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Tough times ahead as Zuma reaches defining moment

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By Iqbal Jassat

September 2010 will usher in the ANC’s National General Council and all expectations are that the Zuma presidency will regard it as a defining moment of make or break.

Amidst a wave of countrywide protests and huge outcries for better wages and more jobs, it seems impossible to imagine that only weeks ago the country was caught up in passionate euphoria over the soccer world cup.

National pride was in a state of ecstasy then. Unbelievable levels of efficiency and tight security measures characterized South Africa’s international showcase. Whether FIFA or its enigmatic Sepp Blatter was effectively at the helm of this country did not matter. What mattered was that every conceivable state function seemed to work in harmony.

News reports dominating headlines today seem to have backtracked so swiftly to the pre-WC2010 era, that many would find it unworthy of the soccer festival themed country.

Yet the harsh reality is that there cannot be any permanent escape to few fleeting moments of bliss when we as a country do indeed face tough challenges. While these may be described as socio-economic by some commentators, a fundamental challenge is that of governance.

Has the ANC lost its capacity to govern? This question is paramount for it presumes that until now it did possess it. Governance and its implied responsibility to ensure that citizens have access to health care, food and shelter along with what appears to be an interminable list of legitimate social grievances including safety and security is the buzzword.

Moipone Malefane, in her opinion piece published in the Sunday Times [August 22] under the heading “President caught between a rock and a hard place” suggests that like former president Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma is now a president under siege. Although the Durban NGC is not an elective conference and has no power to take any policy decisions, there is general consensus that it will be a litmus test for Zuma’s ambition of leading the party beyond its centenary year, 2012 says Malefane.

According to her, the left – especially Cosatu – is increasingly critical of the government and sections of the ruling party. Referring to the recent Ruth First Memorial Lecture where Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi “tore into the government for failing to develop a sustainable economic growth strategy and reduce unemployment”, she pointed out that tension between labour and government was visible. Vavi has been scathing: “Can you believe that the government only produced its industrial action plan in April 2010? All these years we have been negotiating trade deals not informed by what we want to achieve. Scandalous!” The current national discourse is thus focused on these ills and many more including the cancer of corruption. A major new row that seems to have pitted the ruling ANC against the media is due to efforts currently underway to enforce laws aimed at limiting media’s ability to report freely on government failures. Known as the Protection of Information Bill, it is designed to throw a veil over issues deemed to be “secret” and seeks to impose huge fines and jail terms for “transgressors”. Avusa’s Public Editor Thabo Leshilo correctly asserts that the proposed law and mooted state-appointed tribunal have been roundly condemned for their potential to promote secrecy in state affairs, deprive citizens of information critical to their welfare and cripple the media’s ability to play its watchdog role. Malefane is correct to predict that Durban will see a number of battles. The left pushing for tougher government and ANC stance on corruption while the nationalists – led by the ANC Youth League – will want the NGC and Zuma’s government to adopt the nationalization of mines as policy. In the meantime tattered South African flags which Leshilo describes as a metaphor for the mood in the country, having shrivelled after weeks of fluttering in the wind during the World Cup, await the same type of revival that the citizens are demanding for themselves