Times have changed, Warns JZ

2010-03-07 08:01

WHEN he gets home this week President Jacob Zuma will begin to put the meat on the bones of his plan for a new moral code. And he has promised to continue his surprise visits to schools, police stations and municipalities to see if there are commanders not at their posts.

Zuma spoke to City Press after what he called a very successful state visit to Britain.

Business people he met told City Press of the difference between their opinion of the president ahead of the visit and the impact he made when they met him personally.

Zuma cautioned British business, saying that unless they adapted their investment model in South Africa they risked losing their position as the country’s dominant trading partner.

Competition from the East, primarily China, meant that UK companies doing business in South Africa would need to extend their investment models to include, for example, beneficiation and related activities that held benefits for South Africa. China, for example, was not only exploiting mines but was also building processing plants and training new artisans.

“What our delegation did was to put a challenge to British business to say ‘change the way you have traditionally been doing business with us’,” said Zuma at the end of his three-day state visit to the UK.
A crucial message
He said South Africa valued its deep historical relations with the UK – the 200-strong business delegation, the biggest yet, should attest to this – but that “times have changed”. British companies investing in South Africa needed to “look at South Africa differently and review the old ways that relations have been handled”.

He said this was the crucial message the South African delegation had wished to convey and that British business had “understood very well”.

Zuma described the state visit as “very successful” and appeared relaxed ahead of a weekend in London to spend time with his daughter, who is studying in the city.

He dismissed media claims that there was a succession battle under way in the ANC and that he faced a motion of no confidence.

“I haven’t found evidence of this speculation in the media and its petty politics. How and where the media gets it, nobody knows.”

Perception v reality
During the course of his week in the UK, several British business people expressed surprise at the gap between perception and reality about Zuma, saying that their confidence in South Africa had changed significantly for the better after meeting him.

One businessman in the financial sector, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Zuma’s nuanced views on how to tackle crime, which “cut through race and politics”, gave him comfort that “at the very least things are being done differently”. The same businessman said they had also been assured that ­nationalisation was “not government policy”.

Another businessman in private equity believed that “beyond Zuma’s faults” the media had done him a “disservice” because of the disjuncture between the man in the media and the “man in reality”. The businessman said: “He talked beyond platitudes, he acknowledged our concerns and he took us into his confidence.”

A British politician who also wished to remain anonymous said that there was a “rationality” in discussions with Zuma that was sometimes absent in discussions with former president Thabo Mbeki.

Talking about Zimbabwe

The politician referred specifically to discussions about Zimbabwe. While Zuma and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown spent much of their time together talking about the country, the outcome was a “respectful and unemotional” understanding of each other’s positions.

According to Zuma: “We talked about Zimbabwe a great deal and I think we both understand where we come from on the issue. We agreed that we should pick it up further. The British government is of course keen to see progress in Zimbabwe and are ready to respond to that progress.

“Our focus is that we need to participate and help Zimbabweans solve their problems. The point we are making is that standing in one place and deadlocking do not help.”

Zuma also took the time to interact with South Africans living in London. He wanted to connect with ordinary South Africans, primarily young adults, to understand their motivation for leaving. A group was invited to the
Dorchester Hotel on the edge of Hyde Park on Tuesday evening, where he talked to them personally.

A national moral code

On his return to South Africa, ­Zuma will focus on beginning the national debate about a “moral code” which he first proposed two weeks ago.

Zuma’s passion for this project stems partly from the fact that he ­believes he has been unfairly judged for cultural customs such as polygamy, which he practises.

The point of the debate on a moral code will be to ensure that no one culture in South Africa assumes moral authority over another.

According to Zuma: “The reason why we want a national conversation is if we say we are united in our diversity and our constitution says cultures must be respected, then in the process of that no one culture must stand up and judge another. The question is: who gave them that authority?”

Zuma said he did not want the debate to be government- or ANC-driven – it should a project of the South African people.

“Shortly after returning to South Africa I will appoint one or two people who will start this debate. What I am saying is that there should be respect for people in their diversity,” he said.

On the question of the budget, and specifically concerns by investors that the social welfare system is ­unsustainable (economists calculate that there is one taxpayer to three people receiving social grants), Zuma said the grant system in South Africa was a temporary measure while the government addressed other challenges such as education.

“Much as we have expanded the grant, we can’t say this is forever – we must understand that this is for a limited period,” he said.
“Our growth programme must begin to reduce it so that it comes to a point where only the people who need it – the aged, orphans and the disabled – are claiming grants.”

Zuma’s legacy

Zuma said if there were two things he would like to leave as his legacy, they were firstly the manner in which government works – “it must work differently and deliver quicker” – and secondly an education overhaul.
The engine room to achieve these objectives, said Zuma, was the ­Performance Monitoring and Evaluation Unit in the Presidency: “I must see that working perfectly, because if that works the dark corners of government, the lazy ones, the ones that are doing a lot of things they shouldn’t be, will be out of the window.”

As he got up to leave, Zuma added: “People will only be happy if there is delivery; it is a one-way street.”
His spot visits to municipalities, schools, police stations and hospitals would not stop: “I am not going to say where I am going next.

“I want to see whether we find another mayor not in the office – another special commander not in the ­office,” he said.

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