- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

With the election of Jacob Zuma as the fourth president of South Africa under majority rule, U.S. government officials and private investors hope for a new era, which can be summed up in one word - pragmatism.

Unlike the iconic Nelson Mandela and the intellectually aloof Thabo Mbeki, Mr. Zuma, for all his working-class ties and populist exhortations, shows every sign of wanting to work with the United States both politically and economically for the mutual benefit of both nations.

Mr. Zuma was formally elected president by the South African Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday. He won 277 votes in the 400-member National Assembly. Rival candidate Mvume Dandala, from the Congress of the People Party, won 47 votes.

Mr. Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) party won 65.9 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections last month. He will be inaugurated Saturday and name his Cabinet on Sunday.

“I hope to lead the country on a path of friendship, cooperation, harmony, unity and faster change,” the Associated Press quoted Mr. Zuma as saying after his election Wednesday.

“We mean business when we talk about faster change,” Mr. Zuma said, adding that his immediate priority was to limit the fallout from the global economic crisis, which has pushed the South African unemployment rate to 23.5 percent.

Mr. Zuma, 67, succeeds Kgalema Motlanthe, who took over last fall in the wake of Mr. Mbeki’s ouster by the ANC, the country’s dominant party.

In October, Mr. Zuma traveled to the United States, where he met with top officials and offered reassurances to American investors that he, like Mr. Mbeki, has a decidedly free-market policy.

“We are confident that our policies are very strong,” he told the Council on Foreign Relations.

The reassurances were welcomed by Americans worried that Mr. Zuma, a labor leader and defender of workers’ rights, could tilt the economic equilibrium against business.

After the ANC’s decisive victory in last month’s parliamentary elections, the State Department issued an official statement that the United States looks forward to a “continued productive engagement” with South Africa.

“To win the strong support that Mr. Zuma seeks, he will have to govern as a pragmatist, not as an ideologue,” said Abiodun Williams, vice president of the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Stephen Hayes, president of the Corporate Council on Africa, contacted while traveling in London, said investors remain “generally positive” on South Africa.

“While President Zuma will have a number of pressures on him from his traditional backers in the labor movement, he realizes that he cannot afford to make radical changes in the economy,” he said.

Mr. Hayes said he expects Mr. Zuma to retain respected Finance Minister Trevor Manuel in his Cabinet to reassure South African business and international investors.

Herman J. Cohen, a former State Department official who specializes in African affairs, does not foresee any drastic change in South Africa’s policies.

“Investors do not expect the new South African president to change the basic macroeconomic structure of the already developed nation,” he said.

Last week, however, Mr. Zuma proclaimed at a meeting of trade unionists that his administration would work to improve the rights of South African workers.

He also offered reassurances to the now marginalized Afrikaner community.

“Of all the white groups that are in South Africa, it is only the Afrikaners that are truly South Africans in the true sense of the word,” Mr. Zuma said at a meeting of Afrikaner groups.

Before power was transferred to the Mandela-led African National Congress in 1994, the Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch farmers, or Boers, were the prime white settlers of South Africa. In the early 19th century, they were joined by British settlers after the defeat of the Dutch in the Napoleonic war.

The Afrikaners became a dominant minority in 1948. Their power rested on two pillars: apartheid, or strict racial separation, and the divide and rule of the black majority, which the whites squeezed into 10 “homelands” and relegated to the most infertile real estate of the nation.

Afrikaners created the only fully industrialized state on the African continent.

Now, in a state of despair over the loss of political power, they were told by Mr. Zuma to be as proud of their 350-year African ancestry as he was of his Zulu roots.

Mr. Zuma was drummed out of his post as vice president under Mr. Mbeki after charges of rape and corruption. He was acquitted of the rape charge in 2006, and the corruption charges were dropped last month.

In a biography released ahead of the parliamentary session, the ANC emphasized Mr. Zuma’s humble origins in rural KwaZulu-Natal, the AP reported.

Mr. Zuma dropped out of school after the death of his father, then studied at night and while herding goats. This experience inspired him to set up an education fund that has since helped educate 20,000 poor children, according to the ANC.

During apartheid, Mr. Zuma became active in the banned ANC. He was arrested in 1963 and sentenced to 10 years on Robben Island - the prison where Mr. Mandela served decades and which now has become one of South Africa’s top tourist attractions.

In 1975, Mr. Zuma went into exile and helped organize ANC resistance to South Africa’s white racist rule, returning home as apartheid crumbled.

For the first time, the ANC biography confirmed that Mr. Zuma has three wives - Sizakele, Nompumelelo and Tobeka Madiba - and 19 children “to whom he is very close.”

Mr. Zuma is a traditionalist member of the Zulu tribe, which allows men to have more than one wife. He has also had two other wives - Kate Mantsho Zuma, who committed suicide in 2000, and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, from whom he was divorced in 1998.

Mrs. Dlamini Zuma is the country’s foreign affairs minister in the departing Cabinet and is expected to join her former husband’s new administration.

The ANC also quoted from Mr. Zuma’s forthcoming autobiography:

“I have never failed to learn from my mistakes, nor repeat them, nor pretend I never committed them in the first place,” he writes. “I am made of sterner stuff, even if I say so myself. I am tempted to say I know no man alive who has witnessed the struggles that I have survived. They may have come close but not what I have gone through.”

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