Zuma as president

2009-04-16 00:00

All commentators agree that the African National Congress will win the national election on Wednesday next week. The only question is whether it will retain its two-thirds majority in Parliament. Jacob Zuma will become the next president of this country, replacing the caretaker Kgalema Motlanthe.

Provincial ANC chairman Zweli Mkhize, in an article recently in this newspaper, was at pains to explain that Zuma’s presidency was planned as early as 1999 when the ANC’s National Executive Committee decided on two terms for Thabo Mbeki, who would lead a transformation agenda, followed by Zuma, who would revert to the Mandela era with a fresh emphasis on national reconciliation.

In the interim, Zuma’s troubles had arisen, leading to his removal by Mbeki as the country’s deputy president and the subsequent corruption charges together with a trial for rape. Through this period of political and personal trauma, support for him within the ANC has grown rather than diminished and at its national conference at Polokwane last December he was resoundingly elected as the incoming president.

Legally he has now been exonerated of all charges, first by being found not guilty in the rape trial and, most recently, by the state’s withdrawal of the corruption charges against him. Extraordinarily, the scene set for Zuma in 1999 is poised for fulfilment 10 years later, despite the intervening difficulties.

What kind of president will he be? Allister Sparks, in his column this week, says that he will be a good listener, acknowledges his limitations, and will operate a collegial administration. In policy matters he and his colleagues will inevitably be constrained by the impact of the global economic recession. He may want to avenge those who are perceived to have maligned him, but he has also spoken about letting bygones be bygones.

For many people a cloud of suspicion will rest over him, making for a flawed presidency, but it may also be that qualities of statesmanship and nation-building will emerge which will take his critics by surprise.

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