Jacob Zuma has effectively taken over the reigns of power in South Africa. This makes him the fourth post apartheid president and the third democratically elected president of what is the most industrialized country in Africa and more importantly in black Africa.
He effectively becomes one of the most recognizable black leaders. He came to power at a time when another son of Africa-a black man holds the reigns of power in the United States and hence the most powerful man on earth-Barack Obama. These two great leaders of our time, coming to power in the same period, offer a great lesson in contrasts.
Obama and Zuma will in the next few years, be the most recognizable leaders in the world and more so, the most recognizable black leaders. In the club of national leaders, Obama has already established himself as “first among equals”.
The above scenario can be seen on the kind of attention, mainly media attention he commands in the presence of more experienced leaders of other great European powers.
Zuma, one can predict will also become one of the African leaders that will always attract a lot of media attention. It is already obvious that he is going to overshadow many leaders who have been in office for decades.
The two personalities, Obama and Zuma are so different be it in style or even physical appearance.
Obama is an elitist politician, who was educated in the finest Colleges and Universities of the West. He went to Columbia and Harvard Universities. This according to some analysts, helped to burnish his image and give him credibility with many white voters in the US.
Having succeeded in entering and getting good degrees from Colombia and Harvard, he became acceptable to the white voters who for these reasons believed he would be a great leader of the “civilized” world.
After all, in their thinking, he had imbibed the best education and values that were set up by the great barons that formed the US and its prestigious institutions of higher learning. Consequently, he has received kind media coverage and even fans among western journalists.
In contrast, Zuma is a self educated man who is at ease with peasants and all the kind of people that occupy the lowest levels of society.
He was able to garner a lot of support from the majority poor, unemployed and less educated masses because he just mirrors their lives.
He lacks the elitist-out of touch tendencies of most leaders who were schooled in western liberal institutions, and had stints in the west after their education.
Thus, it is easy to see why he is not so popular with the western media establishment. In most of the news items in western media, they opt to focus on trivialities about his personality and some of his failings perceived or otherwise.
What would for example explain the fact that western media is focusing on his many wives and who among them is likely to be the first lady. Aren’t there policy issues that he and his party advanced during the campaigns?
How come such policy issues and the political platform of the ANC which he leads have not been given prominence?
The rise of such a personality like Zuma and what he personifies is most probably something the remnants of the Apartheid regime never wanted to see in their lifetime. But to most of the downtrodden masses of South Africa, this is the real Independence and many have stated thus.
For his popularity with the masses and also for coming across as the real representative of the peasants and other traditionalists, he may get into problems with western interests.
He rose to power on a platform of empowering his own people-the masses. The fate of leaders like Patrice Lumumba is instructive in this regard.
And if Zuma is not the kind of leader to cut deals with western conglomerates and multinational business interests that sustained the apartheid regime and instead prefers the economic emancipation of the poor African majority, he may be lampooned and presented in a way that makes him come across as somebody not up to the task by the media that is controlled by these interests.