There are few interviews with heads of state that have been as embarrassing for a country as the one President Jacob Zuma did this week.
The Chinese television station CCTV interviewed a visibly nervous Zuma this week as part of the channel’s coverage of this week’s G20 summit held in the Chinese city of Hangzhou.
It was not Zuma’s finest hour – or 18 minutes and 36 seconds – to say the least. In fact, it was as cringeworthy as it gets and underlines his lack of understanding of the challenges facing the South African economy. If it wasn’t such a massive embarrassment for South Africa, it would have been funny.
The interview was conducted by veteran journalist Tian Wei of the World Insight programme. She has been referred to as the Chinese version of CNN’s Richard Quest and has interviewed many word leaders. World Insight is one of CCTV’s premier international news shows and provides global political and economic insights from a Chinese perspective.
The interview may also explain why finance minister Pravin Gordhan was the point man at the WEF meeting in Davos this year and why Zuma also controversially missed a panel discussion about Africa’s economic challenges during this event.
Zuma is also renowned for avoiding the South African media, but this time he could not hide.
But don’t take my word for it, watch for yourself….
(The video and the full transcript of the interview appear below.)
Tian Wei: During this year’s G20 summit [the] Chinese president has made very clear at the very beginning that Africa will be one of the focal points, but it also depends on the other 19 economies of the G20 whether that will be the case and whether there will be concrete results.
Zuma: Of course President Xi Jinping made that point very clear, loud and clear, and nobody opposed that proposal. So everybody accepted that proposal, partly because they know the position of Africa, where Africa comes from. They also know the challenges of Africa and therefore it is accepted that there is a specific approach that is given to Africa.
Tian Wei: And during this process Mr President what should be Africa’s role – because you are the only African leader that is present there at the G20 economies – so what should be, could be, and will be Africa’s role?
Zuma: Well, Africa … firstly Africa has a particular history. Africa, I think of all the regions of the world was the only one which was totally colonised and stayed therefore for long time without Africa doing its own things, when the countries from Europe were actually suppressing them for many years. I think it was only in the decade of the sixties [1960s] that they began to get their independence. So whilst other countries moving, they were in a sense ‘trapped’ in the colonial situation and they had(?) to get a phase where they were fighting for their liberation. But also the colonialists had come to occupy and dominate their resources so to speak, so whatever Africa is trying to do now is coming up from a very heavy kind of suppression and therefore Africa is lagging behind.
But Africa is saying it’s a region that is emerging, that is now for the first time trying to come together so that they have a collective kind of an approach as a region and therefore it sees its future – and of course South Africa is one of the big economies in the in the continent, it is a member of a G20 and South Africa does not represent itself only, it represents the continent and therefore it speaks on behalf of the continent whilst is it is speaking also on his own behalf.
Tian Wei: Infrastructure projects usually take a lot of cash. I understand there has been an establishment of the BRICS New Development Bank; it has been running for one year. Even the South African has now become (?) head of that organisation and also the AIIB which has just started with their first …global board meeting. What do you think Mr President, will these two entities provide … your country with more alternatives, even the African continent?
Zuma: The continent had taken a very deliberate decision to establish infrastructure that is going to connect the entire continent and heads of states are actually leading that kind of – there’s a committee that is leading that kind of -infrastructure to ensure that infrastructure is there. But also, the question of funding will always be a challenge, so the emergence of the BRICS bank has been one of the most important kind of happening in our society, because BRICS bank is different from other big banks that would have stringent conditions, what it [should] do … and therefore Africa and South Africa, all of us, are looking at the BRICS bank as the bank that is going to make things easier and the BRICS itself has that understanding that Africa … that’s why whilst the headquarters of the bank are here in China in Shanghai but a regional BRICS bank is going to be in Africa, in South Africa.
Tian Wei: It’s an African centre of the BRICS banks. But what is [likely?] to be the role of this African centre?
Zuma: … one of main roles will be to find to fund the infrastructure in Africa, that is what it is going to do. Already they are projects that have been submitted to the bank here that now need to be looked at so that they can continue. So the emergence of the BRICS bank has been a step forward for us
Tian Wei: President Zuma industrialisation of the African countries have been quite a debate over the past few years. But how, how to do industrialisation? It has its positive connotations, sometimes negative connotations. So what do you think is the approach that African countries, including yours, should adopt in order to have industrialisation?
Zuma: Well there are many things that we need to do. The question of industrialisation in our own continent has one side only, does not have a negative side.
Tian Wei: Really okay tell us about it.
Zuma: Why, because we’ve never been industrialised in the past. Industrialisation waves that have come and gone, Africa was not touched. In other countries industrialised, for the first time we are industrialising. Because colonialists were not there to industrialise Africa. But in South Africa you have a different kind of situation wherein there was industrialisation, but not by the indigenous people, the majority, by those who came to settle. Now what we are saying is that the black people themselves must create the industry. So for the first time we are creating middle-class; we are creating people who are going to own businesses for the first time. So it can’t have a negative side; positive side all the time. We are going to create jobs; we are for example training our people, skilling them for the purposes of industrialisation with us. So that’s what we are looking at. Part of what President Xii Ping was saying, [is] to focus on the continent is actually to support among others, industrialisation itself.
Tian Wei: Talking about industrialisation, people look at China – whether it’s a China model or not, that’s for debate. But certainly the China experience, what does that mean to you Mr president and also other African nations?
Zuma: What is critical with China is that the openness, much as they say so, but they are doing business as business, but guided by the Chinese characteristics. But what is important is that that in itself is a lesson to other people. How have the Chinese succeeded? It is because they have discipline in the job they do – that’s what people have got to adopt. I’ve said it to many people: you can wish to be Chinese, you’ll never be because you’ve got to have what guides them as an ideological approach, so to speak. But that’s [not to] say you cannot do it.
Tian Wei: What do you make of these dramatic changes when it comes to the demands of qualities of political leadership?
Zuma: Well, South Africa is a democratic country – it is just 20 years. The experience is very clear: any former national liberation movement in 20 years, there are challenges politically that challenge the political party. What becomes important: how is that party responding to those challenges. That is important. I don’t think the ANC is different from other formal political parties. What is important [is] that the party must understand what is happening and it must say what do we do to deal with this.
For example, 20 years in South Africa: it means democracy has matured and people generally, are beginning to make the choices having thought in the one form the other and it means … for an example for the first time in South Africa, we have just gone through the local government elections, wherein people have made their choices and we’ve had three metros at the big [??] that they were tying for the first time. And then there’s been an introduction of a new element of coalitions, because there is no one party that could rule without talking to smaller parties. so that’s a new element that is coming, that even small parties can now determine which direction a metro goes, or a municipality goes. That is a new kind of politics.
Tian Wei: What does that mean for the used-to-be major party?
Zuma: ANC used to be a major party, it means we have reached a point where democracy is now taking another kind of turn. The ANC then has to say, how do we handle this situation as a big party in the question of coalitions. We must now begin to plan and factor in the issue of coalitions when we go for elections – that’s what it is all about. And this is a maturing of democracy and that’s what it is.
If you look at old democracies they don’t have too many parties because they’ve been there for a while, and parties have been sort of shrinking into either two or three. So it is a process of the democratic process that we are now 20 years and therefore the politics, if you talk about winning elections, are beginning to introduce a coalition factor, which has not been a factor before.
Tian Wei: Mr Nelson Mandela had been so respected around the world. I remember a few years ago when Mr Mandela passed away, you were the one announcing the news to the rest of the world. What do you think is the most important part of his legacy and what would that mean for all politicians, including yourself Mr President, of your country?
Zuma: President Mandela was made by the ANC to be great – that is very important to know. It is the ANC that is much much much important to many of us, including President Mandela. He was part of shaping the policies of the ANC and the ANC has not changed policy. So its leaders will always be there. But times are moving and Mandela’s legacy will always be remembered; not just Mandela alone … Oliver Tambo and others. And we are sticking to what Mandela practiced as the policy he believed in and he believed in until … he departed this world.
So we are the organisation of Mandela. We are using the lessons from Mandela to run the organisation, to run the country. So we think of Mandela as our leader who gave to us the lessons within the ANC framework and we stick to them and we will follow what Mandela did and following that will never go wrong.
Tian Wei: Mr President, there are issues with your economy. For example, there are some estimates suggesting zero growth. So people are wondering what kind of tools do you have in hand in order to change that situation, to put your economy on a better track?
Zuma: Well this is part of what we we’ve been discussing as the G20 – as to what do we do to boost up the economy, to if you want, ‘reignite’ the economy – what is that we can do. And I think the proposals coming from China through the president were very clear, that we need to break and look at innovation as a critical driver of the economic growth and you must have inclusive economic growth. There are many other kinds of things that people are looking at: how do we do the situation; how do we create jobs.
We need to agree, because right now if we say the economy is sluggish, it means investors are hesitant to invest. They’re sort of holding their money and we are saying, let them be encouraged to do so. As a government in South Africa we have in fact done a lot of job creation, trying(?) to invest, trying to encourage the private sector. Now if for an example you are saying ‘let us grow the economy’ and then you invest or you protect your investment – we are using the term ‘protectionist’ – but the workers who are working they want higher wages, there is no sensitivity where we should all come together to say ‘since the economy is under challenge what is it that we can sacrifice, all of us, in order to ensure that we can grow the economy’.
Tian Wei: One of the things that your economy is facing is the energy prices – the fluctuation of the energy prices. Of course you try to seek ways out, but still at this moment difficult. What do you make of that dependence your economy has on energy?
Zuma: That is one of the difficulties. Perhaps our economy… one of the areas would be energy. The energy has a history as well – because everything in our own country has its own history, because it was not worked on to take care of the entire population, because of our history. So we are almost like starting from new, but what we have been doing a lot of kind of progress from that point of view. And therefore to us it is important, because energy is important for the economy to grow. And we are working hard to ensure … we are for an example having a programme of mixed energy so that we do all types of energy, so that we can in a sense increase the volume of energy, so that that can help to generate the kind of economy that must go there.
Of course, the price of energy – depending what we are talking about … for an example, other countries in Africa they were affected with regard to the going down of fuel, of oil rather, in other countries … that base themselves on the oil and that caused a problem. We get more affected because we are a mining country: the commodities coming from the mine also were no longer being attractive out there. So that in itself affected the kind of economy and these are the matters that we have got to say, how do we handle this situation as we go forward.
Tian Wei: Mr. President when you look at the African continent, what do you make of the role of South Africa? What do you think should be the role that South Africa plays on your continent, or representing our continent worldwide?
Zuma: Well South Africa is playing the role already. Firstly in the African continent, we take it as a priority that we work with them. We are participating in shaping the approach that Africa makes. We are participating in addressing the problems of the continent; for an example, we are there to keep peace; we are there to influence that there should be peace; we are there to defend those who’d be troubled by violence etc. We use the capacity we have. We … don’t do this as one country; we do this as part of a collective of the AU and there we play a part. we play a part outside of the continent by sensitising the world about the challenges of the continent.
Right now South Africa is the member of the G20. It’s not raising its own matters only; it raises the matters of the continent – that’s part of the role it is playing. When BRICS came for the first time to meet in South Africa, South Africa asked the leaders of the continent – particularly those who have specific responsibilities – to meet with BRICS, to raise the issues with BRICS, and it was a very useful kind of meeting. That act has introduced in BRICS leaders what is now called ‘the outreach’, that when BRICS meets, leaders in the region would also come … that’s how South Africa sees its role, and it is acting on this role.
Tian Wei: Thank you very much we really appreciate it thank you for your trust and your confidence Mr President
Zuma: Thank you very much indeed.
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