Interview with the President of South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki, on SABC2 following his State of the Nation Address 2005
13 February 2005
Presenter: Good Evening, and Welcome to this Special Broadcast. We’re talking to President Thabo Mbeki, following his State of the Nation Address. Mr President, Good Evening and Welcome.
President Thabo Mbeki: Good Evening, Vuyo. Thanks a lot.
Presenter: Let’s begin by taking a line from the Closing Paragraph of your Speech on Friday: You said, “We are not being arrogant or complacent when we are said that our country, as a united nation, has never in its entire history, enjoyed such a confluence of encouraging possibilities”. It’s a very bold assertion.
President Thabo Mbeki: I believe it. I think it is true. I think, Vuyo, that if you look at everything: if you look at the political situation in the country; you look at the mood among the people; you look at the strength of the Economy; you look at the capacities of Government and what’s available and, I think, you look at South Africa’s standing internationally - I think that all of those matters, brought together, actually do mean that we have great possibilities to make new advances. And we must.
I think that basically the challenge is that we must then take advantage of that confluence of matters, of events, of factors to move a bit forward, faster, with regard to the achievement of these goals that we pursue.
Presenter: Just broadly, what are these things that are so holding you back - if you were to mention, let’s say, three or four?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, one of the matters that is quite clear is that we really do have to work very, very hard at improving the Capacity at Local Government. It’s quite clear, because, as you know, this is where Services are delivered to the People. And we need to attend very closely to the matter of Technical Capacity within the Municipalities – the Civil Engineers and people like that – to attend with matters that have got to do with Management of the Municipalities.
They’ve become very big. When we re-structured them, in 2000, you had very, very big Municipalities and with good possibilities. But that Capacity, I think, is critically important. That’s one matter.
We have another serious problem, which relates now to the Capacity to grow the Economy faster. And that’s a Skills problem. I know, for instance, one of our major companies in the country that is expanding is Production Capacity, and they can’t find Skilled Workers in the country and, therefore, are having to import, for a number of months, workers from the Philippines and Thailand, because they’re just not available in the country.
So that Skills Shortage is, I think, a very important matter that we need to address, in a rather comprehensive way. You will see that we are talking about making sure that the Sector Education and Training Authorities, for instance, link up properly with the Further Education and Training Colleges, and with the Institutions of Higher Learning. It’s an important matter that, really, we do have to address – otherwise, it will act as a very serious constraint in terms of our Capacity to grow the Economy.
Presenter: Let’s try and interrogate those, Mr President, individually. When one hears, from Senior Government Officials, for instance, there seems to be this growing frustration that, where Government is delivering on its own – in Housing, Social Development, and so on – it’s moving faster; but, where it has to depend on the Private Sector to come on board, there seems to be a bit of a delay, or delivery is not as fast as Government would wish it to be.
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, it is true, but I don’t think we should exaggerate that. You see, for instance, if you take this matter we are talking about now (about Local Government), you know that the Department of Provincial and Local Government have launched Operation Consolidate, which addresses this matter in a 139 Municipalities – the matter of their capacity to do their work properly. Those teams include people from the private sector, so there are Joint Teams, both public and private sector - because private sector is, of course, very interested in proper, functioning Municipalities.
So, the matter that is raised with regard to sometimes our not being in step with the private sector, would arise, for instance, with regard to matters that had been discussed in the past, like: availability of funds from the Financial Institutions - for instance, for Low Income Housing. It’s a matter that’s been with us for 10 years, when Joe Slovo was still alive and Minister of Housing, he worked at this. I remember us going to a big Indaba, where we thought this matter was resolved. But, as you know, it’s only recently that the Banks have now said, “Yes, we’ve set aside so much money, for people at these particular low levels of income, for housing”. So it’s taken time. So there would be instances of that kind.
But I think I count among the forces that belong to that confluence of circumstances, I think, a very positive attitude, among the Business Community, to contribute to the Development of the country. And, clearly, one of the issues that we have to focus on is identifying these Investment Areas, so that Capital that is available in the country knows where to go, in terms of the Investments that need to be made.
Presenter: President, maybe that’s what’s behind the Review of the Regulatory Framework that you spoke about.
President Thabo Mbeki: Sure, that’s part of the reason. But, more important, you will remember that we said that we want to look at particular Sectors of the Economy too. It’s really, basically, to open up these Investment Opportunities, so that people who’ve got money to invest know where to invest it – in what Sectors, and so on. So, we have to do that. But, I think that, generally, the mood among Businesspeople in the country is a positive one – because, in reality, I think that any honest Businessperson would say that the last 10 years have been very, very good for business.
Presenter: And what specific Sectors are we looking at, Mr President, those that you want to target?
President Thabo Mbeki: We mentioned, for instance, the area of Chemicals. That was related to the issue of Import Parity Pricing. You remember that we were saying that, particularly in the Chemicals Area and Steel, we need to address this matter, because the High Cost of those Imports limits the capacity to develop Industries downstream. So, we want to address those issues to open up these possibilities for people to be able to do successful business, downstream, in a situation in which the Cost of your Inputs is not prohibitive.
Presenter: Now, as part of that Review, you’re mentioning Tax and Levy Exemptions. Any more detail, Mr President, on that?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, the Department of Trade and Industry has been working on this. They’ve done a Review on this, that particularly relates to Small and Medium Business, to see what Impact our Regulations, our Legislation, our Taxes, and so on, are having at those levels of Business. And I’m sure that the Department of Trade and Industry will release that Report soon, but what they have said is that it’s an obvious thing. If you’ve got somebody who employs only 6 people, they can’t afford a lawyer, who must then understand all of these Laws, understand all of these Regulations, and so on. It’s way beyond their means. So you are going to turn people into criminals, simply because they don’t have the Capacity, they are too small to be able to do that.
So, we’ve got to find ways of ensuring that we open the space for them, because, as I say, really, there’s some of them who’d be too small to be able to comply with these Regulations; while, at the same time, the matter that is raised – quite legitimately – is that, at the same time, we shouldn’t create a situation where you’d worsen the condition of the people who’d be working at those places. It’s a balance that you’d need to strike.
Presenter: Now, does that then mean, Mr President that the other issues that, for a long time, Business continued to tout as Impediments to Growth and to Job Creation, like Labour Laws, are no longer the case, because you’re saying they’re fully on board and everyone seems to be happy going forward?
President Thabo Mbeki: No. These matters, as you know, that relates to Labour Legislation, and so on, are matters that have to be dealt with in the context of Nedlac. So, we will discuss these things with our Social Partners. We will present them with this Report that has been done by the Department of Trade and Industry, so that all of us are on board with regard to the actual facts, the actual assessment: What is the Impact of all of these things that we are doing, which are necessary and correct? What’s their impact on the small people, which would not be the same Impact as on big people?
So, I think that, once we – all of us – come to understand together the reality, the actuality, of the situation, it should be possible to engage a discussion to say, “Together, as South Africans, whether we are Government, or Business, or Labour, or Communities, what is it that we do to create a space so that people can start businesses to create more jobs.
But, as I say, we need to look at…so the question of ensuring that you don’t unnecessarily disadvantage the workers who have been in those Small Enterprises, in a way that makes them just the objects of Gross Exploitation.
Presenter: And the particular role of Black Economic Empowerment Beneficiaries?
President Thabo Mbeki: Sure. We want to move. Once the discussion about the Codes of Good Practice with regard to Black Economic Empowerment, once that discussion is completed – and, hopefully, by March – one of the things that we want to do, then, is to set up the Council on Black Economic Empowerment, which is an Advisory Council to the President and the Government, so that we can move again a bit faster with regard to this.
The funds, on the Government side, you know that in the past we have committed funds to assist with regard to that Black Economic Empowerment process and, I think, with that Council, with the Codes of Good Practice in place, it should be possible for us to move.
Presenter: And those Codes will, presumably, deal with the perception, as well, that is out there, that Black Economic Empowerment benefits an elite few; and other people take it further, to say, “who happen to be aligned to the Ruling Party”.
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, I think, Vuyo, that in many instances that’s a matter of Information. I think that people’s things get mixed up. There are people, naturally, who enter into their own private initiatives with other private Businesspeople; make their own deals, as a Black Empowerment Process. What the Government is involved in, is a much larger process. That’s why we talk about Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment. So, for instance, your procurement processes in Government would target small people. I know instances, for instance, in the country, in some Municipalities that are working well, where they’ve got small black contractors in their areas to build roads, to put in Infrastructure for Water, and so on. These are not big people. So the Government Programme is Broad-based and, indeed, touches thousands of people. You can’t, the Government cannot regulate what Private Businesspeople do. Vuyo Mvuko decides to enter into a big deal with a big company. You might be attacked for that! But, I mean, it’s perfectly, it’s your right. None of these big names, that are regularly mentioned, none of them has actually ever been financed by Government.
Presenter: Mr President, we’re going to take a quick commercial break. And, when we come back, we’re going to look at what is still outstanding. What is it that’s still holding back Government Delivery? Government is on its way to meeting over 70% of its Delivery Targets, but something is still holding back. We want to know what it is and what lessons we can learn from that.
Presenter: Welcome back to our Special Broadcast. We’re talking to President Thabo Mbeki about his State of the Nation Address that he gave on Friday. Mr President, it was touching, last year, when you said that – by the end of the Financial Year – no child shall learn under a tree, or in a Mud School, or any such dangerous environment. Do we know the reasons why this target can no longer be met in the scheduled time?
President Thabo Mbeki: Again, Vuyo, it’s a matter of the capacity in Government to implement. Funds were available for that Infrastructure Development with regard to Schools. You’ve got to take, then, the matter right down to the Local Community where the School will be built. And part of the problem will be Capacity, within the Department of Public Works, to handle a large Programme like that.
It will be partly a matter of the Capacity of the Department of Education, at the Provincial Level in particular, to push to make sure that these Programmes are carried out. It’s essentially an Organisational problem, and may very well be also a matter of shortage of Technical Skills of some kind, for instance, Project Managers. That, really, is the heart of the problem.
Presenter: Were you not made aware of these problems prior to making your commitment in that regard?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, everybody involved, when we discussed the matter, said, “We can do it,” and that’s why we said we would do it. Because everybody that would be part of this process, whether it’s Department of Education or Public Works, and so on, were quite confident that it could be done.
Presenter: Shouldn’t someone be held to account, then, now that we actually…we cannot? Clearly, their information was wrong.
President Thabo Mbeki: Sure, but I think that we perhaps, Vuyo, one of the things that we need to appreciate a bit better is where we come from – the enormity of the problem. Sometimes we perhaps our hearts and our desires run ahead of our capacities and people with very good intention really want to do this thing. And, in the end, you find you over-estimated this capacity. I don’t think there was negligence. I don’t think there was bad faith. But, as I say, that perhaps we allow our wishes to gallop a little bit ahead of what, actually, we can do.
Presenter: Now, we have an even more dire situation in certain Municipalities – Local Government – where we have seen, now, the most intense situations, emotionally: people throwing stones at Police vehicles; people assaulting Police; MECs and Officials not being able to get into certain areas because of this Uprising that’s coming up. Does this worry you?
President Thabo Mbeki: Yes, it does. It does. But, I mean, first of all, the matter that you are talking about is real, it’s true, but it’s a small minority of Municipalities. We shouldn’t, I think, present it as though it’s engulfing the system of Municipal Government. But, some instances, certainly, of this have happened.
One of the problems (I’m quite sure about this) one of the problems has been the weakness of contact between Councillors, Local Government and the Communities. Certainly, in all instances that I’ve been dealing with this, for instance, in the Imbizo process, when you discuss with the people and they will raise their problems, “This is what we want. This is what we need. This is what is in short supply,” and then you are able to say to them, “But, we can’t do this today. We can do it tomorrow”. I think people are very reasonable. But, I think, once contact breaks and people form ideas about what is there – the millions of Rands that is sitting there, not spent, which may not be there – of course you will then get a situation of that kind.
Presenter: But you did, further, in your Speech, use words like “negligent” and “tardy”, that there are Councillors that fall in that category. Now shouldn’t you, perhaps, who’re making or setting examples, with regard to those specific people who are, as you say, negligent and tardy?
President Thabo Mbeki: Sure. I mean, what we’ve said, to all of the Provincial Governments, is that they need to…they’re much closer to the Municipalities than National Government is; that they need to keep a very close eye on what is happening in the Municipalities; in the first instance, to assist the Municipalities.
You know that we have presented Inter-Governmental Relations Legislation in Parliament, which is intended to improve co-ordination among all of these spheres of Government. That should help both National and Provincial Governments to have a bit of closer contact with the Municipalities. As I say, in the first instance, to help those Municipalities. So, indeed, yes, I think that the Municipal…the Provincial Governments would need to take the necessary action with regard to these Municipalities.
You may remember that, not long ago, we went to Kroonstad, to the Moqhaka Municipality. And the reason we did that is because, indeed, the Provincial Government had taken certain action, used particular provisions in the Constitution, to take over certain functions of the Municipal Government, because of deficiencies. But, at the same time, we knew that, in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act, that same Municipality was one of the best performers. So, it was very good at managing its funds, and no problem as far as Treasury is concerned. And indeed, even the Development Bank of Southern Africa, they’ve made an Assessment and had come to the same view.
So, we’re interested to find out why this disjuncture? Therefore, what is it that needed to be done, because it was clear that the Management of the Municipality – if it could manage these Finances as well as it was doing, and is doing – there must be something else which would account for why the Provincial Government would intervene and take over certain powers.
And, again, you see, it was a matter of…it’s a physical matter: do you have the Road Engineers to build the road? Where are you going to get them from? This is a Rural Municipality, this is not Bloemfontein or a big city. So, you get into constraints like that, so I went there in order to understand better the nature of the problem, so that we could see what it is, and in fact that could be done.
Presenter: And how widespread is that problem?
President Thabo Mbeki: It will be widespread, certainly, in the Rural Municipalities. In the Rural Municipalities is a problem of the expertise, the Technical Personnel to carry out these Development Programmes, will be a widespread problem. In this particular Municipality, Moqhaka Municipality, with Headquarters in Kroonstad, one of the interesting things about it is that they’ve actually managed to take in quite a lot of young, black Civil and other Engineers, who’ve come out of Technikons and our Universities, and it really was very good to see, that the system of Education is producing that kind of people.
And they were staying in that Municipality, rather than preferring to go to Johannesburg or someplace like that. But it showed the challenge that we face, to make sure that we speed up the availability of those people. It’s the same kind of people, I was saying, that we need, with regard to the Skills for the Economy. That kind of Skill is also required at these various levels of Government.
Presenter: Now, Border Disputes, Mr President, has been another source of conflict. I mean, you’ve seen [unclear] refusing to leave Gauteng to go to the Northwest. There, again, people burning Police Vehicles, assaulting Police Officers. How do you deal with that situation?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, that matter is partly…I should have said about the Municipality, the Councillors. Of course, the Political Parties also have a responsibility for this. These are their Councillors, whatever Political Party they belong to. So, apart from the Provincial Government, as I was saying, Provincial Government’s having that kind of oversight. Political parties also must take responsibility for the conduct of their Councillors. Or Misconduct, as the case may be. No, as I’m mentioning that, to say that the matter of the cross-border Municipalities, cross-boundary Municipalities, is of a similar kind. Obviously, the Minister of Provincial and Local Government has got to be involved in this, to discuss with the communities.
This matter comes, in part, from the Demarcation Board, which demarcates its Municipalities. And we’ve had lots of problems with the development of these Municipalities, where they fall in between two Provinces. Sometimes it’s difficult to say who has got ultimate responsibility. One Province waits for the other to move, and the other one’s waiting for the other to move, and nothing happens.
So it’s a matter that needs to be sorted out. But it also needs the Political Parties. The Political Parties also need to be involved, to talk to their Supporters and Members, and so on, to explain to people all of this. I think that, in part, I know, for instance, of the case of this area around Bronkhorstspruit, that part of the problem that people were raising, that they were pointing to a particular road, that here is this road which goes through Gauteng into Mpumalanga.
On the Gauteng side it’s very well-developed, but as soon as you come to the boundary, on the Mpumalanga side it’s not. So, they were saying that, I mean, why do you want to move us to Mpumalanga because, even this concrete example shows, that there won’t be development from Mpumalanga, but I think it requires engagement with the communities, because there is a certain level of disfunctionality in the cross – boarder, cross boundary municipalities which is what we are trying to address, but I think that it needs engagement, it needs engaging people, so that they understand.
Presenter: Mr President, I am going to take another quick commercial break, we will be back just momentarily.
Presenter: Good evening and thanks very much for saying with us, we are talking to President Thabo Mbeki about his State of the Nation Address. Mr President you made an announcement that Government is going to expand employment in the Public Service, particularly the Police, Health and Education workers. Is it correct to read a paradigm of them shift. In other words, where before Government were saying the Public Service should do more with less, we are actually saying we need more Public Servants.
President Thabo Mbeki: Yes I think it may be correct, yes. That a paradigm shift. It is clear that the responsibilities of Government are increasing, and indeed you’d know that when we came into Government, 1994, one of the big matters that we were meant to address, was the issue of people who were called Super numeraries. It arose partly because you had to be managing all of these different administrations, homelands, this that and the other, and indeed the tendency then was we need to address the smarter of a bloated public service. One of the favourite words or phrases was downsizing, where it was downsizing, right sizing came a little bit later, I think that is what we are tying to do now is to right size, because indeed it is clear there are shortages indeed in the Health area, teachers, and not only numbers but we need to improve the quality of our teachers, with particular reference to subjects that are mentioned by everybody, mathematics, the sciences and so on. The capacity to deliver economic services. The Minister of Trade and Industry for instance was just telling me about capacities within the Department of Trade and Industry, and you find that people who are charged with majories or divisions or directorates are charged with major responsibilities with regard to the economy, and you find half a dozen people there. So it is clear that we have to increase the capacity, its people with relevant skills.
Presenter: May I just interrupt you there Mr President. The economic services, what specifically are we talking about? What kind of people who are going to do what?
President Thabo Mbeki: You see for instance, we will stay with Trade and Industry. You would have people for instance who are focused on export promotion. Now export promotion will mean understanding the markets and the world, understanding what South Africans are producing. Being able to assist a South African exporter to access particular markets, you know things like that. We have trade agreements, the biggest one being with the European Union, we are negotiating other Trade agreements signed and agreement just in December, with Mekor (pr) in South America. Now you need to be able to communicate this information to the business world to say these are the opportunities that exist for you in these areas because these are the arguments we’ve reached. Somebody needs to have the capacity to do that. That would be one example. I mean the thing that we are discussing about development of downstream industries among still users, among users of chemicals, again it should be possible you need people there that will be able to say, because now steel is cheaper, here are particular areas of development on which I can be focused. The most outstanding example of this of course is the automobile industry. The intervention that was made there has resulted in this extraordinary growth of this sector, but it required capacity within Government, to be able to say what is it that we do specifically within this sector.
Presenter: But what do you then do with the extra capacity? In other words those people, say thousands of them who can not be … who do not meet the profile of the people that you require to put in these industries or areas that they shortage.
President Thabo Mbeki: We are not talking about retrenchment, what we are talking about is there are constraints, there are gaps, there are weaknesses in terms of people with particular kinds of skills. It does not mean that the people who are there now are not doing any useful work, but you need people with different sorts of skills in addition. So it is not a matter of retrenching others, it’s a matter of increasing the capacity of the Government to do the things that it needs to do.
Presenter: But right now there is no downsizing that we are going to talk about?
President Thabo Mbeki: No, no, no, there isn’t, there isn’t any downsizing that we are going to be talking about now, what we would be talking about is improving the skills even of those public servants who are already in the public service. I mention for instance that we had looked at the Senior Management Level, just to get a sense of – does that Senior Management Level have the necessary skills to do its jobs, what it is, that includes numbers and indeed again we found that the word efficiency is maybe arising out of what you said earlier Vuyo, arising from a situation in the earlier years, it was in the Presidency also, in the Presidency we said we needed to lead Government by downsizing. Doing a lot of work with very few people, in the end it was unsustainable, the rest of the Government was complaining, that as a result of that the Presidency is not serving the Departments and the Ministries properly because they are not enough people, in the Presidency, of the right kind. So I am saying that even with regard to people in the Public Service not downsizing but we have to look closely at the matter of – do the ones that are there have the skills that are needed for them effectively to do their jobs?
Presenter: Now Mr President you are going to attract new people and those who are there, including those who are coming, you are going to pay them more? Now is that not going to crowd out social expenditure? Because already especially in the Province’s you have a situation where salaries and related matters actually take up most of the budget.
President Thabo Mbeki: Yes, no it is an important point Vuyo, that you mentioned it’s a difficult issue to deal with, because indeed you don’t want to – the Government is committed, not to, an increase in that social expenditure, because in the end the levels of poverty in the country have to be addressed, but at the same time Government must respond to these demonstrations in the Municipalities that you are talking about, and to respond to those you must then have these engineers that are going to be able to put in the water infrastructure, that are going to do the roads, and you know all of that. So you need a proper balance, but I think we can do it. I do not think that an increase in the intake of people into the Public Service of the kind that I am talking about would have a negative effect on social expenditure.
Presenter: Now if we can just stay with policing which is one of the areas that are going to be affected by this, in July 2003 after the Lekgotla, you had that briefing in Pretoria where you spoke elaborately for the first time, about what you call I think the inherent structural institutional tension between the Scorpions and the Police, and there has been a lot of reports, I am sure you must have seen recently around this question, what is happening there in that regard, because that was eighteen months ago and as late as last week, the Minister of Justice was saying there is still no policy decision.
President Thabo Mbeki: Well, there is, the legislation in setting up the National Prosecuting Authority, provides for the creation of a Ministerial Committee, that has some kind of oversight, over the NPA, and that would include the Scorpions. That committee has been meeting to look at this matter, and we had borrowed the structure of the Scorpions from the FBI, in the United States, which sought to bring in police investigation with the Prosecuting Authority. The committee has been looking at that and the decision is that we need a commissioner, really to go and have a close look at this matter again. So I hope that soon a commissioner will be appointed who will then have a look at this thing and assess it, as to how this thing has been working, because in reality the Scorpions are a Police unit, to answer the question has it worked well that you have a Police unit, which falls under prosecutors, what’s relationship of that Police unit to the South African Police Service? What is its relationship to the National Intelligence Agency which would work with the Police Service in terms of finding intelligence about crime and all of that. To look at that, to alternative matters in order to make a recommendation as how we should move.
Presenter: Welcome back to this special broadcast, we are talking to President Thabo Mbeki following his State of the Nation Address on Friday. Mr President, you called it an unconstitutional charade in Togo, what do you think needs to be done immediately to rescue that situation?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well as soon as the happened, the Chair of the African Union President Obasanjo (pr) phoned me, to say this is what had happened, yes of course we had been following up on that, and that the - first of all the economy commented of West Africa African states would act on this, and later he would want that the African Union should be involved. So we have agreed to that, so I know they are meeting now, asked us to consider this matter, and really essentially what we have go to do is to insure that Togo returns to constitutionality, I do not know what the argument is, about why they decided to change the constitution so that, instead of the speaker of Parliament succeeding and then holding elections in sixty days, they then amended the Constitution to put in somebody else who, and then they gave him three more years. Though they have said that they want to, they are determined to keep to an agreement that had been reached with the European Union, now that agreement with the European Union had provided that among other things, there should be Parliamentary elections in Togo, during the first half of this year, so I am not sure what it all means, but we are, the West African States are leading us on this and I said President Obasanjo (pr) did say to me that from the ecowas (pr unclear) he would then approach the African Union, so really we are basically waiting for him on this matter
Presenter: But what happens, Mr President, hypothetically they are stubborn and resilient and just they are refusing?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well there are provisions in the constitution act of the African Union, there are provisions in position of sanctions. It is possible to impose sanctions, to cut air links for instance, to stop the movement of people and goods in and out of Togo, apart from suspending them, which would happen automatically. It is possible to impose all sorts of sanctions and I think the countries in the neighbourhood will actually care.
Presenter: What happens if, like it has happened before, some people ask you to personally get involved?
President Thabo Mbeki: No I really do think that this particular one, I think its correct that ecowas Togo is a member of ecowas, I think it is correct that ecowas (pr) should deal with this matter, I don’t think its, there would be any need for us to be involved directly, President Obasanjo (pr) called me about it, because it also would be a matter that concerns the African Union, and it is the African Union level that we can then take this decisions about the kinds of sanctions that I am talking about.
Presenter: And in the other areas that you have been dealing with, which is the Burundi and the DRC. What should we look for within the next coming months, yes elections are on track and you suggested in your speech that you have no reason to believe that that wont happen, is that indeed so?
President Thabo Mbeki: Yes, I mean we are – I think the biggest challenge in this region of the great lakes is – there is an enormous amount of work that needs to be done to prepare for the elections in the DRC. The situation in Burundi is much easier, but I think the DRC is going to require a lot of effort and resources and so on to prepare for these elections that they have agreed, and so we are, we’ve been discussing with them, with the Government and what I am expecting now is a detailed breakdown of their needs, with regard to the preparation for the elections, because one of the things that we have done is to keep contact with all of the countries as well as the developed world, about the resources that the DRC is going to need. I think that is the biggest challenge there, it’s an actual, practical, preparation to hold those elections, this year.
Presenter: Now looking, I have seen a couple of publications, international publications still on this question of our efforts, and how we are helping the DRC, Burundi and so on, where its being suggested that actually the reason we are getting involved in all of this is not solely because we want to get involved to rebuild the continent but also we are doing so, it’s a new form of imperialism coming out of South Africa. What is your response to that?
President Thabo Mbeki: No it isn’t that assessment is wrong. As you will see – take Burundi, President Mandela, was deployed to deal with this matter when the process was still going on in Tunisia, that was at the request of the countries of East Africa, we didn’t offer it, and when the Deputy President seceded in order to deal with issues of implementation, again it was both Burundi and the countries of East Africa that said please give us Deputy President to lead this process. The Congo is the same, I mean we are the first time we got involved with the DRC was at the request of the then President Mobuto, and the late President Kabila, they asked us and in the case of the car diva (pr) we were asked by the African Union and their co-ops. So its not as though we try to insight ourselves in these matters because we are perusing some imperialist interest, I think that generally the feeling in Africa, the same thing I should say with regard to the Sudan, the suggestion that South Africa should chair the post conflict reconstruction committee in Sudan, was a joint proposal made by the Government in Gautro (pr) as well as the SPLM, SPLA (Pr) lead by John Garan (pr) it was a joint initiative on their part, to say we want South Africa to head this. I mentioned now that the President of Somalia, we met now in Abuja, and he said to me that they want to send a delegation here, because they have got to attend to issues of National reconciliation in Somalia, and he said that South Africa has got that experience we don’t, we have got to deal with matters of merging a different armed factions and demobilising people, we don’t have this experience you have we have got to deal with the issues of recovery form crisis and so on, and so please do it and again it was not our indicative. I think the general feeling Vuyo around the continent is that though people appreciate that we have our own problems, within South Africa and we have problems of poverty, Aids and so on, never the less they are saying that South Africa has got better capacities than many other African countries, and feel really that South Africa has a duty and an obligation to assist. I think the accusation of being an imperialist Power is unfair, it is actually not founded on any fact.
Presenter: Closer to home, there is an election around the corner, there are reports now that actually the SADC assessors or the experts were supposed to go there and make their own assessment as to whether everything is in place, have actually not been able to get into the country, do you know what is happening right now?
President Thabo Mbeki: No, I have discussed the matter with President Mugabe, I am quite sure that the SADC delegation can go to Zimbabwe tomorrow, the earlier delegation that the SADC Ministers when they met in January. What they thought was that they want to send a team of lawyers, now the purpose of that particular team was to look at what was then draft legislation, new electoral legislation. They wanted to look at the legislation while Parliament was in session, so that if there were any proposals concerning amending the legislation, so that it is consistent with the SADC guidelines, they would have done that. I don’t quite know why they did not go. Parliament has now been dissolved, the law has been passed and has indeed been acted upon. I am quite sure that the SADC delegation can go to Zimbabwe tomorrow if they wish, I don’t think there would be a problem
Presenter: How confident are you Mr President that there would be a free and fair election in that country?
President Thabo Mbeki: Well one of the things that legislation provides for is the establishment of an Independent Electoral Commission and particular procedures, part of that meant that the parties in Parliament had to get together, put together a set of names, a short list that they would present to the President and the President will choose from among those, and that was done all the parties did, they participated on that, they agreed on that short list, sent it to the President and so on, and of course the Chair of the IEC, would be recommended by the judicial services commission, which was done. So I am sighting that as one instance where the changes in electoral system should assist with regard to this. Personally I think that we should send in the SADC delegation as quickly as possible, not to go there to observe but to be able to intervene to help to create the situation for free and fair elections.
Presenter: I mean the SADC principals Mr President and guidelines state that there should be political tolerance, freedom of association and equal opportunities for parties to access the media, and it is doubtful at the moment whether those things are actually happening to the extent that they should.
President Thabo Mbeki: That’s one of the matters that the Zimbabwe Government has said that because of that one of the things that has to happen, and will happen is access of all the parties contesting the elections, access to the public broadcast and so on. That is part of the reason I am saying that I think the SADC delegation should go in there as quickly as possible, to help to insure that they do have free and fair elections, because they can then ask if there isn’t this access, they can then ask why isn’t there, that access. But the Government has said that indeed there has to be that access, by all the parties, because it is in the SADC guidelines, but we have to work with the Zimbabwean Government and the authorities to ensure that all of the happens.
Presenter: Now given the point you made earlier, that they would have preferred that they go there while Parliament are still in session, now if they happen to go there and they are not happy with what they see or hear, and they cant do anything about it what will happen?
President Thabo Mbeki: No no they can do something about it, the earlier matter had to do with drafting of legislation, as I said legislation has now been approved. The matters that have to be attended to there are issues that even were raised at this last congress of Zanu PF. Passed a resolution, we adopted a report which said its absolute duty of Zanu PF to make sure that the elections are free and fair that there is no violence, that there’s no intimidation. So that’s a formal resolution of Zanu PF, it would be consistent with the SADC guidelines. So the SADC people would go in there, must be able to be around the country and as I say work with the authorities to assure that indeed those undertakings are met.
Presenter: How happy are you about the efforts of the major opposition party the MDC, which have said that in spite of all the problems they have been having around the atmosphere that is prevailing at the moment, they have decided to go and contest the election.
President Thabo Mbeki: Well we have been in continual discussion with the MDC for a very long time, we had wanted in fact everybody, the MDC, Zanu PF, ourselves, that there should be effected some constitutional amendments, with regard to this electoral process, all of us wanted that, and indeed and agreement had been negotiated by the MDC and Zanu PF, about those constitutional amendments and they had agreed. A problem that then arose around the statement that was made by the MDC, which they say was misunderstood, the statement which they say they said that they will not participate in by-elections, because the time between then and when the Parliamentary election will take place is to short, and they would not want to waste time and effort and so on for people to sit in parliament for three months. But that statement was reported as saying that the MDC would not participate in the elections, so it is a different matter all together, as a result of which the agreed constitutional amendments were not tabled in parliament, because Zanu PF does not have a two thirds majority, and they thought because the MDC is not going to participate in the elections it wont vote for those constitutional amendments, those amendments would fail, that’s why they went the route of ordinary legislation, but as I say we have been in discussion with the MDC continuously with these matters and including this particular question that it will be critically important that they should be the SADC observers as early as possible to assist. Not to be there in order to prepare a report at the end, but to be able to assist to insure that the proper climate is created.
Reporter: Mr President thank you very much for talking to us.
Transcription by Monitoring South Africa
Issued by: Government Communication and Information System (GCIS)
13 February 2005