February 10, 2010 / 11:32 PM / 10 years ago

Back-to-the-wall Zuma seeks South Africa's support

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - For South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, mired in yet another sex scandal, Thursday’s address to the nation on the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release, is more likely to be a bid to claw back credibility.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma speaks during the African Union (AU) summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, February 2, 2010. REUTERS/Irada Humbatova

Revelations that the polygamous president fathered a love-child with the unmarried daughter of a close friend have drawn fire from allies and enemies alike, and jeopardized his chances of running for a second term in 2014.

The scandal knocks what had been a positive start to his five-year term, with a survey conducted in November showing 77 percent of the population were happy with his performance.

But the imbroglio makes it even less likely that South Africans will take seriously the 67-year-old’s anticipated talk of the need to tackle AIDS and poverty that still blight many black communities 16 years after the end of apartheid.

“It will be yet another set of promises trying to inspire South Africans and saying government is on track to deal with the issues,” said Prince Mashele, executive director of the Center for Politics and Research.

“But to be honest he is a collective embarrassment to the nation,” he said. “South Africans will see him as a naked president.”

Although there have been no opinion polls since the scandal over the four-month-old girl broke two weeks ago, some African National Congress (ANC) bigwigs are privately sharpening the knives for a president they accuse of damaging the ruling party.

“He is becoming too much of a liability,” a member of the ANC’s national executive committee, who did not want to be named, told Reuters this week. “Polygamy and promiscuity is not the same thing.”

PRESSURE FROM POOR

Riots in a township near Johannesburg this week have drawn attention to the plight of millions of blacks who still live in vast shanty towns with inadequate sanitation, electricity and water.

Furthermore, up to a quarter of the country’s 50 million people are unemployed — a statistic that appalls the ANC’s union and communist allies.

Zuma has shown few signs of heeding calls for a more leftist economic policy despite the loss of nearly a million jobs in the recession that hit last year. Nine months into his presidency, he is unlikely to change that broadly centrist stance.

“I don’t think business people with an economic interest in South Africa should lose any sleep over macro-economic policy changes. There won’t be any in this speech,” said Center for the Study of Democracy Director Steven Friedman.

Collins Chabane, the Minister in the presidency responsible for Monitoring and Evaluation, told reporters Zuma will announce measures which the cabinet thinks are needed to help the economy recover.

“The address will look at how we most effectively support an accelerated recovery, and beyond that, sustained growth over the medium to long term,” Chabane said.

Zuma is also likely to discuss efforts to combat notoriously high levels of crime as South Africa counts down to the kick off of the 2010 World Cup in June.

He will also have to explain if power utility Eskom will be able to meet electricity demand and whether tariffs should be hiked.

The 91-year-old Mandela, who was released after 27 years in apartheid jails 20 years ago to the day, will make a rare public appearance at the speech.

Additional reporting by Peroshni Govender; Editing by Giles Elgood

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