December 19, 2007

Zuma elected ANC President

It was, metaphorically speaking, dirty and very bloody. But the campaign leading up to the national conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in Polekwane, north-east South Africa -- where Jacob Zuma was elected president of the party, Tuesday -- was democracy in its rawest form.
”The fact that the presidency was contested is a compliment for democracy,” Harald Pakendorf, an independent political analyst, told IPS. However, he warned that unless Zuma and head of state Thabo Mbeki, from whom power as party leader was wrested, managed their differences, South Africa would be characterised by political and economic difficulties until the general election in 2009. ”If these two leaders do not resolve the conflict, it will prevent the ANC to move forward as a united front. It will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the economy, as investors do not like instability,” said Pakendorf.
”Although the ANC has a long tradition of standing together, it is the first time ever that two major candidates have openly slung mud at each other to the extent we have seen in this election race. However, major decisions are not made by the party leader in isolation. They are made by the ANC collective.” Pakendorf added that while economic changes were expected under Zuma -- now in a position to become head of state in 2009 -- these shifts had already begun during Mbeki's leadership of the ANC.
”The state has already started playing a more prominent role in the economy. The economic swing to the left has therefore already started happening. Although Zuma has emphasised the need for the creation of job opportunities, there have already been inroads made in this regard.” More radical changes, notes another independent analyst, Max du Preez, are not on the cards. ”Zuma has been working extremely hard these past few months to assure foreign and local investors that the economy will not be changed. However, it remains to be seen what will happen. Zuma is not really an ideologist. He does not really have inclinations to the left, and because of this he will not make huge changes.” In a state of the nation address on Sunday, Mbeki told delegates to the ANC's 52nd national conference that poverty levels had dropped sharply since 1994, which marked the advent of democracy in South Africa. However he admitted that although there was progress in the reduction of poverty, the growth of incomes of the wealthy had been rapid, leading to a huge gap between rich and poor. The high unemployment amongst the youth was also daunting.
Certain observers, among them political philosopher Willie Esterhuyse, have said that Zuma's supporters see him as a messiah who will bring about accelerated social and economic reforms. Steven Friedman, political analyst at the Institute for Democracy in South Africa, rejects this assertion. ”The Zuma support is not about looking for a messiah, but it is a rebellion against Mbeki and a certain leadership style.” Friedman agrees with Pakendorf that unless the differences between the two men are sorted out, there will be instability on many fronts -- and adds that uncertainty about corruption allegations against Zuma will add to the general sense of insecurity in the country.
The acrimony between Zuma and Mbeki started years ago due to a variety of factors, and erupted when the head of state sacked Zuma as vice-president of the country in 2005 following the corruption accusations, linked to a multi-million dollar arms deal. The new ANC leader could still be charged in this matter. Amidst conspiracy theories that Mbeki may unduly influence a decision by the National Prosecuting Authority on whether to take Zuma to court, du Preez says that if Zuma is prosecuted this could lead to unrest. ”However, South Africans are much less politicised than during the 1980s and 1990s. We have a strong black middle class in this country, which does not want to see violence.” There have been reports that Zuma will want to force a vote of no confidence in Mbeki in order to move forward the date of the general election. But, Friedman doubts that this will happen. ”Zuma will need 201 of 294 ANC members of parliament to agree to this. It means over 70 percent of the ANC will have to vote against Mbeki. I do not see this happening.” According to Susan Booysen, president of the South African Association of Political Studies, the choice of Zuma for ANC president will not really have an influence on South Africa's relationship with the West. ”South Africa is not a power broker in the West as it is in Africa, and as long as South Africa is seen as a stable economy which offers safe trade possibilities (it) will not suffer too big a knock regarding its relationship with the rest of the world.” The vote for Zuma will be welcomed by the rest of Africa, says du Preez. ”Zuma has huge support in Mozambique and Angola, from where he received huge amounts of money. Many African countries are not positive about Mbeki. Some of the leaders are jealous of Mbeki and regard him as a black Englishman -- not one of the African brothers -- while Zuma is regarded as a true brother. However, du Preez predicts that there will be pressure from the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party, both in alliance with the ANC, for the party to take a stronger stand against Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwean president has clamped down on union officials in his country. ”If he bows to this pressure, it will make him less popular amongst African leaders who do not want to act against Mugabe.” Activist and writer Ashwin Desai believes that the leadership contest has had a number of positive outcomes; these include making the ”ordinary person much more aware of politics.” ”There is a greater interest in what takes place in the corridors of power. It has created a safer and more transparent Mbeki. He has been seriously bruised by the power struggle,” he told IPS. ”It is good when two bulls fight. It gives one a chance to see the size of their horns. It is good when there is conflict for the public good.” (inter press service)

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