Zuma grilled by Jewish community

From ”uninspired and boring” to ”down to earth” and ”confident” were some of the varying opinions about African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma expressed by members of the Jewish community on Tuesday night.

Zuma was invited to speak at a forum on South Africa’s future, hosted by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, at Investec Bank in Sandton, Johannesburg on Tuesday.

In his address Zuma moved to quell ”panic” over the ANC leadership, saying that many of the newly elected leaders of the ruling party were ”seasoned cadres” who were not new at all.

When asked about the criminal records held by members of the national executive committee, including that of Tony Yengeni and Winnie Madikezela-Mandela, Zuma said he could not be a judge on the matter, referring it to the ANC.

One member of the audience felt this was one of many instances Zuma hid behind his party.

The woman, who wished to remain anonymous, felt Zuma ”waffled a lot”.

”No, I was not impressed. He waffled a lot, what did he really say? Nothing specific. It was disappointing. He hid behind the ANC,” she said.

Another woman, also requesting anonymity, said she was positive at the end of apartheid but had since become disillusioned.

”I think Zuma was very uninspiring and boring. I don’t trust him because he is full of corruption,” she said.

”The ANC has shown that it does not want to cooperate with white South Africans. They have shut out very skilled and very excellent South Africans.”

Zuma was grilled about a variety of issues from crime to South Africa’s handling of the Zimbabwe crisis.

He conceded that crime in South Africa remained a problem and called for more ”radical laws” to tackle it.

Anne Klein, a member of a large audience — some eager, some cautious, but all listening closely to the man who could be South Africa’s next president — said she was mostly impressed with Zuma.

”He seems very intelligent and he knows what he is talking about.”

Another man attending the forum who identified himself as Rabbi Klein said the mood within the Jewish community had been ”low” of late with the power crisis and the murder of a Jewish woman in Balfour Park recently.

But he felt Zuma’s address had ”lifted spirits”, leaving people more optimistic.

”Zuma seems a lot more down to earth than Mbeki. Seeing him like this makes me feel more confident that he is in touch with the things that are going on in South Africa,” he said.

He said many Jewish people were leaving South Africa, largely because of crime.

Questioned about increasing immigration, Zuma said: ”We [South Africans] have proved we are capable of solving problems.”

He said issues which cause people to want to leave should be addressed and dealt with.

Affirmative action was another matter which needed further engagement and discussion, he said.

Questioned about how long it would be enforced for Zuma said he thought there had not been enough time to ”engage” on the matter.

He said for centuries ”people of a particular nature” were disempowered.

”How long did disempowerment take … I don’t know. How long will empowerment take … I don’t know.”

He said the question was how to handle it in a manner which did not create the perception that others were being disempowered through affirmative action.

Another listener, Cecil Kramer, was not pleased with Zuma’s speech but welcomed the answers he gave to the, at times, uncomfortable questions, posed to him.

”His speech was poor. He obviously hadn’t written it himself and he was probably seeing it for the first time.

”But his answers to the questions were good. I think he was pretty savvy. Not great, but it really wasn’t bad either. And chief rabbi was excellent,” he said.

Goldstein called on Zuma to lead ”a government of compassion”, should he emerge as South Africa’s president in the 2009 general election.

A government of compassion, he said, would realise the ”weight and responsibility” of holding the lives of 45-million South African’s in their hands. – Sapa

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