African business, politics and lifestyle
Motlanthe greeted with relief, but South Africa’s problems are not over
South Africans have widely greeted new President Kgalema Motlanthe, many of them with a sense of relief after the bitter and divisive power struggle between his ousted predecessor Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, leader of the ruling African National Congress.
Motlanthe, quiet spoken and dignified, struck exactly the note the public were looking for when he took office, sober but smiling gently – a huge contrast to the theatrical ebullience of Zuma and the aloof, intellectual style of Mbeki, who was seen as arrogant and out of touch with his people.
The sense of relief was palpable on Friday.
“Motlanthe restores order” said the front page headline of Johannesburg’s Star newspaper, over a picture of the new president swearing the oath of office. “New leader steers SA to calm,” said the Pretoria News. “For now the country has at its head a nice and largely untainted man with not much ego who doesn’t think he knows everything and who listens to people. You can almost feel the relief in the republic,” Business Day said in an editorial.
But Motlanthe’s honeymoon may not last.
He must try to end an unprecedented battle inside the ANC while his country, Africa’s biggest economy, faces serious stresses including record inflation, slowing growth and a power supply crisis that has hit vital platinum and gold mines. Yet, he has little room for manoeuvre. Although fully accepted as the third president since the end of apartheid, he is seen only as an interim leader, holding the fort until Zuma takes over after elections expected around April next year.
This will make it difficult even to make a mark, without arousing suspicions that he wants the permanent job himself–something that many South Africans would welcome.
Ironically this suspicion, if allowed to grow amongst Zuma’s militant allies within the party, could create new divisions instead of allowing Motlanthe to do the job for which he has mainly been elected — gluing back together the once monolithic ANC which is now torn by rifts that have distracted policy makers from addressing huge economic and social problems including persistent and widespread black poverty, an AIDS epidemic and rampant crime.
He has promised to stick with the economic policies of Mbeki, who presided over South Africa’s longest period of growth, but is already under pressure from Zuma’s leftist allies to shift policy away from protecting investors and towards rapidly spreading the fruits of black rule. On Friday, his first day in office, the powerful COSATU trade union confederation called on him to eradicate policy and create jobs.
Can Motlanthe make a difference and end South Africa’s instability? Could he eventually dislodge Zuma to become the next president? Or will he just leave problems untouched until the election? What do you think?