Interview with general Bantu Holomisa

"Yes, politics costs money. Only three people are paid by us: the director of administration, a secretary and a typist."

I notice your staff still call you General Holomisa.

That is my rank. I may have been expelled from the ANC but I was never expelled from the army.

The National Consultative Forum which you set up is to help to launch a new political party but that means you will have to find some donors.

Yes, politics costs money. Thus far only three people are paid by us: the director of administration, a secretary and a typist. All the others, including myself, are voluntary.

What attitude have you met among businessmen from whom you have tried to raise funds?

Business is fed up with this government. They will not finance the ANC in the way they did in I 994 -there will be no more R2 million donations from some of them in 1999. Some businessmen would like to see us succeed but they may not always wish their name to be associated with us. That is all right. We will not allow anonymous donors but we are happy enough to have donors whose names are not publicised, just as many other parties do. At present, we get help from some black and white businessmen when we are organising meetings, they help us with the pa system, with the booking of stadiums, office administration etc. etc.

Isn't it inevitable that you will appeal to people as a purer form of the ANC? That is, you will promise people all things the ANC promised in 1994 - the RDP, more houses, more jobs, etc. rather than Gear?

No, that is not by any means certain. The people will have to tell us what they want. What is clear is that people don't want either the ANC or the NR But personally I do not wish to position myself to the left of the ANC. Actually, I was perfectly happy with ANC policies when I was in the ANC. The policies are not the problem. The problem is that they are just not implemented. The government has been getting rid of people with experience and putting in those who are unable to do the job. We are now suffering from a culture of greed and compensation with the idea being to reward comrades in arms or from jail. You can see the result. There is no delivery and the provinces are in complete shambles.

Does that mean you would be against a policy of affirmative action?

No, I'm in favour of affirmative action provided it is a principled matter. This government has no principled affirmative action policy. What it has is a policy of putting in friends and relatives, nepotism in other words. The problem is that in exile, the ANC trained not one single cadre to be a policeman, for example, and a policeman needs a lot of training. This is true of many other jobs as well and it is simply no good pretending that ANC cadres can do all the jobs they are being given. One must not be shy of using the experience and expertise of whites. This is not a colonial situation: we have not just received our independence. Whites are South Africans too. This is not an ideological question. The question is simply lack of governance. Look at the way in which they got rid of lots of experienced teachers and are now running to Cuba for teachers. It's absurd. It's reasonable to treat a director generalship of a ministry as a political appointment but everybody else from deputy director general on down should be appointed simply on merit. Party interest must never be put above the nation's interest and yet that is just what the ANC is doing.

Some would say your own administrative record in the Transkei left something to be desired.

When we took over the Transkei government we realised our own shortcomings and we only got rid of political heads and those found guilty of corruption. We certainly never did what the ANC is now doing, which is appointing all their friends and relatives to top jobs even though many of them have no knowledge or experience whatsoever. What is happening is scandalous. There is no delivery even though the money is there for development. There is simply no machinery to deliver it. Moreover, money is being stolen on a large scale and an enormous number of consultants are being used. Thus, for example, the department of health at the last count had I 179 consultants on whom + R14 million was spent. Zola Skweiya has simply lost control of the situation. Thus far almost R2 billion has been spent on consultants.

Are not black self-respect and dignity on the line if one is too critical of the quality of governance?

No. I am just not apologetic about this. We have to appoint the best and we have to deliver on our promises. The Public Service Commission should be in charge of this situation not individual ministers, and it should enforce standards and appointment on merit. The homelands were creations of apartheid but even they were run according to certain rules and regulations. This is not true of the provinces. There are no rules and regulations as to how the provinces should operate and each province is doing its own thing. The result is that it is a tremendous struggle to control expenditure there.

The homelands were certainly corrupt although they were not equally corrupt and they were nothing like as bad as the current provinces are. When we were in charge in the Transkei, we looked after the roads, the schools, the nurses and the teachers even though we had little money and even though Pretoria was trying to destabilise us. But if you go there you will see things are worse now than they ever were before. The Eastern Cape government is obsessed with right-sizing and down-sizing but there is no method to the way things are done at all. The result is a shambles.

It is dreadful even to have to make this comparison. There should be no comparison between the homelands and the provinces, it should go without saying that the provinces should be enormously better, but it's not so. The worst run provinces are the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and Northern Province. There is dreadful corruption and inefficiency in all of them. In Transkei we sent the corrupt to court like Matanzima, for example, but the present government does no such thing. One reads about corruption in the press but nothing happens.

Mandela will leave the stage soon. Do you think that his replacement by Thabo Mbeki will be a big psychological change?

Yes, but to be quite frank and with all due respect to President Mandela, it really would be better if he could hand over to Mbeki now or as soon as possible. There will be life after Mandela but we don't really know Mbeki and his strengths and weaknesses yet so it's difficult to judge the man. The problem is that many mistakes are being made, for example, the treatment of Patrick Lekota, of Northern Province affairs, of Sifiso Nkabinde and of myself. I have the greatest respect for President Mandela but I think he has done all he can and that too many mistakes are being made on his watch.

I have read and heard much of Oliver Tambo's style when he was leader and it was a democratic style. But now we have the rule of autocracy within the ANC. Take my own case for example: no proper procedures were followed, there were none of the meetings of the officers, national working committee or national executive committee that should have taken a decision to send me to the disciplinary committee. The same situation applies with other cases. The ANC constitution is being ignored. That is why I would like Mbeki to be given power as soon as possible. The longer we go on with the present situation the more mistakes there will be for Mbeki to inherit - and I am worried about the effect of these mistakes and of poor governance on foreign investors.

Some are worried that a future President Mbeki may lack some of President Mandela's popularity.

Yes, there is a problem there. Last weekend, I was in the Eastern Cape and Mbeki was there to launch a water project in Transkei and only around 50 people rolled up to see him. This is not a happy situation. I think the best way to deal with the situation would be to bring Cyril Ramaphosa back as deputy president. There is nobody else substantial enough to fill that role - all those mentioned are rather weak people. One effect of Mandela leaving the scene will probably just be that fewer people will vote.

Would things have been different had Chris Hani lived?

Yes, the ANC would not be showing the cracks it does now. The Steve Tshwetes, the Kader Asmals and Mac Maharajs of this world would not be running things and pushing people around the way they do now. Chris would have stopped all that. Moreover, Chris would be running for president and I don't think that he would easily be defeated. The problem is that his successor, Charles Nqakula is a nice man but weak. As a matter of fact, Winnie Mandela could still be a strong contender for the presidency. She is highly respected and if her name is put before the ANC congress in December I would guess that she can get elected either as a presidential or deputy presidential nominee if she wants to. The women's league is far more significant than the youth league which supports Thabo.

You don't like Kader Asmal, Mac Maharaj or Steve Tshwete?

Who is sent to Northern Province to try to tell people there that they must not choose the leaders they want? Steve Tshwete. Who was sent to the Free State to get rid of Patrick Lekota? Steve Tshwete. Who was used to get rid of me? Steve Tshwete. Who went around canvassing against Winnie and saying that people must support Mrs Zuma for the women's league? Steve Tshwete. People are upset with the likes of Tshwete, Kader Asmal and so on. I would not be surprised if there were trouble over this at the ANC Congress.

Is there an Africanist point here too?

Yes. To be frank, the minorities within the ANC are too powerful. Look at Kader Asmal on the one hand and Alec Erwin on the other. They were the key people that wanted me out. Asmal gave the key legal opinion against me and he also made a key recommendation against me on the national executive committee, while Alec Erwin recommended to the disciplinary committee that I be expelled from the ANC. Alec also recommended at one stage that Harry Cwala should be expelled -he seems to like having people expelled from the ANC. What you have to ask yourself is what is the constituency of such people and what is their record? Far too many of them were like Asmal -just activists in exile who played no real part in the struggle. Personally, I agree with those ANC guys who say that the minorities within the movement are too powerful. I wish them luck but t think that they have got a real struggle on their hands. It will not be settled quickly.

You seem to have found it easy to get together with Roelf Meyer.

Yes - and people like him. One thing you must realise is that it is those of us who were not in exile but who fought the struggle here who are more used to working with whites and we don't have bad relations with them. We get along. It is the exiles who are far more racially bitter against whites and who also don't know the issues on the ground. If you want to see a truly successful politician, look at Patrick Lekota and how successful he was. He knew the issues on the ground and he knew what was necessary in the Free State was to win over the farmers and other conservative elements. An exile would never have done that.

So why have the exiles won the power struggle within the ANC?

Well, because people saw them as the vanguard, and looked at them from afar as heroes. But it was the UDF people who were jailed and tear-gassed and maltreated, not the exiles. As a matter of fact, it isn't really the exiles in general who have won, it's a particular set of exiles, those who were in Britain and Europe. If you look at those who came back and took power, it was those who were in London -like Slovo, Kasrils, Mboweni, Marcus, Thabo, the Pahads, Frene Ginwala and Kader Asmal. The exiles who were in Lusaka and the rest of Africa actually lost out. But now people are looking at some of these exiles and, when they see how they live, realising what a mistake they made. The viva days are over and some of these people are being exposed. A situation in which so much power is held by racial minorities and by those with such a poor grasp of the real problems cannot possibly last.

But is not your own support ethnic and regional in character? In our survey we found that it was to a large degree Xhosa speaking and based in the Eastern and Western Cape.

Well, every politician needs to have a base and so far as it's an ethnic or regional role, well that can happen. But when ANC delegates met in Bloemfontein in 1994 to elect members of the national executive, I was voted in as number one with 1,982 votes out of 2,600 delegates. These were not just Xhosa votes. When I was expelled from the ANC, I was invited by people in every province to come and talk there. It was ANC rank and file people who invited me, although they often described themselves as "concerned citizens".

The people who are most vocal in favour of a new party are in the Northern Province, the Northwest and Gauteng. But, of course, ethnicity is always likely to be a problem - both the PAC and ANC are troubled by ethnicity and we must learn from their difficulties.

Do you feel close to any other party?

No. I was happy enough with the ANC, though upset about its failure to implement and deliver, with the way people were being chosen for jobs, and the way things were being done. I am not married to any ideology and I am not on the far left so I don't belong with the PAC whose policies I find somewhat outdated. I don't believe there is any future in this country for the far left or the far right. We have two worlds here, a first world and a third world, and there has to be centrist buffer zone between them to accommodate people.

What i do not like is hypocrisy. One can see many blacks who talk in an extreme left way and then take over businesses and become rich. When you see people talking radical politics you should always look at their houses and cars and ask, are they really socialists ? As soon as we got to power in 1994, you saw what happened. Big salaries, big cars, and all the rest of it. The promises we made were quickly forgotten.

If you pose a real threat to the ANC do you think that the rules of electoral fair play will be respected?

The indications are that they won't allow fair play. Of course, if they stop us trying to have rallies we can always go house-to-house. They are already trying to discredit me even though I have launched no party yet. But they won't stop the people. What is possible is dirty tricks. Or they could kill me. Everything is possible. If I am still alive and we sell a good product once we develop our policies, we could give the ANC food for thought in 1999. But the ANC really needn't worry very much about us in 1999. We just want to get into parliament and have a voice. Our real aim ought to be to become a strong opposition in five to ten years from now. The ANC should concentrate on delivery and running the country, not on harassing us. But the problem is they might use bullets and shoot us. Whether the ANC is a tolerant organisation I really have my doubts. Will they allow free campaigning and free political activity? I doubt it.

But is not your political intervention rooted in a Xhosa context and a rivalry between the Matanzima and Sigcau families and their opponents?

The Holomisa name is more popular than that of Stella Sigcau even in her own native Pondoland. I went to see the king of Pondos and his chiefs and headman recently and the king said this is your home, the sooner you form a new party the better. We know you, we have worked with you and there is strong support for you here. The problem is that the ANC is simply doing no development work at all in the Eastern Cape. I repeated my allegations against Stella Sigcau in front of the king and the chiefs. All I can say is that if Mandela thought he could play Xhosa politics by choosing Stella Sigcau, he miscalculated. The Transkei was more united under the rule of the military council I headed than it is now. The council was not ideological and was above party politics.

Your nephew, Patekile Holomisa, heads the congress of traditional leaders. Do you expect Contralesa to support you? What about Contralesa?

They are welcome to get involved with us. I worked hard to get the chiefs to support the ANC in 1994 and they did. Without the chiefs the ANC would never be able to get an audience in the Eastern Cape. That's why Thabo can't get people to come and listen to him now. The chiefs and people like me are not there getting the people out for him. But it's already clear that politics will be different by 1999. The ANC's capacity to intimidate is less than it was. MK and ex-MK people are the most disillusioned. People want a new party. Of course, it may turn out that none of us are really the leaders they need. But even so we have to provide a platform.