After the election

2009-04-28 00:00

THE political calm after the electoral storms of recent months will have come as a welcome relief to many. The bogey of the African National Congress getting a two-thirds majority and arbitrarily amending the Constitution has been laid to rest with its 65,9% of the vote. That fear was a red herring anyway as even after the party’s high water mark in the 2004 election it did not use its power in this way. Now it does not have that power to use.

Jacob Zuma, no longer just the leader of the majority party but president-in-waiting, has taken a leaf out of United States President Barack Obama’s book by offering an olive branch to his political opponents in his victory speech. Of course, he lacks Obama’s oratorical skills — so do virtually all other political leaders on the planet — but he makes up for it in being a warm-hearted individual who relates well to others in the Nelson Mandela mode, certainly infinitely better than the prickly Thabo Mbeki. Olive branches are important gestures, especially at the beginning of any administration, in creating a climate of acceptance and co-operation.

But what is going to define Zuma’s term as president as much as anything else is the calibre of the team of ministers whom he invites into his cabinet. At this stage its composition is entirely speculative. What will happen to Trevor Manuel? What will the markets do if he leaves the Ministry of Finance? Will Zuma draw in big businessmen such as Tokyo Sexwale or Cyril Ramaphosa? Will Barbara Hogan stay on at Health? Will the dead wood from Mbeki’s administration, with Manto Tshabalala-Msimang heading the list, finally get cleared out? And what is to happen to the leaders of the ANC’s allies in the Tripartite Alliance. Will SACP Secretary General Blade Nzimande be offered a cabinet post? That might be no bad thing in obliging him to get off his soap box and replace his many words with deeds.

Zuma takes office at a time of international turbulence and uncertainty. The global economy is in possibly its worst state since the thirties. People already talk of the Great Recession, using capital letters in much the same way as in the Great War. It will be anything but easy, but every South African of goodwill, however they might have voted, will wish him and his cabinet well as they get down to business.

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