Zuma’s plans for top job

ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma would not alter the broad parameters of South Africa’s economic policy, but believes the national treasury has usurped the people “as the driver of economic change” and that “participatory democracy” has foundered under President Thabo Mbeki.

This week the Mail & Guardian spoke to several of Zuma’s closest policy advisers, who have had extensive discussions with the ANC deputy president about his vision for the top job and outlined some of the changes he would make if he took over at the Union Buildings in 2009. The M&G also sought reaction from some of his critics in the ruling party.

Centrally, the advisers said Zuma would reintroduce “the principle of consultation” – an ANC tradition Mbeki has been accused of destroying by centralising power in his office and consequently dividing the ruling party.

“It’s about style,” said one aide. “As much as [Nelson] Mandela knew, he believed in consultation and he didn’t pretend to know everything. During his time, the tripartite alliance operated for this very reason.

“Mbeki’s intellectual arrogance has intimidated and alienated his own party members, so that the ANC has become a disempowered collective.”

Zuma’s advisers stressed that in policy matters, he would only make changes of emphasis, making the Union Buildings “user-friendly” in terms of his political style.


Zuma will retain the ANC’s current fiscal policy, his advisers said. However, he will bring a change of emphasis so that power is decentralised from the national treasury to the people, “to create a spirit of consultation beyond the tips for Trevor”.

This would mean, for example, greater interaction with civil society during the budgeting process and entrenching “community aspirations”, in the same way that the desires of big business have been considered in the past.

“Why is it that every financial year the minister of finance is the only person who shines, while there is a pressure cooker of people on the ground who have little or no service delivery?” asked one aide.

Another said Zuma regarded the failure of the current government to eliminate informal settlements as an indication of its “misguided” economic emphasis. Government policy was to install infrastructure in informal settlements to lift the communities from their squalor, “yet they are still living like they’re sub-human,” he said.

The M&G was also told of Zuma’s concern that state-owned enterprises had largely failed in their mandate to provide services and generate capital for the poorest, and had instead become “the turf of a few individuals”.


Zuma will not change the substance of the state’s current HIV/Aids strategy, say his advisers, as this was effective “despite the political point-scoring” that accompanied its rollout. But he would overhaul the health ministry and ensure that Manto Tshabalala-Msimang did not regain her portfolio.


Zuma’s advisers said the ANC deputy president was critical of Mbeki’s failure to travel to Zimbabwe “to sit with the people and talk” after the mediation mandate given to him by the Southern African Development Community at its meeting in Dar-es-Salaam in March. “Zuma would have flown to Zim first, spent days there,” said an aide. “Mbeki likes to study documentation around the issue first and then talk.”

Security agencies

Zuma’s view, according to his aides, is that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), as a specialised investigations unit, should be maintained but brought under the authority of the South African Police Service.

“You can’t have a security unit like this with more power than the police,” said one adviser. “The NPA was formed because there was no trust in the police, but it has become worse than the police – a battleground for politics.”


Because it has besmirched his public image in the past two years, Zuma feels contempt for the media, according to his advisers. They said he believed that if it could not regulate itself, “regulatory institutions should be strengthened”. This position is, significantly, reflected in a resolution of the KwaZulu-Natal ANC to the party’s policy conference in Johannesburg this week. Zuma told editors at the World Editors Forum two weeks ago that media was “beginning to threaten its own freedom”.


As president, Zuma would adopt a far less defensive approach to race, his advisers said, pointing out that he has developed a good relationship with the white Afrikaner community. This was in contrast to Mbeki’s lack of personal warmth and tendency “to cast all criticism in a negative racial light”.

Asked to respond, Zuma’s critics in the ANC were unimpressed by these first indications of the shape of a Zuma presidency. If he came to power, one argued, the presidency would be marked by “continued instability”.

“He would launch witch-hunts against Thabo Mbeki’s people,” said an ANC national executive committee member. “The future prospects of the institutions of democracy would be in jeopardy and he would reward the people campaigning for him.”

Another detractor, who also sits on the NEC, argued that despite Mbeki’s shortcomings, “we cannot criticise him on his set of skills and administrative management of government, which Zuma lacks”. Zuma’s Cabinet choices would be a key barometer.

Political commentator Adam Habib believed Zuma’s strategy of being seen to be prioritising the poor was politically shrewd. However, once in power, he would face the same domestic and global constraints as the current government. “Policy decisions are not the product of individuals in the ANC. They are a product of the party and are constrained by domestic and global institutions,” Habib said.

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Vicki Robinson
Guest Author

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