Article Published in the EL PAIS National Newspaper on March 12, 2018.

On 12 March 2018, the El Pais newspaper, Spain’s largest national newspaper, published a full page interview with former President Thabo Mbeki.

A translation of the interview follows below:

Question: South Africa has just put an end to a decade of turbulent rule by Jacob Zuma. How has it left the country?

Answer: I think that many South Africans are only now becoming aware of the extent of corruption in our Government and in our society during Zuma’s term. We experienced state capture, the kidnapping of the State, by a specific family of entrepreneurs [the Gupta] that became so important that they were taking decisions on behalf of the Government. They told him what to do, and he would do it. This caused two problems: corruption in Government and society, and a weakening of the Executive. In a certain sense, it was a decision by the Government to abdicate from its role.

Question: The ANC kept Zuma in power for years despite growing accusations of corruption against him. Why?

Answer: The reason was that Zuma is not an isolated case with the party. After the ANC entered power in 1994 many people joined the party – even some previous members returned to the party – in order to enter power and use their positions to enrich themselves. Zuma was an example. He received so much support from within the party because there were others in the ANC who were doing the same as him, and for a long time there was insufficient moral or political consensus within the party to force him to leave.

Question: The credibility of the ANC has been damaged. To what extent has this also affected the legacy left by Nelson Mandela?

Answer: It has had some impact on the legacy left by Mandela, but only to a certain degree. The ANC now needs to examine itself and I would like to highlight the importance of the recent decision taken by the party to renew its leadership. We need to discern between genuine members of the party and those who are only there to enrich themselves. We need to clean up the party. The basic objectives of the ANC concerning what has to be done in South Africa, which Mandela began to implement when he came to power, have not changed in any way. His legacy remains. People are very angry, but they are not angry with the party, they are angry with its leaders.

Question: What are you offering the new generations, those who have not experienced apartheid?

Answer: Lately, there has been a lot of unrest in the universities. Many students are demanding free tertiary education, because the majority of students come from poor families who cannot afford the fees. We also have to face the challenge of very high levels of youth unemployment, and the fact that many graduates cannot find jobs. We must respond to these challenges. But it is also very important that these young people understand the extent of the damage caused by apartheid. They must also understand that many people had to pay a very high price to obtain their freedom. They have the responsibility of ensuring that we do not forget our past.

Question: What do you expect from the new President, Cyril Ramaphosa? What should his priorities be?

Answer: He is also President of the ANC and he must address the need for renewal within the party. As Head of Government, it is also important that the Executive analyses the impact of the policies applied over the past 24 years, in areas such as the economy, education, health, etc., in order to see which policies worked well and which didn’t. We need to create a non-racist and non-sexist society. The goals have not changed: we want a democratic, non-racial, non-sexist South Africa and a prosperous country in which wealth is shared among all its peoples. But we have not moved fast enough.

Question: The Government presently faces a scenario of weak economic growth combined with poverty, high unemployment and high levels of social inequality between the rich and the poor… what should its roadmap be?

Answer:  We need to build an economy which has an annual sustainable economic growth rate of between 5-7% of the GDP. Part of the problem has to do with education. Many of the unemployed cannot find jobs because they have no skills. This is a challenge and we need to seriously do something about it. The other challenge is of a political nature, we need to win back the confidence of investors. You must create a political climate that makes investment in the country attractive. To do that, we need to leave behind the image of corruption associated with Zuma’s term in office.

Question: Last year, several African Presidents, who had been in power for decades, were replaced, in countries such as Zimbabwe or Angola. Is there a new tendency in Africa in which leaders will no longer try to remain in power forever?

Answer: Since the beginning of the nineties and as part of African Union policy, African leaders agreed that this should be an essential part of the process of democratization on the continent. I think that it is positive that the Zimbabweans have said that it was time that Robert Mugabe left; he has been there since 1980 and a change was necessary. Change was also necessary in Angola and in Gambia, where Jahya Jammeh refused to accept that he had lost the elections but, in the end, was forced to go. The trend in Africa is towards the consolidation of democracy. It does not mean that all of our problems have been solved, but it means that the continent is going in the right direction.

Question: The Foundation that bears your name and of which you are Patron states that its’ aim is to contribute towards the African Renaissance. What does this concept mean?

Answer: The idea of the African Renaissance is not new. When we speak of the Renaissance of the continent, we mean that we need to rebuild it. We can’t have a continent which is identified with violent conflict, poverty, discrimination against women, a continent which is seen in a negative light…, the new Africa we want to build is very different. So there is a need for a rebirth to get away from those perceptions, a need to redefine Africa.


South Africa has still not addressed the need to redistribute land, which is still mostly in the hands of white South Africans, but the Parliament has now begun to debate a bill that could lead to expropriation of land without economic compensation. On this issue, Thabo Mbeki stresses that the Parliament must address this issue, “to see whether it can be done and how it should be done”. He adds that the Government must, in any case, make sure that, if that path is taken, it does not have “a negative impact on the economy, agricultural production and food security”. Mbeki is not afraid of what happened in Zimbabwe, where violence was used to occupy land. “President Ramaphosa said that the Government would not accept the violent occupation of land, and the population is generally critical to people that act that way.”

Asked at the end of the interview about the controversy and criticism that have pursued him since, as President of the country, he expressed doubts about the connection between HIV and AIDS (South Africa has the largest HIV infected population percentage in the world, 12%), the former South African President says that it would require “much more time” to talk about the issue. He also denies that he said that “that there was no association whatsoever between HIV and AIDS. I never said that”.

Original article in Spanish:

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