CAPE TOWN, South Africa – South Africans should not criticize government for talking about apartheid because it created the problems the country is struggling to solve, President Jacob Zuma said on Friday.
Poverty, poor education and lack of housing were all direct results of the country’s history of institutionalized racism, Zuma said at a Cape Town breakfast meeting with media and business focused on his State of the Nation address on Thursday.
“We are dealing with the reality of apartheid, unless you don’t want to look at it, then that’s your problem,” he said.
Zuma said the lingering consequences of apartheid included the violence that accompanied the recent service delivery protests, because South Africans still carried the anger they experienced under apartheid.
“Protests become violent when there is no need for that. … We don’t realize we are still angry from apartheid – we have not moved away from that culture. … I was very keen to underscore the point of apartheid.”
He disputed the notion that the protests were a result of government’s failings, saying instead they were spurred by its success because it made the shrinking number of people still waiting for basic services more impatient.
But he sent a firm message that violence was unacceptable.
“We need to do more to ensure that those who break the law, the police arrest them. It is high time that people should know what is right, what is in the law.”
Zuma gave a summary of his last State of the Nation address before the 7 May elections, and reiterated its central message that his administration had scored considerable successes.
“We really have a good story to tell as we wind down this administration. It is a good story which South Africans must be proud of.”
“The narrative says we have done nothing, we are failing – it is wrong.”
Zuma said the economy had grown, education had improved, jobs had been created, and society had become more just.
He stressed that economic growth had to be boosted to 5 percent to combat unemployment, but said the weak currency was not the result of poor government policies but of the global economic environment.
“It is the global economic problems that are causing this. It is not because of policies,” he said.
Asked to comment on the e-tolls controversy, Zuma said he believed it should not have been politicized. He said the tolls were essential to the development of South Africa’s economic heartland, and joked that they were not necessary, for example, in Nkandla – his home village in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
“Gauteng is the heart of our economy and it must develop more than any other place. This matter was discussed for a long time… if you are in Gauteng, if you want the economy to develop quicker, you must create the conditions for it.
“I think the matter has been politicized unfortunately beyond the level it should be,” he added.
Last year Zuma sparked controversy when he said: “We can’t think like Africans, in Africa, generally. We are in Johannesburg, this is Johannesburg. It’s not some national road in Malawi.” when he spoke in support of the e-tolls.
His spokesperson Mac Maharaj apologized on Zuma’s behalf for the comment.