South Africa’s parliament chose Jacob Zuma as president yesterday and he immediately set boosting the economy and creating jobs as priorities.
Zuma’s election caps a political comeback after an eight-year corruption case nearly ruined him.
Aside from fighting poverty, crime and AIDS, Zuma faces the task of guiding Africa’s biggest economy, which may already be in recession, through the global financial crisis.
Zuma moved quickly to reassure foreign investors who will be watching to see if the ANC leader will steer the economy to the left, despite his assurances of policy continuity.
But he also sought to comfort trade union allies who helped him become president and may want payback in the form of more government spending.
“We must move quickly to implement the framework agreed by the government, business and labour to protect jobs and boost the economy,” Zuma said.
The charismatic former guerrilla, whose graft charges were dropped just before the April 22 poll, will be inaugurated on Saturday and will name a cabinet on Sunday at 2pm SAST.
Zuma has denied any wrongdoing and said he is the victim of a political conspiracy.
The new government is expected to keep conservative monetary and fiscal policies to cushion the impact of the global crisis.
The fate of respected Finance Minister Trevor Manuel will be closely monitored by markets who view him highly and have praised his management of the economy.
“I intend to have my cabinet assume office by the 11th of May so that we can get down to business,” Zuma said.
“I should be able to produce a team that will work very hard and with the necessary speed. We mean business when we talk about faster change.”
A spokesman for Zuma said there will be no surprises in the cabinet.
“The president won’t do anything reckless that seeks to undermine the standing and the rating that this country has had for the past 15 years,” spokesman Zizi Kodwa said.
Zuma, who portrays himself as a man of the people, may help the ANC avoid further splits after his rivalry with former President Thabo Mbeki, who the party pushed out of office.
Zuma has said he will consult widely with other ANC leaders before making any major policy decisions, an approach that may ease opposition fears that the party will not tolerate dissent and hurt South Africa’s democratic credentials.
“One of the strengths of president-elect Zuma is that he connects with people,” Mamphela Ramphele, an anti-apartheid activist and prominent South African businesswoman, told Reuters.
“I am also encouraged by him surrounding himself by people who are saying the right things.”
Critics say South Africa is effectively a one-party state because of the ANC’s dominance since the end of apartheid in 1994. The party is still widely respected for its struggle against white-minority rule so voters in the election overlooked its policy failures.
But it will come under mounting pressure to deliver on 15 years of promises to help millions of blacks still living in grim townships, who are a key part of the ANC’s support base.