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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

28 Nov 1999: Naidoo, Jay

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POM     Well, Jay, as I said it's been a year since I saw you. I've last seen you when you disappeared into the wilderness, it was even hard tracking you down. What are you up to these days?

JN     That's a very good question. I'm not in a rush to decide that and I've basically taken six months off, which ends at the end of December. I'm doing writing, writing about some of my own experiences, particularly the labour days, and some of the lessons that we learnt, some of the challenges we faced. I'm spending more time with my family who have moved to Canada for a year or two because my wife's a Canadian. I suppose the key challenge that faces us and that I've been very interested in is how does one almost begin to develop a different economic model for economic growth and sustainability. One of the biggest challenges that faces us both here in the country and across the continent is how does one develop an entrepreneurial model that particularly begins to drive this information revolution that we are part of the world, that in the last few decades it's basically overlooked Africa, how do we plug Africa into the world and use the fact that one of our main obstacles has been the absence of infrastructure to now turn that to our advantage in being able to define the absence of any of this infrastructure, deploying the most modern technologies in building an information battle across the country that harnesses what our leapfrog in technologies to deliver a range of services to people on the continent.

POM     Just to back up on a couple of things. You said - I had been going to ask you at some point – just over a year ago there was this battle of words going on between COSATU and the SACP and the ANC over GEAR and COSATU and the SACP had raised many objections to GEAR and it has all either gone underground or it has disappeared. One hears nothing about tensions between the SACP and COSATU and the ANC on GEAR. Have the SACP and COSATU thrown in the towel on the issue, kind of accepted that GEAR is government policy and that's the way it's going to be? Do they still have the same kind of reservations they had? Is GEAR, as we perhaps have discussed before, an economic model that was driven more by the need to reassure foreigners and particularly the IMF and World Bank than to deal with the developmental needs of the continent and despite all the debate, has there been a debate? Going back to your talk of developing a model for the continent - now allied to that would be, how do you plug a country in or a continent into the information revolution where the levels of illiteracy are so high, where the level of mathematical skills are so low. They are two things going against you. The thing you have going for you is the theory of the late beginner rather than having to continually dispose of old technology, you can leapfrog that and begin your infrastructure with the most modern.

JN     I think the issue of GEAR, as I've said to you before, was more an issue of process which is drawn from our history, that we've always had in the liberation period of our history a very participative and consultative way of determining policy, especially at a macro level. Certainly as a government in the wake of the Asian crisis we had to move to reassure international investors that we were cognisant of what were international trends and what were the international standards. It's not that we can isolate ourselves from that world economy, especially when these forces that presently drive the globalisation of trade, of finance, are very powerful. So I think that we mustn't be naïve about that, that GEAR was an attempt to try and identify a macro-economic foundation to our vision of a reconstruction and development programme. And, yes, we had to be cognisant of certain international standards. It wasn't that we were choosing that to be the lapdogs of anyone, including the IMF or the World Bank. I think that's very clear in our relationship with those organisations up to today. We're one of the countries that has a very independent relationship with those institutions.

POM     So you're saying it was more in the response to the imperatives of a global economy?

JN     Yes it was in response to that and I think that certainly there are things that trade unions and other parts of civil society would take task with. And this is a democracy, we've got to accept that. I think we've got to minimise those issues through a process of engagement but I think that's water under the bridge at the moment. The question is, would you have arrived at a very different outcome through a process of discussion and debate? I don't really think so. I think that what we could have identified, and this is not as if GEAR was a replacement of RDP, because that's what became the debate and the big issue especially for people in civil society, was GEAR replacing the RDP? I think we could have managed that process more effectively. And so we must accept that we made certain mistakes. We mustn't be afraid to do that. At the same time we've got to develop a model of economic growth that also reflects on some of our historical experiences and begins to look at how some of the central challenges facing the SA economy are addressed. The question is the economy is still dominated by large corporations that primarily reflect white interests in this country and even our experiment at black empowerment has not entirely been successful. So there we need to look at it because in a sense while the macro debate is taking place, the real essence of economic growth and development in this country is creating the type of entrepreneurs, thousands of them, that can actively participate in this economy in creating the wealth, creating job opportunities, and the question is, what is the support government affords to those people and unless we begin to do that the main area of job creation is going to come from small and medium enterprise, is going to come from opening up opportunities to people so that they can do their own thing.

     So I think GEAR in a sense, the debate about GEAR, has been replaced by a debate about what are the actual challenges that face the SA economy today and how does one begin to focus on issues of meeting the basic needs of people, creating job opportunities, defining an industrial strategy and beginning to restructure the civil service in a way that meets the needs of society. So I think we've gone back to the debate about how most effectively in a partnership, an active partnership, to begin to deliver the goods.

POM     Let me pick you up on three or four points there. One is with regard to the development of entrepreneurship. I have found with many Afrikaners particularly that I talk to who believe that given transformation and affirmative action programmes that their places in established companies or the civil service are more or less – opportunities there are over for advancement. So they have said if we define a role for ourselves we've got to set up our own businesses. So they are moving towards entrepreneurship as a way to survive whereas when you look at the needs of the state in restructuring the civil service you have more educated and professional blacks moving into the civil service, so your talent is going in the public direction whereas you need the talent that is going in the private direction which is Afrikaners and the like. That's one, how do you deal with that and how do you put entrepreneurship in the context of the informal sector for job growth?

     The second thing, and this is a theme I want to explore with you, when I interviewed SA National Party leaders early in the nineties and I would pose the question to them, if it came down to a choice what would they sacrifice, economic power for political power or political power for economic power? And the answer across the board was always that they wanted to maintain economic power. When I first talked to you back in 1985 and in the period then one of the statistics trotted out was the four conglomerates that controlled 80% of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Today in the world economy, again almost the inevitable momentum is towards mergers, larger is better, downsizing in terms of employees, you face that too. You, COSATU, has moved from nationalisation, or many of the adherents of struggle have moved from advocating nationalisation to being kind of equally into the advocates of privatisation.

     One, do you think that the Afrikaner or the government's fear of communism, state ownership of everything, taking over everything, was a real impediment to getting the negotiating process under way? For example, I've talked to Niel Barnard who was one of the people who opened the discussions with Mandela while he was in prison and I asked him if they had had forty odd conversations, what did they talk about all the time? And he said, "We talked about what kind of society Mandela had in mind, or the ANC had in mind", as though they had already conceded on the issue of one person one vote, it was kind of what then? What are you going to do with society? Are you going to nationalise everything, is it going to be a market driven economy, is it going to be paid-up capitalism, are you going to break up our corporations, will there be right to private property? These were the issues that they were concerned about. Do you think the fear of communism was as real or imagined – was it as real as they made it out to be?

JN     Absolutely. Afrikaners or whites in this country have isolated themselves into a laager, the moral justification of which was given in biblical terms that whites were superior to blacks and they really believed it. Many whites in this country really believed that they were, by virtue of their colour, superior to any other race in this world. I must say that that had its origins in British colonialism. So they actually believe that they had an historic duty and were placed in this continent at God's will, so there was a moral justification. Then they had to create a political justification for apartheid. The political justification was (i) we are incapable of ruling ourselves as black people, and (ii) that we were just bloodthirsty terrorists and communists. They created a real embedded feeling among the white community and basically almost from the day that children were born, socialisation and brainwashing, in spite of the fact that many white kids were brought up by nannies, that they were inherently superior in every way to black people and even the terminology. You want to call your gardener or your maid, you say - where's the girl, or where's the boy, even if he might be old enough to be your grandfather. Everything was these were people who had to be taken care of in spite of the fact that they were taking care of the kids. So it created a political justification for apartheid and in this fear that if we didn't guide these people and maintain our hold on this political system then we will lose the morality that God has given us here to make sure that these heathens and terrorists are civilised.

     And so, yes, there was that, but in the hierarchy there's the economic justification there because this country is enormously wealthy. We are as resourceful, say, as Canada in the world in terms of access to natural resources. Take the Canadian example, the language dispute, they have an enormous middle class in Canada and the extremes of wealth are completely - well it's not heard of what we have seen here. So there was an economic justification ultimately that had to extract value and create an enormously wealthy elite in this country and then create a political system which offered basically, I would say, economic shelter to the majority of whites with the guarantees of job security, job reservation and a whole range of political economic factors that basically destroyed a black entrepreneurial class who were offering competitiveness to white entrepreneurs, including the black farming sector, the black trading sector, consciously destroying that and then forcing people off the land through the Group Areas Act and through the Land Act into wage labour.

     So there is a connection between the moral justification of apartheid, the political justification and then the economic justification. So a lot of people actually believed that. But did the elite believe it? I don't think they believed it, the elite, the leadership of this country.

POM     Well if you're talking in the context of cold war politics at the time, American kids in the fifties, they would have drills at schools where they would run out to bomb shelters and hide under them.

JN     The thing is that the public believed it but the same companies even in the US were running deals. Take De Beers here, deals in terms of maintaining a diamond cartel, maintaining links with the Russians but would say publicly, no, communism is an evil. So at the economic level they were an entirely important basis of when it came to be vested economic interests there was a basis of open talk. Take Nixon, for example, his relationship with Red China, it was the enemy of my enemy is my friend. For the matter of economic convenience the issue of politics and morality never came into the equation. So if you take that side I think that the majority of whites actually believed what was being told to them, believed it and then chose to ignore the reality of what was happening. Look at COSATU, people like us were public enemy number one, in fact even more than the issue of the ANC in exile, the SACP in exile.

POM     Yes, you were here, you were visible.

JN     Here we were seen to be directly mobilising people, attacking the very foundation of apartheid which was economics. And you've got to realise that the foundation of apartheid is the economic exploitation of the majority of black people in this country.

POM     Well in that sense they would see that if they were replaced by a black government that was socialist, that would nationalise everything around it from their flowers in their garden to the biggest conglomerates and break things up, that this would have –

JN     Let me give you an example. Jayendra Naidoo he used to be my chief negotiator and in the early nineties he made a joke in a meeting of business and journalists in which he said in a discussion on wealth tax, should there be a wealth tax or not? And from our view we wanted a debate on this issue. Is it appropriate to have a wealth tax? A typical issue, how do you determine a wealth tax? Is it based on race, is it based on income? So he makes a joke that perhaps the basis of determining this was people who had swimming pools, so anyone who had a swimming pool we will impose a swimming pool tax and that would be the basis of the wealth tax! So he makes this as a joke. I mean we had screaming headlines, COSATU proposes wealth tax on all people who have swimming pools. That's the extreme to which you can take it.

     I would say, let's come back to the questions you ask. The majority of whites also for the sake of their own rationalisation believed what was being told to them and chose to ignore the facts even though the facts were staring in their eyes. But ultimately because of our interface with employers over the seventies and the eighties we did strike relations with the core of apartheid which was the economic pillar. And, yes, we had a period of bloody fights with employers in this country but we began to respect each other. In 1979 we had no agreements with employers from the emerging trade union side and then we struck agreements, Smith & Nephew, some of the multinationals, which began to see long term that economic apartheid and their economic interests would be jeopardised unless they found the relationship with people on the other side. So in their interaction with us they found people who were tough negotiators but bloody reasonable and once you struck the deal, you struck a deal.

     Our emphasis in the late seventies, early eighties was building a layer of shop stewards. We invested enormously in that, in building this layer and taking people who were illiterate, this comes back to your earlier question, people who were illiterate, could not even write in the vernacular, and training them because we had confidence that these people were natural leaders and also that they had the support of their constituents. So we emphasised that, it doesn't matter if you cannot write or even read, we will train you. And what did we succeed in a few years time? Building a layer of shop stewards that eventually we had 30,000 at any point in time at a very powerful, grassroots level, at the point of production, who understood our vision, who were committed to a vision, who saw the union movement as their family, who were committed in a life and death struggle to protect this organisation because it gave them dignity. Suddenly you began to transform people who were illiterate, powerless, into a very powerful layer and also began to negotiate with people, and I used to be amazed, I would sit in negotiation, I wouldn't open my mouth. I let the shop stewards handle it and they would take on company lawyers, companies who had strings of very powerful teams behind them.

     This is the marvel of what the eighties was about, of us being able to take the most powerless, what would be described as the dregs of society, workers who came from rural areas who stayed in hostels, who spoke vernacular, didn't even speak English, could virtually not write, and we built a backbone of a movement which gave them the power. And so what you were able to do is then engage, and when employers began to see that they could reach agreements with these people, and even if they were illiterate you can get an understanding of very sophisticated economic notions, it built the basis of confidence, I would say, that allowed the people who were analysing this whole development from the political to understand, wow! This working with employers, why shouldn't it work at political level? And then gave employers, who were the backbone of apartheid, the confidence to say, if we are meeting so many of these guys and ultimately even if we're in a situation where we are bashing each other with baseball bats in the street, there's still a line. So what we developed is a channel, a channel to the other side in spite of what developments were taking place. We were always able to have a channel to talk to each other, to see how we bring the train back on the tracks.

     So people would take it and Bobby Godsell, etc., are important people to talk to, Andre Lamprecht from Barlow Rand and a whole range of people. We had discussions with them even when we were at the height of our battles with them.

POM     Who in Barlow Rand?

JN     Andre Lamprecht, and then there's Bokkie Botha who's retired now, Anton Roodt and a range of these people that we had a specific relationship with. I think that's what's been ignored, the plank of political negotiations that was laid by our collective bargaining relationships and economic relationships with this range of people who began to influence the way employers stand.

POM     So in a sense if one extrapolated forward, well one can extrapolate forward, right? Oh my, I'd get a slap and six biffs on the hand for saying that in a classroom! In a way, by extrapolation, that when negotiations broke down after Boipatong and there was the channel created between the NP and the ANC that really was modelled after the channels that the trade union movement had already highly developed in employer and employee, there was a model there to follow.

JN     We created a political rationale. We knew that at any point in time, no matter how big your battles are, you need a channel. It's a basic philosophy of negotiation. You can't cut yourself out but in a situation where negotiations are breaking down you maintain a channel and then you exercise your power to bring the other side to a table so that you can negotiate a more favourable outcome. But as a consequence of that you've got to make it look that all sides are winning, that people can walk away from a deal saving face, which is the important part of negotiation. So it's a basic principle and philosophy of any negotiations and we were doing that in the seventies and that's an important part in how we built the movement. The basic principles and philosophies that underpinned that, yes, and Boipatong we deliberately, after Boipatong we deliberately, especially from the side of labour, pushed it to the edge to say these guys are being inconsistent and they're being hypocritical in their approach to negotiations. We need to demonstrate to them that we are still able to exercise power and that we were in charge of the negotiations. You change the terrain of negotiations. That's an important element of negotiations.

     We got, at the moment we entered negotiations, on a terrain that was increasingly being determined by the Niel Barnards and De Klerks of this world. We were entering their area, engaging in many instances in their agenda and so we needed to redefine that. Boipatong gave us the appropriate incident that allowed us to redefine that terrain of negotiations. Boipatong allowed us to come in and say we as the ANC are determining these negotiations. What was more important after that, especially after the assassination of Chris Hani, the ANC took charge of the country because it was Mandela who spoke to the nation. So he immediately defined a new terrain of negotiation and from that point on you knew that we were in charge of the negotiations and they were negotiators handing over power to us. That's an important element of any negotiations.

POM     When you had conversations with the likes of the Anton Ruperts and Bobby Godsells and whatever, would they ask you, is COSATU, is the ANC really serious about nationalisation? What kind of economy do you guys envisage? Are you really going to break up the conglomerates?

JN     I've never been one that's spent a hell of a lot of time on isms, it just bores me to death. Is it socialism, is it capitalism, I think it's a ridiculous debate anyway, it's irrelevant. If you're an ideologue – I'm a very practical sort of person. I want to identify an objective, I want to define a strategy, I want to put a timetable in place and then I want to assemble a team that allows us to achieve it. So we're very practical and very pragmatic in the trade union movement. So we had our ideologues. You defined a role for the ideologues when you wanted to define it but in most cases what you wanted to do is set yourself objectives to build a very powerful movement that would dislodge apartheid and allow us the opportunity to sit at the negotiating table and play a role in defining the new economic and political situation in this country. That was a very simple objective we set ourselves.

     Now I would say that if one looks at that as an objective, in our engagement with the other side we knew and they knew that we were pragmatists and I think one important event happened which allowed us to accelerate this development and also allowed the other side to move, was the collapse of Eastern Europe. It was a very significant element. The critical issue I knew was that if we were trade unionists in Eastern Europe we would all be in Siberia in the eighties for what we were doing. It wasn't like I saw the Soviet model as a solution of South Africa's problems. The reality was that the trade union movement in Eastern Europe was a bloody conveyor belt of all the political parties and the political parties were no different in terms of the elites of the capitalist countries.

     We were very pragmatic, we wanted to create a system which was participatory, was democratic and allowed people to exercise their rights. I think that there were ideologues in the movement and across COSATU there was a tremendous debate and always you allowed the debate to continue, to keep the ideologues happy on all sides, but you focused the organisation on the practical. We needed to achieve a living wage and, yes, the ideological debate was a living wage, is that you're accepting the concept that there's economic servitude by the working class, that people will sell their labour. We said, OK fine, and OK we had the debate and we said it's a step towards what we call an uninterrupted struggle for us to achieve a classless society. You gave the ideologues what they wanted but practically it gave you an important vehicle in which to unite, organise and build the power of workers and organise them around a vision and take a very practical thing that every year you're going to have wage negotiations which entered into a negotiation and a contestation between ourselves and employers. If we can construct it, take it from enterprise level to a regional level, to industrial level, you're suddenly able to mobilise hundreds of thousands of workers.

     The objective was to achieve a living wage and to build our power. The ridiculous debate, which for me was not really relevant, is this what is going to take us to socialism or capitalism or social democracy? It was irrelevant to me in my mind. What I wanted was to –

POM     But was it irrelevant to whites?

JN     No, to me, so to me –

POM     Yes, but if you're putting yourself in their shoes.

JN     Oh no, no, for them it was very relevant to them because it very directly at principle that they are able to determine the economic outcomes in this country and we are saying as part of our struggle for a living wage we want to increase our decision, the joint decision making at a level of the factory floor. So the living wage campaign, it wasn't just fighting for a living wage. We wanted to have a say in health and safety. We wanted to have a say in women's rights, defining maternity benefits. We wanted to have a say in a whole range of a plank that began to look at democratising the shop floor. That was for me an issue. How do we increase the power of the leadership and workers at the point of production that straddled beyond just the issue of a living wage.

POM     You mentioned at the beginning that you have taken a year off and you were reflecting and doing some writing and one of the things you are examining was what lessons had you learnt from your involvement in the development of the whole trade union movement and moving it from being a trade union on the one hand to being a primary instrument of struggle on the other. On reflection, what are those lessons? What did you learn?

JN     Well the important thing I learnt is that if you want to do anything it's possible, there's nothing that stopped us achieving what we wanted. I think what it requires is leadership with vision, a plan to achieve whatever you set as your objectives, building a team around that and defining a timetable and strategy to achieve it. So I'm convinced if we want to do anything, if we want to connect this continent it's not hell of a difficult to connect it. We've done that in SA in the last three years. By the end of 18 months/two years we would have connected every corner of this continent including every village, every school, every clinic, hospital, library, to an information system.

POM     You will have or you could?

JN     No we would have, this is what's happening now and the outcome of that is a proposition in which we're able to balance the economic imperatives of a global economy with a developmental approach that sought to meet the basic needs of our people. So we are able to spin out a model in the Telkom privatisation that would achieve our economic developmental objectives. It is increasingly a model in this country of how we should be proceeding towards the type of new economic forms in this country and a consequence of that, privatisation. We had the biggest single injection of foreign funds, investment, into this country.

POM     That's on the telecommunications side?

JN     Yes, the telecommunications. An interesting thing, we took a billion dollars of that Telkom investment in the privatisation, put it back into the company to drive our access to universal service amongst the community, particularly the black population. We increased the market training, almost doubled the training budget of workers within the company where we set universal service targets that are built into the licence that set targets by which villages, schools, clinics, etc., have to be connected to not just a phone line but also to Internet access, and we democratised in terms within the company by giving unions the right to sit on the board of directors, access to all company information. So beyond that you are able to create a model that improved, created the basis to improve relationships, democratise shop floor, spell out a number of the developmental targets that were set in the RDP. One is talking of that form of model, leave aside the fact that, the ism debate, and I think it would be ridiculous and COSATU's never taken a position to say we are opposed to privatisation. They say we are opposed to unilateral restructuring of the company, we need to define objectives of the restructuring, we need to identify a process that is participatory and in that line I want to bring that to the debate about whether we should have privatisation that is relevant. Without what we did in Telkom would we have achieved any of those developmental or economic objectives that we set ourselves. So we took the isms out of the debate, identified what we wanted, brought together a relationship between trade unions and ourselves and the company management and then said, what is the strategy to achieve where we're wanting to go? And then the most appropriate strategy was to sell 30% of the company to get that capital injection and to bring in technology and to bring in expertise.

POM     Do you think both the process and the model you developed at Telkom should be like a case study for the kind of macro economic framework that the government should be considering now? And I will point to, for example, joblessness. I have heard there are more summits on joblessness, there are more commitments to decreasing unemployment and yet year after year after year the numbers inexorably increase rather than decrease. Given the downsizing that's going to inevitably accompany your further integration into the global economy you're even going to have more educated workers who are being laid off, yet there does not appear, at least to me, to be a strategy in place that says we are going to create jobs and this is how we're going to do it, get the stakeholders together, develop a plan, go through the steps that you went through, get the unions together. The unions have to play a role, business has to play a role, government plays a role but this is the objective, a realistic objective. How do we develop the means to achieve that objective?

JN     I think it's happening. One is not suggesting the Telkom model for everything. I think we made mistakes as well with that which we need to analyse and see how we can correct. Nothing is written in stone and so we must be able to be flexible, innovative and think laterally. I think that's what the country needs, that's what the continent needs. We have the commitment of government to do that and the vision that the government believes in. I think that one of the big setbacks and weaknesses is an absence of a very strong pillar of entrepreneurs who one can engage with who feel that they own the vision of this country and that's a weakness of the black entrepreneurial class of people in this country. So there are many white businessmen who share the vision but they are not the majority. There are many people that still think in a typically orthodox way, who question why should we have empowerment, why should that become a criteria, why should we change the way we've done business because it's been successful in the past, who question the need to spend so much time in training, creating opportunities or mentoring black businesses, who see empowerment just as getting a few black people, creating a special purpose vehicle and just bringing them into the boards to say we have now black shareholders or partners.

     I think that's one of the primary weaknesses and that's why the President has stressed the building of a very powerful layer of entrepreneurs. These are not gross capitalist type entrepreneurs. They are a more sophisticated version of that. How do we take those entrepreneurs, including large numbers of people that are going into the public sector, and make them successful. I suppose that's the challenge of the new model, how do we use the existing expertise that exists that is primarily white?

POM     How do you take existing? I'm a bit deaf.

JN     Expertise that is primarily white. How do we use the established companies in this economy into a relationship that is equal based on partnership that allows us to grow emerging black entrepreneurs, some small to medium to large enterprises, and then how do we use the environment government can provide through its procurement policies, through it's initiatives in terms of promoting access to venture capital, and how do we use the fact that we can have an education environment which promotes the notion of opportunities for bright kids coming out of the system who are black.

     So I think there's a combination of things that we can do and I suppose the work that I would be doing, and I'm not doing this as part of government, I'm doing this because I firmly believe that if we want to connect Africa, given that the sector is primarily driven by private investment, that we've got to do what we did in the union movement. We've got to organise groups of entrepreneurs who share the vision but who face a glass ceiling at the moment. They're talented but they have no access to go to people and even get through the front door when it comes to access to capital, technology, expertise, global partnerships, because we can open those doors.

POM     When you say 'we', that is?

JN     People like myself and people around me, we can open doors, we can lift the glass ceiling off these entrepreneurs and we can motivate them in the same way that we encouraged people to become either shop stewards or community activists who built up organisations. I suppose that's the challenge of how do we then create the type of partnerships that reflect those objectives that we set ourselves and set concrete delivery targets. We will work in this process with people that come from the trade union movement because what we've …(break in recording)

          And so you already have groups of people who have developed, who have come from very humble beginnings who have succeeded and it provides a bridgehead for those sort of people as well to be able to move to a different level.

     So these ideas that are new, we are debating many of these but we are not debating it in the form of problems. I'm grappling with this and this is one of the reasons that I took six months off. One is to have more time to spend with my family and secondly I decided I don't want to end up being a professional politician. I didn't get into politics because of choice, it was because of circumstances and one of the choices I'm able to make now is that I don't want to end up being a professional politician and I love challenges. I love something that's an enormous challenge, and what is our basic skill? We can take small things and make them big and we can organise, unite people behind a vision. We can motivate them, we can make them excited and so for me that's a choice I've made. I want to spend the next period in my life doing that.

     What is the actual model? I mean I'm not going to have a big theoretical debate with anyone about this. I'm going to experiment and if you are successful using what we've done in the past as a basic premise of a foundation of the type of practice we have and experience we have, maybe we will succeed, maybe we will fail. But for me I'm just really looking forward to January coming in which we are going to do these experiments. Because what do we have? We have a basic skill, we can take something small and grow it. We are able to motivate people, we are able to unite people around a vision. We have access to networks that span not just this country but the entire continent and across every sector of society and we have an international reputation, across the board. People take us seriously. If I make a phone call to someone I want to see it doesn't matter how big an executive the person is, they would respond much easier than if someone else did it, and I'm going to use that power and I will create the basis of giving access to many other people.

POM     Now if I said, playing Devil's Advocate, that's all fine but the cold reality of the matter is that since the early 1990s unemployment in this country has been steadily increasing, not decreasing and that the masses of the impoverished whose lives were supposed – those people who were supposed to have been given a living wage don't even have a job to get a living wage, and their numbers are increasing and yet one hears continual reiteration of government commitment to job creation yet jobs are not being created. That is the reality when all is said and done.

JN     Yes, the one thing we've got to be clear about, we had an economy that wasn't very efficient, absolutely not, completely inefficient and basically protective and sheltered behind high tariff borders. Now you can have debate, should we have kept those tariff borders? Well it's impossible to keep those tariff borders. We're part of the World Trade Organisation and whether you like it or not that's the reality that as part of globalisation there are international rules being defined so you can't isolate yourselves and one of the economic realities apartheid had to face was that they couldn't create those false walls especially after the collapse of Eastern Europe.  Globalisation was such a powerful force and especially with the Internet revolution that inevitably your economic pillar could collapse. That's a reality and we knew we had to go through a period of restructuring in which we would face that competition and we would shed jobs. The key issue was could we identify sectors where we could create jobs, where we could begin to create the programmes that promoted entrepreneurial development, acknowledged the changes taking the global environment into account, and began to change the labour market profile in a way that people began to do things for themselves. The notion that the state is a primary vehicle for creating jobs is a myth. It can't be. We inherited a bankrupt state and if you look at it we inherited an incredibly inefficient civil service which still remains inefficient. So what ideas we can have at the top and the commitment, the question is that we are incapable even at this stage to say that the civil service is working at an optimum and delivering services that the people have a right to. In fact in many instances the civil service is an obstacle to delivering what people want in this country. Part of the challenge of government is to change the culture of that civil service, restructure it, force on it obligations to deliver performance, make those performance targets a transparent thing across the country so that if you go to the Pension Office, they're supposed to open at eight o'clock, they will open at eight o'clock and if they don't there's a telephone number you can phone and the person should be disciplined. We've got to build that into the civil service. At the moment, whether black or whatever, in many cases civil servants do not deliver what are people's rights.

POM     I was just reading last night, in today's Sunday Times, on Transnet and the emergency cabinet meeting today to deal with its being on the verge of bankruptcy or whatever. But one of the things it mentions is that they paid people to stay at home, that it's more cost efficient for them not to come to work because if they come to work they have to be provided with desk facilities and make telephone calls, therefore it's much easier to say I'll give you your wages, stay at home because to bring you to work where there's no job for you really because there's nothing for you to do, you're using more resources.

JN     Besides Transnet we have 50,000 to 60,000 people in the civil service. We do do that. It's a ridiculous situation where we're taking important resources of the state and paying billions of rands to people. We are doing that, staying at home or coming to office and playing cards on the computer. Now I've always maintained that one of the challenges, and many of those people are in the ex-homelands, they were part of the bureaucracy created by apartheid so they are in the poorest areas of the country. But we must face a reality, either we retrain those people and redeploy them or we retrench them. We've got to enter into negotiations up front with the trade unions to say we're putting billions of rands into paying people who are making no contribution to the development of our economy or providing services. The challenge is how do you take those billions of rands that you are paying, knowing that those people are a source of income in those areas, and saying OK instead of putting it into wages let's put it into public works programmes in these regions and take people, retrain those civil servants or get other people and provide them opportunities.

POM     Now I want to relate that to the changing nature and composition of COSATU itself. During your years the major base of membership was the manufacturing sector, the plurality of members now belong to the public service sector and now you have a plan which was supposed to have been announced some weeks ago, still hasn't been, by the government to retrench up to 50,000 civil servants. You have on the face of it a clash of interest here. COSATU are now more directed towards protecting the jobs of members who are members of the public sector, the public sector saying we've got to shed people. How is this resolved? Must trade unionism redefine itself and its role, that it has a new role now to play?

JN     The trade union in the first place must represent the interests of their members. It can't do anything else.

POM     OK, that's right.

JN     And if those members are being retrenched it must defend the rights of those members. So to ask the trade union not to do that is ridiculous. We have to recognise that there is no economic or political basis on which we can continue to employ thousands of people who don't make any contribution to providing a service. We have to enter into negotiations and it's going to be conflictual and even if the trade unions acknowledge what we are saying there are tens of thousands of people who are making absolutely no contribution to provision of service and they accept that these people should be gone and many years ago we said we should bite the bullet and do it, enter into negotiations even though we are political allies and conclude those negotiations. If you have to have fights and strikes and whatever about it and go to court or whatever, let's do it. So I think we've got to bite the bullet and actually do it. We've got to create the political rationale to say yes, we've got to take these resources and put them into funds that will retrain people, create new opportunities for them.

POM     Now the 'out in the wilderness' where white parties are, they still hold - it's almost kind of a sacred belief that one day the alliance is going to split apart, it's ideologically incompatible that the elements can remain together. Is this a foolish wishful thinking on their part? Two, do you think that, yes, the alliance is the broad church representing many different interests and a hiving off of those interests into new political parties may well happen? Or do you think that despite all the disputes and the conflicts that may arise, that when members of the alliance sit down together and say, listen we must remember that as long as we maintain our alliance we maintain the capacity to create the transformation we think is necessary, if we were to split into disparate elements and form coalitions here and coalitions there with other parties, then we lose that cohesiveness, we lose the drive towards transformation?

JN     I like to keep things very simple. The first is that the ANC has come back into power with an overwhelming mandate. The ANC. We need the ANC to bite the bullet now and solve these issues and there is consensus among all the political actors that the earlier in our mandate we do it the better. I think we've got to bite the bullet and actually do what needs to be done, not fool around any more. We've got to do it in the way that creates a partnership that will underpin the alliance as we take our political alliance into a different, one could call it, mode, a new terrain and that is an economic terrain where we've got to define economic goals together and see how we can work together and achieve those goals. It should be around a vision that is very practical and around a vision that will stir the nation, just looking at the book, like an African Renaissance vision, which takes RDP to another level so you can begin to inspire people to do things. And, yes, acknowledge that there will be conflicts whether it's a policy level, labour market level, whatever level. We are an alliance, we're not one organisation. In one organisation there will be no debate and we must entertain the notion that there will be times when tensions can be very high. This is where there could be huge tensions within COSATU at any point in time. It's a question of regulating the relationship so that ultimately in spite of tensions that are extreme, you maintain always a critical mass of thought that saw that the broader and more strategic objective was to stay together and that is why not one organisation inside COSATU, despite the fact that we had a spectrum of political opinion, not one organisation left the federation. In fact the mass of workers in this country know more about COSATU than they know about their own unions because they wanted to join COSATU directly, they didn't want to join a trade union. You ask workers, yes, we are members of COSATU. Sometimes they wouldn't even know the name of the union that they belonged to and that's what you've got to create all the time, that belief and commitment and participation – this is my thing and if someone attacks my thing I'm going to stand out there and defend it as much as I defend my family. You've got to have that buy-in and so I suppose that's the debate we need to have and I've been thinking through that in the last few years of what we learnt, how can we use what we learn to define where we have to go.

POM     This is kind of an aside question. Why didn't Mandela, particularly during his latter years when he was moved from being statesman to icon, use his tremendous moral stature to drive home the message that we face a really tough time about transformation, we live in a hard world, we all have to make sacrifices, we all have to share a common vision, we all are inter-connected, that I can't think of my job in isolation from the masses of people who are unemployed?

JN     I think he did do that.

POM     He did?

JN     He did do that. I suppose part of it is a collective responsibility that we never developed the rationale behind that on the basis to pull people in behind us, and part of the challenge was, I suppose, part of it we're responsible for it. We created this notion that with the change in government we had our levers on the political power that will enable us to move very rapidly towards delivery, and there was a naïveté in that, because we came into power, we didn't know what we were inheriting. We had in many cases hostile civil servants. We had to learn our jobs. We had to take our ideas and vision and translate them into programmes, policies. We had to do it on a consultative level. We had to go through parliamentary processes, learn the parliamentary processes and then we've got to take the most important thing in our power which is the policy and the law, the resources which is the money and people and then develop the capacity to deliver on our objectives and that takes time. Mandela, I can very clearly remember even in the time leading up to the election campaign, made this point very clear.

POM     In the first or second election?

JN     The first election, that it will take us time to deliver. I suppose he said it will take us five years before we begin to see real benefits. It will take us much longer than five years. The question is like a struggle for a living wage in COSATU, we fought a living wage campaign which was one of the most powerful campaigns that united our federation and we said our struggle is for a living wage. We have not achieved a living wage in any sector but there is as much commitment to the living wage struggle now as there was then because people identified objectives, said we're going to get it one day but every year we are making a step in the right direction. And we should have done that more because alongside that came the sense of entitlement amongst our own people that that would happen, that unlike in the past where each one of us has to be mobilised whether to take part in a march, to become an activist, to set up a street committee, people sat back and said, well the government will do all of this for us, they will be building the houses, they will bring the water, they will change the education system. I suppose we never harnessed the power we had of making people responsible for changing things in their lives even at a macro level, within the shop floor, within the community, within whatever institution. And so I suppose the flip side of the brutalisation we went through was a sense of entitlement amongst large sections of our people who thought that government should by some miracle develop, deliver, and we didn't explain clearly enough, which we used to do in the union movement and political movement, why we are having these problems and what are these problems that we are having. I think that's one of the things that we do need to do.

     What Mbeki is saying is very important, because in a sense he is saying that. We hold our future in our hands and if we fail it's our collective failure. How does that reflect now at every different level? How do I make my contribution personally to making sure that we don't fail? If I can harness my skills that I have, use the networks I have and promote the type of economic model that creates jobs in this country, creates entrepreneurs, trains people, then we all make our contribution in that way. So I think that this should be – and I think that's what's developing now, a political platform for us to be able to do that, a new political rationale.

POM     A political will. Is there the political will?

JN     I think so and Mbeki much more than Madiba because Madiba is the notion of the icon, the chief that comes in and presents the vision whereas Mbeki has that vision but also is a very practical guy in terms of implementing and making accountable his ministers in terms of very concrete goals. I think that that creates a basis for us then setting targets and saying if you don't achieve the targets you'd better explain very clearly why you haven't. If you're incapable of doing it then we should replace you. I think that's what we need in the country, we need toughness now and we need decisive leadership from all sections of society and I suppose that's the big challenge. How do you create the model for that?

POM     Let me ask you a small point in connection with that. You had recently the cases of (and tell me when you're ready to go and then I can rush my questions) you had the cases of just the Director General of Correctional Services and the head of the Land Bank who both were apparently guilty of improprieties and the Public Service Committee said that Sithole (I think that was his name in Correctional Services) wasn't fit to hold an office in the public service. For a while he considered, he wanted a golden parachute, he wanted a settlement, he wanted for his contract to run out, he would be paid for the duration of his contract and then he would disappear. Helena Dolny who gave herself $1 million merit increase is going to court, saying she hasn't got a fair hearing. Now in other countries those people, people who did actions like that, would have been hauled before their boss who would say - you're fired and as I'm talking to you your desk is being cleared out and the keys taken. Yet here there seems to be such an emphasis on process, not just process but how can somebody who's given themselves a million dollar increase somehow think that they didn't do anything wrong? And that they had been treated unfairly when a settlement is being reached with them? Like he's going to get another R1.5 million or something. To me it doesn't make sense. I don't get it.

JN     No we shouldn't make too much of that. We're a developmental state that is growing up, new kid on the block. A lot of times there are the broader political complexities of how you make decisions. There's a civil service at the moment with rules which are a consequence of our negotiations that really entrench the power of civil servants. There are laws that we've introduced that are obligations on process as well.

POM     The labour laws in fact make it harder for you now to get rid of the civil servants whose sunset clauses ran out in 1999.

JN     The thing is that the laws introduce a notion of there need be natural justice. It's only something we fought for. The problem is that we haven't found, in many cases, how to use the laws. I used to dismiss people who stole a T-shirt in COSATU. I was absolutely ruthless in terms of enforcing a commitment to certain principles. Throughout my - I never, there are certain rules, you break the law, you're out. I suppose in the broader political movement now we need to move to that point where we are decisive, that there are certain norms, if you breach those norms you're out irrespective of political consequences. But you have to do it within the law, which we fought for for many years. If a person has not been given a disciplinary hearing then that's wrong irrespective of what the facts are. A person must have the right to a hearing and we should follow the process of it. We can't just have a commission, the commission makes a report and on the basis of the report you conclude the person should be dismissed. There has to be a disciplinary hearing so there's a basic principle involved.

     Secondly, once having made that decision you need to be decisive about it. If Sithole is not able to perform his duties and has not met his obligations or has been negligent then there should be the basis in our labour law to say that you're not entitled to the remainder of your income of your tenure if you have a three, four or five year contract because you have been negligent in your duties. So I suppose we're moving to a point where we're coming to this whole notion of performance and how do you assess performance and then what actions you will take if people are incapable of meeting those performance targets. I think the important element of change that we need to introduce, we need to move at every level, particularly of management, to performance contracts that enforce compliance with targets that we have set ourselves and if people are incapable of doing that then they must leave the civil service, provide an exit for them.

POM     Now it often strikes me that SA got its real independence at the very time when the concept of the nation state was going out of existence, you were just coming in, and that you are subject to so many external constraints in the global economy that your capacity to determine your own fate is in fact limited by these external constraints so that you may have visions but the constraints of a global economy simply make the attainment of those visions very difficult, well nigh near impossible to achieve because unlike 30 or 40 years ago when economies or nation states existed within their little boxes, that no longer is the case so that even when you judge performance or set performance targets the person may do his or her best but say, no, I came up against a set of circumstances that simply didn't allow me to achieve what I thought I would be able to achieve, external events imposed themselves and I have no control over external events.

JN     Yes that is the reality and we have to deal with it.

POM     When people talk about transformation here, the process, how long in your mind – you said we're still fighting for a living wage – again, must people be, I won't say 'educated' to, that includes the poor, everybody, that this is a developing economy. Take out the first world sector and you're down there with the rest of developing economies and you can't use – in one sense the presence of the first world economy inhibits development because people want –

JN     To be part of it.

POM     I had a phrase that I was talking to William Makgoba about, the African renaissance and African values and Eurocentric values and all of that, my point in a way to him was maybe that's becoming less relevant because the global reality is that we're all becoming consumers now. You go to Rosebank or Sandton or wherever and you see black kids hanging out there and they're looking in shops and they're looking at Nike shoes, everyone wears the same Nike shoes, certain kinds of T-shirts, baseball caps or whatever caps they're called, that the values that the society has are consumerist values, they're not values that say we must sacrifice in order to achieve a better society for ourselves. That if you said to a person you have a choice between saving 10% of your income because the country needs more savings for investment purposes, or 5% or 1% or whatever, or going out and putting a down payment on a 21 inch television, they would opt for the 21 inch television.

JN     Yes that's a reality of any state in any society.

POM     But then it comes back to how do you mobilise the commitment?

JN     Because, and I don't think it's very difficult, a lot of people by nature are greedy and that's the sort of thing that we need to, especially around the entry into the economy, we need to create the type of moral that says people are entitled to a better way of life and to participate in the economy but there are certain obligations and responsibilities we have in achieving this. Balance entitlement with responsibility, so if it is to save 5% so that you do grow your savings in the country or if it is, I've got to take a set objective that if I'm successful I've got to take 20 … a year and up-grow them because that's in our interests ultimately. Or if I'm a big company I've got a whole range of relationships I can do to melt the small companies into the sector. You set those things and it's really things at a macro level. You check the macro vision and then you've got to establish micro targets and you've got to create a vision where everyone says I can contribute something, just like everyone contributed something in large numbers to defeating apartheid in this country. So I don't think that it is unachievable that, I think it's very achievable but it's creating, one would say, the Generals and then the Lieutenants. This is creating an army of people who are driven by a mission to succeed and making sure you run a well-oiled machinery which is what we did whether it's in community organisations, political organisations, we did that.

     So, yes, the notion of economic success today is that if you are successful or if you're going to drive a BMW or a Mercedes Benz, you're going to have a house in Houghton, you've got to wear labels, that's the notion of economic success at the moment. So you've got to create another basis for economic success, an evaluation of success and you've got to inspire the youngsters coming out to believe in that but recognise that there's international reality, especially with globalisation, where the power of the United States model is incredibly powerful even in countries that are much more powerful than us. Take France or Europe, they are as much swamped by the American image of success as any other model. So it's not just a South African problem, it's a worldwide problem that kids are getting into wearing Nike shoes and baseball caps, almost like a challenge of creating a unilingual world, a unicultural world and a stereotyped world, one's icons and consumerism.

     So it's a bigger question that, not just an issue facing us here in SA. That's why an important component of the African renaissance is building a confidence about what we are in Africa and something of value in our societies, in our being. It's a fact that Africa is the roots and cradle of humanity, the first human beings came out of here, the first civilisation was in Africa.  So how does one create those anchors and create those icons and symbols and exploit them, that creates a view that it is being part of this world to promote our own culture, our own dance, our own dress, our own song, our own dance? That's the content of the African renaissance. It's a bigger question.

POM     Is not the Internet in a way one more powerful tool that gravitates people towards 'the western model'?

JN     You can turn it on its head. You can turn that very thing on its head and that's why one of our challenges is build an information backbone to the concept of the African renaissance and then to harness our potential of what exists in our history in societies, to put that on the net and so create the entrepreneurs that will create the content that will challenge the myth that there's nothing of value in Africa. There's incredible value in Africa and how does one develop the applications that make it relevant to the lives of ordinary people? I'm firmly convinced that the web is a very powerful weapon to level the playing fields, to be able to challenge this notion that we are just the recipients of knowledge and information created in the west and to build a very powerful layer of people who would take what we have in this continent and translate it into content that will seek to … but engage the content that's currently on the web. The web can be turned from an instrument of at the moment that it's just delivering to us as passive recipients, to a very active relationship and that for me is very exciting. How do we do that?

POM     A couple of last questions, and tell me how many minutes you have until you have to run?

JN     A couple of minutes.

POM     What if you had to say what is the biggest single challenge facing SA in the next 15 years?

JN     I think it's creating jobs and opportunities for people and changing the profile of our labour market so that we have the appropriate skill level to achieve those challenges, and that is the single biggest challenge I would think.

POM     I asked you that question deliberately because I ask it of everyone: why did you not say AIDS?

JN     Because everything has to do with education. If we can educate our people behind a vision that encapsulates everything in our constitution, whether it's respect, whether it's responsibility, whether it's success, everything is in our constitution, then being able to educate our people does raise awareness of AIDS or the awareness of women's abuse or abuse of our children in our society. I think we've got to create a model in which we build respect for each other.

POM     There is no evidence, scientific evidence, because I've been interested in AIDS for 15 years, I've been involved in it. At the moment I'm doing a book on the economic and social impact of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa on which there has been very little work done. I keep looking for people who've addressed what is the social impact, the economic impact and it virtually doesn't exist. But at the moment you have a situation where, we know all the statistics, but SA accounts for 10% of all AIDS infections in the world. It's going to reduce life expectancy to the mid-forties by the year 2008. That's less than ten years to go. It's undermining the entire social fabric, family structures. As you talk about educating people for the investment you're making, people in education, you're getting to a point where one in every three of those you invest in are going to die before they reach their productive years. Why is there not a declaration by the President that this is a national emergency and as a national emergency we have to take extremely stringent measures that on occasion may even interfere with individual freedoms because there is a larger good? If AIDS continues the course it is now taking, and it is increasing, there will be no SA to govern.

JN     Just as much as AIDS is a problem so is crime, so is anything in this country. It's destroying the very core of society, making people feel helpless and we need to change that. We need to empower people again and make them enthusiastic for a vision that we have. And a lot is about creating opportunities and retraining and educating people about achieving it. There already has been a declaration by the President on AIDS as a national issue.

POM     But it hasn't sunk in. No-one I talk to, no-one, not a single government minister that I've talked to, and I've asked them the same question, identified AIDS as the priority of priorities.

JN     Well it is a priority. Whether it's the priority of priorities, we can have a big debate about that. The question is, do you take one issue and focus everything around it and, yes, is that one issue part of the picture that we're trying to focus in on? So, yes, the first time we started AIDS, as one of the institutions in this country that started a discussion on AIDS in the early eighties, the first response to our campaign in which we said people must wear condoms, and I had very senior leaders in COSATU saying to me – they laughed and said, listen, whoever ever heard of a person taking a bath or a shower with a plastic overcoat on? And yet we changed people and then it became a grassroots discussion because we began to see it especially in the mines that it was a real issue. Obviously we need to become more creative about how we drive a campaign like that and how we integrate it into the issue of how we create opportunities for people, how we educate our people, what do we feed onto the net that gives people access, how do we strengthen those organisations that are fighting AIDS or fighting abuse of women?

     I think that there is a range of things that we need to do but if you ask me at a generic level what is the most important thing, that's not the question you're asking; the question is what at the generic level do you think are the most important challenges that face us? Well I still maintain that at generic level we've got to give people hope that there are opportunities for them out there that they can be successful at entering the economic part of our economy, that we can provide a supportive environment for them, we can provide them with information, we can provide them with access to capital to succeed, we can educate them, we can take the kids in our society and begin to give them a holistic education fundamentally which is based on respect and respect is knowing what are your rights and what are your responsibilities and what makes you a successful person. So how do you avoid AIDS? How do you prevent child abuse and women's abuse in our society, which is also as important and very linked to AIDS. I think that at a generic level that is an issue. At a strategic level if you begin listing priorities, then AIDS does feature very high on our list of priorities, absolutely.

     And now, Padraig, I have to leave you.

POM     Thank you.

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.