Wednesday, October 1, 2008


Let’s see—where to begin. I don’t want to write too much but I’ve never seen so much happen in one week in the country of my current residence. It boggles my mind. You remember the court case against Zuma that I mentioned before?

Well, the problem is that the judge did not only rightfully (technically correct let me say) throw out the case because it was procedurally incorrect. (They were required to inform Zuma that they wanted to charge him so he could make representation. This was not done.) He went one unnecessary step further: he said he believed that the decision to recharge Zuma may have been politically influenced. Though the judge used conditional and potential words (softeners) like “appears” and “may,” the ANC (main party) took those words and ran with it. Both Mbeki and the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) say that the judges comment is untrue or “nonsense,” that Mbeki and his ministers (cabinet) did not exert undue pressure on the NPA to recharge Zuma and go after him.

But you see, people have been trying to get rid of Mbeki for awhile. Even after being here for over a year, I have difficulty finding out what specifically Mbeki did that angered his fellow ANC party members. All I can tell you is vague. During his two terms he was accused of centralizing power in his hands, being arrogant, and being aloof (perhaps intellectually elitist). The Economist says Mark Gevisser (one of his biographers) says he rewarded loyalty over competence and sidelined rivals and dissenters creating a coalition that coalesced around Mr. Zuma (trade unions and communist allies felt ignored).

So after Mbeki fired Zuma in 2005 amidst allegations of corruption and fraud when his financial advisor (Shaik) was indicted for corruption and fraud, it’s safe to say Zuma was not happy and has not been ever since. In fact that is when the anti-Mbeki faction began to grow up to this point 3 years later. They did not like Mbeki seemingly shielding Jackie Selebi who was facing corruption charges as the national police chief, and they did not like when Mbeki ran for president of the ANC against Zuma when people within the party already endorsed Zuma. So Mbeki lost that race last year in December, I believe it was.

So when the judge implied that the Mbeki administration may have meddled in the Zuma case, ANC leadership met through the night last Friday night. And in the wee hours of the morning they decided to drop Mbeki, the 2nd president of the New South Africa. It’s rather strange for someone from the US, because in the US you elect a candidate. Here we elect and vote for a party. So the party can axe politicians—governors (the heads of two states—Western Cape (where I live) and the Eastern Cape (where Haley lives)—were earlier forced to resign. It’s a different system. Here we elect a party.

So Mbeki on Sunday night gave a farewell speech to the nation. I hoped he would cry or emote in one way or another but newspapers report he was the same stoic man. Remember many people still feel that they should have let him just finish his term (elections are in April 2009). But even with most of the country in shock or joy, Mbeki did tell of the good that happened under his watch.

The economy of South Africa is doing relatively well and still improving since apartheid’s economic destruction (4.5% growth per year since apartheid). The government is running a surplus. The high unemployment (25-40%) has been decreasing sharply.

Mbeki was deputy president under Mandela, so he has been serving as deputy or president for 15 years. He does have some blemishes though. He is known internationally for his AIDS "denialism" (he questioned the link between HIV and AIDS and questioned antiretroviral efficacy). Violent crime and socioeconomic inequalities are huge problems here still today. We’re battling power cuts around the country, and people criticize his handling of negotiations with countries like Zimbabwe (he has had successful negotiations with countries in Africa).

I could say more about both, but since that Friday meeting last week and the Saturday morning decision and the Sunday official resignation, more has happened. The deputy president and 10 ministers stepped down. Trevor Manuel, who I think would be a great candidate for president (but he lives in a South Africa that has trouble electing a coloured or white person) was one of the ministers. So the rand lost value because investors (oh those investors!) thought the handling of finances would go to shambles, I’m assuming. Remember, Manuel has won international awards for his fiscal work here in South Africa. And he is respected by all peoples in the public eye.

Right at this time, my housemate, Anna received a paypal transaction for Obama beadwork from Americans. She was sad because Paypal charges a percentage fee. So on $400+ payment she lost $17 which is a lot in South African rand (our currency), but then the rand dropped in value because Manuel stepped down. So it change the amount of the $17 for her. But now Manuel and others have agreed to be reappointed under the new president though I don’t know if any will serve under Zuma. So the rand climbed again.

In the meantime, on Thursday (two days ago) Motlanthe was appointed the acting president (voted by parliament not the ANC) until the next elections next year. He may or may not reappoint Manuel. We shall see. In voting for Motlanthe all the opposition parties wanted to band together to offer a different candidate who could possibly win as acting president. Instead the DA (party of the mayor of Cape Town) decided to split from the other opposition parties and offer their own candidate, a person who did not win as head of the DA (you might think they would offer the head of the DA).

So Motlanthe won; he’s a Zuma ally and supporter.

Zuma is a populist; he says and does what the people want. He doesn’t reign in the comments of his followers (like the guy who said he and the Youth League were ready to kill for Zuma). In the sense of having his ear to the ground and listening to the everyday people, he would actually make a good president. In terms of fiscal policy or any policy I have no idea on that one. And people are scared. He has evaded charges now 4 times, I believe (there was a rape charge in 2006 for which he was acquitted). So though his followers claim the judiciary arm of the government is biased, it’s hard to see that, especially after the ruling that gave ANC top leaders enough to call a vote to recall Mbeki. It’s one of those situations where the judiciary is biased only when it acts against Zuma, I think.

So Zuma will probably become president, and I was discussing this with an American masters student holding a Rhodes Ambassadorial Scholarship at UCT (she has a two year scholarship). She was saying how EVERYONE she knows does not like Zuma. So she cannot understand where he gets his support and following. I told her I had thought about this before she ever mentioned it because I had the same experience. My conclusion is that I don’t know a great enough cross-section of South Africa; or I don’t know a representative/proportional cross-section of South Africa. I live in Cape Town which is somewhere around 19% white. So I know a LOT of white people and work with a lot of white people compared to the actual population of whites in the country (like 9%). Cape Town is also in the Western Cape which has a large coloured population of close to 50%, so I know a lot of coloured people compared to the 10% of coloureds in the nation.
And we have only 31% Blacks compared to the close to 80% in the country. Besides that, many of the 31% live outside in the townships and come in to town to work. So the people in town tend to be white and coloured and even that is segregated based on the type of neighborhood. So I think a lot of the Black people that support Zuma are not in my sphere. If they are they keep quiet in such circles such as the university or cafes or non-township churches with white people. But I suspect if I go outside these realms, I will find strong Zuma support. As yet, I have not heard one person say she supports Zuma even though I know one of his daughters.

So there we are. A lot of the people around me are angry; they are in shock; some are not that worried that Mbeki left but they don’t want Zuma to become president. Some are angry that Mbeki left and feel he should have been allowed to stay. Some young people are disillusioned and don’t want to vote for a country that doesn’t ask their opinion before ousting a president who they feel is better than the one will come in April next year. So it’s a mess. A lot of people are praying.

In all honesty, I have had a feeling only this year that it would be good for me not to be here in this country after next year. I’m not sure why but it just doesn’t feel like it’s headed in the best direction. Nonetheless, professors and lecturers say it’s good for democracy. I think people only say that when they are distanced from it. But I’m sure if you’re Mbeki your pride is hurt; perhaps you’re relieved that you can get out from the huge burden of your party disliking you and having severe enemies (I didn’t even name the ones that were at the midnight meeting) who wanted you out years ago. Mbeki is trying to appeal the part of the judgment that implicated him as interfering.

And now we jus wait. The NPA has decided to appeal the judges decision but has not filed the papers yet. If they lose the appeal they will decide whether or not to recharge him, but my understanding of how things work here (which is low—my understanding) he should be fine. I doubt Zuma will ever be convicted. If he does get indicted he will go to trial after the elections due to this judgment and the setback to the NPA. The ANC would like the charges to be dropped once and for all. And I believe in November a judge will decide in that manner if it can ever be brought up again.

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