Emboldened Zuma makes demands

2012-12-17 09:56

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It is only when you don’t need to fight for your seat at the dinner table that you can make demands on what you want to eat.

This is what President Jacob Zuma found yesterday when he used his overwhelming popularity at the ANC’s national conference in Mangaung to field unpopular suggestions during his political address.

With his re-election pretty much in the bag, and a clear sign from conference delegates that they are on his side, he can make a few demands, because his seat at the top table is secured.

Zuma was enthusiastically welcomed by the 4 500 delegates when he arrived for the conference, with only pockets of delegates – including the leadership of Gauteng which prefers Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe – sitting staring grumpily ahead of them.

Zuma told delegates that he will make sure school inspectors would be put back into school, and even pre-empted the outcry from the teachers’ union Sadtu.

The removal of school inspectors is seen as one of the major victories for Sadtu since 1994. These inspectors were seen as instruments of the apartheid government and the trade union insisted that their removal was necessary to wipe out the apartheid legacy with non-white teachers.

But now Zuma is saying they are returning, and if Sadtu doesn’t want to play along, the government will simply “send them without informing you,” Zuma said.

There was little response from delegates as he spoke.

It was very different when he told the conference that the tender system had to be re-looked.

“One area of vulnerability in government is the tender system – this conference may wish to deliberate on tenders which are often open to abuse currently.”

He said the tender system changes people.

“It turns people that you know into something else,” he said to big applause.

Although one delegate lamented after Zuma’s speech, “I wish he would just practice what he preaches”, tendering is the one area that has never been directly linked to Zuma.

Some provincial leaders have, according to Zuma, “meetings of tenders” instead of provincial executive meetings. So rather than discussing the issues relating to the province, they use the time to divvy up the tenders that the provincial government puts out among themselves and their friends.

But the president himself always managed to steer clear of the outright tenderpreneurship.

So his bold move to insist the conference takes a “clear resolution” on tenders might make some of his supporters nervous, but in the eyes of the delegates, he was doing the right thing.

Zuma’s supporters in Cosatu are hoping for a Lula moment, where Zuma will, like former Brazilian president Lula da Silva, feel empowered to make radical changes because he need not worry about getting re-elected.

But Cosatu should be careful what it wishes for, it seems Zuma’s first casualty of this boldness may be one of the federation’s biggest affiliates.


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