Interview: Bantu Holomisa

The leader of the United Democratic Movement talks about ANC intimidation and discontent within the ruling alliance.

As leader of the United Democratic Movement, you remain one of the few significant black voices outside the ANC who has a continuing insight into it.
I come from within the ANC and I never left it - I was expelled. Moreover, I then managed to prove a point against the ANC by getting back into Parliament on my own terms with 14 MPs. It was a tremendous battle.

What was the hardest part of the battle?
The ANC used gross intimidation and violence against us when the UDM was established in 1997. It prevented us from speaking on campuses - they would ferry people in to break up all such meetings. They also did everything they could to demonise us. Jeremy Cronin of the SACP's central committee wrote a long pamphlet of character assassination against me. I don't think that means that the SACP had it in for me in especially - it was just a dirty job the ANC got him to do. All of this culminated in the assassination of our general secretary, Sifiso Nkabinde, in Richmond on January 3, 1999 and of quite a few others in both the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Despite all that we are represented in six provincial legislatures and we are the official Opposition in both the Eastern Cape and Northern Province.

Do you think you are one of a number of leading black figures who lost their position in the ANC because Thabo Mbeki saw them as a threat?
Absolutely. That is why "Terror" Lekota was pushed out of the premiership of the Free State and Mathews Phosa out of Mpumalanga. Moreover, if you read President Mbeki's speech to the ANC's national council at the University of Port Elizabeth in July in which he attacked blacks in business, saying they were selfish and had forgotten the people they came from, its pretty clear that his remarks were aimed at Cyril Ramaphosa, Mathews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale. He is doing all he can to keep them out of politics.

To go back to the circumstances that led to your expulsion - why did you accuse Stella Sigcau, then the minister of public enterprise, of corruption before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996?
It goes back to when I came to power in the Transkei in 1987 and she and the former Transkei president, Kaiser Mantanzima, ran off to Pretoria and got the apartheid military to intervene. As a result a number of soldiers from the Transkei Defence Force were killed. I wanted to get this episode cleared up so that the TRC would give compensation to the families of those soldiers. But first wanted to establish that both them had accepted bribes from the casino tycoon Sol Kerzner to the tune of R2 million in return for casino rights in the Transkei. I also had privileged information about Kerzner's funding of the ANC and I said so.

The ANC leadership reacted by getting Cheryl Carolus, then the acting secretary general of the ANC and now South Africa's ambassador in London, to call me "a manipulative liar" and deny that Kerzner had given money to the ANC. President Mandela himself asked me to withdraw the charges. It was very embarrassing for the ANC, he said, to have charges made against Kerzner when the man had contributed R2 million to the party. I told the president I would not withdraw the charges because they were true. I had exact details of my meeting with Mandela, its time and place and all that had transpired at it. Mandela knew that and that is why he contradicted Cheryl Carolus eight days later. He said that he would not allow me to have the moral high ground or allow anyone in the ANC to apologise to me.

Does your experience leading the UDM suggest that it is going to be very difficult for a real black Opposition to emerge?
The ANC has behaved towards the UDM in very much the same way that Zanu-PF has behaved towards the Movement for Democratic Change. Like the ruling party in Zimbabwe, the ANC has got control over much of the broadcast media so the Opposition is not allowed a proper voice there. You cannot expect a really good discussion with any of the Opposition leaders about the situation in the country on SABC. But discontent and disappointment with the ANC is growing among the black electorate. It is quite obvious that delivery is not happening and I think the party would be much more hesitant about intimidating the Opposition now.

As for a split in the alliance, well the ANC is still desperately dependent on Cosatu for some sort of organisational structure. It has only a shambolic party organisation of its own. It can't really do without Cosatu.

So what is the way ahead for your party?
Like the MDC in Zimbabwe we have to draw support from the so-called "born frees" - those born after independence or after apartheid. It's six years on from liberation and today's school matriculants are not interested in the politics of the toyi-toyi. They are only interested in bread and butter issues and they want government to deliver. They can easily observe that the ANC government is failing and they will want something different. The moral capital of liberation is dwindling at a great rate and especially among the youth who have matriculated since 1994 and are unemployed. They don't blame the apartheid government for that, they blame the ANC. Moreover, they hear their older brothers and sisters say that things were better under De Klerk, better under Mangope in Bophuthaswana and better under my regime in the Transkei. Even the trade unions are beginning to admit that unemployment is worse now than it was under apartheid. President Mbeki is a very big disappointment.

Do you really mean that people are regretting the "bantustans"?
The provinces were supposed to take over the role of the bantustans but have not done so, they are struggling both financially and administratively. Moreover, the bantustans could raise their own revenue, which the provinces cannot. There is no doubt that people were better off in material terms under many of the homeland regimes than they are now. If you go to the old border industries you'll find empty factories everywhere because in 1994 the new government withdrew all the industrial subsidies that had attracted employers to locate in these isolated areas. It has been a disaster and we need to devise a proper rural development programme.

There are stirrings of discontent within the tripartite alliance. At the Numsa conference there was a resolution that the SACP should become the lead party. Could the alliance break up?
The SACP on its own is tiny and in any case it is the Communist ministers such as Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Jeff Radebe and Alec Erwin who are selling out and who are flatly in favour of Gear. A split will only happen within the tripartite alliance when some Cosatu unions decide to breakaway to form a new trade union federation. The present Cosatu leadership is hopelessly compromised. They go toyi-toying and making militant speeches on a Sunday and then on the Monday they list companies on the JSE. They are all completely contaminated. There is a lot of resentment about this within the trade unions. One day there could be a strong non-Cosatu labour federation: at the moment the independent unions are not strong enough. But in the end we could well get a labour-based opposition movement like Chiluba's Movement for Multiparty Democracy in Zambia or the MDC in Zimbabwe.

Wouldn't it be very difficult for any trade union leader to break away from Cosatu?
On their own yes, but the key unions are the metal workers and miners' unions, Numsa and the NUM. There is no sign that they are actually going to leave Cosatu, but the body language is already all there.

Hasn't President Mbeki tried to co-opt those forces on the left, for example, by appointing Kgalema Motlanthe as ANC secretary-general? Motlanthe makes SACP-style speeches about teaching ANC members to "hate capitalism" and has just said there is no urgency about reforming the labour laws. This is the sort of thing the SACP wants to hear, not Mbeki.
Well, the labour laws are not going to get amended this year - that is already clear. But I don't take Motlanthe seriously and I don't know anyone who does. He is a joke really. The problem is that the things he says damage the country because they put off foreign investors.

So how do you see the politics of the tripartite alliance going?
Mbeki's speech in Port Elizabeth when he called for the New Person was significant. The only way you can interpret that is that he wants to convert the ANC from a liberation movement into a party. He wants to create a political elite that will be competent, hard working, honest, not bothered about patronage and totally committed to building the party. It's a complete mirage, of course, and is not going to happen. But he does understand the irrelevance now of the toyi-toyi generation. The New Person clearly has to understand the African Renaissance and to be rather different. As a result of that speech lots of people within the ANC are wondering whether they qualify as new persons or not. A lot of them obviously don't.

So where does that leave the president?
He is running out of ideas. He badly needs another Marshal Plan, a concerted program of economic reconstruction. We are going to have to concentrate our own efforts and resources. We need to sell finished products not just raw materials and also help small business more. Instead he is running around the world asking for money and trying to persuade everybody that they should completely restructure the international economic system to suit him. Well it is not going to happen and he should know better. I've just come back from the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles and there was almost no talk of international affairs there and certainly no concern for the sort of agenda Mbeki goes on about. He should spend more time at home and get down to his job.

There seems to be a lot of concern about the government's direction under Mbeki - not just the failure to achieve vigorous economic growth but over his Aids policy and his support for President Robert Mugabe. Is there any hope that anyone within the ANC is going to be able to affect a change of direction?
No I don't think so. The only person with the authority to do that is Nelson Mandela and Mandela is acting as Thabo's wicket keeper, picking up the ball ans throwing it back to him all the time. He has made speeches supporting even Mbeki's most absurd positions. There are some very silly things happening, such as the conference on racism. That is a complete mistake. We should continue with the tradition of reconciliation that Mandela began or, if we are not happy with the situation, the government should come up with further legislation to deal with racism. Mbeki prefers to pluck racism back out of the dustbin and use it for such political purposes as the local government elections. The truth is racism is no longer the burning issue in this country.

Do you think this concentration on racism does any harm?
Certainly. The racism debate is very dishonest. The truth of the matter is that the ANC government is far more dependent on white business than the old apartheid governments were. The latter had the support of the Dutch Reformed Church, Sanlam, Volkskas, Saambou, a whole range of cultural and commercial organisations, the Broederbond, the major Afrikaans universities and so on. It had a very solid institutional structure of its own. The ANC does not have that. It has a weak organisation and is also more lacking in economic expertise than the old government. So of course it needs business more. But the effect of attacking white people at racism conferences all the time, is to undermine confidence, push whites into emigration and cause capital flight. There is a great contradiction here. In any case why is the government attacking whites? After all the ANC has been in power for six years now. If they are not happy about the way things are why don't they act rather than keep blaming other people?

What is your attitude towards the new Democratic Alliance?
Tony Leon and Marthinus van Schalkwyk phoned me up and were keen that I join. I said that a real alternative couldn't be achieved in a quick conversation over a weekend. They would have to convene a proper national convention including not just political parties, but youth, traditional leaders, churches, NGOs and people looking for a new political home. They agreed but the truth is that they are not really ready for something like that. Such a national convention would mean we all had to be equal and there would be no automatic leadership for the DP.

So where does that leave you?
We have to adopt a two-prong approach. The UDM was only 20 months old at the 1999 elections. So we have to build up the UDM and prepare it for further challenges ahead. We've been making significant gains in the Western Cape. Secondly we should start thinking about a staged process towards Opposition unity by 2004 - but that will have to be achieved gradually and by a completely open process. Things will certainly take time to change. In 1999 many people voted for the ANC even though they were dissatisfied, saying "we'll give them another chance"; 2004 could be different.