zuma may turn out to be ok

Jacob Zuma, the man poised to be South Africa’s next president, has been getting a lot of bad press. This much married man has had to deal with pages after pages of news concerning his corrupt past and his adventures with the South African justice system. The truth be said, he is not a clean man. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and in Zuma’s case there is just way too much smoke for there not to be a flame.

That said, the fact is that he is going to be president of South Africa and by virtue of that become the most powerful man in Africa. I would like to join the few editorial pages out there who in the past week have indicated possible positives of a Zuma presidency. I am not convinced the man is as blindly populist as he wants the South African masses to believe. He is a calculating politician. He knows that he needs a viable South African economy just as much as he needs the masses to sing and dance in his name. It is no coincidence that he matches every populist statement of his with a reminder that he does not intend to radically change South Africa.

But I am not concerned with South African domestic issues. My concern is what a Zuma presidency will mean for the Southern African region and the Continent. And on this front I am hopeful. Eager to please the international community, I think that Zuma might just be the man to bring real change to Zimbabwe and some sort of sanity to the African Union. His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, was too professorial to deal with the half-wits that run most of the Continent. Most of them did not take his (Mbeki’s) calls for an African Renaissance seriously. But Zuma, being a man of the people, might just be the one that charms them into seeing the light and actually changing the way they run their countries.Wishful thinking? Perhaps.

South African Elections

On the 22nd of April South Africans will go to the polls to elect their new president. There are no prizes for guessing who the winner will be. Everyone expects Jacob Zuma, a man facing corruption charges, to win easily. Despite the much hyped challenge from Cope, a party of ANC dissidents, the ANC with its immense ‘struggle movement capital’ will still win a healthy majority in the South African parliament.

zumaAs I have indicated before, I am not particularly enthusiastic about Zuma’s forthcoming presidency. The much-married man has a predilection for buffoonery. He is a known populist who may mishandle South Africa’s sluggish transition from the insanity of apartheid. Perhaps most worrying is his corruption record. The last thing South Africa needs in these hard economic times is a president who sends the message that it’s OK to be corrupt, as long as you have the right political connections.

That said, it is almost ineluctable that the Continent will have its leader in Jacob Zuma after the April elections. And because of that we are left with no alternative but to search for any positives that might come out of it. For starters, Zuma’s lack of formal education and the accompanying intellectual arrogance may make him more predisposed to alternative views – especially when it comes to the AIDS situation in South Africa (Mbeki strangely refused to admit the link between HIV and AIDS).

Secondly, given that he is coming in with little international legitimacy, he may feel compelled to do the right thing about Africa’s dictators and their many human rights abuses. Lastly, even his populism might be a plus. No sane person would disagree that South Africa NEEDS land reforms. Zuma may just be the one to do it, unlike the Mbeki-ist moderates who instead have chosen to focus on empowering middle class Black South Africans while forgetting the landless masses.

Let’s wait and see……..