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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

04 Sep 2002: Van Zyl Slabbert, Frederik

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POM     Let's start with the situation in Zimbabwe and it would appear the increasing lack of understanding of what exactly is Mbeki's policy with regard to Zimbabwe and there not being any apparent consideration here yet of what might be the rollover effect of the famine that is going to involve the country or of the economic chaos that apparently will descend and of Mugabe's increasingly strident obstructionism to every effort that's been made, even to bring food into the country. What do you think is happening? What do you think the SA strategy is if there is a strategy?

VZS     I think the Zimbabwean economy is so small compared to the SA economy that it would seem to be, to use this wonderful phrase, 'the market' has already discounted Zimbabwe. Otherwise we would have been reflecting it in a far, far more serious manner than it's been reflecting it at the moment. Take a look at it and say look, what is it? I mean Harare and Bulawayo are two S bends and a post office. Are they cities? What are they? What are we talking about here? That's the feeling that they just look at it as – I'm not talking now about the human tragedy and the political – I'm talking about it as an economic impact so from that point of view it's not taken seriously.

     What is taken seriously, obviously, is the scale of suffering and what's happening there. I don't think you can give a figure to the number of Zimbabweans that are just crossing the border. They are just coming in all over the place but then that's true for Congolese, for Angolans, for Namibians, for Swazis, for everybody who can make it. They're just pouring in.

     I think the significance of Zimbabwe for Mbeki lies in what he has in mind with the African Union and with NEPAD. If you read the stuff that he has said it's formulated at such a level of abstraction that it's very difficult to not support the noble sentiments but it's equally impossible to know what exactly you are supporting. What exactly are you supporting? Are you supporting a peer review mechanism in which case Mugabe would be an obvious candidate for sanctions? Who's this famous guy, one of the Goons that died recently, Spike Milligan, Mbeki's policy reminds me of old Spike Milligan walking onto the stage here in Plumstead once with his hands in his pockets fiddling around, fiddling around. He stands there and suddenly he looks at the audience and his eyes widen and he said, "Oh my God, I've snookered myself." So in a way I think Mbeki's snookered himself on Zimbabwe like he snookered himself on AIDS. I think he's just trying to be too clever. This new sort of global apartheid suddenly, hoping that this is a concept that will run. What does it mean? It's rich and poor. I must tell you I find him increasingly impossible to really understand. He doesn't get involved domestically. He's not here. As Pieter Dirk Uys would say 'on one of his rare state visits to SA', and he's off again. He's off again now after the conference.

     So there's a sense of irrelevance of government and yet in a funny kind of way we're not doing too badly. I mean under the circumstances, civil society is active, it's doing all kinds of things. It even takes the government to the Constitutional Court and wins. Yes, we face terrible problems of delivery, AIDS is rampant, poverty is on the increase, unemployment. But somehow nobody blames the government, if you know what I mean. I mean you don't get a feeling that people say, you know surely you should be doing more. Now and then you hear something but within the ANC, although I must say for the first time you are beginning to see signs of discontent. I was so sad when old Cronin apologised.

POM     Yes. It's very funny – when that happened I said to Pat, I said this is right out of darkness.

VZS     Did you see who used that?

POM     I was having dinner with Howard (Barrell) and I said, "God! This thing is right out of darkness." And he said, "Did you read my piece?" I had to confess I didn't. He said, "You go home and you read it."

VZS     Exactly. There was something of that but there are other signs that you're beginning to see, the rebellion at provincial level. Well not rebellion but sort of the revolt of people who are preparing for the National Congress. You can see on a sort of grassroots level dissatisfaction. The landless people and so on coming up now trying to push Mbeki into the fat cat kind of corner. Apart from that I don't see any major kind of convulsion. In fact there's remarkable political stability. It's ridiculous to say it but there is remarkable political stability and it's not a false stability, it's not as if you've got the cops and the army out every day thumping the hell out of people. People get on with their jobs, they carry on doing what they're doing.

POM     Yet you see, let's say a couple of examples: the SABC, the attempt to impose –

VZS     But they backed off.

POM     But then you see the Anti Terrorism Bill they brought in with the 90 day detention without trial, which I thought was a real hoot coming from them. A really fantastic verification of the axiom that the oppressed once free kind of imitates the oppressor.

VZS     I might tell you a story there, I spoke to two Robben Islanders about seven years ago, one's a judge now and one's a reasonably successful businessman, and they were confronting Areyeh Neier, the Soros man, about the crime and they said, "No, no, the cops are just too soft on criminals in this country, it can't go on like that." And Neier said, "What are you suggesting? That they should use torture?" And both of them said, "Yes, well they did it with us." Neier just about fell off his chair. So that temptation is always there.

POM     But are they testing the waters? You throw out a proposal and in it is a clause that is going too far and you want to assess the degree of reaction and then you modify it but now you know what the level of resistance is and then you find ways of getting round that resistance. It doesn't seem to be that you put clauses like that, that it shows what they want to do. Does it?

VZS     I don't know. I think if I take my cue from the old lot, they played the legal game so carefully but behind the scenes they did exactly what they wanted to do. They thumped the hell out of people, they tortured them, they took them away. I mean the old braaivleis, you know what I mean, but it was all so – the Terrorism Act had to be spelt out and obviously you will give the prisoner the opportunity – So there was a legalism about the previous lot that disguised their actual intentions because what was going on behind the scenes was just something else. Here I don't think there's a hell of a lot going on behind the scenes. I don't think the cops are really trying too hard to get at crime syndicates, they've been bought by them, they're not trying to get at them if you know what I mean. So it's almost as if constitutional government just is there, it carries on, you get a sense of a ritual. I don't think, quite frankly, Thabo spends too much time burning the midnight oil trying to figure out how he can get at people. He's far more interested in controlling the ANC than actually –

POM     In controlling the ANC, well that's controlling the real centre of power.

VZS     Yes but the way he does it he is still - who's going to be elected, who's going to be a candidate. I don't think there are signs of taking people for a walk and breaking their fingers if you know what I mean, that kind of control, Mafia control.

POM     But in, I won't say a parallel way, a dissimilar way the treatment of Cronin bordered, to me, on being fascist.

VZS     The big thing is the story goes like this. The black guys in the ANC say you can always listen carefully to a white communist even though they were – JS (Joe Slovo) was the same they said. When they talk about us blacks they will always talk about democratic instincts, questionable democratic instincts, as if there's something that instinctively is undemocratic. Cronin should never have used those words because the moment he started using those words we were going to go for him. This is what he is saying. It's not the substance of the argument, is there Zanufication and so on. You can see.

     Where's Barrell going? He's going back to England but he sits here every damn weekend rubbishing the hell out of Thabo Mbeki and the ANC, but why? He can afford – he's going to his family because he sacrificed so much to be here. It's in the newspaper today. That's the word. So, what do you expect? The English, the whites, when the crunch is on they go.

POM     Well in that sense did Mugabe from early on strike a psychological nerve?

VZS     No question about it. You can pick it up in this guy who had an interview with Tim Modise yesterday. I don't know if you saw that?

PAT     Patrick Chinamasa.

VZS     He rubbed it in, he rubbed it in.

PAT     The Minister of Justice.  We were listening to him in the car.

VZS     South Africa will still ask Zimbabwe for advice. Your blacks are worse off than ours, said Chinamasa. He said, "I would be very surprised if President Mbeki is against the economic revolution of black Zimbabwe. You guys have got the same problem." He says, "You'd better get your white farmers now to come and help the liberation of the blacks because that's what never really happened up there." And he plays the race card and Thabo loves it, he loves it. It strikes a real deep chord with him. You know, we've had this discussion before. It's a deep chord with Thabo the black/white thing.

POM     He can't get away from it.

VZS     He can't. Although, I don't know if you've read the latest Umrabulo –

POM     This is the one after the one on - ?

VZS     This was the one on the 51st conference coming up.

POM     OK. I have that on line and I've been checking it for the use of words like 'democratic'.

VZS     You check it? He would say for example: policy issues, are we making progress in changing our country, our province and community especially in the following areas, deracialising our society and creating a non-racial country? He comes out with all the right – you can't fault him. This is the most democratic document I've come across in a hell of a long time. It's amazing.

POM     Can you buy it in a bookstore?

VZS     I don't think so. You can subscribe to it.

POM     But in relation to that in their documents there's this whole theme of there will be the revolt of the masses, blah, blah, blah.

VZS     Yes, because of equality.

POM     Now I thought Selby Baqwa's report on the delivery of services was devastating. The guys who put this document, or the five documents, together, five sectors, obviously had never read this.

PAT     Or if they did they ignored it.

POM     Yes. So I've three questions regarding what would appear to be their plans that are open for a month for civil society and everybody else to have a look at and make comments on. One is taking Baqwa's report, the civil service, it would suggest to me, cannot be really reformed in any real way for maybe the next 15 – 20 years because if it's called up to set up a task force to supervise the correction of itself, the people in the task force are just as incompetent as the people they are trying to improve. So you're stuck in a cycle that just goes round. Two, if they were to implement even half of the proposals regarding black empowerment in different areas and whatever where they are not talking about asset ownership but a broader participation at managerial level, at director level, at middle management level or whatever, (i) there's no reason to believe that those chosen to fill those positions will be any more competent than those in the civil service and that you would quickly have business fall into a degree of disarray, (ii) that an attempt to implement even half these proposals would have a significant impact on the market and would certainly minimise any foreign investment whatsoever coming into the country because it would be an indicator of what might be extended in the future. But these documents seem important to me because they are really setting out what will be the agenda, the official agenda for the next four years.

VZS     I think you may be right but you see we've had official agendas since 1994, RDP was an official agenda. Everybody did lateral arabesques about its potential and promises. Nothing came out of it. GEAR was an official agenda. We still cannot get past the first hurdle on privatisation, for example, and exchange control is slowly but surely going this way and that way. Flexible labour policy, well you can make up your own mind how flexible it is and so on. So congresses are occasions for plans, hoopla and plans, but what you touch on which is very, very real is the lack of skilled labour, the oversupply of unemployed labour. There's a massive oversupply of that. The failure of, Mbeki himself has admitted, the failure of affirmative action in the civil service. He says it's one of the biggest mistakes that was made. I pleaded with him in the beginning and said, "For God's sake use these Afrikaner civil servants for at least five years to transfer skills."

     Look at this, "Koeberg time bomb as a result of a dispute." You know what the dispute is? That the 48 reactor operators are 55 years old on average and they want their packages. There's nobody to replace them and they have not been able to train any. Three of them are going to write their exams in April next year but never has it happened that all the people who have written have passed but it has happened often that all who have written have failed. So they might have to close down Koeberg and these guys want their packages, which they've been promised at 55 with full benefits up to 65, and they're all going to leave the country and get fancy, cushy jobs at other nuclear reactors all over the world. Now that you can repeat all over the place.

POM     Is skilled white labour leaving increasingly?

VZS     Oh yes.

POM     Because there's no - ?

VZS     I can't believe it, two thousand SA doctors in Canada, there was this Special Assignment programme the other night and this young woman doctor who said she's gone off so that she can repay her university loan in one year there in Canada in a remote area, it would take her seven years here, and then in those seven years she would have to work in a small local community with insufficient facilities. Look, I can't argue with you when you start talking about the capacity to deliver, but again I'm saying there are initiatives taking place in civil society that in a way are simply ignoring it.

     The people are beginning to invent their own way of – I mean there's a young fellow here who started a university. A university! He's got 1400 black kids with matric exemptions right there in Commissioner Street. I'll take you there tomorrow if you want. Tadely Bletcher.  CIDA City Campus it's called. I wish you could go there. He's launching it on 8th November. I've managed to help him raise some money as well. He went to Investec Bank and he said to Investec Bank, "That old bank of yours that you've left behind is only going to be subjected to urban decay and invasion. Give it to me rent free for three years and I'll show you what I can do with it." They did. He then said, "And you are sitting here with 500 obsolete computers, give them to me free, I can use them." He then went to all the institutions, "I don't want your money", major financial institutions and consulting institutions. "I want your three best guys to give me three hours a week free lecturing"' They said yes. And then we went on the begging front, Soros has given money, this one's given money. I am supporting two students, one from Zim and one from Swaziland who go there. I'm telling you, you will not believe what you see when you go there.

     Now, is such a thing possible in Zimbabwe? No. They would close it down like that. Here, ironically Mrs Mbeki is the patron and Thabo is launching it on 8th November as an example of what can be done if people really put their shoulders to the wheel. NURCHA has built 100,000 houses. It's not a government thing, it's outside of government.

     So what I'm saying to you is, yes, if you depend on the government and the state for cheering yourself up about the future of this country don't waste your time, it's not going to happen.

POM     I found in reading this section on the balance of forces in this edition of Umrabulo that there was a tendency to define anyone who didn't conform with the ANC's objectives and strategy of transformation were not voices that were critical, they were anti-transformation voices, they did not belong to 'the broad democratic movement'.

VZS     The national democratic revolution, they're undermining that.

POM     Yes, OK, so what I was saying to Pat was, what he's created is – he tried to make the umbrella larger and subsume elements of civil society and call it 'transformationing'.

VZS     It's East European commissar rhetoric, it's all there. Do you really take that stuff seriously? Come on! It's nonsense. And for me, I mean this is not a country that is there to grab by the throat and say I'm going to do with it as I see fit. I honestly really think he knows it because there are too many countervailing sources of power. Up to a point you can mess around with the white farmers here, up to a point, and then they will go into a destructive mode like you've never seen in your life. Up to a point you can mess around with the Chiefs and traditional leaders but if they seriously want to get to them they're going to make a mess of it. Up to a point you can try and mess around with labour and so on and then they're going to start getting difficult. Business, we'll just leave. They will just leave it and they know it so they're trying to woo them here and say don't leave, come, try this. The Mineral Bill is the best example. They leaked the damn thing and overnight –

POM     Anglo shares.

VZS     Anglo shares, look down they go, people say, no, what the hell happened? Tito says, please, for God's sake, what are you doing?

POM     Again, I'm trying to establish where the ANC will go, that it has maybe a twofold strategy. One is it throws out the line as far as possible and sees what the reaction is and then they establish the boundary of reaction and pull back to that boundary, but now they know what the remainder, what's left to deal with so they next time throw it out a little bit further, four years from now, and there's more of a reaction and pull it back a little but they've moved a little ahead. In the same way with the leaking of the document, I don't know who did the leaking, but they could say, OK let's float this document, see what impact it has on the market, OK, now we've measured the impact so now we know we can't go that far but we've established a boundary where we can go.

VZS     It could be, it could be.

POM     Do people in the ANC think that way or is that too - ?

VZS     No, no. My problem is simply that beyond Thabo I'm not quite sure who does any thinking in the ANC. They may think privately but everything seems to hinge around him so they wait for him. They literally wait for him to come and say this way or that way.

PAT     Why is that? They were never like that in the Mandela era. They all went off and did their own thing.

VZS     Exactly. For me the clearest thing is an awareness on the part of the people at the top there that if this guy goes we're gone. In other words their careers are intimately tied up.

POM     Do you think that Kader Asmal puts his - ?

VZS     Kader is a bit of a wild card. I would say he's still from the Mandela era. In any case Kader's old enough to say I couldn't care a stuff. But if you're talking the Pahads, if you're talking Maduna, if you're talking the Nqakulas, the Jeff Radebes, they're central members of the Communist Party for God's sake. Yes, well, that's as SACP but as a loyal member why do they do that? Why don't they say, hey man, the guy had a point. No ways, no ways because Thabo said if you want to make that point, you resign, go make it outside. No loyal member of this movement –

POM     One could call it, 'redeployment to ANC land'. The bargain is you keep your mouth shut, you get a cushy job because outside of us you have no alternative.

VZS     What is an interesting situation is some of the NP people criticise Mugabe, take Boy Geldenhuys, very tough criticism, but you've yet to hear Marthinus van Schalkwyk open his mouth on Mugabe. There they sit, I mean he's a real little Sancho Pancho, where's Thabo? But he's been a careerist all his life. I've gone through all the parties in this electoral task and then they bring in the NNP, the NP guys, it's such a bunch of old political fakes you've never seen in your life before. They're all the old party hacks that crooked the bloody postal votes way back. There they sit, hand on heart, about electoral systems, I have to keep them politically accountable and so on. But he's got them just there. I mean isn't it a sweet irony, here we can sit and talk about the NP being the Sancho Pancho of the ANC? The mind boggles and it's just ten years ago. They were terrified, Mandela was terrified. Viljoen told me 30,000 men under arms. We could ramble on about that.

     No, I don't think that there's anybody that would take any initiative without clearing it at the top. They are too scared to take decisions.

POM     Scared because they will lose their jobs?

VZS     Make a mistake, lose their jobs.

PAT     Are you saying that people like Dullah Omar, Valli Moosa, people who have come out of the UDF mentality have succumbed to this because their job is more important?

VZS     Valli was one of the first to make a somersault, but, listen, Valli has a lovely job. He can't really make political mistakes in tourism and looking after the environment. I mean, come on. He was head of Constitutional Affairs when I was doing a thing and I said to him, we were flying, I said, "Come on Valli, what would you really like to do?" He said, "Man, I would love to be Minister of Tourism and the Environment. Really that is my real passion in life." It's the most a-political thing he could think of. You can't make a mistake. Dullah is Transport, Dullah is Dullah. As Minister of Justice he was a disaster and I don't think he's much better now but he adds to the diversity, as they call it in the ANC. You have to have diversity.

     Let me tell you a little bit about, if you want, the Electoral –

POM     Yes, I want to talk about that. We'll come to it. Floor crossing. Why is there a need for an Electoral Commission. It was my understanding that between 1991 and 1992/3 all these guys went abroad, every single electoral system possible was studied, it's merits, it's demerits, federal, STV, all kinds of proportional representation, direct vote, blah, blah, blah. Why the need for another commission and why isn't the IEC doing it?

VZS     Well that's a good question. I don't know myself. All I can tell you is that last year in March I was approached by Minister Buthelezi and asked whether I would consider chairing a committee to review electoral law.

POM     Now a committee or a commission?

VZS     Well we call ourselves an electoral task team, not quite a commission. In any case I said, "Look if the government approves I am willing but you must let me know very soon." Nothing happened and four, five months later, I may have told you the story, five months later I saw Thabo announce on television that, "No, everything is well in hand under Slabbert. He's the chair of this committee", which did not exist and I had not been appointed.

PAT     And had nobody.

VZS     Money was no problem. It became quite embarrassing. The press were asking for progress reports and I didn't know what to say. So I eventually went to see Zuma and I said, "Look, the elections have to take place by September 2004 and you know it's not going to be then. The inauguration of parliament will be on 27th April 2004 to commemorate the tenth anniversary so the elections will have to be before then and that means in April sometime, 14th or whatever. So you start working back to April 2003, we are now in September 2002 so seriously, do you think I can introduce any electoral alternatives that could be implemented in three months time, so I'm not available for the job." "No, no", he said, "You'll make us look just like Mugabe." Those were his words, this is the Deputy President. I said, "Well then you'd better appoint me bloody quickly and I can see what I can do because there's not much scope." I can't go for the German model because the German model you have to redraw boundaries. This is a delimitation commission, it will be litigation, parties killing each other off at the courts and so on. In any case, to cut a long story short, the important thing – why? Because in 1996 when they finalised the constitution they also had to finalise the electoral system. They then had not reached any finality on alternatives to the electoral system that was adopted in 1994 except that when it was adopted it was felt that there had to be some possibility at some future date to allow for floor crossing but you couldn't have floor crossing with a closed list because, for obvious reasons, Chaskalson's certification of the constitution showed quite clearly why. And then of course the little crisis happened in the Cape and for purely expedient reasons floor crossing became compelling to the very people who said it was not possible. I think Chaskalson is going to rule it out in any case, that's my view, otherwise he must find extraordinary arguments. In any case I then had all the parties come and talk.

POM     Are you now official? When are you official?

VZS     I've been official from 10th May, we've had meetings, I've commissioned research.

POM     Do you have resources?

VZS     Yes, I've got more than I need.

POM     You have more resources than you need?

VZS     Because I begged money from the Scandinavians and I have more than enough. I was not going to wait for money from the state because I may never get it. So I went there, commissioned research, the research is being made public next week. We have a conference in Cape Town, a two-day conference looking at various electoral alternatives. The research will be made public and then we will write our recommendations. Basically there are two. We stick with what we've got which is not a bad system, it's inclusive, simple and fair, or the idea is you divide the country into 43 constituencies that will elect 300 of the 400, 100 will be a closed national list, but those constituencies will vary in size from 22 possible members of parliament to here in the North West Cape three. Those will be closed lists on a multiple member basis, the idea being that you set in motion a process that eventually, hopefully, will in the fullness of time end up with multiple member open lists where constituencies can chose their own MPs, but that is about as far as –

POM     This is almost along the lines of the Irish system.

VZS     Almost along the lines of the Irish system.

POM     But you're making it less complicated in terms of transfers.

VZS     That eventually. Now you can't, now the party will draw up the same – as it does now with nine provinces, it draws up a list, except now it has to draw up the list for 43 constituencies and you then can have what I call a system of co-operative governance because you don't have to redraw boundaries. You take your District Council boundaries, combine them into a constituency so that you have four levels of government that can co-operate in terms of public representativity, municipal councillor, district councillor, provincial councillor, national MP, pull them in. Now I have no major difficulty with the current system except that it doesn't allow for any kind of accountability. It's a faceless party list that plays in the hands of the party bosses and they simply have to calculate who is number two on it and a 46 on a 400-member list, because that's when you start falling off the cliff in terms of a 60% vote in your favour and here you've got to at least juggle around and try and get people from the area.

     What is interesting for me, I've tested this with some key guys within the ANC and they're very interested. Very interested. I don't know what the head honcho thinks of this.

POM     Now would this be, say the ANC draws up a list say for a particular constituency, then people would go down the list of ANC candidates?

VZS     Not at this stage. At this stage you only vote for a party. You will draw up those lists, it's a closed list in other words. The ANC draw up a list, you vote for a party but the members on that closed list will be made known before the election so you get a pretty good idea who you're going to get as your rep. That begins the process.

PAT     The voter just votes for a party?

VZS     Votes for a party, yes. But eventually as the thing matures hopefully the pressure from below will be, listen, we can draw up our own list thank you very much, we know who we want here. And then you move in that direction which is your situation where you can actually vote for number one on this party and from number two on that party. That's what I would like to see but you can't do that now, they'll just close ranks and all parties will say it's too complicated.

POM     Did you or can you do a modelling exercise like using past figures and putting them into this system and see what the difference would be in the number of seats the ANC won, the number - ?

VZS     There you go.

POM     I guess this is it.

VZS     This was my – I'll give you this, you can have it. This was a two-tier ballot, this was the German system, two ballot , single member constituency, first past the post, 200/200. So you have fifty constituencies and there you can see, this is the German model, if you took the German model that would be the redistribution and the changes. It would be in fact exactly what you've got now except the ANC would win, they would win 82% of the seats and then you can see what's going to happen. We at least represent somebody, who the hell do you represent and who are you?

     You see I had to write a proposal, it caused quite a stir, that was my proposal for discussion and now we're going to withdraw and discuss the three options. My option three is the one that I've just explained to you. There you can see –

POM     And do you have the same figures?

VZS     Same figures. What we did, look it's a great assumption, we took the 1999 election results and passed them through ten models (those are only three models because those were the three that I thought), the current system, the German system and mine, what I call the … member constituency system. You can see the percentage, if you take the 1999 results, they come out exactly the same.

PAT     And don't disadvantage smaller parties?

VZS     It does. The German model disadvantages smaller parties because some of them get wiped out completely. They can't make it on a constituency and then cannot get topped up on the national list so of the thirteen, I think you will see it there, of the thirteen parties in parliament if you went for the German model five would be wiped out.

PAT     What kind of authority does - ?

VZS     I take that, give it to the minister, Buthelezi, Buthelezi takes it to the cabinet and the cabinet does with it as it sees fit.

POM     Would Buthelezi first look at how - ?

VZS     That's right, he can try but – I've been very careful to say don't take a view, wait, wait, wait. So we will see.

PAT     Why are they going through this exercise of crossing the floor now, this process?

VZS     Well that's the big mystery and I think it's really to finally castrate the NP which they've now succeeded in doing because the NP will be dead in the next elections. But (b) to get at the DA in the Western Cape. They want that Western Cape because that's the coloured vote. Basically what's kept the NP alive is what I call the tricameral coloureds, the guys who participated in the tricameral system. They are much bigger racists than a lot of other people in this country. Those tricameral coloureds don't like blacks, but no ways do they like them. So if you can break up that, if you can unscramble that egg and get those people, some of them on your side, it would, they feel, play a significant role in deracialising politics in the Western Cape. I don't know, some of them talk that way, if you talk to the coloured leaders and so on. Boesak is now beginning to become more of a populist. He remains an extraordinary character, Allan Boesak. What's he?

     So the whole question of the Western Cape – I don't know if I told you the last time, but after the elections I was at the count and Marthinus came to me, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, so he said, "Van Zyl, what must I do man? I'm going to be the majority party in the Cape but I can't win outright." So I said, "Marthinus, cut a deal with the ANC." He said, "What?" I said, "Yes, cut a deal with the ANC. You will be able to achieve far more by stirring the pot inside there than by cutting a deal with the DA." He said, "Oh I never thought of that." He phoned me on Monday, he said, "By the way, were you serious?" I said, "Yes, sure I was serious. I'll tell you what your problem is, your problem is the big fat bottom of old Morkel in Leeuwenhof. He's not going to lift himself out of those cushions there." He said, "No, I think I can manage." So what happens? The DA ends up with Morkel and this sort of short clown ends up with the ANC.

     The crossover thing was pure expediency, pure expediency. I hear now from inside that even the ANC said they can't win this one. It will be fascinating to see what happens, the guys have formally declared their intention. They're already dead in the water.

POM     Even if this new system is accepted by cabinet would there be time to have it in place?

VZS     Yes, that's the charm about it, it doesn't cost anything, it doesn't take any time. All that it means is that parties have to work a little bit harder in drawing up 43 lists instead of ten.

POM     What would be the ANC's objections?

VZS     The ANC's objections would be that it could make it a bit more complicated for the party because now you have to go and say I've got choose ten or 22 people for constituency Z and really, man, why have this hassle? I've enough hassle already just with ten.

POM     So it's the hassle factor?

VZS     It's a hassle factor. It's all they can argue against it.

POM     What would the IFP argue against?

VZS     I don't think the IFP would argue against it, I don't think so. I actually think even the DA might go for it. The DA was very in love with the German model until I showed them that they would not be getting so many constituencies as they thought they might.

POM     Two last things. One, is there an increasing concentration of power? Since 1994 has SA moved more in the direction of a one-party democracy with a diminishing impact from the opposition?

VZS     It's actually, it's not an easy one to argue. I would say that –

POM     To argue?

VZS     To argue in favour of the fact that it is so because I think there's more internal tension within the ANC than ever before, number one. Number two, after 2004 Mbeki enters his last term of office. He's effectively a dead duck, a lame duck not a dead duck, a lame duck president. I think you're going to see some extraordinary characters crawl out of the woodwork in the succession run after that and you will see a lot of people suddenly stiffening their backs and saying, "This is where I will be." I don't know what Cyril is going to do. I certainly don't know what Saki Makazoma will do or what the black businessmen will do, whether they will suddenly develop an interest in politics. I don't know. Certainly I think on the labour side and on the NGO side, civil society side, you're going to get a lot of people challenging at local level, constituency level, provincial level and so on. I don't think one can work on the assumption that the control that he might get now, which he will, he's going to not be challenged, I doubt whether Zuma will be challenged. I think you will more or less get the same mob that you've got now with the odd exception on the provincial level. They'll go. But once the elections are over I think bets are off, it will be very interesting.

     Personally I don't see a hell of a lot of scope for improvement for the DA or for Tony Leon. Yes, they'll pick up the rats and mice, some of them from NNP who have got them already. I think the NNP will effectively disappear. If you look at some of the surveys that are coming out now, it's nothing. I think it's somewhere about 5%, 4% - 5%. They were 11% - 12% at the last election.

POM     Two last things. NEPAD. It makes about two or three passing references to AIDS. At Barcelona Stephen Lewis got impassioned about the illusion of NEPAD and their thinking of a 7% growth rate or whatever without taking into account what AIDS was going to do to all of southern Africa. He just said they're living in Disney World. That's one. And two, I have found it interesting but not conspiratorial, that Mbeki for at least six years knew that Barcelona would be taking place in the first week in July 2002 and yet he scheduled the inauguration, launching of the African Union precisely that week ensuring no African presence.

PAT     Or a distraction of media attention.

VZS     I never thought about that.

POM     Would you see that as deliberate?

VZS     It could be. That's the way his mind works. He has a conspiratorial mind if anybody has. I never thought about it quite frankly but it's possible. Just to come back to the economic argument, there is a counter argument which is running round the Bureau of Economic Affairs or Economic Research and Ken Owen wrote an article the other day, it's a cynical argument, not that he supports, but the argument more or less goes as follows: that the greatest victims of AIDS will be the poor and the unemployed, that lightens the burden on the state, therefore it means that you have a greater potential for growth under those circumstances assuming that you have something that can grow and assuming that there will be some kind of investment. There will be societies where AIDS will decimate but those societies have economies that have low potential for growth in any case. And it so happens that most of the people there are poor and unemployable.

POM     What if Mugabe does some self-reflection, what does he want to leave as his legacy?

VZS     That's being really cruel. You mean he can do a bit of that? Self-reflection?

POM     He can take a line from the AIDS.

PAT     He can always …

VZS     OK, Mugabe.

POM     Sorry, I meant Mbeki.

VZS     Oh yes, there, a lot of self-reflection.

POM     If Mbeki – what does he want as his legacy? He's been almost in this term almost completely out of domestic politics and has no great legacy to look at there. Unemployment has gone up, growth is just where it was, service delivery has been as bad as it was six years ago, AIDS is devouring the country. In fact that's what he will be remembered for, his stance on AIDS. Then he has over here an idea that he's trying to put an institution to but it's really an abstraction of sorts and then he's into his second term where he becomes a lame duck so that his power in Africa diminishes and his power domestically diminishes.

VZS     But he doesn't see it that way. The only answer I can give to you on that one is that he would love to be remembered as the guy that built a bridge between the rich and the poor countries of the world. That's what's been going on here, striking a bridge between global …  We got them to agree so that they would help us, and so on. Passionate about that, always has been. Passionate about it because that's where he, by inclination, feels most comfortable, is moving in that rich world. That's where he was most of his life even as a communist, even as a left, number one.

     Number two, he would love to be seen as the philosopher/statesman of Africa that really brought a whole new dimension. It is the African century, our time has come. I really think the guy believes it, he loves these kind of grand visions of himself. I must be quite honest with you, if you had told me that this is where he was going to end up when I first met him in 1986 –

POM     At Dakar?

VZS     Well before Dakar, I met him in Lusaka.  Not a chance.

PAT     I was going to ask you, do you think he has a multiple personality complex? This sort of racial division that he promotes? If you or others - ?

VZS     What I loved about the guy was the kind of sense of self-deprecating humour. It was a way of 'don't take me all that seriously'. Now I get a feeling of somebody who takes himself absolutely seriously, all the little gestures and the talking, talking. This is a man of history and his time in history, that kind of stuff, listen to it. You just take the number of times he uses the word 'humanity', 'the planet', 'the world', I don't know what those concepts mean quite frankly except in a sort of geographic sense or astrological sense. He uses them as if they are collective actors. 'The world' must come to its senses.

POM     As he steps into 2005 he's like a weakened – that voice has an audience that is no longer listening.

VZS     It's going to evaporate. Ordinary folk look at him and think well what the hell are you talking about and you can ask, what is the man saying? There he goes again. And you can talk to very, very ordinary folk - they're no better off. I asked Lyford who was a Malawian here illegally, we've become great buddies and I'm helping him, he lives at my house but he freelances in about ten different gardens. He tells you the famine where he comes from and how we plot and plan to get a bag of maize to his family. He's got the money but you've got to actually go and buy the bloody maize. Where do you get it from? They smuggle it across from Tanzania. Do you know why? Because that arsehole and his cabinet have sold their whole maize crop to Arap Moi, just sold it and dished out amongst themselves, and he's a Muslim and guess who looks after him? Gadaffi? The Malawi Prime Minister. Lyford comes from the south, different tribes, sorry about that, wrong tribe, and there's famine. You can take them, you can take the Zimbabwean guys, you ask them what this guy is doing. This young girl, her father Watson worked for Conservation Corporation, he would come to the village, Matetsi, came home he's now in Namibia. She's as bright as anything, I managed to get a scholarship for her to come to this. She goes back home for two weeks –

POM     That's to Zimbabwe?

VZS     To Bulawayo, in the Bulawayo area in Zimbabwe. She calls me Dad, she says, "Dad, I worked like a slave every day and all we had was pap (maize)." Nothing else, just maize. No food. She says, "We were lucky." Ordinary people. How does NEPAD touch that for God's sake? Where does he touch sides with it?

     You must read Mkhusela Jack's letter to him? Have you read that?

POM     No, I was looking for it.

VZS     That's a powerful letter.

POM     Where is it? You said it was in the PE paper?

VZS     It was in the PE paper, yes. Mkhusela Jack.

POM     Yes I know him, I've interviewed him.

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.