Zuma's surprise package

Jacob Zuma’s inevitable ascent to the presidency has been achieved at considerable cost. The governing African National Congress has been absorbed for the last year in faction-fighting, dealing with defections, quashing Zuma’s corruption charges and bullying the National Prosecution Authority to drop the case.

The result was a legal mess: the NPA cited its receipt of illegal intercepts (see Pointer) as its reason for dropping the case but failed to explain why its top investigators had been working on the Zuma case for the past four years – unless they too were part of a political plot. For Zuma, it is mission accomplished. The main project now is to run the government.

Zuma’s instincts are populist and pragmatic: he acknowledges his (and his party’s) debt to the well-organised ideologues of the South African Communist Party (SACP) but they are not his natural bedfellows. Zuma, who regularly consults with right-wing securocrats, is gifted with a popular political touch. He also has surprising supporters in international business, not only among Western arms companies, and he wants to put the corruption case behind him. A full commission of inquiry into the arms deals and all those who benefitted can be ruled out and so can media conferences to discuss the subject. Zuma has charm but also a deep distaste for journalists. We hear Tim Bell, a public relations advisor to British Conservative former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, has been helpful in shaping Zuma’s personal strategy.

However, the ANC’s tactics have raised concern about the judicial system and the durability of the independent press. Zuma’s allies among the securocrats have put any credible opponents under high surveillance; even judges on the constitutional court are having their telephones tapped, according to a credible intelligence source. Strident interventionist comments from the party’s hardliners have revealed a hurried casting aside of the cautious approach to governance practised under former Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

A beloved country cries
Zuma inherits a divided country, exacerbated by the global recession. His government will struggle to meet its promises to improve services and cut crime. Criminals will face tougher punishment and the death penalty may come back but improvements in policing and detection are less likely. His big advantage over Mbeki is a personal confidence which might, with the right people around him, enable the government to tackle South Africa’s endemic problems with more vigour. He has won support from some conservative elements – right-wing Afrikaners who like the tough-on-crime message (and loathed the intellectual Mbeki) and rural Zulus who see the prospect of cultural and economic uplift.

The would-be president and his allies have whipped the ANC into line. Those who contemplated defecting to the Congress of the People have been warned of the consequences of treachery. Those – and they are many – who felt maltreated by Mbeki have joined the Zuma camp. Formerly independent ANC intellectuals such as Pallo Jordan (one of the few ministers to take on Mbeki in cabinet) have rallied to the Zuma cause. Other intellectuals, such as Mac Maharaj, are back in business, after being ostracised by Mbeki. None of this points to a move leftward or in any other direction.

The muttering in the business community is that Zuma’s debts to the left, which backed him so as to eject Mbeki, will bias him towards a more restrictive, interventionist model of government. Yet there are strikingly few left-leaners in the top hundred of the ANC list. Prominent are the SACP General Secretary, Blade Nzimande, and his deputy, Jeremy Cronin. Nzimande will get a top cabinet position, which will constrain him.

On 6-7 May, Zuma will announce his cabinet. Its membership will indicate whether the factionalism in the ANC will continue. Business people will be watching Finance Minister Manuel. Most observers assume he will remain for up to two years but he could be edged out by horse-trading between the party militants, led by Nzimande, and the economic centrists, led by Mathews Phosa.

The suggested alternatives to Manuel are Eastern Cape political stalwart Mcebisi Jonas, Deputy Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, and South African Revenue Service head Pravin Gordhan. Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is tipped for the cabinet. The firebrand Fikile Mbalula could get Minerals and Energy. Tokyo Sexwale is a possible Foreign Minister.

Nzimande, Tony Yengeni and Siphiwe Nyanda are emerging as Zuma’s key political allies, while the centrists Cyril Ramaphosa, Kgalema Motlanthe and Phosa are likely to be sidelined, ready to move on should the Zuma project fail.

One innovation will be a new overarching development and planning ministry in the presidency. Nobody is yet clear what it will do. The head of the ANC’s transition team, Collins Chabane, says that it will focus on long-term planning, asking what South Africa should look like in 20 years’ time and how to achieve it.

The new advisors and ministers will inherit a largely sclerotic and inefficient public service, impoverished by an exodus of experienced civil servants perceived as loyal to Mbeki. The contract of the Treasury Director-General, Lesetja Kganyago, comes up for renewal in January 2010. South African Reserve Bank Governor Tito Mboweni‘s contract ends in August 2009 but he is tipped to stay on.

The top of the public service is still affected by the extremely difficult changing of the guard in 1994; in its first four years in office the public service failed to spend an average of 11 billion rand a year. Even after rationalisation, underperformance and underspending are rife. The presidency has reported that unauthorised expenditure increased from R30 mn. in 2004 to R103 mn. in 2006, when the accounts of a third of the departments were qualified by their auditors. The coming change could make this worse. An overview of capital expenditure in November 2008 found that government departments should have spent nearly 75% of their allocation by this time. The Education Department had already overspent its revised capital budget. The departments of Housing and Health had not yet spent 54% and 42% of their budgets respectively, while Social Development had used up nearly 75% of its capital budget.

Corruption at local and provincial level has escalated sharply in the past four years, exacerbated by poor law enforcement and the deterioration in the private sector, where banks lent huge sums in the final stages of the global debt boom. The Director for Priority Crimes Investigation (DPCI) will replace the investigating Scorpions, not as an independent body but within the South African Police Service and is seen as toothless. Over the past year, 67 investigators have left the NPA as the Scorpions disbanded. A source in the Zuma camp said he believed that corruption would begin ‘to look like Kenya, with shades of Nigeria’.

Zuma’s regime is expected to gun for the oligarchs associated with Mbeki, starting with Bulelani Ngcuka, who is likely to be removed from his job at Transnet. His wife, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, is likely to be targeted, as are the businessmen Mzi Khumalo and Saki Macozoma. Black economic empowerment will be overhauled; as markets collapse, Ramaphosa, Chairman of Shanduka Group, said recently that BEE would need to ‘go back to the drawing board’. A revised scheme will put less emphasis on high-profile oligarchs, more on middle- and lower-level contracting, mainly with government tenders. The NPA’s dropping of the Zuma charges involved a clear disregard of the Supreme Court of Appeal’s judgement in January, which established that political manoeuvring around a case or a political motive for bringing a case are irrelevant if the case is bona fide. This, following the unorthodox release of Zuma’s business ally Schabir Shaik in March, looks dangerously like a constitutional coup d’état.

Fears that Zuma will gun for the judiciary (and the independent media) were strengthened when he said that the Judicial Service Commission should review the status of the Constitutional Court. Some of this may be pre-election posturing but people close to Zuma would like to tame the independent press and increase political control of the courts. An oversight body to monitor the media could seriously limit freedom of expression.