Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. Picture: PUXLEY MAKGATHO

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe speaks exclusively to Business Day political editor Sam Mkokeli about e-tolling, labour unrest and the ANC’s leadership elections and future.

To kick off, maybe we can start with the issue of the day: the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) are in the streets protesting against e-tolls. What is the government’s response and what is going to happen next?

With e-tolling you will know that I chaired the inter-ministerial committee that was tasked with engaging stakeholders. The very first engagement was with Outa and with (Outa chairman Wayne) Duvenage, and we’ve had more than four sessions because he comes in various guises. He is the co-ordinator of Outa, and when we meet the Road Freight Association he comes with his technical person who understands the figures. So our first sessions really were to listen to the concerns, and we said, "We want to hear you."

With Outa it was really its affiliate Savrala (the Southern African Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association) that co-ordinates the rental businesses that raised its issues, and the Road Freight Association did the same. Their concerns were genuine, so we could go back and say these were genuine concerns and Sanral (the South African National Roads Agency) had to respond to them positively.

There was a process that resulted in the tariffs being reduced and caps being placed at a lower level and so on, as a consequence of these engagements. We engaged with the South African Council of Churches and Cosatu. Most of the bodies that we engaged with ended up understanding and accepting once their concerns were taken care of. Mr Duvenage did not.

Mr Duvenage also has the court case that’s in progress. However, in the stakeholders’ meetings it was he and a Greek gentleman who represented consumers. The Greek gentleman couldn’t specifically spell out what their concerns were, but said consumers were burdened and saw this as the last straw on top of a whole load of other tariffs such as electricity and the general cost of living. They don’t look at this from the point of view of Sanral being an agency that constructs and maintains the national roads with the responsibility of raising finance on the basis of its own balance sheet. As consumers they’re saying, "We are burdened with all of these things and now you are adding…"

That gentleman who said he represented consumers — we don’t know exactly how he gathered his mandate and gave feedback to consumers, but we accepted his credentials. With Cosatu we also had several sessions, and in the last one we responded to all their questions. At the end they said they could not support e-tolls and they were bound by a resolution they had adopted that put them in opposition to the introduction of e-tolling. They said that until their central executive committee met to review, their public stance was that they opposed e-tolls.

We accepted that but reminded them this was in the wake of the meeting in which they participated that was convened by the president and other stakeholders to debate how best to present South Africa to outsiders. There the broad agreement was that no one should talk South Africa down. We said we understood they were bound by their resolution but that in their acts of opposing please remember that there was the commitment not to come across negative for the overall image of South Africa. We parted on that note with the understanding that when they next met they would look at the facts and adopt a position. Of course the court case is now with us, so the technical issues will be ventilated in the court arguments and we will take it from there.

Is that why the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Bill was withdrawn from Parliament last week?

In parliamentary language, there are matters that are "below the line" and matters that are "above the line", and that’s about the order and programme for the day. If it’s below the line, it’s a further order paper; if it’s above the line, it’s on the order paper — so there is provision in Parliament for a bill that’s on the programme to be amended the day before it is debated. If any of the parties proposes an amendment the day before, it’s then necessary for the committee considers those amendments.

This bill was on the order paper for the last session. The opposition parties, aware of this opportunity, immediately suggested amendments, which then meant the bill could not be debated on that day and had to be postponed because the committee on transport had to consider those amendments. That’s how it was deferred.

We’ve had ratings downgrades that caused much consternation in South Africa. Did we underestimate investor concerns about South Africa? What is being done to repair our reputation abroad since the downgrades?

There are investors and there are investors. There are short-term investors who speculate moving money from one market to the next at short notice, and then there are the investors who take a long-term view. Investors who take a long-term view are fine — only the day before yesterday I met some people from London that are investing in the gold mining sector and they are happy, but those are long-term investors in mining who believe they can outlive any aberration.

Short-term investors are a problem. Added to that, the national Treasury has to borrow money on a weekly basis to address cash-flow challenges, so it has to be on the road talking to short-term investors, which is where the concern is. The downgrades make those borrowings more expensive and make the task of the Treasury more difficult. In fact, that category of investor is the most difficult because they can tell you to jump into a lake and you can’t argue with them. You need the money and they have the power and authority to move the money, so if they say they are not happy with what they hear or observe, that matters to them, and as politicians we may make all kinds of statements but the people in the Treasury carry the burden.

The current domestic political environment has farm workers up in arms in the Western Cape, and we’ve seen the Marikana shootings, and the unions are out in the streets opposing e-tolls. Does this make it difficult to raise funds?

It does make it difficult for the Treasury to raise money, as I was saying, but of course the right of unions to be in the streets is universal. In France, the unions grounded flights when they hosted the Fifa World Cup. That’s accepted, that industrial relations are also subject to ups and downs from time to time. The situation of farm workers is seasonal and doesn’t happen all the time. They are moving into harvest time, so it’s also seasonal workers. To the extent they feel their earnings are too little, they have the right to withdraw their labour. It is when they burn things down that one runs into difficulties, and that creates problems. In fact, it reminded me of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, which is about fruit pickers in the same setting — a book that was written many years ago in the US.

What do you make of this wave of public unrest? Why do we find ourselves in this situation and has the government’s response so far been enough?

There is a positive as well as a negative side to it. On the positive side, when you have an active population that doesn’t accept second best, that doesn’t accept shoddy treatment, that in itself is an indication that there is a need for an improvement to be effected. In other words, they will not just lie down and die in the face of abuse and deprivation, and they will rise. I think it’s a positive, but the negative side is that if we take the farm workers, they are not properly unionised and fall through the cracks when it comes to housing.

I’ve encountered some farm workers where the parents were labourers and tenants on the farms, and they were born and lived there and had no schooling, and started working on the farm at an early age, but the farm changed hands at some stage and when the new owners took over the farm, they came with their own outlook. At the end we find these labourers are thrown off the farm and it is at that time that they start worrying about accessing an identity document and so on. It’s off the beaten track and hidden from the public eye, and I’m not surprised their conditions are worse than those of prisoners.

It’s worse when payment is the "dop" system, where there is no prospect of improving their conditions unless as a government from a social development point of view we should be ensuring that their children, like all other children, have access to basic education. That’s the only way to rescue those families from the vicious cycle of grinding poverty from generation to generation. The government has that responsibility — it can’t be left to them.

Surely their demand for R150 per day is justified?

It is justified — but that’s not a solution in itself. It’s justified from the point of view of those workers seeing an improvement in their take-home wage, but there are many underlying problems that ought to be attended to.

The ANC is 100 years old and going into its next century. There has been a lot of talk about modernising, a "new decade" and renewal, but attempts at modernising and reforming the electoral processes were rejected by delegates at the policy conference. I’d like to know your ideas about modernising the ANC. Do you feel there is room and the will within the ANC to do so?

There is room for modernising the ANC, but on whether there is the will the jury is still out. We identified these problems as early as 2000 when we convened the national general council when we were aware that even as the ANC was at the forefront of transforming the state and society, it was itself undergoing transformation silently and there was no handle on the transformation of the ANC itself because it was a different organisation.

The national liberation movement attracted people who were prepared to sacrifice, but a ruling party doesn’t necessarily attract people who are willing to sacrifice — and therein lies the distinction. The ANC had a broad appeal not only among blacks in South Africa but also among white people representing democratic values to which everyone aspired. Now, increasingly, in terms of the demographics of South Africa we are not making sufficient inroads in giving expression to our strategic goal, from our strategy and tactics document, to create a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South African nation.

Embedded in that strategic goal are tasks as well. There is the task of uniting all the people of South Africa. We are not succeeding in that regard. There is always the task of democratising South Africa. We are trying but from time to time we have to be pulled back into line by the judiciary. The renewal means that the ANC should be at the forefront in giving effect to these strategic goals. If I were to turn the question around and ask if you find the ANC attractive enough to become a member, your answer would give a clearer explanation of the basis of our concerns.

Does that not relate to the structures of the ANC and the branches, which are the lifeblood of the ANC at grassroots level? Would a weakening of the branches be at the beginning of the difficulties the ANC is experiencing as a ruling party?

It is because our branches are ward based, and some wards, particularly in rural areas, are quite weak — not in terms of the numbers of people who reside there, but spatially. To convene a meeting, people from one village should move to another village to attend. In those cases there is provision for the sub-division of branches into units to make it easy for members to come together.

Members join an organisation for a purpose, and the distinction between members and supporters lies in the fact that rights and obligations go together, where with supporters it’s about rights and there are no obligations. If you are a supporter, you don’t have to do what the ANC says. As and when you feel like it, you can attend a rally and vote for the ANC and so on, but with members there are duties that go with the rights.

Increasingly, with the recruitment of new members we hear accounts whereby someone has application forms but does not submit them to the secretary of the branch, and the owners of those forms have no contact with the ANC and this person keeps them, and when it’s time for a general members’ meeting of a branch, he brings them along and uses them as a bargaining tool: "What’s in it for me? If I’m not made chairperson, I will go away with my forms…"

That’s why there are all these challenges at the branches, because forms that are not submitted are not the same thing as human beings. If it’s submitted to the secretary, that person can phone and say, "We need to provide you with a copy of the constitution." There is an eight-week probation period before a membership is confirmed. The calibre of branches is important because if they are weak they have no tasks — it’s like church, where some people pay their dues even if they never go near the church building because one day they will want to baptise their little ones or want a priest to preside over a funeral.

Is the ANC losing its character as a non-racial organisation?

That’s a question we are grappling with. As I said, in the strategic goal there is that task of creating non-racialism, which means the ANC must present itself as a natural home for all South Africans and engage all South Africans in a manner that says the ANC is their home.

In practice, we’ve not been effective in that regard, so comparatively speaking we have in a sense been retreating from there — except that most of these national groups have organised themselves. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies interacts with the ANC without saying, "We support the ANC" or "Our members become your members." It engages with policy and suggestions. The Portuguese do the same — they are organised. The Italians do the same — they are organisers. The Greeks are organisers. Among the whites there are formations of Afrikaners who also interact with policy from a group perspective rather than feeling comfortable as individuals to become members wherever they reside.

What happens to society when the ruling party that sees itself as a leader of society loses that grip? Does the society become polarised?

I don’t know if the ANC now sees itself as a leader of society — that comes with the onus to act accordingly and pronounce accordingly. If you want to lead society, you would then interact with different sections of society — you would get suggestions and feedback on that. The ANC is for ANC members. The test would be if you were to take the national executive committee of the ANC and do research: besides being members of the NEC, to which other organisations do they belong? Because leading society can’t happen solely through the decisions of the NEC. It means you are part of the taxi association, the residents’ association – that is how you lead society. If the only structure you belong to is the ANC and the NEC, then you can’t lead society as you’re leading the ANC.

Is that how the ANC leadership should be judged, and is that what they should be doing more of?

Yes, outside the ANC, who do you engage? Which organisations do you engage? If that doesn’t happen, then of course you are confined to the ANC.

What happens to the ANC when it’s inward looking – when the people it elects to its most senior structures are only from the ANC? What is the impact of that in the future?

I suppose the relevance of the ANC will diminish to other people – except that it is the governing party.

Will that come up in future elections?

Of course that will come up in future elections. In the election campaigns, the ANC relies on direct voter contact, which has not been matched by any of the other parties. In direct voter contact you get suggestions from the people and you hear their concerns directly. That is the feedback. If the ANC were to do what it does during election campaigns throughout, then it would be leading society because it would be getting constant feedback and suggestions from people.

What can be done to make sure the ANC does that at Mangaung and in the future, to make sure, for example, the North West province is not in the state it’s in where the organisation has disintegrated, essentially?

Part of the problem is if you’re part of a political structure, you always carry the burden of seeking to be the clearest on what the next step is. That means there must be lots of political debate and analysis and testing ideas and views. If you go through routine work-a-day stuff, then of course there will be no clarity — the situation in the North West province will manifest and take route without there being any decisive intervention to arrest and correct that.

That’s a function of deliberate political decisions where somebody has to sit down, analyse it and say, "That’s a province with platinum where political stability is a precondition for economic development, so how are we providing leadership and stability there?" Also, taking the requisite steps. If it’s just regarded as one of those things, even the solutions will be half-hearted because it means we will not have drilled down deep enough to understand what is going on there.

We didn’t see ANC leadership during the Marikana debacle. Why do you think that was the case?

One of the persons who was involved in Marikana from the outset was an ANC councillor who was unfortunately killed. She was one of the victims but she was there right from the outset. The critical period was not just August 16 but the 10 days preceding that date.

In the North West, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) claims to be under attack, and by extension Cosatu, with the events at Marikana. Has the vulnerability of the NUM exposed possible erosion of ANC support in that province? We see the democratic socialist movement emerging there – is that a danger for the ANC?

That’s in the work milieu because there are still many migrant workers in the mining sector — people recruited from villages in the Eastern Cape and elsewhere. Because of the practice of living-out allowances, people live in informal settlements with their cousins and brothers who are job seekers and not themselves employed. Then they also start secondary families, being young, so the social conditions become a tinderbox just waiting for a spark to start a conflagration.

The ANC will have a presence in the villages of the North West, and through the relationship with the NUM, the ANC no doubt had an influence there. That’s why the ANC’s election campaign in the Eastern Cape is run by mineworkers — the NUM dispatches no less than 100 shop stewards to campaign for the ANC in the Eastern Cape with every election. Now the NUM itself has been successful in finding official representation in each one of those mines, to such an extent that shop stewards and shaft stewards are people who no longer go underground, with full-time responsibilities on the surface. So there is a disconnect there with the rock drillers, who feel that the shop stewards don’t represent their interests.

The NUM itself needs to sustain its own relevance there in the mining sector because there has been that impact. In fact, there is a parallel: to the extent the mineworkers feel the shop stewards don’t represent their interests, you find in communities ANC members feel the councillors don’t represent their interests, and the ANC members lead protests. It means the councillors and shop stewards have to reconnect properly with their constituents.

Do you see a realignment of tripartite alliance politics in the future?

I don’t think the alliance is about to split at all, but there are signs that indicate a measure of intolerance. Remember, progress is always a function of working out opposites. Once there is a monopoly, even in the realm of ideas that can only lead to stagnation. We are beginning to see that in Cosatu — that’s a federation that consists of independent trade unions, and those affiliates have to be boiling cauldrons of debate and discussion. Cosatu can only benefit from such perspectives. Those unions in their own sectors are very effective where they work. Cosatu as a federation has styled itself almost as a union — many times I’ve heard with amazement Cosatu leaders threatening this or that, where that’s really a call that must come from the affiliates that Cosatu must articulate as a co-ordinating body. In fact, Cosatu should be a school for tolerating diverse views but the indicators suggest it’s heading to one-line politics, which leads to stagnation.

They want to talk to you.

I’m waiting.

Should the ANC be told what to do by Cosatu?

They are perfectly within their rights to offer me such advice — but they should also give me advice on how I can give effect to such advice in terms of the ANC’s procedures.

The South African Communist Party (SACP) has a strong influence over Cosatu and is also supposed to be the vanguard of the working class and to push its ideological struggle within the alliance formations. But the SACP has emerged as an apologist for many leaders and the state much of the time. Is it still fulfilling its role within the alliance?

The SACP’s contribution in the radicalisation of the national liberation movement, the ANC included, has always been in training cadreship — it has always paid attention to cadre development. I don’t know whether the party now does that. At its conference now, the central committee consists of 62 members and all nine provinces nominated the same 62, which means there was no need for elections. That influence played itself out at the Cosatu conference. It is that same influence that is going to play itself out in the ANC at Mangaung.

How do you characterise that? Is it a manipulation of the system?

No. Ordinarily in a party the central committee members are the most senior members of the party, but if by design the provincial secretaries together with the general secretary determine who gets into the central committee and who doesn’t, it makes them junior to provincial secretaries.

They also took a resolution that to be nominated from the floor, you now need a 40% vote from the delegates, up from 30%, which makes it more difficult to break through that system.

The basic elementary teachings of any communist party is that progress is a function of working out opposites. Once it goes in the direction of monopoly, there will be an absence of working out of opposites and it’s stagnating.

How will the ANC do in the next elections?

The ANC has this amazing ability to rise when all the odds are loaded against it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the ANC still won in many of the provinces. What is new now is that the Congress of the People (COPE) has provided a platform and presence to the DA in ANC strongholds that has never happened before. The DA has always struggled along with all the other parties to make inroads — not even the Pan Africanist Congress and Azanian People's Organisation could succeed in that regard.

With the breakaway of COPE from the ANC, it had a presence in the strongholds of the ANC and now when those members get disillusioned with COPE, they don’t come back to the ANC — they go to the DA, hence the DA now has a presence in strongholds of the ANC. That is new and poses a new challenge that demands a well-thought-out response from the ANC.

Mangaung provides the opportunity…

To the extent that such a debate takes place there, that provides the opportunity.

What would the ANC do to present itself as the strong force that it once was? What should the ANC be thinking about, going into Mangaung?

It’s mainly policy and how that is to be implemented. If there was clarity on these two issues and unity of purpose, that would be sufficient grounds for people to see confidence and strength in the ANC.

Is leadership a factor?

Leadership in the ANC is collective, so it is a factor to the extent that if there’s a well-balanced leadership that equals the tasks, that is fine.

What is well-balanced leadership?

If the leadership is not made up of sycophants and people who are not prepared to debate — therein lies the issue. If there are no debates, there will be no clarity. You will attend a press conference after a NEC meeting and you will emerge from there confused.

How strong is the collective at the moment? You said leadership in the ANC is collective.

It is standing fair enough. A leadership that is also driven by issues of employment has its own weaknesses.

Is that what we are seeing? Is that the current state?

It’s unavoidable that people will think about whether there will be jobs tomorrow or not. That is the overriding consideration and all else is secondary to that.

Around June this year you said the ANC needed not to use so much weight in Parliament but rather persuade other parties. We saw the opposite recently when the opposition put forward a motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma.

That’s precisely the point — the process is as important as the end goal. If the ANC doesn’t pay attention to the arguments but simply relies on numbers, when that happens all other sections of South Africa’s population — and not only along colour lines — who believe "in this forum we will be outnumbered by those people", they hear one message and that is that they stand no chance, it doesn’t matter that they are making a cogent case because it will be decided on numbers.

As the ruling party, if you do that, you undermine the other task of uniting people. Unity means people must have a sense of belonging and feel that they are valued as members of the South African nation. If you simply say you’re out on the basis of numbers, that message will be heard and understood by those who don’t have the numbers.

You were for the debate on the motion of no confidence?

This issue I was clarifying earlier is there were three motions — a motion from the chief whip of the majority party calling for censure of the leader of COPE; a motion of no confidence in the president from the opposition parties, led by the DA excluding the Minority Front; and a third motion from the acting deputy chief whip of the majority party calling for a vote of confidence in the president.

All three were below the line, and what had to be considered was to bring them above the line. Two were the flipside of the same coin. To bring these above the line was the responsibility of the programming committee, so the political committee was asked by the chief whip and it said, "Bring it above the line rather than sustaining it in the public domain, forever dealing with it." The motion is the house has confidence in the president and that’s how you close it. The chief whip’s responsibility was to go to the programming committee and put that position.

The committee operates on consensus because it never decides matters by vote, because each party has one vote, so they couldn’t reach consensus and the speaker planned to take it to the house and say, "The programming committee hadn’t found consensus." There was no need whatsoever for it to be taken to court. These are simple matters the rules provide for. As the majority party you can’t say to a minority party, "You have no right to come up with a motion." They have that right, but you can defeat it in the debates and you can put a motion of confidence forward.

Your name keeps coming up, and you had to field the same question earlier — is it naive or is it people who don’t understand ANC processes who are expecting to hear you talk about leadership and whether you are available?

It’s people who do not understand ANC processes. The current process has also been marred by the fact that there are structures that want to influence these processes, and they’ve been pronouncing. The only structure that has the right to pronounce is the electoral commission — that structure is in charge of the process and at the right point approaches each individual who has been nominated by a sufficient number of branches to put the question, "Do you accept this nomination?" It is only at that time, and that’s why you haven’t heard any member of the ANC saying, "Here I am — I am available to be elected for this and that."

It must be a difficult time. Clearly you are likely to be asked the question officially, with the provinces having gone out there and mentioned your name. That’s a serious decision.

It’s not difficult at all. If they ask me that question, I will give an answer.

You mentioned that the SACP conference went in a particular direction, as did Cosatu, and it’s likely the ANC will go a similar way. Can you clarify that?

The fact that you hear noises from time to time saying, "You mustn’t stand — you mustn’t do this" and so on, there is no appetite for elections. Elections in an organisation are an instrument for strengthening the organisation, not weakening it — but that’s only when it works and people accept it for what it is. I don’t want to lead an organisation where I have no sense of what the members think of me, and by arrangement. I would never do that. That is why it’s important that their assessment of you and the expression of their will must not be interfered with. Once it’s interfered with, if I offered them sweeteners or jobs, I would never actually know whether they had confidence in me or not.

Are you saying the branches must be allowed to express their will?

Yes. If you go back to the history of our people at the time when the National Party came to power, the first act it passed was the Suppression of Communism Act, which led to the party disbanding itself. Thereafter, anyone they identified as a communist they put restrictions on, including Chief Albert Luthuli, where they said to him, "You have to choose between being chief and being in the ANC."

He chose the ANC and that’s why he became popularly known as chief of everything. When Oliver Tambo was asked to act as secretary-general due to the fact that then secretary-general Walter Sisulu was restricted and couldn’t do his work, the understanding was that from that point onwards, every conference of the ANC was electing leaders in an acting capacity because they were not elected without the expression of the will of members being interfered with.

If the branches do not vote you back into the top six of the ANC, would you interpret that as a motion of no confidence against you?

I have been privileged to be asked to lead — every conference is a structure in its own right. The delegates are not messengers or conduits. Once the conference convenes, it is a structure that in the constitution of the ANC is the highest decision-making structure — so that’s why 90% of the voters in the conference are delegates from the branches. They have they right to decide if our term comes to an end, and I would be eternally grateful for the opportunity to serve in that capacity. You can’t be a leader in the ANC if you don’t have the ability to be led. Those of us who have experienced that have no difficulties whatsoever.

Have you contemplated life after the ANC?

I know exactly what I will do — I will go and work with the Congress of South African Students (Cosas). I think I can make a wonderful contribution there.

You wanted to coach Bafana Bafana...

(Gordon) Igesund has the post now. I can be his talent scout and go watch matches in rural areas.

What is the fundamental lesson you would teach Cosas?

That by belonging to Cosas and being active in Cosas they carry the burden of ensuring they perform better than all other students who are not in Cosas. That is the only way in which Cosas will become relevant, and there wouldn’t be arguments against Cosas. If they were activists in Cosas and they did poorly academically, then they would be cited as examples of why others should not be in Cosas. That would be my platform and starting point.