Voting for the next president of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) is expected to begin Monday at the party’s national conference which opened Sunday in Polokwane, South Africa. The four thousand delegates will choose between South African President Thabo Mbeki and party deputy president Jacob Zuma.
A bitter struggle between Zuma and Mbeki supporters has caused a major rift within the ANC. However, indications are that Zuma may win Monday’s vote to become ANC leader and subsequently president of South Africa. Should Zuma win the ANC presidency, would his policies be different from Mbeki’s?
Professor Sheila Meintjes is head of the department of political studies at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa. From Johannesburg, she told VOA that a Zuma presidency might be good for investors.
“I think at this point it seems likely that Zuma will win, and I think that what will happen is that South Africa will acquire a president who is viewed by the international community as easy prey for business opportunity and possibly for patronage,” she said.
Meintjes said foreign investors might find it easier to get support from a Zuma-led government.
“Well I think the people are worried about a Zuma presidency. But I don’t think that they feel that things are going to change very much. If anything, it may become easier for them to get support from the South African government,” Meintjes said.
She said many poor South Africans have become disgruntled with the Mbeki government over the last 10 years because of what she called its failure to deliver essential services, including public transport, affordable housing, enough clinics in various urban areas, and working electricity in some rural areas.
“There’s no question that the Mbeki government in the last 10 years have proved to be a disappointment to the poor in terms of delivery of services. So I think there’s a lot of disgruntlement. On top of that of course are high levels of crime. So in general people are feeling that we need a change, that we need to have a leader in this country who is going to address the needs and interests of the poor, especially. So I think that people do really do feel that Zuma has their interest at heart. Mbeki presents himself much more as an intellectual, and they feel that they can’t communicate easily with him,” she said.
Meintjes does not think Zuma as president of the ANC or South Africa would institute land reform similar to Zimbabwe as a wealth sharing mechanism to appease the poor.
“Interestingly enough Zuma has not made any racial noises at all. His campaign has been one that focuses on the needs and interests of the poor. My own view is that he will not do any sort of dramatic land reform program or any kind of reform that would jeopardize the position of South Africa. Zuma himself has said time and time again that the ANC policies are his policies. So I don’t think that there will be a huge shift in policy. It will be a shift in emphasis however,” she said.
On the other hand, Meintjes said organizations like COSATU and the South African Communist Party, Zuma’s strongest supporters hope, that his would lead to a much more people-oriented working class approach, which is something she said seems to have slipped away with the second Mbeki presidency where black economic empowerment has seen a huge enrichment of a few rather than improving the employment situation in the country
Meintjes said it is not possible that the Mbeki government might revive corruption charges against Zuma should he win the ANC presidency as a way of stopping him from running for South African president.
“I have to say that this isn’t really within President Mbeki’s hand. This is in the National Prosecution Authority’s hand, and it is an independent body. So Mbeki doesn’t have it within his power to either stop or do anything else in relation to this. He may try, but I don’t he will get anywhere,” Meintjes said.