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S.Africa Election: Zuma’s enigma

By Reuters Staff
April 16, 2009

Professor Thandwa Mthembu is Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the  Central University of Technology, Free State. He writes in his personal capacity.

Based on current information on Jacob Zuma’s beliefs, ideas and practices, what are the prospects for his soon-to-be installed administration in South Africa?
My overall thesis is that Zuma is no less enigmatic than former President Thabo Mbeki, his old rival.

But Zuma is more eclectic in thinking and approach. Books have been written about Mbeki’s enigmatic character. But, one thing certain in the socio-economic governance and administration model he ushered in is that he exhibited neo-liberal and pro-capitalist inclinations that made him appear dogmatic and monolithic. This is evident in his macro-economic policy, Gear. It is also evident in his micro-economic policies. BEE policies, for example, were designed to create a new black middle class and “filthy rich” black people, too.

I believe Zuma is no less enigmatic; but is progressively eclectic. At the personal level, whilst he is incontrovertibly traditionalist, he mingles with the Church, modernists and the like, effortlessly.
Zuma has a deep sense of respect for elders, which is, ironically, an integral part of our moral values. Even though Archbishop Tutu has expressed resentment of Zuma as a person, the ANC leader has avoided any retaliation. That is a marked contrast to Mbeki’s response to Tutu’s criticisms of ANC practices in 2004 (not Mbeki himself) – the then president branded the Nobel peace laureate a self-serving ignoramus, a liar and a populist.

Zuma appears to be at peace with his capabilities or lack thereof. He exhibits no mistaken belief that there is no South African who knows better than he does. He is, therefore, unlikely to assemble teams of Harvard professors to solve South Africa’s problems. He has already shown his preference for local talent and will draw on many local experts to solve South Africa’s problems.
On many occasions, Zuma has made it clear Mbeki-led macro-economic policies, including those of the Reserve Bank, will not change, despite protests from his comrades. Further, he has effectively called for a re-alignment of our affirmative action policies, promising Afrikaners that they could be recalled into government positions that require skills that are acutely lacking. Again, this attests to his belief in the worth of alternative ideas and sections of our society. But, despite this reality, the coalition of the media and opposition parties has not stopped to pronounce his indebtedness to his leftist friends.

Worrying our human rights activists, he has made it clear that the laissez faire approach to criminals is up for review. Intriguingly, his rather conservative views on this matter resonate with those of many sections of our society, some liberals included.

We should, therefore, expect the Zuma administration to be more eclectic, pragmatic and open to varied ideas and approaches. In the process, we should witness different and less dogmatic approaches to solving our problems. More sections of our society should feel they matter and that government is accountable.


The propsect of a Jacob Zuma Presidency has for some reason confiscated the reasoning of some academics.

Professor Mthembu is either selective in describing the eclecticism of South Africa’s future president Jacob Zuma or fails to analyse the difference between politicking and the peer pressure that Zuma faces from his allies.

Zuma adopts ideas pushed down his throat by alliance partners or views that will help deliver a vote for the ANC. He thus fails to be eclectic because he does not choose the best ideas, instead ideas are chosen for him.

Secondly how can it be argued that Zuma tolerates alternative ideas if he has not recanted his homophobic views among others.

The difference between Thabo Mbeki, now in a political grave, and Zuma is that the former is arrogant and not in touch with the reality on the ground, while the latter is a chameleon that can reach down to the ordinary masses.

Both Zuma and Mbeki ,who were once in the same cabal, have divided the ruling party and state institutions. South Africans have failed to rise above personal battles and choose a leader that’s best for the country.

Posted by Mr R | Report as abusive

What would be the result, but these are most excited election in the history of Africa.


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