The Zuma Presidency: New Era or Business as Usual?

By Fazila Farouk · 25 Apr 2009

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Election 2009 has turned out to be a landmark event for the ANC. The party faced some of its stiffest competition and still came out tops, despite a dismal 15-year delivery record.

In an ironic twist, the people whom the ANC has failed most turned out en masse to keep it in power, while those that it’s been bending over backwards for appear to have voted for the opposition. 

The actions of both groups defy belief, but in a world where perception trumps reality, perhaps one shouldn't be surprised that it is the estimation of the ANC's perceived worth that seems to have motivated voters' behaviour. Despite being sold down the river by the elite politics of their party, the poor still see the ANC as their saviour. While the party's detractors smell the "rooi gevaar" around every corner.

Zuma ascends South Africa's presidency at an interesting time in world history. 

Conservative governments have swung to hard line positions, as evidenced by the political landscape in Israel. While centrist governments like America's Obama administration are dithering more than ever.  As one commentator put it, either Obama can't do anything seriously wrong; or he can't do anything seriously right. At the other end of the spectrum, progressive governments from Latin America are openly nailing their socialist colours to the mast.

What path, in the midst of all these, will Zuma and his new ANC carve out for South Africa’s future? Who will their role models be? Under Zuma’s stewardship, will the ANC finally right the wrongs of our apartheid past? 

Early signs are worrying. Zuma has not said anything that indicates a break from the past, which would put South Africa firmly on the road to dealing with structural poverty. For the time being it looks pretty much as though the poor are still going to get screwed.

South Africa's economy is still firmly rooted in the legacy of apartheid and the pressure to maintain the status quo is strong. Over the years, the economic policies of the ANC, rather than transforming the economic landscape, have divided our economy and we are led to believe that this dualism between the first and second economy is a necessary evil.

So while the ANC has always promised “a better life for all," high-level research reveals that it is their obsession with neo-liberal economics that perpetuates the apartheid status quo in post-apartheid South Africa.

To coincide with our first decade as a democracy in 2004, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released a report assessing South Africa’s human development. The report stated that  "The current strategy and policies for achieving (economic) growth are objectively anti-poor as, on the one hand, the gap between economic growth and employment growth is widening and, on the other, given their capabilities, the poor are not able to integrate into the current processes of economic expansion."

In other commentary, it has also been argued that income inequality is one of South Africa's biggest challenges and that this inequality in income distribution is the result of a growth path that ensures high earnings for the owners of capital and employees with skills.

The main conclusion reached by the UNDP report was that "South Africa's sustainable development prospects depend on a successful re-orientation of the economic structure and policies – such that the economy becomes inclusive (broad-based), equitable and sustainable over time."

In the five years since this report was released, this has not happened and in the aftermath of this landslide victory for the ANC, it is still doubtful whether South Africa will finally be put on a trajectory to achieve this goal. Two problems, among others, come to mind.

Firstly, Zuma has gone on record assuring corporate South Africa that there will be no major changes to economic policy. The financial media have assured their readers that Zuma will be “business friendly.” 

Secondly, what impact will the global financial crisis have on the policies of the new ANC government? Are the poor in South Africa doomed to join the estimated 53 million people around the world who will fall deeper into poverty in 2009 as a result of the global recession?

Rather than looking to the North for advice from experts that didn't foresee the financial crisis, one hopes that Zuma will look for inspiration in other parts of the world.

If it's jobs and decent pay that his constituency is after, then it would certainly be worth Zuma's while to look at what's happening in Latin America, the only region in the world where inequality has declined. Bucking global trends, nine countries in this region are experiencing declining poverty rates, notably from 2002-2007. To date, the trend is only marginally affected by the global economic meltdown.

How did they do it? They raised the wages of their poorest and reduced the earnings of their richest; we are informed by this excerpt from a briefing paper released by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean:

"Changes in the structure of income distribution between 2002 and 2007 reveal three clearly distinct situations. Nine countries (Argentina, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay) have significantly narrowed the gap between the groups at the extreme ends of the spectrum, both by increasing the poorer groups’ share of total income and by lowering that of the highest income households. The most notable reductions in the two aforementioned indicators (36% and 41%, respectively) were recorded in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Significant improvements were also observed in Bolivia, Brazil and Nicaragua, where both indicators fell by about 30%."

Just a few days ago, some of these Latin leaders vetoed a declaration that came out of the Summit of the Americas, also attended by bankers'-best-buddy Obama. Progressive Latin leaders pointed out that the role played by capitalism in bringing about the global financial crisis, was not addressed by the declaration.

These issues are important for Zuma to consider because political leaders who are genuinely interested in pro-poor development and social justice - with track records to boot - are challenging the abuses of big capital. They are taking on the rich and powerful. Something that Zuma shows no sign of doing, regardless of the fact that he was carried to victory on the shoulders of the ANC’s Alliance partners, whose thinking one assumes would be more in line with the Latin American leaders.

Many are waiting with baited breath to see how long Zuma's honeymoon with the Alliance partners will last. His cabinet appointments will reveal his true intentions. Is he just a power hungry career politician willing to exploit any relationship to get to the top or does his proximity to the Alliance partners indicate a genuine willingness to break with the recent tradition of the ANC, which has been to consistently betray its strongest supporters.

South Africa's poor want jobs and houses. They deserve these and more.

Farouk is founder and executive director of The South African Civil Society Information Service.

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Gomolemo Lucas
24 Apr

Zuma Presidency

We ought, as a country, to continuously understand that South Africa is part of the global community and therefore we need to learn best international experiences in dealing with the current economic meltdown. President Zuma should strive towards implementing the Polokwane resolutions with respect to economic transformation, in particular in addressing the plight of the poor. The sustained growth we have experienced over the years, has failed in absorbing many of our poor into the economic mainstream.

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Rory Short
24 Apr

Income Gap

Those interested in increasing the health of society by decreasing the income gap could do no better than read 'Socioecnomic Democracy: an Advanced Socioeconomic System', ISBN 0-275-97376-X. It advocates a democratically set floor for income and a democratically set ceiling for wealth.

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25 Apr


The word you are looking for is "redistribution", and while it may provide the impressive-looking statistics you quote in the short term, in the long term it kills economic growth. And to refer approvingly to Venezuela's approach is beyond the pale - it is rapidly sinking into totalitarianism and economic collapse.

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28 Apr


He is a thug. I have no idea what the ANC is about anymore. Reminds me of the good old days in Zim with ZANU and ZAPU. It's only a matter of time before ANC cronies reveal themselves for the vampires they really are.

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13 May

Zuma - President, My President!

Let us stand together and give the man a chance...

Maybe he wil be the one to give the SANDF better career prospects. There was talks to help members to exchange Military licences into Civilian licences.

Let us watch this space.

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