South Africa's Zuma favours diplomacy on Zimbabwe

NEW YORK — South Africa will stay the course on its longstanding diplomatic policy with Zimbabwe, Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa's ruling African National Congress party, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal Friday.

Mr. Zuma, the likely next president of the country, also said South Africa will maintain its fiscally disciplined policies despite the credit crisis and the weakening global economy.

Endorsing his party’s approach on Zimbabwe, Mr. Zuma ruled out sanctions, arguing that the South African-brokered power-sharing deal agreed to last month by Zimbabwe’s ruling and main opposition parties is the only viable plan. Longtime leader Robert Mugabe is to share power with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Mr. Mugabe has thrown the deal into jeopardy by asserting control over ministries that handle defense, internal security and the media.

Mr. Zuma said South Africa would try to persuade Mr. Mugabe to make the deal work, and noted the agreement has been endorsed by the international community. He said that when he met President George W. Bush informally earlier this week, "He was even saying, ‘We are ready to lift the sanctions, let us ensure that this package works.’ Because nobody can produce, at this point in time, a better plan."

In a written response to the Journal, a White House spokesman acknowledged the meeting and said the U.S. is prepared to lift sanctions once Zimbabwe has "a government that represents the will of the people."

Noting that more than three million Zimbabweans have fled Zimbabwe’s political and economic meltdown and settled in South Africa, Mr. Zuma and top advisers who accompanied him in the interview stressed that sanctions would likely inflame the crisis and increase the flood of refugees. Zimbabwe faces massive food shortages, and this year its official inflation rate topped 230 million percent.

Mr. Mugabe has retained the presidency through a brutal campaign of violence and intimidation and suppression of the press. While South Africa is Zimbabwe’s largest trading partner in the region, the ANC leaders ruled out unilateral action or "bully-boy" steps, as ANC Treasurer General Matthews Phosa put it. The ANC leaders contrasted their collaborative approach with that of U.S. international policy in Iraq and elsewhere, which Mr. Phosa described as "arrogant."

"So stand back. Allow Africans to resolve this issue. We’re almost at the door now" of making the power-sharing deal work, Mr. Phosa said.

Since taking the reins of the ANC last December, Mr. Zuma, who is widely regarded as the standard-bearer of the ANC’s left wing, has been taking pains to assure international business and political leaders that South Africa’s business-friendly policies will remain the same. However, many South African commentators interpreted a recent economic summit of the ANC and its allies as foretelling a leftward shift.

Joking that "Nobody’s checking whether [the ANC] is going to go right," Mr. Zuma said that the ANC would continue its "mixed economy" approach that combines business-friendly policies and avoidance of deficit spending with investment in social and public-works programs to try to alleviate the crushing poverty that most of the population still endures.

As head of the ANC, South Africa’s heavily dominant party, Mr. Zuma is almost certain to win the presidency in elections next year. Mr. Zuma declined to say whether he would ask Finance Minister Trevor Manuel to continue in his administration, but praised his work and reiterated something Mr. Manuel recently said in a speech: that South Africa’s fiscal discipline has acted as a shock absorber in the current credit crisis.