Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa for nearly 100 days, got strong marks from the Financial Times on Friday. The FT, a great chronicler of African affairs, was strongly critical of Zuma in the runup to his election, essentially raising the specter of some new heart of darkness descending on South Africa because of his populist tendencies. Zuma and his friends warned that he was actually a moderate and he’s so far played to this script. Poor South Africans are impatient with his cautious approach to redistributing wealth. Yet financial markets, as the FT points out, have “applauded” his choice of anew head for the the country’s central bank. Zuma also wins plaudits from the FT for his willingness to include non-blacks in his policy initiatives. He’s even gone so far as “to persuade white emigrants to return” the country. The greater openness to white participation is welcome because his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, seemed often to demonize his white critics and racialize political disputes. In another contrast to Mbeki, who was aloof and formal, Zuma shows a passion for getting around the country. The FT gives a fascnating anecdote about about Zuma’s unannounced visit to the mayor of a troubled township, Balfour. 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,” Zuma was quoting as saying afterwards.
The true tests for Zuma’s presidency lie ahead. But his first hundred days have silenced the hysterical fears surrounding his rise to power — and set the stage for real acheivements.