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Zuma: from strategist to reckless gambler

Date Released: Mon, 30 July 2012 08:00 +0200

The Rhodes University Department of Political and International Studies hosted its 10th annual teach-in this week at the Barratt Lecture Theatre complex. This year the focus was on the so-called Second Transition forming the core of debate ahead of the ANC's policy conference last month.

“The metaphor usually associated with Jacob Zuma is that of a chess player; in the past he's applied the strategies of the game to both his public and private lives. Regular cabinet re-shuffles, the way he unseated Mbeki - all done to show that he is the one who controls the game and makes decisions that might only reflect results in the long scheme,” said acclaimed South African political correspondent Mandy Rossouw, who presented Monday's lecture at the teach-in.

But Rossouw changed her metaphor for Zuma from a chess player to a reckless gambler after his declaration of a Second Transition at the ANC's fourth policy conference at the end of June this year.

“Now Zuma is making rash decisions, trying to make some short-term quick winnings and has decided to simply roll with the punches,” she said. “Pitching the idea of the Second Transition was the perfect accessory for him to go to the conference and check the strength of his support. When the idea was largely rejected, he stopped claiming it as his own and shifted the burden on to the ANC.”

If anything, the Second Transition debacle exposed how divided the ideologies of the ANC are, Rossouw said. Now it's turned into an understanding that if you are in favour of the Second Transition you are for Zuma running a second term; however if you're against it, you're seen as supporting deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.

So according to Rossouw, Zuma's gamble didn't work. It failed as spectacularly as Thabo Mbeki's “African Renaissance” movement. “So is this the beginning of the end? I don't even know why I asked that, as I'm not sure of the answer myself,” Rossouw said.

“Zuma is willing to take big gambles and attempt major risks to get where he wants politically - decisions that can easily affect the people of South Africa in extremely negative ways - transitioning to a worse life for all.”

Rhodes alumna and Mail & Guardian Online deputy editor Verashni Pillay, who presided over the five Teach-in talks this week and acted as discussant, agreed with much of what Rossouw had said.

She said the Second Transition was simply a gamble by “a weak president, presenting a political document big on rhetoric yet thin on content”. She also posed the question: what does the change of policy mean for everyday South Africans and should we really allow so many political events to boil down to the question of Mangaung?

Her questions weren't addressed by the audience when the floor was opened for questions, but further queries around issues such as the role of the Intelligence Services in Zuma's campaigning, what Tokyo Sexwale is up to and whether or not Motlanthe would do a better job than Zuma were raised.

Before the lecture began, politics department head Professor Paul Bischoff had explained that the Teach-in aimed to analyse “exactly what the Second Transition means, leading up to the ANC's next elective conference this December in Mangaung”.

He said that the point of these lectures was for students to engage in the points presented by guest speakers, with ample time after each presentation for critical questioning.