EDITED HIGHLIGHTS OF THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN BBC NEWS ONLINE USERS AND PRESIDENT MBEKI, 18 May 2000
Bernard Dalibuno in Hawaii, from D.R. Congo: How do you view the situation in central Africa, in the Congo in particular?
President Mbeki: We've got to implement the agreement that was arrived at to bring about peace in the Congo. And for that purpose we have committed troops to the United Nations, troops that are required to go into the Congo to ensure that the peace agreement is enforced. One of the matters that must be addressed is that Rwanda and Uganda have to leave the Democratic Republic of the Congo. We're also supporting processes to ensure that the political dialogue among the Congolese themselves takes place so that the people there can decide their future.
Rashid Farah, Somalia: My 12-year-old asked me, 'Why are we killing people in Africa?' Do you have an answer to his question?
President Mbeki: I'm not sure that anyone of us would have an answer to that. But I think that to some degree, the killing is driven by a level of greed, a level of selfishness among people who are in leading positions, people who think that to be in a position of power, is to create a space for yourself, to fill yourself up with pockets full of money, and get it by any means.
Farai Magagula, South Africa: The last time you met with President Mugabe at Victoria Falls he promised that he would restore law and order. He clearly did not do so. What is your comment on that?
President Mbeki: The people of Zimbabwe have a responsibility to ensure that the government that they elected behaves properly. And it's for you people as Zimbabweans to make sure that you act to ensure that the government does these things which are correct legally, correct constitutionally and so on. There was an international conference in 1998, co-chaired by the foreign minister of Zimbabwe and the UNDP. Britain, the European Union and the World Bank participated in that conference, and agreed on a framework to address the land question. What is necessary now is to implement that agreed 1998 programme. So we're not creating anything new, we're recalling an agreement that was voluntarily entered into by the Zimbabwean government, by the British government and the EU.
Farai Magagula, South Africa: Why you haven't been more outspoken in your criticism of the violence in Zimbabwe?
President Mbeki: I don't know how many times I've spoken on this matter. When I addressed the South African parliament a few days ago, I think that was the sixth time I addressed this matter publicly, including twice in Zimbabwe. The last time I was in Zimbabwe, I spoke there publicly. I opened a trade fair and said, "We have to end the violence in Zimbabwe. We have to end the confrontation around this land question; we've got to abandon an approach which does not seek a solution which benefits all the people of Zimbabwe, and you can't address this land question by generating conflict and therefore we need to end that conflict and so on." I've said this a number of times. I have repeated it now. I've said it twice in Zimbabwe.
Mark Anthony Vandiar, South Africa: I'm not in agreement with the methods used by President Mugabe but I do agree with him in principle. When will we see a change to our people in South Africa, with land going to the people who owned it in the first instance?
President Mbeki: We've got constitutional and real provisions with regard to this land question in South Africa. One of the constitutional provisions is that there needs to be respect for private property. But there is also a provision in the constitution, which says the matter of this land question needs to be addressed so that we redress past wrongs. There is a programme that we've been carrying out in South Africa to address these things. We've discussed this matter with the organisation of commercial farmers who said they're ready to enter into discussions with the government We are addressing it. Perhaps we need to pick up speed. I think we will proceed in the manner we've adopted.
Natasha Taylor, UK: With regards to the recent land invasions in Zimbabwe and the move by President Mugabe's government requiring holders of dual citizenship to surrender their Zimbabwean nationality. These events are obviously a consequence of the country's history and I believe that South Africa has the potential to walk the same path. In your heart you believe that the white people are entitled to remain in South Africa, and if so, at what cost?
President Mbeki: There is no likelihood that any of this will happen in South Africa. There's nothing to say that what we are facing in this instance is a contagious disease. I'm confident that no problem of this kind is going to break out in South Africa.
Natasha Taylor, UK: I see a lot of anger in Zimbabwe, is the same anger not felt in South Africa?
President Mbeki: You've seen South Africa liberated for six years, I'm quite sure if you asked yourself the question - why you haven't had that eruption from the beginning - it is because the South Africans, both black and white, have accepted the fact that they're all South Africans. There's nobody who is saying because you're white you're half South African or not quite as South African. These are all South Africans and will continue to work together to build a new country.
Dr Peter Robinson, New Zealand: Unlike many other South Africans, I did not run away from my country, I would still love to go home but I get the feeling I would be considered as an unwelcome wealthy white minority. Am I completely misreading the situation?
President Mbeki: I'm sure the good doctor must know that there are South Africans who are a million times wealthier than he is. This very morning I was with the chairman of the Anglo-American Corporation here in London, we were together in a common delegation talking to British business, and, no, the doctor is perfectly welcome to come back. In reality, we need more doctors. We need more medical doctors in South Africa. We would welcome him with both arms.
Karl Mondoa, Cameroonean in USA: Do you believe, as I do, that Africans should be very selective in what technologies we embrace? Hungry people do not have the patience for wonderful scientific theories.
President Mbeki: Yes, but wonderful science is of great benefit to poor people in terms of addressing their poverty. I don't think we should be making this sort of contrast to say either poverty or science. A lot of science has got to do with ending of poverty and, sure, we've got to be selective about the technologies, but the basic point really is that we need to address that matter of this digital divide to make sure that you don't get Africa falling further back, because it is falling so far behind with regard to modern scientific and technological developments.
Walter Agumbi: I'm a founder of the website NairobiScape.com and the big challenge I found is there seems to be no-one interested in funding a concept from Africa. How do you plan to encourage investors to take an interest in new Internet sites in Africa?
President Mbeki: With regard to yourself, I will ask the BBC here to give me that website so I can contact you, because I'm quite sure that we would be able to contact some people who can help you in that regard. But more broadly, the World Bank is very keenly interested in this matter about the development of the Internet and the development of the communication infrastructure on the African continent. I'm sure if you're in contact with them, they have a programme with regard to this. They would assist a great deal in terms of ensuring that people like yourself are able to participate in that sort of thing.
I think the Internet is absolutely extraordinary. It's very, very useful and I think one of the things we've got to do is make sure that the African continent gets on to that information super highway. We've got to access this modern technology. I've been saying, for instance, if you put in this infrastructure, you're able then to deliver tele-medicine to a village. In reality, this technology is most useful for poor countries.
Mark Rolfe, Scotland: Why do you deny pregnant women the use of AZT during pregnancy and labour when there is solid evidence it reduces the transmission of HIV from mother to child?
President Mbeki: This is part of the discussion that is now taking place. The latest circular from the World Health Organisation was specifically on AZT. It says when you dispense AZT, it must be done under close medical supervision, bearing in mind the contradications and potential toxicities. The idea you can just give out this anti-retroviral without the proper health infrastructure - because in many instances you've got to check this patient every day. You cannot do it in a rural district hospital. This infrastructure does not exist. One of the issues that the scientists are looking at is - where you have to dispense these anti-retro's to large numbers of people in a poor country, with a weak health delivery system? What the WHO is warning about - is that if you don't do it properly, you might kill the pregnant mothers because of the toxicity in the drugs.
Glenn Evans, Hong Kong: South Africa is facing a serious AIDS crisis and you recently appointed an international panel to re-examine the causes of AIDS, despite the fact that most scientists already agree that HIV causes AIDS. The Washington Post, among other publications, has been harshly critical of you. They called your panel a ludicrous waste of precious time and a cruel hoax on your suffering people. With millions of lives at stake, Sir, why do you lend credence to theories that the medical community long ago rejected, and secondly, are you concerned that people might fail to take precautions against HIV infection when they hear you question the relationship between HIV and AIDS?
President Mbeki: There's been a lot of mis-reporting about this. Let me tell you what they have been saying and doing. It seems to me there are a number of scientific questions that need to be answered with regard to this. Not so much to ensure that we're better educated about science, but to ensure that we make a more effective intervention against AIDS. So, we then asked the scientists representing all the different points of view, with regard to the scientific discussion - which as you know has been going on for a long time - I agree with you the majority of the scientists saying one thing.
We need answers to them because we need to be very focused and very effective in the fight against AIDS. One of the consequences is that the scientists themselves, the scientists on both sides, agreed that, yes, indeed there are many angles of scientific questions. They further agreed that indeed they had not been discussing these questions for 15 years because there had been mud-shrinking, throwing mud at one another. They further agreed that they would then meet under the auspices of the US government, centres for disease control, all infections - all factions would meet under the auspices of the CDC to look at these unsettled scientific questions that exist.
Glenn Evans, Hong Kong: But the question is whether HIV leads to AIDS?
President Mbeki: That's one of the issues that the scientists are discussing. I've never made any judgement on that. It is an issue they are debating. They're debating it also, not because they're interested in abstruse scientific conclusions, but for all these years, we still haven't found a vaccine for AIDS and this is something that must be troubling to the scientists and to the rest of us.
Email from Kenya: Rape cases are rising in your country. What are you doing to arrest that situation?
President Mbeki: There is a lot of misreporting about these things. There was a statistic put out by some junior police officer, I think in 1994, and he said only one out of 36 rapes in South Africa is reported. And when we ask questions about this, how do you know that there were 35 rapes that were not reported? It seemed quite illogical. It then transpired he was given this figure by a criminologist. The criminologist said he knew nothing about it. It is on the basis of that that you get the statements made about the rapid escalation of rape and so on. The figure is not correct. But there is a rape problem, as I think there is in many countries. But these figures given about South Africa are actually fake. They don't exist.
Carole Bignell, London, UK: Has it been difficult to fill the shoes of Nelson Mandela?
President Mbeki: I've worked with Nelson Mandela for many, many years, before he got arrested, and before we ourselves went into exile, he was in the senior leadership of the ANC, we worked under him, and when he came out of jail and we came back into the country, we worked under him, so we've learnt a lot from him, and we're able to use that to continue from where you are. So I think that makes it easier - the capacity that we were given to follow on. Of course, it's true Nelson Mandela is Nelson Mandela. Fortunately, I did say to him when this matter was raised once about stepping into his shoes that actually I would not want to step into his shoes because he normally buys ugly shoes! So I really wouldn't want to!
Tyler Warfield in New York, USA: I was like you an overseas student at Sussex University. For me it was a formative time. What do you think your education at Sussex gave you to be able to cope with being President of South Africa and what favourite memories, if any, do you have of your time there?
President Mbeki: I think that probably the most important thing about our education was that it taught us to question even those things we thought we knew. To say you've got to inquire, you've got to be testing your knowledge all the time in order to be more effective in what you're doing. I think it's very helpful because when you get challenged and other people say you're talking nonsense, it's a good thing. You feel inspired to listen what this alternative view is.
I think it's very important for people who have, for one reason or another, to sit in these sorts of positions in which we sit. I think if you close your eyes and ears, as we were, you see the discussion they're having about the HIV/AIDS question, to say there is established science, everything is frozen, everything is proved, science is never like that. Science is always inquiring. I think Sussex said inquire all the time, get to know more, learn more. Don't be afraid to say I was wrong, and I think that's an enormous asset.
Source: BBC News Online (http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/talking_point/forum/newsid_746000/746464.stm)