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Reportages

Recession weighs on Zuma's first 100 days

Video by Stephen CARSTENS , Hayde FITZPATRICK , Caroline DUMAY

Text by Hayde FITZPATRICK

Latest update : 2009-08-18

Since rising to power on a wave of popular enthusiasm, South African President Jacob Zuma has been grappling with mass strikes and the country's first recession in 17 years. We take a closer look at his first 100 days in office.

South African President Jacob Zuma has had a tough first 100 days in office, leaving some to wonder whether his ambitious election promises have now come back to haunt him.

Zuma rode into office on May 9, promising to deliver on his predecessor Nelson Mandela’s dream of prosperity, hope and a new beginning for South Africa.

During his first state of the nation address in parliament, President Zuma promised his administration would create 500,000 jobs by the end of this year. “For as long as there are workers who struggle to feed their families and who battle to find work, we shall not rest and we dare not falter in our drive to eradicate poverty”, said the South African president.

But barely two months into his presidency, violent protests erupted in the country’s black townships over unemployment and a lack of basic services. During several days of unrest, police fired rubber bullets at rioters who set fire to buildings and vehicles - scenes reminiscent of the apartheid era.
 
To add to Zuma’s woes, his leftwing powerbase - labour unions - launched a wave of strikes, demanding a 15 percent wage increase. Labour unions, who had helped lift Zuma to power during the April election, have been pressing the president to implement leftist economic policies that, economists warn, could scare investors.

Some analysts believe Jacob Zuma’s first 100 days in office have been a mess of his own making: “As soon as you promise, our people take you seriously. But I can tell you ‘please deliver’, because if you don’t - we have seen the fires. And those fires will continue if we’re still making promises and we don’t deliver against those promises”, says Mbulelo Bikwani, an independent labour analyst.

Fifteen years after the end of apartheid, the unfulfilled promise of prosperity is most evident in South Africa’s townships, where the country’s black majority still live in shanty towns and grinding poverty.

Nofundile Ndleleni, 72, lives in Langa, a township outside Cape Town, and is among those who voted for the ruling African National Congress in the April election. 

 

She says she hoped that by now President Zuma and the ANC would have delivered homes with electricity and running water.  “We have been waiting 17 years for houses but nothing has happened”, says Ndleleni. “We only know about the ANC and so we voted for Zuma, but there’s been no development here. We don’t know what to do anymore. We’re beginning to lose hope,” she adds.

Opposition parties offered mixed assessments of Zuma’s first 100 days. “He has been affable, humble and approachable. The personal tone of his presidency is open and friendly”, said Hellen Zille, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance and one of Zuma’s fiercest critics.
 
However, Zille said Zuma had failed to stem government corruption during the country’s worst recession. Speaking to South African media, Patricia De Lille from the Independent Democrats also praised the president’s “warm leadership” but warned it would be difficult for him to “pull off a balancing act during this difficult economic period between the ANC’s election promises and actual delivery of those promises”. 

Date created : 2009-08-17

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