The Zuma watershed: from post-apartheid to post-colonial politics in South Africa

12 Dec 2012

Introduction: It is common cause that the rise of Jacob Zuma in South African politics signals change; what is contested is the nature and extent of that change. For example, Zuma's champions in the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the Communist Party (SACP) describe his rise as a victory over the authoritarian Thabo Mbeki and his neo-liberal '1996 class project' (Craven 2008). Many detractors, including some on the political left as well as the right, see Zuma as heralding an African populism which shields patronage behind popular bigotry. As well as disagreeing on whether Zuma's colours are truly red or black, there is significant disagreement as to whether Zuma's ascent will herald a 'tsunami' of change, washing away apartheid's legacy, or more of an 'eddy' in the current of capitalist develop¬ment in South Africa. Hence, within the SACP are both those who see Zuma as the 'vehicle of sweeping change' and those who just 'hope and pray' that Zuma will support left policies (Pillay 2008). Similarly, amongst those who see Zuma's ascent in terms of elite rivalries some fear a corrupt and incompetent patrimonialist, while others see a wily but personable prag- matist keen to keep business confidence (Economist 25 September 2008). Who then, is the real Jacob Zuma, and what interests does he really represent? What will his leadership mean for the future of governance in South Africa, especially as regards its democratic consolidation, economic growth and development? These are the questions which occupy the authors of this special edition of Representation. I now survey some of the answers before interpreting the directional pull of their collective weight; the sum of which suggests we stand at the beginning of a new and more familiar era of postcolonial politics in South Africa.