Transcript of interview with President Jacob Zuma at the World Economic Forum by Faried Zakaria, CNN, January 28 2010
Faried Zakaria: We are delighted to be joined by President Zuma, the new President of South Africa. Let me start Mr President, you are coming into an office that was held by Nelson Mandela. Do you feel nervous? Apprehensive? What are your thoughts about being in a role that has been so public and so prominently globally?
Jacob Zuma: Well, if anything it is humbling to be given this responsibility by the South African people, by my organisation. It is a task indeed that needs such great leaders as Nelson Mandela. But let me say that since we are mentioning President Mandela, many people forget that we will this year mark 20 years since he was released from prison on the 11th of February 1990. South Africa will, as a country, celebrate this. We have aligned it to the opening of our parliament so that the country can celebrate the day that changed South Africa from a racist conflict ridden country into a democratic country. We are therefore reminding everyone of this, and fortunately Nelson Mandela is still with us, so we will be able to celebrate with him. It is important for us, because the release of Nelson Mandela and the contributions he made when leading the negotiations established a culture in South Africa that nobody had ever imagined. We are able to defeat racism which was entrenched in South Africa, and he led the approach and the campaigns to reconcile South Africans and establish a truly democratic South Africa.
Faried Zakaria: But you know a number of people look at your election with some apprehension. Let's be honest. There are people who say you are a populist, that you inherited a difficult economy. South Africa is entering its first recession in 15 years and people are worried about what effect a populist policies will have in an already fragile global economy and on an already fragile South African economy.
Jacob Zuma: Well, I don't know people talk about populist in the world. I don't know tongues, what it means, because if a leader in a country is supported by an overwhelming majority, I am not sure how to divide the populist person just there. The fact of the matter is I belong to the African National Congress (ANC), which is the organisation that is supported by the people of South Africa and I have been one of its cadres in the leading positions for quite a while and of course have taken over not just from Nelson Mandela, but from Thabo Mbeki who followed Mandela, who also made a very huge contribution to make the task very easy for some of us who followed thereafter.
We have been in office, for I think seven months. We have looked at government, we have reconfigured some of the departments in order to ensure that an effective government is there, that transparency is deepened, that delivery continues. We have looked at the policies which basically emanate from the ruling party and diminished those that emanate from individuals. We have been able to follow the trend as it has been all the time. We came in amidst the financial crisis that affected everybody around the globe. I think South Africa at that time was able to withstand the pressure to a large extent because of its very prudent policies and macro economic policies, we have been able therefore to absorb... not that we did not suffer from the impact of it, but I think to a large extent we were able to deal with the matter and I think we were able to give leadership as a government and together with business, labour and representatives of civil society were able to come together and work out a package of how to meet the challenge of the recession. And we succeeded to do so and I don't think anyone can say that because I am now a populist, these matters could not be done and people did not know what they were doing. I think that government always knew what it was doing.
Faried Zakaria: You talk about the majority, but there is also the minority in South Africa that increasingly feels disenfranchised, the white minority. You read interviews with people, FW De Klerk, various other leaders. There is some evidence of "white-flight", either because of high crime rates or because of a sense of economic fortunes turning, leaving. Do you care if white South Africans decide they want to leave the country?
Jacob Zuma: No we don't want them to leave the country. They belong to South Africa. We are aware that since 1994 some people felt as the situation changed they were not very certain as to what is going to happen and I think in a sense, given where we came from as a country you would have expected that kind of reaction. But at times that reaction is in my view, exaggerated, because South Africans have accepted what South Africa is all about. There are few people at times who feel some of the policies we have put across, for example affirmative action etc, tend to put them in an awkward position. But we have been able to explain this, and people have accepted what the government has put across as the policies encompasses and embraces all South Africans.
There are no instances where people have been able to identify a kind of policy that excludes others. Everybody is part of it. Of course there would be individuals who would be very vocal, who would give an impression that things are not very well in South Africa. I think we are a very proud rainbow nation that is working together at all times socially, in the economic sector and in every other thing and we adopted a culture of participation. For example, some people would say that this government consults too much, and that is why we say we should involve people, so that people can feel a part of the processes in the country, because we feel everybody must fell part of this, nobody must feel excluded. And we continuously explain what we are trying to do.
So I would not agree with those who say South Africa is now something else since the coming of democracy in South Africa. In fact, if anything, South Africans have come to embrace what is happening in the country. They are very happy, but that doesn't mean that in every situation you could have 100 percent people agreeing on everything. I don't think there is any country that can claim that, that is why we have oppositions in countries, because at times people, even on the things they say they agreed on, the way to get there, at times they don't necessarily agree. I think in South Africa there is an element of exaggerating things.
Faried Zakaria: Do you believe that South Africa moving forward needs more market based reforms, or does it needs more government intervention?
Jacob Zuma: It needs a mixture of the two.
Faried Zakaria: You are avoiding the question.
Jacob Zuma: I am not avoiding the question. It needs a mixture of the two. You cannot have one and not the other. A mixture of the two is required. The question is how do you balance it in terms of the material conditions in the country in which you are operating? And this is what we have said. Our economy is a mixed economy and we are dealing with both the participation of the public sector and the participation of the private sector.
Faried Zakaria: Now how will you get yourself off a purely commodity based economy and improve the skills, the manufacturing processes, without unleashing the private sector to a larger extent?
Jacob Zuma: No, what we have done, for example, is to put across our policies very openly as to what is it that we are trying to do. With the participation of both, private and public and it has worked for us up to this point in time. Right now for example, we have put across a programme, specifically dealing with infrastructure. We have put aside an amount of about R700 million aimed at dealing with this, which helps to expand the areas of investment with regard to the infrastructure, because infrastructure in South Africa is very much needed. We have been upgrading the country's infrastructure for 2010. We will proceed after 2010 with even a much broader programme in which both the private sector, and the public, are expected to participate. So there is no way where we say this is the only one that will solve our problems. We believe the nature of our country, the mixture of these two helps us to move forward.
Faried Zakaria: One area where I think many people hope you will diverge from the policies of Thabo Mbeki is on AIDS, as well as the South African government's response to the AIDS crisis. You face the extraordinary situation where life expectancy in South Africa, a country with strong economic growth has actually declined over the last decade. Will you do something different than Thabo Mbeki did on AIDS?
Jacob Zuma: Well, I know that people tended to look at our policy in the past, based on what some of our colleagues as individuals said. I think government has always had a very comprehensive policy in terms of HIV and AIDS, but there were issues that were raised, and people including President Mbeki, had specific views that he acknowledged were his specific views.
Faried Zakaria: But they were bogus issues not based on science and had the effect of stopping an enormously important movement forward to deal with the problem.
Jacob Zuma: But that is just the point I am making that these were specific views and it started with President Mbeki asking questions that scientists had to answer. And instead of being answered by scientists, these provoked a debate. It did not move away from the country's very clear and comprehensive policy at the time.
What we have done now, we have removed the politicisation of HIV and AIDS and therefore removed those debates and came back to the policies. At this point in time, we have prioritised health as one of the five priorities and we have a very comprehensive programme to deal with that, including the removal of perceptions that existed then. In so far as we are concerned, on that issue we are clear. In December for example, announced new measures which added on, enhanced our policies that were there before, and I think the country is very happy, and I think the world is very happy with the pose that we have adopted.
Faried Zakaria: Mr President, I have to ask you an awkward question, but in preparing for this interview I was actually asked this by so many of the women who are here, but it relates to an issue that they see as one of equality and treatment of women. You have many wives, you practice polygamy. There are many people who say this is symbolically a great step backward for the leader of South Africa to be embracing a practice they say is inherently unfair to women. How do you react?
Jacob Zuma: Well it depends what culture you come from. People interpret culture in different ways and some think that their cultures are superior to others. This is a problem we need to deal with. We follow a policy that says we must respect the cultures of others. As a culture, as my culture, it does not take anything from me, from my political beliefs, including the belief in the equality of women. It's my culture and I am sure there are other cultures that do this kind of thing. The problem is that when people think that their culture is the only right one, the only one accepted by God. It does not work that way.
Faried Zakaria: You believe you treat all your wives equally?
Jacob Zuma: Absolutely. Totally equally.
Faried Zakaria: I think there are many people in this audience who find it a complex challenge to be married to one person. Mr President, pleasure to have you. Thank you.
Jacob Zuma: Thank you very much indeed.
Issued by: The Presidency, January 28 2010
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