We know a fair amount about South Africa’s new President as a man. Jacob Zuma has six wives and 19 children, and he has been tried for rape and corruption . His party, the African National Congress, sells him as an affable consensus-builder and a champion of the dispossessed and on both counts, it’s true, he scores. But we know very little about him as a policy-maker. Zuma has consistently refused to answer questions of policy, describing himself as a cipher for his party. After he was elected President last month, that argument became a little less tenable: Zuma is, after all, the new chief executive of South Africa. So what kind of President will he prove to be? The first clues came Sunday when he announced his Cabinet. Here’s TIME’s guide to that, and to the direction South Africa may now be headed:
What’s the big news
The big news is that Trevor Manuel, finance minister since 1996, stays but in a new role, as head of a new planning commission which will act as watchdog and overseer of all government departments. This is good. Manuel is widely respected inside and outside South Africa and is credited as the man who created the conditions, before the global downturn, for South Africa’s economy to grow by close to 5% a year. Manuel has long complained that while he built government resources, other departments squandered them. Fifteen years since the end of apartheid, the big questions facing South Africa are less about how to improve race relations though divisions persist than unemployment , poverty and inequality and AIDS . Service delivery has slipped since 1994, and is the big question facing the new government. Manuel’s new role gives him the opportunity to improve the ANC’s record.
Who replaces Manuel at Finance
Pravin Gordhan, former head of South Africa’s tax authority. This is more good news. Tax compliance has long been a problem in South Africa. But Gordhan has got more people to pay more tax, raising the tax base by around 10% every year since he was appointed in 1999. He is respected by the markets and his appointment should go some way to reassuring them that Manuel’s departure won’t spell chaos.
And the bad news
Despite many hints that he wanted a to create a big tent government, Zuma apparently failed to persuade former trade union leader turned billionaire Cyril Ramaphosa to take a position. Ramaphosa is an ANC heavyweight. Many see him as the ANC President that never was . The corporate sector, which admires his accumulative skills, would have seen his inclusion as further reassurance. Still, Ramaphosa has been out of South Africa’s political scene for a long time. A cabinet position would have been something; his absence is merely more of the same.
TIME made Health Minister Barbara Hogan one of our 100 most influential people two weeks ago. In one of the more surprising moves, Hogan has been dropped from the health portfolio and moved to the less impressive public enterprises portfolio. As an AIDS activist in the country with the world’s biggest HIV/AIDs population, Hogan might have been great and a refreshing corrective to Mbeki. But she is also a person of singular conscience and criticized her own government’s decision to refuse the Dalai Lama entry to a conference in South Africa last month. Even after 15 years in power, the ANC remains a revolutionary party and doesn’t take kindly to what it perceives as indiscipline. Out went Hogan. Too bad.
What about all the dire predictions, particularly in the British press, about South Africa under Zuma becoming the new Zimbabwe
Mugabe is Zimbabwe and has been for 29 years. South Africa is far more sophisticated. It has big business, big independent media and big independent civil society. The government is only one of many determinants of South Africa’s future.
What about “Bring me My Machine Gun”
Zuma’s theme song It’s a little insensitive to have a tribal war song as your campaign anthem. But, ach, man, the Marseillaise Read those lyrics. Bar a little residual union militancy, the French turned out ok.
So, watch this space, then
Right. Zuma is still an unknown quantity. His appointments only give a small clue as to how his government will be. But keep watching. South Africa is Africa’s political and economic heavyweight. It sets the tone for much of Africa. What happens here matters and that will be especially true in the coming year.