Democracy has been tested this week in South Africa and has, so far, withstood the ordeal. The processes of the election were smooth and fair, which is itself, sadly, still a matter for congratulation on that continent. And, though they are still in their infancy, the two most significant opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the Congress of the People, made a sufficiently respectable showing to give the lie to the charge that the ruling ANC constitutes a one-party state.
But the real test is only beginning for Jacob Zuma. Not only does he inherit the country's largest budget deficit in more than a decade, and an economy in recession, but he will now bump up against the intellectual incoherence of the coalition of divergent factions, ideologies and interest groups that won him power. His trade union supporters will demand Keynesian intervention, while his backers in the ANC Youth League, which has extensive business interests, will push for a neo-liberal approach. He will be expected to produce policies for the poor and also to offer political patronage for supporters who have small ability to offer the common weal.
Having said that, Mr Zuma is a considerable political operator, as was evident from the way he headed off a Zulu civil war in the 1990s and got Thabo Mbeki ousted from the presidency. He knows which side his political bread is buttered, and the money men know that, which is why the rand yesterday rose to its strongest level against the dollar for seven months, for the markets are convinced that he is not about to change the constitution or throw economic policy into reverse.
He should confirm that now by reappointing the ANC's widely respected finance minister, Trevor Manuel, who has steered the economy through 40 consecutive quarters of growth until the end of last year. He should offer a third term to the governor of its central bank, Tito Mboweni, one of the most respected economic officials in emerging markets. He should keep the former ANC Youth League leader Fikile Mbalula and the Communist party general secretary Blade Nzimande, well away from any posts that might unsettle investors. And he should resist all temptation to reach for his infamous machine gun. Government is no place for the songs of opposition.Reuse content