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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
27 Sep 1999: Molefe, Popo
POM Premier, I would like you to begin with the recounting of a story, and that is how you and Lekota were finally picked up by the Security Police after you had managed to evade them. As far as I recall he tells it in a very funny way.
PM You mean the last time when we went to jail, when they picked us up for the last time? I know what Terror must have said. We had been evading the police for a long time. In fact at some point we were even contemplating to leave the country.
POM This is in nineteen - ?
PM Say from December 1984, because you see we had been in jail and they released us because we had been in detention without trial and they released us on the occasion of International Human Rights Day, that was the 10th December 1984, but we knew at that stage that these chaps were not just releasing us, they were planning other things, they were plotting to do something and we were worried that they were probably planning to assassinate us, so we were contemplating then, we began contemplating to leave the country to go into exile. When we communicated with the ANC, and our comrades inside the country they said no, you mustn't leave, the ANC also said, look don't leave the country, remain there, find a way in which you can survive but stay inside the country. So we obeyed the orders, that is how disciplined we were, so we stayed and we continued to operate underground, guiding our structures without really going to the big meetings and so on. But because it was very difficult in those days to operate, the police were really arresting leaders, we began to experience problems in terms of the relationships between the labour movement and some affiliates of the UDF, particularly in the Eastern Cape. Now remember, by that time we had not yet succeeded to win a significant proportion of the labour movement over to the UDF. The best organised unions were still outside the UDF, they were under what was called the Federation of South African Trade Unions, FOSATU. So it was important for us to avoid a situation where members of the UDF would alienate the unions even further. We were also worried that the tensions which were building up could easily flare up into violence. We knew that the elements, agents provocateurs, working for the state at the time could easily whip up the emotions of the people, push these tensions to levels of explosion so that when there is violence they would then come in to kill a number of our activists. So we decided with Terror Lekota that we've got to go down there, we had been underground but that problem can't go on for ever, we've got to go. But I made a very historical mistake, I used my telephone, I used my telephone to phone Terror and I phoned Billy Nair, I phoned Curnick Ndlovu and I was saying, "Chaps, we've got to meet in Port Elizabeth on such and such a day to deal with the problems." Little did I realise that all our telephones were being monitored.
POM Even though you were underground at the time they still knew where you were staying?
PM Well I think not really, I was not using the phone where I was staying. I went to use a phone in an office, in one of the offices
POM Of the UDF?
PM Of the UDF. So they were monitoring all the phones at that time. But of course I think I must say I was being silly because the first time when I got arrested, the year before when I got arrested, again it was because Trevor Manuel, this Minister of Finance, when I had been underground for a long time and I decided on that day to go and see them in their office, he picked up a phone when I was in the office to phone other people to tell them that now Popo is now back in the office, we're going to have luncheon with the British Consul General, we're going to come back at two o'clock and so on. He's saying all those things over the phone, so at two o'clock we come back and the police are waiting for me. But I repeated the same mistake in 1985, I phoned and I told these people where we must go, I gave them the flight details and so on. So they go Billy Nair could not join us for one reason or the other, so Curnick Ndlovu, who was at the time National Chairperson of the UDF, was willing to come. Terror was also flying from Durban also to the Eastern Cape, I was in Johannesburg.
POM Now when he would fly would he fly under his own name or when you flew would you fly under your own name or an assumed name?
PM I think he flew I don't know what names we used at that time.
POM But they wouldn't be your own names?
PM Well we probably used our names, we probably did. I am not sure what names we used at that time. He got to the airport, the police were following him right from Durban and you know they accompanied him and they were watching him. He tells the story that he was warned by one of the women who works there at the airport to say, "Look, there are funny looking people here who appear to be looking for you and have been asking about you." So he gets on to the plane and he gets into PE airport, he gets this very warm reception from the Special Branch of the SA Security Police. He is with Curnick Ndlovu, they didn't worry about Ndlovu, they wanted Terror. So I get to what is now known as the Johannesburg International Airport, I got to that airport, it was the Jan Smuts Airport at that time, so I checked in and went to the waiting lounge, I was relaxing there, reading the morning newspaper, sitting nicely, relaxed like this as I'm sitting now here nice sofa. Then they were announcing that the plane is about to leave, the plane will be leaving in the next five minutes and so on. Just after that announcement I saw some feet next to me and these fellows standing in front of me, two of them. They said, "Hi, Popo, I am Captain Venter from John Vorster Square, sorry to disturb you but you are under arrest. Please accompany us."
POM So they were very civilised about the whole matter?
PM And they introduced themselves, they were very civilised. They just identified themselves and they said, "Where is your car? Where is your vehicle?" I said, "Well it's in the parking lot." They said, "OK, give us the key, you will get into our car, we will drive your car, one of us will drive your car and will follow the police vehicle in your car." I was taken to John Vorster Square. When I got there I saw Moses Chikane who was also a leader of the UDF in the Transvaal, one of the secretaries, he had already been picked up in the morning and I realised that it means a lot more people have been picked up. So that's how I got arrested and they took me to John Vorster Square and took me to a prison called Sun City, so I got there and I knew when I got there that Terror must have been arrested too. That same night, late at night, Terror arrives, Thabiso Ratsomo, Thabiso was a student leader at Rhodes University in Grahamstown near Port Elizabeth, so he comes in, and there were many uMkhonto weSizwe soldiers there. We had been with them in jail and we had come out and we come back again we find them still there. So that's how we got arrested you see. Then that culminated in the Delmas Treason Trial when we were charged with high treason, they were alleging that we conspired with the ANC, the SA Communist Party and SA Congress of Trade Unions to overthrow what they called 'a legal government' by force of arms.
POM You said something interesting there, something I must say after all this time I was not aware of, that COSATU initially didn't join forces with the UDF?
PM There was no COSATU at that time.
POM UDF stands to me for the Ulster Defence Force which is a paramilitary organisation in Northern Ireland!
PM OK. But there was no COSATU at the time but the strongest unions in terms of organisation, shop floor influence, were under a federation called Federation of SA Trade Unions, FOSATU. Those unions which were aligned to the ANC were very weak, they were very sharp politically, their leaders like Sydney Mufamadi, Samson Ndou, Caesar Njikelana, Kikine, Herbert Barnabas, Thozamile Goweta, they were good politically but in terms of organisation they were very weak, so we didn't have it. COSATU was really just formed much later when we were already in jail, but we had been working together with trade union leaders to lay the firm foundation for the creation of a single trade union federation.
POM So at that point you were working with individual trade unions?
PM Yes, we were working with people like Chris Dlamini, we were persuading them to bring FOSATU into the UDF. We were working with people like Enoch Godongwane who is now the MEC for Finance and Economic Development for the Eastern Cape. There are very few people really who
POM How about NUM and NUMSA, where were they at that point?
PM Well NUM at that point had also not really decided. Well in some ways one can say NUM was with us in the sense that they were an affiliate of the Council of Unions of SA, CUSA, NUM was part of that, it was more the Black Consciousness Movement unions. They had agreed to work with us but they didn't seem to have enough muscle really to get unions to engage in a big way in the programmes of the UDF so the relationships were really formative, still at formative stages, they were really pretty nascent, they were still developing, they were not that strong.
POM Why were the strong trade unions at that point hesitant to join forces with the UDF? Was it because they thought they might be banned or that their leaders would be arrested?
PM Well there were a broad range of factors. The first one was the level of repression, state repression was so high that clearly they were worried that their leaders would get arrested. But secondly, they were worried that interference by the state might result in trade union organisations being destroyed, that might have destroyed their trade union. The third dimension was that the leaders of the unions, some of these unions at the time, did not share a common strategic perspective with us, they didn't believe that trade unionists could be involved in grassroots activities in communities, working together with civic organisations, youth groups, student organisations and so on. They believed that their task was to organise the workers for the factory floor and that's it, they didn't want to couple it with politics. The fourth dimension was that many of the leaders who were very influential in those unions didn't want to be associated with the ANC, they didn't want to work with the UDF, they did not accept the Freedom Charter, so it was very difficult. Those days they were talking already about the need for them to form their own independent workers' party. That statement had been enunciated by the then General Secretary of FOSATU who is now an MP of the ANC in parliament, Joe Foster. He made that statement at the FOSATU Council in 1982 already. So those were some of the dynamics we had where the leadership didn't agree with the UDF and they didn't want the trade unions to work with us so it took us a bit of time to move them closer to us.
POM Are there still sentiments within COSATU that ultimately they should found a workers' party along the lines of how the British Labour Party was set up initially as a party of the trade unions? I've noticed since I've come back, which has been only a couple of weeks, but that President Mbeki has been taking a much tougher line with the unions suggesting that further clashes are likely to be ahead.
PM Well the first part of your question, whether there are still feelings that COSATU needed to form an independent workers' party, I must say that it has never been the view of COSATU as COSATU to form an independent worker's party. It was a debate that took place in one of the federations that existed before COSATU was formed and that was FOSATU, that's where the debate has taken place. As can be imagined, COSATU is a new federation which has brought into it a broad range of tendencies, political tendencies. It's not a homogeneous organisation and I have no doubt that some of the unions which have raised this question, not even the unions, some individuals in certain unions who have raised this question of an independent workers' party have continued to raise it until very recently. Where there are divergent tendencies in an organisation that can be expected but I must conclude that as far as I am concerned COSATU as a trade union federation is committed to working with the ANC-led government and the ANC as a political party. Many people who are in COSATU are also members of the ANC, that's the advantage we have so one does not therefore imagine that things would come to a head in such a manner that COSATU as COSATU would begin to raise questions about them becoming an independent workers' party. As a matter of fact many of the COSATU members are also members of the SACP and I am sure they are satisfied to be members of the SACP.
Whether there will be conflict in the future between the government, or the ANC and COSATU, we don't envisage that but certainly differences of opinion must continue to be held if you are dealing with different organisations which derive their mandates from different fora. There are things that they will articulate which we may not agree with and we would also say things that they might not agree with. The challenge is not really to sensationalise the differences of opinion: the challenge lies in how, when there are differences of opinion, we manage them in such a manner that we can still move forward on those strategic priorities reflecting the key elements of our national agenda which has to do with the transformation of our society in terms of its institutions and consolidating democracy but also which has to do with the improvement of the quality of lives of our people. We're now talking about accelerating change, the extent to which we manage the differences of opinion would determine how we accelerate change on the ground.
POM When I interviewed you last year, in September 1998, before the Mafikeng conference in December, I noted that in your use of language there were a lot of warlike analogies. You used the word 'war', 'on a battlefield', 'our enemies are out there wanting to destroy us'. You say at one point, "What the newspapers are doing needs to be understood in a wider context of the strategy of the opposition forces in the liberal media to weaken the ANC", you talk about opposition forces wanting to 'destroy the ANC', very much as though the ANC was under siege from a range of outside forces, how to close ranks, maintain a solid front to fight these forces who were anti-transformation. Do you still believe that the opposition parties like the NP and the DP and the media are working in some covert, not almost third force kind of a way, to undermine what the ANC is doing, or that the ANC's mindset is still cast in the past? It's behaving like the NP did in the old days, more with a siege mentality, a laager mentality, everyone who doesn't agree with us is against us, is against what we're doing, is trying to discredit us. Do you know what I mean?
PM Well certainly the ANC has never lived in the past, doesn't live in the past, and it's not comparable to the NP.
POM I'm not saying comparable, I mean in terms of mentality towards the media.
PM It is the ANC that has entrenched in the constitution the freedom of the media, the concept of freedom of the media.
POM But you attack the media as the enemy all the time.
PM Well let's talk about it. We don't have a siege mentality but the reality is that indeed from the time when the ANC was unbanned right up to now there are certain media groups that have made it their business to really weaken the ANC, it's a reality, it is there.
POM When you say weaken what do you mean?
PM Firstly, to deliberately distort the facts. Let me give you an example, a recent example: one black soldier, a member of the SANDF, shoots and kills seven others including himself, that having been done a funeral is organised, black soldiers participate, they form a guard of honour. A newspaper called, this newspaper in the Free State, in Bloemfontein
POM Is it an Afrikaans newspaper?
PM An Afrikaans newspaper. It reports, "Blacks are boycotting the funeral", blacks boycotting the funeral of the soldiers. What does it do? It wants to create a crisis around the ANC-led government, heighten tensions which might result in conflict between black and white in the army, and they repeatedly do that. Mosiuoa Lekota, a leader of the ANC, he's the National Chairperson of the ANC and Minister of Defence, goes to them to have a discussion with the Editor of Die Burger, I think one of them is Die Burger, to get this matter corrected. What do they do? They say, "Ha! There they are now attacking the freedom of the media. He just walked into our office to intimidate us."
POM It said, "Walked in with senior brass of the military with him and that the next time it would be troops."
PM Whereas another newspaper, the Star newspaper, writing about the same funeral, gives an account of how black soldiers gave a guard of honour, observing and respecting the soldiers who died. So the media, certain sections of the media, continue to be hostile to the ANC but we must also acknowledge that there has been a shift in many other newspapers. There was a time when the President, the current President of the ANC, was being attacked by the media day and night. Now he has become a darling to a number of them because they couldn't sustain a lie long enough so they have now shifted, they now understand him better. They don't rely on assumptions, they rely on facts.
POM Every account that I have read in English speaking newspapers regarding Mbeki's first 100 days in office were overwhelmingly positive.
PM Yes, many newspapers here at home as well. So that's what we are talking about. But let's return now to talk about the other groups. I think there has also been a decisive shift in the balance of forces. As you can see we've been working very well with the IFP, we continue in a government of national unity with them, they are there serving in our cabinet. The relations have improved somewhat with the NP, particularly in the provinces. They are becoming more constructive. The same applies to smaller parties like Rajbansi's Minority Front and so on. One party that is adopting a very hostile, negative, unconstructive posture and bordering on irresponsibility, is the Democratic Party. It has made it its business to oppose our entire programme of transformation. They are no longer really making any contribution to the building of SA. They are more concerned about their own narrow or parochial interests. They have forgotten that they wanted the vote of the black people just before 1994.
For example, we tabled a law in parliament which deals with a situation in which damage caused as a result of the Gambling Act, caused to the North West Development Corporation, could have resulted in thousands of people losing jobs. The DP in parliament opposes that, opposes amendments to the law, yet it has been accusing us of not providing jobs for people but they wanted to destroy a company that is providing jobs to our people. At each turn they have been opposing us. They have moved radically from being a liberal party to becoming a party to the far right because nobody is more right wing than them, not even the Freedom Front.
POM Not even which party?
PM But the advantage is that they have become alone, they are alone there with the majority of the parties serious about taking forward the national agenda. So in that way, therefore, one would say there has been a decisive shift in the balance of forces in favour of the ANC. What we saw as very hostile attitudes, ganging up against the ANC, is no more there.
POM Now if I had said to you, or if an outsider looked at the situation coming up to the elections last year and said the ruling party, the ANC, has to run on its record and part of that record is a deteriorating economy, the fact that two years running there has been a negative rate of growth, a crime situation that for all intents and purposes appears in the public's mind to have gotten out of hand. You had a survey conducted last year which indicated that among all race groups, all, that's including African, a plurality of the respondents to the survey believed that the police were less effective in 1998 than they had been pre the elections in 1994. You have pervasive corruption, leaving aside the corruption of the old, pervasive new corruption, an educational system that is in tatters and hasn't succeeded in putting itself together, a housing policy that didn't deliver one half of what it had promised, a joblessness situation that was increasing, rather than the creation of jobs you had the loss of jobs, yet this party goes to the people and gets a higher vote in 1998 than it did in 1994, for all intents and purposes getting two thirds of the vote what they had asked the people to give them. What do you think accounts for the ANC more or less sweeping the boards in this election, in the face of a record that while it had many, many positive things, and I'm not denying any of that, still on the basic issues that people were concerned about, crime, housing, jobs, had a poor record, it made no difference?
PM It's not correct, they made a tremendous impact on housing, building almost a million houses in four years. If you accept that the first year we were really trying to find our way into government it made a tremendous impact on people. The fact that we empowered people, freed people to participate in a broad range of institutions that made decisions affecting their lives, in the governing bodies of the schools, in local government, in the local economic development many, many women, ordinary women, are now participating in small businesses, maybe not enough but many of them; the fact that women in some ways have now been protected by the laws of the country it's an important matter for them; the fact that we are able to give rural people who had no hope of ever getting clean potable water and electricity in rural areas; the fact that they now have those things has impacted positively on these people; the fact that their children can now get books free of charge in schools, at least up to a certain standard; the fact that there are many schools that are being built, many clinics, access to health care for pregnant women, new-born babies up to the age of six which they don't have to pay for, and the later extension of primary health care, basic health care to people, all of them, all of those things have changed visible changes that ordinary people are seeing.
POM So despite the fact that joblessness has increased, that crime is pervasive, that people don't believe that the state is winning the war against crime, they believe that crime is winning the war against the state
PM But South Africans, let me deal with this issue, the first point the SA Police Service has never been better. They never used to fight crime, they used to fight politicians. They used to throw thousands and thousands of us into jail. They used to arrest thousands for not carrying the passes, the dompas, South African ID document of that time which was a special one for black people, they used to arrest us for that. They used to arrest people for getting married to whites or for engaging in inter-racial marriage, that they did well. They never fought crime. What they did best was to suppress the media so that the public could not know what was happening in the country, including on matters of crime. They were deploying the police to guard white areas, just to guard that blacks don't come anywhere near the white people. So in reality what you are dealing with, you are dealing with a situation where for the first time under an ANC government there is so much freedom of media, so much flow of information that anything that happens gets exposed without anyone of us interfering with the media, but the newspapers could not report as they wished about policing matters, about prisons. They couldn't.
POM OK, so when white people
PM So I don't even know what is the measure that we are using to say that crime has increased compared to the apartheid days. I don't know what measure because the apartheid state was never interested in knowing those things. Certainly crime has reached the proportions are very high. It's worrisome, it's unacceptable, the levels are unacceptable. It has to be brought down. But what are we doing about it? We have set up special units, we have appointed a National Director for Public Prosecution who is the former deputy chairperson of our National Council of Provinces. We now have this integrated, co-ordinated approach in implementing crime strategy, the judiciary or the Justice Department, justice system, the police, education and intelligence, all of them working together. Crime is one of the areas where the assessment of the first 100 days is positive. We seem to be doing well in that regard. We have set up the Scorpions to deal with crime, but obviously to root it out is going to take a lot of time, its roots are also in the fact that the vast majority of our people are poor, it's the problems of unemployment, we've got to deal with it. Unemployment? Yes it's a worrisome issue.
POM I want to go back to something interesting you said and that was the suppression of any kind of political news by the media. Now in my interviews with ordinary white people, families, people living ordinary lives, they say that the revelations of the Truth Commission come as a complete surprise to them, that had they known that there were hit squads out there, had they known about the torture that was going on in the prisons, had they known the degree of the detentions they would have felt differently. So they are pleading ignorance of what was going on and in a way you're substantiating that by saying the media was under such constraints by the government that it couldn't publish details of news like this. So when whites say that, ordinary white people say that, is what they say legitimate or is there no way, ultimately, that they could not have known what was going on but they chose just to close their eyes to it?
PM I don't think they knew. They did not know the magnitude of the atrocities, but certainly some of them knew. Surely when Neil Agget died, Dr Neil Agget died
POM Who was he just to give me an historical - ?
PM Neil Agget was a trade unionist but also a medical doctor. He was a medical doctor who had devoted his time to assisting in building the trade union movement and we worked with him in the early days. Around 1981 I think he was killed, 1981/82. Surely they must have known. When people like Cedric Mayson were arrested and tortured, they should have known. When Liz Floyd, Auret van Heerden and a couple of other people got arrested surely white people knew because these people were coming from the white constituency. But of course these matters were not reported as regularly as they can now be reported because the newspaper editors were getting into trouble. Only those who were brave enough could say that, not everybody, and knowing whites in SA the majority of them don't read newspapers and when they read newspapers they read about sport and business and so on. So one may say there is a great measure of legitimacy that one can give to their ignorance.
POM So when they say that we did not know what was going on, in terms of the magnitude of it, one can take it as a statement of truth more than a statement of denial?
PM Yes I would say so because one can see that many of them are changing, many of them once they know the truth they behave differently and once you see remorse in them when you talk about the revelations of the TRC they don't become defensive, they say it's bad, we didn't know that we were supporting a government that was doing these hideous things.
POM Do you think the same applies to members of the government itself, and most particularly I would say the De Klerk government insofar as that from the time of PW on, the country for all intents and purposes was being run by the National Security Management System which operated outside of the structures of government?
PM No, no, the government knew because they were planning all these things, they were giving instructions, they made laws which allowed the police the latitude to torture, to kill. The inquests that were held were held in such a manner that they were covering up instead of exposing the truth. So the government cannot, Mr de Klerk and his colleagues cannot, plead the kind of ignorance that ordinary white South Africans can.
POM When you were detained were you interrogated?
POM For how long?
PM This last time I was not. This last time they did not interrogate me because I think they thought they had been able to get enough from other people that they interrogated to nail me. They knew that they were going to be asking me questions about things that are not true and they wouldn't get anything that would help them because it wasn't true, so they relied on younger people or less experienced people that they could beat up and interrogate and force to say things that they wanted them to say.
POM But prior to that when you had been first arrested?
PM Yes prior to that I was tortured, I was beaten up.
POM What forms did the interrogation and torture take?
PM These chaps used to make you sit there for days and nights, they would interrogate you, they would take shifts. One shift comes in the morning and asks you questions. They leave, they bring another group, sometimes they wouldn't even give you food. They would use electric shocks on you. They would beat you up, assault, they would use a canvas bag, put it on to your head and close it to suffocate you a bit. So they used those sorts of methods. They would make you sit in an imaginary chair, you sit just in the air like when you are sitting in a chair and then when you get tired they don't allow you to stand up or to stretch your legs. They want you to do that until you collapse. They make you stand on a brick, take a brick, small brick, stand there barefooted for the whole night. I know one old man that they tied a brick to his scrotum, take a brick and let it hang on your scrotum, hang on your testicles and make you stand there for the whole night naked, or they would take, for example, a nail, this round side of it and pull your foreskin on your penis, pull that foreskin and then cut it with a nail. There were many things, just direct physical assaults. For example, I was assaulted, I suffered, they perforated my ear drums and they wouldn't allow me to go to the doctor. For more than a month I could not hear. I suffered because every time there was a little sound it sounded like a huge explosion in my eardrums. They wouldn't allow me to go to the doctor, I was beaten up by those fellows. When I got better I was assaulted again. This time I suffered an injury on my back. I am still carrying that injury. It happened 23 years ago, I am still carrying it now, that pain I still have now. They beat me up those fellows until I was not able to walk and for a month I could not walk. Again they did not allow me to go to the doctor, they wouldn't allow me to go to the doctor and when the magistrate came there, because around that time there had been so much public outcry about people who were dying in detention, families were complaining so they introduced a system of inspectors. Magistrates would then come and visit people who were in detention. They used to visit about once a month. But when they have assaulted you, like when they had assaulted me they wouldn't allow me to see a magistrate. They allowed me to see him maybe long after, a month, or after two months. So there are all these things and then of course the other way of torturing is that you sit there in solitary confinement, you are alone in your cell, you don't talk to anybody, you don't see anybody, you don't get any visits, or they take you, they pick you up at home, they don't allow you to take any clothes to change, no face cloth, you sit there, you don't wash for three weeks or for a month, you're just sitting there with those dirty clothes.
POM How about matters like going to the bathroom to relieve yourself?
PM Well those days we had the bucket system. There was a bucket that you kept in your cell and you relieved yourself in that, that bucket. Then they would come and fetch it.
POM They would take it out on a daily basis?
PM Yes but if they didn't want to come they wouldn't come so you can stay there with it for two days, for as long as they want you to stay with it. The kind of food that they were giving to people also, we used to eat plain mealies, just cooked dry mealies and you eat it like that with cold black coffee, sometimes without sugar. These guys used to do all sorts of things, all sorts of things. Or you would sit there in jail and then they go and bomb your house and then that day when they have done that thing they will make sure that you see the newspapers, the reports in the newspapers so that you get so much tortured that you break down.
POM Did they play the good cop/bad cop routine?
POM Would they come to you and say, let's just say for example - we've talked to Terror Lekota and he's spilled the beans and he says this, this, this and this, so save yourself a lot of trouble, just confirm it and we'll leave you alone.
PM They used that a lot. They bring a very nice fellow, quite often one who looks very handsome and he comes and says, "You know, I think you must tell them everything. I want to help you out, I want to save you. You know Terror, or so-and-so, has told us everything. You're trying to turn yourself into a martyr, you say you don't want to talk, you want to die for this nonsense, I think we can work together with you, let's co-operate." And then they say, "You know that other man, that man is very dangerous. If I can leave you now and he has to deal with you he's going to break your neck, he's going to kill you." And then they bring sometimes they bring that big man, sometimes they bring chaps who are body builders and weight lifters.
POM Go to the Health & Racquet Club.
POM With tattoos all over their arms and they come there and play around, show how tough they are and they say, "Well tonight we're not going to sleep because we have to beat up a lot of these bastards", they would say that. And you get scared, these chaps. Or they beat up someone in the next room so that you hear the screams of that person, screaming and screaming, calling them boss and so on, "Baas, baas", and then they say, "You see if you don't talk, what is happening to this fellow will happen to you." Or sometimes they take you into a room where they have been beating up somebody, there is blood all over the walls and they want you to see that blood and they say, "By the time you leave this room what you see here will be just like nothing. This room will be worse by the time we take you out of it."
So they used all these methods. Sometimes they would just come and fetch us. I remember one year I had been in jail for about three, four months or five months, I had not received a single visit and they came to fetch me.
POM Were you in solitary confinement?
PM Yes solitary confinement and they came to fetch me.
POM No books, no papers, just on your own?
PM The only book was a bible, the bible they gave us. So they come, they fetch me, and I thought, well, maybe I've got visitors or something. They just fetched me just to harass me, to tell me all sorts of nasty things and then tell me to go back.
POM What would you do to keep your sanity if you're locked up for five months on your own with nobody to talk to, the days slip one into the other?
PM We defy at night. At night we shout to the other people, at night. Keep quiet during the day but at night
POM So you would be in separate cells?
PM Separate cells but they are not far from each other.
POM OK, so you could talk during the night. Did you develop a communication system?
PM We started a code system of communicating. We had other names, code names, but ultimately they knew because you don't see them when they're walking outside so they can hear this sound comes from this cell so it's so-and-so. Then they listen, you call somebody OT or TO and they know, oh this one is now called TO, OK, and then they listen. We were avoiding discussing matters about our involvement because if you start confessing they listen and then they've got a case against you. So it was very difficult but we developed that code system but also developed a system of writing letters home on toilet paper. Sometimes we succeeded to hide it in such a manner that even if they searched your clothes they couldn't find it.
POM That's what they did in Northern Ireland.
PM We also began establishing relationships with some policemen who we could send out to our families, take messages.
POM Just moving a bit, this is the end, in a sense, of the Mandela era and SA is moving into a new era, what would be the positive things you would point to? What would be the negative things you would point to and what things could have been done differently than they were otherwise handled?
PM I think the greatest positive of Nelson Mandela is the power of his conciliatory message, his ability to get South Africans, the vast majority of them, focused on working together, building the new nation. Secondly, the patience he has demonstrated, patience in the face of very militant young South Africans, very angry South Africans. That's a great positive. His argument for the TRC as a way in which we could provide a catharsis, a way in which the process of catharsis people could get the opportunity to release pent-up anger and emotion, release it, yet at the same time assisting us to come to terms with our past and to look forward to the new. It's a major contribution that he had made. But he has also brought honour for SA, the kind of respect that SA would probably have never had without a person like Mandela. You know a President of the United States towers over everybody but when he's with Nelson Mandela, with SA now, we can now meet with the United States as equals, they can take us more seriously when we talk, but in the past you wouldn't do that. So he has brought that honour and begun to place SA in a strategic position of influencing even the affairs of the UN. Only SA is able to challenge the UN to transform itself. It has been very important for us. It is that father figure and international statesman character of Madiba that enables us to participate in a broad range of peace initiatives in the continent. Look at what Madiba does, who would have been able to get Gadaffi, Colonel Gadaffi of Libya, to release the suspects of the Lockerbie bomb blast? Only Madiba could do so and it has helped save many lives because if he had not done so I have no doubt in my mind that the USA and other western countries would have continued to say we must go to Libya and bomb Libya, continue the sanctions and people must die. He has done that, so he has done remarkably well both in terms of uniting South Africans, getting them to come to terms with the need to live together, advancing and promoting the stature of our country internationally. It has been very important for us and I think Madiba's period must really be understood as the period of really reconciling disparate warring groups of SA and announcing to the world that we exist as South Africans, we are ready to join you, we are part of you and we are ready to play our role as equals.
POM Now when you talk about bringing disparate groups of South Africans together, that doesn't just include black and white, it would include supporters of the IFP and the ANC.
PM Yes, it would bring together supporters of the ANC, the IFP, supporters of the BCM in the ANC.
POM Do you think that regarding where the TRC stands now, there were some 200 people named as possibly liable for prosecution including some members of the ANC who had not responded to the TRC's request to supply them with information or whatever, or to come before it, do you think the time has now come that there will be a general amnesty or do you think that prosecutions will take place and if prosecutions take place will they be selective prosecutions or do you foresee a situation ever where Buthelezi who is damned by the commission, and Winnie Mandela who is damned by the commission, would actually be prosecuted or that the political consequences will ensure that they won't be and if you don't prosecute at that level it's not fair to prosecute at any other level?
PM For me the most important thing is the stability of our country, is the reconciliation of our people, is the creation of conditions that would enable us to move rapidly forward as we have said. We have, therefore, to do a cost benefit analysis of the TRC, we've got to ask ourselves what were our objectives when we set up the TRC; would prosecutions of people in high places and so on contribute to the objective of stabilising our country? Does it have a potential of giving the impression of a weak hand? Does it open up possibilities of conflicts where we had already stabilised areas? We've got to ask ourselves those questions and the answer then must really be we would do things to the extent that they would lead to maximum advance, they would advance our strategic priorities. For me it's not my strategic priority to take Chief Buthelezi to prison, it's not. It's not a strategic priority to take Winnie Mandela to prison.
POM Should people in the lower order of things who acted on instructions from Buthelezi or whatever, should they be prosecuted?
PM Well certainly those people who have acted and refused to reveal those things and it is revealed by others in terms of the murders that they directly committed. They could have refused, they should have refused and got killed by Buthelezi if that is what he would have done, because if they have refused remember, people who are being charged are people who have refused to disclose, but you are aware that as soon as they get the opportunity and they want to come back they are released. So I think it's a very difficult issue we are dealing with, it's not an easy thing. If I were the one to decide I would simply give blanket amnesty and move forward and build the country, I would do that if it was me. Well, things are not decided on the basis of an opinion of an individual. I do think that the government, the ANC, would be very sensitive about those issues which will create instability or else a balance has got to be found between the interests of the ordinary people we meet also. We can't do things in absolute disregard of the wishes of the ordinary people but at the same time there are times when leaders must lead, even when it is not pleasant, even if you would make many people angry sometimes we have to do so if it is right to lead the country to a peaceful future. Sometimes your own followers might kill you but if they kill you for the truth they had better do so instead of you lying to them because you want applause, you want applause and you think it's going to be nice to say things that you think people want to hear.
POM Did you ever foresee, let's assume there was again a general amnesty, do you ever foresee circumstances under which a Clive Derby-Lewis would be released or would that be such an explosive issue within the ANC itself that the question would simply never arise?
PM The ANC prides itself on a tradition of internal debate to arrive at solutions. If we are at any stage going to consider that general amnesty I think it's a matter that would be canvassed extensively, it would be debated in the organisation, to be debated with other partners in the alliance who would find a way of carrying the general public with us and once that has been done we will move ahead because there comes a time when we must show our people that although many of us have felt deep pains, gone through great agony deriving from the conduct of some of these elements, there comes a time when we have to weigh that against the broader interests of our society, the interests of the country. You see that situation in Angola. Maybe if people had approached it differently earlier on we wouldn't have had so many people dead in Angola, we would never have had this war continuing if we had approached it differently. We as South Africans would want to learn from situations of that nature and do things differently. So it would certainly cause a lot of animosity, it would cause bitterness but who said that decisions, major political decisions and strategic positions, are taken based on how pleasant those decisions are to those who listen to them or those who make them or how painful they are, decisions have got to be made. If you are taking forward the revolution, you are taking forward the revolution and you want to save society in the long term you would make those decisions. Sometimes you make those decisions, you as an individual or as a collective leadership you extract out of the way people reject but that's fine, at least you have been decisive on an issue rather than to pussyfoot because you want to say things that people want to hear. I must say that I have expressed my views on this issue and I have expressed my views in the manner in which I am expressing them inside our own structures of the organisation.
POM Last year you talked about how there had been we had been talking about the appointment of premiers versus their election, but you had made the point that since the ANC had come to power that a lot of people knew that by joining the ANC it was a matter of gaining access and in a way trying to buy influence. Do members of the NEC have to disclose what business interests they have, what Board of Directors they sit on if they sit on Boards of Directors of companies, or could you be the director of five different companies and no-one in the NEC would know it other than yourself? Is there a requirement that members do that?
PM In the NEC? No I don't think so but in government yes. If you are a minister, a premier and so on you have to disclose. In the ANC, I mean business people join the ANC, when they come they're directors and so on and people become businessmen.
POM But I'm talking about the NEC in particular or the PECs in the provinces which are the policy making organs of the organisation.
PM No, I have no recollection, I don't think we require that.
POM Do you think that such a law should be enacted?
POM A matter of ethics so if a person was advocating a certain position regarding the award of certain contracts or whatever you could say, well you have a direct interest in this, you sit on the board of the company.
PM But the ANC doesn't give contracts to people.
POM But it exerts if you're the senior leadership of the party you exert influence.
PM But we don't expect senior leaders of the ANC to go to government and say, hey, this company will be coming to you applying for this contract. Those things, there are mechanisms in the state to deal with all those things. There is a watchdog called the Tender Board, it deals with those things, so the NEC has never made that its business but maybe if we experience problems which require a particular remedy the ANC might want to discuss that matter.
POM Let me put it in the context of this, there's an issue before the NEC or before the National Working Committee and it's being debated and debated intensely and people are speaking to different sides of the argument, would you not like to know whether the person who is speaking and making certain arguments has actually a vested interest in putting those arguments forward, i.e. that the arguments that they are putting forward may be the arguments that advance the interests of particular businesses or particular sectors of the economy in which they have an interest, which pay them a sum of money to be on a board?
PM Well it has never occurred and I say that if that arises we probably would want to them look at mechanisms of controlling it. In my recollection that has never arisen so it remains a very hypothetical question.
POM So as a member of the ANC I could have 20, 30, 40 company directorships tucked under my belt and that would be my private business, not the business of the ANC or of the NEC?
PM Well if you are courteous you might care to inform the Secretary General and the President but it's not a requirement. Cyril Ramaphosa is a member of the NEC, I don't know how many boards of directors he's sat on.
POM 2814. Little joke there.
PM I don't know, it has never arisen as a problem for us and we don't provide a remedy for a disease that has not been diagnosed. When we have diagnosed it we would probably look for the kind of remedy necessary for it.
POM You had given the upside of the Mandela era, what would have been his failures? What would have been on his agenda to achieve that he failed to achieve?
PM It's difficult to say what he set out to achieve and he failed. From the outset Madiba and all of us understood that what we were dealing with was a long process, it's a long process and many of those things you would not be able to achieve in Madiba's lifetime, particularly as a president. Many things he wanted to achieve also depended on the rate at which people change attitudes. It's not like a minister with a programme with clear performance areas, targets set within time frames, it's not that easy. He's dealing with broad policy and strategic issues and that he has achieved in a large measure. There may well be certain weaknesses but on a balance of probabilities the achievements are far greater than weaknesses. You have to search for failures like one looking for a needle in a haystack.
POM I would say, for example, failure to attract direct foreign investment. It simply never materialised.
PM No there has been. We think that we attracted at least more than R20 billion of foreign investments. The Maputo Corridor, we worked on a joint programme with Zimbabwe, this project that is coming in Port Elizabeth, there are many, but besides it's not just the sole responsibility of Madiba and it doesn't depend on the Madiba magic, it also depends on the global economic situation, what was the global economic situation like. There was the problem of the collapse of the markets in south east Asia which impacted on Japan, on Russia, on countries like Brazil and so on, so the investors were very cautious about the emerging markets. It's not a problem of Madiba and unfortunately SA is one of the emerging markets so they needed to be a little bit more cautious about it. But if you look at strategic partnerships we established in SA Airways, the strategic partnerships, now this arms deal that we have dealt with, these are things that started with Madiba, in Madiba's term of office so those are some of the good things.
Of course, yes, I think we are still rather a bit soft, we are still lagging far behind compared to Botswana and others particularly in terms of issues of tax holidays and so on. Botswana is taking a lot of investments which should be coming here, they went to Botswana because they offer in some instances tax as low as 15% for people to invest. We can't offer that kind of protection. What do you say is the failure of Madiba apart from the investment because that one can't be correct.
POM What do you say? You must have
PM What do you say?
POM I would say that it was his failure to create a common shared vision, that for this country to move forward, for economic growth and development to occur, all sections of the community, black and white, had to work together.
PM But he provided that vision. The GEAR policy was that vision. Remember the statement
POM Whites are not prepared to sacrifice very much.
PM How many times has Madiba gone to address them, to say, "You are South Africans, you have the skills, you have the opportunities that your black compatriots did not have, we want you to stay in this country, we want you to help us build the economy." He has said it time without number.
POM He has said that but he hasn't said that part of the price you will have to pay for the past, part of the reparation that you will have to pay for the past, is that you will have to share some of the relatively large amount of wealth that you've accumulated with your less fortunate brothers.
PM He has done so.
POM I haven't heard him say that.
PM Maybe you haven't because you live very far.
POM I know, I hear him all the time saying to whites stay, stay, stay.
PM No he said it. He has not only done that, he has gone to them to grab them by the hand and say, "Come with me to this rural community in the North West, in the Transkei, in Eastern Cape, in Northern Province, build schools here, build a clinic here."
POM Why hasn't he, or isn't he doing it
PM Surely you don't expect him to say to them to give us money and go out and distribute money like hot fat cakes and give it to the poor. He is looking at sustainable development - build schools with us, build clinics. I have done it myself.
POM What's the greatest obstacle to sustainable development?
PM Well one of them obviously is spatial planning.
POM How about AIDS?
PM Well I am coming to that you see. Why didn't you just tell me that AIDS
POM I wanted to see what your order of priorities was.
PM Certainly AIDS is a major problem.
POM What's the difference between it being a major problem and it being an epidemic that is wiping out years of development, that will cut the average age
PM But it's a problem for the whole of the world.
POM It's a problem for southern Africa and in particular for sub-Saharan African and in particular this is the country in which AIDS is growing at a faster rate than any country in Africa with 1500
PM But that has to do also with poverty, low levels of literacy.
POM But why isn't it the number one priority? More people died, two million people on this continent last year, than died in all the wars on the continent only about 200,000 people in comparison.
PM Well who says it is not the number one priority?
POM Well when I asked you what it was, I said what was the biggest obstacle to sustainable development and you didn't say we've got to stop the spread of AIDS, you said spatial planning.
PM Well I give you credit, you are right. Maybe I should have used your mind to answer that question.
POM Oh don't be clever!
PAT It is true one of the key issues of this government is to really come out on this issue. Everyone walks around with their little pins but in terms of asserting leadership you are one of the few people who do.
PM You know we have set up that trust? Madiba is our patron of the AIDS Trust.
POM So what priority should AIDS have in the scheme of a Mbeki administration?
PM Well as a measure it must receive the highest priority and he has been leading, by the way, in building and creating partnerships. Right now we have received correspondence from the Deputy President to say that from 1 3 October all of us should be talking to religious groups, talking to communities about HIV/AIDS. You are aware that our Department of Education has taken the campaign into the schools now in a big way. Every school is now promoting this campaign on AIDS, raising awareness about HIV/AIDS. We are doing that. We have put it on the agenda of the ANC in the province. We're getting the branches of the ANC, we have asked the government to bring condoms and so on. We're giving them to our branches to distribute so that you can have large scale involvement in that thing. If you go to the minutes of my Provincial Executive Committee you will find it there. We have taken a decision that every politician, whenever you make a public statement, make a speech, that speech should not end without you saying something about AIDS and a lot of our people are doing that. Of course we have not reached the stage that Uganda has reached, Uganda and the Netherlands have reached. In Uganda the President is leading that campaign. We've got to reach that stage where the President leads it on a consistent and sustainable basis, not only making a statement now and then that we will see something again after six months or after a year, it must be on an ongoing basis that will deal with this issue. But I must admit that it's scary. In my province, in the area where Chief Lucas Mangope comes from, it's called Zeerust, incidences of HIV/AIDS increased by 114% in Zeerust.
POM Over what period? Over four years or - ?
PM Over two years. If you take Taung, which is on the border of the North West and Northern Cape, there incidences of AIDS increased by 181%, almost 200% increase. Rustenburg, which is my home town, there it increased by 25%. Then there is a small town called Wolmaranstad, there it has increased by 79%. So it's a worrisome problem, it's scary, it threatens to decimate the entire society. I was reading in the newspapers it is projected that 45,000 teachers in SA are HIV positive looking just at the statistics they get at schools. 45,000, which means very soon we are going to have a shortage of teachers. It's a problem.
POM How will a Mbeki administration differ from a Mandela one?
PM Well the difference I think is that in a large measure some of the political problems which were influencing the environment in which we are operating, divisions, mutual suspicions, the stature of SA internationally, consolidation of support within the alliance structures, all those things were problematic during the time of President Mandela. They have now in a large measure been resolved but also in the period of Nelson Mandela the major problem was what framework are we putting in place for governance so we had to deal with the legal framework, begin to develop a national strategic vision, all those things have been done. So Mbeki's era, therefore, is more the era of implementation and delivery and we characterised it correctly as a period of accelerating change and service delivery.
POM So the basic laws and structures are in place and now you concentrate on implementing.
PM Implement, co-ordinate, assess the effectiveness of the structures you put in place in 1994, tighten them a bit, get the best qualified public servants to be in government and move rapidly to restore confidence, consolidate confidence of business and so on. And the difference is that, and I agree with the media, that he is a manager, he is operating like a Chief Executive and the rest of us as his senior and junior managers. We must carry out our programmes within the performance areas identified, operate according to the targets that we have set, monitor feedback, evaluate. I think in that way we would be able to move rapidly forward.
POM So it will be a very pragmatic - ?
PM It will be a pragmatic one but I think also creating the kind of history that would really see SA becoming more active in the affairs of the African continent, influencing events at that level as well.
POM There are actually a lot more questions I would like to ask you but I know you have given me a lot of time. Is there a possibility I could see you again before I go home, which is about 15th December?
PM So you will be here until 15th December?
POM I'm going back to Northern Ireland for a week.
PM So you love SA.
POM I spend more time, despite what you think, in SA than I do in America or Northern Ireland.
PM We will see each other. You might even see me before 18th October because you had suggested also around that time.
POM OK, I'll call your office and say we have more to talk about because you could make a whole book on your own.
PAT Where Padraig says that how can you have a democracy in a dominant one-party reality, shouldn't the ANC be doing more to bring the voices of opposition into the institutions of government?
POM No, let me refine that question.
PAT Well that is what I'm interested in.
POM I know, but you defined the question wrong. The question would be that with the almost total monopoly of power that you exercise in parliament and in all forms of governance opposition voices are dismissed. The DP you yourself have dismissed, that's the official opposition party, the NNP is dismissed as being part of the old order, you have an electoral situation where Africans in particular if they don't want to vote for the ANC they have no alternative. That's not your fault but they're certainly not going to turn around and vote for the NP who had them under the jackboot of oppression for the last 50 years. You have now in fact invoked in your Deployment Committee of placing people in strategic positions in both sections of civil society and the parastatals, in fact you are increasing your hold on power at all levels of society. Now this may be justified in the name of transformation, doesn't it also tinker with the outer edges of a democracy and don't you also tend to dismiss all opposition to what transformation processes the ANC puts forward as being people who are inherently anti-transformation or people who want to 'destroy' the transformation process? Don't you exercise too much power for the growth of a viable multiparty democracy?
PM This revolution has been about power, our struggle was about power. Transformation has got to do with power but transformation has got to do also with legitimacy. Legitimacy derives also from a broad consensus of the public around a particular programme so if people vote in the large majority, the ANC is not forcing anybody to vote for them.
POM I know that but there's a phrase that
PM We win them by the force of our ideas, the correctness of our ideas. Everybody is free. We win the battle in the market place of ideas so that we have won.
POM Do you foresee a situation, Popo, do you foresee a situation where the average African who lives in a township or in a rural area, if he's disappointed with the ANC, is going to turn around and vote for the NP? Be honest.
PM Well there are a few of them.
POM How many?
PM The NP must give people reason to vote for it.
POM No, I didn't ask you that. I asked you do you see - ?
PM But it's not my responsibility. If the parties are not able to give reason to give people cause to vote for them they must
POM Do you see the average intelligent black person who has been under the jackboot of an oppressive state turning around and within a period of five or ten years voting, or trying to vote, the party that oppressed them back into government? Is that logical?
PM It is not logical but human beings and political parties are not static. They change as the political environment in which they are operating change. If they don't want to go the route of the dinosaur then they will change, so if they do a correct analysis of the situation, and I don't know what correct policies they will adopt, but people would vote for policies, they would also vote for the track record of leaders and parties according to the track record. So I don't want to say to you it would never happen. I wouldn't say so.
POM In the foreseeable future?
PM Well I don't know, it depends on what happens in those parties. They have to do something to earn the credit, to earn the respect of people.
POM Isn't it a fact that if you look at the election results and you analyse the election results, when you're through with all the theory and all of that you have a situation where almost every African voted for the ANC and almost every white person voted for either the NP or the DP or a few for the UDM, and the degree of racial crossover amounts in the scheme of things to just about zero and that's a fact?
PM Well I have not done that analysis. I know that there are Africans who voted for the UDM, there is a significant number that voted, the coloured people, who voted for the NP.
POM I'm saying Africans, I didn't say coloured.
PM But I think there is a significant number but I haven't done the statistical analysis. But as could and should be expected many of those people who voted NP would be white and as could be expected people who suffered, who saw the ANC fighting for their liberation, would logically vote for the ANC. It's correct but it doesn't mean it is not democracy. Who said that democracy means you must only win 50% of the seats or 40% of the seats? Any party that goes into an election wants to win overwhelmingly. If it gets 80% it would go for 80%. Margaret Thatcher has been winning like that and nobody raised that as a problem for democracy.
POM You told me this last year. But you said transformation, it's about power. Do you believe that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely?
PM When you leave it without checks and balances even within the party, where you have a dictatorship that's what you will have.
POM Well if one party has a monopoly?
PM Where you have a Hitler you have that, but where you have a party with internal democratic processes
POM But if you have a party that not just sets out to influence the structures of governance but sets out also to bring under its broad umbrella the organs of civil society, where it's tentacles begin to reach into every part of society in the name of transformation, is that not a dangerous thing?
PM No it's not dangerous. I have said to you if we agree that the major challenge facing SA is one of transformation, addressing the backlogs, then you want to build a popular movement for transformation and building that popular movement means you should be able to build a broad coalition of forces under the leadership of the ANC, all of them sharing the perspectives on transformation. That is important. It is important even to the investors. The investors say if there is a popular support for the GEAR policy of the ANC then there will be stability in that country, then we can invest in that country. But you see some people when it suits them they say, no, no there is no stability, when there are many groups arguing in different directions because they frustrate transformation anyway. But again they say no, there is no stability because the ANC is not able to get everybody to accept the policy. When we get them to accept policies you say no it's not democracy but when Margaret Thatcher gets people to Thatcherism it's fine, it's OK, it can be done like that. I didn't hear much about the debate that there was no democracy when Mugabe won 80% in 1980.
POM Well there never was any democracy. Do you believe there ever was democracy in Zimbabwe?
PM No, but where have we seen people nit-picking, checking? In Sweden? Norway? How much did the party win? If it wins 65% and then you say there is no democracy? I have never heard that sort of a thing, it's mind boggling. Democracy means giving people the opportunity to market their ideas, to canvas votes and giving the public the right to choose. We don't intimidate anybody. We protected them in terms of the constitution. Now why do you want to say when members of the public make a choice of their own through a ballot, now you say that that is not democracy.
POM I'm not saying that. Patricia is saying that I'm saying that.
PM You say it's a threat, now you say the ANC wants to deploy people. Yes, there has to be a strategic deployment. We have a problem now in the army and the police force because they are led by people who are not committed to transformation in many respects, who are still looking back, who want to undermine the new government. Why does Bill Clinton when he takes over from the Republicans remove that entire administration staff and he brings his own staff? He brings his advisors and gets people out of universities to come and work with him. Why do Republicans pack when Bill Clinton, the Democrats take over? It's because you can't implement the policies of your party with a staff that belongs elsewhere. You can't.
POM I'll see you again. I'll call you.