Cape Town – Under the presidency of Jacob Zuma, South Africa has suffered credit rating downgrades, endless protests and the Marikana shootings which left 34 people dead.
Yet Zuma goes into the ANC’s electoral conference in Mangaung set to win, despite fresh challenges to his leadership by his deputy Kgalema Motlanthe.
In an interview published by The Guardian, Zuma questioned what caused the shootings at Marikana among other challenges to the country’s economy.
Zuma suggested that wage disputes at the Lonmin mine had led to the protests and the ensuing violence.
He warned international mining companies like Lonmin, which is listed on the London exchange, that more action is needed to address the workers' plight.
Miners work for little pay under dangerous conditions and live in difficult conditions, often with their families residing elsewhere.
"If we don't tackle the change, and that mining should transform (sic), you will from time to time have such situations. It's not the first time that people have this kind of strike wherein many people die.
"We've got to transform that, particularly if it is one of the backbones of our industry,” Zuma said.
"The conditions of workers should change. They can't continue to be what they were many decades ago. I would imagine Marikana in a democratic South Africa has been a wake-up to say: let us fix the conditions of the workers and make the conditions to be in keeping with what this industry is producing.
“I think it contributes a lot in terms of the economy. It almost borders on exploitation. The conditions of employment, and the level of the salary, I believe this is a moment to transform," Zuma said.
Zuma also took aim at the legacy of white control which South Africa has yet to overcome. Many in the country continue to be economically disenfranchised and unemployment has averaged 25% since 2000.
"We have a history in South Africa of an entrenched white monopoly capital," Zuma said.
“The economy in South Africa was racially structured for many decades, if not centuries. I don't think in 18 years you could solve that unless you have a miracle.”
Black people had been denied access to the mainstream economy and to education, he added, but nationalising mines or seizing farms is not the answer.
Despite the visible challenges to the economy, Zuma scoffed at the idea that it was on the verge of blowing up.
“I don't think there's a ticking timebomb.
"Unemployment is a global issue… in South Africa it gets exaggerated because of the history, because of the fact that of the unemployed, quite a good percentage is unemployable and this is what we've got to deal with,” Zuma said.
Zuma reiterated that the country needs to look to the merits of democracy to solve the crises that it faces.
“We are a constitutional democracy. We must deal with things properly within the framework of the law and then the constitution,” Zuma said.
The ANC heads to Mangaung in the Free State this Sunday for its 53rd electoral conference.
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