Monday, May 18, 2009

The Zuma Era

Rev. Dt. Peter kjeseth, former professor at Wartburg Seminary, who has lived in Cape Town, South Africa for a number of years writes: []

Unless the world comes to an end first, or he is struck down by something like swine flu, Jacob Zuma will in early June become the 4th president of post-apartheid South
Africa. Who would have thought?

This prospect raises hopes for the almost 66% of voting South Africans who elected him and fears for the strong minority of South Africans who did NOT vote for him.
Experts and non experts alike are, of course, analyzing what happened in the election and warning us about what to expect ahead. I have tried to listen carefully. It is no exaggeration that what happens in South Africa is crucial for all of Africa. Let me give you my take on the matter.

There are a number of unassailable positives. The election was free and fair. TheIndependent Electoral Commission exercised its authority and had the whole thing under control from start to finish. This is not to be taken for granted.

The ANC did not lose its substantial majority. In the election, at least, the poor and the left, the Congress of South African Trade Unions(COSATU) and The South African Communist Party feel they have been heard.

The many smaller parties took a hit in this election, particularly the Inkata Freedom Party, once sovereign in KwaZulu-Natal. But here, too, a win seems possible. There is talk that for the 2011 elections we might see a more united, powerful configuration of opposition parties. This election provides a solid foundation that could reinvigorate Parliament. That is good news.

Even though many in South Africa won something in this election, the prospect of the Zuma era raises frightening questions and possibilities relating both to Zuma’s persona as a leader and to what it will take for him to carry through on his promises. And the cloud of corruption still hangs over his head. In the eight years that he has struggled with the possibility of trial and imprisonment, there is a complex trail of legal maneuvering, talk of political plots and intrigue and, just in time for the elections, the controversial decision of the National Prosecuting Authority to drop all corruption charges against him – on procedural grounds.

We face the frightening potential of populist rage and violence if Zuma does not meet the high hopes and long delayed expectations of the myriad poor who have danced at his election victory parties. Though the ANC which has ruled now for fifteen years cites statistics to prove that crime is being dealt with, the people of all classes who live here know better. In Masiphumelele, the township which is our non-identical twin, crime is endemic. Here in our middle class neighborhood crime has increased even in the last couple months. People are hungry and desperate. Crime bubbles up out of the rage of the population that has been denied and betrayed.

To succeed Zuma must reverse the ANC’s governing record of awarding loyalty before competence. Cronyism and a kind of cultural nepotism are deeply engrained – and denied –at every level of the ANC as a governing entity. If that is
not changed, nothing will change. Throw in the fact that the effects of the world economic meltdown are just beginning to hit South Africa with realforce and you know that the Zuma era will be a tough one.

The election (and its possible aftermath) sends strongly mixed signals. The Zuma era COULD be a new day if the real needs of the poor majority are given real priority in termsof economic justice and service delivery. I even have the sense that most people believe this and wish Zuma – and all of us – well, in spite of all the worries.So we keep vigil with hope and prayer as the Zuma era and the Obama era play out on opposite sides of the equator but in ways that touch each other profoundly.

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