Jacob Zuma: A 21st Century African Leader?
Austin 'Dwiggs' Mackenzie, a Chemist, an environmentalist and writer was born and bred in Lagos. He has to his credit several published articles, essays and short stories. He currently resides in Ontario, Canada. His blog.View all articles by Austin 'Dwiggs' Mackenzie
In the West however, I sense that Zuma's popularity has not won him many such admirers. Zuma has made many unflattering headlines in the months before his election as President. The media have chosen to ignore his continuously rising popularity, and instead have highlighted many of his perceived 'shortcomings'. It was no surprise that days before his inauguration, headlines in Western media ask "Who Will Be South Africa's Next First Lady?", in reference to the fact that Zuma is a polygamist.
Yes, Jacob Zuma is a complicated character, one with many well publicized problems. But to his credit, he has had to navigate routes strewn with allegations of corruption, rape and arms dealing to get to the South African Presidency. There is little doubt that his troubles will go away because of his new status. As a matter of fact, the challenge for Zuma will be to quickly make a mark for himself and address South Africa's many serious ills. Issues like the silent apathy to HIV/AIDS, poverty, corruption, an unbalanced economy, and renewed signs of xenophobia among the populace will be on Zuma's plate every day of his Presidency.
It does not seem to matter much that Zuma had been Vice President to Thabo Mbeki, his supporters see him as very different in style and priorities and have faith in his ability to lead Africa's largest economy. Zuma will no doubt use his well-oiled political machinery and an entrenched grassroots support to get most of his agenda passed.
Traditionalist or not, Zuma has to rise to the level of a Statesman to lead effectively. There can be only one Mandela, however Zuma can succeed if and only if he puts the whole country first. Like Madiba, he will have to perform a delicate balancing act with his utterances and actions. He will not be President of just the Zulu people, but of the whole Rainbow Nation, he will no longer be the persecuted one, but the decider of South Africa's future. The big question is, will Zuma succeed? So far he has proved he has the political chutzpah to do just that.