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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
05 Nov 1996: Moosa, Mohammed Valli
POM Let me first start with a question on which I need some elucidation myself. What's happening in the Free State and I want you to put this in the context of multiparty democracy? It seems to me as I read the papers today that the Provincial Executive of the ANC met with the Working Committee of the NEC, that they agreed to remove the entire Cabinet from the Free State, that this is ratified or not ratified by the NEC, that if ratified it goes back to the Provincial Legislature who then choose a new Premier who in turn chooses his Cabinet. Is that a correct reading of just procedurally what has happened?
VM Well I wouldn't know, Patrick, you're talking about developments in Johannesburg last night and I was here at parliament. I don't know, I can't comment on what was decided in Johannesburg last night. I think there were no decisions, these will probably be recommendations which go to the NEC this weekend.
POM OK, let's move back to the question at hand. The constitution provides for a system of multiparty governance. What's your understanding of what a viable multiparty system of governance is? And are there any features you would associate with it that are indispensable to its operation?
VM Well let me just make perhaps a few general comments in this regard. I think it's a big question and a big topic and time will not allow us to exhaust it I suppose to the fullest. A multiparty democracy would need to have perhaps the following essential features. Firstly, the system itself must be democratic in the sense of regular elections, free and fair elections and the universal adult franchise associated with that. We hope we have all of that in the constitution. Secondly, there must be more than one viable political party. In the situation where you have only one political party one cannot really call that a multiparty democracy, so you need more than one political party. Thirdly, I would say that the political parties themselves must be genuine bona fide political parties that practice a certain minimum degree of internal democracy because a multiparty democracy will not be all that democratic if the parties that make up the multiparty democracy in themselves are undemocratic or autocratic internally. So that's important. The fourth important element of course is the ability of the population to engage in the democracy, in other words to be able to make an informed choice, so this is where the role of the media comes in, and also civil society, that civil society and NGOs of various sorts, community based organisations, help society, help the population to make informed choices about political parties. So off the top of my head those are the few comments.
POM So in South Africa some people distinguish between what they would call a one-party dominant system and a competitive party system, the latter being where there is the element of choice, of their being an alternative issue in it. How would you describe the current situation, the political party situation in South Africa?
VM Well I think that we are in the process of building a multiparty democracy. We have established all the formal trappings of a democracy by adopting a democratic constitution. We have created the form, it's all in place as far as form is concerned. We also have a highly politicised public I would say, in my view, compared to many of the older democracies around the world. I don't think that the level of public awareness, public concern, political consciousness amongst the population in South Africa is any less than what exists in many of the older democracies, in fact it may be more. We do have a vocal civil society that has no reason to fear the state or the authority and a civil society participates in many ways in South African life, so I would say that we have the essential features of a multiparty democracy in place firstly, as I said, in the formalised way, in the constitution but in a very real sense also I think we do. The question, of course, that we have to ask ourselves because we're in a transition is, what steps do we need to take to deepen that democracy? Firstly, and secondly, what do we put into place now in order to prevent a, I don't want to say a return to the past, that sounds more harsh, but to prevent a situation where our democracy could become seriously compromised? The point I'm making is that I certainly feel that we are having this discussion not because the South African democracy in 1996 is imperfect or far from perfect, I think that we have quite a good democracy frankly.
POM But to go back to the question about effective opposition. Again it was pointed out to me yesterday that among what would be called one-party dominant systems that there is the highest spread of electoral points between the dominant party here and the next party, like 43 points it was said. I don't know whether that's absolutely accurate but I've no reason to believe why it's not. So the question is, for the foreseeable future are you going to have a single party dominating the political scene? If so what are the ramifications of that in terms of the development of more viable alternative parties, one? And two, an analysis of the data from the local elections would suggest, if anything, that electoral politics here had become more racially segregated than in the first election, that the ANC is becoming a party of the Africans, the National Party whites and coloureds, whites are voting for white parties, Africans are voting for African parties, and that's not about to change.
VM I don't know why your latter question is raised so often, not necessarily by you, but raised so often in an alarmist manner that there are racial or ethnic trends that can be picked up in the voting patterns. That spells disaster, doom and gloom. African Americans don't vote for the Republicans, never voted for the Republicans and they are probably not going to vote for the Republicans.
VM Today, yes, hopefully not. You find those patterns based on religious lines and cultural lines and ethnic lines, you're going to find it all over the world. I don't think we're unique in any way. So I don't think that in itself, the sort of ethnic trends as far as voting patterns are concerned in itself one should make a very big issue of it. I'm now referring to it in the theoretical sense. In the more practical way I must say that we have made over the past few years more inroads, I'm talking about 'we' as the ANC, more inroads into the white community in a period of in the past three or four or five years than we had made in the eighty years before that. So if you look at it from that point of view then one actually sees a kind of deracialisation beginning to take place. The National Party has got more blacks supporting it in the past few years than it had in the seven or eight decades that it existed before that, or less, it's younger than the ANC. So I don't know what the shock is about. The Democratic Party has got a few black voters and a few black faces even in parliament. It's never happened before. Did one expect that suddenly all of these parties would become completely deracialised?
The local government voting trends I'm not too certain about what you say. As far as the coloured community is concerned compared to the 1994 elections, in the November 1995 elections we had a great deal of support in coloured areas that we did not have in 1994 and there's a whole band of medium and small towns stretching from the Eastern Cape right into the Southern Cape that have tilted towards the ANC, and that goes right from the coast into the Northern Cape. In the extreme portion of the Western Cape, the metropolis itself, where we have made no advances, the ANC, in the coloured community and the patterns have remained the same, no additional gain as such. But there is also at the same time a significant, sufficient number of votes we have in the coloured community even in the Peninsula area for one to be able to question the assertion that it's just purely a racial divide. It's not as though 95% of the coloureds vote for the National Party and the other 5% sprinkling all over. It's about 50% of them have voted for the National Party, quite a good number of percentage points for the ANC and then a few others sprinkled here and there. I come from Lenasia in Johannesburg, when I say I come from there I grew up there, it's an Indian township, it's the biggest Indian township in what was the former Transvaal, in other words outside of the province of KwaZulu/Natal. For the Johannesburg metropolitan elections there were five wards demarcated in the township. The ANC won every one of those five wards by big margins. So when one goes into some of these details I would question it.
VM The other question you raise about one-party dominance, is it really surprising that the people of this country at this point in time would not vote for those parties who were upholding the system of apartheid? It's as simple as that.
POM My question would be not that, I mean that's a fact and one that's unlikely to change, in fact it would be counter-intuitive to see it changing. To me it would be counter-intuitive to imagine that the National Party can somehow transform itself in the next four or five years and expect large numbers of Africans to start voting for it. It's fanciful thinking rather than based on hard-nosed reality. Would you agree with that?
VM Well I think it is unlikely that the NP is going to be able to make many advances. One of the big problems at this point in time is that they on the one hand see the need to become a non-racial party because that's the only way in which they would expand and get more votes and have a possibility of becoming a majority party. But on the other hand they can't break out of the white mould which they're trapped in. They just remain a white party and that's the problem and as long as they remain a white party they will be a minority party. If a party wants to challenge the ANC it will have to be a non-racial party. A non-racial party is a party which would have it's biggest base in the African community. That's a non-racial party. You can't be a non-racial party if your biggest base is in the white community. Your character will have to be more African than it would be Indian or anything else, or white for that matter, then that's the only way in which you could be a truly non-racial party; a party itself must reflect the demographics so that it appeals in the right measures to everybody. I don't think the NP is able to do that as the NP.
POM So when you look to the future what scenarios can you see as being likely to lead to the development of an alternative to the ANC? That's one. Two, in the short to medium term is this a good thing? Is it not a good thing for the country at the moment to have a strong government that can push through the kind of transformational politics that are required at this point in time? That if you did in fact have a very competitive system at this point in time politics would be electorally driven, everybody looking for the edge that would get them the extra percentage point and that there would be far more paralysis and far more unlikelihood of real structural change occurring? And the third part of that would be how do you balance the needs for development against the imperatives of a viable multiparty system? May the two come in conflict and at this point in time is the former more important than the latter?
VM Let me say that one of the reasons why we don't have an effective opposition in parliament is not that there isn't an opposition or that there isn't scope for that, is also the incompetence on the part of the smaller parties in parliament. The National Party, for example, has throughout its existence depended on state power to exist and there was a thin line between government and the party, and being outside of government as such they are unable to really function as a proper opposition. They are trying to find their feet. But I think the most fortunate thing in our situation is that the ANC itself is a party in which there is very vibrant and open discussion and debate that takes place. Often if you go to a portfolio committee in parliament you would find an entire hour of debate and discussion going on only between the ANC members of the portfolio committee with members from the other parties just observing this. Now in the normal type of situation, when I say 'normal' if you think that the House of Commons is normal, that you would find in a committee of parliament when they are trying to put a bill through it will be the majority party versus the opposition. We don't have that situation here because the NP doesn't have what it takes to engage in intelligent discussion on a whole range of matters which the different committees deal with. So you would have within the ANC this sort of vibrant transparent and open discussion and we have the discussion in public, the press and observers are allowed to be there at all of these committees, and I think this is what fuels our democracy. It really is what makes it work. So I don't think the fact that we have incompetent opposition parties necessarily debilitates our democracy. It may not always be the case but presently, right now certainly we have a very vibrant and active discussion that goes on within the ANC. So in a sense we are our own opposition, in a sense, because of the lack of anybody else putting up a good enough fight to get us all to put up a united front. I am very pleased about it and I think many other people are very pleased about the approach that we're using now.
It is also fortunate that we have a strong ANC now, that we're in power with a strong mandate, big vote, 62% of the vote. Had it not been for that we would not have been able to take the difficult decisions that we are having to take now. Take for example the macroeconomic framework and macroeconomic strategy that we are pursuing, the cutting of the deficit every year, cutting it down to 4% next year, I hope we will be able to stick to that, it has major budgetary consequences, major cuts in a whole range of areas. So we can only do that if we enjoy a sense of confidence. If our coming into government was just by a marginal vote that would have been very difficult for us to do. The right-sizing of the public service, tens of thousands of public servants have to go. They are not needed for one or other reason as a result of the rationalisation process. There was a bloated bureaucracy under apartheid. Getting rid of public servants is not an easy task for any party that intends to win the next election and having a sense of insecurity running through 1,2 million public servants in this country is a big vote, that's a very big vote and their influence extends far and wide. But we are only able to do these things because of the strength of the ANC. As far as negotiating with the labour movement and trade unions we are able to say to the trade unions that at the end of the day we don't think we're going to have to roll over and die if you withdraw your support, as much as we would like to be in alliance with the labour movement. And therefore I think South Africa today needs strong leadership, they need a strong party in power. Without that we wouldn't be able to take, I think, many of the bold steps that we have already taken.
POM Given what you've said and the need at this point in time for a strong government and the need probably for some time to come for a strong government to effect these kinds of major transformational changes, what then is the obligation of the government given the constitutional provisions for trying to deepen and strengthen democracy? What should it be doing?
VM Well I think the two are not incompatible. Strong government is not incompatible with the deepening of democracy and we need to continually apply our minds to what steps can be taken. One should never fail to take into account steps that have already been taken. It is unfortunate that very little real attention has been focused on those steps that have been taken and the most important ones there I think would be the steps that have been taken in parliament and the parliamentary process, the opening up of the parliamentary process to the extent to which it has been opened up and that the real transparency that has been created in the parliamentary process and in committee work, etc. Then of course we have already established and we have a functioning Public Protector's Office which makes it possible for any citizen to have a matter investigated on the basis of some sort of prima facie case or evidence as such. And the Public Protector's Office is particularly aimed at keeping the bureaucracy straight, keeping the state and the machinery of the state honest. Of course the office of the Auditor-General is also there.
We need to now look further at political parties themselves. In a system where we have proportional representation and a party list system, should there be some sort of regulation about the manner in which political parties compile their lists, simply because of the importance of these lists? The ANC goes through a very long and complex process of branch conferences and provincial conferences and then a national conference so that there is quite a big sifting process that goes on, major grassroots involvement in the choosing of the list. We've got to ask ourselves, is that good enough? What do other parties do? Should we allow a situation where a person forms a political party, maybe very wealthy, who may have a very wealthy financial backer and the person is able to - it's basically a one-person party, launches a media campaign on an unprecedented scale.
POM Ross Perot.
VM Yes. Because of limitless funds, and then puts up a list of candidates to whom he wants to give favours for one or other reason, dreams up a list of candidates, and should that be allowed? The present constitution will not declare that unconstitutional. It allows that. It says that you could have well known, a person who perhaps could make a good television actor, could be on the payroll of the Colombian drug lords, would come here and have lots of Colombian drug money, run a big campaign, bigger than the ANC could run because maybe he would be able to mobilise ten times more money than we can, and put up candidates and get into government. So we've got to avoid that, we've got to prevent that. So I think that a whole range of considerations, it's about regulating the internal affairs of political parties, it's about transparency, degree of transparency about the internal workings of a political party, it's about sources of funding, it's about limits on funding, it's about limits on campaign funding, it's about media time.
POM Let's talk about those.
VM That's the whole sort of field, range of areas that have got to be looked at. But that's one side of it, the conduct and regulation of political parties. Another side of it is civil society. I don't believe that a multiparty democracy can function without a strong civil society existing outside of the state, outside of government, outside of the corridors of power, organising society on an ongoing basis around whatever it may be, whether it's the trade unions or religious organisations or whether it is ad hoc bodies or whatever else. But that's another area that we need to look at. We all assume that our civil society is vibrant and strong and protected in the constitution. Is it sufficiently so? These are questions we've got to ask ourselves all the time. Will we have an independent vibrant civil society necessarily in ten years time down the road? What do we do to protect civil society and to nurture it and to encourage it?
POM On the money side, one, again, I think the constitution provides for public financing that will be both proportionate and equitable and I see it may be a slight contradiction between the two there, but besides that, (i) should there be public funding, (ii) at what level, (iii) should it be more in the area of extending constituency outreach, extending the capacity of the parties within parliament to be more effective whether it's in doing research or increasing their capacity within parliament to be more effective, (iv) should it be to help them on a day-to-day basis so they can reach that critical mass where they start to take off themselves, (v) should it be confined to election time and (vi) when it comes to the use of media should public media be available in equal blocks to all the major parties and the minor parties but according to some formula that would incorporate both fairness and proportionality?
VM I haven't thought it through completely but I think that there should of course be funding for political parties, that it should be for both campaigns, election campaigns, and for the ongoing general work of political parties in between campaigns. I think funding, in my view, should cover both areas.
POM How about the issue of disclosure of funds? Should (a) funds be allowed from foreign governments or foreign individuals, (b) should there be a cap on what corporations and individuals can contribute, (c) should parties have to disclose where all their funds come from across the board?
VM I think that funding of political parties and the disclosure of the source of revenue of a political party are two sides to the same coin because the only reason why the taxpayer would want to fund political parties is because of a recognition that these political parties are not private institutions, they are public institutions. Being public institutions there is public money and giving them that status would then make it possible for everybody to expect the political parties to behave as though they are public institutions which would mean that their sources of revenue would in general have to be disclosed. Of course in the details one could always say under certain amounts not necessary, but in general have to be disclosed. The advantage for the taxpayer would be that this means that we can be fairly certain that the Colombian drug lords do not have a party that acts as a front for them and that's what the taxpayer wants to avoid. If we don't have disclosure then there is little reason for the taxpayer to want to fund political parties. So I think the two really go hand in hand. From my point of view where or not there is public funding, however, disclosure I think is still a good thing because you want your political parties to be straight, to be honest, you want your public to know what a political party is all about. A good way to know what a political party is all about is to know its sources of funding and a party should be prepared to defend in public whatever it's sources of funding are.
POM What about foreign money, particularly money from foreign governments?
VM Well I think generally international practice has been that money from other governments, from foreign governments, has been frowned upon. I don't know once one has rules for disclosure whether that problem would arise in the first place, but I can't see how any party funding law would allow for foreign governments to run political parties in this country.
POM Foreign individuals?
VM Let me say that I don't want to go into, necessarily into detail.
POM Yes, don't. I don't want you to do that.
VM Just the point to make is the public, and this is the essence of it, the public must be told, "These are my sources of funding", and let the public judge for themselves. I think that's the most important thing about it that (i) the public should be able to judge, (ii) that your funding rules must be such that they bring in a measure of fairness, fairness in the political life of the country so as to ensure that it's not only the rich and the wealthy and the powerful who can participate in political life but also the not so rich and not so affluent can participate in the political life of the country. I think that's important so that's the other thing that one would be looking out for as a principle.
POM Two final things, one is on the use of public media, particularly at election time.
VM We've had in the past two elections regulations about that and I think it will have to be regulated in one way or another. I'm not an expert at that but I know it was regulated.
POM If you look at the priorities facing the country on a scale of one to ten where would you put the development of a strong multiparty system where ten would be very important and one would be relatively unimportant? Two, where on that line do you think South Africa lies at the moment? And three, with regard to public funding, again on a scale of one to ten, as a priority, as an issue given the other priorities and issues you face, where does it lie, ten being it's a very important issue, one being that it's relatively unimportant?
VM You know the first question, I don't know whether I can comment within the paradigm that you're suggesting because the building of a multiparty democracy it doesn't have to occupy lesser or greater priority over the building of houses or anything else for that matter, or job creation or whatever else, stabilising the rand or the economy. I don't think that the one happens at the expense of the other.
POM Mutually exclusive.
VM It's a priority, I don't want to give it six points which would give the impression it's not that much of a priority.
POM And the other regarding public funding? Is that more of a peripheral issue at the moment or is it something that attention must be given to now?
VM I don't think it's a peripheral issue. We've got to attend to it right now and we've got to pass legislation in the first half of next year. I don't think it's something that should wait. We're in a transition, we've created a new system and we've come out of a corrupt past and before we develop too many bad habits, the system develops bad habits, we should take steps that would prevent those bad habits from setting in. Once you have the bad habits you can't reverse it so easily, so it is a great priority, certainly for me.
POM Last question which is tangential, if public parties, particularly when there is public money involved or public institutions rather than private institutions, what is my constitutional right to join a political party of my choice? I'm putting that specifically in terms of the Bantu Holomisa affair.
VM Political parties are voluntary associations.
POM But they're also publicly, there's public money involved in their funding.
VM They are voluntary associations. That does not make them not public institutions. They are public institutions at the same time. A political party is a political party because it has presumably a collection of like-minded individuals. That's what parties are about. A political party provided it works in a lawful manner can, if it wants to, deny individuals membership provided it does so in a lawful manner. In the case of expulsion provided there's a fair hearing, there's an opportunity for appeal procedures and there's an opportunity for the courts to play a role eventually. I think that as long as you have that ...
POM But if I were to run around the corner to my local ANC branch and say, "I want to join". and someone there said, "Well to tell you the truth you're not a suitable person, you're out."
VM You could appeal.
POM To the courts?
VM You could appeal to a higher body in the ANC, you could appeal to the provincial leadership. But if the ANC doesn't want you then it doesn't want you. It has a choice about who it wants to associate with.
POM Would the ANC have the right to say hitherfore, "We don't want many white people in the party, they are just disruptive?"
VM That would be unconstitutional, you cannot discriminate on the grounds of race or gender or sexual orientation or religious belief or conscience or a whole range of things. So if you're discriminated against on any of those grounds nobody, no party, no individual is allowed to discriminate on those grounds so you can't say that's what you're going to do.
POM Isn't this a very tenuous area?
VM It is a tenuous area because the Freedom Front says they don't discriminate against anybody but which right minded non-Afrikaner would want to be part of the Freedom Front? So their policy is such that they only attract Afrikaners. But political organisations are special types of parties but why should a political party not have a right to say to you that your thinking, your ideology, your approach is incompatible with the aims of the party? Sorry, we can't take you.
POM In a way that's an argument against diversity of opinion within a party.
VM Not really. If you have in the NDI office an employee or a member of the NDI that is a vocal opponent of the Democratic Party and the Clinton administration and the Clinton campaign, that person's presence in the NDI may not be compatible. It's unlikely that such a person would survive a long time in the NDI. They would get rid of him or her one way or another.
POM This is for another day. Thank you.