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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

13 Dec 1999: Schlemmer, Lawrence

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POM     Let me begin by maybe going back, the last time I talked to you, you had been talking about some research that you had been doing on AIDS and you said that preliminary results or whatever might be available at that time you said in about a month's time. Have you any results available?

LS     I'm afraid I just haven't had the time to get into it yet. The results at the moment are a bit contradictory in the sense that while certainly there seems to have been a marked increase in awareness of the danger of AIDS, the understanding of AIDS and the extent to which people actually link it specifically to risk behaviour is less encouraging. I have a three foot high pile of printouts and I'm trying to get all the work finished that I have to do before the end of the year. I just haven't been able to get into it. All that I can say is that there seems to be a reasonable consensus among demographers these days that AIDS is, I think as I indicated to you last time, by 2010 is going to be the equivalent of a holocaust and whereas the last time I spoke to you demographers were still disagreeing with each other I think they're more or less in agreement now, the forecasts are converging. The government has been taking an interest in the AIDS forecasts, my own, those of other people and just since I last saw you there have been a number of workshops in which the issue has been confronted at least by officials. I don't know to what extent by politicians but the officials are certainly taking it seriously.

POM     You gave me some names the last time of people whom I still intend to look up but haven't got around to, but you've no other names to add to that in terms of especially demographers in the region or even in SA where this convergence of - ?  For example, on Saturday I had a meeting with Murphy Morobe and I was asking him the formula they used to determine the allocation of budgetary shares to provinces and I asked him do they factor in the degree of HIV in the provinces or its prevalence. He said, no they didn't.

LS     No, and there are huge differences between the provinces, massive differences.

POM     But this should make for huge differences in allocations between budgetary allocations. It's like saying either the data is unreliable, you can't rely on it so we don't have a good data base to go on but one would think that even in a bad data base in some cases if it's pointing in the right direction it's better than no data base.

LS     No, the fact is that we know that there are certain provinces which are proportionately significantly lower in terms of HIV infections. The Western Cape, the Northern Cape and to some extent Gauteng, but the fact is there's an uncomfortable issue for government in it all and that is it correlates with the relative proportion of minorities. The reason why the Northern Cape and the Western Cape and Gauteng are lower than the other provinces is because they have more whites, coloureds and Indians and AIDS at the moment is really to a very large extent a census, a racial census which is an embarrassing and a difficult issue. You can also imagine what a hue and cry there would be from certain provinces if the health allocations were to be cut on the strength of AIDS because what is happening is that people are coming to hospitals in Gauteng and in Cape Town and in Kimberley from other provinces. So these provinces which have lower AIDS rates are having to pick up a lot of the costs of treating the AIDS patients, the chronically ill people tend to be going to those hospitals. The hospitals in Gauteng, for example, are hugely overstressed as a result of it.

POM     In fact I was talking to the Superintendent of the Brooklyn Chest Hospital in Cape Town, the TB hospital, and he said they're inundated with terminally ill AIDS patients. One result is (a) they can't do anything for them and (b) there's no room for TB patients for whom they could do something. So it's a real dilemma and they're doing nothing but people are filling beds and they're dying while there are people outside who could benefit.  What do you envisage in terms of strategy? Now you talk about, say, it will reach holocaust proportions by the year 2010. I had the opportunity the other night, just because there was a Congressional delegation here, of raising the issue with Dick Gebhardt who is the minority leader, he hopes to be the majority leader, in the House of Representatives, and I raised the issue with him. At least he had a strategic sense that it must be dealt with on an international scale and the UN mobilised. It's just that as the UN sends peacekeepers into war-stricken areas it must be prepared to send medical people and the like into countries where AIDS is a plague. Do you think an approach like that will work? Do you think there is any approach or that you just to go through that and that at some point it peaks?

LS     I think that there certainly is a need in countries like Angola and Zambia for UN assistance and support. Less so in SA because I think it would be a travesty if the UN were to actually spend money when basically we have or we should have the infrastructure in place to deal with this kind of thing. The fact that our hospitals are so overstressed at the moment is because of an assumption made by our Health Department, mainly under the pressure of advisors, and that is to encourage the development of clinics at the cost of the expansion of hospital facilities. The clinics are not working too well mainly because they are decentralised and there are huge problems of logistics in running effective rural decentralised clinics. Now the problem is that the clinics can't really deal with the terminally ill, with chronic AIDS patients, they have to go to the hospitals and at the moment 40% of the capacity of hospitals in Gauteng is taken up with AIDS patients. This is going to increase over the next 15 years by 600%. In other words we will have to have an increase in capacity to deal with the AIDS patients which you can imagine is going to mean that we will have to increase our hospital capacity by a factor of two and a half to three times. I think we can do it, there's no doubt about it. We can do it but it's a matter of policy and priorities. Now one can't expect the UN to come in here and bail us out because of problems we have in making the right kind of policy decisions. So I think ultimately countries have got to find the strategies for themselves.

POM     Would you find it strange that the Fiscal Commission doesn't take HIV prevalence rates into account, or use it in its formula for determining what allocations of the budget should go to in the different provinces?

LS     Yes, look, I find it strange that we don't have a special HIV/AIDS budgetary allocation. That I find strange. What I don't find strange is the fact that they don't factor in on a standard proportional basis the HIV infection rate into the general allocations because I think that would be a mistake. What certain provinces may do is to go and build a whole lot of new rural clinics which can't really cope with AIDS, which are not really equipped to give effective AIDS counselling because they are after all very basic primary health care clinics and I think HIV/AIDS requires more sophisticated approaches so a lot of the money might be misspent if it was simply an automatic and standard re-jigging of the allocation, but I think there should be a national programme in which hospitals are targeted in provinces for expansion because of AIDS rates and special allocations made in order to increase the hospital capacity in those particular provinces. Then there should be special funding for AIDS awareness programmes once again related to the proportion of people infected. I think it's the only way in which one could do it without creating an enormous backlog in some of the provinces that would get proportionately less.

     Now there's insufficient data on the number of people, for example, that go to Cape Town hospitals from Transkei so it's very difficult for them to actually calculate a change in basic grant allocation. I think it would be far better if there were proper AIDS teams operating in each province that would put in separate submissions with a request for central support.

POM     So you could have, as would appear to be the case in Gauteng, where you may have 80% or 90% in five years time of hospital beds occupied by people with AIDS, whereas maybe 50% of that 90% might have come from other provinces. So whereas the incidence, the number of beds filled by AIDS and the prevalence of AIDS in the province itself, there's no real correlation between the two that you can draw a conclusion on?

LS     And of course this is subject to rapid shifts and changes, people will hear that there are hospital facilities available in a province and at the drop of a hat you will have large numbers. I think there has to be a central allocation which can be reallocated to provincial facilities quite rapidly, and also perhaps to municipal facilities. If money goes to the provinces it doesn't mean to say that it will get to municipal clinics and some of the most important work in the mass townships will be done by municipal clinics, particularly the counselling work. So I think what we need is a national programme aimed at strengthening decentralised facilities.

POM     As I think I've said to you before, when I left here and I went to Cape Town and I interviewed a whole slew of ministers and at the end I would ask them the question, what was the greatest challenge facing SA in the next ten to fifteen years, one challenge that the country had to overcome and deal with, and not a single one, except Buthelezi, said AIDS. And I would say, "Why didn't you say AIDS?" and there would be a kind of a defensiveness, well AIDS is not really a government problem, it's a regional problem, it's an international problem. There was a distancing. So everyone wears the pin and you have these great advertisements that are, I think, making money for the marketing companies more than anybody else. Why given that they know that they are facing a problem of immense, overwhelming proportions, why is there not the kind of drastic action focused policy making under way? Why are not the kind of things you are talking about being put in place? All you hear is talk about dropping 50,000 condoms over Pretoria on AIDS Day, a waste of a helicopter being in the air and a waste of the condoms on the ground. Why do they pursue a policy, and maybe I can understand this in a way, of concentrating on awareness but knowing that the evidence shows that there's a very small correlation between the level of awareness and changed behaviour?

LS     I think it's what they said, it's perceived to be an act of God, it's perceived to be a situation in which the government is as much a victim as anybody else so to some extent there's a feeling of lesser accountability because of the nature of the disease. That's the first thing. I think that it's probably not appropriate but it's perhaps understandable. But the second thing is, and I don't say this with much pleasure, it hasn't yet become apparent in SA to what extent AIDS will be hitting the new elites in the middle classes. Now there's a general awareness that the rank and file, the masses of the people are beset with all sorts of problems, whether it be malaria or poverty or unemployment and to some extent there's a kind of resignation that the problem of unemployment, for example, cannot be solved until such time as we have a much stronger economy and a much more buoyant economy. I think that AIDS somehow slots into the same kind of thing. This is a problem which besets the masses and as such it's an overwhelming problem and to some extent we are helpless in the face of the sheer size and scope and numbers. When it becomes clear just how many teachers and clerks and civil servants and professions are going to be affected by AIDS, I think then the scope of the crisis will become apparent and we haven't got breakdowns yet.

     The Department of Health doesn't provide breakdowns so we really are operating on the assumption made on the basis of very, very partial information, usually tests that are done by private companies and tests done in the army and that kind of thing. To some extent we're living in the illusion that it's a problem of the dispersed masses and that lowers accountability to some extent. Now this is unfortunate and it's not right and it's not what the government says it's about but it is real because governments, and this government no more or less than any other government, are responsive to lobbies and special interest politics. In SA our politics are very substantially determined by special interest politics, special interest pressures and lobbies. It's the Black Management Forum, it's various health NGOs, it's gender NGOs. We have a large array of progressive mouthpiece organisations and these are the things to which government are sensitive.

     The vast masses of the people are really quite voiceless in SA. The unemployed are voiceless, the people who suffer from tuberculosis who are generally very poor are voiceless. Obviously their votes are useful when it comes to general elections but like in most other countries that's great but thereafter you take them somewhat less seriously. But in neighbouring countries, for example, like Botswana and Swaziland where it has become very clear that the AIDS epidemic is hitting the middle classes and the new elites, there's a much greater awareness of the scope of the problem. I think we're going to see a change when the data become available. In Swaziland, for example, 50% of the teachers are HIV positive. Now that brings a message home to government because that hurts where it counts, or it counts where it hurts. I'm not sure how to express it.

     If you think about SA's politics over the last three years, ever since the relative decline, if you like, of the RDP, now with the exception of housing where I think the government has done fairly well, I think that most of the reforms have been directed at formerly disadvantaged categories of people that want entry into the ranks of the newly empowered. In other words it's affirmative action, it's all the rights based issues. These are really issues which count most heavily in the middle class. We know that inequality, income inequality, is widening all the time in SA and there's lots of evidence of this from the last census, and that most of the inequality today or at least the growth in equality is not white/black inequality but black/black inequality. The Gini coefficient of inequality in SA within the black community is now equivalent to, it's at the same level, the same index as it is in the country as a whole. In other words black/black inequality is overtaking white/black inequality.

POM     Where would I find data on that?

LS     I can, after our interview, I will give you a reference to it.

POM     But that's like one of those problems that can't be admitted?

LS     Yes.

POM     You can't have a President going in and saying, guess what, there are greater inequalities among blacks in terms of distribution of income than there is between blacks and whites. It's a politically unacceptable statement to make.

LS     That's right. Now despite that, for obvious reasons which you've just mentioned, most of the really controversial policies have been aimed at the black/white interface and less at the black/black inequality issue. AIDS is one of those things which is really within the black community.

POM     And here we're really talking about African?

LS     Yes dominantly African, and that also lowers its profile to some extent because it really is the interface between blacks and whites which is the main concern of government. They have a very sound macro-economic policy which of course is to the benefit of the new black elites because it means growing the private sector, outsourcing, new sub-contracting, new opportunities for tenders and even patronage. So there's no real difference or no real distinction or contradiction between the macro-economic policy and a policy of social elitism. Our housing policies, for example, have been successful I think, more successful than many people give them credit for but they are successful from the lower middle class upwards. They're not really successful for the marginalised classes because the kind of housing initiatives that are taking place are beyond the levels of affordability of the marginalised classes. I've done various studies where I've been at pains to show municipalities that you cannot really house the masses along conventional lines because the people will end up paying three times more for their housing than they are paying in the squatter camps or these marginal areas and they simply cannot afford it. They will have to starve their children to live in houses. Now there's been a steep learning curve and a lot of very, very, I think, remarkable improvements in housing policy for the middle class upwards, the lower middle class upwards, people earning somewhere between R1200 and R1500 a month plus. But for the very poor there is much less but, of course the government can't - you can't actually accuse them of this because they will say, yes, but we give subsidies to everybody. But if you give a person a subsidy of R16,000 and then you say you're going to live in a four-roomed house which is going to cost R110,000 minus the subsidy, it's going to leave you with R80,000 or more to pay off. For most of the people they cannot afford it, they simply cannot afford it. So what is happening is they move into these houses and then don't pay their rates and services and this can't be allowed to continue so sooner or later the government is going to have to crack down on this.

     In other words our whole governance is really aimed at trying to narrow the black/white differentials. That is what really motivates and gets government going and AIDS is not something that will do that. One could argue that the fact that there is far less infection among whites and coloureds and Indians than among blacks is a black/white issue but it's nothing you can change by changing the basis of law or regulation. You have to spend honest money and honest effort on the problem and that is not the way government has tended to go. It's tended to want to go for things where you can transform through restructuring. One must remember that there is a great emphasis on structure and restructuring in our government and this comes from their earlier traditions of social democracy and socialism and progressive liberalism all coming together with an emphasis on structure and restructuring.

     Now you can't do anything about AIDS through restructuring anything so they tend to feel, well, we're helpless, we're overwhelmed by it, let's just try and cope with the consequences. We don't have a people's government, we've got to face it. Our government has got many good points, many bad points. I think it's doing quite well. More and more people are recognising that it's better than they expected it would be in many areas but it is not a people's government.

POM     It is not?

LS     And AIDS is a people's issue at this moment so we will wait. Until it starts hitting the middle class it will be a secondary issue.

POM     You had mentioned when we spoke the last time about this middle class black/white divide, that this is kind of cutting edge at least in terms of racial divisions. Do you see a pattern developing where despite the black/white affirmative action and competition for jobs divide, is that their common interests as consumers, whether it's sending their children to good schools, buying that extra car, wanting to live in a better area, running up debt and servicing the debt and making ends meet, to travel, give them a commonality that you have a kind of a black/white middle class where tensions will exist but that the real divide will switch in the country between the haves and the have-nots, those for whom life is pretty good and those who will for a long time to come, mostly African, be marginalised, be voiceless, but that it is in government's interests to keep the black/white divide alive?

LS     I think it's in its interests to keep the black/white divide alive, and I don't think that it's deliberate. I don't think they actually sit and calculate along these lines but it just happens. Often there are what Max Weber referred to as elective affinities in the way things work in society where you tend to be drawn towards policies because there is some kind of affinity with other interests. Now the advantage of keeping the black/white issue alive is that you have as a basis for policy solutions some category of interest that you can milk. In other words as long as you think of black/white issues you are thinking in terms of tax bases and most of the taxes that are paid are paid by whites and Indians and coloureds and therefore you are thinking of issues where redistribution makes sense. There's a resource available, whites, or the minorities, represent a resource. Now the government is not crude about this, they're very careful, they have lowered company taxes slightly. They haven't lowered income taxes which are very high relative to other countries at our level of development, and there are also a lot of additional levies which are coming in and therefore you've got resources you can play with around the black/white issue. You can, for example, impose a land tax with full confidence that it will be paid in order to help fund land redistribution from white to black. But if you're going to try and make additional land available which is not situated in a way which can access the white tax base immediately you've got far less prospects for success. In other words the whites, and to some extent the other middle classes here, are a resource and the government has a certain feel for this as a basis for strategy.

     To that extent our black/white issues will be kept alive a long, long time because that's where the real action is. That's where action is also possible. What, after all, can you do about the growing inequality between blacks and blacks? Very little, there are very few redistribution policies, there are very few things you can do by restructuring circumstances, laws, regulations. So I think that in a sense it's not because whites are whites and blacks are blacks, it's not a question of any kind of overt racism, I don't think they are overtly racist. I just think -

POM     Those who happen to have the resources are white?

LS     That's right. You see you can get things done. If you promulgate a law which says businesses must have affirmative action policies, businesses may not discriminate on this or that basis, the new equity laws, all that kind of thing, you have a reasonable chance of getting things done. Hence, also, if you enlarge municipalities to bring in as many of the poor areas under the tax base of the metropolitan areas in the larger cities, once again you've got white resources you can play with. So the white/black interface is extremely significant as a basis for success in government. The rest is not. The rest is something that they expect to battle with.

POM     What happens to this interface as the numbers in the black middle class increase and the gaps again between black and white incomes begin to decrease and the aggregate, just given the numbers situation, that the aggregate proportion of middle class income will be in the hands of blacks rather than whites?

LS     Well I think that's the time when we will begin to see opposition politics becoming more salient once again because blacks will start voting for opposition parties. There will be tax protests and there will be protests about crime and that sort of thing because, like everybody else, they will be hit. But it won't be the white opposition, it will have to be a new kind of opposition because there still will be for a long time a sense among the new black middle class that they've got to exploit the white/black issue because that is a proven formula for success. Affirmative action is a very, very successful policy from their vantage point. It's an excellent policy and so curiously enough you're going to have a situation where the black middle class as it grows larger will start sympathising with the same issues that whites sympathise or whites are concerned about. But they will not make common cause because they will still have the other agenda of trying to get as much out of the equity policies and the affirmative action policies as they possibly can. Once again it's understandable because it's something that works, you can implement these things, you can demand these things and you can get it. I think that the UDM was a little bit before its time in the last elections. Had the UDM emerged five years hence it would probably have been much more successful dominantly as a black middle class party.

     So I think we're going to have divided politics for quite a long time because there are real issues which divide whites and blacks but at the same time there are real issues which will divide the black middle class from the black masses. So it's a sort of a three-way division. SA's divided society will become a three-way division.

POM     Between black and white? Between haves and have-nots? Between black middle class and white middle class?

LS     Yes. In a sense it will be something equivalent to, if you like, wider Israeli Palestinian politics because you've got the Jews and then you've got the Arab insiders, the Palestinian insiders, the people who enjoy the vote, who always had the vote, accepted this, and then you've got the Palestinian outsiders. It's a kind of three-way division in the society with a middle group playing it both ways. I think there are probably other examples of this in the world but a very interesting situation.

     You see there's another factor which is, I think, of underlying significance and we've just seen that operating in the general election in Namibia. Now by anybody's measurements, by all indices, the standard of living has declined in Namibia and I know because we have research activities in Namibia. (Break in recording) Sam Nujoma didn't have it. In other words the symbolism of our party, our man, our soccer team is too great.

POM     Are you saying SWAPO has got the largest proportion of the vote ever?

LS     That's right. Now this is the sort of reward for failure. Now if you're comforted in that way, I mean the lessons are all around us. Robert Mugabe, quite frankly the speed of impoverishment in that country has been unbelievable but the opposition is limp. In other words they can actually calculate on maintaining power even though they will emphasise middle class interests as Mugabe has done and as Sam Nujoma has done in SWAPO by saying the right things and maintaining the right symbolism and having enough singing and dancing you needn't worry.

     To me it's very curious that those very governments in southern Africa try to do its best in terms of development policy is the one that until the opposition split was in greatest danger of losing control and that was the government in Botswana because until the major opposition party split in two they were in some danger of being dislodged and yet that was a government who, I suppose partly by virtue of the huge tax rake-offs they get from De Beers Diamond Mining Company, were able to improve the lives of their people. There is a general sense in Botswana among people that their lives have improved and that the government has done fairly well, not as well as people would like but fairly well. Yet our polls in Botswana show that there was a decline in support until the opposition party split. Now it split through sheer incompetence, it wasn't any particular underlying political issue. It was the major opposition party, formerly led by a very aged person who was blind and an old style sort of Stalinist ideologue who was completely - everybody saw him as irrelevant to the situation so the party split because he couldn't hold it together. Yet that was the government that was in danger.

     Now you will find that in Mozambique even though I think Frelimo has done a very tidy job of trying to restructure that country and get it back on track, and one has to congratulate Frelimo I think for quite a substantial achievement, they are now in danger of losing their position, I don't know what the latest results are, but they're in real danger of losing their power base in parliament and you get a bloke like the situation in Namibia where a government which has in fact gone backwards wins with an overwhelming majority.

     Now this is a worrying thing about democracy, I'm not saying about African democracies, I'm saying it's a worrying thing about democracies in large, poor, atomised populations where people are badly informed and they have a sense of alienation and therefore they cling to symbolism as their link to power. It's a sort of a feel-good, the politics of feeling good and I think this can apply anywhere. It can apply in Russia, it can apply in Africa but I'm not sure that democracy is a very good and sensitive institution in mass societies of great atomisation and alienation. I think it works terribly well in coherent societies.

POM     On that issue, one of the things that people have spoken about over and over again is this increased propensity on Mbeki's part for centralisation of power in the President's Office and subsequent marginalisation of parliament. My question comes back to, again in a country like SA does it really matter that you have a predominant, for all intents and purposes a one-party government as long as it doesn't get so powerful that it can change the fundamentals of the constitution, that there are enough checks and balances to ensure that it conforms to every provision of the constitution and can be challenged at every stage and in that way they cannot exercise unlimited power, that it's not a parliamentary democracy, it's a constitutional democracy? So political parties per se as small as they are they can always go to the Constitutional Court, they can always go to one of the many commissions.

LS     Well I'm not sure that they can go to the many commissions because the attitude to political parties is hostile and you can achieve better results if you go as an apolitical group to one of the many commissions than if you go as a party. So I think, yes, I would accept that if you have a strong constitutional democracy which protects rights and privileges - the dustbin boys are entitled to a Christmas present but from now on everybody comes along saying we're the dustbin boys, they don't even have uniforms.

POM     It happens in Ireland from the milkman to the person who brought the bread around, who delivered the groceries, at Christmas they would all wait for their reward.

LS     Well as long as they're the real ones that's fine but these are freeloaders.

POM     A form of entrepreneurship. But you were saying as long as you have a constitutional do you believe that here?

LS     No but here it doesn't work that way. We have a good constitution but we also have the politics of moral pressure and I think the best example is this proposed new law, we will have to see what happens.

POM     The Equality Bill are you talking about?

LS     Yes. But then there's this one where judges will be liable to being subject to disciplinary action if they step out of line and it is not specified how. In other words there are very many ways in which you can use political and moral legitimacy or claims to it to circumvent constitutional safeguards and end up shifting the balance of effective power and freedom and undermining the checks and balances. So all the equity legislation is an example of the way certain things are declared to be permissible even though in strictly formal terms they contradict principles of equality in the constitution, the quality of rights and that sort of thing. So I think that one can have a constitutional democracy but you can have those rights undermined through other types of policies which will reduce the effect of the rights.

     Now I will just give you one example. I have a piece of land in the Drakensberg. It's a very valuable piece of land which I need to sell. I am entitled to protection of my property rights and I am entitled to sell my land. However, I have a person living on the land who doesn't work for me and who refuses to move and who is effectively preventing me from selling the land and there is nothing I can do about it. In terms of the squatting legislation I may not remove him unless I can find him alternative accommodation. I have to find him alternative accommodation. My attempts to find him alternative accommodation have been refused by him and in each case I have the alternative of going to court which will be a long and expensive battle but he can claim, because he happens to be living in one of the nicest pieces of land situated right next to the place where he works, he can argue that I cannot find him alternative accommodation of equivalent benefit to himself and he's quite right because I would have to buy him a plot of land worth several hundreds of thousands of rands in order to find him alternative accommodation. Then I cannot sell it, while he is there it is worth nothing to me. I've offered to buy him land elsewhere to get rid of him and he refuses it and he says it's too far away and I don't like it. So in effect my property rights have been stripped.

POM     So he came illegally first of all?

LS     What happened is that he came and he begged to be able to stay on the land and I said, "You can stay as long as I have this land but when I want to sell it you must go." Yes, no, no, no problem. Later on he got work next door in the hotel and I said to him, "Now you must go because you've got work." No he won't go, he's going to stay here, it's now his land. And ever since then he has stayed. Initially my mistake was to respond to his problem of being homeless by saying, "All right, you can squat in that corner of the land." Now I can't get rid of him even though I'm prepared to pay money in cash for alternative land, he keeps on refusing to accept the alternative land I buy and what's more as long as he's on my land I cannot sell it.

POM     Under what legislation would that come?

LS     It's anti-squatting legislation.

POM     Anti-squatting? One would think it was pro-squatting.

LS     It's the Security of Tenure Act.

POM     You mentioned the word 'moral' and I was going to get to that. It has struck me particularly with the Equality Bill and with this report that was just treated with derision on media racism, that the government is moving in the direction of trying to legislate behaviour, that there is a right behaviour and if you smoke, for example, it's not enough that there is a smoking and a non-smoking area, there must be a partition that goes from X to X cut off and that this is creeping near the new legislation that will dictate what children can eat and what foods could be available to them and not available to them, and that this is moving up the line to what speech you can use and how you can use it and that there will be courts set up to determine whether you used a word like 'kaffir'. If I'm a black and I said I'm nothing but a bloody kaffir, well that's OK, but if I said as a white, you're nothing but a bloody kaffir, that's a crime. But if I said you're nothing but a bloody kaffir, and I was laughing when I said it then I was saying it in a joke in a kind of a way so that's different than if I said you're nothing but a bloody kaffir, so you've now set up courts to determine all these differences. What kind of society does that lead you into? Is there a propensity to moving in the direction of legislating what appears to be morally correct behaviour? Is it that we created the perfect constitution and now we will legislate the perfect society to conform with the perfect constitution?

LS     Yes I think there is that but once again I wouldn't see it as being a deliberate, programmatic thing. This arises because of the fact that we have ministers taking over portfolios where they need to equip themselves with armies of advisors and these are generally people who have no experience in government and who come from a history of commitment to protect and special interest politics.

POM     These are not civil servants.

LS     No they're special people. They're highly educated young people in the main who have great moral commitments. Now they then are in a position of great advantage in empowering or in pressurising ministers to adopt certain kinds of legislation. Here and there Thabo Mbeki has noticed this and taken steps against it. For example, Derek Hanekom whose legislation was being driven by a very, very progressive NGO called the Land & Agricultural Policy Unit, or something, an NGO, private organisation, was in fact because of the nature of the kind of advice he was getting alienating the farming community and achieving relatively little for black farmers, has been displaced and a new person has come in and I think one can see some softening of legislation there. But in health, for example, with smoking and with education, this big disaster, for example, of trying to redistribute teachers in order to bring pupil/teacher ratios into line between races, it was all driven by advisors. It was driven by people with very little experience but where the particular minister was susceptible to these moral pressures. I think we all realise that it's wonderful in a society to have a lot of progressive people coming out of universities who will act as a conscience in the society but we also know that it's probably quite dangerous to give them too much power at too early a stage, until they've at least learnt how the world works. But in SA because new ministers have come in a lot of people with very, very limited experience of the real world have enjoyed enormous power as advisors. I think that's what caused many of these things to happen. I think it will get better. I don't think these people will be as prominent in the future but what will remain, however, is the sensitivity to the needs of the new elite. I think that is the issue which won't change and to a certain extent some of this legislating of behaviour will remain because of the interests of the new elite.

POM     Would you put Barney Pityana in that category? I find that a man of his intelligence could actually have gone through that report and said this is a pile of psycho-babble, it's just incoherent, it makes no sense. It's not even intelligible. Forget about the false analogies between Uganda and the birds over Johannesburg city, most of what you say is just incomprehensible, it doesn't make any sense.

LS     I think that's a very good example. That would have been a rather interesting paper in an alternative, semi-academic journal and would have made a contribution to the debate. No serious academic journal would have published it or they would have probably sent it back to this lady six times to have it revised. Nevertheless there are all sorts of fringe journals who would have carried that and this is necessary. I like it. As a matter of fact I found some of Miss Braude's ideas quite interesting and worthy of debate but it wasn't a serious analysis, it wasn't something on which you can base policy. But there you have a group of people who are themselves a lot like Miss Braude and she managed to articulate things that they felt and hence it became accepted. It is a ridiculous thing but it stems from a weakness in government. We're a new society with large areas of lack of experience and then this kind of junk, which is interesting in one context but very dangerous in another context, is actually taken seriously which is worrying, extremely worrying.

POM     How about the Equality Bill, especially it's language provisions where with the provision as it still stands, I think, that one is presumed guilty, one has to prove oneself not guilty of racism rather than being proven guilty of it. How can you, if you're accused of being racist and you say I didn't intend that meaning at all and if I did I apologise for it, I just didn't intend it, never read it that way, does that mean you're guilty of subliminal racism because at heart you really are, you don't even know when you act like one?

LS     We're going to have to see.

POM     The conundrums start building one upon the other.

LS     This particular thing is going to require that legal precedent be established as a basis for judgments. It's got some very severe implications for starting policies. In my line of work, in a research company for example, we cannot go on qualifications only. Qualifications mean very little where you've got people that have to do jobs under stress and we find that university trained people are certainly not the best, they speak above the level of ordinary people and we prefer to employ people as interviewers who have some high school education, who can read and write proficiently but have a lot of life experience and a lot of interaction with people. Now it's something you can't quantify. Whenever we advertise a job we get hundreds of applications from black university graduates saying they want jobs. Now we know from experience that being a university graduate does not equip you to do anything in the research line because the really, I suppose, professional aspects of research, that is the design of systems, design of questionnaires, design of samples, are usually done by the existing professionals in an organisation. You don't need extra people to do that. You need people who will code and check and interview and do a lot of routine tasks which require ongoing judgement, discretion and human relations capabilities and universities don't train for that. So we select people where life experience has produced the right kind of product. Now we could be accused of being racist at any particular time because we can't quantify the criteria and somebody could come to us and say I have a BA Honours and they appointed a coloured person there who had a Standard 8, it's racism. You see? Now what do we say about that? I think we will get around it but it's going to cost us money. We will actually have to have a legal advisor and actually be prepared to go to court to make an elaborate case which will be challenged on a formal basis. Yes, but here is a person who got blah, blah, blah.

     Credentialism is one of the liabilities in most new societies. Societies take a long time before they overcome the problem of credentialism, of certification, because certification can impoverish a society. This notion that by getting a certificate you are somehow superior to a person who doesn't have a certificate in something, a certificate is originally supposed to qualify you to do something and whether you can do that and if you can do that without a certificate probably means that it's better. The whole ideology of certification which has beset new societies actually makes it very difficult not to discriminate, to appear to be discriminating against people. But we have found that university graduates are singularly bad researchers.

POM     Is that right?

LS     Yes. Singularly bad researchers. They are more inclined to be biased, they are more inclined to impose their own perceptions on people than others, they have less life experience, they have less persistence and they also have a feeling of entitlement because of the certificates they carry around with them. That's going to be a problem for the research industry.

POM     It's interesting you say that because Patricia Keefer of NDI, they now do quite a lot of focus groups and their in-house staff who come from townships, they're all township, as when you say never finished high school and they're making terrific interviewers. That bears out what you're saying. Tell me when you've had enough of me because I could spend all day here.

LS     I just have to get something done, which I was supposed to get done by 11 o'clock. There are a group of people waiting for certain revisions to a questionnaire. I'm a little bit under time pressure because of that. Sorry, it's a bad time of the year for giving interviews.

POM     Let me just then try to finish with two things. One is, do you think that parliament is being marginalised?

LS     I think it is. I think that tradition started when GEAR was introduced. The parliamentary committee rejected GEAR but it was over-ridden and GEAR was fudged through and parliament tends to be overlooked when it comes to really crucial and critical decisions. So parliament is being marginalised, yes. Once again I don't think it's deliberate, I don't think that there's any sort of feeling that parliament is essentially a token organisation. I think that there are certain types of legislation and certain types of steps which are seen to be so crucial that you cannot afford the debate and the delays and the unnecessary amplification of things that will arise if it is formally debated in parliament to the full. Now I think this is a dilemma in all democracies, there's no doubt about it, but I think it is a dilemma where leadership is not strong and dedicated to the caucus of parties and I think that's the problem. The underlying problem is that our ministers have not spent enough time with their own political parties to get the people into line within the sort of tradition or framework of policy thinking.

     Now if you look at the way Tony Blair, for example, worked hard in the Labour Party to get them to begin to redefine the purpose and mission of their party in the new situation of governing in modern Europe, he spent a lot of time on that, there was a lot of well blood flowed, it was tough, it was heavy. For a long while Tony Blair, most of his energies were being devoted to his own party. Now that is singularly lacking in SA but it's not unusual. In the third world ministers don't normally spend that amount of time with their parties, with their caucuses, with their elected representatives to make sure that they have them on line, it isn't a trade-off. Because we have, and I suppose once again it's fairly typical of third world societies, big man politics, big person politics, the sort of 'Honourable Minister', the person in large motor cars with large bodyguards is a very important person. They don't take easily to sitting in long drawn-out workshops debating things within their parties, to get their parties in line with their thinking and that's the problem. That's why parliament is being marginalised. It's because the ministers in a sense in many ways just feel that parliament isn't quite ready or sufficiently well informed to debate the issues. GEAR was the first example.

     This recent problem that Fraser-Moleketi had with the unions and the civil service pay, I mean parliament was completely divided on that issue. It's another issue where you have to sit with your parliamentarians and inform them. The committees are a mixed bag. Some of them are good and sophisticated, others are less good and less sophisticated. The leadership is not the caucus.

POM     So you think the problem is with the ministers' relationships with their caucus?

LS     Yes. The ministers' relationships with their caucuses is a big problem. You see there's a big, big gap between the quality of ministers and the quality of MPs. It's a much larger gap than you have in a developed democracy. It's a huge gap in sophistication. Look it's bad in parliament but it's a lot worse in provincial and a lot worse again in local government. It really is. That's why local government is decisions are taken by chairman of committees and small groups of political heavyweights and the rest of the councillors often sit there half asleep and they don't know what's going on. It's a big problem this. Look, ministers in government always have a problem. I don't think there's any society where ministers don't face a conflict of interests in the community. All the special interests that are coming at them, the lobbies and the ordinary representatives or MPs, there's always a tension there but they're kept in check by the danger of the vote of no confidence, but here it doesn't apply. It would be a very brave caucus to contemplate a vote of no confidence against one of their own ministers.

POM     Particularly in a party, and the same, in a sense, would apply to committee chairmen, they're not going to take a minister, haul him in front of a committee and grill him from top to bottom. They are kind of signing the death warrant to their own political careers.

LS     Absolutely.

POM     So do you think after perhaps the next election, or even in the meantime, some consideration should be given to a revision of the electoral system or do you think at this point to start tampering with things after the constitution being entrenched for less than five years it is better to allow it to become fully entrenched an institution rather than a constitution before one starts fiddling around with it or that fiddling around with it starts sending out the wrong signals?

LS     It's difficult to know. I think that there are informal ways of disciplining members who step out of line so that changing the constitution won't actually make much of a difference. I think basically one needs to have enough counter-pressures on ministers. You see I don't believe that you can fix, you can create an effective democracy through formal provisions. The roots of an effective democracy lie in organised opinion which is directed and forms a web of constraint on political leadership and that's what we haven't got yet. It's civil society, it starts in civil society. People here don't know their MPs and even if you had constituency based MPs they have a way of eluding their constituencies. It's up to the constituencies to become mobilised but that's going to take a long time. I still think it's better to work on civil society, to get your constituencies mobilised.

POM     Last question before I let you get to work. I was struck over the weekend in part because of this whole saga but by the sheer proliferation of security organisations in the country. Within the police you have intelligence units, you have the NIA, you have different branches in there and everybody seems to have an anti-corruption unit, one agency seems to be spying on the other agency. Is this a hangover from 'the old days'? Is there a preoccupation with this kind of security? There's an internal security apparatus that I don't see is needed in a country of this size.

LS     Yes, I think that basically it's because the police are demoralised, have been demoralised by various developments, they have felt that it's necessary to super-impose different and high order structures on them to complement their activities. Basically it's due to a lack of faith in the basic service. I don't think it's any different than what happens in other departments because you have special categories of advisors and task teams working in other departments which are also additional to and at odds with the line bureaucracy. It's just not as visible as it is in the security system. Basically it stems from a lack of hands-on control and supervision by ministers who then feel that they have to create new structures in order to empower themselves vis-à-vis their own bureaucracies. I don't think that there's a particular paranoia about security. I think these things have got mechanical origins, a desperate attempt on the part of local MECs and the Ministers of Safety & Security to try and get jobs done. In my interaction with ministers they don't appear to be unduly obsessed by matters of security. They are very worried about problems in capacity and I think it's been an attempt to try and boost capacity which has produced all these things. But of course these new structures demoralise the ordinary forces even more and then it makes the problem worse instead of dealing with the problem of capacity where it should be dealt with, and that is in your basic core bureaucracy. You see a good police force will have a good security system.

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.