Despite feisty election-time rhetoric, the majority of the smaller opposition parties represented in Parliament are beginning to warm to President Jacob Zuma.
Seven of 12 opposition parties the Mail & Guardian surveyed said the new president has started off well in his first 100 days in office. But the remaining parties — two of them with considerable numbers of seats — were critical.
“President Zuma’s first hundred days in office have been a real honeymoon, with style trumping substance,” said DA leader Helen Zille.
“[He] has not shown the strong and determined leadership one expects of a president, choosing rather to follow the instructions of Luthuli House. He has behaved like a deployee taking instructions, rather than an executive president.”
Still, the president’s leadership style, which is described as “accommodating” by almost all opposition parties, is one of Zuma’s greatest strengths — even for parties critical of him, such as the Congress of the People (Cope), the Azanian People’s Organisation, the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania and the United Christian Democratic Party.
Most conceded that they had moved away from the hostility they harboured before he was elected president, but said that this was because Zuma’s office needed to be respected rather than because he was doing a good job.
Zille said the DA would give credit where it was due but that the party had made it clear during its election campaign that there were “fundamental conflicts of interests when a person who refused to go to court to face more than 700 charges of corruption could be elevated to the office of the president”. She said that questionable issues do not go away “simply because Zuma is a warm and personable man”.
But Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder believed the change in attitude to Zuma might be the result of “a few surprises in some of the decisions he took”, such as Mulder’s own appointment as a deputy minister of agriculture and former DA leader Tony Leon’s as ambassador to Argentina.
While Kenneth Meshoe of the African Christian Democratic Party said Zuma’s willingness to engage and his open personality “softened” the attitudes of the opposition, Cope maintained that the party’s attitude to Zuma had not changed.
“He has been absent from the country a lot, has been absent from key political challenges such as the service delivery riots and generally can be characterised as a virtual rather than an actual president,” said Cope’s national spokesperson, Phillip Dexter.
Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille said that while Zuma was still trying to find his feet, ordinary people were growing impatient with poor service delivery.
“Our people are no longer prepared to listen to excuses,” she said. “He vacillates instead of guiding the nation.”