Zuma's victory

2007-12-20 00:00

Jacob Zuma, the man who has described himself as “just a boy from Inkandla” in order to emphasise his rural roots and his limited formal education, has been emphatically elected by the national conference of the African National Congress as its new president. The other top five leadership positions in the party have also gone to Zuma supporters. Thabo Mbeki and his team, at the level of the ANC, have been swept out of power. In principle, this is a healthy sign of democratic process at work. In practice, it leaves many questions to be faced in the coming months.

Zuma succeeds Mbeki immediately as president of the party, while Mbeki continues as president of the country until the general election of 2009, unless Mbeki decides to call an earlier election. This introduces an awkward waiting period for Zuma before he takes over the presidency of the nation. It creates a similarly awkward time for Mbeki who could become a lame duck in government.

Mbeki felt obliged to relieve Zuma of his position as the country’s deputy president when the possibility of corruption charges arose against him. That possibility has still not gone away and the intervening months until 2009 will provide the interval needed for the judiciary to complete its work which, so far, has led to a series of appeals and counter-appeals. Now is the time for Zuma to be found definitively either innocent or guilty. If innocent, the way will be clear for him to take over the country’s presidency. If guilty, he will presumably go to prison and the newly elected deputy president of the ANC, Kgalema Motlanthe, will become the new president.

Understandably, celebrations of Jacob Zuma’s victory are on the cards, especially in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. In the longer term this is a time for restraint and statesmanship on all sides to enable the country to come through an uncertain period with dignity and with respect for the rule of law and all the organs of a democratic state.

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