By Catherine Sasman
Jacob Zuma’s rise to the top in the African National Congress (ANC) could spell a slight shift to the socialist and leftist leanings in that the party, although he has not yet spelt out his policy approach, said two Namibian analysts.
“Zuma will have to reward and appease his supporters who have brought him into power in the ANC – notably the ANC Youth League, the Women’s League, Cosatu and the South African Communist Party,” said NID’s Graham Hopwood.
Hopwood, however, contended that as a populist leader, Zuma would have a difficult time balancing the interests of all at the same time.
“He will on the one hand have to please the poor while keeping business happy,” said Hopwood.
Political analyst, Joseph Diescho, said Zuma’s leadership of the ANC would also challenge weak leadership in the region.
Zuma had, for example, said Diescho indicated that he would move away from the much-criticised policy of “quiet diplomacy” with Zimbabwe that Mbeki propagated and demand democratic changes in that country.
“Zuma is likely to inject a new value system in African politics. He has indicated that the culture of sycophants benefiting from their allegiances with political leaderships must come to an end. This is unusual for someone from his background,” added Diescho.
New approaches on other scores could also be expected if one were to go by the statements Zuma made recently, said Diescho.
“His approach to HIV/Aids is different in that he said he would declare a state of emergency to deal with the pandemic instead of the denialist approach we have seen under Thabo Mbeki. He has further hinted at the possibility of free education, something many of us care about. No other leader has ever said that,” said Diescho.
In general terms, added Diescho, the just-ended ANC Congress bore testimony to a “real democratic culture” in South Africa where positions were open for contest, “not only for power but for change”, and open disagreements “unlike Namibians who are terrified to disagree”.
“But we need to appreciate the peaceful transfer of power from [former president of SWAPO] Sam Nujoma to President [Hifikepunye] Pohamba. However, peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of other values; we must ask ourselves how these values must be utilised,” said Diescho.
Mbeki’s defeat at the ANC congress, said Hopwood, should serve as a general lesson for African political leaders not to become too far removed from their constituencies.
Mbeki, he said, was perceived as an “elite figure” while the ANC is a grassroots party.
“For African politics, it is dangerous to lose touch with the grassroots,” said Hopwood.
Zuma, on the other hand, emerged as a populist figure, a “people’s person”, an “ordinary person”, who has the “common touch and in-feeling with the poor”.
Mbeki, the analysts agreed, has emerged as a “lame-duck president”, with not much power left because he will now have to consult Zuma and his supporters, who form the majority of the ANC National Executive Committee.
As a result, they said, Mbeki might be forced to call for an early presidential election.
But Zuma remains a controversial figure. His rise to the South African presidency is also not a given with criminal charges still hanging over his head.
“He has serious weaknesses,” said Diescho.
“If we can go by what he stands for, then this is very disturbing.”
Not only has Zuma been charged for rape, although he was acquitted, but his language towards women, said Diescho, is demeaning and problematic.
“He is also too indebted to people. How will he reward the unruly elements from the ANC congress? He is a polygamist in a non-sexist society. How can he stand up as a custodian of gender equality?” asked Diescho.
He also questioned the international political clout Zuma can muster.
“His [Zuma’s] sophistication is questionable,” said Diescho.
But Zuma’s moral and ethical questionability, said Hopwood, did not prove to be of concern to his support base and the poor.
But, contrary to the ANC’s “moral leadership” since the Apartheid years, Hopwood said, Zuma has had “too much dirty linen washed in public” and his international reputation is likely to take a serious knock.