Mandela was President?

MB     Let me put it this way, that it seems that development in the direction of centralisation is getting more and more, they didn't put it just like that.

POM     Now you must have heard of this Deployment Committee and deployment strategy where the ANC wants to place key cadres in different sections of society, whether it's civil society, business, labour, whatever, parastatals, so that they extend their arm of control, as it were, beyond government to every significant organ in society. Do you find that worrying?

MB     It is very worrying. On the face of it one might say that in terms of delivery to our people maybe they want to make sure that these people deliver, that they do what the government has vowed it wants to do for our people which is called 'a better life for all', but I think that it does worry one that people should be deployed on that basis, on the basis of political affiliation even in the civil service.

POM     Is it like a touch of totalitarianism, making sure your people are everywhere in control?

MB     It smacks of that, let me put it that way. In that sense, therefore, it makes us very uneasy about these developments insofar as we are committed to more devolution of power and to federalism.

POM     When you look back, who benefited most from the prolonging of the negotiating process? Who benefited most from the breakdown of CODESA?

MB     Of course the ruling party did because you remember the breakdown that took place first when there was that Dr Delport and the IFP and the ANC were insisting on this devolution of power and then the ANC decided to walk out.

POM     This was over the question of the percentages?

MB     Yes.

POM     But you're saying the ruling party, you mean the ruling party now, not the ruling party then?

MB     I mean ANC.

POM     Yes, the ANC stood to gain. Do you think that the purpose of the Record of Understanding was really, at least on the part of the ANC, to marginalise you, that they wanted to turn the process into there are two major players and we will decide the way forward and we will decide what arrangements - ?

MB     One finds, if you look at the clippings of that time and the documents, you will find that there was a lot of – the term that was used by them very often was, "The IFP would be marginalised, Buthelezi would be marginalised." So there is no doubt about it, there was a programme which sought to marginalise us, as they put it.

POM     Other writers and in fact people close to President de Klerk who were on his negotiating team and were close to him, again with the benefit of hindsight, have said that he was a very good tactician, a brilliant tactician.

MB     Who?

POM     President de Klerk when he was President. He was a very good tactician but that he had no sense of strategy. Would you agree with that?

MB     He didn't. We think so too because there are many things that we discussed with them about a way forward which they abandoned which confirms what you are saying about them and about him.

POM     Do you think on the day he released President Mandela –  ?

MB     For instance, they decided in the interim constitution to prescribe that any party with more than 5% should go into a government of national unity but they were the first to leave it, you see. One wondered, because that was based on the deals that they reached with the ANC, why they would then walk out of it.

POM     Do you think that was a mistake on their part, that it contributed towards - ?

MB     Well I've heard many of them say that they realise that they didn't gain anything politically by doing so, in fact they lost.

POM     How would you explain their, that's the New National Party, very poor performance in the recent general elections?

MB     I really am not surprised because I think that even the departure of Mr de Klerk was bound to affect the party in the way it affected it because that party was led by people with whom we didn't agree but they were all very powerful characters, they were very strong personalities and so on, including De Klerk himself. So when he quit I think that dealt a very severe blow to his party.

POM     This is a question that has puzzled me so I'm looking for enlightenment. When the elections were coming up every opinion survey, and I know you don't put a lot of stock in them because they always get the proportion of the vote the IFP is going to get, they always get it wrong by large margins, but to the widespread perception that the ANC had done a bad job on crime, they had done a bad job on creating jobs, that they had done a bad job on providing housing, a bad job on providing the necessities of education, a bad job on their overall handling of the economy, and yet they come out of the election with a higher proportion of the vote than they got in 1994.

MB     Yes, what about that?

POM     How do you explain that? Normally a party going into an election that had so many - for the electorate appeared to be so dissatisfied.

MB     I really don't know but if I look at what happened in India, for instance, then of course the 1994 election was a liberation election, but then subsequent ones for quite a while the Congress Party of Nehru was returned and returned and returned. Of course we still have an element of that as well. Then although every commentator was saying that this would be an easy election, it wasn't really. It still had a tinge of liberation politics. They still spoke liberation politics because there are many people including members of the ANC who sounded disillusioned, who were saying all sorts of things. Therefore, logically one cannot explain except what I am saying, that I compare the situation to India, that the Congress Party was returned a few times until, of course, more recently.

POM     Do you think that pattern will repeat itself here for some time?

MB     It seems to me that that is very likely that this will happen here too, because you see many of our people they sometimes say why does the IFP vote with them on some of the things like the Equity Bill, for instance, which is a lot of things we don't agree with. Now it's become very bad with us, what happens is that some of the good intentions are there, if they want to do certain things for the majority of the poor people who are our constituency we cannot even if there are so many things that we do not like, we cannot be seen by our people as opposing them, getting some of the things that are going to be delivered to them by that legislation. So we find ourselves in that quandary, in a cleft stick situation. When it comes to voting we disagree but then have to vote with them because we cannot be seen by the masses of our people as people who don't want them to get what that legislation is meant to give black people.

POM     How does that work in Cabinet? The government now is a voluntary coalition of the ANC and the IFP and you have three ministers in Cabinet. How does the Cabinet work in practice? Do you discuss a particular issue?

MB     For many years, the last six years, what has happened, and my colleague can bear me out although he joined us later in the Cabinet, but what has happened in the Cabinet over the years there were many things that we disagreed with as IFP and very often I would even present Cabinet with a memorandum having read the memoranda the previous day and I would even present a memorandum to voice our difference with whatever they brought. But then what happens, Mr Mbeki would say that the Secretariat must please note the disagreements or the objections of the IFP and then, of course, they say they've reached consensus, then they just go ahead. That's how it is operated.

POM     You've touched, at least to me, on something very, very important and that is that you can disagree with a Cabinet decision yet when the Cabinet makes a decision you become part of that decision.

MB     Well actually having recorded it, my disagreement, I don't see what more I can do because Cabinet don't vote, they don't record votes. Cabinet decides by consensus. If the person who is presiding says that we are in the majority, there is consensus, what can I do? I've already said that I don't agree with it but there's nothing more I can do.

POM     But would you then go outside parliament and put on your IFP cap and say – ?

MB     Even in the legislature there are many things, bills that have gone through the Executive, that we as IFP adopt different attitudes towards them than the ANC.

POM     I know that one of the most effective committees in parliament is the Public Accounts Committee headed by Gavin Woods who doesn't mind hauling ministers over the coals. One of the most effective Portfolio Committees in parliament is headed by Gavin Woods who doesn't mind taking ANC ministers and giving them a grilling, whereas it's not very usual for an ANC Portfolio chairman to give his minister a grilling.

MB     It doesn't happen.

POM     Tell me, you have fought all your life for the freedom of SA, you've seen it come. Is the SA that is emerging out of the new freedom the SA you had dreamed of and hoped for or is it turning into something different?

MB     Well the constitution of SA is in many respects far ahead of many constitutions of the west, in fact in certain aspects it's more liberal than some of the best constitutions of the west in the world. So, therefore, as far as that is concerned the basis of how society should conduct its business is the constitution and as far as the constitution is concerned it's a very liberal constitution with the Bill of Rights and so on. No-one can oppose that.

POM     But when you look at the way the country is run in practice and the things that are happening in practice, is this what you thought the new SA would be like; high levels of crime, very high levels of rape?

MB     No definitely not. But I did warn about it because even when we were expressing our differences with the ANC I did say that, for instance, to take up arms would result in a generation of people who would think of nothing but to use arms to solve their problems, and that has happened, and that it would leave a culture of violence. That has happened and that, for instance, when they repeated a slogan, 'Liberation before Education', I said that was wrong, it should be 'Education for Liberation'. In fact what has happened there in the schools, in the schools, even if you pick up the paper today you will read that teachers are worried because they are being killed by students and so on. There are many leaders in this country, including church leaders like Archbishop Tutu, who think that we should pamper young people and let them do as they please and so on, so we are now reaping the whirlwind of that kind of concept because they are the ones actually who instilled or inculcated these ideas in the minds of young people.

POM     Do you think that in many respects there has been a collapse of moral values?

MB     I think even the President acknowledges this, that there is a definite collapse of moral values. He was speaking very passionately about the subject when some of the old age pensioners came to see him here in Pretoria and some of them said that some of their grandchildren were taking away money from them, their pension money, and some of them were complaining of being raped. So there's no doubt whatsoever that we need a revival of the moral values of our people and the moral values of Christianity and so on. There is a lot that needs to be done in that respect.

POM     What do you think, or is it talked about in government, two issues: one is almost the war men are waging against women, the very high incidence of rape no matter what figures you use.

MB     This is very, very worrying. We are very, very concerned. Of course there's been a very big debate now triggered by our President who has said that there is an exaggeration about this matter.

POM     But two-year olds are being raped.

MB     Yes, I was just saying so. I don't think that does help us very much to argue like that because it's the truth, we can say women are hardly safe in this country. Even children are not safe.

POM     Why do you think that is so?

MB     You see there was the United Democratic Front which was the front of the ANC in 1984 and what happened at that time there were kangaroo courts, there were young people actually who sentenced their own parents. There were incidents where we heard that they would ask people to have sexual intercourse with their parents. Those things started at that time.

POM     Children pronouncing sentence on their own parents for not obeying boycotts?

MB     Quite so, because they said this was a liberation struggle, it was conducted like that. We are now left with that legacy of that kind of thing.

POM     The other big issue is if I asked you what was the biggest challenge facing the country in the next 15 years?

MB     South Africa?

POM     South Africa.

MB     I think the biggest challenge facing us is crime and, of course, also the aftermath of the HIV/AIDS virus which is really raging now like wildfire. So one just sees that it is bound to affect even the economy, there is no doubt about it. It's going to have consequences for us.

POM     I want to congratulate you. I have talked to numerous Cabinet Ministers, senior officials and I've asked them the same question and you are the first one who has mentioned AIDS to me. Believe it or not.

MB     I am really surprised because really it's a thing that we think of all the time. Just look at my colleague's jacket, there it is. There is mine, so much so that this is preoccupying our minds to the extent – you can't sweep it under the carpet. It's a very serious thing.

POM     If you're going to invest in education, particularly to build a skilled working class for the new technologies and half of them are dead by the time they reach 30, if the whole basis of family structures is completely undermined by mothers dying and AIDS orphans and the life expectancy is supposed to come down to the mid-40s by the year 2010 -

MB     It's coming down, it's rapidly coming down.

POM     There will be no country to govern.

MB     There will be nothing, nothing at all.

POM     I know the President has the Partnership Against AIDS and all of that but do you think it is reaching a point where the country has to say AIDS is a national emergency and as a national emergency we have to take certain steps?

MB     Drastic steps.

POM     Drastic steps even if sometimes –

MB     But then we learn today (this will not be written tomorrow, we've known each other for a decade Professor O'Malley, I can speak very friendly to you, you're not just a little journalist but an academic whom I've know for a long time) and I say that even today we're talking about the medium term expenditure framework of our budget and in the budget there is money that is set aside for AIDS to address this problem of AIDS.

POM     Is it enough?

MB     I wouldn't say it's enough really because this thing is ravaging our nation. It really worries me. As someone with children I now know that I'm going to lose half my children because of AIDS. I have seven children and I know that some of them are going to have it, I have no doubt.

POM     If everybody knows it's a huge problem but nobody quite knows what to do about it, is it so immense?

MB     Even now my Public Relations Officer who brought you in, Miss Makawane, looking at my itinerary just now and she was telling me that there's an AIDS meeting next Tuesday.

POM     Tuesday, that's AIDS Day International, 1st December.

MB     And today in the Cabinet, today we also created an AIDS Council. It's a confidential Cabinet memorandum.  This thing is a very serious thing and clearly we will never be able to solve it by ourselves if the world doesn't help us, so it's important for the information, for people to know that we are trying very hard.

POM     My own interest, I must tell you, goes back, I did a book in 1989 on AIDS in the United States and along with the book I'm doing on SA I'm doing one on  AIDS.

MB     ….

POM     I'll just say a National AIDS Council.

     "This Council is to establish, to be represented sectors on the AIDS Council Inter-Ministerial Committee on HIV/AIDS. It is recommended that a National AIDS Council be established to enable government to interact on a national level with various sectors of South African society on issues pertaining to HIV/AIDS. The aim of this NAC is to provide a co-ordinating mechanism to drive the full multi-sector response. The NAC will comprise of 11 core ministers that have a major role in the fight against HIV/AIDS, 13 civil society sectors, 13 representatives from all political parties participating in the National Assembly and donor agencies. Other government ministers will be incorporated in meetings as the need for their participation arises. The South African AIDS epidemic is among the most severe in the world and threatens to become much worse. Although SA's epidemic has been one of the last to develop in Africa the epidemic is now growing rapidly with over 1600 people becoming infected each day. UNAIDs estimates that SA currently has more HIV infected people than any country except India. Predictions indicate that within three years almost a quarter of a million of South Africans will die of AIDS each year; average life expectancy is expected to fall from about 60 years to about 40 years between 1998 and 2008. With between three to four million currently infected with HIV it is likely that the majority of South Africans will be affected by this epidemic as it impacts on family members, friends and workplace colleagues.

     Of those countries that have shown a positive impact and are curbing the spread of the HIV epidemic, the establishment of  multi-sectoral and national forum with strong political commitment is shown to be effective. It is against this background that the South African National Aids Council is conceptualised.

     The Deputy President will chair the National Aids Council, the Ministers of Health, Education, Welfare and Population, Agriculture, Arts & Technology, Transport, Labour, Finance, Provincial & Local Government, Defence, Mineral & Energy."

     I particularly want to get this straight on the record that we talked about. One is, do you think that the ANC has always under-estimated you, and the example I will give you is, do you think that by offering you the Deputy Presidency that they could in a way simply 'buy you off' by saying we will give you the Deputy Presidency but in return – ?

MB     What is the question?

POM     The basis of the question is, do you think the ANC have always under-estimated you?

MB     No, in fact I would say that was a disappointment to me because I hold our President in high esteem as an intellectual giant and so on. But having working with him and having known him long before liberation and having worked with him now for six years, I think that I put him on a higher pedestal than perhaps he deserved. The reaction, my reaction and my disappointment was that in fact I didn't know him when he offered me that position and then added that I must give the premiership of KZN to the ANC. I really thought that if he thought I could be blinded by being Deputy President then to betray my constituency by giving it to them on a platter, I was very disappointed because I thought that by now he should know and understand me better. Many people, including my wife, said these people don't know you. The reaction of many people who know me, including my wife, said these people don't know you if they thought you could be sold on this thing.

POM     Looking back over your long, and this will be in a way my concluding question, over your long career that spans four decades or more, you've come across some extraordinary people. Outside of SA who has struck you as the most extraordinary person that you have met that might have influenced the way you thought or influenced your mind and what you sought for in public life and public service?

MB     Outside? I have many friends that I have met, understanding people. There are big figures, for instance you can see from pictures of Dr Martin Luther King you can see on the wall, but I have never met him. But, of course, when I heard of him and knew of him I was inspired because my own thinking was that way anyway so he strengthened my own beliefs. He's one of those people who did that.

POM     And the difference between Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela? You knew them both a long, long time.

MB     The difference – I don't know, I would think that, for instance, going back to the things that you are asking me, that we discussed just now, Professor, about how President Mandela was trapped, as I know Oliver Tambo he could never be captive like that.

POM     He could never be a captive?

MB     In the same way that President Mandela has allowed himself. I mean to abandon me, for instance, we are friends, even personal friends, not even just political friends, we were even personal friends, to abandon me just because he was under pressure from people he didn't even know before merely because, of course, they had to decide whether he was going to become the head of state or not. In fact I think that if Mr Tambo had been in the same position probably the history of this country would have been different as far as the conflict that we have talked about so much is concerned.

POM     Do you think that if he had been healthy and had come back to SA in 1990 that things would have been quite different?

MB     Quite different. I believe so because I had known him for a long time too.

POM     Do you believe he would have been the first President?

MB     Most definitely, there's no doubt whatsoever.

POM     Everyone says that.

MB     Quite so, no doubt.

POM     What the difference? Some people have said to me that it was intellect, that Tambo had a terrific intellect.

MB     He was yes.

POM     Whereas Mandela was more of a warrior, more a fearless person, a fighter.

MB     No it's correct. I would agree with that. That's the difference between them.

POM     What advice would you give to any young person who's contemplating a career in politics? Are you optimistic about the future of SA?

MB     Well I would abandon what I'm doing if I wasn't. I'm not actually wearing rose tinted glasses, I think there are very big problems and big challenges before us but I am still in harness doing what I am doing because I do still believe that these problems are not insurmountable insofar as even apartheid, which maybe 40 years ago people would say one was dreaming that it would be defeated, was defeated. I have no reason not to believe that we would not overcome the present problems but it's the cost which worries me, not the fact that we will try.

POM     What can be done, this comes back to federalism, about the provinces? The Northern Province has declared itself to be economically non-viable, the Eastern Province is in such a mess that it's barely functional. Will just economic necessity require a re-thinking on whether there are too many provinces, whether there should be fewer provinces with greater devolution of power, that the centre can't deal with the problems of a local rural community?

MB     On the issue of reduction of the provinces I have no particular view. If they were reduced to be effective I wouldn't mind. If they were expanded – as long as devolution, as long as there was subsidarity and one actually got down government to the lowest level possible I would be quite happy.

POM     And what about the – always the last question escapes me but I can't allow this one to develop out of the door and say 'I should have remembered'. One, do you believe that in time that more powers will in fact be devolved to the provinces because that's the only way delivery will be effected?

MB     I wish I knew. How can I guess that? I cannot guess that. Already we have gone over the field that there is too much centralisation. Now that makes me very pessimistic in a way.

POM     I know what I was going to ask you. If you look at what the NP did in 1948 when it took over, how it transformed the civil service to its own liking, where it took every organ of business, civil society, put in key people, where it set up the Broederbond and said we will have people placed in the media, people placed here and people placed there and we will have an eye on everything, do you think that in a funny way that the ANC may be imitating, not for the same purpose –

MB     Well I wouldn't say they're imitating but definitely there's no difference as far as I'm concerned because even when it comes to the public broadcaster the NP did – I was one of the 12 people I remember when TV was introduced here who were not supposed to be given any chance on television. So it's not different.

POM     You were not supposed to be given any?

MB     Appearance on television.

POM     That was SABC policy?

MB     Yes. An instruction from the head of government.

POM     Well on that note I will say thank you for all the help you have given me, insights you have provided me with over the years. It's been a pleasure and, as I told you before, I've kept with the project and you are the only person who has responded on many occasions, taken the time out to respond in your own handwriting saying how busy you were but you would take the time out to do it. I really appreciate it.

MB     Because I respect you as an academic and I think the work you are doing, Professor O'Malley, is very important not only for us but for the human race.

POM     Now universities are getting interested and asking me what am I going to do with all my material, so they want the material to be stored at their university.

MB     I can imagine.

POM     I feel like saying, well if you put out all the money that I've spent on my own on air fares and all transcriptions and employing Judy Drew having to call up everybody.

MB     The stresses of not getting replies.

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.