Contributor: Victor Amokeodo, James Ogunleye
"We are getting there"
BP: President Mandela will step down as president in 1999 and observers are beginning to raise the critical question of succession. Do you foresee instability within the ANC leadership after his departure?
Mah: I accept that these questions have been raised by certain people, but first and foremost, they do not understand the ANC and its culture. The ANC has a culture of grooming leaders. Thabo Mbeki who is an heir apparent of Mandela has been groomed by the ANC from the time when Oliver Tambo was the leader. So as far as we are concerned, there is no problem of succession within the ANC at all. President Mandela steps down as the leader of the ANC next year and Thabo Mbeki takes over but Mandela continues as the president of the country until 1999. This will give Thabo Mbeki the chance to learn the ropes before the president eventually fades out of the scene. There is no problem at all with regards to succession.
BP: You may be right that there is no succession problem within the ANC, but that does not change the fact that there is an overriding fear amongst Black and White South Africans - and indeed the rest of the world - that with Mandela?s departure, there would be no one charismatic and respected enough to keep your diverse country united. How would you allay these fears?
Mah: I think the president will continue to have a very influential role even when he leaves office. I think he will stay and school Thabo. I agree with you totally that the President has such a stature that everybody sort of rallies round him - not only South Africans. But the fact is that such charismatic leaders are people who come once in a lifetime. I must say, though that the Deputy President has his qualities too - in fact I will venture as far as saying that because of having been outside and liaised with many world leaders while Mandela was in prison, he has the ability to understand the world even better than the president. I don?t deny the fact that Mandela is a charismatic leader and I think that he will still have a role in unifying our country. I hope that when he goes, everybody will continue to assimilate the culture of political stability and respect of the constitution and issues like that.
BP: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has revealed that certain top ANC members were spies for the apartheid government. Would an ensuing witch hunt not cause chaos within the government or do party bosses intend to turn their backs on this revelation?
Mah: I must say that the ANC has said categorically that these people must be exposed. If there are spies within the government structure, those names should be released soon and I think that the president has said that the ANC needs these people to come out. The president has said the same thing. However I think we should be cautious of getting into a detailed discussion of this because no concrete evidence has come out of this yet. Besides, you should remember that South Africa before was run on a divide and rule basis and many of those who were accused of being spies were in fact not spies. More often than not, it was just a set up by the government. We still have a lot of tensions in our country because we?ve done something that?s very difficult ? getting people together - so there may be people who still want to take advantage, to divide the government, to confuse us and until we have enough evidence I would tend not to believe these accusations. I would tend to be circumspect on the question.
BP: Kwazulu/Natal is relatively calm at the moment ? especially as there are no impending elections ? but the problem is yet to be resolved. What is your government doing to end this conflict once and for all?
Mah: I think the approach of the South African government is to unite our people both at the level of leadership and in the towns and cities. As you can see, there is a very good working relationship between the president and the Minister of Home Affairs who is also the president of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Chief Buthelezi. The president has shown this on a number of occasions by appointing Chief Buthelezi as the acting president, in his absence. Secondly, on the ground, violence has diminished considerably. There are spots of violence here and there - maybe if you had an issue like the elections maybe violence could flare up because people would be coming in other people?s areas of dominance. But I think that our people are beginning to understand that democracy means tolerance. Democracy means that we should allow other people to voice whatever they want to say. I come from Natal and I have spoken to a lot people who live there and they have said to me that in perspective, we?ve fought the battle that we?ve fought and some didn?t know really why we had to do that but it seems to us that our leaders are in agreement, that the IFP president who?s also the Minister of Home Affairs and president Mandela can get on so why shouldn?t we do that. So I am hoping that that kind of relationship is developing and is developing very fast, and hopefully nothing will flare up again
BP: There has been a massive increase in violent crime in South Africa in recent years and this is said to be discouraging both the potential foreign investors and tourists. Is the government not concerned about this?
Mah: I am very concerned. I think that crime is out of proportion in our country and it?s really one of the most aggravating problems that we have. The government has put in place a lot of structures to help contain the problem. One is community policing involving people in their own areas to police themselves. Two, historically you know that the police in South Africa were simply trained to use force to suppress people. Our police have a culture of not necessarily doing the policing that you find for instance in Britain where a person is taught how to investigate a case then follow the outcome and apprehend the transgressor. We need to turn that around. Also we know that many of the policemen are involved in syndicated crimes. They are the ones who are involved in car-jackings and other crimes in our country and so we have a bigger problem than just people stealing cars on the street because if there is the market then people will steal the cars. A bloke is not employed, is 18 years old, and is uneducated - what do you expect. He steals a BMW, gets 5000 rands for that. He?s happy for the money.
So, one: the government must try and train the new police. Two: there must be an acceptance in the townships that this is a new police force, it?s not the old police force and three, there must be other ways of including other sectors in the fight against crime. For instance the business community should be willing to get involved in the government?s fight against crime because they are directly affected by it. So there are many strategies that have been put in place. Having said that though, one of the most positive things is that there have been some figures put to the reduction in crime. For instance the incidents of car-jacking have gone down by a certain percentage ? I can?t tell you the exact figure right now but there has been a reduction. There has also been a reduction in some other crimes, but there is still some problem with regards to raping of women etc. So I want to be honest, it?s a problem that we want to stamp out completely but it?s also historical, people are unemployed therefore they will be prone to do things that will result in breaking the law in order to feed themselves. There is also trafficking in all kinds of drug. This is plaguing the whole world and we are part of that. We can?s escape that. So to be honest it?s quite a problem but you have to put things in perspective.
BP: Giving the level of crime in South Africa, can you blame the vigilante organisations like PAGAD (People Against Gangsterism And Drugs) for taking action to protect their community as they see fit?
Mah: I won?t deny anybody the right to protect their community. What I do not accept is people taking the law into their own hands; people who go about brandishing guns and going into other peoples? houses and shooting them just because they think that these people are criminals. I think that this results in a break down of authority, disrespect of the legal framework and disregard of the authority of the state. So I will discourage groups like PAGAD from themselves breaking the law whilst trying to assist in pushing out people who are dealing drugs or something. I have no problem with PAGAD as long as their efforts are in line with what the police are doing. If they work in collusion with government structures to do so, that?s fine but if they are going to become a paramilitary force that is outside the government?s structures that?s breaking the law because nobody has the right to go and shoot some other person.
BP: One year after Nelson Mandela?s highly successful visit to Britain, many would want to know whether the pledges of investment by Britain?s business community - and businesses from other countries - have been translated into commitments. In other words, what is the state of foreign investment in South Africa??
Mah: I think you know that Britain is the leading investor in South Africa and I think that is for historical reasons. We were colonised by the British and that explains why Britain is probably the highest investors in South Africa. I am saying that from some if the recent figures that I have seen, it seems that investment has tapered off, but there is an explanation for this. The explanation is that most of the major companies in Britain already have investment in South Africa, some withdrew their investments during the anti-apartheid struggle, some continued. So the major players are already there and what we are doing now is thinking of how to keep them there, how to get them to expand and try and find out from the existing traders whether we can maybe entice some of the business people to involve themselves in other ventures. Otherwise there has been a very positive response in terms of other investments that have come from here, for instance inflows of capital in the stock exchange which tends to be a little bit unpredictable because if there?s any problems, they take their money out. But in terms of foreign direct investment we have quite a lot of investment from Britain and it remains the leading investor.
BP: The European Union has so far refused to offer preferential entry terms ? under the Lome convention - to South Africa. Why is this so and how would you fight to reverse this situation?
Mah: That is not true - we now have the Lome status. They have already given us that. We have qualified for it, but I think that what is important to understand is that what is now involved is layers of other areas where we have to interact with the EU countries in terms of trade and other areas of business. We want, for instance, to be allowed to compete for investment from the EU funding and of course to get special status. That was not allowed. However we feel very strongly about this and discussions are still going on. There?s a lot at stake for all of us here and I hope that we get there eventually. We?re trying to fight for special treatment in terms of tariffs but other countries which have developing economies are complaining about this. For instance Spain says they want to have fishing rights in South Africa before they can allow us to send our fruits and agricultural products to this part of the world.
BP: I understand that on the one had they argue that you are a developing country and qualify for certain concessions and on the other hand they say that you are a developed country and cannot qualify for others, so you are caught in the middle.
Mah: That is indeed the paradox of our own country, they are just confirming the paradox that we have. South Africa is a two-tier country. One part of it is like Britain - people have the best of life, but then there are parts of the country where up till today there is no running water. My mother recently said to me that they no longer have to get to the stream everyday to collect water as they now have a water pump, some water is even piped into the house. For the very first time there is electricity. So if you speak to Black people around the country there is a lot excitement about the improvement in their life yet on the other hand? you have the South Africa that is white that has been predominantly very affluent. So I can understand when the Europeans say to us that in some instances your economy is more developed yet at the same time you are a Third World country. It is a dichotomy that is a dilemma for everyone. Now we are saying that in their classification they must understand that South Africa is still very poor. South Africa needs a lot of help. Not only South Africa but southern Africa because we have to deal with one another. What happens for instance when we allow Europeans goods to come into our country and it effects the medium sized industries in the neighbouring countries? We have economic agreements with those countries, to fulfil. So that is our position initially with the EU. If we get whatever we get we must remember that we are dealing with the region and not only South Africa. South Africa is part of southern Africa.
BP: The Reconstruction and Development Programme is the cornerstone of your government?s welfare programme. Three years after the programme was launched, critics say it has been too slow at delivering. What is your response to that?
Mah: The RDP has been very slow in delivering and people have not understood the reason. Some people are saying that ?well, the ANC promised to give us houses, but they failed to do so. They promised to give us water but they failed to do so?. That is not correct. The problem we had was one of capacity. We are a new government and we lack the infrastructure. Some of the structures that were there before were not set up to do the things that we want to achieve. However, we are getting there. On housing, for instance, the estimation is that by 1999 we would have delivered 1,000,000 houses. We are getting there. These are independent figures broken down without hidden clauses. Take the provision of running water also - the figures are there for you to see. It is not propaganda. So what I am saying is that it is true that it has been slow for this thing to take off the ground and if you look at our budget, we wrote over money for housing from the first budget to the second budget to the third budget, and the question was ?why is this money not being used?? But if you look at it this way, if you want to build houses, the government doesn?t have the land. It has to buy the land from somebody. Now that alone will taken maybe a year to identify the land, identify the person who owns the land, ask the person who owns the land if he is willing to sell the land to the government and before you start building, you must also identify who is going to live in these houses because you are not just going to build houses for people to occupy when they cannot afford to pay for these houses. So you have to identify those who need the houses, go to them and say: ?so you want houses, how much money do you earn?? and they say ?we earn less than ?3,500 rands?, and so the government says ?okay we will give you a subsidy of ?15,000 rands to start with and then you must make an agreement with the bank? because the person must pay through the bank. But then the bank says ?we do not want to deal with this because these people are going to default in payment?. And so again we have to think of who is going to provide the investment for these people. It is a difficult process. But things are looking very positive and the government will eventually be able to deliver all the things that it promised during the elections. These things must be seen in the context that there was nothing in many of these areas before we came to power. For instance the govt has built more than 500 clinics in rural areas. There was nothing there before. So its all starting from scratch. And on the provision of infrastructure, there is the example of the building of roads - we don?t want to give these contracts again to white people who already have the money. So we must look for Black organisations that can take on some of these projects and this is proving very difficult. So I am trying to emphasise the point that it is the capacity that has been a problem. Now that we have turned a corner on that I think you will see a that the RDP will begin to fulfil what it was created for.
BP: Unemployment among Black South Africans is estimated at 40%. Some 400,000 school leavers enter the job market each year even though the economy is only able to absorb 20,000 per annum. Specifically what measures is your government taking to create jobs for the Black people?
Mah: Our biggest problem is that even though the economy is beginning to grow - inflation is down below 2 or 3%, the economy is growing at 8% - this growth has not produced significant amounts of jobs. Now I am not an economist and I don?t know what is happening. I want to speculate that the problem may be that we have been getting a lot of foreign investment through the stock exchange, money that goes in and out and in and out which contributes to the growth of our economy but we haven?t been able to create jobs from them. Also despite the level of direct foreign investments, jobs are not being created - maybe because most of these companies have begun to adopt highly mechanised production processes with minimum manpower. What that does is that it takes away jobs from people even though it produces the goods. So we need to encourage more labour intensive schemes. We are looking at a number of ways of achieving this. The government has said, for instance that Black people must come up with projects where they are able to carry out the contracts. For instance if you are in a village, you will construct your own roads and therefore create jobs for your own people. But the problem with such projects is that they are short term projects. You cannot keep building roads in you village for ever! So we need sustainable projects that people can be involved in. We are even asking businesses to create projects in the local economy where the people will be involved in, in some way. The government is trying to rectify this situation but we are being constrained by a number of things including the current practices of big business which sheds manpower rather than create more jobs.
BP: Many people argue that three years into Mandela?s government, its affirmation action policies have not done enough to create a more egalitarian society. How do you defend your government on this charge?
Mah: Under the years of apartheid, our people were deprived of education so much so that there is a vacuum of skills that did not happen say when Nigeria became independent, for instance. So we currently lack enough skilled Black people to fill positions in industry, government, business etc. We are trying to avoid a situation where we simply put incapable Black people to head important organisations and then after three years, the whole thing will collapse. So what we are saying is that at the moment, there are people with potential and what we can do is get these people and fast track them in certain jobs because we know that they are capable. So it a very tricky situation for us. We try to balance things up. We are saying we can?t wait for twenty years for these Black people to train for these jobs but we do not just want to flood these organisations with unqualified people. I think you will agree with me that will be counter-productive. So there are a lot of people being trained. Even here in our own commission, we?ve got people being trained upstairs in trade and investment. But in the mission here a majority of people here are white and it would remain the same for quite some time. So it is a very cautious approach to the concept. We believe in the concept. We believe that people have to be affirmed but we have to affirm them knowing that they can handle the task.
BP: What is your government?s response to the problem of brain drain in South Africa?
Mah: On the one hand we are trying to cut down in terms of our budget. We are trying to cut down on the people that we employ and what we do means that government departments are going to be smaller. On the other hand while doing this we want to have people who are efficient - five people who know what they are doing are better than 50 who don?t. And most of our people who are skilled are outside the country The government doesn?t have enough money to entice them back. If we say to them that there is an organisation in South Africa which requires people with their skills, the first thing they will say is this is ?how much I am getting in this country? Will South Africa be able to provide the same salary for me?? We also try to play the patriotism card but if they don?t want to come, they don?t want to. I just met a South African lawyer here some time ago and I said to him ?you seem to be a very intelligent man. Why don?t you go home?? and he said to me ?Oh no, I am practising here. I?m a barrister.? I said: ?But you can come home and teach people.? He answered: ?Well, I?ll have to think about that.? And that was the last I heard of the matter. It is a shame because we do need these skills and we are now having to make do with professionals who cannot speak English or who cannot communicate with our own people. We are now having to get doctors from Cuba, for instance. Where are our doctors? Almost all our doctors are here and in Canada. Black doctors, white doctors, they?re all here.
BP: But don?t you think that it is up to you to create the environment within South Africa that will encourage these professionals to return home. For instance building the infrastructure, cutting down on crime which is one thing that has scared a lot people away from your country?
Mah: But crime in South Africa, as we talked about earlier, is transitory. It is something that is going to go as people begin to take more control of their lives and begin to think ?I belong here, this is mine. Let me make the best use of it?. All transitions have their own problems. There is the development of all kinds of crimes in South Africa because for the first time it?s not an oppressive state. People are beginning to experience democracy. In South Africa a person is apprehended for hijacking a car. Before he goes to court the first thing the police must say to him is ?You have these rights, you have the right not to say anything, you have the right to contact your lawyer?. There is legal aid that is provided to help him. If he eventually goes to prison, he?s got his three meals a day, he?s got a blanket, he?s got a bed to sleep on.... These things never used to be there. In the past, if you were caught hijacking a car, you got shot in the head and you died right on the spot. If you were convicted of certain crimes, they hung you. Now we have decided that we have to respect people?s human rights. So South Africa is going through a period of change and these criminals might not be as deterred as they were before but I don?t think that we should reverse these changes. We just have to find a way of dealing with it... Besides crime is not rising like some people say. It has been in the townships for a long time although under apartheid it was not really experienced by certain parts of the society. What it happening now is that areas which never experienced or knew about this type of crime are now beginning to experience it. I think that the problem is that some people will leave South Africa anyway whether there is crime or not because they are not happy with the changes. But what we are now having is a lot of professionals coming from other parts of the world ? Nigeria, Cuba, Lesotho to fill the gaps left by these people.
Interview: V Amokeodo & J Ogunleye.