No easy walk for Zuma

While the NEC decision was definitely the highpoint in Zuma’s political fortunes in a year, the impending corruption trial related to Schabir Shaik’s conviction on similar charges last year and President Mbeki’s statements put a cloud over Zuma. The South African leader was widely quoted in the media in that country saying he saw no reason why the next president should not be a woman, utterances observers say are designed to ostracise Zuma and force the powerful women’s and youth leagues to either side with “gender equality or cult-figure politics based on populism and charisma”. This would not be the first time that he would have indicated his preference for a female ruling party candidate as prior to the March local government elections that the ANC won, President Mbeki reportedly said: “I think the example that has been set by Liberia is a very good example, the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s there, coming out of a war situation in Liberia.” Observers say if a woman candidate is to be put forward; the obvious frontrunners would be the lady who replaced Zuma as State Deputy President, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma ‘ Zuma’s ex-wife ‘ and Public Service and Administration Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moloketi. Other pundits’ choices are Housing Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and the increasingly influential Land Affairs Minister Thoko Didiza. However, Mlambo-Ngcuka recently hinted that she may not be interested in the top job saying she was only interested in teaching, which was her first love. Speaking at Ohlange High School last Monday, Mlambo-Ngcuka refused to be drawn into her personal political ambitions, simply saying that there were other very capable women within the ANC who could lead the party and the country. A year ago, anyone speaking of the possibility of a woman President might have seemed ridiculous but the events of the last 12 months have thrown the succession race in South Africa wide open. After the “not guilty” verdict that cleared Zuma of rape charges, one observer said: “The waning in Zuma’s fortunes has to a large extent had a lot to do with the reconfiguration of the succession politics to include women but it must be noted that South Africa, and the rest of the region, has over the years been moving towards gender equality in all spheres of life, particularly in politics. “The ANC insists that 50 percent of all elected representatives must be women and the momentum has been building for some time now. Look across the border and you will see a woman in the Vice President’s Office (Joice Mujuru, Zimbabwe) and the Prime Minister’s Office in Mozambique is occupied by a lady (Luisa Diogo).” At present, 42 percent of South Africa’s Cabinet is female, the second highest rate in the world after Sweden and regionally, 20 percent of legislatures are occupied by women – again the second highest rate after the Scandinavian and Nordic countries. The observer added: “The Scandinavians took over 50 years from the time they reached this decision to attain the position they have but it has taken SADC less than ten years. I think this shows that the gender movement is very influential in regional politics.” Apart from the growth in the politics of gender equality, Zuma’s own recent history will more crucially militate against his Presidential aspirations. A Sunday Times opinion poll found that nearly 50 percent of those questioned two weeks ago did not accept Zuma’s apology for his behaviour and 64 percent were opposed to him becoming South Africa’s next president. Politically, there are doubts about Zuma’s suitability with one observer, Sam Sole, writing: “On the broader policy front, a Zuma presidency is hard to read. He has almost no articulated policy positions of his own, except an apparently genuine commitment to maintaining the ANC’s inclusive character and traditions of collective leadership. “Under Zuma, the party’s trade union and communist allies are likely to have a greater voice in policy debates. Zuma’s own track record as an administrator is poor.” There is also the belief that Zuma has been irrevocably tainted despite his acquittal and is therefore “too crude” to be South Africa’s public face. And while Zuma has all these odds stacked against him, the leading potential women candidates apparently do not have a grassroots following that can match that of the liberation struggle hero. Observers say President Mbeki, if he insists on a female head of State, would have his work cut out for him in trying to convince a divided Women’s League and other key sectors of the ANC to buy his plan. Another observer was quoted in the South African press saying: “It is still too early in the game to see what Mbeki’s gambit is but nothing should be taken for granted as can be seen from the example of Zimbabwe and the Vice Presidency in 2004” ‘ a reference to Vice President Mujuru’s ascension when nobody had ever factored her in the equation. The observer added: “There are many dynamics that come into play and no one should ever discount the importance of single big though sometimes apparently innocuous events that radically alter the whole picture. Anything is possible.” No one has as yet asked the president if he is totally opposed to Zuma leading the party and the country.

May 2006
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