Looking for the positive

2009-04-29 00:00

It is time for all of us who did not vote for the African National Congress and Jacob Zuma to bite the bullet. Whatever our personal feelings may be there is no denying that the South African electorate gave the ANC and its president an overwhelming mandate to govern the country for the next five years.

Perhaps in the midst of our disappointment we should look at and encourage some of the more positive aspects which have emerged after the poll on April 22.

President Zuma, unlike George W. Bush of the United States and Tony Blair of the United Kingdom, will definitely not take South Africa into a morale and stability-sapping foreign war.

Even though we may disagree with his politics, Zuma’s public record is one of negotiating and making peace, not fuelling the flames of discord. There will be no Idi Amin or Robert Mugabe-type persecutions in South Africa under our new president.

For those, of whom I am one, who doubt Zuma’s financial ethics we need not look further than Italy, where Silvio Berlusconi achieved notoriety as anything but a leader upholding economic morals. He has shamelessly used his business empire to boost his political ambitions, and just as shamelessly he has used his political power to boost his business empire. Italy has, however, survived and even elected him to serve another term in office as prime minister. Zuma knows well that over 50% of all South Africans believe that he is probably criminally culpable for his past financial dealings, although all 700-plus charges against him have been dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority. I want to believe that he will, during his term of office, keep his financial nose clean and his fingers out of the pockets of dubious friends.

The more conservative opponents of Zuma will point to his practising of polygamy and to his known adulterous behaviour. By all accounts, former U.S. president John F. Kennedy was far ahead of him in the adultery stakes, and former French president François Mitterrand of France maintained for most of his political life both an official wife and a secret common-law wife or mistress, and even had a child by her. The French did not seem to mind and he served two long terms as president. It is my bet that for at least the next five years Zuma will jealously guard his personal image and will keep his trouser zipper firmly under control.

Speaking at the Pretoria premises of the Independent Electoral Commission soon after the formal announcement of the final results, Zuma spoke of becoming the “president for all”, and he urged the people to set aside past mistrust and uncertainty and to embrace a period of harmony, collaboration and unity. He promised to put the interests of the country before those of any political party, including his own. He promised to deepen the oversight role of Parliament, to protect the Constitution and strengthen the judiciary.

It must be our task to hold him to these fine ideals. Known to be a good listener, it remains to be seen whether Zuma takes the ideas, contributions and criticisms of opposition parties seriously, and whether he will rein in those destructive types in his ranks — Fikile Mbalula, Julius Malema and Butana Komphela inter alia spring to mind.

He has promised to dismiss non-performing ministers and replace them with the best person for the job. Does that, I wonder, apply to ministers such as Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Charles Nqakula (he who advises those who whinge about crime to leave the country)? And what about the clownish Ngconde Balfour and the bumbling Brigitte Mabandla? We shall see.

Is it time to leave the country? I think not. Whatever we may think of Zuma and his ANC-SACP-Cosatu government, our first duty, I suggest, is to our country, which gave us life, our education and opportunities to excel. Skills are in critically short supply on every front, and unless the new government goes completely mad (unlikely), there will be many opportunities to make valuable contributions to the common good of all our people. Including the opportunity to criticise the government and help the opposition forces when called upon and necessary. Let’s go for it.

So, congratulations President Zuma on your impressive electoral victory. We’ll be watching you.

• David Dalling is a former member of Parliament and parliamentary whip.

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