South Africa

The global media on JZ’s win – a less than lukewarm welcome

By Mandy De Waal 20 December 2012

While the applause is still ringing in his ears, the world’s media has turned its attention on the newly re-elected leader of the ANC. But they found him wanting. Like many outside Zuma’s ruling party support base, the foreign press mostly didn’t like what they saw. By MANDY DE WAAL.

In a massive marquee in Mangaung, packed full with tense anticipation, The Elexions Agency’s Dren Nupen barely had the chance to spit out the words: “Comrade Jacob Zuma received two thousand, nine hundred and eight three ballots”. The response was immediate. Rapturous applause, followed by singing, dancing and the chanting of: “JZ. JZ. JZ!” echoed through the hot Bloemfontein afternoon of Tuesday 18 November 2012.

Thousands of kilometres away from the 53rd National Elective Conference, there was a less generous response to the announcement of Zuma’s ANC win. Time, the publication that named Obama “Person of the Year” for 2012, baldly stated that for South Africa Zuma would just bring more of the same.

“It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that in re-electing the tainted Zuma and superrich Ramaphosa, the ANC has added further cement to South Africa’s central problem: the yawning divide that not only exists but has actually widened since Apartheid between the elite, now both white and ANC-connected black, and millions of poor South Africans,” penned Time’s Africa bureau chief, Alex Perry. 

Perry who is based in Cape Town, added an ominous warning: “Once, led by the ANC and others, South Africans fought such unfairness and brought down a regime. Tuesday’s elections show how the ANC is ignoring the message of this year’s protests: they could do so again.”

The UK’s Indy made Cyril Ramaphosa the hero of the president’s win story, with the headline “Billionaire waits in wings as ANC re-elects Jacob Zuma as its leader”. For the morning daily, the ruling party’s new deputy was an “Apartheid-era hero”, someone Zuma could reassuringly look to “in a bid to reassure investors that his rocky handling of sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest economy will improve.”

The most widely circulated newspaper in Washington DC put a glass-half-full spin on Msholozi’s clean sweep. The Washington Post stated that despite ethical concerns and corruption allegations, JZ’s dominating win meant that in defiance of his critics, this was a politician who had skill

Channel 4 News, the UK’s only publicly-owned, commercially-funded public service broadcaster, used the opportunity to remind readers of Zuma’s travails. “Since taking control of the ANC in 2007, Mr Zuma has been implicated in a string of controversies. Earlier this year, police killed 34 striking miners in a single day, and it emerged that approximately $27m (£17m) of taxpayers’ money had been used to renovate the president’s private home,” an online article headlined “Jacob Zuma wins landslide re-election as ANC leader” read.  

The influential Financial Times, with a readership of some 2.2-million globally, raised the issue of divisions within the ruling party, as did many international news brands that had followed the run-up to Mangaung closely enough. Describing Zuma as “a wily political operator with a popular touch”, FT’s Andrew England cautioned that “the party could depart from the congress as divided as ever”.

There’s no love lost between the ANC and local political commentator Justice Malala. Who can forget the vitriolic, ad hominem attack on the newsman-cum-political analyst by the ruling party ANC Today, with the malicious headline which declared the columnist “a disgrace to journalism”?   

Proving the pen mightier than the sword, Malala is still writing about the ANC, but his reach is bigger and much more influential now that he’s writing columns for The Guardian. The writer didn’t need to stoop to any retaliation. Instead he used well-supported opinion to fire his exacting volley. “Jacob Zuma’s landslide victory points to trouble ahead”, Malala’s column read. The Guardian op-ed stated that Zuma may have won the leadership battle, but it declared that the populist’s presence would be the ANC’s Achilles’ heel. Malala asked the question currently on many hearts and minds: “What happens now?” For the political analyst, Zuma’s win will be answered with greater ANC losses in voting booths during the 2014 elections.

The mighty New York Times described Zuma’s second in command, “tycoon” Ramaphosa, as an unlikely saviour for a party whose base was poor, as well as for “a nation where the gap between the rich and poor yawns wider than just about anywhere in the world”. The Times’ Lydia Polgreen wrote of Ramaphosa: “He sits on the board of the mining company whose 34 workers were killed in a harsh police crackdown on an illegal strike protesting low pay and miserable living conditions.” It’s a haunting connection that journalists who made the trek out to Marikana are unlikely to forget soon. Polgreen focused most of her article on Ramaphosa – a man she said was “in many respects the embodiment of the contradictions and divisions that have rived the A.N.C. in the years since Apartheid ended.”

Polgreen added that Ramaphosa’s “wealth and power since the end of Apartheid have also made him an emblem of a party that has gone from resisting a brutally oppressive government to being the dominant party in government and, increasingly, in business. Investment deals made under policies intended to encourage black ownership in the economy have made Mr. Ramaphosa a very prominent member of the new black elite that is viewed with envy and suspicion by millions of poor blacks left far behind.”

Like the work of many other respected news commentators, Polgreen’s article offered much in its subtext. It was a piece where the man who once bid millions to try and buy a prize buffalo was positioned as the tarnished trophy, with Zuma added as a mere figurehead. DM

Read more:

  • African National Congress Chooses Tycoon as the Party’s Deputy President in the New York Times
  • Zuma’s Next Battle Is Voter Trust After Winning ANC Post at Bloomberg 

Photo:  Jacob Zuma is elected President ANC. Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy. Also Baleka Mbete, Jessie Duarte and Gwede Mantashe. Mangaung, 18 December 2012. (Greg Marinovich / NewsFire)


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