Zuma made the comment in Pretoria, South Africa, at a meeting of the African Union, which previously unsuccessfully lobbied Gadhafi to give up, CNN reported Sunday.
"The intention was not to authorize a campaign for regime change or political assassination," Zuma said in his opening remarks at the African Union's special committee on Libya.
Zuma's comments came a day after the Libyan government claimed NATO warplanes bombed a bakery and restaurant in a key oil refinery town east of Tripoli, killing several civilians, including children. NATO said the charge is unfounded.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have blamed the Gadhafi regime of violating human rights, including the firing on of unarmed citizens.
Canadian Gen. Charles Bouchard told The Washington Post more than 4,700 NATO airstrikes have been conducted as the mission moves into its fourth month, saying Gadhafi's resilience couldn't last forever.
"The noose is tightening around him, and there are very few places for him to go," Bouchard said. "You don't stay in power for 41 years and expect that he's going to leave at the first sign of stresses."