Jacob Zuma says South Africa under the ANC would never follow the unfortunate path Zimbabwe had.
Many watching how Zanu-PF has ruled with an iron fist and has run Zimbabwe into the ground are wont to draw parallels with South Africa.
The similarities are stark: both countries are ruled by former popular liberation movements and have had a stranglehold on power.
Fears are that the ANC, which has up to now enjoyed unrivalled support, could also turn its back on democracy and transform South Africa into a one-party dictatorship when its support wanes.
Not so, says ANC president Jacob Zuma. He says these fears are unfounded and betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the ANC.
"[Those] people have not studied the ANC as an organisation or understand Zanu-PF.
"The ANC and South Africa cannot go the Zimbabwe way," he told Sowetan yesterday.
He said though he "cannot sit here and judge my colleagues in Zanu-PF", "the ANC has a different culture [from that of Zanu-PF]".
For starters, "the ANC believes in collective leadership", Zuma said.
He was careful to distinguish between collective leadership and traditional leadership based on bloodlines.
It was inconceivable, he said, that people were worried the ANC would ruin the economy by adopting unsustainable populist economic policies, as had happened in Zimbabwe.
"The ANC has clear economic policies. What are Zanu-PF's economic policies?" asked the party president.
Another distinction between the ANC and Zanu-PF was that Zimbabwe's land issue remained a thorny constitutional issue after negotiations for independence at the Lancaster House talks.
But South Africa had a clear policy on orderly land restitution that had helped to avert the chaos in Zimbabwe.
The ANC had been clear since adopting the Freedom Charter in 1955 that South Africa belonged to all who live in it.
Another fundamental difference lay in the ANC's commitment to partnership in running the country.
"We have an alliance with the trade unions and the SACP. Does Zanu-PF?" he asked.
Zuma said democracy was firmly entrenched in the ANC.
"We are clear where we are going. People should have first studied [the display of democracy at] Limpopo [to see that] we know where we are going.
"There will be no Zanufication here," he declared.
The ANC president was distressed about the recent bout of xenophobia in South Africa, but said hatred of immigrants was a global problem. It even occurred in developed countries such as Germany and France.
Nevertheless, poverty and unemployment in South Africa did not justify attacks on immigrants.
Zuma noted that many foreign nationals had been directly involved in South Africa's struggle for liberation.
"It is important to call on South Africans to understand the plight of people with difficulties in our country.
"We were once faced by the same situation. They gave us support. Some of these people even lost their lives in Lesotho, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and other countries.
"That we cannot forget."
One of his co-accused when he stood trial for his role in the struggle was Joseph Mpofu, a Zimbabwean who was sentenced to five years on Robben Island.
Michael Dingake, a Motswana from Botswana, was incarcerated on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela.
"I actually slept at his place while in exile," he said.
Michael Ngubeni, a Mozambican, was jailed on the island for his contribution to the freedom struggle.
"More than that, it is just human [to treat foreigners with respect]. We should not allow these challenges [of poverty and unemployment] to move us away from our culture of ubuntu.
"As South Africans we are not the kind of people who hate our neighbours. We are very warm people. Circumstances should not change us from who we are".
He is worried by the high crime rate in South Africa and reiterated his view that criminals were having it too easy.
Zuma said the nation should debate if criminals were not afforded too many rights relative to their victims.
"Crime is a critical issue. Government has tried [many solutions], including working with business. We need to do more. We can do more.
"We need to do extraordinary things to deal with crime.
"We fought for the right to life. If criminals kill, they undermine the fundamental right of the people to life.
"I have a problem with people who defend the rights of criminals over those of victims. We have to make laws that bite.
"South Africa needs to empower the police. It should not be difficult to arrest people.
"The law is quick to say communities should not take the law into their own hands. [But I say] we should respect the view of the community rather than that of the criminals," Zuma insisted.
He said criminals knew how to exploit loopholes in the law and win their cases on technicalities. Zuma related the story of a frustrated policeman on the Cape Flats who lamented that a criminal he had arrested three times had escaped each time because of technicalities.
He said his stance on crime should not be misunderstood as promoting vigilantism.
l To watch a video of this interview please go to www.sowetan.co.za. Read Thabo Leshilo's second take on the Zuma interview in tomorrow's edition.