PRETORIA: The side effect of having a functional democracy is that processes tend to be slower, President Jacob Zuma told the biennial South African heads of missions conference in Pretoria.

Zuma said a sign of a vibrant democracy in the country was that South Africans tended “to debate over and over”.

“Democracies go through difficulties precisely because they are democracies. Only in the autocratic dictatorships are there no problems.

"When the ruler says they want a bridge here, there is no debate, the bridge will be constructed. No one says there is no money. Democracy is a wonderful system, but it is indeed painstaking.”

The Pretoria conference, hosted at the Department of International Relations and Co-operation's OR Tambo building, brought together all the heads of South Africa’s diplomatic missions abroad to assess national, regional, continental and global trends.

Zuma said things tended to move slowly (in a democracy) because people had different views before an agreement could be reached.

“That is why its basic principle is that the majority prevails. It is equally very costly precisely because of the time it takes in movement.”

On the economic front, Zuma said considerable progress was being made at home, working closely with organised labour in the country. The key to this, he said, was revitalising state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

He said the government was employing a host of other strategies, including local procurement and nurturing black entrepreneurs and industrialists.

Zuma has asked the envoys to brief their host countries about Pretoria’s Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment programme.

“They need to understand our transformation imperatives well and know what to expect when they seek investment opportunities in the country. The deracialisation of the ownership, control and management of the economy must be accelerated, and all have a role to play to ensure success for the sake of achieving true reconciliation in our country.

“I will be convening a special
cabinet meeting on SOE reform, where ministers will discuss nothing else on the agenda but SOEs so that we can benefit from the collective wisdom to grow the economy,” he said. – ANA