Jacob Zuma has completed his first 100 days in office, days that have been marked by recession and mass strikes. But South Africa's popular and charismatic leader has shown an ability to listen to opponents and mend fences.
AFP - South Africa's Jacob Zuma has shown his common touch as a people's president in the face of violent protests and economic pressures that have deflated his ambitious election promises.
Having just completed his first 100 days in office, the charismatic leader of Africa's biggest economy has already faced anger over poor service delivery, mass strikes and the country's first recession in 17 years.
But in a marked shift from his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, Zuma has shown signs of being more willing to listen and acknowledge problems, while mending fences with critics and opposition parties.
"It is a bit of a first 100 days from hell," said political analyst Susan Booysen of Johannesburg-based Wits University.
One of the positive aspects of Zuma's government was its reassurance to citizens and stated willingness to tackle challenges instead of pretending they don't exist.
"We've seen very welcoming recognition that there is a crisis, and caution that much less is achievable," she told AFP.
"(But) I don't think they have been up front enough about the jobs situation and the poverty situation."
In the midst of an economic crisis, promises to create 500,000 jobs have proved overly ambitious and Zuma has had to tone down expectations. Some 270,000 jobs have been lost this year alone.
However Booysen said initial responses to the crisis, which comes amid massive unemployment and poverty 15 years after the fall of apartheid, had been sluggish.
"We have heard of a number of plans but we haven't seen things turned around with great effectiveness and visibility."
She warned of growing dissatisfaction with service delivery saying patience "could really, really start running thin".
While Mbeki's aloofness saw him fall in popularity, Zuma stunned residents in a shantytown this week when he made an unannounced visit, finding the mayor at home in the middle of the day.
Zuma, who frequently reiterates that his government is "of the people, by the people and for the people", warned he would not rely solely on reports from his ministers.
Speaking to journalists on Thursday the 67-year-old president said he had "gained a real understanding of the anger and frustration, having seen that they have no school, no clinic and lack many other services, including identity documents."
This was a day after his housing minister, multimillionaire Tokyo Sexwale spent a wintry night in a shack to experience residents complaints firsthand.
Political analyst Dirk Kotze of the University of South Africa said despite fears Zuma would be a puppet of his staunch leftist backers, he had shown he was not easily manipulated, and had formed an inclusive cabinet.
"Despite all the scenarios created before the election, it now seems like the new government can cope," he told AFP.
"There is a general sense of well, he is performing better than most people thought."
Zuma's path to the presidency was plagued by scandal over his polygamy, a rape charge on which he was acquitted and eight years of corruption charges which the state eventually dropped before April elections.
Kotze said Zuma has modelled himself on Nelson Mandela, going out to meet people while the hands-on work is done by his deputy and powerful planning ministers.
"It is a bit of a hands-off, delegated form of government," said Kotze, adding that his low-key stance on international issues meant South Africa was losing its prominence as a voice on the continent.
While Mbeki typically hit back at his enemies, Zuma has sought to mend fences with his, recently meeting fierce critic Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
"In my view it is a very positive sign that despite my critical voice, the president was keen to chat. This openness can only augur well for our country," Tutu said in a statement.
Date created : 2009-08-17