African business, politics and lifestyle
Can Zuma live up to unity pledge?
“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