President Jacob Zuma. File picture: Siphiwe Sibeko

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 on Tuesday.

“Democracies go through difficulties, precisely because they are democracies. Only in the autocratic dictatorships...there are 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,” said Zuma. “

Things move slowly [in a democracy] because there is debate. People have different views before you reach an agreement. 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.”

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

“At times we debate over and over and over. But that is democracy. You can't go wrong. You can't [just] say this is what I want to do. When people say to you, what is happening in South Africa, why these protests? Tell them it is democracy. When they say why does it look like the ruling party is fighting. That is democracy. We have open views. We speak out,” said Zuma.

On the economic front, Zuma told the conference that considerable progress was being made at home, working closely with organised labour in the country. “Our efforts of revitalising the economy also include transforming our state owned enterprises [SOEs] to advance inclusive economic growth. A lot of discussion is taking place in government on how to make the SOEs function better and not to be a drain on the national fiscus, but to be catalysts for development,” said Zuma.

“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, we are also employing a host of other strategies including local procurement and growing black entrepreneurs and industrialists.”

Zuma asked the South African 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 de-racialisation 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,” said Zuma.

The Pretoria conference, hosted at the department of international relations' OR Tambo Building, brings together all the heads of South Africa's diplomatic missions abroad to assess national, regional, continental and global trends and dynamics and determine a strategy to be implemented in line with South Africa's foreign policy vision and mission.