Eye on the prize
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As the ANC heads to its next elective conference in Mangaung in December, the president has spent more time embroiled in the internal battles of his party than leading the government.
Certainly, he has his eye firmly set on the prize – a second term as ANC president and therefore as head of state. And herein lies the rub: governance, for the president, has become not about facing South Africa’s myriad socio-economic challenges but rather all about holding on to power.
Thus, he is either unable or unwilling to provide the leadership which is needed in areas such as education and the fight against corruption, though many people would recognise the importance of casting Julius Malema into the wilderness and for this at least Zuma deserves credit.
On the policy front, much of the year was spent on an unnecessary red herring debate on nationalisation, while the president remained silent on the issue. This is typical.
On economic policy, we are still no nearer to understanding the precise relationship between the Budget, the Industrial Policy Action Plan, Manuel’s Development Plan and Patel’s New Growth Path.
While this cluster of ministers each brings a wealth of experience and intellect to cabinet, the president himself has failed to take the risk of leadership.
At times that manifests as confusion as in the government’s challenging the Walmart decision or decisions on Pravin Gordhan’s youth wage subsidy idea which has been left hanging in the balance since the 2011 Budget speech.
Having said that, the 2012 Budget was a deft balancing act by Gordhan and the president and those in the economic cluster should be pleased with what has been achieved in very difficult global circumstances.
The Zuma administration has now managed to forge a coherent growth strategy based on a significant investment in infrastructure. While this is led by a presidential co-ordinating structure, it is not easy to say whether the progress is despite or, rather, because of the president himself.
The past year will also be remembered for what may well become the most defining appointment of Zuma’s first term, that of Mogoeng Mogoeng as chief justice.
Clearly unsuited for the position, Mogoeng was catapulted to the top job in controversial circumstances. The appointment of Mogoeng was made against the backdrop of criticism by the president himself of the courts and their role in a democracy.
It is also glaringly obvious that the intelligence agencies are themselves embroiled in a power struggle that appears to go to the very heart of the administration and that the president himself seems to be caught in.
Equally, the SAPS has been drawn into a political battle as the president has sought to install a junior with a dubious record.
Legislation on the role and increased mandate of the intelligence services has raised alarm and, given the bitter deliberations on the Protection of State Information Bill this year, there is every indication that President Zuma is prone to place secrecy before openness. Indeed, attacks on the constitution have been met with more presidential silence or unhelpful forays into the debate.
Again, the president’s attempts at political survival provide him with little room for him to stick out his neck on key issues that call for public clarification and reassurance. Meanwhile, the majority continue to suffer appalling levels of poverty and uneven levels of public service.
Their patience is sorely tested as the ANC’s instability – and Zuma’s apparent inability to pull things together despite his victory over Malema – threatens to encourage rather than absorb more protests and violence.
* February heads Idasa’s Political Information and Monitoring Information Service-SA and is currently a Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC, until August 2012.