Martin McCauley writes: Jacob Zuma, once he is inaugurated next month as President of the Republic of South Africa, will become the most powerful politician in Africa. This follows from the fact that the country is the richest on the continent. But what will he do with this power?
Zuma is a former communist who had schooled himself in the politics, tactics and strategy of Vladimir Ilich Lenin. The founder of the Soviet state in Russia was a ruthless tactician. One of his hallmarks was the ability to change course if it suited his aims. Between 1918 and 1921 Soviet Russia attempted to leap over the capitalist phase of economic development straight into socialism. By 1921 the state was bankrupt. What did Lenin do? He reverted to a capitalist economy but kept the commanding heights (energy, mining, etc.) in public hands. It worked. The 1920s helped to revive the economy.
His death in 1924 paved the way for an even more ruthless politician, Joseph Stalin, himself schooled by Lenin. An important aspect of the politics of Lenin and Stalin was that they were totally amoral. If a policy served the interests of the party, it was given precedence. Law was the servant of the party. Party and state interests fused into one whole. The bourgeois liberal concept of the division of power between the legislature, executive and judiciary only served the class interests of the enemies of socialism.
Lenin had been ruthlessly removing everyone whom he regarded as a threat to his dominant position. Thabo Mbeki, the previous President, was the greatest threat to the progress of Zuma. Skilfully he was ousted last November.
Zuma spent years in prison honing his political tactics. He was also head of external intelligence for the African National Congress (ANC). A successful intelligence chief is someone who suspects everyone. He also has to be skilful at dissembling. Say different things to different people. When you contradict yourself backtrack. After all, a path through a jungle is not always straight.
South African politics is now entering a new phase. The ANC is moving away from the gradualist, non-tribal, multi-racial organisation it once was. Zuma is a Zulu and he follows two Xhosa Presidents. The day of the Zulu has arrived. They feel they were marginalised in the past. The days of whites exercising influence may be drawing to a close.
There are two key areas of policy: the law and the economy. Zuma may retain a Leninist view of the law: use it to achieve your policy objectives. This involves targeting your opponents. He feels that he was unjustly treated by the legal system. Charges of corruption were brought even though others were just as guilty and were not charged. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that the day of retribution for his opponents has come.
The ANC just failed to gain the 66 per cent of seats in parliament necessary to change the constitution. But then when did former President Mbeki permit the constitution to stand in his way? It was observed when it suited the President and ignored when it did not. Zuma will do the same. The same process may be observed in civil and criminal courts.
Lenin and Stalin had no interest in personal wealth but Zuma does. His first priority may be to spread wealth among his followers. Then they become beholden to him. Fall out with him and their wealth may disappear. The police and armed services need to be kept happy and that means a good standard of living.
If Trevor Manuel continues to direct the market-oriented economy, things may pan out quite well. Foreign direct investment has to continue to pour in to ensure growth. Without it tax revenue will not grow.
As a former Leninist, Zuma will attempt to be all things to all men. Economic power is the key and it will be his first priority. The poor will have to wait a while for more bread and butter. If they ever get it, that is.
All the indications are that Zumaism will change South Africa. But will it be for the better or for the worse remains to be seen.