The sky did not fall

2009-12-26 12:52

The president proved his detractors wrong, writesSipho Seepe. All he must do now is lift the tone of the debate.

JACOB Zuma’s presidency started on a difficult footing. When he came to power he faced a crisis of expectations from the disparate groupings that catapulted him into the presidency. He also had to disprove his critics, who expected nothing less than anarchy from his presidency.

This low expectation was summed up by Archbishop Desmond Tutu when he declared to a cheering crowd: “I can’t pretend to be looking forward to having him as my president.”

At the time Tutu was leading a campaign to have Zuma stand trial for corruption despite evidence of a tainted prosecutorial process. But a few months into his presidency he discovered some redeeming qualities in Zuma and agreed to work with him for the good of SA.

This rapprochement signifies ­Zuma’s winning trademark – his ability to respond with magnanimity to his opponents. Opposition leader Helen Zille has described Zuma as disarming and charming, a person difficult not to like.

Zuma’s approval ratings have continued to soar. According to the June TNS Research Survey, 57% of the adult metropolitan population says he is doing a good job. This is a significant rise from the 36% who thought he would do a good job in November 2008.

And this is even as Zuma’s presidency has coincided with a major economic crisis. Because he championed a popular campaign his supporters awaited delivery of jobs and houses. Union leaders, under pressure from their members, were quick to embark on a wave of protests to ensure that their interests remained on the political radar screen.

The fact that the cabinet went on a buying spree of expensive vehicles did not help because it clouded the optimism generated by the peaceful and exciting elections.

President Zuma displayed a ­remarkable shrewdness. He responded to the interests of his disparate constituencies and kept the alliance together while asserting the ANC as the strategic centre and leadership of the alliance.

He refused to buckle to a so-called surge to the left and brought into his cabinet even those members who were not considered to be his supporters.

In doing so he displayed a mark of leadership by being humble enough to accept that others may hold a different view from his . However, the recent public spat between the SACP and some of members of the ANC’s national executive committee suggest that keeping the alliance intact is an ongoing challenge.

Concerns about judicial appointments to replace the outgoing judges of the Constitutional Court have proved to be misplaced.

If anything, Zuma has proved that such concerns are a product of ingrained ­cultural and racial prejudice.

The appointment of Menzi Simelane could be a legal hurdle but opinion among legal scholars regarding the prospect of success for the DA’s legal challenge are divided.

The monitoring and evaluation unit in the Presidency is one of the innovations Zuma brought into governance. If carefully handled this unit could ensure timely interventions in departments that are floundering. The same can be said of the Planning Commission. In rethinking the future the ANC government had tended to limit its sights to the five-year electoral time frame.

The commission asks us to look far into the future. This should free government, and the ANC in particular, from becoming prisoners of the present economic and ­political turbulence that usually distracts them from a strategic ­focus.

Zuma has been criticised for promising to create 500?000 job opportunities. But governments do not create jobs. They provide the right environment, through policies and legislation, that enables the private sector to create jobs. The expanded public works programmes are there to provide beneficiaries with the necessary skills to enable them to seek employment.

These are short-term interventions to cushion the impact of poverty. They are not a solution.

But while his presidency has opened and democratised public debate Zuma, as head of state and leader of the ANC, should address the vulgarity and insults that are polluting this space. The pollution comes largely from the alliance partners.

But far from the mayhem predicted by prophets of doom our democracy remains intact and vibrant. 

Seepe is a political commentator and strategy consultant

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