Wednesday, June 1, 2005

President Bush is committed to finding “practical outcomes” for African development challenges at the upcoming Group of Eight summit, said South African President Thabo Mbeki yesterday.

“We have a commitment from the United States to find practical outcomes,” said Mr. Mbeki at a press conference at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel yesterday after meeting with the president at the White House.

“The [U.S.] president is very keen that at the end of the summit there is not just a general statement, but practical outcomes,” he said. The summit of industrialized nations is to take place July 6-8 in Gleneagles, Scotland.

Mr. Mbeki said he and the president discussed African debt relief, the end of agricultural subsidies in Europe and the United States, market access, infrastructure development and finding the necessary resources for strengthening the African Union peacekeeping forces.

“I must say that President Bush has responded extremely positively to all our suggestions,” said Mr. Mbeki. “I am absolutely certain that President Bush is committed” to helping Africa on market access and ending agricultural subsidies, which inhibit the ability of African farmers to compete on a level playing field.

Mr. Mbeki was more circumspect on Zimbabwe, which the Bush administration has described as an “outpost of tyranny,” saying only that his government was encouraging both Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and the opposition to find a political solution to their differences.

Mr. Mugabe has led a violent crackdown on political opponents, shutting down opposition media and seizing white-owned farms. The economy is reeling from a lack of foreign exchange and food shortages.

The South African leader said it was critical that Zimbabwe develop the “political arrangements” to respect the rule of law, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly.

“This is a direction in which we are trying to encourage them to move, so that they create this political basis where everybody is comfortable that you’ve got a stable, democratic system in the country,” he said.

Mr. Mbeki said he was “concerned” by recent violent protests in Cape Town by poor blacks seeking better housing, which were put down by police firing rubber bullets.

He said although the government had built 1.5 million houses since the end of apartheid, the protestors had a legitimate complaint.

“To someone who has been living in a shack for the last 10 years and to see his situation hasn’t changed … it’s not possible for South Africa to solve the housing problem in 10 years. It is a pretense that you can eradicate slums in 10 years. It can’t be done,” he said.

Mr. Mbeki won 70 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential elections and his supporters in the African National Congress have been vocal in their desire to change the South African Constitution so that he could run for a third term. But that is not in the cards, according to his spokesman Bheki Khumulo.

“He is not going to run again. He has said it three or four times. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it,” said Mr. Khumulo.

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