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Dollar the root of our currency issues: South Africa President

South Africa's currency has taken a beating amid the latest bout of emerging market turmoil, but the country's President Jacob Zuma told CNBC the rand's volatility was all down to the U.S. dollar.

The U.S. Federal Reserve's decision to cut back its stimulus program has sparked a sharp sell-off in emerging market currencies. The South African rand, which lost 18 percent last year, endured a fresh bout of pain in 2014, falling to a five-year low in January despite the South African central bank hiking rates by 50 basis points to 5.5 percent.

"It's not because of our currency, it's because of the dollar," Jacob Zuma told CNBC Africa on Wednesday.

"The dollar, that is the key controlling currency in the world. Once the dollar has problems, many currencies are having problems…. the fact that we had the economy melting down is because of the dollar," he added.

(Read More: South Africa's central bank hikes key rate to 5.5%)

Pravin Gordhan, the country's finance minister, also discussed the currency in a separate interview with CNBC, saying the rand should be at a level that supports exporters.

"Life is about balance so the currency has to be at a level where exporters can export, exporters can be competitive and exporters can produce goods that are wanted outside, at a price that is acceptable to the customers outside," he said.

But Gordhan also stressed that the growing consumer base and investment projects in the country "require capital goods for example to come in."

He added that given South Africa's oil dependence - the vast majority of which is imported - it was important to "maintain a position which says, watch the import side and watch the export side and each one must make the best proposition out of it."

Violent mining strikes have added to the pain, eroding confidence in the South African economy and currency.

Miners are angry about a lack of economic progress two decades after the end of the apartheid. Thirty-four striking miners were shot by police at the Marikana mine in August 2012.

But Zuma said the global "economic meltdown" was primarily to blame for the rand's weakness, rather than domestic issues.

"Because of the economic meltdown, the markets were no longer able to buy platinum and gold and once that happened was it affected mining so it was not the strikes...Whatever way we look at it, it was a direct result of the economic meltdown, so it cannot be viewed in isolation," he added.

Zuma was optimistic on the mining issue coming to a resolution.

"Absolutely (we will see our way clear). As the economies around the world that we trade with are beginning to come back then that means are commodities are going to be bought and that will make us come back to where we were before," said Zuma.

(Read More: South African miners treated as 'slaves': Union head)

CNBC Africa's Bronwyn Nielsen speaks to South Africa President Jacob Zuma.
CNBC
CNBC Africa's Bronwyn Nielsen speaks to South Africa President Jacob Zuma.

South Africa has recently seen rising protests in black townships where millions remain in poverty, but when asked whether the country was facing its own 'Arab Spring,' Zuma said this was not the case.

"We are running a very democratic country. I don't think there are reasons for the [situation to become like] the Arab Spring… They have enough space to protest and voice their views as it should be in any real democracy," he said, adding that the nation's 25 percent unemployment rate was a global problem, rather than one just impacting South Africa.

President Zuma also commented on ongoing corruption allegations, which he and the ruling African National Congress party, have been subject to.

Zuma dismissed these claims and said there was a false perception among the South African people that automatically associated allegations with guilt due to the country's history.

"If there are allegations about someone, it doesn't mean that they are true, but in South Africa they are made to look like they are true and that's part of the problem," he said.

(Read More: What Mandela meant to South Africa's economy )

"Corruption… is part of the history of this country… nobody talked about corruption at the time. It was life. We are the ones who came and said there is corruption we are going to eradicate it," he added.

Zuma also commented on South Africa's recent dramatic increase in foreign direct investment flows, which more than doubled to $10.3 billion in 2013 from 2012 levels, according to a United Nations report.

A substantial chunk of the money came from China, a development which has made many industry watchers nervous as China flexes its financial muscle at a time when western nations have been forced to tighten their belts.

"We welcome foreign direct investment (FDI), we are not discriminating...We've taken money from Germany, the U.K. the United States – why was it not a story, why is it a story when the Chinese do so?" Zuma said.

(Read More: South Africa Risks Downgrade as Rand Tumbles)

Part of the reason decolonized Africa has never developed, is because the relationships are not equal, Zuma said.

"The relationship, where the former colony must listen, must be told … is a terrible kind of thing. We feel unhappy... China came to do business, not to tell us what to do and what not to do," he added.

Zuma and the ANC face elections in May. The ANC has been in power since 1994, Zuma has led the ANC since 2007.

— By CNBC's Katie Holliday: Follow her on Twitter @hollidaykatie

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