It’s been a week of political revelation in South Africa, as President Jacob Zuma arrived unannounced in Balfour, Mpumalanga to see first-hand the lack of service delivery which has caused riots there recently and Human Settlements (read ‘Housing’) Minister Tokyo Sexwale – the man with the best name in Government since Johannes van der Undergrunties – slept in a shack in Diepsloot.
It’s good stuff and a far cry from the distant leadership of Mbeki. It’s down-to-earth, it’s populist and hands-on.
And while that’s a welcome change, it’s important to remember two things: firstly, that we’re in no way comparing Zuma to any sort of gold standard in Mbeki and secondly, that turning up on the doorstep and talking about things is really just the start.
Echoing my thoughts on the promises of Zuma’s election campaign from July 24th last year, the only thing that should actually make people believe that Zuma and the ANC care about them is when they actually deliver on the promises they have made. And that’s yet to happen.
However, Zuma’s surprise visit has certainly struck a chord with the press. Dominic Mahlangu wrote in The Times:
That the local government was lethargic was further demonstrated to Zuma when he drove to the municipal office at about 3.30pm, only to find that the mayor, Lefty Tsotetsi, had already gone home for the day.
It remains to be seen whether Zuma will take action against Tsotetsi and the other alleged under-performers on the council. But his populist pledge to visit many other local governments and departments without warning in the coming months could keep civil servants and elected officials on their toes most of the time.
And that can only be good for South Africa.
While one of Zuma’s most vocal critics, cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro graded Zuma’s performance as almost “praiseworthy” by moving the symbolic showerhead which has plagued Zuma since his rape trial in 2006, upwards in response to his Balfour visit (note the small self-portrait in the bottom corner: “Credit where it’s due”).
This cartoon removed at the
request of Zapiro’s legal team
6000, September 2009
If he is to be taken seriously, Zuma needs to act now. A lack of action now would surely be even worse than not visiting at all: The hope, the expectancy and the promise are all there now. Sadly, I have seen too many broken promises not to be skeptical about Zuma’s motives in Balfour. It’s now nearly 4 months since he was sworn in as President and as far as I can see, nothing has really changed for the better.
Some might argue that it’s still early days, but some concrete action wouldn’t go amiss already.