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Embassy Row

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NO CHANGE

"Change" may be the theme of the American presidential campaign, but the man likely to be the next president of South Africa will have none of it.

Jacob Zuma, the controversial leader of the powerful African National Congress and a former deputy president of South Africa, is in Washington this week to assure the White House, the State Department, foreign affairs analysts and business investors that his administration would not adopt any radical changes in its domestic or foreign policies.

"Nobody should be worried," he told the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday. "We are going to change no policy. ... The situation will continue normally." He also urged his audience to ignore the rants of radicals like Julius Malema, leader of the ANC Youth League, and his communist allies, who also strongly support Mr. Zuma. The 29-year-old youth leader recently vowed to "eliminate" anyone who stood in the way of Mr. Zuma winning the presidency.

Princeton N. Lyman, a former U.S. ambassador to South Africa and a senior member of the Council on Foreign Relations, asked Mr. Zuma how he would keep communists and leaders of the Youth League from "trampling" on South Africa's constitution.

"We should not worry about that," he replied.

Explaining that youthful exuberance translates into strong leadership later in life, Mr. Zuma, 66, added, "If we had youths who do not do that, how could they be vigorous leaders of tomorrow."

Mr. Malema also claimed that the Youth League engineered the resignation of South African President Thabo Mbeki, who stepped down last month after he lost an ANC presidential election to Mr. Zuma. Since the end of white-minority rule in 1994, South Africa's two presidents, Mr. Mbeki and Nelson Mandela, have also been presidents of the ANC.

"How could you have a president of the ANC who is not president of the country?" Mr. Zuma asked. "That would create two centers of power."

South Africa may have 16 political parties, but the ANC is the dominate force in the country. It won 70 percent of the vote in the 2004 national legislative elections. The next election is scheduled for the spring, and a new legislature would elect the next president. Meanwhile, a group of Mbeki supporters have threatened to split the ANC.

While Mr. Zuma insisted he, personally, envisions no policy changes, he added that he would enact any new positions adopted by the ANC.

"A new president [of South Africa] would adhere to the policies of the ANC," he said.

As president, Mr. Zuma would face a South Africa that many have described as tired and divided after only 14 years of black majority rule. The nation of 49 million people is nearly 80 percent black and less than 10 percent white. Mixed race and ethnic Asian citizens make up the rest of the population.

The ANC, once a violent underground movement, reached a peaceful end to the apartheid regime in 1994 and engaged all political parties in a settlement to the racial policies that isolated the former white-minority government. The ANC encouraged business, attracted foreign investment and created a strong black middle class.

However, the gap between the middle class and the poor has widened. Fifty percent of the population lives in poverty. Growth, once robust, is slowing from an annual rate of 5 percent to an expected rate of 3 percent. Unemployment is nearly 25 percent, and crime is high.

In addition to those problems, Mr. Zuma still faces a corruption case that forced his resignation as deputy president of South Africa in 2005. Judge Chris Nicholson set aside the charges on procedural grounds a year ago and criticized the government for political interference in the case. However, the prosecution could refile the charges.

Also in 2005, Mr. Zuma, a polygamist with four wives, was accused of raping the daughter of a family friend, but a court later dismissed the charge, ruling that the sexual encounter was consensual.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison @washingtontimes.com.