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
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But on the other side of the barbed-wire fence are those who reckon a polygamist tainted with withdrawn corruption charges is bad news for a democracy suffering growing pains.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
THUMBS-UP: Appointments to key positions made by President Jacob Zuma have met with widespread approval.