By Rejoice Ngwenya
JACOB Zuma, South Africa’s new ANC president has a political destiny already sealed with fate. Those who believe that his electoral victory will
emit “shock waves” in and beyond South Africa simply do not understand the political game plan in the ANC.
A Zuma victory, however thin or wide, portends a bad omen for 21st century politics even in Africa.
Not least because 21st century politics is immune to socialist rhetoric, but that South Africans are wise enough to know that sacrificing hard-won regional and continental dominance on the altar of simplistic populism come 2009 will be suicidal.
Zuma’s ascendancy to the ANC throne leaves us with a relative historical reflection about his roots.
Zuma belongs to the Zulu tribal lineage, known for its authoritarian military antics under Tshaka Zulu and by extension, though less dramatic, under Chief Gatsha Buthelezi.
For South Africa, the phenomenon of a new national president emerging out of an ANC political process is nothing strange. After all it is the party that produced great characters like Albert Sisulu, Oliver Thambo and of course, global icon Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.
But to say Zuma will substitute a “great name” in the person of Thabo Mbeki would be an illusion. Most South Africans believe Mbeki’s soft-touch approach to the national crises of HIV/Aids, unemployment and crime are a blight on the ANC.
If, according to the ANC constitution, Polokwane 2008 has “produced a future president” in Zuma, South Africans, technically, must ready themselves for a populist Zulu cadre as national leader. This predictive model may sound totally inconsistent with a constitutional democracy that hosts “big” political contestants like the PAC, Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Inkatha Movement, but the politics of South Africa is mutually exclusive — black or white.
How inconceivable it is that a nation that suffered four centuries of white-on-black oppression can vote for a white president, even if it is a contest between Helen Zille’s superior liberal DA ideology and Zuma’s socialist rhetoric! Mbeki, despite his political transgressions and acclaimed “aloofness”, casts a humble impression of an intellectual ideologue who understands the importance of business and property rights.
This explains why ANC’s potpourri of socialist, communist and labour membership co-exists with Black Economic Empowerment of the Tokyo Sexwale and Cyril Ramaphosa mould.
But if black South Africans vote for Zuma in 2009, they will be doing it in the full knowledge that he is a man who pays no homage to issues of HIV/Aids, women’s rights and business integrity, although they would rather live with this, than either with another Mbeki term or Helen Zille. If this sounds confusing, the National Prosecuting Authority, South Africa’s version of the FBI, has the answer.
According to current court records, Zuma has “a criminal history” that can wreck anybody’s political career. But perhaps like an American White House soapie, sex scandals and money games play a minor role in political credibility in South Africa. Yet as you read this article, the NPA has concluded that Zuma, who survived a rape conviction by a whisker, definitely has many cases to answer on his relationship with the jailed fraudster Shabir Schaik. Political analysts agree that this is neither a case of circumstantial evidence nor political harassment.
Therefore if Zuma is convicted, that will signal the end of his flirtation with the national presidency, in which case his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe may run Pretoria after 2009. If Zuma survives, South Africans will find themselves head on with fate — a president with a “criminal” history, but then, will all the members of the African Union that are “clean” please raise your right hands!
However, were Zuma’s brand of populist politics to destroy the South African economy, three million Zimbabwean economic exiles, who to date sustain Harare’s fragile economy, would be “dead and buried”. But for Africa, it is another feather in the cap of leaders who have blood, semen and funny money on their hands. Do Sadc and the AU really care?
* Rejoice Ngwenya is a Zimbabwean political analyst based in Harare.