Transcript: Post-Cabinet Lekgotla media briefing

27 July 2008

Date: Sunday, 27 July 2008
Venue: Media Centre, Room 153, Union Buildings, Pretoria 
Time: 14:00

Themba Maseko: Thank you very much. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Apologies for starting an hour later than scheduled. The President wanted us to give him more details in the statement, that’s why we needed extra time. But let me take the opportunity to welcome you all to the briefing, and also importantly to welcome the President and invite you to speak to us about the July Lekgotla.
At the end of the President’s briefing, the Deputy-Minister of Foreign Affairs will also come and talk to you about the forthcoming visit of the Egyptian President during the course of the week.
President, over to you to address us. Thank you very much.

President Thabo Mbeki: We do this, as you know, every year at the end of the mid-year Cabinet Lekgotla, and basically it is to give you a broad picture of the matters that would have been considered and decided by the Cabinet Lekgotla. It will be followed again by ministerial briefings, representing both departments and the various clusters. And that would give the possibility to go into detail in matters that I can only deal with here in a general way. As you know, the Lekgotla took place this week earlier, from 22 to 24 July, and was again attended by the whole of government, national government, provincial government, directors-general, both national and provincial, as well as the South African Local Government Association (Salga).

Of course, as you’d expect, the meeting welcomed the new Minister in The Presidency, Kgalema Motlanthe. He had a standing ovation, as I remember.

This July Cabinet Lekgotla conducts a mid-year review of the implementation of the Government’s Programme of Action, as well as look at the Medium Term Strategic Framework. The Medium Term Strategic Framework is, of course, important because it would also have to inform the budget policy statement that the Minister of Finance will present to Parliament in October. It of course took into account the fact that we are left with a few months of the life of the current administration, and therefore had to see what needed to be done in the few months that remain. It was guided by the task of addressing the immediate tasks pertaining to the completion of our electoral mandate, as I’ve said, looking at this Medium Term Strategic Framework, as well as matters that have long been agreed on, like halving poverty and unemployment by 2014, and these other obligations that we have to [unclear] as well, particularly the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.

We started by, given the importance in terms of the work that we have to do, [looking at the] importance of economic issues and economic challenges. We looked at the performance of our economy as well as the performance of the global economy, because global economy impacts directly on us. The meeting confirmed that we are indeed still on track to meet these two goals of the halving of poverty and unemployment by 2014, even though many challenges still need to be tackled. But we are confident that we will meet those goals.

The economy continues to create new jobs, but again at rates that are lower than required, in terms of reducing unemployment in the country in absolute terms, and therefore this issue of unemployment remains a big challenge, which requires higher rates of growth. Therefore we confirmed the view expressed within the context of the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA) that we did indeed need to achieve higher rates of growth - as well as this matter about the need to increase our exports, and I’ll come back to that.

With regard to the global economy, of course, we noted the fact that there is a global slowdown in terms of the economy, which must impact negatively on us, particularly if, for instance, this results in a lower demand both for commodities and for manufactured products. We noted the tendency towards what is called 'stagflation' beginning to emerge on the global stage; a combination of stagnation and inflation. And in particular, matters that relate to rising food prices, the high energy prices, liquid fuels, and the impact that those have, globally resulted in higher inflation rates. And of course the reflection of that in the South African economy, which are matters that are worrying. The high and growing inflation rate in our own country, compounded of course here by a growing current account deficit, which is driven by this challenge of lower than required rates of export. So these are challenges that would have to be addressed. I’ll come back to that. And what is clear therefore is that as we continue to work on these economic matters we have to focus on these issues of higher rates of growth of the economy, higher saving levels, higher investment levels, and therefore create the conditions for this economy to generate the resources that we need to address all of these issues that have got to do with poverty-reduction, reduction of unemployment, the sorts of resources that are available to the State to be able to address all of these other matters that relate to improving the lives of our people. As well as of course, continuing to restructure the economy so that it is indeed internationally-competitive, with this particular focus on the matter of exports.

In a sense, these things I’ve just talked about were scene setters. so that as we look at what it is that needs to be done in the last remaining months, we make certain that we locate those actions objectively, within the objective world, so that we don’t take our dreams for a better future as being [un]realisable.

The Cabinet Lekgotla also then, as part of that process of looking into the future and the better location of what we do, approved the completion [by] the development office [of] a set of scenarios which will be issued later this year. That scenario or those scenarios are entitled: “The Future We Choose”, and look at what might be South Africa in the year 2025. It takes into account various matters [and] different sorts of scenarios, with a view to assisting with planning so that we don’t end up in future in a situation which is unacceptable and negative in terms of the further development of our country. This is a very consultative process, and so there’ll be 40 scenario-planning workshops that will be held between September and December to ensure broader participation in this process. So, as I was saying, those scenarios will then be issued. So, people can then debate this matter as to what are the correct directions to take, what are the things to avoid and so on.

The Cabinet Lekgotla also approved the completion of a 15-year review. We had decided that we needed this review to reflect on what has happened in the country since 1994, focused in particular on government activity rather than interventions by South Africans as a whole, but more concentrated on the matter of the interventions by government since 1994, and indeed as you would see here in that review it would reflect the progress that’s been made on various matters, about access to water, sanitation, electricity, participation rates in education, health services, housing and so on. The review does indeed demonstrate that there’s a lot of progress that’s been made in all sorts of areas, and that there exists a firm basis to continue along that same route with regard to responding to all of these challenges that face us - even despite the slowdown in the global and domestic economy, we still have the capacity to generate resources to sustain the broad direction which we have taken over the last 14 years. And as I say, this will be a 15-year review. It won’t really quite cover the 15 years because clearly the statistics up to 15 years would actually be published later, but in any case it will be towards a 15-year review.

Now, as I was saying, we paid quite a bit of attention to these economic matters. You’ll remember that in the State of the Nation Address at the beginning of this year we mentioned that government had adopted a set of 24 Apex Priorities, which were identified for the purpose of the acceleration of the implementation of the programmes that we had agreed would address all of those matters with which we are familiar, generally subsumed under the title “A Better Life for All”.

We therefore had to discuss this matter as to it being a mid-year review; what have we done with regard to responding to those Apex Priorities?

Indeed, the Economic Cluster reported on what is happening in this area, including implementation of the Industrial Policy Action Plan, issues of energy security, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) interventions, agrarian reform, energy security, matters like that. Again the ministers will report on these matters in detail, but just to give some examples, in metal fabrication, capital and transport equipment, key import duties were reviewed and duties on carbon and stainless steel were removed. This is to reduce the cost of production in this sector. The review of duties in the aluminium products sector will be finalised by the end of the year.

The MIDP, the Motor Industry Development Programme, has been developed following consultations with industry players, and a new plan will be unveiled next month. An empowerment plan for the automotive and components sector is being finalised and will be completed by December.

With regard to chemicals, plastics, pharmaceuticals and so on, import duty on upstream chemical products has been finalised and is ready for implementation. Some announcements in this regard will be made later this year.

On wood, paper and furniture, new afforestation targets have been set in collaboration with Water Affairs and AsgiSA. In the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, an agreement has been reached on general authorisations for afforestation in areas that are not water-stressed.

We are looking at a new opportunity also in Mpumalanga and Limpopo. A service-provider has been appointed to collect data on small-scale saw milling in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. A draft strategy has been completed on the expansion of the furniture industry, and the furniture incubator is scheduled to start operating in November this year. In clothing and textiles also, various measures have been implemented. The country of origin labelling has been in place since July 2007. Of course, you know that quotas for certain Chinese imports have been in place since January 2007. And the interim, textile and clothing development programme formerly known as the Duty Credit Certificate Scheme has been extended until March 2009.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has established a textile engineering centre of excellence. It’s because even in our agreement with the Chinese to impose some quotas, it was also agreed that one of the things that we needed to do was to increase productivity within this sector because you couldn’t respond to the global pressures in clothing and textiles merely by quotas. You had to ensure the competitiveness of the South African industry, that’s why the CSIR has opened this centre of excellence. Business process outsourcing is being implemented. Nine projects have been approved, over 9 000 jobs have been created, R658 million has been invested in this area.

A global player in this sector, TeleTech, has been secured to invest in South Africa, and a preliminary agreement has been reached with Telkom on telecommunications pricing, which of course is subject to regulatory approval.

Various other decisions have been taken with regard to all of these things, including tourism.

The Cabinet Lekgotla also approved the draft framework for a National Food Control Agency, which has been completed and is now going to go out for consultation. This arises out of this concern about the high and rising food prices and their impact on the poorest in the country, and we thought it was necessary to have some institutionalised way to respond to this on a continuous basis rather than an ad hoc basis.

Various other decisions had been taken with regard to all these specific interventions that have got to do with the Apex Priorities; that would include a rebate for foreign and local film and television production, which was launched in March.

A jewellery-manufacturing precinct at the Oliver Tambo International Airport will be designated as an industrial development zone in October this year.

I’m really mentioning these to give an indication, as I was saying, that the Cabinet Lekgotla had to look at what was being done with regard to the Apex Priorities, and as you can see in this economic sector, indeed various actions have been taken.

Naturally we discussed a matter that is of global importance, the issue of climate change and global warming, and what we need to do both domestically and within the context of the international negotiations. And of course that relates to the matter of energy efficiency and conservation in our own country. Because again as you’re aware, South Africa is one of the big emitters of greenhouse gases, largely because of our coal-fired generating stations. And so, apart from the immediate challenges in terms of the energy emergency, we require that energy efficiency and conservation also relates to this global issue of climate change. So, Cabinet Lekgotla therefore decided that we must intensify the comprehensive awareness programme about these energy-saving measures, so that all our people understand well what we need to do, both in the context of the domestic challenges but in the context also of the global discussion. I understand that on Tuesday the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, will address the matter in more detail. This is the global warming business, on Tuesday.

Of course you are aware that we have had this matter of human resource development on our agenda for some years as we must, because of the challenge of skills shortages. So, again this matter was discussed extensively, and the strategy agreed on includes:

  • acceleration of training outputs in priority areas to achieve accelerated and shared economic growth;
  • movement towards universal access to high-quality and relevant education;
  • technology and innovation in both the public and private sectors;
  • ensuring that our planning capacities throughout the state system improves; as well as
  • the process of monitoring and evaluation to ensure that we do indeed produce these sorts of people and skills that the economy and society require.

With regard to the Social Cluster, I think what I should mention here is that, again as you would remember, in the State of the Nation Address we said one of our Apex Priorities would be the establishment of an anti-poverty war room so that we do focus in a systematic and co-ordinated way on this matter of the struggle against poverty. Well, that’s been done, and the campaign, War on Poverty Campaign, will be launched in all of the provinces during this coming month of August.

What it does is, we’ve selected the most-deprived wards and households throughout the provinces, in some three areas per province. [We] really go from household to household rather than just take an area globally, so that we know what is happening in each household, in each one of those wards, so that in the interventions we make we see what it is that needs to be done to take the household out of poverty. That of course includes motivating each household to make its contribution to that struggle against poverty. That process is being championed by the Deputy President.

I should mention here also that we, in terms of the social sector, also focused on this continuing challenge of social and national cohesion to try and address all of these matters that continue to divide our society. The objective basis for that cohesion includes the struggle against poverty, unemployment and so on, but also seeks to address issues of racism, of sexism, of xenophobia and other forms of intolerance, particular attention to the protection and strengthening of families, addressing issues of people with disabilities and the general area of moral regeneration.

And the third point I should mention in the social sector is that a progress report on the reform of the social security and retirement system was presented, and an inter-ministerial committee has been set up to pursue this. The task of the committee would be to continue to review the social assistance grants, to design a contributory retirement system, co-ordination of administrative agencies in government, and national health insurance - so all of these matters that address social security and retirement. We will publish a document on this matter,which is very important, towards the end of this year.

On governance and administration, again which is a matter that is permanently on our agenda, I think what I should mention in particular is that, as I think you’re aware, we had decided that we should do a review about the institutions of state, the way that the South African democratic state was constructed in terms of our Constitution: national, provincial, local, these various spheres, how they relate to one another. So the review covers topics like:

  • the mandate of the provinces and of local government;
  • the effectiveness of the current system;
  • the strengths and weaknesses;
  • issues about spatial development planning;
  • inter-governmental relations; and
  • what changes we need in terms of the current system of government, what changes should be made if any.

I remember that there was a story that was put out that there was some decision taken that we should reduce the number of provinces - that report was incorrect. This is ongoing work.

We are looking at all elements of the state system, because for instance you would be aware of some of the challenges that arise from our Constitution, relating for instance to such issues as concurrent powers among the spheres. Where you might get national budget on education, so much, and the bulk of that budget actually goes to the provinces and doesn’t stay with national government. And national government might then say, 'here is the policy framework with regard to education', but in fact the money is in the provinces and the provinces do their own budgeting with regard to this. We may not necessarily be consistent with the policy framework that’s established by national government. But these are matters that arise from the Constitution, and these are the matters that are being reviewed in the Governance and Administration Cluster. We discussed all this. But as I say this is ongoing work.

And this thing I’m talking about, on concurrent powers, we also looked at the budgeting, the impact of those concurrent powers on the budgeting process. Relating to what I’ve just said that you might get the budget in terms of national policy, but the provinces with their constitutional powers then allocate the funds when they get them, in a manner that might not be quite consistent with what was agreed at the national level.

The other matter of course, again which is permanently on our agenda, relates to issues of justice, crime prevention and security. You will remember that one of the things that we announced was that we had undertaken a comprehensive review of the Criminal Justice System in its entirety; the policing, prosecution, correctional services, and all that, to see in what ways that could be improved, so that we do indeed ensure further improvements in the safety and security of all South Africans. That review was completed and the specific steps that needed to be taken were agreed on, and so we have appointed Johnny de Lange, the Deputy-Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, to lead the process of the implementation of the programme as agreed to in the context of that review of the Criminal Justice System.

We also asked the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation to undertake a special study on the causes of the violent nature of crimes in South Africa, because I’m sure all of us are very concerned about this. And indeed the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation has already submitted some reports, but we’ll finalise this process by the end of the year, and therefore the complete report will be discussed by the January Cabinet Lekgotla. We have done this in order to be able to focus more specifically on this issue in a more scientific way, having understood what lies at the base of this violence in the crimes that are committed in the country, so that we can together, not just as government but as society, [determine] how we address that particular challenge.

I mention those not to say that that’s the end of what we discussed, but these are some of the principle issues that we discussed. There are other matters. Matters that remain of concern, like issues of children in conflict with the law, and currently we have something like 3 500 children in detention, 820 of them in correctional facilities, and others in places of safety. This is one of the matters that are receiving special attention, as well of course, as further preparations with regard to matters that relate to the hosting of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.

You’re also aware that we had said that we would review the matter of the functioning of the community policing fora, and indeed that is going on. And we want to expand that so that it relates to the entirety of the Criminal Justice System and not just the police service, and to see in what ways we can strengthen the community policing fora so that they are able to play their role effectively, of linking the communities to a better functioning of the criminal justice system.

We also looked at the matter of the continuing preparations for the soccer World Cup and indeed we’re quite happy with the progress that is being made in this area, and are confident that indeed we will meet the commitments that were made to FIFA with regard to the hosting of the World Cup, and the Confederations Cup next year. We will also work with the neighbouring countries again in the context of what we said - that we want the World Cup, this World Cup hosted by South Africa, to be an African World Cup, so that it does impact positively on countries and other African countries, in addition to ourselves.

And finally, let me just mention that you will have seen also among those Apex Priorities, other matters that relate to what we need to do outside of our country, and Zimbabwe was one of these and as you know those negotiations among the Zimbabweans are continuing.

We had discussed the question of, in a sense as a pilot project, focusing on strengthening our relations with China in the context of the celebration this year of the 10th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between ourselves and China. There have been many activities undertaken in this regard and more work will be done on this, including exhibitions in China by our business community, to familiarise the Chinese with what they can access, [and] they can obtain from South Africa, so that we can expand our exports and so on, [and] attract more Chinese investment into our economy, all of which are very important with regard to meeting these challenges we have of improving the performance of our economy.

Of course we also looked at the implications of next month, August, when South Africa takes over the chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). We looked at what we might want to focus on in that context, which would include enhancing regional political cohesion, as well as economic integration, which would include infrastructure development in the region, matters of food security, matters of strengthening the capacity of the SADC Secretariat. Proceeding with our own plans there in terms of submarine cables to lower the cost of communications in the country.

So therefore, the Lekgotla confirmed that we must continue with our work with regard to all of these African challenges, that would include continuing to work with the Congo, dealing with matters that have arisen in Sudan where we were given particular responsibilities by the African Union, and various matters of this kind.

So in the end, what the Cabinet Lekgotla agreed was that the course we had taken with regard to addressing challenges of the economy, with regard to responding to challenges of poverty, with regard to challenges of human resource development, with regard to the transformation and strengthening of the government system, to be able to respond to all of these challenges and positioning of South Africa in Africa and the rest of the world, what had been achieved in all of these areas indicated that we needed to continue along those directions, and that indeed we had the possibility to meet the commitments that we had made to ourselves with regard to the progress that we needed to achieve.

And finally, that in these last remaining months, the task of government would be to focus particularly on the implementation of the Apex Priorities. For that reason, The Presidency will then put in place a particular system of monitoring and evaluation so that The Presidency is kept regularly informed about what is happening with regard to the implementation of all 24 Apex Priorities so that indeed when we come to the end of the term, we would be able to say we have done everything we could to live up to the electoral mandate - the electoral mandate that was given by our people in 2004. And that’s it.

Themba Maseko: Okay, thank you. Thank you very much, President. We’ll take a few questions, in Pretoria. We’ll take the last two… Okay, two questions, Pretoria. Moshoeshoe and…

Moshoeshoe Monare: Independent Newspapers. Mr President, in the last part of your address that the last remaining months of this government will be focusing on those 24 apex areas, do you think the change of leadership in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape will have any effect to the realisation of that goal, and secondly is it fair to say the issue of concurrence has really been dragging for too long, because if I remember very well, even as early as 1999, some ministers were complaining about, you know, the very same thing, to say this money, this objective to achieve but provinces sometimes are not performing and there’s nothing that they can do.

President Thabo Mbeki: Well, indeed you are quite correct; this matter has been with us for some time. And indeed, as I think you will be aware of the fact that, we have intervened to try and address this matter for instance through the approval of the Intergovernmental Framework Relations Act, which sought to address this issue. So it’s [not] as though we complained and did nothing. That kind of intervention was intended to address all of these concerns. I can say that as government, as the Executive, we have been very reluctant to intervene in ways that would seek to change the Constitution. And rather said that let us make sure that we do everything within the context of what the Constitution prescribes. The work we are doing now with regard to this of course, then comes out of all of that experience, so that we say look we’ve done all of these things, nevertheless challenges remain. Let’s then have a look at this thing.

So, I agree with you that the matter has been with us for some time, but it’s not a matter that you just wake up tomorrow and say let’s change the Constitution, that’s a bit of a difficult one. I would hope that changes in the governments in the Western and Eastern Cape wouldn’t have any impact on this, on the programme. They don’t change the programme of work of the Government in all of the spheres, and indeed I would hope that whatever administrations are set up in those two provinces, would catch up. They, in any case, inherit ongoing work in the provinces, and I would hope that whatever administrations are set up, they would do everything possible to catch up with what needs to be done, because the effect of change of leadership will not change both the objective situation in those provinces and the responses you need to address those objective circumstances.

Themba Maseko: Okay, Karima.

Karima Brown: Mr President, Karima Brown, Business Day. Just a question… two questions, one relating to the Anti-Poverty Strategy that will be launched now, I just wanted to find out if Cabinet made any progress on the Anti-Poverty Strategy that you need to sign off or that needs to be consulted on?

And then the second thing is just if, Mr. President, you could just elaborate a little bit more about what the Deputy-Minister of Justice, Mr Johnny de Lange, will be doing with regard to that task team, of looking at the review of the criminal justice system.

Themba Maseko: Okay, thank you.

President Thabo Mbeki: The second question might require that we go into what that review said, but I think you’d recall that, among other things, we were saying that if for instance [if] you take the capacity for investigation of crime in the police service, that is the size of the number of detectives, level of specialisation, location within the system, that we needed to effect some major improvements with regard to that, because what we are finding is that it was taking a long time to investigate cases because of the weakness in terms of the detective services, and that in many instances this is what accounts for the failure of cases when cases are brought to court – that the quality of detective work, investigation, forensic and all of that, then impacts on the quality of the cases that the prosecutors take to court.

So, whereas we might complain about why are so many people being acquitted by the courts, the problem may not lie with the courts but it may lie with the earlier processes and therefore what we needed to do then is to say let’s then do whatever is necessary to be done throughout the system. I’m not saying the police service will act on its own, in isolation from the others, or the courts will act and the prosecutors will act on their own, separated from the others, but in an integrated way. So for instance, maybe a very obvious matter, even the availability throughout the court system of information about particular individuals, because you would get for instance cases where people get charged in one court, and then are granted bail. Then they’re arrested elsewhere in the country for a similar offence, and the court is unaware that these people are being arrested for the second time on the same offence, and therefore will take decisions about bail which bear no relationship to the fact that these people are allegedly anyway habitual offenders in this particular area.

So, you need to integrate that because then the police complain that these people have been caught for the second time, why are the judges and magistrates handling them in this way. But the reason they’re doing that is because there’s other information which this court should have had, they don’t have it. So you see that kind of integration. So, now the charge that has been given to the Deputy Minister of Justice, Johnny de Lange, is 'let’s implement all of these things, so we have an overview of the entirety of the Criminal Justice System, and attend to all of these matters wherever they may be', to the extent that they fall within the ambit of the work of the executive. I’m not talking about judges; I’m talking about prosecution and all of that. So, that’s what it’s intended to do.

Now with the first question, the thing that will be launched next month is the campaign against poverty, as I was saying, reaching into individual households. The global strategy is still being discussed, and indeed there will be broader consultation about that. But we thought that let us begin this work practically to get into these households and a lot of work has already been done. We go into individual households in a particular ward, these are households with a mother and father and three children, these are their ages, this one is unemployed, and so many are at school, so many are on grants. There’s an incidence of alcohol abuse, there’s all of these kinds of things – you have a proper profile of this family, so that you say then what do we do about them to help to extricate this family out of poverty. That’s the anti-poverty campaign. Indeed you are quite right; the strategy part of it is more global. We looked at it, and work is continuing, but it can’t be completed until there’s been wider public consultation about it.

Themba Maseko: Thank you, President. We’ll now move down to Cape Town, good evening Cape Town. Are there any questions?

Unidentified speaker: Good afternoon, Mr President. I was just wondering if you could tell us whether there was any discussion in Cabinet about the possibility of changing the maximum inflation …

Themba Maseko: Colin, we can’t hear you, can you repeat?

Unidentified Speaker: Can you hear me now?

Themba Maseko: Yes we can, go ahead.

Unidentified Speaker: Okay. Mr President I was wondering if you could tell us whether there was any discussion in Cabinet about the possibility of raising the inflation target and adjusting the budget surplus that’s been run? And then just lastly, if you could tell us what a national food control agency would actually do? Thanks.

President Thabo Mbeki: You would remember that earlier we [said] - when we’re faced with this similar problem of high and rising food prices - we set up some pricing committee to look at this matter and report on a regular basis so that we could see what sorts of interventions should be made. You’d remember for instance that at that time one of the interventions that was made was that one of the major food companies changed its packaging, making it very simple without all of the nice advertising things, which actually reduced - this had to do with mieliemeal - which actually reduced the price of mieliemeal quite significantly. But given the current impact of high food prices - and it’s global, it’s clear that you are faced with a systemic challenge with regard to this, some structural challenge which is affecting the whole world - therefore you need an agency which is kind of more permanent, less ad hoc, with greater capacity to look at the entirety of this food system not only as it affects us here but within that global context, so that we respond to this bearing in mind as I say what seems to be a long-term feature of both the domestic and the global economy, particularly given the impact of high food prices on poor people.

No, we did not discuss the matter of inflation targeting, there hasn’t been any view in government that we needed to change that inflation targeting. And indeed again, no discussion with regard to the positions that we had taken, with regard to the management of public finances relating for instance, to the matter of surpluses, that we needed to change our positions with regard to that. Because indeed that has helped us in this situation of turbulence, in terms of the financial markets globally. The situation that we face domestically, that has enabled us to be able to cushion the country using that particular system of budgeting. So, no, both of those matters were not discussed because there’s no feeling in government that we needed to change positions on any one of them.

Themba Maseko: Okay, Colin, second question.

Anna Mujavu: Hi, Mr President, Anna Mujavu [ph] from Sowetan. Just on the food control agency, what exactly is it going to do? I mean, you say it’s going to be an agency that’s more permanent to look at the food system in its entirety. I mean, is it still doing research on the problems that we’re facing? I mean, did Cabinet not discuss the calls by civil society for a food price regulator, a freeze on food prices and zero-rating [of] some more food items? Thanks.

President Thabo Mbeki: Well, I’m not sure how more I should explain this. You know that we’ve already made some comments for instance about these matters of zero-rating. I’m sure you’re aware of the various foods that have been zero-rated for some time already. And matters that have arisen about that, as to if you had to move into that area you would have to be able to explain that, justify it, in the context of the impact that that has on the poor, and we have discussed all of these issues as government and to look at the interventions that were needed. We’re not waiting for the formation of this agency, but looked at this matter to say what is it that we can do in this regard.

And I’m quite sure that we will be saying some other things in government about this, which include the need to look again at the question of increasing agricultural production in the country, addressing the matter of the challenge that over the years we have become a net food importer, implementation of the agricultural strategy that we’d agreed on with organised agriculture, all of these matters.

So, no it’s not as though we haven’t been dealing with this, discussing these matters, because we have to, given what’s been happening, and as I was saying, the impact on the poor.

But you need an agency like that - it has to study this phenomenon continuously, so as to be able to recommend to government what it is that can be done which is focused, which is specific, which is likely to produce the results that we need and that that would be broadly its task.

Mandy Rossouw: Mr President, Mandy Rossouw from the Mail & Guardian newspaper. From what you’re saying regarding the change in premiers in the Western and Eastern Cape, you’re saying that they’re inheriting an objective situation and that you hope they won’t change the current responses and plans that government has in those provinces. I’d like to know from you then if it seems as if there won’t be any major changes then in terms of government’s work. Why were these changes made? And in your view, are you expecting any more premiers who might face the axe in the next coming months?

President Thabo Mbeki: Well, with regard to the question why were there changes made, you’d have to go and ask the ANC about that. The president of the ANC and the secretary-general came to see me before the last meeting of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, to tell me what discussions had been taken, visits that the National Working Committee had been making to the provinces, as well as officials. And what they were going to present to the National Executive Committee. Matters would then be discussed at the National Executive Committee, so I would say that with regard to that as well as any other plans the ANC may have, I think you’d have to discuss those with the ANC.

Those are not decisions that were taken by the Executive in government, because it’s the ANC that deploys those people to various positions.

Wilson Jowa: Mr President, my name is Wilson Jowa [ph], I’m with Business Day. Was any discussion made on refugee policy? The Minister of Home Affairs has mentioned that government would introduce or was considering introducing a special dispensation for people from the region. I’m also aware that refugees in the camps seem not to want to go back. They seem not to be willing to be reintegrated. What was discussed around that whole issue? Thank you.

President Thabo Mbeki: Yes, the matter was reported upon and discussed, including the issue of the registration of foreign nationals who are in the country illegally. And a specific report was made about a group of people that have been moved to Lindela, who seem to be opposed to being registered. Of course you can’t be in South Africa and live permanently, and refuse to be registered. It can’t happen in any country. So, the matter was discussed and it was agreed that indeed these people should be registered. It would help the Government then to take decisions as to what should be done with regard to this. Because you can’t tell, you see, without that process of registration and some inquiry, who among these people is a political refugee, who among these people is an economic migrant. And indeed, at the height of this attack on foreign nationals when some of the people in government, the ANC and others, went out into the communities, one of the things the communities were complaining about was the failure to register foreign nationals and they were saying you require of us as South Africans, that all of us must take out IDs, and you go and take out IDs, you are fingerprinted and all that, why are you not doing this with regard to these foreign nationals? But of course that requires that the communities themselves should be able to interact with the Government to say: my neighbour is such a foreign national. But certainly the matter was discussed and as I said it was agreed that indeed everybody should be registered in the country as normal. On that basis then, we’d be able to take whatever decisions are necessary.

Themba Maseko: Okay, ladies and gentlemen, unfortunately we’ll have to close it there. Thank you, President. Just to remind members of the media there is a list of Apex Priorities, progress reports, on each and everything that the President has spoken about so you can get into those documents. There will be further ministerial briefings to just give more flesh into that report. So President, thank you very much for the opportunity and for addressing us this afternoon.

President Thabo Mbeki: Thanks a lot.


Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)