Wednesday, January 7, 2009

10 Names to Learn: Jacob Zuma

First off, apologies for not getting this up last night...I am house hunting and often away from my computer. However, I'm hoping that will be the last interruption in the "10 Names" series.
The fall of South Africa's apartheid regime was one of the greatest victories for human freedom in recent history. Nelson Mandela and his African National Congress (ANC) party secured the rights of millions of oppressed people, and for that they were rewarded with massive electoral success in the post-apartheid era. However, even the best-intentioned movements have their downsides, and power has a way of revealing those weaknesses. In this particular, the ANC has become so dominant in government that, despite being a full democracy, South Africa's political power is almost totally concentrated within that party. Now that's not necessarily bad...if people didn't like the ANC, they wouldn't give them such huge majorities. And for the most part, Mandela and his successor Thabo Mbeki seemed democratically minded. However, the situation also lends itself to potential disaster should the wrong people end up in charge of the ANC - which brings us to Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, who was elected to head the ANC last year and will almost undoubtedly become his country's president in 2009.

As opposed to the smiling Mandela and the strait-laced Mbeki, Zuma's demeanor reminds one more of the "classic" African does his his personal and political history. On the political front, his base of support lies in the Left Wing factions of the already leftist ANC - in the party's Youth League, the South African Communist Party, and in the trade unions. He also has been previously charged with corruption (in 2005 - charges dismissed on procedural grounds in 2008) and tried for rape (2005-2006 - found not guilty). Now, I realize that the man was not convicted, but the fact that he has been in court so many times in the last few years seems like a red flag.

The most worrying thing, however, is probably how Zuma's supporters within the ANC have behaved since ousting his rival, President Thabo Mbeki, from the ANC Chairmanship. Rather than let Mbeki finish his presidential term in peace before ceding the ANC nomination to Zuma in 2009, the new Zuma-friendly ANC National Executive Commission voted to "recall" Mbeki from the Presidency last September . This non confidence cause Mbeki to resign and cede the last year of his term to a new caretaker president until Zuma wins election. In my opinion, the dethroning of Mbeki was low, classless, and apparently without purpose.

So, with a guy like Zuma now in charge of the ANC, South Africa faces a defining moment in it's history. Will it keep the ANC as the single major party, allowing Zuma and his successors to continue their antics, or will they continue on the path of democracy? The answer to this question will probably emerge only after Zuma takes office, as the various wings of the ANC will have to decide how long they can stomach him before they splinter off. In the meantime, we can wonder whether South Africa will continue its political development, or whether it will follow "The Strongman" as he marches toward Third World Authoritarianism.

And finally, an interesting sidenote: If elected, I believe that Mr. Zuma would be the first open polygamist to head a major modern democracy...he currently has three wives and thee fiancees according to Wikipedia (along with one ex-wife and another wife who committed suicide).
Stay tuned as we move from South Africa to Northern Europe to meet "The Enigma". And if you think this list is finished with South Africa, think's one of three countries to score multiple entries on "10 Names".

*Photo in licensed under Creative Commons on Wikipedia

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