‘If I lead SA …’

Zuma told SABC radio news last week that if elected as the country’s next leader he would follow former president Nelson Mandela’s example in fighting the scourge of graft.

The former South African deputy president also said he would follow the ruling party’s policies in stemming corruption both within South Africa and in the continent as a whole.

In the wake of Zuma’s statements, political commentators have suggested that the comments were a veiled criticism of the government’s failure to stem the tide of corruption that many believe is slowly suffocating the country.

Concerns over rising instances of graft within government and external government agencies have risen sharply in recent months, inspired by persistent revelations of massive fraud and nepotism that have cost the government millions of rands.

Observers note that fears over rising corruption in South Africa at the moment are second only to sharper concerns regarding the country’s exorbitant crime levels, believed to be among the highest in the world.

“It would appear that he (Zuma) was making some form of veiled condemnation of the government’s failure to act convincingly on corruption, which is becoming an increasingly serious problem.

“By saying that he would be like Mandela and that he would use the policies of the ruling party to fight corruption, he is basically saying that is not happening at the moment or that he would do it better,” political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said.

Despite constant commitments by government to fight corruption, members of the public and members of the country’s parliament feel the state has not done enough to put an end to it, while the government says it has become seriously worried over the increasing levels of graft.

The ruling party’s policies are thought to be at the centre of the government’s drive to beat corruption, on which President Mbeki has said the state will adopt a “no nonsense” approach.

University of the Witwatersrand political studies lecturer Peter Hudson said Zuma’s comments suggested that he was attempting to use the fight against corruption as a “passport to the presidency”.

He said Zuma’s bid to lead the country had thus far lacked a “campaign philosophy”, and had mainly been centred on his allegations of a conspiracy against him.

“Now he has possibly found a central issue that he can base his campaign on and possibly make a proper campaign of it,” Hudson said.

He noted that the anti-corruption statements made by Zuma could have been part of Zuma’s persistent effort to clear his name on allegations of corruption.

Since the end of his corruption trial last month the former deputy president has sought to fumigate his image, which has been severely damaged by the allegations of corruption and rape levelled against him this year.

Matshiqi believes Zuma is trying to restore his image in order to take up his place in the race to succeed Mbeki.

However, despite constant denials that he is campaigning for the country’s top post, Zuma has not denied that he would be interested in taking up the post should it be offered to him.

In interviews with the media at the end of his trial on corruption charges last month he said he would take up any post that the ANC wanted him to take.

Media reports have also suggested that the ANC deputy president was considering breaking away from the ruling party and forming a separate party of his own.

The point of this, the reports said, was to overcome an alleged conspiracy by ANC senior officials that was aimed at frustrating his presidential hopes and ensuring that he did not become the party or the country’s next leader.

But in an interview broadcast on BBC World last Sunday, Zuma said he would “never” lead a breakaway faction of the ANC and was not in the running for any party post.

He insisted that he was “not applying for any job” and that he was not involved in a campaign for leadership “of anything”.

October 2006
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