The Presidential Years


PM: [Introduces him as ‘the undisputed world champion of peace, justice and democracy’]

[Panel: Allister Sparks -- AS, Barney Mtombothi -- BM, Debra Patta -- DP, Ben McLennan – BMc and Richard Downes -- RD]

PM [about his feelings as he prepares to step down from the leadership of the ANC]

MANDELA: One of the things I have missed very much is the opportunity to sit down and think. The tight programme that I have, as President of the organisation does not allow me that opportunity I also miss the opportunity to read which I had in prison, as ironical as that might appear to be. But the opportunity to sit down and think is part and parcel of your political work and I have missed that tremendously. And finally, the opportunity for me to sit down with my children and grandchildren and to listen to their dreams and to try and help them as much as possible. That is how I feel on the verge of my stepping down as president of the ANC. I have been in very good company and I will miss it

AS: [what will the conference’s verdict will be on nearly a full term of the first ANC government, the Mandela government? Have you achieved what you set out to achieve]

MANDELA: Well firstly I would not like to be separated from the team, which leads the African National Congress. We have developed over the years the principal of collective leadership in which we discuss issues thoroughly in our structures and any of the spokesmen of the organisation expresses the views of that collective team and therefore what I say is not something which has been done by me as an individual, it is something which has been done by a collective. And I think that we have made commendable progress. We have introduced democratic values in this country and they are enshrined in the constitution that governs this country. It mirrors the aspirations and the hopes of all South Africans, irrespective of their background. We have also included in that constitution a Bill of Rights where every South African again irrespective of his ethnic group can appeal to if his rights, his or her rights as a citizen are threatened or violated. Now we have taken precautions to ensure that that Bill of Rights is not just a piece of paper, which can be torn up at any time. We have set up structures to ensure that it is a living document. We have set up a Public Protector, a Human Rights Commission, which is composed by some of the most outstanding citizens of this country. We have the TRC, again composed of very leading citizens of this country. We have above all created the Constitutional Court, which has been able to override even the decisions of the executive, including the President. So we have delivered on democracy in this country. But apart from that we have delivered basic services to our people and especially if you take into account the warning, which I gave on countless occasions in the run-up towards the election as I went around the country. I said we want to better the lives of our people, to create jobs, build houses, schools, clinics, introduce electricity and water and I went further to say that to deliver these services is not an even which can be achieved overnight, it is a process which might last even as long as five years. If you take that into account and I was doing so deliberately because I was aware of the problems that we are going to have. First planning because what we thought as an organisation was not on every occasion, coinciding with what the people in a particular area wanted. We, for example thought that houses were a priority, jobs. You go to a particular area, especially the countryside and you say, ‘What exactly do you want?’ And he people invariably say, ‘water’. In the cities it is something that is taken for granted but in the rural areas the question of water is a matter of life and death. So that the first year was taken up by planning so that we should deliver services which the people themselves would like to have. We have now been able to bring water to 1.7 million people throughout the country. We have introduced electricity, 1 000 connections per day; we have built houses; we have embarked on a programme of urban renewal and all these things under very limited constraints because we have inherited a debt of no less than R250 billion as we have said on a number of occasions. We are now servicing that debt at a rate of more than R40 billion a year. That is R40 billion we do not have to build houses, to create jobs and so on. We have been able to reduce the budget deficit to about 5% and we are on course to reach a deficit of 4% next year. And all these things are done by men and women who have never had the experience of government before, who have never been trained for that but who know what is right, who listen to our people. And we have, in all fairness and with all humility; I think we have done far more than many people expected.

AS: What are your main areas of disappointment?

MANDELA: Well I have had little disappointment, I would have course have liked that we were in a position to deliver more services and when you think of the fact that we are dealing with patterns of thought which have been there, which have been influenced for over three centuries, what we have achieved is a near miracle. I have little regret in me and I think I’m expressing the views of my colleagues, because I want to remind you again that I must not be isolated from the collective, which is responsible for these achievements. They are men and women of amazing ability and who have and humility and who realise they are the servants of the masses of the people in this country. The only regret is that we do not have sufficient resources to deliver these services as quickly as we might like to. And I might also add that the private sector has responded very well in regard to the delivery of services in this country. There is not a single corporate body I have gone to and I asked to build clinics and schools on their own who have refused to do so. So I am retiring very happy firstly because I think that we have made progress towards delivering services; nation-building and promoting the spirit of reconciliation.

DP: [Asks for his personal view of looking back, was it worth all the suffering]

MANDELA: Well Debra, I haven’t suffered to the same extent as other people have. Behind you there is Pallo Jordan who was robbed of his youth, spent most of his time in exile under extremely difficult conditions whilst I was relaxing in prison. And our people in exile had a real difficult time. And people underground also suffered far more than some of us who were in prison who got three meals a day. It doesn’t matter that at first the diet that we got was not fit for human consumption. But nevertheless we could have a meal three times a day. Whereas many of our people who were actually leading this organisation at the most difficult time were facing serious problems, they suffered far more. And I think that we have been able, the ANC has been able to field a group of men and women I think in terms of the standards of this country are head and shoulders above many. And I therefore look back with real pride at the sacrifices that have been made and at the achievements, the victories that we have scored.

BMc: Asks for his assessment of Thabo Mbeki

MANDELA: Well, you are now talking in a few days’ time I’ll be addressing him as My President. I will do so with a full, with a what-you-call, I will do so without reservation because he is a man of exceptional qualities. Very respectful, very warm, very sensitive to the suffering of our people and he is the type, he is a diplomat – very much unlike me. Whilst I was fighting warders in jail and there of course you have to use the male fist, he was together with Pallo and others – they were meeting heads of state, important members of the government and they have learned the art of diplomacy. And I have no doubt that the African National Congress will have a leader who, like my predecessor Oliver Tambo, will raise this organisation, to put it on a level it has never reached before.

RD: Had Madiba been part of any discussion about Winnie Mandela’s future in politics?

MANDELA: I am a member of the ANC and I belong to a branch, I belong to a province and I participate in discussions but there are occasions when I decide not to participate even when I attend a meeting. And I won’t go into details but any issue which has been brought to my attention and where my views are wanted, I will either express my views and if it is a matter where I feel that I might exercise an undue influence on my colleagues I will refrain from participating. If you don’t mind I wouldn’t like to be pressed beyond that.

RD: Asks about whether he thinks Jacob Zuma will make a good Deputy President

MANDELA: Oh there is no doubt about that he is our National Chairman and you must see him in action in that capacity presiding over the meetings of the National Executive of the ANC. He is absolutely outstanding, very gentle. Where I would use the fist he smiles and he is very generous and I always get the impression and I have said so publicly in our meetings of the National Executive. I have said, ‘You are too generous’ because he tends to give everybody as much time as that person wants. And the result therefore is that sometimes our meetings instead of taking 30 minutes they take about three hours. But he is very, he is a person who is full of self-respect, who is patient, who is calm but absolutely highly talented and I have a lot of respect for him.

BM: Asks about notion that Buthelezi was offered Deputy Presidency as part of a peace deal in KZN

MANDELA: I am not aware that Minister Buthelezi has been offered the position of Deputy Presidency either in the ANC or the government I’m not aware of that. But if he were offered that position I would be happy about that because now that we are busy building national unity we want people who are talented, who are experienced. Whilst we were busy with the resistance movement Minister Buthelezi was busy in government even though we condemned the Bantustan, the system of Bantustans and he was involved in that. But nevertheless in the process he acquired a great deal of experience and skills in government and therefore he is very useful in the cabinet. But we have not offered him any such position

BM: Minister Mzimela wrote an article calling for a merger between the ANC and the IFP

MANDELA: Well this would of course be a very progressive development that the people of SA must speak with one voice. It’s not just the unity, the merger, between the IFP and the ANC. We would like a form of relationship with other political parties where we could be able to speak with one voice in addressing major national issues in this country. It is in the interest of a country that has just crawled out from a painful past of tensions, divisions, conflict and bloodshed that we should be able to pool our energies, our resources in order to address these problems. So I would welcome a merger between the IFP and the ANC as a first step to that unity which I would like to see.

PM: asked if he had ever discussed this with Buthelezi

MANDELA: Well, the leadership in the province has been very busy; both the leadership of the ANC and the IFP has been involved continuously in the search for peace. And of course I have had occasion together with my colleagues in the ANC to have discussions with the IFP on the question of unity. If you’ll remember, in February 1991 I called a meeting of the leadership of both the ANC and the IFP to discuss that question and when nothing happened I again invited Minister Buthelezi in April of that year and I travelled all the way to Durban to discuss the question with him. And we have [had] since then countless meetings in which we have discussed the question of violence, the question of unity and yes we have done so.

BMc: On what basis would such unity be?

MANDELA: No, it’s not a question of black unity that we are looking for, it s a question of unity of the entire country and that would be the guiding principle and the perception that we are out for black unity is not actually correct, it’s a perception of the press not ours. We are busy with the task of uniting the entire nation and that is why we decided on a government of national unity. We were not aiming just at black unity we were aiming at the unity of the entire country. For us to call for unity, for a government of national unity with the National Party, which has been guilty of such a gross human violation [sic] is an indication of the type of unity that we want in this country. We have gone beyond the question of ethnicity of uniting just a particular group; our idea is to unite the entire country.

AS: asks if unity with IFP not leading us in the direction of yet another African one-party state?

MANDELA: Well, I do not think so because the structures that we set up are dictated by the specific conditions in a particular country and if you attended discussions in the structures do the ANC from branch level to national you will see that this perception is a wrong one based more or less on lack of information as to what happens inside our organisation. Democracy in our country means that each and everybody must be able to express himself or herself freely without fear and in our discussion we normally start from opposite extremes. And some of the views that are being expressed are worse than those that are being expressed by other political parties. And that is democracy; democracy just does not mean 100 political parties. It means that problems must be looked at from a holistic approach and when the leadership of an organisation surrounds itself with powerful and independent people who can criticise even the president of that organisation without fear then you have democracy really functioning. Some of the organisations which are claiming that to have a multi-party democracy is the essence and must be followed in this country observe no democracy amongst themselves.

AS: But some critics such as Bantu Holomisa have been expelled

MANDELA: Well which organisation has not enforced discipline? Quote me one organisation that has not expelled people in this country, one political organisation that has not done so. It’s something that is done throughout the world because an organisation can only carry out its mandate if there is discipline and where there is no discipline there can be no real progress in addressing the problems of the country

AS: So what is the balance between discipline and internal democracy?

MANDELA: Unlike other political organisations in this country, we have set up structures. We have set up a disciplinary committee – a complaint is made, a person is charged, he appears before that committee. He has got the opportunity of defending himself, and at the end of that the disciplinary committee takes a decision. That decision is referred to the National Executive. We examine it and if we feel that the disciplinary committee has acted democratically and it has observed the natural principles of giving the other side the opportunity to be heard we confirm that. Tell me one organisation in this country that has established such a procedure. It is the fairest

RD: is the effect a polarization of politics along race lines?

MANDELA: Well unfortunately the population of South Africa is such that the blacks are in the majority and when I talk about blacks I talk about Africans, coloureds and Indians. We are in the majority. If you want to change the situation then we can deport about three-quarters of the blacks in this country [LAUGHTER] but that’s an impossible task and political structures reflect the concrete conditions existing in that country and there is no way in which we can avoid a black majority in this country. But we are already tackling that question because we are the one organisation where a South African citizen, before he reads any of our publications, can look at the structure of the ANC – it’s national leadership, at the structure of the government. You will find that it represents all the population groups in this country. And therefore the fear, there is no justification for the fear that you have expressed because we are the one organisation which both from the point of view of theory and practice is developing non-racialism in this country

RD: IFP’s policy are in many ways at polar opposites to the ANC are these unity discussions purely along race lines?

MANDELA: No, that is again a misconception, a lack of information of the policies both of the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party. The ANC believes in a market economy if there was any doubt about that. If you compare the views and the policies of the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Trade and Industry, the Minister of Labour. You will never have any impression that we do not believe in a market economy, but of course we in the process of transformation there are certain decisions that we have to rake. There are certain spheres of our economy where the government must be involved. And that has happened in other countries including Britain. After the last word war all the leading countries in Europe could not avoid government participation in the economy because it was the only way of addressing the destruction that has been brought about by the war. We have gone through a similar experience because apartheid was a war against the people and therefore the government itself had to take the initiative in addressing certain economic problems in this country and of organising our economy. But we fully believe in a market economy. So there is no discrepancy between the IFP and the ANC on that point. On the question of the traditional leaders I was having at home there from 9 o clock this morning the two Kings of the Ndebeles and about five other chiefs discussing mutual problems which they have brought to us they have confidence in the ANC because they know that our policy is one of respecting traditional leaders and that is why we created a House of Traditional Leaders which are participating in government today. So the two that you have issued are no different between the two organisations. We speak with one voice

DP: Reconciliation has been a hallmark of your Presidency, has everybody responded in a way you would have liked and if you hadn’t had to fight an apartheid struggle and be a politician, what is it you would liked to have been

MANDELA: Well the last one is a hypothetical question and it’s a waste of time to discuss it because we have had apartheid and my whole approach, my whole outlook has been influenced by the system of apartheid. But as far as reconciliation is concerned, it’s also a misconception that I am the only person who believes in this. I did not actually participate in the negotiations in Kempton Park. We were represented by people like Cyril Ramaphosa, like Thabo Mbeki, like Pallo Jordan. They are the people who actually put the whole question of reconciliation in the course of those negotiations. But of course I believe in that and because of my position of President, what I say has attracted more attention than what my colleagues with whom I work, who may have originated the whole idea, not me. Because we are a collective. Now, the question for example of suspending the armed struggle did not come from me, it came from the late Joe Slovo. And when he came forward to talk to me about this idea that, ‘Look let us suspend the armed struggle in the course of these negotiations, we will give ammunition to De Klerk to go back to his people to say ‘here is the result of negotiations’,’ I rejected that. But later in the night I felt that Joe Slovo had a very good idea and I called him back. And when he explained it I accepted it. Not my idea, the idea of one of my colleagues. And people like Zuma, like Thabo Mbeki are the people who piloted the whole idea of discussing with other political parties including people like General Viljoen and therefore any idea that reconciliation comes from one man is completely wrong. The people who are going to follow me are the people who have initiated and who have tried to apply the policy of reconciliation. Thabo Mbeki, I have not the slightest doubt, regards the unity of all our people as a priority and he will carry out that policy.

PM: what has been your major contribution? That which we can say is the stamp of Nelson Mandela?

MANDELA: Well that is something which is really, that’s a question that should be put to others not to me. Because, don’t tempt me to beat my chest and to say this is what I have done. I have told you before, I have told you before that when I make a mistake I normally say it’s these young chaps. And when they do something good I say this is the man [pointing at himself]. That is my tactic. Otherwise this is the question that you should put out there.

BMc: PW and refusals re the TRC. Earlier this week you said you were making personal efforts to defuse the situation. What are those efforts and why are you taking such trouble over a man who represents so much that you were opposed to?

MANDELA: Well, one of the problems that we have is that many people including journalists are content with what happens on the surface. I am tempted to feel sometimes that the capacity to research, to investigate is undeveloped amongst some of our opinion makers. I can just say without going into detail that it’s also a mistake to think that this transformation just took place without any hassle. We were faced with a situation of a civil war here where the right wing decided to stop the election by violence. We had to negotiate, to use people who were influential, who could stop that. I am not going to say any particular individual assisted us in that regard. But had to use people who were our mortal enemies in order to defuse that. And we have to think about that when problems arise. I have spoken to PW Botha twice on this question about the TRC. I’ve spoken to all his children; I have briefed the South African Defence Force, the South African Police Services, the Dutch Reformed Church and others because I know a little more than you do as to what is happening below the surface. And it’s a serious mistake to look at matters purely from the point of view of what you see and which everybody notices. There are issues which one has to consider which many people are unaware of. It is necessary to try and defuse this situation. But our determination to do so cannot go so far as to allow people to defy the law. I have done my bit and I can assure you that PW Botha is not above the law and I will never allow him to defy the TRC. And I have urged his family to help to prevent his humiliation. And if he continues along this line then the law must take its course. There is no question about that at all.

BM: Is GEAR negotiable?

MANDELA: [CHUCKLES] Well, we have the alliance. This problem has arisen in the alliance. Now, the alliance is there because we have got common problems: we are all faced with the question of the lack of opportunities for the blacks in this country; the question of ignorance, lack of skills and that is the basis for the existence of the African national Congress, Cosatu, which is concerned with the workers, the Party which is also concerned with the workers. And we have got that common platform but at the same time you must understand that we are an alliance. An alliance means that it’s a group of totally independent that have their opinion. That is how we have functioned. The Communist Party is different from the ANC so is Cosatu different from the ANC and therefore we start from different positions on any issue. I have no doubt that as far as GEAR is concerned which is the fundamental policy of the ANC, we will eventually see eye-to-eye. We may have to concede here and to amend this because we do that with any issue, any Bill. We pass a Bill, it becomes law but in the course of implementation we find that we did not consider certain things. And we are many and there is no reason why as an alliance we cannot accommodate one another. If one organisation has got a very strong point, which is a cause of concern for them, we will be able to reach a consensus on those questions. Yes, GEAR is a fundamental policy of the ANC and we don’t apologise for that but at the same time we are concerned, we are keen to address the concerns of our allies. And where we feel that they have a strong point, we will accommodate them.

BM: what about the argument that the ANC has ditched the RDP in favour of GEAR?

MANDELA: Well, there is no difference between the two all of them address the same issue. The RDP has not been ditched; it was only been transferred from one office to the office of the Deputy President. The two are complementary there is no conflict between the two

AS: I couldn’t help noticing when you were talking about Mr PW Botha your finger went up

MANDELA: [SMILES] I’m very sorry, I apologise for that

AS: The ANC has always been a broad church that glue has gone, the struggle is over. You are now about to withdraw the glue of your own towering presidency of the organisation. Far from moving towards a one-party state, is there not a possibility that the ANC may begin to disintegrate into its component parts?

MANDELA: Well, we are not going to predict what is likely to happen in the future. It is possible that that may occur but you must understand that the problems of transformation that we are facing requires the ANC to remain as it is. Not only that, as I have said on countless occasions, it requires that the people of South Africa as a whole should speak with one voice. And national unity is one of the critical strategies that we have to adopt if we are going to face and resolve the legacy of apartheid. And I have no intention, I don’t think that we are going to make the ANC in the near future a single party composed of people who think uniformly on any issue. It must remain for some time a broad church and I think it would be a calamity at the present moment to think in terms of changing the structure of the ANC.

DP: How do you see your role next year in your last year of presidency?

MANDELA: Well firstly I must remove a wrong impression. I will still remain, despite stepping down as president of the ANC, I will still remain a member of the ANC and I’ll still go to Shell House on Mondays and carry out whatever instructions my new President will give me. So I will be part and parcel of the organisation. Secondly as far as the presidency of the country I have already pointed out that I am a de jure President and Thabo Mbeki is already a de facto President of the country. I am pushing everything to him and I’m a ceremonial president. They can ask me any day to hand over all powers to Thabo Mbeki – he is the man who is already running the government of the country. And my stepping down will be very smooth it won’t bring about any disruption. I will enjoy my last year as ceremonial president

DP: I was going to say you look very happy about stepping down

MANDELA: [LAUGH] No, I’ll be 81 and I have never thought that a man in his Seventies should take over the presidency of an organisation like the ANC, which is such a vigorous organisation with highly talented leadership in all levels, national, provincial and local branch level. And this the organisation that is going to lead the country to the 21st century; there is no doubt about that. And I’m happy to have been a member of such an organisation. And as long as I have the strength I will continue being a member of this organisation and helping them where they require me to help.

PM: Is there a special position being carved for you?

MANDELA: Well, those are the decision makers at the back there [PALLO, MAMOEPA, MASEBE] they will decide what role I should play. If you want more clarity on the [matter] put it to Pallo Jordan.

AS: What about king?

MANDELA: I beg your pardon

AS: What about king?


MANDELA: Well I don’t want to deal with that question because I think that many people will oppose that very vigorously. You know kings are born and not made and there are kings, many kings in this country. I think we have enough.

DP: Maybe Mozambique could become the tenth province if you became king


RD: Asks how is his relationship with Graca Machel going to develop?

MANDELA: Well, the women today are very sensitive to men expressing opinions on matters that involve them without consulting them. If she were here I would say to her, ‘What do you think my answer should be?’ Unfortunately she is not here. I think we should postpone that question for the moment when she will be with me.

RD: But you are known for your unconventional approach to such matters. Would you like to tie the knot?

MANDELA: Well, I have pointed that out in my culture we don’t discuss these questions with young people. [PALLO LAUGHS OUT LOUD] Perhaps if Allister put the question I might feel tempted to answer. But with young people

AS: May I put it then?


MANDELA: Well you see if I have to discuss this question with you it should be away from youngsters.

AS: I’ll get my scoop later then

MANDELA: Very good

BM: Why are we selling nuclear technology to China and you happy that South Africa will have no nuclear capability?

MANDELA: No, if there is a contract between South Africa and any other country on any issue supply of technology, that doesn’t mean to say we are not going to have people who are going to have that skill, that technology you are sharing what you possess as a country with another country. It doesn’t mean to say that then you are deprived of that technology.

BMc: Many people regard you as a demi-god, as a superman as a magician

MANDELA: That’s tragic

BMc: Are you ever over-awed by your own reputation. Do you ever have moments of self doubt?

MANDELA: Actually the ANC, and I’m not being just modest about this, the ANC has produced political giants. Men like Chief Albert Luthuli, was such a gifted person that the question was asked, ‘What will happen when Luthuli goes?’ Nobody knew about Oliver Tambo. I knew him because we had been at college together, we were amongst those who formed the ANC Youth League and then I became a partner, we became partners. I knew that this was one of the most highly qualified persons that we have in the ANC but few people knew that. And when Luthuli disappeared from the scene Oliver Tambo emerged as a political giant. And I have no doubt that Thabo Mbeki will play that role. Well therefore I am not worried because I know that this is a misconception, there are leaders of the ANC who were head and shoulder above what I’ve achieved.

66676MT_1997-12-14-clip#06-IVD as ANC President on eve of 50th National Conference

Original Source

SABC Information Library, Johannesburg.