Is Zuma liv­ing up to ex­pec­ta­tions?

Re­sponses to his first 100 days have been var­ied but his new ap­point­ments have won gen­eral ap­proval. By Carien du Plessis

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

LIKE the mix­ture of sun and the unsea­son­able rain­storm that had dig­ni­taries scram­bling for cover at his inau­gu­ra­tion in Pre­to­ria on May 9, re­sponses to Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s per­for­mance dur­ing his first 100 days in the top job have var­ied.

Al­though it’s been too short a time to make real his party’s elec­tion prom­ises on jobs, ed­u­ca­tion, safety, health and ru­ral de­vel­op­ment, many have been charmed by his com­mon touch in deal­ing with peo­ple.

But on the other side of the barbed-wire fence are those who reckon a po­lyg­a­mist tainted with with­drawn cor­rup­tion charges is bad news for a democ­racy suf­fer­ing grow­ing pains.

Zuma might yet face th­ese cor­rup­tion charges, as the DA has ap­plied for a re­view of the de­ci­sion to drop them.

In his of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity too, Zuma has al­ready clashed with the courts: this week he was stopped from ap­point­ing a new pros­e­cu­tions head in the place of Vusi Pikoli, pend­ing a hear­ing of Pikoli’s claims of un­fair dis­missal.

Zuma’s le­gal team ar­gued that this was in­ter­fer­ence by the ju­di­ciary in the work of the ex­ec­u­tive, but some said it showed in­suf­fi­cient un­der­stand­ing of le­gal and con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ples.

The as­sess­ment of a pres­i­dent’s per­for­mance within 100 days of his com­ing to power is a fairly ar­bi­trary mea­sure, Pro­fes­sor Steven Fried­man of the Cen­tre for the Study of Democ­racy re­marked when ap­proached for com­ment.

The tra­di­tion comes from the US, where in 1933 Franklin D Roo­sevelt promised to lift the coun­try out of the de­pres­sion in 100 days.

Still, Zuma’s early per­for­mance and the peo­ple he has ap­pointed so far could of­fer good point­ers of where the coun­try is go­ing.

Un­like Roo­sevelt, how­ever, Zuma has never pre­tended to be able to solve the present eco­nomic re­ces­sion, which al­ready had the coun­try in its grip when he took the oath of of­fice, and there­fore can­not be held to any prom­ises in this re­gard.

His only mea­sur­able prom­ise so far – in his State of the Na­tion Ad­dress in June – is the cre­ation of 500 000 job op­por­tu­ni­ties by De­cem- ber and four mil­lion jobs by 2014.

Al­though the ANC promised in­creased so­cial spending, any grander prom­ises would have cre­ated ex­pec­ta­tions that could not eas­ily be ful­filled in an eco­nomic cri­sis.

Labour fed­er­a­tion Cosatu started flex­ing its new-found mus­cle even be­fore all the ANC’s cel­e­bra­tory elec­tion victory par­ties were over.

Some strikes and strike threats were the re­sult of the gov­ern­ment’s un­ful­filled three-year-old prom­ises of wage hikes to some civil ser­vants, while oth­ers were pre­cip­i­tated by higher than usual wage de­mands in an econ­omy rav­aged by inflation and rapidly ris­ing prices.

Hard on the heels of the strikes came a se­ries of con­tin­u­ing protests in poorer com­mu­ni­ties, os­ten­si­bly about is­sues like ser­vice de­liv­ery and lo­cal lead­er­ship.

There is noth­ing new about th­ese spo­radic protests, which per­haps il­lus­trated that the elec­torate cared more for what leaders do than who they are. Zuma was ini­tially crit­i­cised for not re­act­ing soon enough to th­ese protests, but he even­tu­ally did visit hotspots and checked up on some of the may­ors.

This week he also con­vened a meet­ing with pro­vin­cial and lo­cal gover nment leaders to im­prove co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the spheres.

Zuma has worked hard to cast off the shadow of the “out-of-touch” Mbeki ad­min­is­tra­tion, which was prone to deny­ing Aids and crime.

He has gone back to re­li­gious and busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties who he lob­bied for sup­port be­fore the elec­tions, re­sult­ing in, among oth­ers, church leaders group­ing to­gether to as­sist the gov­ern­ment with han­dling ser­vice de­liv­ery protests.

Re­cently Zuma also held a meet­ing with school prin­ci­pals to talk about prob­lems in the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

Many of his in­ter­ac­tions with peo­ple at the coal­face hap­pen out of the pub­lic eye, where Zuma has used his skills gained dur­ing talks about a demo­cratic gov­ern­ment in the early 90s, to align peo­ple be­hind his pro­grammes.

Al­though he has had to scale down some of the ac­tiv­i­ties that en­deared him to the crowds in the run-up to the elec­tion, like the singing of his trade­mark tune, Awuleth’ umshini wami, crowds still re­spond warmly to him.

The ap­point­ment of ca­pa­ble lead- ers in key gov­ern­ment po­si­tions and in the cab­i­net has so far been his most tan­gi­ble de­liv­ery and gen­er­ally the ap­point­ments have been praised.

His new, en­larged, 34-mem­ber cab­i­net has been de­scribed by com­men­ta­tors as one of the strong­est since 1994, al­though op­po­si­tion par­ties have com­plained about the cost.

In ap­point­ing his cab­i­net, Zuma made rec­on­cil­ia­tory ges­tures by re­tain­ing peo­ple seen to have been closely linked to Mbeki’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, such as for­mer home af­fairs min­is­ter No­siviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, now Min­is­ter of Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices, and for­mer pre­miers like Edna Molewa (Min­is­ter of So­cial De­vel­op­ment) and Dipuo Peters (Min­is­ter of En­ergy).

His choice of cab­i­net mem­bers pleased var­i­ous con­stituen­cies. In the eco­nomic clus­ter, for ex­am­ple, his re­ten­tion of for­mer fi­nance min­is­ter Trevor Manuel, now Min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dency for plan­ning, and his ap­point­ment of for­mer trade union­ist Ebrahim Pa­tel as Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter, sat­is­fied mar­kets and labour re­spec­tively.

More re­cently his ap­point­ment of Absa chair­woman Gill Mar­cus to take over from Tito Mboweni as Re­serve Bank Gov­er­nor in Novem­ber has been lauded by economists and op­po­si­tion par­ties alike, al­though the ANC Youth League crit­i­cised Zuma for not ap­point­ing enough black peo­ple in the eco­nomics sec­tor.

De­spite crit­i­cism from the op­po­si­tion about Zuma’s ap­point­ment of a close ally, crime-weary South Africans across the spec­trum have wel­comed tough-talker Bheki Cele in his new post as po­lice chief.

Zuma’s choice last week of highly re­spected ju­rist Jus­tice Sandile Ngcobo, with his long list of qual­i­fi­ca­tions and solid stand­ing, for the post of Chief Jus­tice was im­pec­ca­ble, but op­po­si­tion par­ties raised ob­jec­tions about the nom­i­na­tion be­ing done without con­sult­ing them and the Ju­di­cial Ser­vice Com­mis­sion. Al­though the con­sti­tu­tion re­quires that the pres­i­dent con­sult with op­po­si­tion par­ties and the JSC be­fore ap­point­ing a Chief Jus­tice, the pre­rog­a­tive of who to ap­point still re­sides with him.

In some key po­si­tions Zuma has ap­pointed peo­ple he could trust, some of them ac­quain­tances from his days as ANC in­tel­li­gence head, like di­rec­tor-gen­eral in the Pres­i­dency Vusi Mav­im­bela, Hawks head Anwa Dra­mat and Cele.

Com­men­ta­tors have, how­ever, re­marked on the irony of Zuma’s gov­ern­ment per­pet­u­at­ing – and even in­creas­ing – the cen­tral­i­sa­tion of power that some of Mbeki’s foes pre­vi­ously com­plained about.

Fried­man said the es­tab­lish­ment of the na­tional plan­ning com­mis­sion and the mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion unit within the pres­i­dency is a way of cen­tral­is­ing power.

“Zuma’s plan won’t work un­less he does what Thabo Mbeki re­fused to do and that is work with cit­i­zens and the key in­ter­est groups in so­ci­ety,” he said.

Fried­man said MPs, MPLs and lo­cal coun­cil­lors should first be per­suaded to get out and do their jobs and com­mu­ni­cate with their con­stituen­cies, be­fore Zuma tried to in­tro­duce any mech­a­nisms to make his gov­ern­ment work bet­ter.

Aubrey Mat­shiqi, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst at the Cen­tre for Pol­icy Stud­ies, said that al­though it was early days, Zuma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion was “so far so good”.

The next few years, more than the past 100 days, will prove whether Zuma’s ad­min­is­tra­tion will hold up, come rain or shine.

AP­PROVAL: Bheki Cele

LAUDED: Gill Mar­cus

RE­TAINED: Trevor Manuel

PIC­TURE: PHILL MAGAKOE

THUMBS-UP: Ap­point­ments to key po­si­tions made by Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma have met with wide­spread ap­proval.

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