About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

09 Dec 1999: Skhosana, Mahlmola

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POM     Mr Skhosana, I was just asking you whether you had been at the World Trade Organisation in Seattle and what impression you gained from it particularly with regard to the case of poor countries, especially countries in the southern hemisphere, which had to make a case and whether the case was being heard and heard seriously?

MS     I think for the first time their case was being heard and taken seriously and the fact of the matter is that there could not be any conclusion. The conference was referred back to Geneva for further discussion. I think third world countries had a strong lobby this time round, they had a strong lobby, and that lobby was also helped by a number of NGOs who were protesting and putting their views on behalf of governments and societies of the developing countries. But above all I think on the labour side, while we did not get a document out, I think we succeeded in making core labour issues, core labour standards, respect for human rights as a fully fledged international issue. I don't think there can be any trade agreement that will overlook or ignore that.

POM     So this would be aimed at countries that are using sweat labour, sweat labour practices would be outlawed or child labour?

MS     We are aiming at countries that don't have a respect for human rights nature, that's our starting point. There is no respect for human rights, trade union rights, core labour standards, ratification of ILO conventions, that's what we are looking at. Those countries that use worse forms of child labour, prison labour, forced labour, we are looking at that, that must come to an end and that must be a trade issue.

POM     So you came away feeling that the next round at Geneva will prove more productive and that whatever agreement finally emerges will put the poor nations, especially nations in the southern hemisphere, in a better trading position, that they will not be in a position of being exploited by the richer countries and more developed countries?

MS     It's difficult to say that because it depends, developing countries themselves don't have uniformity in terms of these issues. If you look at the SA government's position on core labour standards and human rights, other countries have different opinions than the SA government. So if there is a gap among the developing countries, and I think multi-nationals will take advantage of that because if there is a race to the bottom even as to attract investments, that can still continue. There is no guarantee that these things are not going to continue to happen.

POM     So developing countries are not speaking with a single voice?

MS     Not on all issues and also you must understand that when it comes to trade it is also silent competition amongst ourselves, you have the same products that you are looking at the same market. For example, developing countries that produce gold, for example, they are looking for the same market, Europe and North America. So among themselves there is silent competition so uniformity can't be there when it comes to trade matters. It's permanent interest of individual countries, permanent economic interest of individual countries.

POM     Going back over the last ten years, I've been talking to you now, believe it or not, for ten years, it's like a whole section of one's life. In that time has NACTU grown? What changes in the labour movement have you seen taking place between 1989 and 1994 and then when the new constitution came into place between 1994 and today?

MS     Well after 1994 we had a different scenario to deal with in SA. For example, for the first time we were able to deal with government directly at a level where there is no animosity. Nedlac was set up, for example, as a tripartite structure that deals with these issues. We don't know what the government had in mind. If they had in mind, for example, that Nedlac would be a conveyor belt for government policy, it didn't work that way so we set up CCMA, for example. CCMA has helped to facilitate labour disputes that have less cost than we had before. You had to go to the Industrial Court which was costly, you always needed lawyers to go there. So there have been quite a number of dramatic changes, for example, the labour law itself organising workers and putting workers together and workers bargaining. It's no longer a political issue in this country, it's become part and parcel of society. Laws related to farm workers, for example, they have a better deal than we had before 1994. The only problem now we have, it's not only in SA it's worldwide, it's the shrinking of jobs which is an economic issue for various reasons. When there's an economic decline, for example in the metal industry, the construction industry, in the construction industry we have lost membership there due to retrenchments. Chemical industry, we have lost members there due to retrenchments. But all in all the environment where we are operating in today is far more conducive than before.

POM     Just picking up on that, a year ago controversy about GEAR, or 18 months ago controversy about GEAR was all the rage and I recall President Mandela going before COSATU and giving them a dressing down and telling them to get into line, GEAR was government policy and that was that. Then Deputy President Mbeki went before the SACP and also told them to more or less get in line, that if they had objections to GEAR they should not be making them public, they were available for discussion in government about differences. I come back this year and I find that GEAR is barely mentioned at all. I search the newspapers for the word 'GEAR' whereas before it was all over. Any paper you picked up you'd find some reference to GEAR. What has happened with regard to GEAR?

MS     GEAR is still in place. What has happened is what we all said about  it, GEAR is nothing else but a structural adjustment programme prescribed by the IMF in many other countries.

POM     Part of the Washington Consensus?

MS     Part of the Washington Consensus. And what has happened is that they have had their devaluation of the currency, you have had the decline of the economy, you've had the withdrawal of the subsidies. Health services is a particular example. You go to clinics there is no medicine, there's nothing. You go to a hospital like the Johannesburg General Hospital here and if you are going to be hospitalised there you've got to bring our own linen because the hospital doesn't have any. As we predicted, we said any structural adjustment programme never creates jobs. People lose jobs and that's what GEAR has succeeded. It never distributed wealth but it distributed poverty and they can't argue against it. That's a fact, that's what has happened, that's what's continuing to happen. That is why we have this problem of civil servants. We are still going to experience massive retrenchment of civil servants. It's part of the structural adjustment programme so why it's not mentioned is because politicians can't wave it and propagate it that we have succeeded because they are failing and they can't publicly admit that this thing has not worked.

POM     So GEAR is?

MS     A structural adjustment.

POM     And it's going to be here as long as Thabo Mbeki is President?

MS     Even beyond Thabo Mbeki. I think the big weakness with the kind of governments in developing countries, when they come into office the prescriptions of the IMF and the World Bank, it's irrespective of individual, you can't blame it on an individual, you say it's either Mandela or Mbeki or whoever, it's the kind of prescriptions of the IMF that they have been doing all over the world. For example, let's take Ghana for example, they went to make the prescriptions there, the Rawlings' government even reduced wages up to something like 60 cents a day and this was supposed to attract investors. Investors have not come, there are no investors going to Ghana and Rawlings has accepted that these things have not worked, they have failed in Ghana. I can't see how GEAR is going to succeed in SA, it will completely fail. It has because it has not produced the jobs that they had hoped. As I am saying, withdrawal of subsidies is a typical example of the failure of GEAR.

POM     You just brought up the civil service, you have more retrenchments, I think another 50,000 envisaged to happen over the next number of years and, two, you have the attempts to keep the cost of the public service down. When the Mbeki government said to the public service unions, "We've drawn a line in the sand, you're getting 6%, that's it, no more negotiations. If you want to go on strike, strike away but it's not going to affect the outcome, we're not budging, there's no money", and then the union more or less accepted that that was the position. Do you regard that as any kind of a watershed in relations between government and unions?

MS     I think the problem there was that negotiations were done in public through the media. That was done through the media. Like I said, any government that is managing an economy which is undergoing structural adjustment, cannot pay people what people expect. The only sad thing about this is that they will not give workers about 6% but you check how much is 10% of R300,000 or R400,000. Politicians will always give themselves more money than everybody else. That's the sad thing about it. These negotiations, part of the drive of the government is finally to bring down the number of civil servants. Now as and when unions continue to demand higher wages they will actually accelerate the process of retrenchments.

POM     I was looking at a book that was done by the Research Department of COSATU that showed how the composition of COSATU had changed over the years and that whereas ten years ago the majority of their membership were drawn from manufacturing industry, today the plurality of their members are drawn from the public sector employees. Has the composition regarding the different sectoral composition of NACTU changed over the years?

MS     Not much, we're still operating from the same sectors that we've been operating. I think to explain part of the change, I haven't seen it, but you must also understand that COSATU is part of the tripartite alliance so they campaigned for the ANC before the election and during the course of the elections. Now most people would mistakenly believe that if I join an affiliate which is an affiliate of COSATU it means guaranteeing my job, that it means your job is guaranteed. That's why maybe most people in public service would join but the opposite is the truth. Being a member of any union does not guarantee any job. I think they have realised it with this strike where the government was prepared to take them on and in the final analysis they had to back off because the government was willing to move the full mile. As far as teachers are concerned the government went on to dock their salaries and the government did this with the full knowledge that they will have the support of the public if they will take these salaries. By and large it is the African child who gets affected because SADTU is mostly in African schools in the townships and it is those African children who don't get taught and the matric results are going to be an example now. It is the African children who are disadvantaged. So when the government said we will take their salaries, if they want a fight they can have their fight. The government knew very well that black communities in the township will support the government position. So the unions are weak, morally.

POM     So NACTU would represent still more industrial workers?

MS     Industrial. We do have members in the public service and municipalities but it's not a significant number. We have 25,000 in the public service and in the municipalities we've got about between 15,000 to 20,000 also but we are not having a substantial number.

POM     Among your membership how many would have been retrenched just in the last several years? A round figure.

MS     A round figure will go between, I think, 10,000 and 30,000, just around there because our chemical union, for example, in one plant they had 6000 members in one plant but today they have got less than 1000 and their company is continuing to retrench, AECI which is linked to ICI in London. Now retrenchment in the manufacturing sector has affected us heavily.

POM     As a federation representing a number of unions, what is your response to this? This is what business is going to do, it's part of the global trend, it's part of the trend where you can even have growth in the economy and yet you have unemployment increasing not decreasing, you've got the introduction of new technologies that take hundreds of jobs at a time, what kind of strategy has NACTU or other labour organisations in place to protect workers' jobs where the trend worldwide is that we need less labour in a global economy or else you're not competitive and if you don't lose jobs one way you're going to lose them the other way?

MS     That's a sad thing because it's the reality. What we have done, we set up a Job Summit last year and got into various agreements with government as well as business about kick-starting the economy and creating jobs in those sectors where jobs can be created. For example, we identified housing, where you put up housing and that can be done through government. Then you have electrical supply, the infrastructure that is needed, electrical, domestic components that will be needed there, you try to kick the economy. We also set up what we call a Job Trust, a Labour Trust. We had hoped that by now we would have had more than R100 million in that account so that we can start.

POM     Who pays into that Trust?

MS     It is members, workers, everyone in the country. It's not restricted, anyone is welcome to make a donation into the Trust and we had hoped that by now we would have raised something more than R100 million which we will disperse to rural areas to the youth programme that creates jobs for a number of retrenched workers and so on. It hasn't worked well in the sense that the money that we have, we have not reached our targets.

POM     How much have you?

MS     I haven't checked the last figure. The last figure when I checked it was just about R20 million. Business has put R1.2 billion to start this massive campaign, I think you have observed it in the papers, on tourism, that they can help to kick-start the economy and get jobs for people in the economy on tourism. So that is in line, that is in place. The fact of the matter is with the kind of low level of skills in SA and the world economy is based in hi-tech, it is those countries where you have highly skilled people that investments will go to and of course with labour intensive investments you will not find them anywhere today. That's a sad thing but that's a reality. It's a process that goes on and on.

POM     So there's a catch-22.

MS     It's a catch-22, it's not only for us.

POM     The level of technology keeps advancing and even if you're developing a skills base the gap between the level at which technology is advancing and the level at which you're increasing skills is increasing.

MS     It's increasing, that's why we've taken a number of steps to try to improve the skills base of people. It takes time, it doesn't just happen overnight.

POM     Do you work with government?

MS     We are with government on these things, skills, retraining the workers who are already in jobs so that we give them more skills to do their jobs better and more effectively as well as change the curriculum of youngsters so that they get trained in more technical skills than in just academic skills. And it's not only SA, it's a worldwide problem, every country is going through this.

POM     I often think, and I may have mentioned this to you before, that SA gained it's independence at just the wrong time in world terms. It gained its independence when the concept of the independence of nations was going out the door because of economic interdependence. There are things that you would have said we will do in the new SA, we will do A, B, C, D, E but you can't do them because the whole world climate has changed.

MS     The nation-state for developing countries is gone. Any government that comes in, for example in the past government used to get involved, used to kick-start the economy, would drive the economy, but now you have a situation where government must get out of the economy and that is the evaporation of the nation-state. This is because we become the victim, again, of this worldwide move towards that. So the changes in SA took place at that time. You are right when you say it was the wrong time and all what the politicians had promised they only realised when they were in office that it's not possible.

POM     So who at a political level represents the workers?

MS     Trade unions will continue to represent workers?

POM     At a political level, who in parliament, you have theoretically, anyway in Britain you have the Labour Party represents the working classes and speaks for the interests of the working classes. In Ireland you've a party called the Labour Party which speaks for the working classes, that's their main constituency and that's whose concerns they always put forward and advance in parliament. Who has labour got as their political representatives in parliament?

MS     At the moment it will be the ANC government with all its limitations.

POM     But that's such a broad church.

MS     It's a broad church but that is the only party where you can take these issues and hope that someone else will listen there. Outside of the ANC I can't see anyone, outside the ANC there is no other party that can do that.

POM     At one time the idea of a Workers' Party was being mooted, is that dead in the water?

MS     I think it was said in anger. I don't think it's going to take off here in this country. I think part of the SA society is that what you find in society is that if you are going to become extra left, ultra left or ultra right, people in this country will reject you so I don't think there is much room for these ultra right parties. You can see the Afrikaners themselves as a community, most of these ultra right organisations they remain on the fringe.

POM     They're rejected by the mainstream.

MS     They are rejected by the mainstream. Even if you're going to be on the ultra left you run the risk of being rejected. So Workers' Party, all those things, these are just extraneous to who will not, who are good at seeing weaknesses but they will not put something constructive on the table because if they put something constructive they will come to the same stage where the ANC government is. They will not do better.

POM     Would you say that by and large, just on that point, that SA is a fairly conservative country?

MS     In terms of?

POM     Like that it rejects extremes, it's not radical. Like the radical left wouldn't ever

MS     I think they will be tolerated, they will be there.

POM     But they won't be elected, they will never become a majority voice?

MS     I don't think so, not in SA. The past elections have shown. Even the ANC itself, let's take SACP for example, they had to move with the ANC to take mostly what you could call a centre left but they could not keep the ultra left. Even the SACP has realised that. Now if the ANC had tried to stick on the ultra-left I don't think they would have been where they are and they have learned it very quick. Let's take the Democratic Party, it has the majority of white conservatives now but it's not going to grow anywhere. It is has this right wing element but it will not grow further than what it has done now because it can't even influence the ANC in office.

POM     Just asking you to look at the election results and what you think they say about the country. Here you had a party, the ANC, the governing party, going into an election where across the board, across all racial groups, ethnic groups, whatever, there was widespread dissatisfaction with its performance on creating jobs, widespread dissatisfaction on its performance in dealing with crime, dissatisfaction with the way education was being run, general dissatisfaction with the slow rate of delivery. Now in a 'normal' society a political party going into an election looking at that data beforehand would say, my God, we've a problem on our hands! Yet the ANC come out of the election with a higher proportion of the vote than it even got in 1994. The other parties, Freedom Front disappears off the map almost, the National Party seems on the verge of collapse, Inkatha drops its share of the vote particularly in KZN, the PAC just disintegrating again. The DP come out as being the only 'winner' of what's left of the opposition. How would you interpret the results of that? The ANC were saying to the people, listen, we need more time, you know what our intentions are. Our intentions are still the same, jobs, education, housing, but we need more time to get the job done, we've been learning. And the people seem to accept that.

MS     First and foremost I think the people do accept that. The other thing is that the electorate, particularly in the African community, is not yet a sophisticated electorate which will look into the things that you've been talking about, the performance in the economy, all those things. They won't. In the normal developed countries a party gets into office and gets kicked out of office mainly on how they have handled the economy. Now we don't have their sophisticated electorate. That's number one. Number two, here you still have a situation where you have the dinosaurs of the struggle. You have Mandela still being there and the whole people linked to the struggle and that generation and the generation that still votes these people into office is that generation, the generation that comes with the history of the struggle. Now the liberation movements that become eventually ruling parties they carry that generation with them for a long time. It's only after the new generation come into the scene who have no history of the struggle, who have no sentiment with the struggle, who are looking at themselves, the answers.

POM     When your children start saying to you, oh don't start talking about apartheid again?

MS     We are not part of that, we don't know that. I think in the first and the second elections these parties usually get huge majorities but from the third election downward they begin to have problems.

POM     But in Namibia, if one is to use that as an example, in the third election SWAPO with more opposition, I mean opposition that broke away from within its own ranks, still got its highest proportion of votes ever, 76%.

MS     But you see that's a weakness because these people that broke away from SWAPO and the propaganda that came about during the election campaign by SWAPO on these people, accusing them of being apartheid spies and all that, it's not easy when people break away to set up, but when other people with more respect in the community challenge the ruling party they are likely to turn things around. For example, you take Holomisa in this country, he gets into the ANC, he gets out of the ANC, he sets up his party. It's dwindling now. It was easy for SWAPO to propagate against these people, Ben Olanga(?) and all those guys, it was easy for them. As I say, it is that generation that is still linked to the struggle. Once that generation goes and the new generation comes in, ask Mugabe he will tell you, the youngsters at the university don't bother about him fighting Smith, they don't care about that, they are looking at the economy now you have messed up, get out, because youngsters were not there so they don't have the sentiments of him fighting Smith, they don't. So they are looking at him and saying, listen here, we are seeing here the standard of the university is getting down. You are messing up, just get out. So there's no sentiment.

POM     But what's the alternative?

MS     To what?

POM     To the ANC. These people, like the next generation might say you're messing up the economy but when they look around at who they're to vote for what do they see? They see no other black party of any significance.

MS     I think as time goes on in this country, there is no viable black opposition party to the ANC and the reason is simple for that and it's not going to be there for a long time.

POM     It's not?

MS     The reason, I'm going to come with the reason.

POM     It is going to be there for a long time?

MS     No. The black political parties are going to have a problem to oppose ANC and the reason is as follows: as a black party if ANC says African people or black people need houses what are you going to say as that political party? Are you going to say no? If the ANC says we need to spend more money to improve the quality of education in black schools, what are you going to say? Are you going to say no? So the room for black opposition parties is actually they can't manoeuvre.

POM     They would have to espouse the same policies.

MS     Because the ANC says these things that people want and you can't say no. So you have to find a way to say yes, what kind of houses do we need, where are we going to put houses? They're going to improve education, what kind of education do we want to bring into play? Now you have to look at these things broader so there's actually little room for manoeuvre for black political opposition parties if you look at it so it's going to take some time for any party to develop. What it actually means is that in the final analysis we are going to come to an end to parties based on race in this country. What is going to happen as time goes on is people are going to be looking at their own class interests and people will vote on that. It's only then that the ANC will have a viable opposition.

POM     So you see the divisions won't come from, as both white parties are hoping, that the ANC is going to break up and the SACP is going to break away or COSATU is going to break away. That's not going to happen.

MS     I think that's stupid.

POM     Just dreaming.

MS     It's not going to happen.

POM     What you see happening is that as time progresses and you have an emerging black middle class, which you have, that their interests in many respects will reflect the interests of the white middle class and they will have more in common with each other in terms of class interest than the black middle class would have with people living in shacks and you will have the division of politics more clearly cut, that what will get rid of racial divisions will be class commonalities.

MS     Because their children will be attending the same schools, they will be having the same shopping complexes, they will be attending the same church, they go to church together. Children will be attending the same universities so I think when we reach that that's when you will have a viable opposition to the ANC which is not going to be based on pigmentation.

POM     And that's going to take some time to develop any kind of critical mass.

MS     It is going to take some time it's true, it's going to take some time. Politics need patience. It's not going to happen overnight, it will need patience.

POM     What about the black middle class? It's emerging fairly rapidly. Every three or four weeks I take a trip over to Rosebank or Sandton or one of these malls and I do it mostly to observe, to see who's there and who's buying. The number of blacks with disposable income who are shopping like hell, every year I can see it going up and up and up. What is the responsibility of the black middle class to the poor, those who are still living in shacks, or is it in the nature of human beings that when you get into the middle class, when you see opportunity and you grab the opportunity you start thinking of self, self becomes first and you forget about the poor?

MS     The problem with the black middle class is that they don't come there on their own steam, they come there because someone else is trying to help them to be there. So being there

POM     The government is trying to help them or - ?

MS     It might be in government, it might be a government job, it might be a job in the private sector.

POM     You're saying it's an affirmative action?

MS     Someone is sponsoring you, but between you and the guy in the shack is your three months cheque. If you don't get paid for three months you are out of Sandton, you are back in the shack. So it's a survival kind of life that they live. They live to pay. They've got bonds to pay, huge bonds to pay, they've got bills to pay of all these German limousines, they've got children in private schools. So with that kind of pressure on them I can't see how they can have time and money to think about the poor because they themselves, if he doesn't get paid for two or three months you are out of that house, you could lose the cheque. It's not a well rooted, established middle class, it's not, and to expect these guys that they can think about the poor I can't see it happening.

POM     The ANC had some notion that they're going to educate these people into showing them that they have responsibilities to the poor.

MS     But we should not also allow a government to run away from its own responsibility. The government is taking tax from the middle class. What are they doing with the tax? Because that is the tax money, they must go and use that money to provide services for the poor. What are they doing with the tax that they are collecting from the middle class? Because that's their counterpart. The middle class say we make a contribution to this country, we pay taxes, we don't dodge tax, so these guys must take our tax money and provide. And what is the role of the government? We should also be careful not to take away the responsibility of the government because the government has a responsibility to the poor. They have to provide medicine, they have got to provide proper education, they have got to provide sanitation. It's the job of the government. They can't not take that responsibility and push it to someone else. It's wrong, it shouldn't be accepted.

POM     If I asked you what was the greatest or the biggest challenge facing SA in the next say ten to fifteen years, using maybe fifteen years as a cut-off period, what would you say it is?

MS     I think provision of skills in this country to me will be number one because with education and skills, technical skills, technological skills, people are able to begin to create programmes for themselves. A computer whiz-kid does not need to look for a job with someone else, he can create. Because it's only then that you will begin to attract investors, you will then begin to create wealth. So number one that has to be done is to provide people with all sorts of skills, literacy skills, technical skills, technological skills in the next ten to fifteen years. The spin-off of that is that either people begin to be on their own or attract investors. Microsoft, for example, if they have to come here then there must be highly skilled people. You can't expect people to say OK we'll set up some factory there in SA to help us manufacture this if there are no skilled people to do that. So you need to begin to provide skills to people then these hi-tech companies can begin to tap in and that's how you're going to turn round your economy.

POM     I asked you that for a specific reason because it's a question I've been asking of everybody and not a single person, with one exception, and this includes most of the cabinet ministers or whatever, most people I've been interviewing for the last ten years who were out of power six years ago and are now firmly entrenched in power, and not one of them said AIDS.

MS     As a challenge?

POM     That is the biggest challenge facing this country in the next 15 years. Not one of them said that unless we get AIDS under control, stabilised at a certain level, that we will be educating young people and half of them will be dead by the time they acquire the skills so half the investment in education is going down the drain. Life expectancy even if it stabilised at its present rate, if AIDS stabilises at its present rate is going to by the year 2005 drop to the late forties. The whole demography, demographic structure of the country is going to change. Family structures are going to change.

MS     I don't want to deny that AIDS is a challenge but I don't think we should think that SA alone can deal with the AIDS problem. I think it's an international problem that has to be dealt with internationally and SA has to be part of that. SA alone cannot effectively deal with the problem of AIDS on its own. We need to inter-react with them. AIDS, I think to me, it's the number one challenge facing the whole world, particularly the developed world in terms of providing scientific research and medicines that can help us to deal with this. To think that SA we can run programmes (break in recording) the problem per se. So unless internationally that is understood and accepted, the whole world, particularly the developed world, pharmaceuticals in Germany, in the whole of Europe, North America, scientists in the various countries, because they have the amount of money and the time to do the research. That is what is going to help SA and other countries in similar positions. On our own I can't see us dealing with it.

POM     But in the meantime?

MS     In the meantime it's an issue that we must take at all levels of society but simply informing people does not help. You need to inform people, you need to provide people with the necessary drugs. Now if you have a government here which says we can't provide AZT to pregnant women because we don't have the money to do so, so what's the point of telling people about AIDS? When it says there is a problem then you must say, what is the solution? And the solution to AIDS in some cases is the provision of drugs. Now if you are not able to provide drugs why raise it in the first place?

POM     I have a friend who works for an American NGO and she has AIDS and a couple of weeks ago she was getting AZT because she is on an American benefit plan but they have different plans for Americans in America and different plans for citizens of countries they hire overseas and her pharmacist said, "You've reached the limit, we can't give you AZT any more." Now her medical bill just for AZT per month comes to US$500, that's R3000 a month, that's R36,000 a year.

MS     What does it mean now? Does it mean she must die?

POM     It means we'd be able to establish a pool of people who are kicking in their money so that she can get her drugs every week. You can do that for one individual, two individuals but you can't do it for a million people.

MS     That's the problem.

POM     President Mbeki, I find personally great trouble in dealing with the manner in which he dealt with AZT, that there is no scientific evidence to prove that AZT may be bad for you and if you're telling a person who has AIDS that you're giving them something that may be bad for them, it really doesn't make any difference, and the alternative is that they're going to die anyway.

MS     But what we need to do is to say that if he has a problem with AZT then he must bring an alternative. He must say, OK we don't agree, I don't like AZT but this is a substitute for AZT and then provide it. Everybody is paying lip service and it doesn't help us. What we need is to say if he says there's a problem with AZT, fine, no problem, we don't want to argue with him, but it must not end up there. He must then say still there's a problem, this is an alternative we are providing.

POM     Do you think that despite all the government talk and everybody wearing the AIDS pin and AIDS Day and advertising, do you think that this is a government responsibility and that the government should be providing the medicine or making provision for providing the medicine that is necessary? Or if it's not the government's responsibility then whose responsibility does it become?

MS     Mainly it is the government's responsibility. However, other institutions in society must also help. For example, Medical Aids and companies could provide money that will subsidise provision of these drugs and the churches can also make that kind of a contribution. It's mainly a government responsibility but other institutions in society must also play their part.

POM     Are most of your members on medical aid schemes?

MS     Yes.

POM     What are the ceilings when it comes to getting medications like AZT? Do they provide any benefits in that regard or is there a cut-off point that you get X amount over a year and that's it?

MS     That's our biggest problem now. Also you look at insurance companies, over a period of time you've got to undergo a test where they can see whether you are positive or not positive so that they can continue your policy or discontinue your policy. It's a problem that we have with financial institutions and the government has not come with a law that says they can not discriminate against you.

POM     So at the moment if you're an insurance company?

MS     If, for example, you want to take a policy with an insurance company you've got to undergo an AIDS test.

POM     Right now?

MS     Right now, before they can write you up.

POM     And if you test positive?

MS     Positive, no-one.

POM     No policy.

MS     It means all insurance companies in this country are not going to cover you. All. And that's discriminatory. We don't have a law at this stage which says they cannot do that.

POM     Would the Equality Bill cover that?

MS     I don't think so. Nobody has ever challenged it.

POM     Let me ask you a bit about privatisation. Government policy is accelerate privatisation, do more and more of it. I still understand that the unions would in principle be opposed to increasing privatisation. There's a clash here between what unions see as what's best for the country and what government sees is best for the country. Now the government argument, as far as I can read it, is that if you sell off state assets, particularly state assets that are not very productive or are running at a loss or whatever, you accumulate a sum of capital, you can use that sum of capital to reduce the external debt, by reducing the external debt you reduce the amount you have to pay every year in servicing that debt so you free up resources that can now be used in health, education, welfare, development, whatever. This is the way of generating resources that otherwise the country doesn't have and particularly in getting out, reducing in the budget those items that have to be met every year and thereby determine the amount of discretionary money that's available for social development, health, education, whatever. Do you find their argument a compelling argument? What would be the attitude of NACTU towards that?

MS     It's not compelling at all because this government does not have a huge international debt, they don't have. Most of their debt is internal and it's owed to pension funds in this country.

POM     To pension funds?

MS     To pension funds in this country. What the previous government did, they had a law that prescribed that 5% of public service pension funds must be invested in government bonds. You remember there were sanctions so they could not raise money outside so they used the law to borrow money from the pension funds in the country to finance all these things they wanted to finance. Now there is little debt outside, the bulk of the debt is internal. Now you are not going to sell state assets to pay debt outside, there is little debt outside.

POM     Well let's say you're using the debt, you're paying off debt, you still have to pay interest on that debt every year?

MS     When they pay the internal debt they don't even have to use dollars, they use the common currency to service this debt which is internal and they know it. What we have said is that they have to re-work their payment of that debt internally which means that in the process of working out how they can pay that debt they can still release a lot of resources to do what they are supposed to do as government. Now when it comes to state assets we have to look at are they state enterprises you are talking about or are they just getting rid of state assets and what is the role of government in these things? For example, they are beginning now to try in Mpumalanga, in Nelspruit, they have privatised the supply of water to a British multi-national. Now that's irresponsible because you are talking largely about an area which is covered by rural areas. You are not going to tell me that a British multi-national will supply water at an affordable price in the rural areas. That's government's job. These guys are going to make profits, they're not worried about what's happening in the rural areas. They are concerned about their profits. If they can supply enough water to industry, to the city, they know that's where they can get their money.

     Now we have to look at what are we talking about, what assets are we talking about? Are we talking about government enterprises here? Which are those enterprises? Can they commercialise and manage those enterprises more effectively than before so that these enterprises can bring in money? Because privatisation, the experience of Britain for example, TUC people will tell you that it has cost jobs. In Britain it has cost jobs, it has not created more jobs, it has cost more jobs but increased profits. Now in a country like SA where let's take the Airport Company for example, the shares they were selling there, ACSA, now you look at the shares there, the amount of money that is needed there. How many South Africans can afford to buy these things? You are actually auctioning the country to outsiders. That's what basically eventually happens. So the people who are supposed to benefit do not benefit because the money eventually is shipped out of the country.

POM     What if you had a parastatal that was being run at a loss that's costing ?

MS     That's why I'm saying if it's a state enterprise and it has been running at a loss, what are the reasons of this thing running at a loss? It might be a question of management so we have to reschedule it so that it can begin to run effectively. In Zambia, for example, Chiluba fell into all this IMF thing. They shut down most of those state enterprises. Now they are beginning a process of re-opening them again because that privatisation process did not work, it hasn't worked. So these things don't work in terms of the economic theory. The theory might be there but practically it might work differently so there is no guarantee that when you privatise it is going to work. There is no guarantee. In Zambia, talk to anyone from Zambia and they will tell you. Some of those parastatals were shut down by Chiluba but now they have realised that they made a mistake, they want to start opening some of those again.

POM     If part of the problem is that say with Transnet or Spoornet where they need massive injections of capital and the only way to get that capital is to perhaps enter a partnership with find a partner like with the airlines, they didn't sell them off but they sold 40% of SAA to the Swiss.

MS     You sell off, you get what they call a strategic partner but the result will be the same because when the strategic partner comes in the first thing they are going to look at, obviously this thing does not function properly, it needs restructuring, and that restructuring programme might also need retrenchment of workers and shutting down some of what you think are not core. Today they talk about core manufacturing or core business. Some of those things they think that these are not in our core business so they can get rid of them, either they outsource them or simply shut them down. Whatever you do, whether you outsource or you shut them down that goes with workers, that goes with the jobs of workers.

POM     Again, after Job Summits, all this talk about joblessness, we must create jobs, which I've heard for four years in a row, five years in a row, the fact of the matter is that there is a higher level of joblessness now than at any time in the last decade.

MS     People say talk is cheap. There has not been anything significant to stem off joblessness in the country, save the jobs.

POM     So when President Mbeki says - I want delivery, I want this, I want that, who is putting together a basic job creation plan?

MS     The fact of the matter is he's a politician. When he talks, I'm going to create a job, he doesn't have money to create those jobs, he's depending on other people and the people on whom he may be dependent that they will help him to create jobs, they have not created those jobs. Like I said earlier on the problem with job creation today, it goes with hi-tech. People don't just create jobs for the sake of it. There is no philanthropism in job creation. People create jobs because they want to make profits and people are not going to create jobs because they want to be philanthropic. If they are not going to make profits they are not going to create those jobs, so that's a problem. In fact it's not a problem it's a fact. Now he might say he wants to create jobs but if those who have the resources to create those jobs don't see how they're going to make their profits, and huge profits for that matter, they are not going to invest.

POM     So your prognosis for the economy?

MS     I think the last figures on inflation have shown that the economy has grown but there is a wide gap between growth of economy and development. The economy is growing but it's not growing to a point where you can say it's beginning to turn around where it creates jobs. It hasn't reached that level.

POM     You mean it has to get to 5%, 6%, 7% before it gets to that?

MS     Before it gets to that level.

POM     People are talking about, oh, we've hit 1%, we might hit 2% in five years.

MS     The biggest problem is that the economy is not growing to an extent where it can begin to attend to some of these things. That is the problem.

POM     Do you think 'white fears' that were driving whites in 1994 when they thought Africans were going to take over everything as soon as they got into office, and yet as a class they appear to me is the division that's coming a division? Well I was saying about whites, most whites that I know are living as comfortable lives as they ever lived, are as well off as they ever were. They complain about crime and they complain about all the usual things and say things are going to hell and yet they take their holidays abroad every year, send their children to private schools. South Africa is a good place to live. As you said, you will see an emerging black middle class and they are aspiring towards much the same things, consumer goods, better houses, nicer areas, better schools for their kids, larger TVs and stereos and VCRs and computers and holidays. Do you see with the passage of time that the real division in this country is not going to be between black and white but between those who have and those who don't?

MS     In the final analysis I think that is what's going to happen.

POM     Because whites are getting retrenched as well as blacks?

MS     Whites are getting retrenched. But let's start with whites. The fears that they had, I think it was based on self-interest, on greed and I think if you take the Mandela presidency, whites in this country were more protected than ever before, even De Klerk would not protect them like Mandela. Their life has not been tampered with. What you are saying hers, it reminds me one day I asked someone in Zimbabwe how is Smith doing? He said, "Smith is even better off than when he was Prime Minister, he's got two farms now." I think whites are better off than before. Like I said, all that they need to do is to accept the reality that there will not be a white President in this country for a long time and even if they have a white President in this country he's not going to be looking at white people, he will be looking at the country as a whole. There is no way we are going to have any ruling party in this country any more that will say we cater for this group of people, it's not going to happen. Any ruling party in this country is going to look at the country as a whole but then they are going to have certain sections of the communities who will influence the ruling party like any other ruling party. The business community is one, they will influence any ruling party for their own interest. They want laws that give them tax breaks, tax havens, whatever. They will do that, they will continue to do that irrespective as I say. Like I said, in the long term whilst this young generation that doesn't have this history of struggle, they will find commonality with whoever they work with, whoever schools their children. As and when they begin to have this common interest these are the people who will want to have parties that will represent their own interests. They might even come together with business, for example, to get influence in government and that is when, I think, the current ruling party, ANC, will begin to have problems.

POM     Is the common interest here that in the end they all become consumers?

MS     Yes, like I said before, the same aspirations. You walk down the street, when you see a German limousine there you can't be sure that it's only a white person driving that car, it might be a black guy. You might see three German limousines driven by black people, they live in Sandton, they live everywhere. They also go on holiday now overseas, they take cruises, they do whatever. They have the money to do so and others are beginning to buy small properties outside the city because they want a more settled lifestyle than in the cities. Human beings are human beings all over the world and they have the same aspirations whatever class they are.

POM     In that regard does it ever worry you, and it's begun to worry me, that the ANC in a way seem to say we have a perfect constitution or as good a constitution as could be devised by human beings and now we're going to legislate every piece of it into law so that we're going to create as good as human beings as could ever be created. In other words if you smoke you must smoke and there must be a partition and you can only smoke inside and you can't advertise this because it might have a bad influence on the way people think or the behaviour they do. I know Valli Moosa who was a big environmentalist and wanted to protect the environment and had this idea that he would do it by banning plastic bags, until someone told him, "You ban plastic bags and do you know how many jobs in the country you're killing?" So that went off. But what they're trying to do is legislate behaviour, that if you behave in a certain way you're a good person and a good citizen. I find aspects of the Equality Bill really troubling.

MS     I think you cannot legislate behaviour. You have to culturalise people into having the norms and the values that you aspire to as society. That cannot be done through legislation. It can't. I myself don't smoke cigarettes and I think at times people who smoke become a nuisance, they don't think for other people. So people must check wherever they are whether people have any objection if they smoke, but don't just smoke cigarettes and think that you have the right to do so. The other day I saw at the entrance there, this guy walks in, he's smoking and the security guard tells him, "Listen here, this is a non-smoking." Then he dropped the cigarette to stub it. The guy says, "No, no, no, you pick it up." This guys says, "You are not going to go through here if you don't pick it up." But you don't need that kind of a thing. This guy when told that it's a non-smoking place should say, "Sorry, I didn't realise", goes out, snuff it out and come back and you don't have a problem. I think the Soviets tried to put society into compartments, it never worked.

POM     There is such a thing as a correct human being.

MS     It will never happen, it will never work. It has never worked anywhere. The Soviets tried it, it has never worked and it will not work in this country. All that you need is an open society, educate people, persuade people, but you must also accept that there is a generation that you have lost, that grew up with what you may consider now bad habits. You might have to look at the younger generation, culturalise the younger children in a different way than your generation was brought up because it was brought up in a different set of circumstances, the norms and the values were different. You can't legislate behaviour, you are going to tell us now when you walk into a theatre we should not laugh because it messes up the environment. We can't, you can't, it's not going to work.

POM     Did you see some of the tendencies in the Equality & Anti-Discrimination Bill in terms of the drafts that have been put before parliament, do you see any tendencies there to regulate people's speech? When you get to the point of where you might say to yourself, or in public, "Oh, I'm nothing but a bloody kaffir", and you're saying it as a joke and laughing at yourself or whatever. And I say to you, "Oh! That's against the law. You've just used the word kaffir. You've committed a crime against yourself." Where do you differentiate between a word used in a context where it's an angry, hateful context or where it's humorous? Do you create courts that have to decide on these things?

MS     There is a difficulty. For example, it depends on the relationships with people, people have got different relationships and based on what you are saying, it depends on my relationship with you. People make jokes about everyone else, we make jokes. I didn't know Afrikaans, I think when you say a 'boer' you mean an Afrikaner but I recently know that a 'boer' is actually in Afrikaans a farmer, so you're talking about farmers. And we have all these members coming from the farmers, or even in a I don't know how much you know Afrikaans?

POM     I don't know very much.

MS     But this guy is a Vice President of NACTU, he's one of our Vice Presidents, he worked for Siemens. So he's got this Afrikaner guy, they work together, they are friends, they are just friends, and he says one day this guy came out he was beaten up and then he asked this guy, "Who beat you up like this? You are messed up." And this guy says, "Man, let me tell you", just like we are talking. And then he says, "Listen, man, you know these coloureds that are manufacturing themselves now, they have no respect for white people. The coloureds they respected our fathers before. We were better off when they respected us. These guys beat me up." But this guy said he did it in such a humorous way that they all laughed about it, but he was beaten up and anyone who is there who understands their relationship can't take offence, you see? And he said one time he was talking with this guy, they were just talking about an albino, people make these jobs, so this guy he's a black, he's an albino, he was doing some gardening for this white guy and the youngster did not know an albino for the first time so he asked his father, "Was this man an Afrikaner before be became an albino?" But he says this guy said it and they laughed about it. There was a guy working on a machine from some company and he took offence. He then left, he was fixing a machine and he took offence, he left. So they didn't know why this guy is leaving, so the next thing the manager phones them and says, "What did you guys say?" and they said, "What did we say about what?" He said, "There was a guy fixing a machine." They said, "We listened to the guy fixing the machine. He was fixing the machine and we were talking amongst ourselves, we never said anything to him." So the manager says, "OK, I'll come down there to explain." So he explains that this guy says you guys said this and he felt offended. Now this black guy says before he could respond this white guy told his manager, "Tell that guy to fuck off, we were not even talking to him, we were talking amongst ourselves. He must not listen to what we are saying here." And he said, "No, phone those guys there, this guy must come and fix the machine here. If he doesn't we cancel the contract now." So they phoned, the guy comes back. This white guy says to him, "Listen, why did you take offence, I am talking to these guys. These are my friends, I'm talking to my friends. What's your problem? When we talk amongst ourselves here and you don't like it, shut your mouth, shut your ears and do your machine and get out." So human beings are human beings and as people live together they work together particularly in industries. People I think, when you listen to workers working in factories, whether it's construction, they are closer, more closer than us, they are very close, more closer than us. And they say all sorts of things to each other and nobody takes offence.

POM     Yes.

MS     Now you cannot legislate because that is a special relationship amongst those people. Now the third party cannot take an offence because you are not part of the discussion.

POM     But how can you put this into law and you end up with all kinds of courts and commissions?

MS     It's not going to work.

POM     Determining was that a joke, was that not a joke, who are you talking to, when were you talking?

MS     People working together. This guy was saying to me, "If you walked in where we work", because they do all dirty jokes, whatever, they are friends, now as a third party you can't take an offence. How do you prove it in court because this guy is going to say, "No, this is the language we talk about, that's how we understand each other", and the government cannot regulate how we communicate, not even a manager can enforce that because every senior guy in any environment there's a nickname for that person, staff that work under you will give you a nickname. You might not know about it but everyone has that. Now what offence you can't bring in legislation on that. I don't think you can.

POM     That's what worries me, that it's gone too far.

MS     But you see I think what you need to do is to allow them to finally realise that these things don't work and it might be there and nobody will use it. It will just always for years and years and years get more dust on it. The law must be there but it doesn't mean that people are going to use it.

POM     Just finally, do you think the SACP still, as a member of the alliance, says that the final goal in this country is socialism? Do you think such things as the final goal is socialism are in a sense irrelevant today since no country has the ability to determine on its own what's going to happen to it? It lives in a global world, global rules have replaced national rules and you either play along or you lose out.

MS     I think the SACP guys they are quite aware of that, I think they are quite aware of that. They will also be looking at if you have an ANC and allow the ANC middle class to be on its own you might have a situation where the poor don't get looked after. I'm not sure, I'm just thinking. Now when you have SACP in that alliance and COSATU their role might be to continuously prick the conscience of those who might not have their politics. So while they may not reach the level of socialism as they espouse it but they will be able to prick the conscience of people.

POM     Their voice.

MS     Their voice will be there so that they can always think about the poor. Now what you might have in the final analysis is what the socialist parties in Britain, in Europe are grappling with, what they are calling the 'third way' which is the middle of capitalism and socialism and find some way where workers and the working class can benefit. You want to get to that and that is as far maybe as you can get. In other words I'm saying that it's important that we should have the Communist Party in that alliance, in this society. We need the Communist Party.

POM     OK. I will tell Blade when I see him next week, they're still needed.

MS     I think we do. Tell him that I said so.

POM     Do you have an e-mail address.

MS     I'll give you my card.

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.