Media release

Q&A following media briefing by GCIS CEO on Government food interventions in Zimbabwe (transcript)

05 December 2008

5 December 2008

Presenter: Themba Maseko, Government spokesperson
Date: Friday, 5 December 2008
Venue: Room 153, Union Buildings, Pretoria (link to Imbizo Media Centre, Cape Town)

Journalist: Themba, good morning. You mention at a couple of places in the statement, non-partisan. International food agencies have been trying to achieve this for some considerable period of time, to stop ZANU-PF using the distribution of food as a political weapon, how do you intend to stop them?

Themba Maseko: Well, initial contact has been made with the three main political parties that have also been part of the facilitation process and indications we have as government is that all parties have agreed that this distribution mechanism needs to be done in a non-partisan manner. So we are confident that with the discussions, initial discussions that we’ve had with the political parties, they’ve agreed that in fact we need to ensure that this is done in a non-partisan manner, because essentially our interests as a government is to make sure that whatever aid we provide as the South African government on behalf of the people of South Africa is giving to ordinary Zimbabweans, not to party officials, not to political parties, but to ordinary Zimbabweans. So we are going to Zimbabwe on Monday to meet with the various stakeholders, to meet with government officials [unclear], is that there is a commitment from all political parties to make sure that this non-partisan principle is adhered to by all parties.

Journalist: We had reports early this week that Harare was without proper water. Are those chemicals that have been given, have they gone to Harare? Is that why they’re getting into the…

Themba Maseko: A lot of the chemicals have already been sent through to Zimbabwe to different parts of Zimbabwe, largely because of the efforts of our government but also the involvement of international donor organisations. So we believe that in fact already progress has been registered, water… clean water is already starting to flow in Zimbabwe, but we just want to accelerate our efforts to make sure that no further problems are experienced.

Journalist: Yes, no I’m saying given that we know sometimes Zimbabwean officials do have a tendency perhaps to block people from coming, I mean, have you made sure that you have cleared all of that, especially because you are insisting that this is going to be done in a non-partisan manner, so is there not a possibility that perhaps some of the officials may want to block this delegation because it may not necessarily serve their interests, but the broader populous of Zimbabwe?

Themba Maseko: Okay, I think the interesting development which we welcome as government is the call made by the Zimbabwean government to the international community to actually assist and all indications from the Zimbabwean government to the South African government is that they will welcome any form of assistance coming through. So we think that that’s a major breakthrough and as I was saying our indications is that in the initial contact that we’ve had with the Zimbabwean government all indications are that our team will be able to go to Zimbabwe, leaving Sunday evening, arriving there and starting with the meetings on Monday mornings. We will be meeting with the Zimbabwean officials and we believe that in fact it’s all systems go for this process to be initiated, and that is why we are also inviting SADC to be part of this initiative because our view is that the situation has reached such a crisis point that the time for political point scoring is over. The time for action is now and we believe that the Zimbabwean government is on board, wants help from the international community, and we want to lead that help as South Africa.

Journalist: Sorry, me again. I kind of know what answer you’re going to give me to this, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Is any of this… what’s happening in terms of the water, in terms of the food, in terms of cholera, is any of this having any impact at all on the negotiations being mediated by former President Thabo Mbeki with regard to the position of the Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai. Is it having any impact at all on those negotiations?

Themba Maseko: I would be extremely surprised if the outbreak of cholera, the death of innocent Zimbabweans as a result of a failure of the politicians to reach agreement does not spur them to more urgent action. I will be surprised. In fact our sense is that with the signing of the amendment to the constitution, chances are that the principals will sign this amendment as soon as possible, and that parliament will be convened as soon as possible to adopt that constitutional amendment and that the way will then be cleared for a representative government to be established as soon as possible. So our expectation is that any politician with conscience who see their own citizens suffering to the extent that Zimbabweans are suffering should be able to put all political differences aside, and say let’s bring our country back on track. Yes, so that would be my expectation on this issue.

Journalist: Themba, you say in the statement the President will be convening the meeting of key ministers, it’s not clear whether… when exactly they are meeting, but we are mentioning about the Sunday departure of the task team.

Themba Maseko: Okay. Let me just explain… ja, the reason why I’m also indicating South African ministers here, a lot of the international media reported last night that President Motlanthe was going to be convening a meeting of ministers of the SADC region, so that’s why we’re explaining that this is a South African government initiative, so it’s South African ministers. So what happened immediately after the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday and because of the urgency of the matter, the DGs of these four departments were convened, so they’ve already met, they have looked at various options and possibilities and are then going to Zimbabwe on Sunday and Monday and they will come back on Monday evening. The President is expected to convene the meeting of South African ministers between Monday and Tuesday, to receive a report and recommendations from the DGs and we are expecting that around midweek next week we will be able to announce what steps we will be taking to provide aid, the value of that aid, and the date on which this aid will be delivered to Zimbabwe. But I can indicate that our indications from a number of South African companies is that a number of companies have also said they are willing to come onboard and we believe that this aid will not just be a government aid, but it may include support and assistance from NGOs, South African NGOs, and South African companies. So short answer to your question, the meeting will take place… the meeting of ministers will take place early in the week to make sure that we can start the process of delivering aid within a matter of days soon thereafter.

Journalist: With the rampage through the streets of Harare by the military and also increased protests against the Reserve Bank’s restrictions on drawing money, things seem to be hotting up on the streets of Zimbabwe. How concerned are you that there’s a revolution imminent?

Themba Maseko: Oh, Wyndham, I’m not sure if there’s a revolution imminent, but it would have been a surprise if ordinary Zimbabweans were to sit back and not do anything to protest against the deteriorating situation in that country. But from a security point of view the South African government is obviously monitoring the situation quite closely. We are obviously extremely concerned to see that members of the security forces are already starting to go to the streets and demonstrate. So that situation would obviously be something of a major worry to the South African government. So we are monitoring that situation and we’re… no concrete decision yet has been taken about what to do on that score, but we are monitoring the situation quite closely. The most important thing is for the political leaders in Zimbabwe to realise the gravity of the situation and to finalise whatever is outstanding in the political front, to make sure that a representative government is established as a matter of absolute urgency. Because when you start seeing people dying of starvation, cholera outbreaks in almost all parts of that country, you then have quite a serious crisis situation that requires politicians to really stand up and deal with the situation to the best interest of the people of Zimbabwe. Yes…

Journalist: [Off mic]… I mean, if we’re back here by next week and the political leaders haven’t signed this agreement, what is South Africa going to do?

Themba Maseko: Well, I can say that my expectation is that ordinary Africans throughout the continent are slowly growing impatient with the political crisis in Zimbabwe, and we remain optimistic that with the progress that’s being made on the facilitation front we are optimistic that in fact this constitutional amendment will pave a way for this political settlement to be reached. So we are in contact with the facilitator of the talks to ensure that the political leaders, the principals sign this amendment and that parliament is convened as a matter of absolute urgency to make sure that a stage is set for a new government to be put in place there. So we will continue to put pressure on the political parties to reach this agreement, but nothing in our view should be more… should put more pressure on the Zimbabwean political leaders than seeing their own citizens dying in the streets because of cholera, starvation and hunger. Nothing should be more than that as far as pressure is concerned.

Journalist: Both Namibia, Botswana and Limpopo in South Africa have a vast meat industry. Is there a coordinated response to the spread of anthrax?

Themba Maseko: We indicated yesterday that the ministers of health in the SADC region did have a meeting to look at the situation and the potential risks it poses to the SADC region as a whole, and our view as government is that there needs to be a coordinated response by all the governments in the SADC region. The health matter is indeed a priority, so our Minister of Health is in contact with the health ministers of SADC… of the SADC region governments, but more importantly we are in contact and working very closely with the World Health Organisation to make sure that a coordinated response is developed sooner rather than later. But at this stage I’m not aware of any coordinated action at this stage to deal with the possible spread of anthrax.

Journalist: It strikes me that given the crisis is largely a financial one in Zimbabwe what interventions are South Africa taking in regards to transferring power from ZANU-PF, the illegitimate government, and control over the Reserve Bank? Until you do that, nothing is going to happen.

Themba Maseko: That is obviously a major issue that requires some kind of focused attention. But you’ve also got to remember that as the South African government there’s a limit to what we can do in terms of actual governance issues in Zimbabwe itself. So we believe that the bulk of the solution has to come from the fact that a government, a representative government needs to be put in place as a matter of absolute urgency, to deal with issues pertaining to the control and management of the Reserve Bank, to deal with all the other governance issues that are hitting that country and leading to the kind of crisis that we’re experiencing today. So we’re putting a lot of efforts into making sure that this political settlement is found sooner rather than later, and we think that the current humanitarian crisis will spare… will span the leadership into action to make sure that this government is set up as a matter of urgency. But other than that we do not see ourselves starting to get involved in the nitty-gritty of managing and governing that country. Because at the end of the day Zimbabwe still is an independent country and it needs to find time to resolve these problems. Because South Africans also want to hear its government talking about how it is dealing with the South African problems. Now we think that in fact there has to be a point very soon where a government is set up in Zimbabwe so that we can begin to focus all our attention as a South African government on South African challenges that we are facing today.

Themba Maseko (Government Spokesperson)
Cell: 083 645 0810

Issued by: Government Communications (GCIS)



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