Zuma Raises Hope in U.S. New President Promises Policy of Cooperation on Political, Economic Fronts

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 7, 2009 | Go to article overview

Zuma Raises Hope in U.S. New President Promises Policy of Cooperation on Political, Economic Fronts


Byline: Gus Constantine, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

With the election of Jacob Zuma as the fourth president of South Africa under majority rule, U.S. government officials and private investors hope for a new era, which can be summed up in one word - pragmatism.

Unlike the iconic Nelson Mandela and the intellectually aloof Thabo Mbeki, Mr. Zuma, for all his working-class ties and populist exhortations, shows every sign of wanting to work with the United States both politically and economically for the mutual benefit of both nations.

Mr. Zuma was formally elected president by the South African Parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday. He won 277 votes in the 400-member National Assembly. Rival candidate Mvume Dandala, from the Congress of the People Party, won 47 votes.

Mr. Zuma's African National Congress (ANC) party won 65.9 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections last month. He will be inaugurated Saturday and name his Cabinet on Sunday.

I hope to lead the country on a path of friendship, cooperation, harmony, unity and faster change, the Associated Press quoted Mr. Zuma as saying after his election Wednesday.

We mean business when we talk about faster change, Mr. Zuma said, adding that his immediate priority was to limit the fallout from the global economic crisis, which has pushed the South African unemployment rate to 23.5 percent.

Mr. Zuma, 67, succeeds Kgalema Motlanthe, who took over last fall in the wake of Mr. Mbeki's ouster by the ANC, the country's dominant party.

In October, Mr. Zuma traveled to the United States, where he met with top officials and offered reassurances to American investors that he, like Mr. Mbeki, has a decidedly free-market policy.

We are confident that our policies are very strong, he told the Council on Foreign Relations.

The reassurances were welcomed by Americans worried that Mr. Zuma, a labor leader and defender of workers' rights, could tilt the economic equilibrium against business.

After the ANC's decisive victory in last month's parliamentary elections, the State Department issued an official statement that the United States looks forward to a continued productive engagement with South Africa.

To win the strong support that Mr. Zuma seeks, he will have to govern as a pragmatist, not as an ideologue, said Abiodun Williams, vice president of the Center for Conflict Analysis and Prevention at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Stephen Hayes, president of the Corporate Council on Africa, contacted while traveling in London, said investors remain generally positive on South Africa.

While President Zuma will have a number of pressures on him from his traditional backers in the labor movement, he realizes that he cannot afford to make radical changes in the economy, he said.

Mr. Hayes said he expects Mr. Zuma to retain respected Finance Minister Trevor Manuel in his Cabinet to reassure South African business and international investors.

Herman J. Cohen, a former State Department official who specializes in African affairs, does not foresee any drastic change in South Africa's policies.

Investors do not expect the new South African president to change the basic macroeconomic structure of the already developed nation, he said.

Last week, however, Mr. Zuma proclaimed at a meeting of trade unionists that his administration would work to improve the rights of South African workers.

He also offered reassurances to the now marginalized Afrikaner community.

Of all the white groups that are in South Africa, it is only the Afrikaners that are truly South Africans in the true sense of the word, Mr. …

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