Would-be South African leader Jacob Zuma has harsh words for Kenya, Nigeria

Sunday, January 27, 2008

DAVOS, Switzerland -- Jacob Zuma, who survived rape and corruption charges to become the president-in-waiting of South Africa, has harsh words for Kenya and Nigeria, where recent elections were marred by alleged fraud, violence and disputed results.

"What has happened in Kenya I think is absolutely not right," Zuma said Saturday in an interview. "It does not help to advance the case for the African continent." Of last year's Nigerian election, won by the governing party and condemned by observers as deeply flawed, he said: "It's not a good example if you've got the kind of infrastructure or method that allowed that kind of thing."

He also said he was hopeful for a fair election in Zimbabwe -- where on Friday President Robert Mugabe set national elections for March 29 despite opposition calls for more time to prepare and reform -- and promised to continue South Africa's efforts to mediate between Mugabe and the opposition.

That is Zuma at Davos: a man trying to project stability and seriousness and dissolve concerns about his readiness to govern a country that is looked to by millions on the troubled continent for leadership.

It is that special role that magnifies the concerns about Zuma.

This week Zuma was one of the most sought-after figures at the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in this Swiss resort -- an engaging and enigmatic would-be president.

But can the mantle of the widely revered Nelson Mandela, the first post-apartheid president, really pass to a man who only a few months ago was acquitted of rape charges?

The first corruption charges against Zuma were thrown out of court in 2005.

Soon after, he went on trial for rape, accused by the HIV-positive daughter of a family friend. Zuma argued the encounter was consensual and was acquitted, but not before he made damaging comments that led many to question his judgment -- including that he believed taking a shower after the sex would reduce the risk of AIDS.

Zuma plans to change little but stress education and more equality. That may disappoint some of his more leftist supporters.

"If anything the current policies will be deepened. We will try to work hard to ensure that we continue the trajectory of economic growth in South Africa."

Zuma said the country's rampant crime and corrosive income gaps could not be resolved "overnight."

"You are dealing with a situation where the bulk of the population was deliberately deprived education [under apartheid]. If you're talking about unemployment today the bigger percentage of it is unemployable and therefore that is a breeding ground" for crime.

He also said he would follow Mbeki's tolerant policy toward Zimbabwe, where Mugabe has presided over political repression and an economic meltdown.

South Africa cannot "instruct Mugabe" or "abuse" its economic leverage, Zuma said. Rather, he said, South Africa is quietly mediating a dialogue between the Zimbabwean government and opposition which has "taken us very far" without necessarily talking about it in public.

Overall, Zuma said, despite the turmoil "Africa has made a lot of progress."

"There's been a debate about the culture of good governance [and] democracy," he said. African nations have taken a "very firm position that no military takeover will ever be supported. ... Even the economy is beginning to pick up broadly speaking, not fast enough.

"I'm more confident that Africa in the next two decades or so will be a different kind of place."

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