The sky did not fall

2009-12-29 08:16


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


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


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


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


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.

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