Africa Update: Zuma On South African Progress

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For analysis of our interview with South Africa's ruling party leader, Jacob Zuma of the African National Congress, Farai Chideya talks with Emira Woods — co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

This is News & Notes, I'm Farai Chideya. We just heard from South Africa's ruling party leader Jacob Zuma of the African National Congress. For analysis we've got Emira Woods. She is co-director of foreign policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. Hey Emira.

Ms. EMIRA WOODS (Co-director of Foreign Policy, Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies): Hey Farai.

CHIDEYA: So did Jacob Zuma say anything that surprised you first of all?

Ms. WOODS: Well, he said a number of things. I think I was really surprised at his comments on the xenophobic acts in South Africa. Painting those as issues of crime and violence, I thought, just did not hit true, you know, it didn't ring true, Farai. I think clearly what was at issue in South Africa, both in the actions that were xenophobic actions and in this push for Zuma is an economic condition where people really felt that their hopes and dreams of the apartheid days have not been met. And I think there is an economic clambering for change.

Oftentimes that ends up taking some negative consequences as was the case when the foreigners were targeted, but in the case of the political change, it has brought forth a vibrant process where the ANC is now being challenged from within. And this has what brought Zuma to power. So I think downplaying, really, the economic conditions within South Africa was a bit of a surprise for me.

CHIDEYA: It sounds as if you think that the fragmentation within the party is a good thing.

Ms. WOODS: Well, I think clearly, you know, democracies are vibrant spaces where the will of the people gets expressed, and I think in South Africa you have some definite cleavages. You have a working class, you have working families, you have poor, marginalized, impoverished communities that have really so many needs for housing, for healthcare, for decent jobs, that have not been met in the years, really, since the end of the apartheid era. And I think I is those cleavages that are so stark today. And when demands from the people become at the level of political and party functioning, I think it is those demands that have to be heard, and so I do think that having differences within the party, within the South African political environment, it is, it's a good thing for democracy, and it's a good thing for the people.

CHIDEYA: How do you think he contextualized himself vis-a-vis Thabo Mbeki? He says, oh he wasn't my rival, he was my comrade, what do you make of that?

Ms. WOODS: Well I think there is this whole sense that we were all friends, you know. Mbeki, though, - Mbeki came from a different tradition, was part of the ANC, but Mbeki had this sense of the learned one, you know a scholarly one. And clearly Zuma comes from a different tradition where he was seen as a leader of the military wing of the ANC and a staunch leader of that element within the party, less scholarly, educated himself as many say.

I mean, it is a different tradition that he represents and yet I think he's trying to, you know we have the election in the U.S. where the mantra is about change, change, change, and I think for Zuma there's a tug that the mantra may be things will not necessarily change. That is both a mantra for the ANC to say we have to stay true to the principals of the ANC but also, you know, we have to be strong in spite of all the different demands within the party to keep the party united.

CHIDEYA: When you think about the corruption charges and the trial - the rape trial that he went through, what lasting marks do those leave?

Ms. WOODS: Well, I think it has not only lasting marks on Zuma and on South Africa, but in fact, on Africa as a whole. I think in this age of when HIV-AIDS crisis has gripped the world, and the pandemic has had such devastating impacts around the world, to have someone in a position of political leadership, regardless of whom they are, make comments that seem really sophomoric - seems a little bit insignificant as a way of describing it, absurd really, these comments that he made in spite of his apologies, thinking that, you know, you'll take a shower and that will protect you, when clearly the science speaks otherwise of this disease.

So I think it is really sad that those comments were made, that that behavior was condoned and I think clearly, as Zuma quite rightly said, the court of public opinion judged him and judged him poorly, but in spite of that, the ANC has put their backing towards him, and we will well see in April of 2009 a President Zuma taking hold and taking office in South Africa and representing not only the South African people but much of Africa throughout these international foray that South Africa so well placed in.

CHIDEYA: So although that election hasn't taken place yet, you sound extremely confident that he will become the president of South Africa.

Ms. WOODS: Well, Farai, you know the ANC won 67 percent of the vote last go around and I think that, you know, in spite of all of the pressures they maintain a solid hold on so much of the country because of the history of having fought, or you know, having been the liberators against the apartheid regime. And so I think there is tremendously high popular sentiment in support of the ANC, and I really think it will take time before there is a consolidation of any type of oppositional party within South Africa. I think there may well be - we see the cleavages, you know, you have the defense minister Lakota speaking out forcefully about starting another party. And you have these sentiments being expressed, but I think it will take time before any other party is able to garner the level of popular support and also the level of political machinery that the ANC currently has in South Africa.

CHIDEYA: Emira thank you so much.

Ms. WOODS: A pleasure, thank you Farai.

CHIDEYA: Emira Woods is co-director of foreign policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies and she joined us from our headquarters in Washington D.C.

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Jacob Zuma Weighs South Africa's Political Future

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Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma now leads South Africa's African National Congress, or ANC. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images

South African politics haven't been as volatile since the end of apartheid more than a decade ago.

Divisions within the country's ruling party — the African National Congress, or ANC — deepened last month when president Thabo Mbeki was ousted by party officials loyal to his rival, Jacob Zuma.

Several South African government leaders have resigned to show solidarity with Mbeki.

Zuma, in a conversation with NPR's Farai Chideya, described Mbeki as a "comrade and friend." He added, it's "important that we put the interests of the county first."

Zuma, who now leads the party, is expected to run for president. But he has been embroiled in a convoluted corruption trial.

In a wide-ranging interview, Zuma talks about where he sees the ANC and the country heading, and he responds to what he calls "media exaggeration" surrounding issues in his personal life.

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