Rough economy threatens Zuma pledges

April 26, 2009 12:00 am

, JOHANNESBURG, Apr 26 – Jacob Zuma led his African National Congress to election victory with sweeping promises to help the nation’s poor, but will enter office with little room to manoeuvre due to a faltering economy.

The campaign promises coupled with his easy charisma have endeared Zuma to millions and delivered the ANC a 66 percent majority in last week’s elections, giving him ample political capital with 264 of the 400 seats in parliament.

That makes the 67-year-old ANC leader certain to become president when parliament convenes on May 6 to elect the head of state, with the inauguration set for three days later.

But he will have to overcome the doubts of his critics, who point to a litany of corruption allegations and verbal blunders that have made him a reviled figure for many.

"The new president of the republic will be a president for all, and he will work to unite the country," Zuma said when he declared victory late Saturday.

He quickly went on to reiterate his promises to improve public services, including an expanded social safety net, better health care, improved schools, and a stepped-up fight against the country’s staggering crime rate.

But his government will be poorly placed to splurge on major new spending, with the International Monetary Fund predicting the economy will contract by 0.3 percent this year due to falling commodity prices and lower foreign investment.

Zuma and his team will take office with the odds stacked against them to deliver on expectations of more jobs, houses and safer streets, the Sunday Times said in its editorial.

"The global and domestic economies have not been weaker in their lifetimes. Their job is to do more than their predecessors with fewer resources and a reduced of public trust and patience," said the newspaper, which predicts a radical cabinet shake-up.

Up to 300,000 job losses are predicted this year, making it even harder for government to tackle unemployment with two out of five adults already out of work.

After claiming nearly 70 percent of the vote in 2004, the ANC slipped by four percentage points last week, while the main opposition Democratic Alliance edged higher to 16 percent of the vote and the upstart Congress of the People (COPE) took 7.5 percent.

The Sunday Independent warned that the 10 million South Africans who cast ballots for the party would be right to say it had taken them for granted if visible material change was not seen.

"The time to celebrate should come to an end soon. There is no time to gloat. It is time to roll up sleeves and deliver," it said.

Voters in the Western Cape, which includes Cape Town, gave control of their province to the Democratic Alliance — the only victory by the opposition.

"This means that the ANC need to realise that they have reached the ceiling," said University of Pretoria politics lecturer Roland Henwood. "If they don’t deliver then they will lose the voters."

Zuma will also have to crack down on corruption, and ensure that he picks effective ministers for his cabinet.

"He has promised a lot and people will want him to deliver. The key lies with the choice of cabinet selection," said analyst Zamikhaya Maseti.

"If he associates himself with good people, he will be able to steer the economy out of the effects of the global financial crisis."

The Sunday newspapers speculated that Zuma will have to balance appeasing his leftist supporters and allaying jittery investors spooked by last year’s forced resignation of Thabo Mbeki as president.

Respected Finance Chief Trevor Manuel was likely to be retained but redeployed to a powerful new planning commission that will monitor government performance.

Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande is also tipped to be on the list when Zuma unveils his new team after being sworn in on May 9.



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