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Emerging Markets

Point to prove

Zuma’s first 100 days

Jacob Zuma has surprised on the upside since his inauguration as South Africa’s fourth democratic state president. With vigour and some political cunning during his first 100 days in office, he appointed a governor designate of the South African Reserve Bank, appointed a chief justice designate and closed up an 18-month vacancy for National Police Commissioner, after the previous incumbent’s suspension on corruption charges.

In a country where a large number of top political and bureaucratic posts lie open or are filled by acting incumbents, the sense of decisiveness was a big change. Zuma has also changed the rules so that directors-general of government departments are appointed by the minister in question, rather than the president, as the situation was under Thabo Mbeki, signifying a greater push towards accountability and performance appraisal.

Coming from a clouded background that left the perception he was under siege, Zuma – against whom fraud and corruption charges were dropped by prosecutors in April, just weeks before the April 22 national election that swept him to power – is working hard to reverse perceptions of him, says Susan Booysen, a professor of political science at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand.

“He has so much to prove. He is going out and trying to prove that. Mbeki going into second term didn’t feel he had anything to prove,” Booysen says.

Sense of honesty

There are signs of less tolerance of corruption than before, especially in the provincial governments that were also newly constituted after the April election. There is also a greater willingness to admit mistakes. In September Zuma’s health minister Aaron Motsoaledi conceded for the first time that the government would not meet its goal, spelt out in its five-year Aids plan in 2007, of providing life-prolonging treatment to 80% of people with HIV by 2011. Logistical problems, a lack of personnel and a shortage of money were all hampering the effort, Motsoaledi said.

Booysen welcomes the new sense of honesty, but warns that the current honeymoon period cannot last forever. “Very soon we want to see much more action,” she says.

There are also already some grounds for concern. The imminent appointment of four new judges to the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court and ultimate guardian of the rule of law, has become racially polarized. While Zuma avoided extensive public lobbying by naming the widely respected judge Sandile Ngcobo as his choice for chief justice up front, critics say he has done little to halt the ongoing festering politicization of the judiciary.

Economic policy-making has also been taken away from being the sole preserve of National Treasury and has been split between Treasury, now headed by former tax commissioner Pravin Gordhan, Trevor Manuel’s new Ministry in the Presidency for National Planning and a newly created Ministry of Economic Development, a newly created body headed by former general secretary of Southern African Clothing & Textile Workers’ Union Ebrahim Patel.

Under the new structure, apparently designed to placate Zuma’s left-wing trade union and Communist party allies, economic policy is at a crossroads, says Iraj Abedian, the CE of Pan African Capital Holdings, a Johannesburg-based investment company.

“It’s a very complex web requiring immense coordination. It’s not that it cannot be done, but it requires political management and serious coordination,” Abedian says. —M.B.

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