Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
11 June 2009

Jacob Zuma the charmer, can it last?

On Tuesday I went to Parliament to listen to President Jacob Zuma’s response to the debate on his state of the nation address. Hold on to your seats, sit down, and listen: I was charmed.

When reading from his prepared speech President Zuma was  plodding and not very convincing, but when he departed from his speech and ad-libbed, he was charming and charismatic. He seems to have the ability to tell people what they want hear as if he really believes it.

More importantly, unlike that other guy who was President for nine years, he was not defensive or bitter. He looked like someone who was enjoying the moment and really believed that debate, engagement with different opinions, and listening even to those he disagreed with, was a good thing.

The contrast between the tone and content of President Zuma’s speech, and the kind of statements which have emanated from  the likes of Julius Malema, some Cosatu guys and some of Zuma’s henchmen was remarkable. Not a bad word was spoken about the opposition and all the criticism and suggestions from the opposition benches were acknowledged and dealt with in an honest and seemingly sincere manner.

Of course, words are cheap and it will be the actual choices and decisions of the new President that will determine his future.

Listening to President Zuma I could not help but wonder how he will manage to keep the ANC together in the next five years If he continues with his conciliatory tone he will surely anger the bitter hardliners and committed ideologues in his party. At some point the ANC Youth League, War Veterans or other members of the walking wounded will become restless.

The Cosatu moves in the Western Cape to try and undermine the DA government is a case in point. This kind of undemocratic action cannot be squared at all with the kinds of noises Zuma has been making. How long before Zuma angers his allies and before he is called a sell-out? And how will Zuma deal with that?

If President Zuma changes tack and angers the media and the opposition by acting in a cynical and overtly partisan manner, the narrative might just take hold that Zuma is a flip-flopper whose words are meaningless and who, therefore, cannot be taken seriously and cannot be trusted. His authority – already tenuous because of the manner in which he became President – will be seriously eroded.

One thing about that other guy – remember him? – is that although he was not the most honest person and had a serious problem with facing reality or telling the truth, he hardly ever told people stuff just because he believed that that was what they wanted to hear. Poeple dying of Aids? Well that other guy would tell people maybe Aids was an invention of the CIA. Crime bad? Well tell people it was a figment of our imagination.

Zuma seems different. Pity about the way in which he became President. Watching him it was difficult not to remember that he took a sizable amount of money from a convicted crook, then did favours for that crook. met with an arms company executive and then received money from that arms company, and produced illegally obtained evidence to get him of the charges that resulted.

Only time will tell whether we will all become so enamoured by President Zuma that we will be prepared to forgive and forget the ethical disasters of his pre-Presidential days.

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