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Zuma for President?

This is for Sijui :-)

So I tend to avoid blogging about SA politics on this blog, because I don’t have much of a local perspective beyond what I get from the local media (I’ve found SA to be a difficult place to integrate into/get localized, but that’s a story for another day).

With the Polokwane conference coming up in two weeks, and Zuma managing to surprise everyone by getting support beyond Kwa Zulu Natal and Mpumalanga (the ANC Women’s League has picked him as a candidate! And the vote in Eastern Cape – Mbeki’s traditional stronghold was close. Can you say shocking?!), the mood is generally one of trying to come to grips with the idea of a Zuma presidency.

I was one of the many people who argued that while Zuma had popular support, he’d never get enough support from the delegates to become the ANC President – the delegates would be more sensible and more insulated from popular pressure…we presumed. Not. And then there was always the expectation that a compromise candidate would emerge (Cyril Ramaphosa, Kgalema Motlanthe came up frequently). That didn’t happen either.

So what did happen?

When thinking about this post it occurred to me that there are similarities with the current political situation in Kenya. Zuma being analogous to Raila – both are polarizing figures, popular with the masses, paid their dues in the struggle for democracy, feared by the business community (except Indians who are supporting both candidates behind the scenes), already being tagged as a despot, shady financial dealings in the past, great public presence, etc. And Mbeki being analogous to Kibaki (well aside from the intellectual part) in having presided over a strong economy but with little trickle down to the majority, being perceived as aloof, surrounded by a loyal cabal, etc.

Both the Mbeki and the Kibaki groups thought a Zuma / Odinga presidency was far-fetched and they let the respective candidates get a lot of traction on the premise that “the people” would be smart enough to see that their opponents are heavy on rhetoric and light on everything else. I think Mbeki and Kibaki also suffered from a sense of hubris. Mbeki more than Kibaki.

Mbeki should never have run for a third term, in my opinion, and instead should handed over to someone who had more appeal across the party or worked to cultivate a compromise candidate – in sticking around he has done much more harm than good and has threatened both his legacy and the strength of the ANC. I don’t think he realized how alienated he was. Then again his whole life has been the ANC, so I can sort of understand the reluctance to leave the helm (buying the well-received biography of Mbeki by Mark Gevisser this week to get more insight into the man. But I digress. They are calls for him to quit the race now, but I highly doubt he will step down – he’s going to fight till the end.

Similarly, Kibaki has made many unnecessary missteps in his quest for a second term and is now scrambling to turn this around, when he should have ditched the old fogeys surrounding him a long time ago (I mean Moody as V-P, he could have easily pulled Rift Valley or Western with a younger, switched on person and I could go on and on…. Yes the country has made strides under Kibaki, but a lot of people are still on the sidelines and there’s no indication that they will be brought in during the next five years. Is Raila going to do things differently? Who knows? But the general sense on the ground is that Kenyans need change and if ODM messes up they’ll also be voted out. In South Africa, lots of people are also feeling left out and disenchanted by where things are post 1994 (whether this is fair on Mbeki is another post). There is a yearning for more radical change. Will Zuma’s left leanings really be translated in to better policies for the masses? Who knows? But they are willing to take the chance.

Gosh this is beginning to read like a composition :-)

My two cents (disclaimer: at this point in time…hehehe) Zuma and Raila will likely be elected President; they will find themselves hobbled by the realities of governing a country and won’t be as radical as they sound now – the danger, I think, is not so much them as individuals (can we say bogeymen?), but rather the constituencies they are appealing to right now. They are appealing to people with very little to lose, and whose expectations are going to be sky high – what happens when folks realize they’ve been taken for a ride (which I believe will happen)? How Zuma and Raila manage their constituencies once in power will be the true test of what their impact as Presidents will be.

OK that’s it for now…got to get back to stuff that pays the bills.

Stay tuned for Monday night quarter-backing. Hopefully I won’t have too much egg on my face!

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