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CNN'S AMANPOUR

An Interview with South African President Jacob Zuma

Aired September 25, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, South Africa. Is the continent's powerhouse running out of steam? Does it have to reset its moral compass?

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to our new program. Tonight, we're focusing on South Africa. It's part of our goal to bring more insight to the stories that matter.

And so, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa is trying to assert his country's moral authority in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly here in New York. But many are questioning South Africa's claim to moral leadership. It's tried to block tough international action on issues like Darfur, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar.

And back home, President Zuma is facing a deep recession and a crime wave. CNN's Robyn Curnow reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's often said that President Jacob Zuma's biggest political weakness is also his greatest strength. He is all things to all people: the left-leaning ally of the unions and the South African Communist Party in his red Mao jacket, a friend of big business in his dapper suit, the country boy in his tribal Zulu outfit, and the shrewd populist politician singing his trademark song, "Bring Me My Machine Gun."

All these different groups are pressing Zuma to deliver on his promises to them, but how can he? Even with his easygoing charm and down- to-Earth diplomacy, the South African president, elected in May, is already finding it difficult to meet the expectations of impatient South Africans.

(on-screen): What do you want most from President Zuma?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What I want most is for him to try and deal with crime, because crime is the one that is bringing this country down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's housing and corruption and poverty.

CURNOW: Poverty?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

CURNOW: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing President Zuma?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Getting people houses and making sure that people get employed or at least they get food over their tables.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To eradicate poverty.

CURNOW (voice-over): Zuma says he's trying to listen and engage with the public, something his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, was criticized for not doing. He's taking calls to a new presidential hotline from citizens free to call him directly to praise or to complain.

And there's a lot to answer for. South Africa remains a violent place, with an average of 50 murders a day. Rape, house break-ins, and car hijackings are up. And Zuma's promise to get another 500,000 people working this year, but more jobs have been lost than gained, no surprise given the global economic slide.

But his vow to add jobs amid the country's first recession in 17 years again begs the question: Is he making promises he can't keep?

And what about his anti-corruption drive? Some question just how real it can be. Zuma has spent years in court defending himself against corruption charges, a dramatic change from the Mandela years, when post- apartheid South Africa was a moral beacon for the world. Now, Jacob Zuma seems to be trying to emulate Nelson Mandela's leadership style with gestures like this. Wearing the team blazer, he recently welcomed home South Africa's winning rugby team, still a mostly white sport. And that, again, may be his greatest strength: knowing how to make friends across this diverse, divided society.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: That's CNN's Robyn Curnow reporting there from Johannesburg.

And joining me now in the studio, the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma.

Welcome to our program.

JACOB ZUMA, PRESIDENT, SOUTH AFRICA: Thank you very much to be with you here (inaudible)

AMANPOUR: Thank you. And there is a lot to talk about. You heard in that report from South Africa the people are really concerned about poverty, about employment, about getting jobs. Now, you have promised to create 500,000 jobs. There's something like 25 percent unemployment in South Africa. When you take in young people, it's 60 percent unemployment. How are you going to do that? Can you do it?

ZUMA: Well, firstly, I think it is important to recognize the fact that this new administration that I'm head of came in, in the face of financial crunch in the world. And, therefore, it was not like a new kind of government coming in, in a normal kind of circumstances.

We had identified things that need to be done, mainly related to delivery, the real problems that face the majority of the people who are in South Africa, and therefore on the basis of that, worked hard not just to work out a program of the ruling party, but a program that was a program worked together by the people, more than just the ANC.

AMANPOUR: OK. Mr. Zuma, I understand the difficulties with the recession, but you've also been quoted as saying that, unless you do actually have some success in reducing the poverty gap, that this is a time bomb ready to explode. What do you mean?

ZUMA: Well, the point I was making, really, was that, if -- if you finish 15 years as a ruling party and you -- you -- you should be able -- which we have done -- to examine how have you been performing, what are the gaps, what are the weaknesses and shortcomings, what can you do to remedy those? And this is what we have done exactly.

Leading up to our national conference that takes serious decisions, we looked at our track record since 1994 with regard to the delivery, et cetera. That led us to conclude in a particular way that's a lesson why we have, for an example, reconfigured a number of our departments.

AMANPOUR: Crime is a big problem, as well, we heard for the people there, although it's come down some 2 percent over the last year or so. I mean, the statistics are staggering. It's something like 50 South Africans are still being murdered every day, every day.

ZUMA: Yes.

AMANPOUR: How do you address that? Because that's also responsible for capital flight and all sorts of shaky confidence in your country.

ZUMA: Yes, I would say that's what people said, but it is true, also, that the Americans that have a lot of crime and the capital is not running away.

I think what should be really appreciated, just to make that point, is that South Africa is a transparent country. We report everything. And that's why people are aware.

AMANPOUR: But it's still -- it's still high crime. How are you going to address that?

ZUMA: No, I'm -- I'm coming to the point. I was just making the point here that -- which I think is important to make -- that the reason people know more details about the crime in South Africa is because we are extraordinarily a transparent country. That's an important point to take.

The question of crime is a challenge that faces South Africa, particularly because of the violent element in it. Now, what we have done, we have put a (inaudible) to implement our policies. Bear in mind that the ruling party took a very deliberate decision to fight crime in its national -- its national conference. And it's one of our five priorities for this administration.

We've put a very tough -- the leadership, we've put the minister, and we've put the new -- and the -- and the deputy minister, as well as the commission, who are ready to deal with this matter very seriously. In fact, (inaudible) to do so. Already the results are beginning to show.

AMANPOUR: Let's go back now to your U.N. speech here in New York, where you were giving the speech in front of the General Assembly. I want to talk about you trying to reassert your country's moral authority.

ZUMA: Well, we raised the issues...

AMANPOUR: Hold on. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZUMA: ... stability and security cannot be separated from the pursuit of justice, self-determination, human rights, and economic development. We need to constantly reaffirm the unalienable human rights of all people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: So South Africa, to everybody's mind, is the country of moral authority, especially since the end of apartheid, since the beginning of black majority rule and Nelson Mandela. People want to know, particularly, for instance, your opponents, why is it now that South Africa is, for instance, selling high-tech weapons to Libya, to Syria, to Venezuela, things like, for instance, systems that can deliver nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, according to your opponent? Is that part of your weapons and arms trade? Or is that something you need to look at again?

ZUMA: Well, we have a special committee that looks at the sale of weapons. And they look at the countries, and some countries certainly we have refuse to sell in some years, because we look at what the U.N. criterias, and we've been following the U.N. criteria (inaudible) people who (inaudible) instances where we have not respected the U.N. guidelines, in terms of weapon selling. And this is what we've been doing.

But in addition to that, we also look at the record of those countries, whether they are, indeed, doing what is -- will be generally accepted by the U.N. principals generally. That's what we've been doing.

AMANPOUR: So you're happy to sell these to Libya, Syria, grenade launchers, for instance, to Syria and Venezuela?

ZUMA: Well, as I say, as long as it is not violating the rules that are set out for all countries...

AMANPOUR: And you're confident that it's not?

ZUMA: Yes, absolutely, we are confident.

AMANPOUR: Let me talk about another moral issue. The International Criminal Court has indicted President Bashir of Sudan. Now, initially, the African Union sided against that, and now you say, though, that you've decided to change your mind, and if he should ever set foot inside your country, you would order him arrested. Is that right?

ZUMA: No, the point that I think we've made...

AMANPOUR: But is that -- is that correct?

ZUMA: That's correct. It's correct. I'm -- I'm explaining the point, that the ICC took the decision and issued the warrant of arrest. And there is a continental position by the A.U., to which we are a member, which looked at the conditions in Sudan, particularly the progress that we are making in terms of intervening to bring about peace and stability.

What the A.U. said -- the decision that we're a part of -- it did not say President Bashir must not be arrested. All it asked was a deferment of that action on the basis of the progress we're making in terms of the peace intervention. Our view...

AMANPOUR: And do you think there's progress?

ZUMA: Our view was, if you acted at that point, you could reverse the progress we are making. And the consequences of it would certainly affect the Sudanese who are fighting, but therefore give us a chance to complete that particular chapter, then you could deal with Bashir. We didn't say you shouldn't. All we asked was a deferment only. And that's the thing we're saying.

We then went further when there were questions. What will happen if Bashir was in South Africa? As signatories of this particular agreement, we said that, once he's been arrested, that we -- we could not stop the arrest of Bashir. That's the position we made.

AMANPOUR: We're going to continue this conversation. When we come back from a break, we'll talk about Zimbabwe, President Mugabe, the power- sharing deal.

ZUMA: OK.

AMANPOUR: We'll talk about AIDS prevention in your country, lots more to talk about right after this break.

ZUMA: Thank you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THABO MBEKI, FORMER PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA: And so when you ask the question, "Does HIV cause AIDS?" the question is, does a virus cause a syndrome? How does a virus cause a syndrome? It can't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMANPOUR: So joining us back again, President Zuma of South Africa.

That was your predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, and it's generally considered that he had a very wrong idea about AIDS and the spread of AIDS and how to treat it. Do you subscribe to his ideas? Or do you think there needs to be a much more medically sound way to go at it?

ZUMA: Well, we explained this a number of times, because President Mbeki has his views, which were his personal views, which was not ANC policy...

AMANPOUR: No, but it was government policy.

ZUMA: ... it was not government -- it was not government policy, either.

AMANPOUR: But the health minister was scandalous in the way...

ZUMA: No, I'm -- I'm saying that was not a government policy. It was his personal views. What the minister did, the minister emphasized certain foods...

AMANPOUR: Talked about having onions -- onions...

ZUMA: Yes, that's what -- that's what the minister talked about.

AMANPOUR: ... as to ward off AIDS.

ZUMA: That's what the minister talked about.

AMANPOUR: That was government policy.

ZUMA: It was not government policy. It was the minister going further to explain to people (inaudible) the kind of food you need to eat to help you, to help your immune system.

AMANPOUR: All right.

ZUMA: It was not policy of the government.

AMANPOUR: So what is your policy?

ZUMA: We said this many, many times. Our policy is -- is very clear. We've got a very comprehensive policy. We have a comprehensive five-year plan, which that minister, whilst he was talking about onions and everything, and in addition to the policy that were -- were there.

So we are talking about an individual feeling about specific things, as the president did, but did not remove the (inaudible) policy, which has been recognized by the World Health Organization as the best, in fact, even now.

AMANPOUR: And yet so much money is being poured into South Africa in trying to eradicate and deal with the HIV-AIDS problem, and yet so many people are dying. It's basically made almost no difference whatsoever, all this help that's coming in.

And I'm going to have to go back to an unpleasant part of your past, in which you were accused of rape. You were on trial. You were eventually acquitted, but some of the things you said were pretty incredible. You said that you didn't have a condom, but that you showered after sex. I mean, what kind of message is that? What is that saying, A, to women and, B, to young people about the spread of AIDS?

ZUMA: What people have missed on this issue is that I did not make a statement -- just woke up in the morning and made a statement. I was in court. The prosecution very systematically asking a question after question. What happened after this one? What then happened? What then happened? So the shower was part of a series of answers to specific questions. What then happened after this? What happened after that one?

Sorry. I know that people then singled out that particular item. It's an item that was put in a very systematic questioning by the prosecution, and I was merely telling exactly what happened after this, what happened after this one.

AMANPOUR: Would you admit, though, that President Mbeki and even President Mandela have been very squeamish about talking about sex publicly, talking about the dangers of unprotected sex? Are you reversing -- are you trying to reverse that?

ZUMA: No, there's nothing that I'm trying to reverse. I'm saying we have a policy of my organization, the policy of my government, which I follow in every respect.

AMANPOUR: Which is?

ZUMA: Here, there was a specific -- specific question referred to, to an individual under specific circumstances, which I answered at that point in time.

AMANPOUR: I know, but I'm just talking about in terms of your government's policy now. You have an opportunity to connect with the youth.

ZUMA: We have been connecting with the youth all the time. Even at that time, I've been connecting with the youth, pitching the policy of the ANC, which is very clear, which says HIV causes AIDS. That's the policy of the organization.

The awareness campaign, I led it, as I chaired the -- the -- the organization that dealt with this from the government point of view. So this is what we have been doing as a government and in terms of policy, as well as the ANC. We have been actually making people aware and undertaking programs.

I've just spoken here about the comprehensive program on HIV and AIDS which is the policy of the ruling party, is the policy of government.

AMANPOUR: Let me move across your border to Zimbabwe. The latest is that the SADC, the Southern African Development Community, has failed to criticize, condemn, insist that President Mugabe of Zimbabwe imposes and implements the power-sharing agreement. What are you all afraid of? Are you still afraid of really trying to implement the law in Zimbabwe?

ZUMA: No, we're never afraid. We're never afraid.

AMANPOUR: Why are you reluctant?

ZUMA: I think -- no, wait a bit (ph). I think we should accept the fact that, at the beginning of the problem in Zimbabwe, countries and (inaudible) organizations took different positions. Our position was not to stand up and criticize Zimbabwe. It was to engage the Zimbabweans. We engaged...

AMANPOUR: But it was generally considered not to have -- have succeeded, that so-called quiet diplomacy of President Mbeki.

ZUMA: No, what -- what has succeeded, nothing. You have sanctions. You can't tell me, "This is what the sanctions did, and this was the results of the sanctions." We had all efforts been put together. Ours was very specific on engaging ZANU-PF as a ruling party...

AMANPOUR: Has it succeeded?

ZUMA: ... as well as MDC, as the opposition.

AMANPOUR: Are you not...

ZUMA: It has succeeded. The reason that you can talk about the agreement in Zimbabwe today is because of what we negotiated.

AMANPOUR: Are you not concerned, though, because there is still a lot left to be done in terms of real power-sharing -- many people say it's in name only -- and there's also a situation where people are concerned that perhaps this new Constitution won't go through, perhaps President Mugabe might call a snap election? People are concerned that that might plunge the country further into violence. And it's right around the time when you want to start hosting the World Cup.

I mean, are you not concerned about these issues?

ZUMA: We are concerned about the agreement in Zimbabwe. That needs to be implemented, and that's why at SADC we are doing everything to ensure that all parties implement the agreement. I do not think we had an alternative, and nobody has been able to suggest to us an alternative to what we are doing, except to say, "Let that agreement be implemented."

Yes, they were saying have nothing do with Zimbabwe. Our having something to do with Zimbabwe has produced an agreement, which we are now implementing, and we are saying, "Give that process an opportunity." That is why we are saying to those who have applied sanction, "Lift the sanctions so that Zimbabwe has a free range to implement the decision that it has taken."

AMANPOUR: Right. We know the sanctions are very specifically targeted, so it's not about the development or prosperity of Zimbabwe.

But let's move on to South Africa and the World Cup. Does the continued political instability concern you ahead of what's going to be South Africa's big moment?

ZUMA: I'm not certain whether there's political stability in South Africa. There isn't.

AMANPOUR: Does the potential for violence concern you?

ZUMA: No. I -- I -- but I want to clear the point, because it may be wrong to say there's a potential -- a potential political instability in South Africa.

AMANPOUR: You're not worried about an election that ZANU-PF might call or to try to -- to try to not implement or not bring in this new constitution?

ZUMA: Not at all. I think in Zimbabwe people are trying to work within the parameters of their constitution, which is there. There are difficulties which they have faced. What may happen, there is a time fixed for elections. When that time comes, there will be elections in Zimbabwe. What you are trying to do is to ensure that they implement an agreement that, by the time the time of the elections come, we do not have a potential of violence in Zimbabwe.

AMANPOUR: Very briefly, because I want to move on to the World Cup, when you see that the opposition party in Zimbabwe, their members are still being arrested, they're still being sent into jail, some -- one of the ministers hasn't even been fully appointed and confirmed, why can't you then tell your partner in South Africa -- in -- in Zimbabwe, President Mugabe, to implement?

ZUMA: But we have been doing so. We are telling Zimbabweans to implement their...

AMANPOUR: They're not listening?

ZUMA: They are listening. They are, in fact, engaging. I was in Zimbabwe very shortly to engage all parties. We also engaged all the parties in SADC. They are.

I don't think anyone would say there was an agreement in the world that was agreed in about six -- six months' time, every element of it was implemented. We are moving. They're engaging. We are identifying to them the kind of challenges that if they fail to implement that will come back to them.

So I can't say -- and we are aware that there are difficulties and that, in fact, there are also issues that they're not implementing. That's why we are engaging with them. The SADC -- the SADC...

AMANPOUR: OK, let me...

ZUMA: ... took a decision that the troika, which is its sub-organ, must actually go in and do the -- the -- the evaluation of what has happened so that we take new decisions.

AMANPOUR: OK, let me ask you about the World Cup. Are you concerned, A, about the crime in your country and, B, about how many of the workers are sort of trying to, for want of a better word, blackmail the government, been threatening to -- to quit? Do you think you're going to be up and ready for the World Cup?

ZUMA: We'll certainly be up and ready; there's no doubt about it. With regard to violence or violent crime, this is what we are dealing with. We have a plan to deal with it, a very detailed plan particularly dealing with the 2010...

AMANPOUR: OK.

ZUMA: ... with regard to -- to (inaudible) but with regard to the workers, we also are very clear about that. The workers, as workers, they will never leave an opportunity. When (inaudible) opportunity (inaudible) strike, that will push the employers to a corner. That's what they will do. All South Africans, including the workers, understand the importance of 2010.

AMANPOUR: You said to one journalist a couple of years ago, before becoming president, that, "I truthfully never wanted to be president."

ZUMA: Well, I did say so. I did say so. And that was expressing the truth as an individual. The decision whether you become the president or not is the decision of the African National Congress, my organization. And I wouldn't defy it.

AMANPOUR: And what are your hopes now, as president, what do you hope to achieve for South Africa before your term is out? And literally, we have 30 seconds.

ZUMA: I'm hoping that we'll be able to build a new nation, united, a nation that will make South Africa work better, to be -- to be prosperous, a non-racial nation with -- whilst you have the diversities, to use the diversities as ingredients -- important ingredients to produce a rainbow nation in South Africa. That's what I'm looking for.

AMANPOUR: President Jacob Zuma, thank you so much, indeed, for joining us.

And that conversation will continue online on our Web site, cnn.com/amanpour, where you can see an interactive timeline on President Zuma's career. So please join us there.

That's it for now. Thank you for watching. And we will back Monday with a special interview with Queen Rania of Jordan. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.

END

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