Publication: Business Day Date: 2004-10-28 Reporter: Kevin Wakeford Reporter:

Zuma Will be a Fine President



Business Day

Date 2004-10-28


Kevin Wakeford

Web Link


Given the level of belligerent propaganda against Deputy President Jacob Zuma, this is an ideal opportunity to reflect on what SA would be like under his presidency. In any event, I enjoy running against the prevailing wisdom of the day, since it is usually wrong.

We have all seen in the past few years that things are not always what they seem to be, particularly when it comes to the predictive accuracy of our mainstream analysts. The list of blunders of these analysts, better known as spin doctors, is endless.

They called it incorrectly on Zimbabwe where "quiet diplomacy" was never given a fair chance. Yet today we are beginning to see the first fruits of President Thabo Mbeki's policies in terms of the release of South African prisoners and the successful shuttle diplomacy between the ruling Zanu (PF) party and the official opposition.

Analysts consistently called it wrong on inflation, interest rates and the rand. Their criticism of the inflation-targeting range and interest rates is an about-turn on their views in 2000, when I was castigated for predicting that in the first two years the 3%- 6% target range would not be attained due to a weakening currency and external market shocks. It was only after the rand bucked the trend due to the market illumination of the commission that inflation rates began to recede.

All but one company fingered during the rand commission still has the same MD. The rest are gone. Others were caught with their pants down in terms of their foreign-exchange strategy. South African Airways and Nedcor spring to mind. At the time, I was tarred and feathered by elements in the press and the corporate elite for crying wolf. Today it is a different story.

Calling issues differently is not a sin, and mainstream wisdom is often wrong.

Readers of Business Day are purported to be the intelligentsia of our nation thinking people who should give the Zuma issue some more thought. But minds have not been applied thoroughly.

When I called for the resignations of Penuell Maduna and Bulelani Ngcuka for abuse of power, I was told that I had lost it and that it would never happen yet it did. My recent public defence of Zuma earned me the Sunday Times Mampara of the week award for the second time in two years, yet I am absolutely convinced Zuma will be our next president.

Perhaps the Sunday Times will accept my challenge and accept the Mampara award when Zuma ascends to the hot seat. If not, I will graciously accept their coveted award a third time this time though for having been wrong!

The double standards of our criminal justice system and our political commentators are not sustainable. The massive economic transgressions of our corporate elite are overlooked while Zuma and other politicians are hounded like dogs for the purposes of political expediency. The case against Zuma attempts to paint a picture of a Zulu oligarch who has fallen prey to the countless failures of leaders in postcolonial Africa. He has been portrayed as a greedy and corrupt leader. The historical facts however, show a very different personality profile.

The first attack on Zuma started in the mid-'90s. It attempted to portray him as an uneducated moron, due to the level of his formal qualifications. That campaign soon lost momentum as he proved his brilliance in assisting in resolving the KwaZulu-Natal conflict, which threatened the very advent of democracy in SA.

He was equally busy convincing the right wing to participate in the democratic process and refrain from hostile activities. Previous bosses of right-wing parties and white agricultural unions to this day sing his praises. Mbeki recognises this enormous strength and deployed Zuma to a variety of African states where he has performed a formidable role in helping to resolve conflicts.

The next onslaught sought to portray Zuma as a leader who failed to embrace modernism, and who was caught up in the backward cultural traditions of the Zulu nation. Polygamy was not acceptable to our social commentators. Soon this campaign dissipated. The authors of the campaign failed to recognise that their Eurocentric values repulsed a huge portion of our body politic and public opinion. The "all or nothing" view that one is either modern or primitive, rather than socially eclectic, has lost credibility.

And now, every attempt is being made to link Zuma to corruption in the arms deal, even though, after three years of propaganda against his good name the investigation into his involvement was withdrawn due to a lack of evidence. No one has yet managed to explain how Zuma mustered such enormous influence over a national decision-making process when he was a mere provincial MEC. The arguments also fail to recognise the separation of the ruling party and the state.

Besides the selective morality of the entire issue, why is it that Zuma remains so popular among SA's masses? What would people think of Zuma as a leader in the absence of the current propaganda? My guess is that his ascendancy to the presidency would be a nondebate.

This is a man who sacrificed education and an economic career for the goal of democracy. He and many of his comrades had little chance to accumulate any form of material subsistence or wealth. He is accused of receiving loans and economic assistance from friends who happen to be businessmen. I fail to understand the sin of accepting assistance. Many high-ranking leaders have accepted similar assistance without having been vilified. Many liberation leaders in prominent positions are experiencing difficulty financially for the same reason.

From a ruling party perspective, Zuma is a natural choice for president. Nelson Mandela's reign was characterised by a mood of reconciliation and social stability. Mbeki's presidency is about momentous transformation and institutional reform and positioning SA as a key player in African and global affairs. By 2009 we will need a leader who can consolidate the victories of the ruling party and focus on willful implementation of the vision of his/her predecessors.

The single biggest challenge for Zuma will be to balance the pervasive needs of the elite against the growing call of the masses for fairness, equity and economic justice. His style is bound to accommodate competing social forces while not compromising the fundamental foundations of African National Congress policy.

He is mindful of the important role the private sector plays, and will persist in developing an enabling environment for capital. He will diffuse conflict and discord as ably as he has in the past. The trade union movement, the new left and civil society, will probably feel less alienation than today. The formidable role Zuma has played in developing the National Economic Development and Labour Council and social contract politics will continue. Most importantly, Zuma will be a leader who executes the vision of the ruling party with unity, action and vigour, without compromising the fundamental tenets of democracy. He is known for his ability to read a situation with uncanny intuition. His leadership style has an aura of speed, deliberateness, consistency and certainty.

Before Mandela's presidency the doomsayers predicted a collapse of the economy and a downward spiral into anarchy. He proved them wrong. The same doomsayers then predicted the demise of SA under Mbeki. Today, SA is in an even better state than under Mandela.

Zuma's presidency will build on the successful outcomes of his predecessors. He has my support.

Wakeford is MD of Growth Africa.

With acknowledgements to Kevin Wakeford and the Business Day.