This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
06 Nov 2002: Howard, Randall
POM. Randall, Mac was telling me that when he was Minister of Transport that you were head of this union, General Secretary of the union at that time, and that Mac had plans, he called you Mr the Trade Union Privatiser of the Year at Rome. That's what he told me to remind you of.
RH. The worst moment of my life actually.
POM. What he talked about was that he had talked about the privatisation of the airport, or the partial privatisation of the airport during his tenure and that at first he had encountered a lot of resistance from the union, that he addressed your union at its annual meeting, that he, you and the union struck up an accord that you all worked together and that on the selection board for the – that you were a full partner in the process of that event happening. What I want to do, of course, is when he makes the statement about somebody is to confirm that what he says about them is in fact what they recollect as being the same thing as he recollects.
RH. Well I mean I think the first thing is that it was a very tough process in the sense that the concepts of privatisation as we saw it then and as we continue to see it now, is always a very tough thing for us to challenge because as it happens the privatisation as an instrument, as a policy adopted in 1996 of course didn't make the unions very happy across the board, including the union that I represent. But we ran a very hard and tough campaign against privatisation and I suspect that didn't make the minister very happy either but that was the engagement in terms of the ideological choices, the ideological debates of the day because it remains a challenge even now in our society, as you know, around this question of privatisation given the COSATU anti-privatisation campaign which we support and we believe to be correct.
. When Mac addressed our National Congress in 1996 as Minister of Transport, Mac Maharaj, we brought employers and of course there was us and there was a panel debate in the presence of all our members, I think we're talking about 500 delegates or so from all over the country and it was a very hot issue for workers affected by privatisation given the fact that the Department of Transport and the Ministry under his leadership then was willing to go in this direction, to introduce competition into the provision of social services. I remember very distinctly that in that debate in the Congress of course we argued very strongly against privatisation of public transport. Mac, of course, represented a position of government that said we think the only way to give our people access to transport and to make it more affordable and to make it more efficient is to introduce competition
POM. He was talking specifically about the airport?
RH. But at the end of the day a union is always confronted with a choice and from our point of view once we realised that our government is in fact serious about this and Mac himself was serious about it, of course we had to go and engage on the issue. That engagement was in fact - I think it could be described as a model of co-determination of some sort between government and the unions. Even though there was an ideological difference on the issue of privatisation we had to find a negotiated agreement to manage this thing. From our perspective the only way to do it was to get in there, participate and try to influence that process to the best of our ability so that the interests of our members are protected, so that we could meet objectives of job security, job retention, but also restructuring Airports Company SA in such a way that it creates employment but it also responds to the needs of our community and to the overall social transformation that we've inherited from apartheid.
. We went in with those broad objectives, it wasn't just the narrow bread and butter issues. We were saying if we restructure Airports Company given the advent of our new democracy and the new values in our society and the fact that the constitution and bill of rights allows us as organised workers to participate fully in these processes, then we should do so.
. Now it's really in that context that we were able to arrive at an agreement that said, well we're going to sell off a certain percentage of Airports Company. Ultimately it happened to be Aereoporti da Roma, ADR. As I understand it they put up the highest bid for the 20% and indeed became the strategic equity partner of the SA Airports.
POM. That became the strategic equity partner between Airports Company of SA and the Airport Companies of Rome?
RH. That's right. Aereoporti da Roma.
POM. Were you engaged in that process, did he engage you in the process all the way?
RH. There are two things I would say about Mac in my experience of that process because it was long, it was hard, it was painful, it was very emotional and we worked very, very hard on both sides. That's how I would describe it. But the way the process was structured and I think this is where Mac was extremely good because I think he gave the unions all the space that they needed to input and participate in the process to deal with the issues because you must remember we also had to keep our members informed, we also had to get mandates from our members while sitting in the Restructuring Committee of Airports Company.
. The first fundamental thing about it is that we had co-chairs, the union, in fact myself, I was one of the co-chairpersons of the ACSA Restructuring Committee together with Mac's Director General, Khetso Gordhan. So that in itself I think demonstrates that in practice we were really working as close together as possible because really this was also restructuring Airports Company in the interests of the country and its people. So the question of agendas being planned, the question of dealing with the media, the question of engaging in real terms, those were all really important characteristics of how a process like that should be run.
. So my understanding of Mac as both a politician and an activist and a comrade and a revolutionary I would guess is that he was very clear about not railroading or riding roughshod over workers and unions. That was of course an important thing and we took all the opportunities that were available to us in that process to engage and to influence the outcome from our perspective. Of course government had their own outcomes.
. I think the second thing about Mac is that he was a very hard negotiator in that sense. My sense throughout the process was that he was very clear about where he wanted to go and to some extent where he wanted to take us. But we were not prepared to sell off 100% of Airports Company and from the very beginning of those negotiations we made it very clear that Airports Company is an asset to the country, it belongs to the people of SA, it generates a lot of revenue for government and it's an important strategic asset in the context of economic growth and development with tourism growing and more and more people coming to SA. We understood the need to make airports more attractive, state of the art, bringing in the retail sector, turning it into a kind of one-stop shop, we understood all that, to become world class if you like. But we were saying fundamentally we are not agreed that government should sell off Airports Company 100%. We want government to retain the majority ownership in that process and then I think once we got agreement on that departure point we were able to then say well 20% to the SEP, 9% to the employees and the rest to black economic empowerment groupings in SA so that local South Africans are also empowered and involved in the ownership of Airports Company.
. For me when Mac describes me as that, I should return the compliment because in fact he, in my view, he was really one of those ministers of privatisation and of course many of us in a sense were also quite surprised when some of the ministers we were working with had shifted so quickly to accept these concepts and so on. Mac would often say, "Well I've been in this country and I've seen it and it doesn't work, therefore we must accept the kind of market solutions for the reconstruction process."
. I'm saying what's interesting about it is that we had no choice to really say to each other, well we've got to find a negotiated agreement notwithstanding our ideological differences and how we perceive each other.
POM. So in a sense he used it as a paradigm of the negotiations that had taken place in 1994 with both the ANC and the NP saying – hey, we have no other choice, we're here, we have to find there.
RH. That's right and we had to make it work. I think something had to give. Government had to back off from the 100% story, we obviously had to back off to say well it can't be 100% government owned any longer because government was certainly very clear and for those reasons I think we were able to find a middle ground or kind of compromise position that really took account of government's objectives and of labour's objectives.
POM. Has it created jobs?
RH. Well the first thing about Airports Company it was, as I said earlier, it was not a loss making entity, it was a profit making entity, it was in the process of being turned around so we really had a good thing there and that's why we were saying to government – why do you want to sell the whole thing off as such because this is a cash cow for government. But of course we understood ideologically that globalisation and wanting to comply with the trends internationally of the free market and everything that goes with it, the economics and all that. But ultimately when you look back at these kind of situations I think under the circumstances then I think the fact that you had a minister that was willing to co-operate, that was willing to recognise the role that workers in Airports Company had, because you see if you didn't have that you'd have had resistance.
. I can make an example of the ports today in SA, we are fighting with government because they're saying to us, "We want to concession the ports and that's the only solution for the ports." As a union we have other ideas but it seems they are not prepared to consider those ideas. So if you don't involve workers the result is resistance and if you involve them you must also listen to them. It's very important because you can say, well, there's a structure, you can sit here and we can engage, but if you come to that engagement and you say, well, this is the mother of all solutions, fuck you, forget it, then it can't be on.
. So I think out of the Airports restructuring experience we certainly – I think the unions felt that they were taken seriously, that their views were taken seriously, and in that context we could also take the views of government seriously so we could have an appreciation for each other's objectives, for each other's views. I think though that a lot of our objectives were taken on board, all of government's objectives were taken on board and we therefore were able to negotiate what we called a framework agreement and in that framework agreement we outlined exactly what the objectives of the restructuring of Airports Company should result in.
. Now of course at the end of the day there were some difficulties along the way. Mac wasn't necessarily directly involved in every meeting but of course he would come in at big moments when there's stuff to unblock and disagreements to sort out. So apart from the fact that he's obviously one of the stalwarts in our struggle against apartheid and he will be well remembered for Operation Vula even after the unbanning and so on, but fundamentally I think that as a minister then there will always be something that I will always challenge Mac about. I challenged him then, I challenge him now, that introducing competition into social services which the masses of our people, working class people, when they are dependent on public transport be it rail, be it buses, be it whatever, you introduce competition, albeit regulated competition, in our view it was an incorrect and remains an incorrect policy choice of our government for our socio-economic circumstances. I'm not saying that was all Mac's view, I think what Mac was doing was implementing government policy as he should, I guess. I think that remains a sticky point, I think I will always reflect on that and think about our Congress and perhaps how angry he became in our Congress. Of course he was now in a union environment. The same workers who were there elected the ANC into power. There was the minister saying we want to basically introduce competition into public transport services.
POM. He said he stood up to the workers very well.
RH. Of course he did.
POM. Won them over.
RH. He didn't, he didn't win them over. In fact Mac was very pissed off, he was very angry, as far as I recollect he was extremely angry because he was not in parliament with his parliamentarians who understand diplomacy. He was now with workers in the union, on the ground, we experience these issues and that's what they were reflecting and they were challenging him on this question and even when I spoke, I mean I fundamentally disagreed with him and I said to workers that this is your opportunity to take the minister to task. Mac was not a happy man that day I can tell you. He was not.
. I am saying that in the end sometimes one can - perhaps it must be implemented - understand that once a person is in government and there are policies, of course there's still disagreement about how those policies were adopted and all that, but in the end I think the relationship that we had between SATAWU and the Ministry and between him and myself as individuals, as comrades, I think there was chemistry there and that chemistry really allowed us in that setting to really work through all of those problems.
POM. Do you think that's what's absent from the debate or the lack of debate that's going on today?
RH. Absolutely. We've had two major struggles, well there's a number of them going on. Some of them are as a consequence of the policies that Mac introduced. As I said the earlier Airports Company as I've described it I think worked out pretty well under the circumstances because of the nature of asset that it was, but if you look at other assets they're not in the same position as Airports Company, some of them are much weaker, they're not doing as well and so on, and of course government will just say sell it or get rid of it or whatever the case may be.
. So, for example, in the bus industry we're still sitting with this regulated competition model which subjects bus services to the tender process and Mac knows that we didn't like that policy, we still don't, we are still challenging it. But as he always used to say, government, this is the view, we're going to do it, and they've done it. We continue with the new minister to challenge those issues but our workers on the ground are fundamentally bearing the brunt of that policy both in terms of job security, the conditions of employment that are dropping by 50% in some cases.
POM. How much?
RH. 50%. The fact that there is the fragmentation of the bus industry, the question of safety which is undermined as a result. Of course government has introduced empowerment to also try and restructure, which is right, we don't disagree with empowerment but empowerment cannot be implemented in a way that brings black employers into the mainstream of the economy on the basis of exploiting black workers. We've always made that very, very clear and of course Mac accused us at one point, this is another little anecdote, he accused us of being in bed with employers and not wanting to transform the bus industry. I think even Mac, if he sits back today and he reads the book when it comes out, if you do print this, publish this, I think Mac if he thinks back and he reflects, that was never a fair comment to SATAWU because we always, we do share government's objectives of transformation to change the apartheid economy, we have disagreed with the policy instruments and the ideology which informed it.
POM. Sorry, what was never a fair comment?
RH. To say that SATAWU was in bed with the bosses.
POM. Oh, OK, I'll tell him.
RH. And we did support empowerment. That was never the case. All we were saying was that empowerment should be used, empowerment is a correct concept and a policy of government to bring black people into the mainstream of the economy but not at the expense of black workers. Empowerment cannot be seen as an opportunity of black employers to exploit black workers and continue the profit motive. I don't personally believe that Mac believes what he said about us at that time. I think sometimes as a politician you have to justify certain things and I think this was probably the best way of justifying it.
POM. Sometimes I think Mac just says things just because of the way they sound. One last question –
RH. But it will be nice some day to sit down and say, well Mac do you really believe privatisation and competition is providing social … is correct?
POM. He asked me for your cell phone number. If you give it to me I'll give it to him tomorrow. OK, I'll make sure he gets that tomorrow. Meanwhile I'm interrogating him for six hours a day and he's saying, "You're killing me!" And I'm saying, "Mac, you're killing me, you've been through this stuff. You've got the training."
. One last question which intrigues me. He said that at the end of his office the airport hadn't been opened and he was going to put it in Madiba's diary as one of the last things Madiba could do, or he was going to put it in Thabo's diary as one of the first things that Thabo could do. So he decided to put it in Thabo's diary, one of the nice things he could do when he got into office, open the brand new airport or whatever. And that of all the dignitaries that were there, he was never invited. Do you have a recollection of that?
RH. Well I mean, you know, I don't really recall that. I wasn't invited either.
POM. You weren't invited either?
RH. Which airport is he talking about?
POM. I assume it would be Johannesburg.
RH. At the end of the day when the deal was done with Aereoporti da Roma as I recollect we did conclude everything. Maybe there were some events after that. Certainly I didn't pay much attention to what happened after in terms of the fanfare and all that. He must tell you the truth. Tell him I am saying he must tell you truth about why he was not invited, I am not telling you that.
POM. I see.
RH. Tell him to tell you the truth as to why he was not invited by Thabo. If he put it in Thabo's diary then he must tell you why he was not invited.
POM. I will tell him that.
RH. He knows better.
POM. That's the kind of question he likes.
RH. And give him my best.
POM. I will, I'll give him your number.
RH. And I am not the privatiser, I don't subscribe to privatisation, I never will ideologically because I don't – I'm a socialist by the way.
POM. Do you think this is going to be, it's obviously going to be a continuing issue. I might come back to you just to get some background for myself.