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Will Zuma bring tribalism to South Africa?

Zuma supporters at Ellis Park stadium in Johannesburg, 19/04
Mr Zuma is hugely popular with the ANC party faithful

By Farouk Chothia
BBC News

South Africa's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, promoted a "Rainbow Nation"; his successor Thabo Mbeki an "African Renaissance"; so what will be the overarching vision of a Jacob Zuma presidency?

He has not yet outlined one, but the initial signs are that Mr Zuma will promote a new conservatism in South Africa, digging deep into the nation's cultural and religious roots and threatening Western-styled liberal values enshrined in the constitution.

Mr Zuma's supporters showed these traits throughout his long and bitterly fought presidential campaign, offering prayers to ancestors, denouncing same-sex marriage as a "disgrace to God", promising a referendum on the death penalty, condemning political rivals as "witches" and "snakes", and defending polygamy as "African".

Of all the white groups in South Africa, it is only the Afrikaners that are truly South African
Jacob Zuma

For Mr Zuma's critics, he has mixed a deadly cocktail of religion, politics and ethnicity to quench his thirst for power.

"The genie is out. He won't be able to put it back," one critic said.

"Mbeki declared this to be the African century, but we now risk going backwards."

Without singling out anyone for criticism, a stalwart of the governing African National Congress (ANC), Zola Skweyiya, expressed a similar concern in the run-up to the party's conference in 2007.

"The demon of tribalism is rising from every corner and we ignore it at our peril," Mr Skweyiya wrote in Johannesburg's Mail & Guardian newspaper.

"We thought we would not go through what the rest of Africa has gone through, but we are just another African country. There is nothing special about us."

Not 'power-obsessed'

Mr Zuma's supporters believed that a clique from Mr Mbeki's Xhosa ethnic group was determined to hang on to power and block him from becoming the first Zulu to lead South Africa.

Jacob Zuma casts his vote
Some believe Mr Zuma will take after Nelson Mandela

Now, Mr Mbeki's allies fear that they will be purged from key state institutions as a "Zulu Mafia" takes power.

But Johannesburg-based political analyst Sipho Seepe dismisses those fears.

"Zuma is not obsessed with power. He is surrounded by people from different ethnic groups, and they are leaders in their own right," he says.

"Just look at the ANC Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe or the Treasurer General Mathews Phosa. They are not Zulus."

But there is no doubt that ethnicity is creeping into South African politics.

A pro-Mbeki faction denounced what they called the tribalism of Mr Zuma and launched a new party, the Congress of the People (Cope), to contest the election.

But Cope was soon hit by ethnic tensions of its own, with a Xhosa faction accused of orchestrating the appointment of one of their own, Bishop Mvume Dandala, as presidential candidate ahead of the Sotho-speaking party leader Mosiuoa Lekota.

Senior Cope member Mlungisi Hlongwane, who rejoined the ANC, said: "It became abundantly clear to me that the selection of the presidential candidate was a well-orchestrated tribal plan."

Just like Mbeki?

The rise in tribalism comes at a time when South Africa has been hit by xenophobic violence, and continues to be affected by racial tensions.

More recently, Mr Skweyiya said: "I feel strongly that we have not solved the national question - not just between whites and blacks but among ourselves as Africans. I know this is not a popular view but it's a fact."

Zuma is comfortable with his identity, and he has an instinctive connection with the masses - that is why he outsmarted Mbeki
Sipho Seepe
Political analyst

On the campaign trail, Mr Zuma caused dismay in some quarters when he seemed to doubt the patriotism of English-speaking whites.

"Of all the white groups in South Africa, it is only the Afrikaners that are truly South African," he said.

For Justice Malala, a columnist with the Johannesburg Sunday Times newspaper, Mr Zuma has shown the traits of his predecessor.

"This is exactly the sort of divide-and-rule tactic used by Mbeki to alienate some sections of the country," he said.

"It implies that there is a hierarchy of South Africanness: that some among us are more patriotic, more African, more deserving, than others."

But political analyst Mr Seepe argues that Mr Zuma's presidency will be similar to Mr Mandela's.

"There is no need for fear-mongering; to create the notion that a Zuma presidency will mean the end of civilisation. If you look at his speeches, he promotes nation-building; a rainbow nation," he said.

'Good listener'

Mr Seepe argues that South Africans of all racial and ethnic groups will find it easier to deal with Mr Zuma.

"Mbeki had an identity crisis. He lived in Europe [as a political exile] and he felt he had to say that he was an African and he had to show that he was fighting racism," says Mr Seepe.

"Zuma is comfortable with his identity, and he has an instinctive connection with the masses - that is why he outsmarted Mbeki, who has a Masters degree from Sussex."

In Mr Seepe's view, Mr Zuma will strive to be a "caring president for a caring nation".

"He will improve the lives of the 'great unwashed'; those whom the upper-classes look down upon," Mr Seepe says.

Mr Zuma also won the endorsement of senior ANC member and businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, who authored South Africa's democratic constitution and who was outmanoeuvred by Mr Mbeki in the battle to succeed Mr Mandela.

In an interview with Johannesburg's Sunday Times newspaper, Mr Ramaphosa said: "He [Zuma] is a team player. You are not going to see him go off on a limb. I see him more in a Mandela mode."

Mr Seepe says Mr Zuma will not display the perceived arrogance of his predecessor.

"He knows he's not educated, so he's a good listener," he says.



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