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Monday, September 14, 2009

South Africa: Shocked South African Woman Speaks To Zuma

A South African woman phoned up a new anti-corruption hotline and was shocked to find herself talking to President Jacob Zuma.

The woman phoned to complain that she had been ill-treated at a local magistrates' court while trying to access her late husband's pension.

She was in tears as she told Mr Zuma that she had been visiting the office since 2006 to no avail.

The pair spoke for 10 minutes before she was told who she was talking to.

Mr Zuma assured her that the matter would be investigated and dealt with speedily.

The free hotline was launched on Monday and in its first three hours received some 7,300 complaints from frustrated citizens, the presidency's Vusi Mona told the BBC.

The number is 17737 from within South Africa.

True Test

Mr Mona said Mr Zuma was "moved" by the woman's call and told the consultants at the Pretoria call centre to "always show empathy when dealing with people".

Mr Zuma also took a call from a man from Benoni, east of Johannesburg, who highlighted his disappointment that his area has been experiencing sewerage leakages for months without the municipality resolving the matter.

The call centre was set up in response to concerns in the country about corruption and lack of accountability in public offices, poor service delivery and government's inaccessibility to ordinary citizens.

Mr Zuma answered one of the first calls himself and spoke to a woman from Mount Frere, a remote town in the Eastern Cape Province.

She did not recognise the president's voice.

"She asked who she was speaking to before ending the conversation and she was shocked to learn that her complaint had gone through to the president himself," Mr Mona told the BBC.

Her husband died in 2006 and she has been trying to access her husband's pension since then but has been sent away a number of times and told to return at a later date.

Mr Zuma first mentioned the hotline during his election campaign, saying it would help make the government more accessible to the public.

The opposition Democratic Alliance has welcomed Mr Zuma's initiative, saying it is the first step in ensuring that public servants are held accountable for their actions.

DA MP Athol Trollip said a true test of the effectiveness of this service will be what actions are taken against those reported.

Mr Zuma has himself been accused of corruption, which he has always denied.

The charges were dropped in April after prosecutors said there had been political interference in the case under the previous administration.

In July, there were widespread protests by township residents demanding better public services, such as electricity, water and housing.

Mr Mona said the high call volumes at the centre showed that South African's were desperate to make their grievances heard.

It is reported that setting up the hotline cost around 4m rand ($541,000; £325,000).

Call centres have been established across the country, including a 21-member team operating from the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

The team is believed to have close to 100 trained public liaison officers who will be the public's link to Mr Zuma's office.
Source: BBC/Africa

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