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South Africa Analyst Sees Zuma Election As Rejection of Mbeki's Personality

Jacob Zuma’s election president of the ruling African National Congress over Thabo Mbeki puts him in the position to become South Africa’s next president. Not only did Zuma win Tuesday's vote by a wide margin, his entire team also won. From Johannesburg, South African political analyst Harald Pakerndorf told VOA Zuma’s election is not necessarily a rejection of President Mbeki’s policies, but rather a rejection of his personality.

“It has to do with two things. First of all there is resentment against the same person being at the helm, which is good for democracy. And also Mr. Mbeki had a distance between himself and the general population, and Mr. Zuma on the other hand is a very populist kind of a speaker and has closed relations with people on the ground. I think the two balance each other. It’s not necessarily a rejection of Mr. Mbeki’s policies. It is a rejection of Mr. Mbeki’s personality,” he said.

Pakerndorf described Mbeki as a foreign educated South African while Zuma educated himself while serving jail time for the ANC.

“If you go back in history, Mr. Mbeki left the country when he was still a teenager and spent most of his time in Europe and latter part in Lusaka, Zambia and hasn’t had a real connection with people on the ground or ordinary South Africans whereas Mr. Zuma came up as a non-literate person, was arrested, sent to jail where he learned to read and has always remained a person of the people,” Pakerndorf said.

He said the fact that Mbeki turned South Africa’s economy around matters little to ordinary South Africans. Still Pakerndorf said Zuma is not likely to deviate very much from the Mbeki economic policies.

“Truly speaking what we’ve seen over the last couple of years is a movement if you will. The ANC moved from a leftist position to a centrist position post-94, and gradually over the last two three years back into a slightly more leftist position. The state has invested a great deal of capital expenditure in the economy. We’ve seen a vast expansion of social welfare payments. So I don’t think that will be changed dramatically,” he said.

Pakerndorf said while the South African economy has grown bigger under Mbeki than it has ever been in the country’s history, many poor South Africans do not feel the trickle down effect of such growth.

“What is interesting and important is that people on the ground actually expect that their lives should be better and could be better. They see their fellow black South Africans moving ahead, some of them becoming millionaires, moving into brick houses. And I think that’s part of what you see happening here. People on the ground are simply saying no more of the same. We want to be part of the economy,” Pakerndorf said.

He said the personal skills of Zuma might help him deal with the deep divisions brought about by the election. At the same time Pakerndorf said the ANC is moving from a liberation movement to an ordinary political party, and such a transition might be difficult to manage.

“Mr. Zuma has the reputation of being a reconciler. He’s been a man who has been sent to many troubled spots in South Africa to try and solve problems on the ground. He seems to be very aware of the fact that he has to reconcile the various factions in the ANC. But the ANC I think has today finally moved from being a liberation movement to an ordinary political party. And the transition is going to be very difficult to manage,” he said.

Pakerdorf said there is the likelihood the prosecutor could bring fresh charges against Zuma for corruption.

“So far it looks like Mr. Zuma might very well be charged, and the man who should look at then is Motlanthe (Kgalema) who is the former secretary general and who has moved up to deputy president. He is the man to look at as a possible stand in for Mr. Zuma,” Pakerdorf said.