Surprise, surprise, 100 days into his tenure as South Africa’s newest President, Jacob Zuma is getting high marks from the world’s leading capitalist newspaper. Like everyone else, before April’s elections the FT raised “the specter of some new heart of darkness descending on South Africa.” Now Zuma is their man. Descriptions of “… a solid and optimistic beginning by his government” and of Zuma being “pragmatic pragmatically.” Zuma’s choice of finance minister (Pravin Gordhan) and the elevation of Trevor Manuel to the powerful post of planning minister “… have been welcomed in the private sector.” And of course he has not let the demands of “left wingers” (meaning the poor majority) to do something about glaring poverty and inequality, influence him. He also gets praise for being more conciliatory towards whites and opposition parties unlike his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. The FT also has anecdotes:
One afternoon this month, the mayor of Balfour, a township badly affected by unrest, was surprised by the impromptu appearance of Mr Zuma. The mayor’s secretary was so shocked to see South Africa’s leader that she dropped her lunch on the floor – before quickly calling the mayor, who had knocked off early, back to his desk. “There is no place that will be hidden from me,” Mr Zuma said at the time. “Ministers, councillors and premiers must be prepared to see me unannounced,” he added, signalling a sharp change in style from the more distant and formal Mr Mbeki, who was ousted last September.
Anyone could have told mainstream Western media that Jacob Zuma would follow conventional rightwing economic policies. Why are they acting so surprised?
As I wrote in December 2007, when he came to power:
Zuma is often called a populist, and much is made of his association with key trade union leaders and leftists. If his public utterances were taken at face value, however, Zuma will not radically overhaul economic policy in a redistributive direction. As he recently told the BBC, “The ANC is going to move as it moves and change its leadership as the time comes, but keeping its direction – so nothing is going to change.” He has reportedly offered even more specific assurances in private to key South African and international business figures.