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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

30 Dec 2002: Maharaj, Mac

POM     OK Mac, we're going to talk first about just your reflections, and you weren't there very long, but on the ANC conference. If you look at the composition of the NEC that was elected in 1992, in 1997 and 2002, what does the changing nature of the NEC's composition say about the changing direction and focus of the ANC over that period?

MM     Well I think there's a significant change and it reflects a transition that the ANC is seized with, a transition from being just a liberation movement to a governing party and what you see in the delegates' reflections is that on the whole they are endorsing the way in which government is performing. The concerns that they have have not gone to a point where they say there's a huge disjuncture between the ANC and the ANC's performance in government. What they are grappling with is how does the political party, which is the basis of the government and therefore is the ruling party, how does that party make itself relevant to the policies that inform government and in that regard at the moment I think that the conference's decisions and its elections show that those who are at the helm still enjoy a credibility.

     There are no surprises for me when those who are not in government are still featuring significantly, e.g. Cyril Ramaphosa. I think that that is still the broad concept in the delegates and in the structures of the ANC that the ANC is made up of people who are in government as well as people who are not in government at the moment.

     In other countries, e.g. India, there was a specific decision taken after the independence of India and the Indian Congress Party became the ruling party and that decision was that those of the Indian Congress Party who were in government as ministers, they became the sole decision making structure for the organisation. Here that point has not arisen. The NEC is still acknowledged to be the supreme decision making body between conferences and that means to say that there is not an automatic conflation of government and the party.

     So that's where this thing is standing, my reading of the results. I think that there are other interesting developments that, for example, out of the three that were supposed to be the 'plotters', Ramaphosa, Tokyo and Matthews Phosa, two stood and both got elected.

POM     Well Matthews Phosa didn't stand, he was nominated from the floor.

MM     No he accepted nomination. He was nominated by various provinces and he had initially indicated that he is not likely to stand but subsequently before conference he indicated that he is standing, he will accept nomination. So he was nominated by various provincial structures.

POM     And Tokyo didn't stand.

MM     Tokyo consistently indicated that he would not accept nomination. So the two who were nominated got elected. Is there a significant message in it? I'm not sure but it shows that there is in the delegates' mind still a feeling that the ANC has got to be a broad church.

POM     Would you see, looking at its composition in 1991 and today, that it's now more of a centrist party than it was in 1991? If one wants to use left, right and centre, is it now more towards the centre than it was in 1991?

MM     I accept that the ANC was moving already to more of a centre position, not from an ideological perspective but that once we came into government the access to the actual facts about the condition of the country area by area now had to be factored in in your way forward and while the data and the information is bewildering in its scope the fact that you begin to grapple with those facts means that more and more you are driven towards a pragmatic solution of problems and that pragmatism shifts you away from ideological commitment to a more pragmatic commitment. I think that is happening.

     What is interesting about the decisions is that conference was proceeded by a policy making conference. The decisions of the policy making conference have been carried through by the delegates and they may have questioned it in the commissions, I don't agree with the commentators who are saying certain positions were taken without debate. The plenary sessions were not the place for vigorous debate. It would be the commissions and unless the commissions were radically divided then the report tabled to conference would generate debate but when a report comes from the commission that is fairly homogeneous, conference wouldn't be engaging in lengthy debate around it. I think that more work was done in the commissions.

     I think what is interesting for me is that the different tendencies manifest in the handling of the alliance. Again there do not appear to have been sharp differences. I think the broad commitment of all three members of the tripartite alliance held and I think that tendency that was isolated by the President at his closing address – interesting the way he handled it. It is inevitable at many of the ANC conferences that people would go around with lists and lobby.

POM     That happens at all conferences.

MM     It happens at all conference.

POM     Political conferences. If they don't lobby –

MM     At Kabwe in 1985 there was all sorts of lobbying. I had arrived a day late at the conference but one knew that there was lobbying and OR himself came to conference on the second or third day and he said, "Look chaps I've been met by a delegation of veterans and they have appealed to me that the electoral process for the election of the NEC it cannot be just democratic." Ideally, he said, we were moving towards a position that there would be clear nominations from branches and regions and everybody would be on the list but he said, "I've been met by veterans who are complaining. They are saying that that process endangers the steadfastness of the organisation." Because, they said, look at the list of people's names that are being nominated. They said three quarters of them we don't know who they are, we don't know what's their background because all of them have got different names and we've been living in exile now, some people came out in 1962, others came out post-Soweto and they continue to come out and join and they do well in training and they have a code name. We don't know anything about the person's background and we are not allowed to ask what's their background because for security reasons we have all got different names. They said, we know that the first bunch of recruits that came into exile were politically sifted but after that we took anybody who came abroad and said I'm a refugee, I want to join you. We said, fine, join. They said, we don't know who we are voting for. And OR said, well he's listened to them very carefully and while we were electing a 30 person executive he said, "While I sympathise with that complaint I still think it is necessary that the leadership should be elected and enjoy credibility of the delegates voting for them." So he says, "Having thought the matter over carefully I would like to recommend to conference that I will prepare from all the nominations that have been received, I will prepare a list of 90 people and that 90 would be put before conference and you can vote on the 90. Do you people give me that permission?" And conference immediately responded and said, "Yes, we think that that's the right way to go." And he said, "I will pick the 90 from the list of nominations, I will not add on a name who is not nominated but based on my knowledge of each of the people I will extract a list of 90 and then you will vote for 30 and the first 30 that come up will be elected." And the conference said, "We agree."

     Now no such mechanism was used here. What was left was the sifting process of the branches and the regions and there were a number of regions which had problems about procedures and there were disqualifications based on not adhering to procedure. But when you look at it and the tensions that were there over this use by the President before conference of the 'ultra left', the only one that stands out is that Gwede Mantashe was not elected. People feel he was popular but when I look at it the problems of the National Union of Mineworkers are real, they have been in the public limelight for the last three to six months and they were somewhat damaging to the current leadership of NUM of whom Gwede is the key official. So was it a support for the President's line that he's an ultra leftist or was it influenced by what is happening in NUM? It's something that one has to keep analysing.

     But for the rest I think COSATU itself realised that if you look at the list of people elected, it realised very late in the day that it had not done any mobilising in the ANC branches and it has acknowledged that. And it was caught in the problem, two of its key officials were not going to stand for very good reasons, that they should concentrate on their work in the unions and not just be overwhelmed by all the committees that the other structures have. So there is a suggestion that the people who enjoyed a COSATU ticket didn't get elected. I think the reality is that they didn't get nominated, that there was such a confusion in the run up to conference that many, many COSATU people who are members of the ANC did not go to the branches and participate actively in the process both to the policy conference and to the nomination process. So that's where I think it is standing.

     Is there a new generation emerging? Yes there is a new generation emerging. It is clear that ministers, fairly young ministers who have been in government now enjoy support from the delegates. Is that a knee-jerk support because they are holding positions in government, because they are seen in the media, or is it because there are real problems? I think that if you take the land issue, I think that there is an endorsement of the minister because there is a feeling that she is speeding up the land redistribution process and that while she may have expressed from time to time sympathy for the Zimbabwean situation, there is an appreciation that she is not allowing the situation here to develop in the way that the Zimbabwean situation has developed. I think it's also maybe lack of debate but I haven't read all the documents. But on the land question in SA it is an issue and I think that government's stance that the Zimbabwe land issue is an issue, and very early the President had indicated that one of the major problems was that Britain needed to be at the party in resolving it, that paradigm has stood as the screen behind which one shows an almost dual approach to Zimbabwe, a knee-jerk sympathy for the Zimbabweans and for Mugabe and at the same time a desire to ensure that SA doesn't go the same way. And the President's argument for the need for quiet diplomacy seems to be supported on the basis that maybe there will be headway. I think again the news on the DRC, the news on Burundi were perhaps the more powerful influences around that for the support of the quiet diplomacy even though there is a lot of concern about Mugabe and the way he is going. I don't think conference's decision was that clear cut on those issues and I don't think it was ready to go clear cut.

POM     Two things just on Zimbabwe struck me, one was when ZANU PF delegation's reception they were given applause and support for them. That was one. Two, it was Dr Zuma's answer to a question from the media about the ANC's attitude towards ZANU PF and she said, "We endorse them as a progressive organisation, as a sister liberation organisation", and she more or less called Tsvangarai a puppet of neo-colonialism. Now that struck me as – it took me right back, it's as though no-one has said or will say the issue isn't land, the issue is that Mugabe has systematically destroyed every democratic structure in his country, the rule of law is gone, he's using food in a political way, his militias are running wild all over the country. This week he introduced even more legislation controlling prices which means certain things will go out of production, but he's become a dictator.

MM     I think there are two things there. Even at the height of the Zimbabwe struggle before independence our alliance was with ZAPU and really ZANU was of very little assistance to us in the SA struggle but we tried to avoid publicly criticising and condemning ZANU because there has been - from the time of exile we had taken a stance which paid off in the liberation phase that we would avoid meddling in the internal affairs of the host country, for instance Tanzania. We avoided getting involved in supporting anybody, we just said we're thankful to the government, we respect the government and we encouraged our members not to get involved, unlike what happened with other splinter groups like the PAC. They would get involved. Now remember in Tanzania there had been an incipient revolt in the sixties from within the party, people like Shaik Babu(?), etc., who some of them were arrested, imprisoned, I think one or two were executed by Nyerere.But nothing showed that we were in any way supporting or aligning ourselves.

     Now that stance has inculcated a sense that in managing the processes of our integration into Africa as an independent state is guided by not washing that linen in public. So I think that's one side of it and I think that the delegates feel that and there is still a hangover of that view which is not eased, by the way, by Bush's unilateralism. And Tony Blair, you saw Madiba's attack, was saying Tony Blair is in tow over the Iraqi issue. So that's sitting there, this anti-imperialist concept and then it's not assisted by Bush's unilateralism as the super power in the world.

     That is combined with a sense that if we could do it in the DRC to help bring peace, if we could help Burundi, then there is another way because there is an incipient fear of two things. One, in our inability to create jobs in our economy there is a great danger that xenophobia can take proper root against Zimbabweans, less against Mozambicans now because there is development taking place in the Mozambique economy. But side by side with that fear is a sense that how do we become relevant? I think there is a view that Mugabe is full of himself because I remember that while I was in government that a SADEC meeting with the Security Division was set up, a specific secretariat, it was at a Gaborone meeting, I happened to be there on transport matters, and the issue was: who becomes the chairman of that? And it was glossed over, not to ruffle feathers, by saying Mugabe and Mugabe interpreted that as a lifelong appointment. Slowly that has been shifted but it has shifted without making it a public war and there is a sense that you will have seen at the World Summit on Sustainable Development both Nujoma and Mugabe received thunderous applause which was not in sync with how they feel when they have to talk individually. So it's concern and it's thinking that they are helping that quiet diplomacy of the President and government by taking up a stance of applause.

     You may even call it a somewhat immature response and I think that the Foreign Minister when she was responding was responding from her Foreign Minister's hat, not an ANC hat. She was still saying, this is what I say in public. And that leads people to be confused. Is this what she genuinely believes or is she simply saying this because it's going to be reported in the papers, because it's going to be read by the African leaders and by Mugabe and by Sam Nujoma? I think that's where the disfunction arises and it arises because as the ruling party I think it is very clear that many, many of its members in the leadership who are holding ministerial positions were still speaking from their ministerial hats. They were not speaking from a think tank of the ANC and the reality is that you can never have a conference now in independent and free, democratic SA of the type that you could have at Kabwe. Even if you went into closed session whatever you say in the closed session is tomorrow going to be in the newspapers. Whereas at Kabwe we could say this is closed and nobody talks about this and nobody spoke. It would take years. You know, your own experience of the Green Book, what a job it was to find out if there is – oh yes, there's a Green Book but what the hell is in it? And people till now think it's a secret document and yet it's on the web site. So that's the split which is a symptom to me of the transition from a liberation movement to a ruling party.

POM     I'd asked people, this was in fact a study that was done for Valli Moosa when he was Minister of Constitutional Development and NDI were contracted to do some work and they sub-contracted me to do what they called 'key informant interviews'. So I interviewed about 20 people, many of them ministers, some public figures, all public figures, all very prominent in the public policy arena. One of the questions I asked them was who did they think really ruled the country, whether it was the National Working Committee of the ANC or the government, decision making at the cabinet level? Half of the ministers I interviewed said it was the NWC, very prominent ministers, not why are you asking me that silly question. Who is the key decision making body? Is it cabinet or is it the National Working Committee?

MM     The problem remains open, it can be illustrated even better by an ANC decision that there needs to be a policy making department inside the ANC. It's fraught with problems. While the decisions are taken that that must happen the reality is that the data is sitting with government so every time you have a debate either you're going to become a second guessing instrument or you're just going to agree. So what happens is that those debates become more ideological and general rather than specific because the minister comes there and says, but these are the facts. And how do you contradict those facts? Are you a second-guess think tank?

     So I think that contradiction remains. In my view it would be – there is no instance yet where the Working Committee has taken a decision contrary to a government decision, even where the Working Committee individuals may have expressed unhappiness, an explanation by the President or the minister is then passed over by saying, OK, we'll give you the benefit of the doubt. But that's because there is no mechanism to access that data that the minister is using to be able to put up an argument. For example, the President would say, "I'm handling the Zimbabwe situation. My problem is how to influence Mugabe. I think that it is possible that along these lines we will shift his thinking a bit. Yes I agree with you we won't change his view but we will shift it slightly." And he changes the argument to the way the Deputy Foreign Minister has put it or Trevor Manuel put it, "What do you want us to do? Go in there with our tanks?" So the alternative is discussed in that way and you know that that alternative is the wrong way to discuss the issues. The issue is first of all what is the state of that economy? What is the state of democracy there? What is happening in that country? How is it going to impact on us and how is it going to impact on the developments of southern Africa? Now when you understand all that, now ask, what can we do?

POM     This, I think, is part of what I asked you before, in that situation it certainly doesn't help for the Foreign Minister to call Morgan Tsvangarai no more than a man who can't accept the result of an election and is little more than really a puppet of neo-colonialism.

MM     They said this even before, it was said even before about Morgan Tsvangarai, and there is a tendency in Africa in our politics, not necessarily Africa, it's there in the world too, you will remember that in the recent German elections Chancellor Schroeder made a remark that Americans took great offence with. I don't remember what it was about. Oh, it was about the war in Iraq, and he said, "Never! We will not send our troops. We disagree with that approach of the United States." And then one of his ministers raised an analogy of Nazi times and the Americans took great umbrage at that remark. Well Chancellor Schroeder didn't reappoint her to his cabinet but the issue seems to have been hushed over. It's like saying, oh we'll repair that, we'll cross that bridge tomorrow.

     But in Kenya just yesterday the announcement comes that the opposition has won and the news comes up that the President has sent a congratulatory message. There's almost a hangover that says we can say all the nice things that suit Mugabe, by implication we hurt Morgan. Oh, if he comes in tomorrow we will repair that damage. There is not enough of consciousness that, wait a minute, if you hurt Morgan and humiliate him then tomorrow even if he's in power repairing that relationship is going to be painful and it will leave hangovers if not for ever.

     There is a tendency in politics in campaigning and canvassing that people do humiliate each other and do say the wildest things. It's not as if it's new to our politics. I think it's happened in other countries but here if I give you examples there are times when even Minister Buthelezi has made very personal remarks, e.g. during the time of Madiba. He virtually questioned the integrity of the man and I personally say one of the painful lessons I've learnt is that if you humiliate and question a person's integrity, repairing that, yes the official relations will be fine, but it doesn't disappear and it does impact on how you relate to each other in the future. I would put the statement on Morgan in that category. I think it would be just as easy to make those remarks about personalities in the Kenya struggle. I think the contradiction that SA has is that Morgan Tsvangarai has been saying, "Why don't you meet me?" And yet the signal from Mugabe's side is, "You meet him, I take exception to that and I call that interference in my domestic affairs." Whereas in a settled environment there's nothing untoward when the British Prime Minister relates to the Prime Minister of another country and the government and yet nearing their election time he meets all the opposition leaders.

     Here in SA one of the complaints has been that the President in his functioning in this current term has not been meeting all the opposition leaders, has not been doing the sort of thing that Madiba was doing. I think Madiba was doing it in a more normalised way of politics and the current President has been accused particularly around the relationship with Tony Leon to say that he doesn't want to meet him. And yet the current President would write a ten page letter to Tony Leon and put it over the Internet and Tony Leon would write a ten page reply and put it over the Internet and yet you ask, have these two men met? Does the government brief? The answer from the government has been, no, the person who manages the parliamentary process is the Deputy President and he meets. The question arises, is that an adequate way? But then there's a remarkable development in SA that people even from the left, for instance the academic Habib from Westville University has recently said that because of no viable opposition there is need to support the growth of a left leaning opposition because he thinks that the unchallenged return of the ANC is harmful to democracy and he has even argued that means to say democracy is not real here.

POM     Yes I saw that.

MM     You saw that? You could see the agenda is that Habib himself would like to see a left opposition and like to see a leftward leaning government but because of that he couches his argument to say that the democracy is not real here. I think there's a conflation of two arguments, what you would like because you are ideologically wedded to that position and what it means about democracy. I think that the key issues in SA's transition are the adherence to the rule of law and I think that the instrument of the Constitutional Court has shown that that is very healthy, it's thriving. I think there's a very interesting argument coming up which can undermine, has the potential, and that is how to deal with a terrorist threat, because in dealing with that terrorist threat it is easy to undermine the individual rights. And that's happening in the US and nobody is complaining in the US. Anybody who is complaining is seen as a fringe madcap. So that mood that can be generated at an emotional moment can easily override civil rights without realising the consequences for the future. So around the rule of law and the building of that culture of the rule of law, there I think is a litmus test of whether this democracy is settling down. Around the question of whether there's a viable opposition, I think the question is wider because is there an opposition putting a viable alternative before the electorate? I think nobody is putting one and I think that even in the tripartite alliance, neither the Communist Party nor COSATU is putting a viable alternative on the table that is reasoned not just on ideological grounds but on practical, real grounds.

POM     I think one of the points that Habib was making was that if you have a situation where everyone agrees that the results of the next election are a foregone conclusion, in fact something that you don't even need to talk about, then the party in government can act in a way that simply doesn't take into account the will or the wishes of the electorate because the electorate will, when it comes to voting day, either stay at home or vote for them but either way they're assured of being returned to power, therefore you can ignore what people want and –

MM     Democracy falls.

POM     No, I would say maybe that's necessary when a new democracy is getting off the ground, that really tough decisions have to be made and you have to look at the long term not the short term because if you meet people's expectations all in the short term you are damaging the long term prospects of the economy so you have to take decisions. So that in a way having one party that is assured of power for a number of years either allows that party to corrupt itself –

MM     Take the long term view.

POM     - or it allows it to take a long term view.

MM     The danger of that corruption to democracy is countervailed by the rule of law. I think if you look at Kenya the party has just lost power after 40 years since independence but in that 40 years there was countervailing power in that society to assert the rule of law and the rule of law was being undermined according to the wishes of the President and his governing party. Now here this existence f the rule of law and the checks that sit through the court, primarily through the Constitutional Court, remain a crucial test. You need that to settle down and therefore that danger that Habib is talking about, he does not in his analysis look at that rule of law question because if the party consistently feels secure that it will be returned, good for long term planning, but if it then finds obstacles to its path and undermines the rule of law, then I think you've endangered democracy. I think that therefore the SA situation has got to be weighed up like that. It cannot be weighed up in a singular way.

     We've had this debate on the floor crossing, etc. I firmly believe that the formal issues that go into a formal democracy are not enough. I believe that into that democracy must be factored in three issues, the legislature, the judiciary and the executive and there is enough evidence in our country that as we are going through this transition period there are these checks and balances functioning. The President defended the Deputy President at conference over the arms deal but in his defence he said one crucial thing, "The law will take its course." He didn't say, I'm defending my Deputy President and there is no countervailing force. I think that's a very important statement. That it may not work out the way our perceptions are is another issue but he has not departed from giving law its primacy.

     Those are the features that I would like to think that academic scholars when they advocate a particular solution would bear in mind because the Habib answer that a left opposition would be the right ingredient to assure democracy is not necessarily a real understanding of the situation in the country. I don't think a left opposition is going to emerge because the left has not yet been able to put an alternative programme.

POM     Would you not think too, at least from my perceptions over the years of talking particularly to Africans, that they are by and large conservative? I don't know whether that's been because of the influence of missionaries or whatever but there is no – the people are not radical.

MM     So are the US people. What's the difference between the Republicans and the Democrats?

POM     Nothing.

MM     Nothing. And every so-called radical organisation that has tried to stand up for the presidency in the election – what happened to Nader? So I think innately it's not a word of conservatism, I think at particular moments in history people will move but people will move either through the charisma of a leader or a leader building up a charisma with a simple, clear answer that there is another way. When you show another way you've got a chance but before you get that other way to develop a momentum a whole intellectual core in that society must emerge putting forward that alternative, debating it, rationalising it so that it begins. The role of the intellectual in society cannot be underestimated and if there is no intellectual support nothing happens but I think that in the question of democracy –

POM     No intellectual support for?

MM     For an alternative which is being debated. Then it's a non-starter but I think the element when I talked about the legislature, the executive and the judiciary has a fourth element and that is the media. However much I have criticisms of the SA media, the thing that is established in this democracy is its right to independent existence. Yes, there are people in the ANC who are saying we need a media that reflects that 60% majority view, that is a channel for it and for its views to be put before the public, but never is the view put forward that the others therefore have to be suppressed. This is the big difference. There are many people who feel that the ANC should have its Pravda as the Communist Party in the Soviet Union had its Pravda, but none of them say that it should have its Pravda by suppressing the others and that means to say that in that place of the readership should they create a Pravda, you will find it is just a mechanism that is sucking in your resources unless it can write and deal with issues that people are prepared to buy.

POM     That just as you were talking brought to my mind that in Ireland when De Valera came to power in 1932 he set up his own newspaper, the Irish Press, that was intended to reflect the views of his party. It did until in the sixties it began to get into trouble, its circulation began to fall and new media came on the scene and it's now gone out of business even though his party is still the dominant party of the country.

MM     Because who wants to read simple praise of yourself? It becomes boring. There is a reality that what is news is sensation, there is a reality to that. I was sitting down in the cinema the other day with Zarina, we went off to a show and I said, "What crap is this?"

POM     What movie was this so I'll avoid it?

MM     It was an interesting movie, it was The Big Fat Greek Wedding, but there were all the blurbs of the oncoming films.

POM     Yeah, yeah, violence.

MM     And violence and guns and I was saying, "But this is such crap." Then after that when we got out I said, "But people go to that, they don't go to the good films." So you can produce a fantastic newspaper but if it is just going to be full of praise and say everything is going fine, nobody wants to hear that, that's not news.

     But what I am saying is that in the SA situation the key element is that the right of the other media to exist is not being challenged and as long as that is not challenged, even if the ruling party set up its own newspaper you know one thing, that amongst the readership they will buy it if they find it interesting and useful relative to other papers, or they will stop buying it.

POM     The ANC will have to have a 'babe of the day' on the back page.

MM     Then somebody will say, I don't believe in beauty queen pageants.

POM     That's right.

MM     And why are you putting this salacious back page? I mean look at The Sunday Times at the moment, what does it run on? It runs on back page and front page, that's what it runs on.

POM     What you have here, the new newspaper that's made such great strides, The Sunday Sun, and its circulation is –

MM     So there's your reality. I am saying if you were to assess and evaluate is democracy entrenching itself or is it weakening in SA post-1994, you've got to put in legislature, judiciary, executive but you've got to put in the media and you've got to put in the policy stances of is it upholding the rule of law or is it undermining the rule of law and getting away with it because that's when power becomes untrammelled. And these checks and balances are sitting in this society and thriving, and thriving. Sunday Times is looking every week for a headline to expose something. Yes in the middle pages it'll pay obeisance to the government and praise it but there is no question that the mindset of the whole editorial team is, as the weekend is coming, is there a story of an exposure? And they keep cracking their heads. You look at the headline some weeks and you say why have they taken such a small thing? Nobody needed that headline.

POM     Exposure on Sunday and then you never hear of the thing again.

MM     You never hear of it. And more important things have happened in the world and you say why isn't this headlined? No, it's saying here's my recipe for readership.

POM     To move you right back to June 1994. Mandela is inaugurated, the following day you go to your ministerial posts or your relative departments. I have a number of questions relating to how this process of transition took place in the very early stages. One, had there been a meeting of the NWC or the NEC beforehand that laid out what the agenda of the incoming government should be and if so what did it say were the priorities? What briefings did incoming ministers receive from the outgoing ministers, if any? What briefing did you receive from Derek Keys as to what the financial situation in the country was? Since nobody had any experience in government who was there to guide them through learning to become a minister? Let's just stop there for a moment.

MM     Let me answer that thing from a personal point of view. Clear, however busy I was in the negotiating process and the TEC which was taking all my energy, when I am told by Madiba at an NEC meeting, I think it was a Working Committee meeting, and extended Working Committee, he calls us together and says, "Well comrades, in constituting the government I've thought the matter through, I have consulted individuals and this is what I propose to do."

POM     Now did he do this before the election?

MM     Straight after the election. Madiba is on record that he did not want it done before the elections, he felt that that would cause problems. We had to go into the elections united and he felt that there would be a divisiveness. He has even gone so far as to say he was being lobbied by individuals who were coming to him deeply concerned about their future and he could see that the person was saying - are you going to appoint me a minister? What are you going to do with me? No, he consulted and he says he consulted the Communist Party and COSATU. He even says that he asked, now that Thabo Mbeki was going to be Deputy President, it had been sorted out and Thabo had been elected Deputy President of the ANC and therefore was going to be Deputy President in the government, he says he asked Thabo for a list, you've seen it in the preface. And he says, "I did that because I thought he has a knowledge of the people who were in exile. I don't know them first hand, I've come out of prison. He is going to be my deputy so I thought, you put up a list, suggestions." He says, "I exercised my right, I didn't just rubber stamp it, I changed the names around." Then he comes to the Working Committee and he says, "Colleagues, this is what I've decided. This is going to be my government."

     Now he's on record as saying that some of the people, beyond even cabinet, I think the example he gave is of Frene Ginwala, he says he called her in and he said, "You, Speaker of the House." And she said, "I'm not suited for that. I don't know that job." He was very curt, he says, "Are you going to take it or are you not? Because if you're not I'll appoint somebody else." She said, "Let me have time to think." He said, "There's no time to think, decide", and she said, "OK." He knew at that situation he was giving everybody no space to say no and if you said no – take myself, what did I know about transport? Maybe I would have preferred something else. But if you said that to him his answer is simply, "I've had to balance all sorts of issues, what do you want? I haven't got time for this." You've got no principle difference with him so do you say, oh, I feel I should be this or that. You feel, no, let it settle down, we'll do the job.

     But I am saying he came to the Working Committee, informed us what he was going to do, got approval, then went on to announce it. Having announced it, now I know I'm going to be Minister of Transport, what the hell do I know about transport? It's not as if the NEC had left me unarmed because all those things had been preceded by all sorts of policy making conferences and it had been encapsulated in the RDP document. So we went in equipped through a broader mechanism than even the NEC with the RDP document and it was published as a book. And that's the first thing I did. When I knew I was going to be a minister I said let me get my copy of the RDP document, which I haven't been part of the process in any detailed way in developing because I've been busy at negotiations, but now let me read this document carefully from the point of view of what sort of road map is provided for me and what are the implications then for transport?

     The second thing I do is that the day we are sworn in I go straight, I say where are the offices of the Ministry of Transport? And nobody knows where the office is. So I sit in the President's office with his staff, "Hey, who's got the Ministry's address?" And somebody pops up and says, "Oh here's a book, this is the address, it's Forum Buildings, Struben Street." I say, "Is the Ministry there and where are the others?" "Oh they are all over Pretoria." Fine, let me drive over. I drive over and at the first cabinet meeting also, after swearing in, De Klerk says –

POM     OK, so the first thing after the cabinet is announced and the election, whatever, there's a cabinet meeting.

MM     After swearing in there's a cabinet meeting.

POM     And that cabinet meeting is of course chaired by Madiba.

MM     Madiba.

POM     OK. What was the substance of that cabinet meeting?

MM     The substance of that was, right, now we've met at cabinet. First of all procedures issues. How often are we going to meet, etc., etc. The second thing is De Klerk says that in preparing for the change each department has got some document prepared as a briefing. Those documents are available in the relevant departments to whoever has been appointed minister. So OK, good, agreed. Now we've agreed when we are going to meet next time and how often we are going to meet and now you know when you go to your department you will get a briefing document.

     I move off to Struben Street, they're not expecting me. They thought I'll come the next day but they find me there so they're in a flurry. The DG eventually rocks up to see me, he's in a flurry and he says welcome, etc. And I ask him, "What happens here?" He says, "Minister, we've prepared a document, a briefing document, it's that thing. Here's your copy." So I get this copy and say, "Fine, I need time to read through it." He leaves. I say to myself, "Hey, wait a minute, who is this guy? I've never heard of him." I've never heard – he's come, he's told me he's the Director General and he's introduced me to a few people, thrown names, who's who, who are the key people, and he's told me his own tenure expires in six months but he is prepared to serve me if I want him to extend his contract and if I don't want to extend his contract at the end of his contract then he's prepared to leave. I said, "That's fine."

     Now he also implies that he has met certain people in the ANC and had discussions and I say who? He names a few people, they were working in the Transport Committee at Shell House and I realised none of them sitting in the Department of Transport have been involved in any in depth policy analysis. The most in depth report is sitting in the RDP. And I say to the DG, "Have you looked at the RDP document?" He said, "Oh yes, we've looked at it and we have therefore prepared a briefing document which tells us how we are organised, what we have been doing and it says how we can implement the RDP." I flip through it, it's got no depth of how we're going to implement the RDP, what are the implications for transport. But he has thrown all the issues from passenger transport to freight transport to aviation and so here's this mixed bag sitting on my table. But I'm saying I'm not unguided because I've got the RDP document which I know is an ANC document developed by ANC Policy Conference.

     How we should function in cabinet? Nothing. Because when we got down to the next cabinet meeting it starts, "Where are the minutes of the previous cabinet?" Well there's a brief minute of our meeting, the first meeting, but there's no minutes of previous cabinet meetings. There's a procedure outline how you can bring proposals to cabinet, how long your memoranda was going to be, what is going to be this, and that is all there.

POM     It's all in?

MM     In the booklet, in the briefing.

POM     A briefing booklet that had been prepared by?

MM     By each department, that if you want to take a matter to cabinet you must take it through a memorandum, the memorandum must be done in so many copies, it must be filed with the cabinet secretariat so many days before cabinet meeting. De Klerk says that they have now begun to function by having sub-committees. What should be the sub-committees? He says there's an Economic sub-committee, there's a Social Affairs committee, there's a Security sub-committee. Fine, that's a processing, it meets every fortnight preceding the next week's cabinet meeting, your memorandum must be through there and it must be written in this way, these are the headings that it must conform to, etc., etc.

POM     Now is De Klerk being helpful at this point?

MM     Helpful and not helpful because one had already started putting together what one understood about the functioning of government. I knew for example a little bit about how the British system works. I had studied law, I had studied constitutions and I had seen the British parliament in operation in Britain. Now, against that when I look at what was the briefing from De Klerk it was brief, it was patchy, it was not substantial in terms of one British practice, that the Permanent Secretaries as soon as an election is announced or is likely to be announced begin to interact with all the heads of the opposition parties and ask them who's your shadow minister for this portfolio. Can I engage with your shadow minister on what are the policy positions of your party and involve that shadow minister in developing an implementation plan for their policy? There had been no shadow minister on our side, there was nobody that they could turn to so that explains a gap on their side. But on their side there had been no culture that we need to go and find the opposition and the likely winner and say to the President, well you're the likely winner, you're the likely President, will you tell me who to relate to so that we look at your policies and begin to take time to thrash out what should be the framework of the new policy, what are the frameworks of the new policy and how do we implement it?

POM     Couldn't you say the same about the ANC today?

MM     I think that now they are settling in, yes, the evidence of 1999, the change in 1999 is that I'm not so sure that any in depth preparation had been made similarly.

POM     This is in 1999.

MM     1999. Because I think – what I know in Transport is that we prepared a very, very extensive briefing.

POM     For?

MM     For whoever was going to be incoming minister. We prepared an exhaustive one, we prepared a strategic report, we prepared a detailed report section by section and as soon as the new government was announced I contacted the incoming minister and I told him when can I meet you and he made a time and I went to Pretoria and I said to him, "Comrade", I gave him an outline of the briefing and told him this is what's contained, "Although you've been in cabinet as Minister of Justice let me put together the strategic perspective we were following in a concise way. There it is." That strategic perspective is followed up by practical reports of how far on each section of that strategy we have gone, what are the problems we are encountering. I briefed him about the staff in the department, who's who, the key people, how it's functioning and I said to him, "Here are the reports, I am giving you all these files. There are a huge mess, please feel free for the next few weeks I will be on standby, you can call me at any time and I will come in and we will discuss. In the meantime you've got a department, these are the people in the department. If you want any amplification they are available, let me introduce you to them and you now know that when you read the report to help you going through this report here is the stuff."

POM     But you never met with the previous Minister of Transport?

MM     With regards to the previous Minister of Transport, when I went to that office he was not there. I never saw him.

POM     Was that the experience of other ministers?

MM     It seems to have been the experience of other ministers as well. The previous incumbents disappeared, they weren't even at the door to welcome me.

POM     So at this second meeting, which I assume would take place shortly after the first, did the new ministers discuss among themselves the fact that they didn't have adequate briefings when they got - ?

MM     No, we didn't moan about it at all. We didn't complain.

POM     No-one said, I'm having problems?

MM     No. We just said we're knuckling into our job. We knew we had a very sensitive situation where the coalition government made up of the NP and the IFP – now that was not the place where we ANC ministers were going to raise our complaints. After a little bit of time, after a few cabinet meetings the question came up amongst the ANC, shouldn't we have our own cabinet caucus of ANC ministers and deputy ministers as a regular meeting where we could, preceding any cabinet, deal with issues arising before cabinet. We then settled into that structure.

POM     What impression did you get at that early stage from your fellow ministers? Did you get the impression that the existing structures in the civil service were being helpful or that they were having a difficult time getting a grip on their briefs because they were not only new in the job as ministers, they were new in their portfolios.

MM     No, none of the ministers were in a complaining mood. Yes we were grappling and we were exchanging views, who's your DG? How are you finding it? Who's your departmental staff? Are you comfortable? There are going to be changes, that we knew, we had discussed we have to change it. And what are you seeing? For example, I had met the current DG of Justice in the negotiations so I was able to say to Dullah Omar, "Dullah, I know Jasper, these are my impressions of him." And we exchanged views like, hey, you've got a very big department. Here we have a problem, how do we go though change? How do we get our policies shifted to an implementation stage if we are to rely on the same civil servants? And who do you find? So I would go to ministers and say, "Who do you think I should be able to get as a DG for Transport?" or other staff members, not just the DG. Who's knowledgeable about it?

POM     Other staff, when you say staff members?

MM     The management of the department.

POM     OK, within?

MM     Within the Department of Transport because it's not just a question of changing the DG. Have I got other people who are from the democratic movement background that I can bring in, that I can look at potentially employing in the department? How do I go about it, what are the rules there? Because the constitution says that the existing civil servants have got their job security for five years. What does that mean? Job security did not mean that I could not shift the person out of a job but it meant that whatever job I gave him or her the salary level would have to be the same so even if I demoted the person I would have to pay the salary of a Deputy DG.

     Right, now, we're getting to know the staff and we are looking beyond where are potential people. Each of us were left to say, you know the people in the democratic movement, go and look around. And some minister would say, "By the way I know a person who is interested in Transport, has studied economics." Where is he? Where can I get hold of him? Oh, contact so-and-so. By the way I know so-and-so. So-and-so has studied the following things abroad. So you were exchanging and pulling information but you were not complaining about your department because you were saying you accept that you've got to steer a change but how do you do that within the legal constraints that were there?

POM     I suppose my question is slightly different. It is, were the senior civil servants in departments co-operative, professional or did they tend to put obstacles in the way because one of the common legends is that the old guard were undermining policy delivery and that was part of the reason why implementation was slow. It was as though the old guard were still fighting a rearguard action. Did you get the impression from your fellow ministers that this was so or was it a matter that the civil service is by its nature a slow, bureaucratic institution where people don't work at 100% every day. I mean I was one, my first job was as a civil servant, I saw how lazy people were, I saw tea breaks turned into half an hour, three quarters of an hour. By its nature a civil service structure is an unwieldy, slow-working, inefficient body.

MM     Look, those of us from the ANC came into cabinet with a huge sense of wariness of the existing civil service.

POM     Wariness?

MM     Yes. On the other side the civil servants came with a huge sense of unease about us. They just didn't know how to relate to us. Some members from our side, individuals, and each one took their own understanding, some people's wariness was so strong that it was literally – I won't show it but I'm going to get rid of this bastard as quickly as possible, not because the man is bad but because I proceed from the assumption that he comes from the old guard.

POM     I've made an assumption about him without knowing whether it's true or false.

MM     Yes, and I want somebody else that I have confidence in from my ranks. Right? So I'm going to do that and until I do that I'll just interact civilly. That's the sum. Other people, and I can speak for myself, I said wait a minute, I don't even know who I'm going to appoint, I don't even know the job, wait, I'm giving myself a month. I must understand the job, I must understand how it is structured, I must understand who's the key management and I must question them and relate to them, put them at ease, question them about where things are standing, develop an understanding, and question them about what they have done in preparation. So if a Deputy DG came to my office when I asked him and I said, "Would you now brief me on passenger transport?" He did typically, because they too had no experience of this change, he did the 'yes Minister' act, and that is he just flooded me with documents. But already in the discussion I was beginning to evaluate, are you summarising effectively for me? Are you answering my question directly or are you evading the question and simply giving me a mass of documents? But I said before I start even contemplating how I rock this boat, first I must understand who's on this boat and let them be at ease.

POM     Did you, this would apply to others too, when he was briefing you did you say he may be briefing me exactly the same way he briefed the previous minister and he may think he's doing a terrific job because the previous minister always said, "Well done, I like that briefing."

MM     I actually experienced it graphically because within months there was my budget to be debated. Now all the work around that budget had already been done because the new government couldn't function without a budget and now within a month or two, I think it was two months, I'm told by the DG, "Minister, your budget speech comes up this day." Oh shit! What happens with the budget speech? "Oh don't worry Minister, it's easy." So he's reassuring me. "Now all the preparation, we are busy with it, your budget speech will be drafted." I say, "How will it be drafted?" "No, if you want I will prepare one." I said, "No, wait a minute, I need a couple of meetings. Yes put drafts section by section but I need meetings with the whole team." "No Minister, don't worry, there's no time, we will be in Cape Town and there will be a week and that's when we'll work through this thing." I said, "Will the team be there?" "Oh yes Minister, the whole team, my management team will be there but I'll be there." And when I sit down with him in Cape Town, here's the draft, I say, "Oh you're promising that there will be a policy paper on passenger transport in a few weeks time. What makes you make me make that promise?" He said, "Well Minister, I have commissioned a group at the university." I said, "Who's the group?" He says, "Minister, this is a person at RAU University who has been relating to the ANC closely and following ANC policy and he's sympathetic." I said, "So he's preparing a passenger policy document? With what consultation?" He says, "No, he's drafting it." I said, "But I'm not happy with that. I would like to see all the role players in the passenger sector involved in looking at the existing policy and reviewing it so I can't make this promise here that in a few weeks time there will be this."

     Then he tells me, he says, "Minister", and he's nervous because clearly they used to be nervous at budget speech time, he says, "Minister, I will sitting in the public servants' gallery and as every speaker goes you have to make – but don't worry, I'll be making notes of every question that's being asked of you and I'll have my team and I'll send you responses." I say, "That's fantastic, but wait a minute, I don't want to answer questions that are going to make promises which I have not yet discussed." "Alright, alright, but Minister, remember one thing, when you sit down in a budget meeting when it's your budget please make sure you go to the toilet and have a leak because from the time your budget thing starts until the end of the debate you can't leave the chamber." Oh shit, is that the crisis!

     So here you have policy and you have a person nervously putting all the little things like what time you should go to the loo, make sure your bladder is empty. So you're getting all nervous and I'm saying wait a minute, how many minutes do the other people have to speak? Oh this is the number of hours set aside. How many speakers? Oh the parties will put up their names. Oh, so they can speak for two minutes, three minutes, the Leader of the Opposition so many minutes. I said, "But if they bombard me with detail that's not the issue at the moment. The issue is what perspective I'm putting." "Yes, but look at the budget, there's these line items." Oh shit, what are all these figures here? "Don't worry, Minister, we'll work it out. Any questions?" I said, "What is this line item, it doesn't make sense to me?" "Oh no don't worry we'll have an answer for you." I said, "No, can we meet tomorrow, can you take me through this budget and explain to me each line item so that I understand it?" "OK, we'll try. But Minister I would send you notes." I said, "No, please, I need a meeting and now that we've had this first meeting this draft that you've put to me, don't bother - ."He said, "I'll rewrite it." I said, "Don't bother yet. Let's have a few more meetings, let's work through the issues and then we'll look at rewriting this speech."

     So what I am saying is that you asked, was he co-operative? Yes, in his own mindset he was very co-operative. Was I being co-operative? I think I was trying to learn and I was learning two things, procedure plus content. Now what I knew from my side is don't make a promise on content, don't commit yourself, be open with parliament, tell them that I am proceeding by making sure that there is a broad consultative process and the question was, do I put a new policy or do I review? And I said having studied the RDP, I said to my DG, I think we have to start thinking about a process by which the policy will be reviewed segment by segment involving the role players. He said, "Very good Minister, very good." I said, "No, but don't do anything yet. I am not promising this to happen tomorrow because I still think I need a briefing from you who are the role players in commuter services, because I need to know are we making sure that everybody is on board." "Oh Minister, yes you're right, there is the Transport & General Workers Union. Would you want them there?" Obviously they must be there. But is that the only Transport Workers Union? "Oh I think there is another one." I said, "Don't the white workers have a union?" "Yes Minister, they have." I said, "Well invite them." He says, "Are you sure?" I said, "Yes, I'm very sure." Then it turns out as I'm questioning, he knows all the white workers' union leadership by name and has met them but the Transport & General, which is the black one, he doesn't know. Now he didn't put up the white workers because he assumed that I might say don't have them, and he's a bit surprised when I say they must be present.

     So when we got into making my budget speech, I think it was the Temporary Appropriation Bill because it was not the main budget, we needed a Temporary Appropriation, I said to him, "The speech, here's this paragraph, this paragraph, this paragraph, will you rework it." He said, "What about the first speech?" I said, "Don't worry about the first speech. I'll put it all together." "Minister, are you sure?" I said, "Yes I'll put it together, it's not a problem." And when I walked into parliament, presented the thing incorporating what he had to say and when they put questions he was busy sending me notes, I'd look at the answer, OK, OK, I'd just stack up all the pieces of paper, don't worry about writing out a speech, he was sitting there. You have got ten minutes to respond. I got up and I said, "I appreciate all the questions, there are a set of questions of detail, I'm not in a position to respond to you yet. Here are a set of questions that I think I can respond to at this stage." I responded to them and half the DG's notes I put aside and when I walk out, get to the office, I say to the DG, "Thank you very much." He says, "Minister, you did very well." I said, "Dr Scheepers, all those detailed answers, I appreciate them but I was not yet ready to put my name to them. I did not even understand your answer." And he's shocked. I said, "That's fine but you saw there was no problem." "Oh no, you know the previous minister he wanted to answer in detail." I don't see the need for that detail because nobody questioned me why do I want R10 million for this function and R50 million for this one. Nobody did. And where they asked me that I said, "Listen guys, this is a temporary appropriation, I am not yet able to fully motivate those differences and I'm not in a position to respond to that question. I promise you in a few months time I will come back and give you answers." And everybody said fantastic.

     So I am not saying that there was hostility. I anticipated that there would be a drag and that was a different question how to manage it.

POM     But was he behaving towards you in these early days while he was with you in the way that he would have learnt in his culture as a civil servant, was he behaving according to that culture? This is what he did for previous ministers, he prepared the speech, he had the notes, he had been in with his minister and if the minister wanted something he just kind of looked to his DG and the DG had a note for him.

MM     I asked him his background over several chats. I found he had been a career civil servant. He had an academic record, a degree, a doctorate. He had worked in various departments as DG and I even learnt that he used to play golf with the President before the old government went out. So that's fine. But I looked around in my office, and I think I've told you the story, that the first person I found there was my secretary and I found this chap to be extraordinarily efficient. He knew when to get me my tickets, he knew where to get this and he knew who to go to in the department to answer my questions, and I found myself helplessly dependent on him. So one day I called him into my office, ordered a cup of coffee and sat down with him, praised him and he preened at it. He had been 14 years a secretary to the previous ...

     So having given him that space, he happened to be a personality who liked to praise himself, told me how great he is and how he can solve any problem for me. He knows who's who, not only in our department but across the departments. Then I happened to ask him what was his previous posting before he came into my office and it turned out he had been made secretary in my office one week before my appointment. So I said, "What were you doing before that?" He says, "No, I left Minister Magnus Malan and I was put into the Department of Transport, Communications head, and then a week before your appointment the DG approached me to become your secretary." Mm, that's interesting, fantastic. And I said to myself, "There's something problematic here. Why did he leave Magnus Malan, Forestry Minister, go into Communications in Transport and then be posted to me? He's been earmarked to be my secretary but he had to go into Communications to get some working knowledge of the Department of Transport. Fine, this guy I'm getting rid of." This is a man by his helpfulness who will block me from understanding how government is functioning because I can't say boo without turning to him and everything I turn to him he tells me, I began to find, he tells me he's done things before I can raise them. I said this is super-efficient and I said to myself, he's been put here, this is one person I don't want. Eventually when I brought in Ketso as my advisor and after Ketso had settled down in the advisor's role prior to becoming DG, I said to Ketso, "I'm getting rid of this guy." Ketso is already preparing himself to move in as DG and Ketso says, "But you're getting rid of a very good guy." I said, "I don't have facts, all I have is a gatekeeper around me who's going to be a gatekeeper who sees me, who's going to be a gatekeeper around my responses but who is super-efficient. I don't want him. I suspect him." Ketso says, "You are wrong." I said, "Well if I'm wrong you take him into your department because officially he came from Communications so he can go back to Communications." Ketso says, "Indeed I will take him because I think you're wrong, Mac." When Ketso becomes DG he takes him. Two months later Ketso is at my door. "What's the problem?" He says, "Mac, I want to get rid of that bastard." So I said, "Oh, you're joining the club?" He says, "If there's one man I'm getting rid of it's that man." "That's your baby Ketso, you took him on, you find a way to legally get rid of him. I'm thankful that you took him off my hands."

     So it was not Dr Scheepers, it was the PA put around me that was going to be the gatekeeper and he was going to be the conduit to anybody else. With Dr Scheepers, the DG, I never had an unpleasant moment. I knew he had walked into it, he had offered that he would like to leave. I settled in my mind within a few months that, yes, there's a very nice way for him to leave because he has told me that his five-year contract expires in six months from my appointment and he would now and then raise, "Minister, if you want me I'm prepared to." So I worked out a way and I said to him, "Dr Scheepers, what do you want to do when you leave?" "Oh I've prepared a job with academia, I want to go to academia. I've got a university that's offering me a top job." A few weeks later in a chat, "Dr Scheepers, what's your age?" "Oh I'm 47." "You know if you hope to become a professor this is the time to leave and go into academia because if you go later after another five-year term you'll never end up professor." "Ja, that's true, but Minister if you want me I'm available." So I said, "Well we'll think about it." And finally I had him in my office and I said, "Dr Scheepers, I've been thinking about this. I don't want to be unfair to your career and you clearly are a man with an academic bent, you have a PhD and you have a prospect of a job at a university that will take you into professorship. I don't think I would like to be the person jeopardising your career." And I said, "I'm quite happy." He said, "But Minister I don't want to let you down." I said, "No, you're not letting me down, I think it's legitimate that each person should look at their career." A few weeks later he comes back to me, I say, "How are the prospects of the job at the university?" He said, "Well it'll take a little bit of time to sort out." "Why?" He said, "Well it's got to go through all sorts of processes at the university but I've been assured." I said, "Well I don't want you to be without a job, can we do it the following way? That when your contract expires in December for the next three months I will employ you as my Special Advisor." He says, "Special Advisor doing what?" I said, "Well various areas with your knowledge and background I think you would do very well as an advisor."

     So I was saying in that situation I don't think that Dr Scheepers can say I was unfair to him but certainly I felt I handled it without any labour relations problem, I didn't terminate his contract and say even though you've got three months, here's your pay, go, because I had now found a candidate to replace him and I took him through a procedure of allowing Ketso to work as Special Advisor until December so that Ketso got familiar with the department and had time to take stock. In the meantime when Ketso left to become DG I took Dr Scheepers and made him Special Advisor and then at the end of his period he left.'

POM     I suppose the larger question I'm getting at is you guys come in, you take over as ministers, an entirely new situation for all of you. You've no knowledge of how civil service works or functions therefore when the civil service is working you don't know whether it's working exactly the way it always worked, i.e. slowly, or whether in fact the 'old guard' are doing things deliberately slow, are putting obstacles in your way?

MM     I didn't feel that they were putting obstacles.

POM     But when you would have the caucus of your own ministers and deputy ministers before cabinet meetings was it ever a topic of discussion among yourselves - listen chaps, there's a serious attempt on the part of the civil service to put obstacles in our way, or did people slowly come to the realisation, gosh! This is the way civil servants work. Period.

MM     There were individual ministers who would be saying, "I have found a candidate, I have to get rid of my DG." We never allowed it to be couched as a general assessment. We knew we had to live with the civil service and we knew we had to develop fresh policies so our discussion was more, how can you get that fresh policy initiative going unless you are satisfied your DG is appropriate. I never had cause to turn round to my colleagues and say there's a problem. What I did, what we in our brief discussions said was, be careful how you go about this because it's a huge department, don't try and do everything at one shot because things can grind to a standstill. There are all sorts of technical rules that you have to conform to.

     At the same time there is this policy challenge and there was general agreement amongst us that we had to find ways around it. Now, some ministers chose to appoint Special Advisors and we had to take a decision on that. Do we create this Special Advisor role in the ministry to help you to develop policy? I said, "Guys I've now found my DG. I don't need a permanent Special Advisor." Other ministers said, "I need a long term Special Advisor, I've got other problems with my civil servants." So different approaches came according to the different departments you met. Other ministers already had in mind who they were going to appoint and moved quickly to appoint the person. I chose to go the Special Advisor route and ease the person in.

     Did we say the civil service is an obstacle? I think it remained an assumption that the civil service would be an obstacle, either because it works slowly or it adheres to the principle that ministers come and go and therefore policy making was their field. Yet we had to make a distinction between a department and the ministry. How do you develop policy with Special Advisors without relying on the workforce and the knowledge sitting in the department? That's the contradiction that opened up because if policy was what you were accountable for as the political head, the department's accounting officer was the DG. Now the DG could say to you, I don't care what your policy is, as the financial accounting officer I cannot allocate you the money because I have to account for the money, I run the department.

POM     The DG could say that?

MM     Yes, in law. He went to parliament to account for the financial administration. That's in our law. So the distinction between a ministry and a department was beginning to play itself out and I have to say how do I bridge this, how do I use the knowledge, the data and the experience sitting in the department and yet have my hand on the policy making without opening a contradiction with the resource allocation versus policy? I felt I could bridge it by the appointment of Ketso. But already, while I kept saying to the existing DG that I need a process for the policy, while Ketso was serving as Special Advisor I said to him, "What do we do about policy? Should it be a new policy, scrap the existing policy?" And through our discussions we said, no that's not the way, we will do a consultative policy review and I said we will not unleash that process until you become DG, but prepare for it, conceptualise it, strategise it, who's going to be invited, what aspects are going to be dealt with how, which topics of transport? As soon as you become DG that is when we start the policy review. In the meantime every policy that's coming forward from the existing department I will stall.

     And I found a very interesting thing on passenger transport, the department had commissioned an academic to do the policy review and he prepared a paper. While in Cape Town one day there arrives a German company, transport company, and they give me a report on a review of passenger transport. I say, "What made you do this?" "No, we've been looking at the changes and we thought it would be useful to give you a comprehensive review based on our expertise."

POM     The German company said this?

MM     Yes. So I read this one, oh, this paragraph is familiar, this paragraph is familiar. So I thanked them. I said, "No cost?" They said, "No cost." So I said, "Very good, thank you very much. You'll hear from me." When they leave I go and pull out the other one that I got from the department and I compare, substantially they are the same except for reordering here and there, the language is the same, the formulations are the same. This document is written by the same person. So I call the German company again, I meet them. I say, "I've studied your document, I'm really grateful but I don't understand how you had such close familiarity with the details of SA." He says, "No we used a group of South African experts." I say, "Who did you use?" And he's reluctant. I said, "Did you use Professor so-and-so?" "Yes, yes, yes, we hired him as a consultant." "So it's his study?" "Yes."

     In the meantime I go to Shell House, the ANC head office, I go to the Transport section, I say, "Guys, have you been looking at …?" "Yes." And he is an MP and he says, "You know, go to Professor so-and-so at RAU, he has been meeting us in the ANC for almost a year now. He's very good, he's an ANC guy." I said, "Since when did he become ANC?" He says, "No, for more than a year he's been very close to us." Mm. "Has he done any studies?" "Oh I think some civic organisation did commission him to do a study because he said it's a very intensive process to look at passenger transport." "Did they give him money?" "Yes." "Have you got the document?" They said, "No we forgot about it." So I said, "Don't you think you should ask him what's happened to that study that he was paid for?" "Oh I'll do that." The same paper arrived.

     Then I go to my department, I sit down with the DG and I said, "DG, this paper that you presented, policy review done by Professor so-and-so, did you pay him?" He said, "Oh yes, we hired him as a consultant." "Very good." He says, "Now Minister, when can we move forward with that?" So I said, "I have a problem. This is done by an academic without proper consultation. It's a useful guide but I'm not putting it before parliament, I'm not taking it to cabinet. I need to think about the process by which we will get this review done." So he said, "What about this academic's work?" I said, "It's very useful, it will be an input into the review", but I said to myself this professor has collected three consultancy fees.

POM     For the same paper.

MM     Same paper. And I scrapped it, we just ignored it until Ketso came in and we started the review. Then we didn't even bother to invite the Professor. So he got paid by a German company, he got paid by the department and he got paid by an NGO.

POM     Smart academic. He should have gone into business.

MM     So you're asking, but I'm saying why are we going through this, Padraig? You're asking about the civil service. No, the problem was larger. It was not just the existing formal civil service, it was also the possibility that academia in this country was living through working for government as consultants and who was who? You couldn't take up a position of hostility or rejection just from an assumption. What I did with Ketso's help was to say we will make an inclusive consultative process.

     I remember the first policy review conference took place at Wits University. We hired a facility at Wits University, I went and opened the review and we had more than 200 people in the room from every sector of our society that we could invite, from unions to private business to parastatals, all were there, and we said here is the existing policy, section by section we want a structured review, debate, and the end of this process what I expect from this conference is through a series of such seminars, you will give me a report through my DG of your recommendations based on your consensus. Then I will look at that as a crucial input into what goes into the review as my recommendations.

     So that way I feel I out-flanked anything that required me to make a judgement – is this a bad guy, is this a good guy, is this a supporter of an undermining system, is this a genuine supporter of a new system because I had allowed them to sit in the room and write it out.

POM     I'm putting some emphasis on this point because it was the fashion to say it's the old guard in the civil service who are slowing things down, they're fighting this rearguard action and putting obstacles in the way, whereas in fact that may not have been substantively the case at all. Civil servants just worked the way they usually worked and even today the problems that you are talking about, or people talked about then of transforming the civil service, ten years later people are still talking about transforming the civil service. We talked before about Baqwa's report saying that the level of delivery hadn't improved over the last six or seven years or whatever and he laid out a whole list of obstacles and one was the way the civil service works and the other was what may have happened in many cases, that if I was a minister and I went in with an incredible wariness of my DG and suspicion of who's his real allegiance to so I get rid of him and I replace him by somebody who I'm comfortable with. To make yourself comfortable as a minister you may have replaced in fact somebody who was quite efficient and good with somebody who was less efficient, less good, but with whom you were more comfortable.

MM     The issue is slightly different, Padraig. I do not want to approach the matter as if there was a conspiracy in the civil service. I think there was a mindset, I think there was a fear of the new government and there was a fear of keeping their jobs. At most in informal conversation amongst DGs, two, three, four who were friendly with each other, would chat and exchange views about how they would survive, how they would secure their future and how they would be very important to the future, but how they themselves had certain assumptions. Similarly on our side there were certain assumptions and those assumptions would have a suspicion. The question is not just a suspicion, the question is whether that suspicion had moved to a point of distrust.

     Now I became clear within a few months that the task that was required would be beyond that DG because he would have to, for the first time, interact in forums like that consultative process where the majority of the people who would be sitting in that 200 person room were people who were never included in a consultative process, not because they were all black because there would also be whites, but they were excluded and they were independent and they also had a problem because they had been excluded. So the chemistry would not be right. I needed a person who would relate to all the players and not transmit his suspicion and who would respect facts. So I felt that the existing DG would not be suitable for that role. But I did not interfere with the rest because I found I could ease the DG out. The rest, I said, "Ketso, that's your baby, you are going to be the DG. You have time to assess people but I don't want the boat to be rocked to the point where the boat stops moving. That's the guideline." So I say the distrust. Was I distrustful? No. I was clear that I was going to get rid of him because he was not suitable to the managing of that consultative process. It needed a person who would come in enjoying the confidence and would be a personality to win that confidence.

POM     Again I'm going back to when you as ministers would meet in your caucus, would ministers complain about the performance of their departments' civil service?

MM     No. To us the civil service was a management issue.

POM     It wasn't one of there's an entrenched old guard who are going to fight us at every turn?

MM     Some ministers felt that they were being blocked.

POM     But they just felt it, they may not have understood the way civil services work.

MM     No they may not. So I am saying from the civil service top management, a fear, a need to secure themselves and therefore if they were amenable you didn't know whether they were being amenable just before they wanted to secure their job. But it was a futile exercise to analyse that because here you are new and your mind is overwhelmed with how do I get on top of my job? And you knew that getting on top of your job meant that there was going to be a radical transformation of policy. There was going to be a policy shift but from where was the policy shifting to where? You didn't know except as an individual minister you had to engage and begin to understand where is your department and where do you want to go to? And having said I roughly want to go to there, you knew that there was a general precept that the civil service was not seen as a servant of the people. So you said I want to shift it to serve the people, I want policies that begin to deliver to the people. Who are the people, itself was an interesting question which you had to answer concretely. I found 60% of the transport industry was controlled by parastatals and the parastatals were accountable to the Minister of Public Enterprises. When I went to the Minister of Public Enterprises, who was an ANC colleague, and said, "Minister, this is what the RDP says", the Minister said, "Hm, hm", and ignored the RDP, she wouldn't co-operate but she never said I'm not going to co-operate because that minister had inherited that empire and they were not going to dismantle their empire, diminution of power. So that became another problem of management.

     What I am saying is that the general environment was such that having negotiated the constitution, having put in that guarantee, you had to say how do I go carefully? Some ministers – boom, went at it in one way, immediately appointed three, four people, two advisors. Others took a more measured way. Which ones were more successful? I don't know because the test of it was is the department now functioning as a cohesive machinery, were you externally accessing resources to establish policy or were you building an internal capacity and also were you shifting the direction of the policy? And that crucial test which the government is still grappling with, were you delivering? And while I buy the statements that the municipal structures are the point of delivery and they are weak, I don't buy that therefore the national departments are doing their job efficiently enough.

POM     Baqwa says they weren't. He said you haven't moved – so the problems of the civil service, that kind of entity called a civil service, are basically the same today as they were seven, eight, nine years ago.

MM     There are generic issues across every civil service.

POM     That's right.

MM     In SA you know there was a mindset conditioned by race and whether you overcame that mindset conditioned by race simply by changing the faces did not necessarily mean that you were changing the culture of the civil service. There are enough reports of the inaccessibility of top civil servants, of their failing to be transforming their departments to be really service oriented and there are many reports of departments that are becoming increasingly service oriented. All that is in the bag.

POM     I'll leave you there.

MM     There's no straight answer to your question Padraig.

POM     Sorry, you were talking about your Press Officer who felt so secure in her job.

MM     And she complains about the department people and everything was, Minister this, Minister that, but moaning. So I say to her in Afrikaans, "Fok off, jou Minister se moer", swearing at her, I said, "Don't you come with that crap to me." She gets a shock, an Afrikaner woman, the Minister is swearing with Fs and Bs and in Afrikaans. She runs out of my office. I said, "Come here, you stop all this nonsense of this servile attitude and come here with gossip about the department. So-and-so is not giving you information, go and relate to that person, don't come with that stupid complaint to me. That's not a job that I have to be doing. You can't manage it, leave." She starts crying. I said, "OK sit down, let's order a glass of water for you." Doesn't know how to handle it. To myself I say I'm very happy, she's disorientated, she cannot come in with a prepared agenda because she doesn't know what to expect and this was a huge advantage.

     The gulf on race was so big in this country that I could sense at times when my DG does not know how to read my body language because it comes from a different cultural background and he's never interacted with them and he would become insecure because he's grown up in a culture and a bureaucracy that says watch the minister's body language, say the right things for him. Now he doesn't know what's the right thing to say so he's become no longer at ease. It's not what is he going to say now, I say comfortable I am now because he's uncomfortable. He's unsure now what is the right thing to say to me, leave it like that, leave him like that.

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.