November 26, 2006

Iím no Mugabe, but I have sympathy for what he has done, says Zuma

Jacob Zuma, South Africa's former deputy president and the man many predict will succeed Thabo Mbeki as president, has dismissed fears that he is a new Robert Mugabe. Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph before addressing a rally in Durban, Zuma, 64, rejected comparisons with the Zimbabwean leader. "As a member and a leader of the ANC all I do is carry out ANC policies," he said. "How could you have an individual who would become such a monster? The ANC system does not allow for that kind of thing."

But he defended Mugabe's controversial land reforms programme. Zuma said he could not give "a yes or no answer" to whether he supported Mugabe but made clear his sympathy for the view that Britain is to blame for the crisis in Zimbabwe, because it did not live up to its promises to fund land reform. "For 20 years that was not addressed, and after 20 years Mugabe moved," he said. "So it is not a simple matter . . . It has been a critical issue and some people should have known that one day the issue would explode as it has done."

He also defended South Africa's policy of "quiet diplomacy" towards its northern neighbour. "Other people have adopted the policy of criticising Mugabe from a distance, which only makes him more angry. We are the only ones who have engaged him on the issues," Zuma emphasised. He denied that the huge numbers of economic refugees pouring over the border each day were proof of the policy's failure. "Refugees from Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland pour into South Africa every day. Zimbabwe is not an exception because there are economic problems in these countries."

Zuma also denied suggestions that the party was split on tribal lines, with his own backers drawn from the Zulus and those of Mbeki from his Xhosas. The passionate support of his followers sprang from a natural sense of justice, not tribal or political rivalry. "What people are protesting about is the apparent victimisation of a comrade Ė me - by the organs of state," he said. (The Sunday Times, South Africa)

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