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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
14 Apr 2003: Naidoo, Jay
POM What I wanted to talk to you about is that Mac mentioned you on a number of occasions and I just want to corroborate statements when he makes them about other people to see is their recollection of the same events the same as his. Very often it's different, sometimes it's a lot different and sometimes it's just a little. Maybe you could just tell me how you first met him?
JN Mac? I was going to a conference of the World Council of Churches.
POM That would be in?
POM What year?
JN Oh the year we launched the federation.
POM That would be nineteen eighty - ?
JN 1985. We had just launched the federation then. Yes, that's how we met. I was attending the conference, he was there in the conference, obviously ready for opportunities to connect with South Africans and we had a discussion. That's how we met.
POM Then in terms of follow up, in terms of when he came into the country for Vula?
JN I met him in about 1989 I think. He was running underground then.
POM And he made contact. Did he make contact with you?
JN Yes, absolutely.
POM Do you know how he did it or who he sent?
JN He couldn't do it, it was via Billy Nair who was one of the senior cadres here who had been released from Robben Island. He was obviously very linked to the underground movement.
POM What form did the contact make? Would he relay information to you from Lusaka?
JN We went around there was a big debate taking place in the country about the role the cabal debate, I don't know if you every heard about that cabal debate?
POM The cabal debate? OK, when did you talk about it.
JN No, it's too long now, I wouldn't have the time now.
POM Basically what was the debate about?
JN It was a debate about the role of the underground and the role of certain people who were linked to the ANC and what their relationship would be with organisations that existed at the mass legal level. And there were some conflicts, there were tensions in the movement at that point between the UDF and COSATU, between COSATU and the way COSATU perceived its role and its evolution as a mass movement of organised workers and the way it saw its independent role in the liberation struggle and the way in which I had to manage a whole range of tensions within COSATU because it was a federation brought together, unions affiliated to the UDF, the unions that came out of the COSATU fold and the unions that went in it. It's quite a complicated thing actually.
POM Was he a mediator in that?
JN He was the head of the underground then, the representative of the President at that point.
POM Was he part of, how would I put it, was he - ?
JN He played a very constructive role. The bottom line, Padraig, is that you're running an underground, military campaign and you have to be secretive, it's a military campaign and you've got to be very circumspect about your interaction with people generally because it's a matter of life and death, it wasn't a academic issue. So the need for the underground to protect itself against a very these guys would have been lynched if they were caught. The regime was a very ruthless regime. So you had to be careful on the one hand but you had to balance between security issues and the fact that you had to fight a mass struggle and this related more to the role of COSATU in what it saw as its political role and there were debates about that. You haven't picked that up in all the interviews that you've done?
POM I have but I'm listening for your point of view on it.
JN Well I've told you what my point of view is. And you're asking about Mac so I'm thinking about Mac. Mac played an important role in trying to resolve those issues.
POM When COSATU was formed and adopted the freedom charter was your understanding at that time that the freedom charter would mean a socialist SA where there would be nationalisation of the major industries and companies and things like that?
JN We were very pragmatic. Negotiated change meant the restructuring of the economy and essentially you would have a mixed economy in which we would build up enterprises but I think by the time we adopted the freedom charter we were negotiating, we had to come to reality where the world was going. Obviously we wanted a strong state that was interventionist to redress vast inequality whether that's the provision of services to people or whether that's the economic and broader economy and it had to intervene in a way that used its levers of power which is its control of state institutions, its procurement and the way it set its policy and its laws. But were we people that felt that nationalisation was (right)? Sure. We were fairly au fait with what were the debates internationally and what were some of the challenges that Eastern Europe faced in terms of just straight on nationalisation. But for us very much you maintained a sort of middle ground recognising that specially if you had a negotiated settlement in SA you had to, probably would veer towards a mixed economy. I think we had certain views on things like prescribed assets and so forth. The state should be using its power to intervene in a way that closed the development gap between what were historically white areas and the black areas.
POM Just a couple of other things, Jay. One is that in 1989 Mandela wrote to P W Botha and a copy of that letter got out and from what I gather from Mac and from other people is that it was being interpreted as Mandela selling out and word was going around to that effect. Mac had Valli Moosa call a meeting of people in the UDF and other mass mobilisation leaders to go through the document line by line and show that in fact Mandela was not selling out, Mandela was saying the ANC should be the agent of negotiation with the state, not himself. Do you have any recollection of that meeting or of that debate?
JN Yes there was an issue.
POM Do you have a recollection of a meeting?
JN I probably was in the meeting, I can't recollect immediately.
POM But you do recall the ?
JN Of course I recall that. The thing is I would say our response again it's like for us as trade unionists we were pragmatic. For us negotiation was an accepted reality.
POM This is around the issue, Jay, of the letter being released and being misinterpreted as Mandela was selling out to the government and proceeding on his own.
JN The only reservation we would have
POM But do you remember that?
JN I remember that, yes.
JN Was around the need for there to be a broader involvement. The principle of negotiating with the regime in fact if you look at our Congress resolutions in the late eighties we realised that there would have to be a negotiated settlement and part of that settlement and then if you start looking back at the role that COSATU played in setting up a National Economic Forum and so forth which preceded NEDLAC, a lot of that was about a recognition that there would have to be a negotiated settlement. I can't recollect precisely the meeting, that's something you'll have to check elsewhere. But I remember the issue. The issue was there was this view that the letter might be, or expressed by certain people, but from a COSATU point of view I never saw it as a sell-out because our line was negotiating.
POM Just one last thing in fact and that is that when the RDP, when you were in charge of that portfolio, one person suggested to me or said to me quite bluntly that the reason you got out of that and why the RDP fell off the face of the map was that Thabo did not like you.
JN I don't think that was an issue. I think the issue was more the issue of we had an anticipation that there would be the President's Office in a sense would become a co-ordinator of an integrated effort and in the first instance that did work and it was only the intention that that was a temporary thing, that once you'd established a common policy framework and restructured both the budget and the civil service the need for this, to try to create a centralised, more integrated planning process would fall away. The reality is that there were territorial issues which I think was one big issue. The second is that the crisis of confidence that we faced in the international community required us to adopt a more conservative macro-economic framework and frankly I had reached a point where in a sense I didn't feel that I was making much of an impact in a portfolio that really had to work with a whole range of ministries and that's a challenge Thabo still faces, how does it work in an integrated way. We haven't solved that issue.
So it had nothing to do with the likes or dislikes of individuals. In my five years of being in government I've never had one issue where I tabled at a cabinet level that the current President hasn't supported. So it's less to do with personalities I think between the Deputy President and myself, and more to do with building an integrated planning capacity across government and the way in which one would manage those relationships. I must say that we were bringing into the cabinet people who haven't worked together before, people who came from exile, people that were internally doing mass struggle work. So it was also this developing the team.
POM How did that work? You guys all walked in, Mandela is sworn in as President.
JN We didn't give that process enough clear thought I would say. It was a big setback that. I think that's still something, a remnant that remains.
POM You walk into your department and you're a minister.
JN Ja, that's it.
POM And you look around and say, well
JN I didn't even have a kettle. I basically started off from absolute scratch.
POM Did you find, I've asked this question of a number of ministers because it was blowing around at the time or after, did you find the existing civil service, the Afrikaners, helpful or did they become a kind of a fifth column obstructing or did they just behave the way civil servants always have behaved, which is slow, bureaucratically?
JN A combination. I think there was a combination of some of it was actual sabotage, some absolute inexperience in dealing with the needs of the majority of the people. The civil service also offered sheltered employment so there were competency issues but more often than not it was insecurity. I would say for me, especially when I became Minister of Communications, I went into that department and I went around, the first thing I did was greet every single person. You know what a lot of people said? This was the first time they'd seen a minister in the 20/30 years they'd been there come around to greet them, ask them what their name is, what their job is, how many children they have. And I found that Afrikaners once you start doing that, interacting with them in that way you win them over. I found them generally co-operative. I suppose my experience may be different from others. It's the history of management, of expectations and management of people.
POM Would I be correct in saying, well just to summarise: -
(i) that you met Mac in Zimbabwe at a conference in 1985 around the time of the formation of COSATU,
(ii) that when he came back to the country in Vula he made contact with you through Billy Nair,
(iii) that in the whole brouhaha about the cabal he played a constructive role in trying to sort things out,
(iv) you do recall, again, the brouhaha that surrounded the release of Mandela's 1989 letter to PW Botha and have a recollection of being at a meeting at which Mac went through the letter to explain exactly what Madiba was getting at and to quell the rumours that were going about?
JN Yes. Have you asked me what I think of Mac?
POM What do you think of Mac?
JN I think he's a superbly intelligent person. He was a bloody clever operator and I think he's made a fantastic contribution to the liberation of this country. He's an operator and that's how he survived and that's the role that he's played. I think that he's got one of the finest intellects and in spite of what the stories are in the market place at the moment he's got an incredibly tough reputation and one of integrity. I think he's done a hell of a lot to free this country but he's controversial. He speaks his mind and some of these issues earn him enemies in the long term. We owe him a debt.
POM Who is he?
JN That's a good question, it's difficult to get really close to the real Mac Maharaj. I think no-one can question his commitment towards the freedom of this country.
POM If you take that out, who is he? You say, "Well I know Mac, I've worked with him."
POM Well he says hello. He doesn't get around to saying hello to a lot of people these days and soon all his problems will be behind him.
JN I hope so.
POM So Jay, it's been good talking to you and no doubt I will be bugging you again, OK?
JN I want to see you.
POM OK, take care. Bye, bye.