INTERVIEW OF PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI BY SABC TV2, 16 February 2003
Presenter 1: Hello and welcome to this special broadcast on SABC 2 and SABC Radio. I'm Redi Direko. Tonight we'll be talking to the President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr Thabo Mbeki, about his State of the Nation Address, which he delivered on Friday. With me is the Political Editor of the SABC, Vuyo Mvoko.
Presenter 2: I'm Vuyo Mvoko and thanks very much for joining us. We're coming to you from Tuynhuys and the President is indeed, here to speak to us. Mr President, welcome.
President Thabo Mbeki: Thank you very much.
Presenter 2: In the speech you made on Friday, you spoke a lot about Iraq and the attempts that we are trying to make to help resolve the situation, to avert a war in Iraq. Some people are saying: well, it looks like America's mind is pretty much made and what we're doing may well be too late - what's your view?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well Vuyo, we are proceeding from the position, which everybody has stated, that they would rather that this matter was solved peacefully. You'll remember that when the inspectors reported to the Security Council on the 27th of January, reference was made to the South African disarmament process - that that process reflected what was desired and so we thought it was important, to see what assistance we can lend to the Iraqis so that they can then implement their own disarmament programme in the manner that the Security Council approved of.
Therefore we thought we would send our people who were involved in that process to indicate what happened here with a view to persuading the Iraqis to implement their own programme in the same way on the assumption that everybody does want this matter resolved, and resolved peacefully. That is the preferred route and, hopefully, that's what it will help to achieve.
Presenter 1: Mr President, you spoke about South Africa's experience in sending a team of people - newspaper reports are saying that, indeed, there will be a team that is going and there are speculation and reports that Dr Wouter Basson will be part of that team. Can you tell us who will be part of that team and what will be their mandate?
President Thabo Mbeki: No, there isn't any decision yet about specifically who would go. Last week I met some of the engineers who had been involved in this programme. Wouter Basson was not there. I will, today and tomorrow, get the list of people who would be competent to do this. With regard to the chemical and biological weapons, there are other people who were handling this programme; it wasn't just Wouter Basson. But certainly, in the group that I met last week, he wasn't there.
Presenter 1: Let's move on to another issue - that of Zimbabwe, in the light of the letter that President Obasanjo sent to Mr Howard. There have been interpretations and different analyses of that letter. In your words, where is the Troika process at this stage?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, as far as we are concerned, there's a process of consultation going on. Prime Minister Howard had sent a message to ask for dates and venues of the next meeting of the Troika. What I said to him was that it might not be necessary to have a meeting, because Australia has taken certain positions after the meeting of the Troika in Abuja. Australia imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe of various kinds. We were saying that, in terms of the Commonwealth decision, it required us to engage the Zimbabweans, it doesn't speak about any of the sanctions that Australia imposed. I said that we could meet as the Troika, take a lot of time to travel to some place, money and all that, and Australia would state its positions, we would state our positions, and what was the need for a meeting? Well, Prime Minister Howard said to me that he would look at the matter. He would discuss it with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth and would come back to me. So I'm still waiting.
Presenter 1: Does it concern you, though, that there seem to be different viewpoints - even within the Troika - on how to proceed on the matter?
President Thabo Mbeki: There were different views that emerged in Abuja. We pointed that out that what had been decided in London, when we met, was that we would meet after twelve months. The Chair of the Commonwealth, the Prime Minister, insisted that we should meet in six months and, out of respect for him as Chair, we, indeed, travelled to Nigeria for that meeting - at which meeting he then asked for additional measures and we said that we didn't have any mandate for that and if, as Chair, he sought additional measures, there would be need of a mandate from the heads of government of the Commonwealth, which we didn't have. I repeated that to him now; that if he felt, as Chair of the Commonwealth, that additional sanctions needed to be imposed on Zimbabwe, he needed to contact all the members of the Commonwealth to get such a mandate, because he doesn't have it and the Troika doesn't have it. We would get to a position where the rest of the Commonwealth would say: 'We gave you a specific mandate and you acted without consulting with us. So I said to him, well, why don't you consult with them and then let everybody respond and then we can take action on that basis.
Presenter 2: So on the Zimbabwean government side, Mr President, what is expected of President Mugabe? You were quoted recently - or there were reports attributed to you - that he was expected to make some announcements around issues like press freedom. What exactly is the nature of those commitments that he's supposed to make and is he still expected to make those announcements?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, Vuyo, I'm sure that you'd know that over all this long period of contention around Zimbabwe we have raised concerns about a whole variety of matters with Zimbabwe. Sometimes on a bilateral basis, sometimes through SADC. As I was saying, the Commonwealth decision taken in Australia said we must engage Zimbabwe to address these various matters.
One of the matters we've raised with them is that there have been complaints about, for instance, legislation passed that has an impact on the press, that it was necessary to look at that legislation and to see what was wrong with it and to change it and, indeed, the Zimbabweans have agreed to that.
We have said there's other legislation, which people were saying was limiting democratic freedom; that it was necessary to look at that and, indeed, they are looking at that.
There are matters which related to farm workers, who had been displaced as a result of this land redistribution process and that you then had some hundreds of thousands of people who had nowhere to go, who didn't have anywhere to work and so on. The history of the matter is that a very large number of those originated from Malawi and Mozambique and so they've been treated in Zimbabwe for all of these years as foreigners. But these are people who have lived and worked there for a very long period of time. So Zimbabwe has, therefore, agreed to introduce legislation which would say that anybody who was in Zimbabwe on Independence Day in 1980 is a Zimbabwean; so that those people, those farm workers who got displaced, would then have the same rights as any other Zimbabweans and, therefore, themselves be entitled to land and all of that.
So there's a whole range of matters like this that we are addressing with the Zimbabweans in the detail consistent with what the Commonwealth said the Troika must do; and so those are the changes that will come about. We are discussing with them economic questions to see what it is that we can do together to bring about recovery of the economy.
We had initiated the discussions between the MDC and Zanu PF. Negotiations started. What then happened is that the MDC went to court to challenge the legality of the elections at which point Zanu PF said let us wait for the court case to finish and then we can resume negotiations after that. If the courts say the elections were illegitimate, then you'd have to have a new round of elections, but, if they found against, we would then resume the negotiations. So that's a bit of a difficult problem, because the matter is in the courts. I don't know when the Zimbabwe courts will hear this matter, which made it difficult for that bilateral discussion to continue. Of course, Zanu PF is saying it is itself very glad that the matter has been taken to court, ... let the judges determine this matter, because if they don't, you'll continue to have controversy about this issue. So that is a matter that is a bit difficult to deal with, because we had thought that it would be important that the leadership of Zimbabwe - both the opposition and ruling party - to get together to deal with these problems of Zimbabwe. The solution to these problems is in the hands of the Zimbabwean people. It is not in the hands of any foreigner, including ourselves, but I'm saying that the problem with it is that the matter now must be adjudicated by the Zimbabwean courts.
President Obasanjo, when he was in Harare recently, discussed this matter with Morgan Tsvangirai and said that we would prefer that they get together and deal with all of those questions. One of the matters that was on the agreed agenda was the issue of the formation of a government of national unity, but we can't proceed with that until this court matter has been addressed.
Presenter 1: Mr President, let's talk about the perceptions on South Africa's assistance of Zimbabwe. You've just said that South Africa will continue to assist the Zimbabwean people, but, at the same time, the matter is in the hands of the Zimbabweans, but yet, for some reason, we still have reaction from some opposition leaders, saying South Africa is not doing enough ... newspaper reports this morning. Are you satisfied with the extent of our government's communication on what it is doing in Zimbawe or is there still room, perhaps, to enhance it or even improve it so that the matter is laid to rest once and for all and it is understood what our government is doing?
President Thabo Mbeki: No, I don't think there is a lack of understanding about what the government is doing - there's a difference of opinion about what to do.
Some people want us to impose sanctions, people want us to participate in a process of the removal of the government of Zimbabwe and, so long as we don't do those things, they will criticise. We are not going to, and we have said this before, be going around the African continent, removing governments. The matter of who governs Zimbabwe is a matter that is in the hands of the people of Zimbabwe. The matter of who governs the people of South Africa is in the hands of the people of South Africa.
But that is the problem - the problem is not a lack of understanding of what we are saying and doing; the problem is difference of opinion about what to do. People have said: impose sanctions; and we have said, surely, it cannot be in our interest to contribute to the collapse of Zimbabwe, because we will inherit all of the consequences of that collapse of Zimbabwe. Why do we want Zimbabwe to collapse instead of helping to make sure, that Zimbabwe overcomes its problems.
Presenter 2: Just before we go, Mr President, the heads of state of the African Union met about two weeks ago - what would you say is it that they took forward from the first meeting, the inaugural meeting in Durban, last year?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, the principal reason for the meeting was because some of the heads of state felt that there were certain deficiencies in the Constitutive Act, which would impact on the functioning of the union and therefore they needed to present various amendments, which did not fundamentally restructure the union. There would, for instance, be matters like the fact that the Act, as it stands now, says there shall be elected a Chairperson of the Union who will hold office for a year. The amendment that has been approved is that, in exceptional circumstances, it could be extended to two years. The reason for that is that you could have a situation in which a problem does arise, that you elect a Chair and problems arise in that particular country, or whoever would have succeeded as Chair, problems arise in that country. The Constitutive Act, as it stands now, obliges you to elect that Chair even if there are problems. The amendment sought to correct that, to give some flexibility.
Presenter 2: A lot has been said, Mr President, about peer review, as we all know, which you mentioned it in your speech on Friday. To what extent will the issue be dealt with in the next year - in other words, what are these institutions that need to be set up and what is it exactly that they are going to do to take the process forward?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, at the next meeting of the heads of state, concerning the implementation committee of NEPAD, which would be at the beginning of March, we will approve all of the criteria and the standards and the benchmarks against which countries will be judged, both the political and the economic. We should finalise that during March and then we have to determine the institutions that will do the assessments. We have discussed this matter with the United Nations' Economic Commission for Africa, with the African Development Bank, because they have the capacity to do the economic assessments. So we've got to agree on that.
Then on the political assessments, we have been saying that we have the African Commission on Human Rights, which at some point, for instance, was chaired by Barney Pityana here when he was leader of our own Commission on Human Rights. That body does regular work with regard to human rights issues right throughout the continent. You might want to get that body to feed into the NEPAD peer review process on political matters, which would be governed by the Constitutive Act, which would be governed by the African Convention on Human and People's Rights. We would then report, and make the assessments on the political side.
So it is a matter of all sorts of institutions that have got some professional capacity and independence to be able to make those decisions. Then there is the committee that is overall in charge of this. One of the things that we want to do at this next meeting is to appoint the Chair of that group. It is a full time job - so you need an outstanding African, somebody of integrity, and all of that, who would then lead a group, which doesn't have to be full time though that person would be full time. So that appointment needs to be made also, and should be made next month.
Presenter 1: We're talking to the President of the Republic of South Africa, Mr. Thabo Mbeki. Now for a quick ad break, stay with us.
Presenter 2: Welcome back and we're now on economics, Mr President. The tide has turned, that is the message you sent out on Friday. The benefits of GEAR: we now have a resilient, dynamic economy - to what extent are you satisfied that government has done everything it could to make the economy work and that now the ball is in, perhaps, business and labour and other partners' court?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, I think there is continuing work that has to be done by government. It would be incorrect to say that government has done everything that it needed to do - that would not be right.
For instance, you'll see that we mentioned things that must happen around the Port of Durban. The reason is that the growth of the economy has in fact overtaken growth of that port. So you are getting a slowing down of exports and a slowing down of imports because of the capacity of the port to handle that. Now this is a state corporation and it is increasing the costs of doing business, it is slowing down the function of the economy. So we have to do various things there to concession some parts of the port, to make sure that you put in new investment in the port, to reduce costs of moving goods in and out of that port and to increase the speed at which you do it. Now those are government responsibilities. That is an example of part of what needs to be done.
We have raised the question of human resource development, the need really to make sure that we do implement the programme of human resource development that is there, very focused on the skills strategies, to use the new immigration legislation to attract people from elsewhere in the world who have got those skills that are in short supply. So there are many things of this kind that need to be done.
We have said that there is a section of our population that you can't expect to get integrated in the economy of its own. These are people without skills and that will include young people who might very well have matric certificates, but don't have the skills to be absorbed in the economy. So we need to target people like those in a special way, in a focused way so that they have the skills and the capacity to participate in the economy. That requires special programmes.
Presenter 2: And what kinds of programs are we looking at - like targeting the youth, in particular?
President Thabo Mbeki: I'm mentioning, for instance, the matter of raising skills within the context of that human resource development programme. You'd see, for instance, that we have made specific mention of information and communication technology (ICT), youth learnership programmes. It is an expanding sector of the economy. You can, you must, get these young people with those matric certificates and introduce them to this technology. That's when they become employable in this sector and that will affect other areas - all these learnerships that we are talking about.
You would notice that we said that the government is going to take the initiative to bring in its own learnership system, involving people who are unemployed, because what has been happening up to now is that that system of learnerships has actually been upgrading skills of people who are already employed, which is good and necessary. We need to go beyond that, to bring in those who are unemployed. The public service needs lots of people, the country generally, needs lots of people. So the government is saying that we are going to take the unemployed into our own learnership programmes so that we impart the skills to them; and a lot of those would be young people.
Presenter 1: Mr President, you're talking about the initiatives of government - in the build-up to the growth and development summit. What sort of contributions would you like to see from business?
President Thabo Mbeki: One of them is this matter of skills development, because I think anybody who knows anything about South Africa and the South African economy would know that one of the big constraints to growth and development is skills shortages. So all of us, need to come at this thing as vigorously as is possible and, of course, the private sector has the capacity to take it on board.
Presenter 1: Are they using that capacity?
President Thabo Mbeki: It has been something like 23 000 people who have gone into these learnerships in terms of SETAs. Of those, only 5 000 have come from the unemployed. We want to increase that. They have the capacity; it has started happening, but it is on a very small scale. So that is one matter.
The other matter is that we want to look quite closely at investment plans. The government wants to interact with business quite closely on this matter to see what their own investment plans are, to see what constraints there might be to them making particular investment decisions and if there is a barrier that's coming from government policies, to address those barriers.
So it would be issues like that - investment, employment, issues of social equity, the meeting of all of these objectives about employment equity, gender, disability, race and so on. So our own expectation is that each of the social partners should come and say with regard to all of these matters: this is what we're going to do -, put its own proposals on the table - then we can discuss those proposals.
Presenter 2: You mentioned, Mr President, on Friday, that there could be legislation coming up with regard to black economic empowerment and I think people generally agree on the means to do this, but, then, what is going to be the obligation on the part of black economic empowerment beneficiaries, to re-invest in the economy, to create jobs and so on - what obligations are you planning to?
President Thabo Mbeki: You will see, Vuyo, that we said that we can't treat the matter of black economic empowerment as just the redistribution of existing wealth. That it really has to focus on new investment, on growth, on development of employment and so on and so on. The interventions of the government with regard to this matter will focus on creating the necessary space for people to come into that kind of process - not so much to buy out equity that already exists. It doesn't add to wealth, it does redistribute, which is an important part of this. But where people were talking, for instance, about information and communication technology, a growth sector of the economy, we want to see more black participation, in its growth and in its development. We would take tourism, the same thing. So the focus, really, is on the expansion of the economy and the participation of black people in the growing sectors of the economy.
Presenter 2: And is there a way that is being proposed to deal with the whole question of enrichment of the few, which a lot of people see as a problem in black economic empowerment?
President Thabo Mbeki: Yes, indeed. You will notice again, that what we said is that documentation that will come from the Minister of Trade and Industry after the budget will deal with those matters. What, in fact, do we mean by black empowerment? And it certainly can't just mean enrichment of particular individuals - it is generally raising the level of wealth of the population as a whole. So we will specify all of those things, including the fact that black empowerment cannot just be seen as ownership. Issues of management are important, issues of even skills levels. If you look at South African society today, not just the economy - your top skills, your senior skilled jobs - you still have a gross imbalance with regard to that. So it will indicate all of these things - that this is what this government would believe is black economic empowerment. So that when the government enters into an agreement with a particular company to say we want a black economic empowerment partner in this government project, government will be understood in the following way.
Presenter 1: Mr. President, that's now for the future, but today, right now - how would you measure re-investment by black economic empowerment companies into the society?
President Thabo Mbeki: I don't want to mention particular companies. I might be accused of advertising. There are black companies that are very active in the economy, that are growing and not on the basis of mergers and acquisitions, but because of putting new money into their particular companies and, therefore, their particular sectors. Indeed, if they didn't do that, they would collapse as companies. It is happening, but I think the critical point, really, is that we need to focus black economic empowerment more on the creation of new wealth rather than on these big deals that have been characteristic of this process in the past, of people going to banks, borrowing a lot of money, buying this and when the shares don't perform very well, the shares go back to the banks, because there's other people who own this anyway. I think we need to re-focus it so that it really does impact on growth, new investment, new employment and a general, better spread of wealth in the country.
Presenter 2: Just some things, Mr President, that a lot of people are giving, perhaps, a lot of attention to - just going to the growth and development summit, what is it exactly, from labour this time, are you expecting them to come up with; in other words, to put on the table as their part of the contribution?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, that's a question that we shall put to labour - they have to answer it. Indeed, we have asked this question. There are certain things that labour can do with regard to government, for instance. We have to continue to confront the challenge of corruption within the public service. The public service unions have got to say what it is that they are going to do with regard to this. You see, the Jali Commission, for instance, dealing with the correctional services. A lot of the people that the Jali Commission is pointing to, as people who are doing bad things in the prisons, are members of unions. We are asking the unions what are they going to do about that - whether it is a matter of teaching or whatever else.
Presenter 1: The growth and development summit takes place in May. If you're saying that labour must come and answer that question, are you saying that, so close to the growth and development summit, they haven't come up with what they want to see?
President Thabo Mbeki: They haven't, none of us have. None of the social partners - government, business, labour, civil society,- none of them has tabled its specific proposals. So I do not think we can accuse the unions, particularly, but we, all of us, have to do it. All of the various sectors and components of the Nedlac process have got to table what we are proposing.
Presenter 2: Mention has been made, Mr President, of the funds that are at labour's disposal - what is government's view on what labour could do with those funds - re-investment wise?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, one of the things that's been raised in particular by the Minister of Finance with the unions is that the law enables them to supply 50% of the trustees of the pension funds and that, in many instances, this has not happened. So that board of trustees is going to be able to take decisions as to what happens to those monies which have been collected as pensions, and where you don't have those boards of trustees constituted like that, unions are not able to make an impact on the decisions of the pension fund. So he, the Minister of Finance, has been pushing them to appoint these trustees, so that they are at this decision-making point. We think that would enable these trustees, the workers, to then say: with regard to our money, we think it should be invested in this manner and the other manner. But that's something that they might want to address in the context of the growth and development summit.
Presenter 2: Just thinking - here we are, here's government, here's labour, here's business, at the growth summit. Government says to business: the laws are labour friendly, we've created an investor friendly environment, so deliver on your part, but then labour turns around and says but we haven't really benefited ... in fact, the workers got the thick end of the wedge - what would the government's response be in that situation - I know it's hypothetical.
President Thabo Mbeki: We have all of us agreed, labour, government, business and so on, all of us have agreed that there should be this growth and development summit. The first question that labour must answer is the question that you posed earlier - what are we, as labour, offering with regard to growth and development? Let's see that. They might very well then say the same thing that you've just said - that the way the economy has developed has disadvantaged us in this way and the other way - that's fine, but we'll deal with those, but the first and central task is to answer the question - what is our contribution to the growth and development of this country?
Presenter 1: And the resolutions that would come up - another hypothetical question - the resolutions that would come out of the growth and development summit, whose responsibility then, would it be, to implement those - how would you go about that?
President Thabo Mbeki: We must, all of us, make firm commitments. I mean, the government will go, as I was indicating, and say these are our investment plans. These are our plans with regard to human resource development. These are the plans with regard to facilitating the growth of exports, these are our plans with regard to development of infrastructure, including infrastructure in rural areas. These are the monies we are going to spend over such and such a period of time and people must come and make their own proposals, depending on what they're doing and I think that once you see that this has been handled as a Nedlca process, I would imagine that once we've come to an agreement, Nedlac would continue to have a rule in terms of checking whether these commitments that people have been made are in fact, being honoured.
Presenter 1: We continue our discussions with the President, Mr. Thabo Mbeki, after the ad break.
Presenter 2: Welcome back and Mr. President is still with us. Ahead of your speech on Friday, Mr. President, the GCIS released some figures on delivery with regard to water, electricity, housing and so on, and a lot is being done, although a lot still has to happen - how confident are you that you will be able to build up from where things are at the moment and, perhaps, things will get better in the year head?
President Thabo Mbeki: I think, Vuyo, the critical challenge that we face now is the capacity of the public administration to implement policies. What happened as a result of the implementation of the GEAR policy, as it was intended, was to release more funds for development, and that's happened. The result of which is that we've got capacity to spend more on social development and economic and social investment and so on.
The critical challenge is to make sure that these monies are actually spent properly. That's why we were raising the matter of the improvement of the efficiency of the public service. Fortunately, last year, an agreement was reached between the government and public sector unions about this matter of the restructuring of the public service. It is a matter that has been outstanding for a very long time as a result of which, for instance, you couldn't move on these people called supernumaries, who stayed in their jobs, not doing anything; but you couldn't do anything because that required a prior agreement. Now, with that agreement, it becomes possible to do the restructuring that is necessary. We have to focus on the matter of the capacity of the public service to implement and to use those funds that are now available.
Presenter 2: Are you saying, Mr President, that this year we are going to deal with that issue finally?
President Thabo Mbeki: We really have to deal with it very firmly. The government has given itself a deadline up to June this year really, to have completed all the plans. You've counted all the eggs, you've done all of the auditing, you know what skills you have, you know what skills you don't have, you know who's supernumary and who is not ... so that we can then move vigorously on this question.
Presenter 1: Well, you've answered the question on the restructuring and what to do about public service, those people who have become redundant. You also spoke about attracting new skills. How is the government going to do that?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, you see again, as I was saying, we have to have a very clear and as precise a picture as possible of the skills profile currently, in the public service, and the sorts of people that we need. I think that is a basic starting point and once we have that, then clearly we have to engage in a serious recruiting campaign to meet those skills strategies.
Presenter 1: When can that happen, Mr President, given that we're hearing a lot about international agencies that are targeting particularly medical workers. So there is quite an urgency to move forward with that - when can we expect that to happen?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, as I was saying that, with regard to that whole entire auditing process, we have given ourselves up to June to complete all of that. So I would imagine that during the current year that should begin. The matter of people being attracted to other countries is a permanent problem in my view, it doesn't only face South Africa. A whole lot of countries in the world are faced with this problem. So we have to contend with it all the time, continuously and so training becomes an important part of this, because if you relied on the pool that is there and didn't seek to expand the numbers of people available, you lose some and that will have a negative impact. But it is a problem that is discussed, for instance, at the International Labour Organisation, and it is not a specifically South African problem. Quite what can be done about it globally, I don't know, because, indeed, your developed countries are taking teachers from here, they are taking nurses, because people are better paid where they are going.
Presenter 2: To deliver on those deadlines that you mentioned, Mr President, the June deadline and others that may follow afterwards, you're going to need decisive political leadership ... you still have the Housing Minister. I don't know how far you've gone with getting a replacement. The Deputy Minister of Social Development that you're going to need, the Minister of Transport- how are you going to deal with those and when?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, the new Minister of Housing will be appointed this month. The Minister of Transport is undergoing treatment, as you know. He has not become non-operational, but he receives treatment once a week, one week in a month and during this period we have agreed that the Minister of Public Enterprises would assist with regard to this - otherwise he is at work. We will look at the matter of the Deputy Minister for Social Development, but I think the capacity is there in government to do all of these things. Certainly, some time this month we will appoint a new Housing Minister.
Presenter 1: Mister President, you spoke in your speech about programmes for community workers. How exactly will those work; what programmes are we talking about?
President Thabo Mbeki: You see, we've been concerned. It has related to this matter that we have just raised. We have been concerned that you need public servants who are actually working among the people. When, for instance, we've gone around during the imbizo, and you go house to house, you find people who don't know -for instance about the child support grant - they just don't know about it. So you've got to direct them; you help them to fill in the forms to apply for this and you will still find a fair number of people without identity documents. You have got to assist them to do that.
All of that kind of work requires that there must be public servants who are working regularly among the people. Even matters of specific projects - again, during the imbizo, you'll find that government might have put money into a particular project, but because there wasn't close enough supervision and checking up and so on; after the investment has dried up, the project collapses.
So you need people there who are directly in contact with the situation who are then able to ensure that, if there is an old person who hasn't been getting their pension for two months, steps are taken to make sure that happens; or children who are entitled to support grant don't get it, or there's a school which is supposed to be feeding children and is not doing it - that that happens, all of those sorts of things. So that is why we are talking about these community development workers.
We have raised the matter of project managers - it's a particular skill, which a public servant - the general, normal public servant - may very well not have. This is managing a business, making sure that it functions properly, and all that. So it's strengthening that layer, which is directly in contact with the public and directly in contact with the project, to make sure that what is intended does happen. Not just to leave people sitting in offices and, therefore, kind of managing things at arm's length. You need a more direct involvement.
Presenter 1: Mr President, we've seen incidents where delivery has been hampered by bureaucracy. National government in KwaZulu Natal late last year made food parcels available and then we had local government in that particular area saying they were not consulted. The food was lying there, rotting, while people were hungry. What measures are there to deal with those sorts of bureaucracies?
President Thabo Mbeki: I think that sometimes when we talk about the functioning of the public service, we talk, perhaps, a little too generally. Really, a critical matter in the public service is radically to improve the quality of management. The issue that we raise would have been very much a central management issue. We need to improve the capacity of the public service to manage all these processes and, certainly, with any town councillor, city councillor, there ought to be a performance obligation on a person like that. With me, as a town clerk or city manager, there are certain things that I'm supposed to do - if I don't do them, then I don't deserve to continue in this post. That is a management thing. I think, really, we do need radically to increase that management echelon, and it increases the capacity to manage.
Presenter 2: Mr. President, in your speech you referred to government, this year, going to make sure that you adhere to what the constitutional court said with regards to the HIV/AIDS question. Are you in a position to tell us where things are at the moment - in other words, from last year when government made the announcement of what was going to be done, where are things now, are able to give us a report card?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, you might have to ask the Minister of Health for that kind of detail, but what has happened is that the constitutional court took this decision - and you will remember that it dealt with the matter of mother to child transmission, and with the pilot sites that the government had put in place, and access to those pilot sites by various people and so on. The constitutional court, essentially, said the government should expand that programme, though conscious of resource limitations, and should move with necessary speed with regard to that. And that is, indeed, what has been happening.
One of the problems that the government addressed even long before the constitutional court case was that you had different capacities in the different provinces and, therefore, the Western Cape or Gauteng would obviously move faster than Limpopo or the Eastern Cape - it's entirely a matter of the availability of resources, personnel and all that. So you will find that, indeed, the provinces won't move at the same pace, the same speed, because of that limitation. But otherwise have not been waiting in terms of the implementation of that decision, and we shall continue to do that. Work is going on to address whatever deficiencies there might be in particular provinces.
Presenter 2: But won't you agree, though, Mr President, that it perhaps, it may well be necessary ... I'll tell you why I'm asking this, because in your speech a lot of criticism was that you said very little around the issue ... this, on the same day that there were people who were ready to march to Parliament. In your view, is it not necessary, perhaps, to make sure that this issue is communicated properly and that there is no confusion - in other words, these updates are necessary, from where things were, like a year ago, up to here; we still don't have a clear ... it's not clear to us what has been happening?
President Thabo Mbeki: I would agree with that. It is necessary to communicate this information all the time, but we must also see that when we say the government will continue to pursue its comprehensive programme on this, I don't imagine that it is necessary for us to explain every day what this comprehensive programme says about awareness, about these issues that we're talking about - about anti-retroviral drugs, about treatment of opportunistic diseases, about home based care, about research in terms of a vaccine. All of these matters are in that strategy, which has been explained many times. The document is out there; it explains all of this.
Yes, I agree, it is necessary to do a continuous update on these things, but I don't know why it should be necessary that every day you explain known government policy. If people feel that they need to be reminded every day, it can be done. But to say, as we said, that we'll continue to implement that comprehensive policy, means many things. It means the allocation of funds, it means treatment of all of those diseases I was talking about, about TB, about meningitis, about all sorts of things. It means the question that we've raised quite often; that we need to look at the global condition of the human being - these matters of food and nutrition and clean water - which is very much part of this. So we can repeat all of that every day, but I would imagine that some of the commentators who have spoken on this surely, by now, are familiar with the detail of what has been government policy for some time already.
Presenter 2: Perhaps another issue that you can clarify still on this issue is the Nedlac commitment where parties, negotiators, government, business, labour, agreed on a programme that could be followed, but then there is apparently a delay that is being reported in the principals actually signing the document and on the back of that there were reports that government is not willing to sign - do you know anything about this ... can you give us the true picture?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, the true picture is that there is no such agreement. I don't know where the idea came from that there is an agreement. The matter was put on the Nedlac agenda, as I understand it, by COSATU and so discussions are going on about this. There's no agreement that the government is not signing. There's a continuing process of discussion about this. Where the idea came from that there's an agreement ready to be signed, I don't know - it's false, there isn't any such thing.
Presenter 1: Mr President, just another aspect, perhaps, of the impact of HIV/AIDS and to get feedback from you - you spoke to the public broadcaster last year in December where the situation of HIV/AIDS orphans was highlighted and in that interview, in that chat, you invited the communities to come forward with information, to inform the government about what they're experiencing in their everyday lives in their communities - have you had such response, how was the response right up to your invitation?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, in terms of this comprehensive strategy I'm talking about, the issue of orphans also arises and what has happened is that from the point of view of the national government, we have indeed, sought to increase the funds that are available for this kind of work, because a lot of it, of course, would be done by NGOs, it would be done by communities, it would be done by the churches or religious bodies, generally.
So that will continue. I couldn't be certain myself about what sort of response there has been to health about this; but certainly, from the point of view of the government, including in the context of home based care, we've discussed this matter, for instance, with the working group of the religious bodies, to urge them to take up this work, to link up with the Department of Social Development with regard to funding and so on. So, from the government side, there isn't any obstacle that's been put to this. I'm not quite sure what the response of the general public has been.
Presenter 2: Lastly, Mr President, a party political question perhaps - the former chief whip of the ruling party was found guilty last week - do you know what is going to happen now?
President Thabo Mbeki: No, I don't know. I'm quite sure that the ANC will discuss the matter, I would imagine, some time this week. I would imagine Parliament would want to discuss it as well, but certainly the ANC will discuss it this week and take whatever necessary decision.
Presenter 1: Perhaps back to another government issue - the issue of pay rises for office bearers - you're expected to make a decision on that soon - can you bring us up to speed with that?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, you know that there is an independent commission, headed by Judge Goldstone, which deals with this matter. In the past I have sought to make my own contribution to the work of the commission. For instance, I thought that it was possible for the President to forego a pay rise, but the point that's been raised is that this is an independent commission, not an instrument of the executive, and therefore that it isn't quite correct for the President to intervene in that manner. So, certainly, we'll accept the recommendation of the commission, because they do indeed do a lot of work on this bringing in accounting firms and consultants and so on. As you know, the commission itself is very broad based, with labour people, with civil society people, with professionals and so on. If the documents are presented to me to sign, I'll sign them. It is a recommendation, coming from this independent commission.
Presenter 2: Mr President, just before we let you go ... do you know who's going to win the World Cup?
President Thabo Mbeki: I think the Proteas will win. If you looked at the batting line-up today when we were playing New Zealand, the way that they changed the batting order and you saw the depth of the batting order - it's very strong and we've got very good bowlers and we've got good fielders and we are playing at home. I think we'll win.
Presenter 1: Are you sure you don't want to be a motivational speaker for our cricket team?
President Thabo Mbeki: I've spoken to them and we're all agreed, that we would win.
Presenter 1: Well, on that note, we end. Thanks for joining us, good-bye.
Transcription by Monitoring South Africa
Issued by GCIS