INTERVIEW WITH THE PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA, PRESIDENT THABO MBEKI, ON SABC2 FOLLOWING HIS STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS 2004

23 May 2004

23 May 2004

Presenter: Good evening and welcome to our special broadcast. My name is Vuyo Mvoko. President Thabo Mbeki on Friday gave his State of the Nation Address to both Houses of Parliament and he is joining us this evening to talk to us about some of the things he has raised in his speech. Mr President, good evening and welcome.

President Thabo Mbeki: Good evening, Vuyo.

Presenter: Well, it looks like you are going to have a very busy couple of years, going on a road show with your Ministers. If you can just take us through the thinking. Is it because you have a feeling that perhaps the message hasn't gone through to investors as to what it is exactly that South Africa has to offer?

President Mbeki: Well you know Vuyo that we did say that we had paid a lot of attention to the matter of the macro-economy and that it was important that we should move now to the sectors. Now, that means, for instance with regard to tourism, that we should be able to target people who are interested in investing in the tourism sector and explain that this is the size of the market, these are the incentives in this particular area, this is the capacity, this is what is needed. You need to be able to do that to market these possibilities to these specific investors who would be interested in a sector of that kind. It's what would be normally done by anybody with regard to attracting investment to particular sectors of the economy.

Presenter: But how different is that going to be from what has been happening all along?

President Mbeki: Well, if you look for instance at the automobile industry, part of the reason that you have the expansion of that sector, is precisely because we have gone out to talk to the automobile companies to explain government policy with regard to that sector, to talk to them about the MIDP and things like that. And indeed, it has been a very important part of attracting those investors to put in money in the South African economy and build motorcars in South Africa.

General experience with regard to all of these things would indicate that it is important that we engage, not in general but more specifically. In the past, naturally, people were interested in these macro-economic balances. How was your budget? What about your budget deficits and so on? But as you can see now with all the assurance that people have about the overall general management of the economy, they then ask more specific questions that we are able to answer. I am saying that we should answer those.

Presenter: But is there a specific message that government wants to communicate to the world?

President Mbeki: You see, we identified various sectors of the economy, which we said were growth sectors. I have mentioned tourism. We said, for instance, agro-business. We grow a lot of food and fruit and things like that. It must be possible to process those. We spoke about beneficiation of minerals and you will see that also in the Mining Charter. We are a very big mining country and historically have been exporters of raw minerals. There is no particular reason why we should not be processing those further.

So there is a whole range of these particular sectors. But for an investor who is sitting in the United States, and South Africa is very far from the United States, you need to go out to that investor to say, these are the possibilities in this particular sector. People like that don't need general messages. They need a message that is specific to their sector, a message that would be relevant to them as potential investors. I must say also, that we are not talking just about foreign investors.

The principal investors in the South African economy are South Africans. And this is something, I think, we should really pay attention to. There is a tendency just to talk about foreign investors. Over 80 per cent of new investment in the South African economy is South African and therefore the engagement of the South African investor is also a critical part of this process.

Presenter: Before we come to the local investors, Mr. President, just a last point on the foreign investors. To what extent will your plan be dependent on the global factors? For example, the chief negotiator, Xavier Carrim this week expressed cautious optimism that the deadlock in world trade negotiations could be broken in July, which then means that to a large extent we are dependent on the world economy.

President Mbeki: Of course we run a very open economy, and therefore what happens in the rest of the world, in economic terms, obviously has an impact on us. But I should also say that apart from the negotiations that are taking place within the WTO, we are ourselves involved in all manner of bilateral negotiations, or, if they are not bilateral, with the South African Customs Union and the European Union. All the member countries of the European Union have now ratified the agreement that we have with the EU and that opens up the EU market in various ways.

We are in the process of negotiating an agreement with the United States. We will be negotiating agreements with India and China. We are in the process of negotiating an agreement with Mercosur, South America. So there are a number of these trade agreements in the major markets of the world. So, while the WTO negotiations will continue, there are other trade negotiations of a bilateral nature, which among other things, should help to open up these markets for South African products.

Presenter: Mr. President, you interact with a lot of business. I mean, your own councils. What is your sense of what it is of what they would like government to do? And, when you look at that, against what they themselves, as business, is there a greater way of meeting together? In other words, is there a meeting point between government and business at the meetings that you are having with them.

President Mbeki: Well, we have two sets of meetings. We have a series of regular meetings with South African business. Big business. Black business. Agriculture. As well, of course, with the trade unions. A whole series of meetings like that which engage issues that these South African social partners need to address.

You will have seen for instance that we raised the matter of an agreement that was reached at the Growth and Development Summit, which was that we should access a certain part, 5% was mentioned, of the funds in the hands of the institutional investors, domestically, for investment in the real economy. That being an agreement of the Growth and Development Summit, we will engage South African business to see how we can make that a practical thing. So, there is a different set of engagement with local business.

The engagements with the International Investment Council have developed in a very interesting way. It is, again, the point I raised at the beginning. Your big corporate chiefs who are members of the International Investment Council are saying, and they have said this now in the last two meetings, that the macro-economy of South Africa is properly managed. That even they themselves don't want to have these meetings once in six months to cover that ground, because it is covered. And therefore, it is necessary that we focus on these sectors.

One of the issues that arose at the last meeting of the International Investment Council, which we are working on now together with them, was that they said that in the light of the agreement that we have with the European Union, and in the light of the expansion of the European Union with the additional 10 new members, we needed to have a look at the question as to what would be the impact of that on South Africa. You have 10 new members who would then come into the agreement that already exists between us and the EU. What opportunities then exist for South Africa in that expanded EU? And, as I say, we are working with them on that. So, the International Investment Council has evolved to that point where it is focusing like that.

The same thing has happened with regard to the International Council that deals with Information and Communication Technologies. That Council also said it is quite clear that the policy framework with regard to ICT is fine, that the Government knows what to do. Now, therefore, let's become more specific, and look for instance at the use of ICT in education, the use of ICT in the development of small and medium business and so we set up working groups with members of the International Council on Information and Communications Technologies to look specifically at these areas.

So, the point we are making is that the general global messages have been communicated, about the politics of South Africa, about the economy in general, all of these general questions. The rest of the world understands these things and are saying, let's now come to the specific things so that even we, as big corporate chiefs from around the world, can assist in these areas, which you have decided are your priority areas.

Presenter: Mr. President, just to come back briefly to an issue you also raised on Friday, which is the cost of doing business in South Africa. Can you give us a bit of detail as to how you are going to approach that one?

President Mbeki: Well one of the issues that I have raised in that context is our transport system, road, rail and ports. We have raised this before, that the South African economy has grown at a rate that has overtaken the capacity of the transport system. And therefore, we have said that it is necessary to expand our capacity in the ports.

That is part of the reason we are building the Coega Port now. We need to do a lot of restructuring of the existing ports, particularly Durban. The separation of oversight and regulation from operations in the port, the possibility of bringing in private investors, to put in new investment to build capacity in the port. So, the restructuring of the ports will take place like that.

Clearly, there needs to be an increase in the capacity of the railway system. That's why there are these projections of increasing the capacity to carry freight on the railways by 30% over the next five years or so, because the volume of goods moved up and down, imports, exports, and within the country, has grown much larger than the capacity. And this is part of the higher costs to business, because charges, for instance, at the ports become too high and they put up the prices of these goods, whether they are imports or exports. You want to reduce that.

The other costs for instance might arise from the high cost of telecommunications. We had said that we have to introduce the second national operator and I do hope that in the next few months we will sort out all of the questions around that second national operator, so that we do have a second operator and introduce that level of competition in the market. I am quite certain that that will do something in terms of bringing down the cost of telephony. Because, one of the issues that has been raised is that one of the obstacles to expansion of, for instance, the Internet in the country, has been the high cost of accessing the telecommunications system for those particular purposes.

So these are elements of cost reduction that we have got to do. Plus, the matter that we raised about regulated prices, whether it's electricity or service charges of one kind or another, which are charged by state corporations or by government institutions and so on. We need to have a close look at those, to make sure that they don't become a disincentive to further growth and development of the economy because things become too expensive.

Presenter: Mr. President, just going back to the issue of how confident you are that State-Owned Enterprises that will have to deal with, for instance, the railways and the harbours, are actually up to the task?

President Mbeki: There are lots of problems in Transnet, which we are trying to sort out, but we are quite confident we will. We can't avoid the increase in the capacity of Spoornet. So, whatever problems there are in Spoornet, they must be solved. The same goes for the harbours. And the same goes for the airlines.

You can see that there is an increase in the volume of freight that moves by air. And so, we have got to solve the problem by making sure that that is done properly. The problems that are arising at Johannesburg International Airport are because of the growth of volume, not because of inefficiencies at the Airport. But, the growth in movement of goods by air means that cargo capacity needs to be improved. And I am quite certain that we will do it. I am sure that you will see in the plans we said we'll announce, for instance, the investment plans of the parastatals to address these challenges of growth, will reflect that.

Presenter: Now, the problems for most of the time with, of course, the restructuring or looking at the redefined role that parastatals would have to play is always the tension between the workers and government with regard to what needs to be done. Has that been looked into?

President Mbeki: There are established processes of consultation between the Government, the parastatals and the trade unions, which have worked in the past. And I don't see any particular reason why they shouldn't work now. It's a matter of engagement and a matter of agreement. For instance, the matters I am talking about regarding the ports. That matter has been discussed with the unions, and agreed, and therefore there is no particular reason why there should be a problem about it. We will continue to move like that. We need the engagement of the unions in these processes.

It wouldn't help anything to do a process of restructuring and then land in a permanent crisis because labour relations would have got messed up in the process. So, we will continue to engage and get agreement. As I have said, we have reached agreement on these matters in the past and I don't see why we shouldn't in future.

Presenter: And bringing in Black Economic Empowerment into parastatals, has that been discussed?

President Mbeki: That's been a longstanding policy. If you look at, for instance, procurement policies of all of the major parastatals, it is a very important element of that processes that will continue. And certainly to the extent that we talk about not just procurement in the sense of acquiring goods from the rest of the economy, even to the extent that it is possible to bring Black players in areas where we say we need to raise the capacity of these organisations to deliver services, it is a very important part. The parastatals are an important driver of the process of Black Economic Empowerment and they have been doing it, and will continue to do it.

Presenter: You also said the National Empowerment Fund will announce new products within three months. What sort of products can we ...

President Mbeki: Let's wait for the National Empowerment Fund. The National Empowerment Fund, as you know, we established some time back. And one of the challenges was to build a strong enough asset base for it to operate in a credible manner. And we believe that it can. That's why we were saying that they will make announcements that will add further impetus to the Black Empowerment process. Let's wait for them to make the announcements.

Presenter: Ok, that's fine. But then, state agencies like Ntsika, for example, don't have a particularly good reputation for, you know, accessibility and delivery, I mean, any plans to sort of jack those up.

President Mbeki: In part, I think it is bad reporting, in part. I think if you had a more comprehensive and a complete report, you would see that the record is not that negative. What we are saying is that we need to consolidate the capacity to lend support. Because, one of the problems that's mentioned with regard to the Black Empowerment process in the case of small and medium business, is shortage of credit or difficulties of accessing credit. Of getting the capital, that is true, but there is a problem, which, I think, is not mentioned sufficiently, which is actual capacity. Because you might indeed be able to provide this money that people need to start a business, but can they run a business?

This new consolidated agency focuses on that matter of preparing people so that they can run business successfully.

Presenter: I just want to quote you one of the business analysts who says in one article: "If you went to a small business and asked: 'What has Ntsika done for you?' you would find few able, because Ntsika does not work directly with them. Ntsika is not really to blame, in a sense, but it was set up to fail." Would you . . .

President Mbeki: I wouldn't agree with that. I don't know what kind of survey that person would have done. No, I wouldn't agree. If you look at the Company Register, maybe that's what we should say to that business consultant or analyst. If you look at the Company Register with the Department of Trade and Industry, one of the remarkable things that you will see over the last few years is, in fact, the growth of small and medium business, many of whom depend on these services to succeed. But we need to increase the capacity; we need to improve performance so that we are more effective at lending that kind of support.

Presenter: Mr. President, increased support is being planned for communal land areas, but if one looks at the Communal Land Rights Bill, a lot of women who came before the Portfolio Committee have actually raised issues that actually, I mean they are being now led to, I mean they will be at the mercy of traditional leaders. What do you say to that?

President Mbeki: It is not true. I don't know what that means. As you know, there are two pieces of legislation that are related. There's the Communal Land Rights Bill. Then there is the legislation that was approved which has to do with the role and the place and the function of the institution of traditional leadership. Now that legislation, not the Communal Land Rights Bill, provides for the setting up of particular committees that would work together with the elected municipalities.

Those committees are 40 per cent elected and 60 per cent of people who are nominated by the traditional leaders. Not 60 per cent traditional leaders. So, I don't know why women would think they would be underrepresented in that 40 per cent, and I do not know why they think they would be underrepresented in that 60 per cent either. Because, any community that has their traditional leader in the area, one would expect that, among the people, they would want to ensure that this committee, that 60%, is properly representative. The Communal Land Rights Bill then said, since there would be those collectives set up in terms of the other legislation, there was no need for them to set up other structures to deal with the land issues. And, therefore, those committees will also deal with this land issue? I don't believe myself that there should necessarily be any under representation of women in any of the structures. Certainly, I would imagine that the political parties would want to make the necessary impact in these areas to make sure that there is proper representation of the people in these committees.

Presenter: If I may just quote one of the people who made representations to the Portfolio Committee. 'If the Bill gives Amakhosi power over land, our suffering will become worse, we will go back to the old days, yet we have been looking forward to rights of our own. If Parliament does not hear us and does not understand that we are talking about our lives and suffering that is happening every day, then it is like the Amakhosi. It also does not respect us.' This was someone before the Portfolio Committee.

President Mbeki: Well, they hadn't looked at the legislation, obviously. I think that part of the problem that arose with that legislation, is that there probably wasn't sufficient information - probably there was misinformation. I am not sure that they have looked at the legislation. So, part of the issue around communal land, which became a matter of controversy, is that we are saying that this land must go back to communities. Not chiefs and traditional leaders.

This is community land that belongs to particular clans, and therefore, it must go back and its administration and the determination as to what to do, must rest in the hand of the communities. That is why you have these committees, among whose members, of course, they will be traditional leaders. You will have these collectives, which must then deal with the land, the issue of communal rights. The person that you have quoted obviously hadn't looked at the legislation. Maybe they might have read an article in the newspaper, which didn't tell them the truth about what the legislation actually says. Because, it is specifically to do with that.

You know, historically during the years of the White minority regimes, the State, the national Government held this land in trust for these communities. We said, but no, why should we do that ( return the land to the communities. We didn't say return the land to particular traditional leaders, but to the communities.

And then, the question arose, how would the communities manage this land on their own. That's why the Communal Land Rights Bill then borrows an institution that is set up in terms of the role and function and powers of the institutional traditional leadership ( borrows that committee and uses that committee. The person that you quote there obviously hadn't read the legislation. I don't know who had told her about the legislation, because the interpretation is quite wrong.

Presenter: But aren't there any, in your view, Mr. President, inherent contradictions in the way traditional leaders tend to do things and the empowerment of women and everything else that goes with how government today approaches or tends to approach things.

President Mbeki: Well, I don't know why you should isolate women in this regard. If you have a traditional leader who says 'I am the sole exclusive ruler, I am the autocrat', it will affect everybody in the area, whether they are men or women. The challenge that South Africa faces, and it is not a new challenge, a whole range of African countries have faced this challenge, is that where you have institutional traditional leadership, which in our country is protected by the Constitution, how does that institution function side by side with a democratic system?

The problem is not unique; the challenge is not unique to South Africa. Other African countries have faced it. But in our case, we have got to solve the problem. You have got an institutional traditional leadership, which functions in a particular way, in for instance, your communal areas. Those communal areas have got elected municipalities, which have got to do their work as, as fully, democratically elected municipal councils. But, at the same time, you have got these traditional councils. And the challenge is how to make sure that they function together, smoothly, and that is part of what this legislation is trying to address.

Presenter: Let's move to the social security net that government is planning. I mean, new social security agency, 3,2 million more children going to be eligible for support grants. But, to access those grants there are issues like IDs, which, I mean, Home Affairs has also acknowledged that it is still a problem. How are we going to get around that problem?

President Mbeki: If you look at government policy generally, what government tries to do in all instances is to make sure that we take care of all elements that might relate to a particular issue. The matter of social security and these grants is to help to address the levels of poverty in the country. You can't abandon people there and say, go and find a job, when you know they are not going to be able to find one, and therefore starve to death. So we have got to address that matter, but we have got to address it systematically.

The matter that you raise, of Identity Document, therefore arises. You will have seen that we very constantly run this campaign to encourage people to go and get Identity Documents, to register, and so on. We'll continue to do that.

We are continuously looking at the question of increasing the capacity of Home Affairs and that is why Home Affairs introduced mobile units, to be able to reach people. The matter of the establishment of the Social Security Agency was to deal with the matter of the more efficient distribution of these grants, the reductions in the levels of corruption and greater sensitivity. You are dealing with vulnerable people, like the elderly, who you needed to find a way of addressing, so that people don't have to be waiting in the sun in the queue, and so on. We are improving the entirety of the system. You have got to make the grants available. You have got to distribute them efficiently. You have to make sure that they reach people by virtue of their Identity Documents.

As Minister Skweyiya said you have also got to make sure that these grants reach the people that are targeted. That is why he is saying, for instance, let's bring in the faith-based organisations, the churches and the mosques and the synagogues, and so on, who have got an extraordinary structure. They have churches and synagogues and temples, and so on, everywhere. Bring them in so that we ensure that these grants do actually reach the intended people. So, it will be a comprehensive response. The ID issue is one of them. It will make sure that Home Affairs has the capacity to reach people and to make sure that the people themselves know that they have got to get these documents and where to go to get them.

Presenter: Mr. President, government plans to ensure that within five years we have clean water, within eight years every household has electricity, but how do the unemployed afford these services. Because the services may be there, but accessing them may be a different story altogether.

President Mbeki: That's correct. That is why you have the policies for free basic services, water, electricity, and why you have policy on indigents in the municipalities. I come back to what I had said earlier: the policies might be there but are people benefiting from the policies?

You do find that in many instances, though the policies exist, they are not having the necessary impact. That is a particular challenge in local government, because that is where all the services get delivered. And that is one of the reasons why we have raised this matter about the need to focus quite sharply on the function of local government, but also on the resourcing of local government. Because it may very well be that we say to local government, you have got to run an indigent policy. You can say to this unemployed family, people are indigent, that they must pay for water and this and that and refuse removal and so on. They have no money. We may very well say that, but does the municipality have the capacity to do it? So, that's why we said that we need to have a thorough look at the functioning of local government and that will include the financing. So that this poor person does indeed access that water.

Presenter: I see, I mean, in your speech you have like over R47 billion to be transferred from national to local government in the next few years in terms of the MTEF. But, I mean, critics might perhaps ask the question, but is throwing money at the problem the solution, given that some of the municipalities actually do not have the capacity.

President Mbeki: Well, they don't have money. You'll find a lot of rural municipalities, very, very big district municipalities that actually have no tax base whereas our system of government presumes that the bulk of resources from government will come from resources that they will generate themselves. But there is no base from which to generate those resources. So, I am quite convinced that we need to increase the resources that go to municipalities if we want the municipalities to do the things the Constitution and the law say they must do. It can't be avoided.

The figures we mentioned there were the current figures, like the MTEF figure that you have mentioned. But, you have a very simple matter. The Auditor-General has been complaining year in and year out that the municipalities have not paid auditing fees. It is not because they are reluctant but they don't have the money to pay the Auditor. So, you can't say that you are throwing money at somebody who doesn't have money. Lots of the things that the municipalities can't do are because resources are not there.

Presenter: To another issue, Mr. President, top 200 criminals to go behind bars in the next three months.

President Mbeki: I didn't say that. I said that in the next three months we should set up this co-ordinated institution, all the law enforcement agencies, really to go for that top 200. I didn't say they would be caught in three months. I have some idea of how long that programme would take, but we'll talk about that at a later date.

But we want the National Intelligence, we want the Police, we want the Scorpions, any other institutions, the tax people, and so on, the totality of these bodies, to get together.

The law enforcement authorities have got a fairly good idea of who are these principal criminals. Who are the people, for instance, who receive the cell phones? When a young person goes and snatches a cell phone, there's someone who is sitting somewhere who receives this. Lots of this kind of crime. The people who steal cars, there's somebody there who is the master, who orders the cars, or just takes a car when it is brought? I am saying the law enforcement authorities have a pretty good idea about a lot of these kind of persons. We want it to pool all that knowledge and all those resources, so that they focus on these people.

Presenter: And 150 000 new officers to be put on duty? But, isn't also the, isn't there a question also of resourcing them, paying them better? We saw reports, for example, this week of police who are moonlighting.

President Mbeki: Well, then you will have seen that the National Commissioner has questioned the correctness of that report. No doubt, there is moonlighting, but I think that the figures that have been mentioned are a bit extravagant. Sure, we have been at the matter of police pay for some time. Indeed, the Minister of Safety and Security and the National Commissioner of Police have raised this matter. Treasury has been looking at it and the Public Service and Administration Minister has been looking at it. It is a matter with which we are engaged, the salaries issue, as well as the resource question with regard to vehicles and, and all other matters, including the skills issues. That work is already going on now, to raise skills levels among the Police Service. So, the entirety of that programme is not merely about increasing the numbers.

Presenter: Victims Charter by the end of the year?

President Mbeki: Certainly. I mean, you know that this matter has been on the agenda for quite some time. That it is not enough to catch a criminal and get them convicted and so on, because the victim remains with the consequences of the crime. Something needs to be done. Let's complete that process, interact with civil society about this, so that we will specify what is it that we do in the context of that Charter that would then make this positive impact on people who might have been affected by crime.

Presenter: Mr President, South Africa is bidding to host the Pan African Parliament. What is its importance for South Africans?

President Mbeki: Well, I must say that, in the first instance, we got the request from many African countries who said, look, you people had better host the Parliament. So, the general feeling around the Continent was that it would be better that the Parliament was based here. In part, because of what this country has done with regard to establishing a democratic system, and we have responded to that. We have said, fine.

What moved us was not so much what would it do for South Africa, but there has been a great keenness on the Continent that the location of the Pan African Parliament must add to its credibility. And, so we said, fine, it's a contribution to this process of the democratisation of the African Continent.

Presenter: I am also raising it, because I don't know, I mean, do people raise it with you, as they tend to do with other South Africans when they travel around, that South Africa tends to dominate, or likes to dominate and act as a big brother in the Continent.

President Mbeki: Certainly the Government has tried to handle the matter of our relations with the rest of the Continent in a very sensitive manner. As I said, the matter of the Pan African Parliament was raised with us by other African countries who said we should host. And you will notice that we do not have a South African as a member of the African Commission. The President of the Commission comes from Mali, the Deputy comes from Rwanda and then we have got all these other members, ordinary commissioners. There is no South African there. And the reason, again, for that is not because we didn't have South Africans who are competent.

But, a number of African countries came to us and said, we request that South Africa should not field a candidate, because so many other African countries wanted to, and, in any case, South Africa would continue to play a role in terms of building the African Union, and so on. And they actually said, please don't field a candidate, and we didn't. As I have said, it is not because we didn't have people who are competent to serve in these positions. We were asked to host the Pan African Parliament and we agreed to this. So, we would continue to handle our relations with the rest of the Continent with that kind of sensitivity.

Our troops are in Burundi. We were requested by African countries who said, look, the United Nations is not moving on this matter, can you people deploy people, so we can move Burundi forward. It is the same with the DRC.

So, no, I don't think there would be many examples of South Africa pushing its weight around the African Continent. I don't think the facts would substantiate that argument.

Presenter: In your speech you also mentioned on Friday, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Well government has stated and restated its position around Zimbabwe, but Swaziland?

President Mbeki: We have been engaging the Government of Swaziland for some time on this issue of the democratisation of Swaziland. In particular, I had asked the Deputy President to engage the Government on this and, indeed, he has. We will continue to do this, because we do think that, as has been communicated to the Government of Swaziland, that Swaziland must go through this democratisation process, a constitution-making process in which they have been engaged for some time, and really seek a national consensus about it. Because, so far it does seem that they haven't got to that stage of developing that national consensus about what constitutional order they want. Of course, as you would imagine, quite a lot of people in Swaziland have been raising the matter with us, to do something.

SADC also, has dealt with the matter in the past. In one of the last two summits of SADC the matter came up again and I would imagine that SADC itself would continue to engage this issue. So, will we.

Presenter: Mr President, I mean, on the other hand is the mercenary allegations against a group of South Africans and you are facing a court challenge from them. Your position on that?

President Mbeki: Yes, I am told that there is a court challenge. I do not know quite what the basis of a challenge would be. But, we are following this matter, both in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea. And I must say, with regard to Equatorial Guinea, the Government of Equatorial Guinea, as soon as they had arrested these people, sent a delegation here to say they are going to charge them because they have got sufficient information to say these people were planning to remove the Government of Equatorial Guinea by force.

But they wanted to do that in open court. They wanted to do that in a transparent manner. They wanted, even that in the detention, there must be no abuse of people and they did ask that the South Africa Government should give them whatever support they needed to make sure that they have a proper legal process, proper detention, no abuse of people during interrogation and all of that. And so, we agreed.

But, as far as the court case is concerned, it is a domestic matter. They must deal with the issue. But, certainly, we are very keen to see that nobody gets ill-treated or abused, and that the legal process must be a genuine legal process, so that people don't get convicted wrongly.

Presenter: And lastly, Mr President, the situation in the Middle East has spun out of control and there are reports that relations between South Africa and Israel had actually, were strained. Your comment on that?

President Mbeki: I don't know where the report would come from. Certainly, I haven't had any indication from the Israeli Government, from Prime Minister Sharon, or anybody that there is such a strain. We differ with the Israeli Government about a number of things, and they know that. In the past, I have discussed with Prime Minister Sharon these issues. The fact that we differ about something or the other shouldn't be a matter of strain.

Clearly, we are very, very concerned about the situation, for instance, that has been going on in Gaza. And we would take the same position as the majority of the world about this, including this issue where Prime Minister Sharon made a commitment to pull Israeli troops out of Gaza. And we have said, indeed, that should happen. And that must become a building block in terms of the implementation of the Road Map. We are quite convinced, and we say this to the Palestinians, that violence is not going to solve the problem of Israel and the Middle East. We say that to the Israelis. We say it to the Palestinians.

Presenter: Mr President, thank you very much. I am afraid, that's where we will have to leave it. And thank you very much for joining us and have a good night.

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