Former president Jacob Zuma and President Cyril Ramaphosa. File picture: Kopano Tlape/GCIS

Durban – A glance at the first 100 days in office of former state president Jacob Zuma and incumbent Cyril Ramaphosa reveals that both men experienced high levels of popularity accompanied by a sense of renewal during this time.  

There are several striking similarities. In 2009, Zuma, like Ramaphosa today, had the support of alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and influential trade union Cosatu.  

They also placed significant focus on education and jobs and both were viewed favourably as men who could “fix” South Africa’s economy because of their “new” openness, as opposed to their predecessors.

Read: Hundred days of Ramaphosa

Zuma and Ramaphosa had served in their previous governments as deputy state president and deputy African National Congress (ANC) president.

The only significant difference being that Zuma competed directly against former president Thabo Mbeki for the leadership of the ANC while Ramaphosa competed against a “Zuma proxy” in the form of former African Union Commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was once married to Zuma.

Zuma ascended to the top spot after winning the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference and Ramaphosa after winning the Nasrec conference in December 2017. However the problems remain similar; first and foremost, their victories left the governing party deeply divided.

Both men strode into broken economies. At the start of Zuma’s first term, the results of the global economic crisis were tangible, while Ramaphosa has had to deal with poor governance, policy direction and corruption – much of that corruption being blamed on Zuma and his extensive patronage networks within the ANC.

Both faced pressure from the far-left for radical policy shifts including calls for the nationalisation of mines in 2009, to land expropriation without compensation, which has now become a Ramaphosa issue.

The similarities continued. Zuma announced the Industrial Policy Action Plan, made education a number one priority, promised 500,000 new jobs in a year (the goal was not reached), ran his privately funded Jacob Zuma RDP Education Trust among other foundations and would, unannounced, walk into shanty towns, rural villages or townships visiting schools or local municipalities.

Ramaphosa, prone to taking impromptu walks in local communities, launched the Youth Employment Service to boost youth employment, the privately funded Nelson Mandela Thuma Mina Fund and dispatched a special envoy – the investment lions - to garner direct foreign investment.

In her analysis of Zuma’s first 100 days, Helen Zille, then leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) called Zuma “affable, humble and approachable” adding that the “personal tone of the presidency is open and friendly”.

She did point out however that the biggest minus about his performance was “his uneasy relationship with the Constitution and his political leadership".

Zille also pointed to concerns over Zuma’s fitness to hold office because of having faced 783 criminal charges for corruption, fraud and money laundering related to the arms deal.

A poll released in August 2009 by global market research agency TNS  (a sample of 2 000 people face-to-face) suggested that when Zuma reached the 100-day milestone, his popularity was up, having seen a “marked rise in approval levels with many formerly negative people either becoming positive or adopting a wait-and-see attitude”.

On a smaller sample (1 300 people face-to-face) the SA Citizens’ Survey (Sacs) released data in May 2018 that found 65% of respondents were favourably disposed towards Ramaphosa and that 64% thought he was doing his job “well”.

Ramaphosa, like Zuma, had seen a remarkable turnaround, with both men having faced negative approval ratings a year prior to taking office. Once ascending to the highest office, Ramaphosa experienced a significant amount of positive media coverage, earning the tagline “Ramaphoria”.

DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, said of Ramaphosa’s first 100 days that the bar was set “pitifully low” by Zuma, making it simpler for a “wave of optimism and anticipation not witnessed in our nation for the better part of a decade”.

In 2009, the Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi said Zuma’s “warm and reassuring public persona somehow seems to resonate with the nation’s deep-seated anxiety about the economy and his approach has been, largely, consensual and reconciliatory”.

The party’s chief whip, Narend Singh, commenting on Ramaphosa’s first 100 days said the president had managed to “start up some commendable projects” but it was “a shame that the euphoria at the start of his days in office is subsiding”.

“President Ramaphosa’s dancing to the tune of the Economic Freedom Fighters beating the drums on land reform, state banks and major policy proposals is worrying. It appears that the first 100 days in office marks his ability to want to be all things to all people ...” said Singh.

In 2009 Patrick Craven, then Cosatu national spokesman, and the union’s general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, were firm defenders of Zuma. While congratulating Zuma on his first 100 days in August 2009, Craven said Cosatu welcomed “the government’s transparency, and willingness to consult its alliance partners … over the cabinet and other subsequent appointments”.

In 2015, Craven resigned from Cosatu in support of Vavi, who had been expelled a day before, his anti-corruption stance causing waves with Zuma supporters.

The men now lead the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu). On Thursday evening Vavi said the union was not celebrating Ramaphosa’s first 100 days.

“Saftu is determined not to make the same mistake that Cosatu made after Zuma’s first 100 days in office …” said Vavi. The labour leader said he and other members of Saftu who supported Cosatu’s 2009 statement had “unreservedly apologised for a serious error”.

“The federation welcomed the resignation of former President Zuma, but immediately warned that the new president would not usher in a ‘new dawn’ for the working class and the poor majority of South Africans. 

“Zuma may have gone, but the African National Congress remains in power, and they cannot now pretend that he was the only problem. ANC ministers, MPs, NEC members and Cyril Ramaphosa all share responsibility for the country’s disaster. Only a handful of them raised any red flags during the nine years in which Zuma was committing all the crimes he is now being charged with.” 

“One hundred days later we have been proved right. The economic problems, which worsened over Zuma’s years in office, have become even worse,” said Vavi.  

But then again Ramaphosa has accepted the job to fix the mess and is ready to get his hands dirty as he rallies the nation around his "Thuma Mina" (send me) mantra.

African News Agency/ANA