Zuma 'a policy president'

2009-05-14 12:16

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma's emphasis on domestic issues has left foreign relations on the back burner, tended by subordinates like his new low-profile foreign minister, analysts say.

New Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, a former ambassador, has never actually worked in the ministry in Pretoria and was little-known in political circles, leaving many scratching their heads over the surprise appointment to a senior portfolio.

"The appointment of the foreign minister is a big surprise," said Tom Wheeler, a foreign policy expert at the Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg.

"She has been an ambassador to Malaysia and to India but she has never worked in the department itself, so she has no knowledge" of how things operate, Wheeler added.

But no matter who headed the department, Zuma was unlikely to spearhead foreign policy in the style of his predecessor and rival Thabo Mbeki, who forged his legacy in his engagement on African issues, Wheeler said.

Focus on service delivery, jobs

International relations and the regional bodies where Mbeki devoted much energy would "continue to go on at a more mundane level" while Zuma focused on service delivery and job creation for his largely poor support-base, he added.

"I think there will be more emphasis on domestic issues, that he will not be a foreign policy president in the way Mbeki was," Wheeler said.

"The agenda he has set for himself is going to take a lot of his time and energy, I don't think you will see the same emphasis on international relations," said Wheeler.

After returning from her Asian posts, Nkoana-Mashabane served as housing chief in the largely rural Limpopo province.

More renowned is her late husband Norman Mashabane, former ambassador to Indonesia who was found guilty on 22 charges of sexual harassment in 2001.

Zuma defended his pick, who replaces his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the previous foreign minister who new heads home affairs.

"The choice is not strange. This is a cadre of the movement, a leader of the movement who has been in the province, in the NEC (National Executive Committee) for quite a while and the ANC knows the strengths of this particular comrade and her work in the international affairs arena," he said.

International profile

Aubrey Matshiqi, an analyst with the Centre for Policy Studies, said Nkoana-Mashabane will still have a full job keeping the nation and the continent's profile in the international arena.

"Zuma may be more inward looking, but I don't believe South Africa herself will be more inward looking," said Matshiqi.

"We will see a different style of presidency. He will not be a foreign policy president, he will not be a policy president. He will leave policy to those who know about policy."

Mbeki often came under fire for his foreign policy approach, seen as sympathetic to human rights abusers such as Zimbabwe, Myanmar and Sudan when South Africa held a rotating seat at the United Nations Security Council.

"South Africans and their supporters all over the world who had such high hopes for this country's leadership on human rights felt betrayed by the previous government," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

"This is a chance for Zuma to take the high road and restore credibility and balance to South Africa's foreign policy."