You owe it to Mandela, Mr Zuma

It has been a brutal campaign, stretching back to the ANC’s Mafikeng conference in 1997 and beyond, but Jacob Zuma can’t spend too much time taking victory laps.

In a fortnight the ANC president will be the president of all South Africans and it is a job that comes with challenges that make the war within the ANC look like a playground squabble. If he is not yet frightened by the magnitude of unemployment, poverty and crime, and by faltering health and education systems, then he will be soon.

Many South Africans who voted this week said they were doing it for Nelson Mandela, who ushered in the dawn of a better life for all. In 2014, when Zuma’s term comes to an end, it will be 20 years since the ANC took power. He can go down as the man who betrayed Madiba’s legacy or the man who delivered his promise.

Zuma has told us that he will not be beholden to the coalition of leftists, crony capitalists and enemies of Thabo Mbeki who installed him at the top of the ANC.

He does not, he says, owe anyone anything. That is not true. He owes the millions of voters who chose him delivery on the promises of a broadly sensible election manifesto. And he owes us all a duty under the Constitution.

If he governs with that knowledge, he can be a vastly better president than Mbeki, who led as if he were guided by a higher power mysterious to everyone but him.

We will soon be able to see whether Zuma is ready to seize that opportunity; to write evidence of his leadership into the great blank that is our knowledge of his true intentions.

The first signs will be in the reshaping of Cabinet and the upper ranks of the civil service. Will he award key ministries like health, education, finance and safety and security on the basis of talent or loyalty?

Will the disastrous policy of cadre deployment, which has replicated the ANC’s internal divisions across the entire state structure and rewarded compliance over competence, be abandoned, as treasurer general Mathews Phosa has said it must? And crucially, will Zuma appoint as chief justice someone who is truly capable of leading a robust and independent judiciary?

There have been some serious warning signs already, not least in his deeply misguided remarks about a “review” of the Constitutional Court, and his cave-in to the taxi industry last week, but elections tend to change things.

We are desperately anxious for Zuma to succeed, and he is going to need help. We will provide it in the form of very close scrutiny. Civil society, state institutions and, crucially, citizens must be both watchful and determined as we enter the period that will decide whether South Africa begins to fulfil its promise or lapses into disappointment and failure.

Mr Zuma, you owe Mandela, you owe the exalted and the nameless dead, you owe all of us. Don’t let us down.

Take a bow
After four elections it is clear that the South African democratic project is entrenched. For the fourth time we lined up in snaking queues to make our cross for a better future, illustrating that South Africans believe in democracy and trust in electoral politics.

At the time of writing, it appeared that the turnout would almost reach the levels of the uhuru elections of 1994.

Developed countries count a turnout of 50% as tremendously successful—the 2009 election outstripped that figure by a significant amount.

One of the reasons for this is that our elections are very well run. The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is a fine example of a well-managed and strategically minded organisation that has pulled off yet another event-free election.

While this is not great for news, it is great for democracy. South Africans owe a deep debt of gratitude to IEC chairperson Brigalia Bam and to chief executive officer Pansy Tlakula, the two women at the helm of the fourth election. Yes, there were issues, including irregularities in Ulundi and a last-minute rush on ballot papers, but these have not blemished a well-run election.

There are several lessons to be learned from the IEC by the various beleaguered institutions that are hobbling into the Zuma administration. Among them are the National Prosecuting Authority, disabled by serial political interference, and the SABC, whose journalists have covered the election admirably but without a functioning board or a chief executive.

What has the IEC done right? For one, it has not been shy to hire the best managers and strategists: men and women who know their numbers and their technology and who show individual expertise in the technical detail of managing an election.

Most importantly, the organisation has successfully risen above party politics and interpreted its independence in often quite strict fashion. It does not countenance political pressure and, after 14 years, has achieved a rare degree of probity and credibility for a South African public institution. In this, it is like the South African Revenue Service.

In addition, the IEC’s funky registration campaigns brought the youth out to register and vote. This is very important if we are to maintain the engagement with democracy that is so vital for all our futures. The IEC should take a deep bow and a long rest once the final results are out.

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