Indeed, South Africans did know who they were electing, but that decision is dependent on the quality of the electorate. His current promiscuity is being criticised, largely, by the intelligentsia, which aren't card carrying, ANC members. For the most part, I don't think Mr Sipho average gives a hoot, knows or even understands the fuss. The ensuing article was written by a foreign journalist, and despite some obvious flaws, it goes to show how Government in South Africa is perceived.
The electorate is well aware of Zuma's flaws, but his supporters believe he may be able to rise above these shortcomings and become the president — and man — that their country deserves South Africans knew what they were getting when they elected Jacob Zuma as president. Despite charges of corruption and rape — both ultimately dismissed — Zuma was elected president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) because of the depth of the unpopularity of former South African president Thabo Mbeki in the ranks of the party.
Under the country's proportional representation system, South Africans cast their ballot for a party. Many put aside their concerns about Zuma and voted for the ANC, which had a record as a liberation movement and as a government that had managed the economy well, and was committed to improving the living standards of the majority.
Many South African politicians have often shown an ability to rise above themselves and their history and become true leaders. Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk are only the two best known examples. It is because of this ability of its leaders that the country was able to negotiate a peaceful end to apartheid.
In his first months in office, it looked like Zuma might be able to put his past behind him, and rise to his new office. His gift as a politician is that he is adept at reading the mood and concerns in his party and among South Africans — and then saying what they need to hear. An affable man, he took a seemingly hands-on approach to the country's big issues.
South Africa has significant financial resources, but laziness, inefficiency and corruption, especially among officials in local government, have stymied government efforts to improve living standards and the majority of people.
Man of the people
Early in August last year, Zuma paid an unannounced visit to a township in the town of Balfour, where he reportedly surprised the local mayor who had decided to go home early — again. He also spent some time talking to the residents about their living conditions and what could be done to improve them. While this was an obvious public relations effort, the exercise struck a cord among many South Africans, who felt they at last had a president who was willing to walk among them and listen to their complaints.
South Africa has one of the highest violent crime rates in the world, at least among those countries that maintain credible statistics. For many, it seems as though the criminals are — literally — being allowed to get away with murder.
In part as a reaction to abuses by the security forces under apartheid, South Africa has worked hard to establish a human rights culture in its police service and legal system. An unforeseen consequence of legal technicalities delaying justice is that a popular perception has taken hold that the legal system now favours criminals over those they prey upon.
In October last year, Zuma made it clear that the kid-gloves were off in South Africa's war against crime. In a newsletter, Zuma is reported to have said: "Given the violent nature of crime in our country, we need the law to err on the side of the police and not criminals." He was referring to legal restrictions on the police's right to use their firearms when dealing with armed criminals. He went on to add: "Police officers should place their own lives and those of innocent citizens first when confronted with situations of life and death."
It was what a country tired of living in fear of violent crime wanted to hear — even though Zuma made it clear that he was not advocating a shoot-to-kill policy. South African Minister for Safety and Security Nathi Mthethwa has since kept up the rhetoric.
Zuma was brought to power by an awkward alliance of populists, trade unionists and communists, who were united in their opposition to Mbeki. Not surprisingly, shortly after Zuma was elected president, they began to try to change key policies of the Mbeki government and lobby for the removal of some individuals from influential posts.
The most important prize was control of South Africa's relatively conservative economic policy, under which government spending and the budget deficit was tightly controlled. The influential Congress of South African Trade Unions in particular, was in favour of loosening the treasury purse-strings and increasing spending on social and economic development programmes in a country with a roughly 25 per cent unemployment rate, by many calculations.
Surprisingly, despite expectations that he would cave into his allies, Zuma has stuck with the policies — and broadly the same economic team — that are credited with seeing South Africa through the present international financial crisis in relatively good shape.
South Africa's former finance minister, Trevor Manuel, much respected by South African and global investors, but who earned the particular ire of the trade unions, was removed from his post. However, he has been appointed to head-up a national planning commission in the presidency, from where he is expected to continue to champion good governance and economic policy. The new finance minister, Pravin Ghordan, has broadly maintained South Africa's economic policies.
Perhaps in a sign of things to come, Zuma said one thing, and then pretty much left things as they were.
Even if he is not leading by example, Zuma has put his government's money where his mouth is in South Africa's fight against HIV and Aids. While Mbeki was willing to let thousands die while he debated the intricacies of the disease, Zuma has set a target of getting Aids drugs to 80 per cent of those who need them by 2011.
But, while Zuma the president was committing his government to fighting Aids; Zuma the promiscuous man was carrying on as before — including having unprotected sex. The result is baby number 20, outside his polygamous marriages. The popular outcry forced him to issue an apology for his actions, but it will not affect his political standing in the party as he is still supported by many interest groups in the ANC, for their own — often selfish — reasons.
Much of the popular anger and frustration directed at Zuma is not because he was true to character but rather because, so often, it looks like he may be able to rise above it and become the president — and man — that South Africa deserves.
Jacob Zuma is no stranger to controversy. Having been dismissed by Thabo Mbeki as deputy South African president, he went on to unseat his former boss and replace him. He has beaten charges of corruption and rape and been forced to apolgise for his comments about homosexuality. All this he has overcome, but a baby born out of wedlock now poses the greatest threat to his presidency.
Source: Gulf News