Africa News blog

African business, politics and lifestyle

Can Zuma live up to unity pledge?

April 26, 2009

Pledging to work for national unity is pretty much a formality for any election winner, but in the case of South Africa’s Jacob Zuma it may be more than a platitude. It may need to be.

“The new President of the Republic will be a president for all, and he will work to unite the country around a programme of action that will see an improvement in the delivery of services,” Zuma said after the African National Congress won its sweeping victory.

“We may disagree on how to bring about a better life for all, but what unites us is the fact that this country belongs to all of us, black, white, coloured and Indian equally. We will need to work together on issues that are in the national interest, on which there is no need to compete or permanently bicker.”

Despite the strongest opposition challenge since the end of apartheid, the slick ANC campaign delivered the vote and persuaded a majority of South Africans that the party that has ruled since 1994 could also be the one to deliver change – more action against poverty, crime, AIDS and other concerns.

But unity is always going to be tough in a country with as many divisions as South Africa. The formerly monolithic ANC itself split last year after it ousted former President Thabo Mbeki.

The vote clearly showed up the racial divide 15 years after the end of rule by the white minority.

The vast majority of black Africans had clearly voted for the ANC, whose credentials are still strong for ending apartheid. The voters included those in KwaZulu Natal province, where the Inkatha Freedom Party used to be dominant. Zuma, a son of the soil, definitely helped the party win more votes there.

Coloured and white minorities, however, opted heavily for the opposition Democratic Alliance, which won convincingly in the Western Cape province, where they make up the biggest proportion of the population. Led by Helen Zille, a white woman, the Democratic Alliance has had little success winning over black African voters.

Zuma made great efforts to charm South Africans of all colours before the election, making a particular effort to woo Afrikaners. He also appeared to want to make it more of a priority than Mbeki.

But South Africa’s communities still live their lives very much apart, even if the emergence of a growing black middle class means the divisions along wealth lines no longer correlate as precisely with race as they once did.

When he takes office, Zuma will face demands from all sides – from those who want a greater share of the wealth and more opportunities and from those who feel they are politically marginalised. What could Zuma do to unite South Africa? Can he succeed? Does unity really matter for South Africa anyway?

Pictures: A young ANC supporter waves a flag during victory celebrations in Johannesburg, April 24, 2009. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille is mobbed by supporters as she arrives at Cape Town’s airport. REUTERS/Finbarr O’Reilly


I will first start by giving Mr Zuma a benefit of doubt by assuming that he and ANC are 100% commited towards national unity. History has shown that the greatest deviding factor or element is access to national resources. Equal access to these will to a large extent ease the tensions that otherwise polerise ethnic groups within countries.

The problem Zuma has is that the greatest resource that all and sundry depend on,LAND, is already owned by a few individuals who are not willing to part with it. If you take the case of Botswana, South Africa’s neighbour, as much as the country may have a few tribal differences, they have never realy become a political issue because almost everyone has a piece of land they can lay claim to. Infact before the collapse of the agriculture sector, the general population had very little interest in politics.

If Mr Zuma and ANC can find a PEACEFUL process of Land redistribution, he will attain a better process of wealth creation and citizen empowerment that will facilitate the National UNity that is otherwise and elusive concept

Posted by Kabo | Report as abusive

The ANC is corrupt and unfortunately will not really do anything for the masses, who are just as bad off as they ever were. They keep voting for the ANC because of promises that the ANC makes, but cannot fulfill. Politically they do not see any other alternatives in spite of the broken promises. South Africa is no better today than it was when they took over. The only reason that the country survives is because of the economy driven by the white minority. Cities like Johannesburg are now slums … the smart people moved their businesses out of there. I suspect that the successful businesses survive through bribes and payoffs .. same as it was during the apartheid era. The alternative party, the Democratic Alliance has been successful in the Western Cape because the residents there are more educated and have realized that as long as the ANC stays in power nothing will change. We will see now if after this election what the ANC will do .. are they going to try shut the opposition down or are they going to allow free speech that may eventually result in their demise if they do not deliver on their promises of a better life for all, jobs for all, etc. etc.

Posted by Max | Report as abusive

I think Mr Zuma is a very capable leader and there’s really no need for anyone to believe that he’s going to destroy the country. His only problem is his personal life which is so messed up. If he can keep his personal life clean andout of the media spotlight, his work will be made a lot easier.

Posted by Bunya | Report as abusive

The racial issue will not be eradicated in any part of the world, whatever effort is made. This does not mean that efforts should be made in fighting racism, it is a matter of putting the structure in place to enforce laws against racism. Zuma has been elected at a time that democracy has already settled and the priority today is to create jobs for South Africans to be able to support themselves. And some of those who know how to handle the economy are in the opposition, which contribution is not negligeable. So, the unity call has come and should do its meaning.


This election was about delivery for the poor. As Jacob Zuma has pointed out, we cannot afford to change our economic policies and risk destroying economic growth and job creation. He has also accepted that previous ANC governments have failed the poor by squandering state resources through cronyism, incompetence, laziness and corruption by top level state functionaries. The empowerment of the poor and marginalised to enable them to aquire the skills needed to find jobs (or create their own) and bring them into the mainstream of the economy and social and political life is critical for the future of this country. The poorest of the poor are the landless people in the rural areas, so an energetic and effective land reform programme is essential for success.

Posted by Deane | Report as abusive

“Zuma made great efforts to charm South Africans of all colours before the election, making a particular effort to woo Afrikaners.”
This was an important gesture from Mr Zuma, but it is now time to show leadership. To bring about unity is not an one man effort. Mr Zuma cannot allow that ANC leaders as the governing party continue with racist remarks towards opposition leaders or people who did not vote for the ANC.
Every person has the right to elect persons to represent them according to their own convictions. That is democracy. To have an election is not implying democracy.
Leadership is to serve all peoples of a nation with conviction under the law of the country, taking responsibility where necessary and not avoiding debate regarding real issues that work will help towards national unity.
I believe many of the electorate voted with conviction on the basis of the evidence before them, reflecting over the past 15 years and also the last two years in the country. Elected representatives of all parties now have the responsibility to respect the electorate for that and serve them. The other side of the coin is that the electorate must now work with those who are elected to bring about national unity in the country.
I would like to say to Mr Zuma, “you may have won the presidency, but you are not yet the nation’s president”.
A president of a nation should show real leadership and serve the people of the country as he is just like anyone else under (the) ultimate Authority.

Posted by Ben | Report as abusive

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see