Common ground on affirmative action should be found, African National Congress president Jacob Zuma told a largely white Afrikaner gathering on Thursday night.
Addressing a dinner hosted by trade union Solidarity, he told union members that they had no home other than South Africa and as such, their concerns should be taken seriously.
”Whatever issues you raise are aimed at making our country more successful, and to create a better future for your children,” he said.
Zuma, who arrived early, met separately for almost half an hour with the Solidarity leadership.
He then addressed a dinner gathering.
”Being a former trade unionist, I feel at home in a gathering of workers such as this one,” Zuma said.
He highlighted several issues of concern, including the country’s skills shortage, the crime and electricity crises, but focused on affirmative action.
He said affirmative action was needed to ensure the sustainability of freedom and economic growth.
”The majority of the population in any country have to feature prominently in the economy to ensure long-term growth and sustainable development,” Zuma said.
He said the implementation of affirmative action was not an easy task.
”Some perceive the efforts to remove white or male privilege as an assault on the rights of white South Africans or on the rights of male South Africans. We need to answer such perceptions,” Zuma said.
”The lack of discussion and debate creates assumptions and suspicions that are not very real.”
The only way to do this was by sitting down and discussing the issue.
”I know your concern that young white South Africans feel they cannot enter the labour market, and the fact that positions remain unfilled because the necessary affirmative action skills are not available.
”Let us find time to engage on these issues thoroughly and see how we can find common ground, for the common good of the country. We all seek a society in which no person is privileged at the expense of another, and that no person is oppressed for the benefit of another.”
On crime, he said ”drastic action” was needed.
”We can not sit with this problem for another decade. I am aware that you seek further and more intensive engagement on issues, and we would certainly welcome that opportunity,” Zuma said.
Solidarity general secretary Flip Buys said the fact that Zuma was prepared to speak at the gathering showed that he was committed to the cause of people and workers in South Africa.
He said Zuma had highlighted several questions which were troubling Solidarity members. These include the skills problem, affirmative action, the crime and electricity crises, mother-tongue education, what they termed new poverty, and problems and solutions.
”Mr Zuma, it is our view that our country urgently needs strong leadership that is aimed at restoring the confidence of the citizenry in the state Ã¢â‚¬’- not just government.”
Buys said the government could not single-handedly solve the country’s problems.
”It is a fact that there are serious problems to which nobody pays attention, problems that are so serious that approximately one million people have already abandoned the country and thousands of others are so despondent that they are also considering leaving.
”These are problems that can be resolved, if only government were prepared to listen to us,” Buys said. – Sapa