Calming the waters

2008-09-30 00:00

UNDER former president Thabo Mbeki the country lived in a world of double-speak and confusion on pressing issues, leading to a loss of faith in our political leadership. Now we have a new incumbent in the presidency who starts off with a clean slate.

Sunday night’s address to the nation by new President Kgalema Motlanthe confirms the fresh start. While diffident, indeed tense — understandably so given his startling projection into the highest office in the land — and without Mbeki’s facility with words, he came across as temperate and reassuring. Gone were all the obfuscations of an Mbeki speech or the posturing one might have expected from Jacob Zuma. Rather, South Africans had a display of appropriate presidential gravitas, and a reaching out to all citizens, not just the ANC faithful, to reassure them that there is a place in the sun for everyone.

The popular scenario is that Motlanthe’s presidency will be a holding operation until after the elections next year, whereafter Zuma, the ANC president and therefore the heir apparent, will take over. However, the results of an Ipsos Markinor poll published in a weekend newspaper might give the ANC bosses pause for thought. Despite his ousting, Mbeki is still more popular than Zuma while Motlanthe beats both of them in the popularity stakes. What the poll demonstrates is that while Zuma might be popular among the ANC faithful, he could well be much less popular among the general population.

Having found itself almost by accident with a president who appears to be modest and unassuming, who has no shady past and no charges of corruption hanging over him, whose behaviour is suitably presidential, it would seem a pity to have to exchange him in six month’s time for another who, in the damning phrase of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, would be “an embarrassment”.

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