As president, he will not be in a position to please his left cronies, writes ERIC NAKI

Indications are that Jacob Zuma will be the next president of the ruling party and therefore the future author of Letter from the President on the ANC's weekly online newsletter, ANC Today.

Indications are that Jacob Zuma will be the next president of the ruling party and therefore the future author of Letter from the President on the ANC's weekly online newsletter, ANC Today.

Zuma will also be authoring, mainly, the yearly ANC January 8 statement in which the party outlines its way forward for the new year.

While all is not over in terms of the ANC presidential race, and anything might happen in Limpopo including Thabo Mbeki making an unlikely comeback or reaching a compromise deal, Zuma has so far comfortably secured the prospect to lead the party.

The direction and tone that both the newsletter and the January 8 statement follow, will be an indicator of the kind of leader that Zuma will be.

In his letters, Mbeki often lambasted ANC critics and his personal detractors, but most of the time the president outlined issues of the government and the ANC.

In the latest letter, Mbeki explained the presidential pardons for political offenders and why the process is important for reconciliation.

It will be interesting to see what issues Zuma will tackle in this important forum. It will indicate whether his policies will be slanted towards socialism, though he is not a communist, and whether the Growth Employment and Redistribution (Gear) strategy will continue, be toned down or completely abandoned.

Zuma has said that the death penalty must be reviewed, apparently because of pressure from white groupings that he met as part of his presidential campaign.

Zuma has been part of the ANC policy formulations, including the implementation of what the left calls "neo-liberal" policies of the ANC. If the left perceive these policies to be wrong, they must blame Zuma, like the rest of the ANC policy makers, but if these policies are good, as many believe they are, Zuma must also be praised.

If the ANC under Mbeki applied policies that boosted the country's economic growth, but failed to create substantial job opportunities, the collective that includes Zuma are to be praised and blamed together. If Mbeki has done an excellent job on international affairs, the same collective of which Zuma is part, also deserves credit.

The emphasis is that there has never been an ideological or policy difference between Mbeki and Zuma and they have been working together in the ANC, and at the Union Buildings, to implement the party mandates. In fact, Zuma had been the defender and foreman of Mbeki's policies before the president fired him.

But Zuma's future policy direction will have a strong dose of influence from his allies - Cosatu and the SACP.

Zuma will face a huge challenge to continue applying Mbeki's successful policies on the economy and foreign relations, and trying to please his socialist allies who would have helped him to gain power.

His dilemma will be that his allies will want to hear nothing about neo-liberal policies.

Aubrey Matshiqi, political analyst at the Centre for Policy Studies, says Zuma will have his hands full.

"He will be caught between ANC policy framework, the expectations of global and domestic capital and those of the constituencies that supported his candidacy, and those who did not support him," said Matshiqi.

If he wants to sustain economic growth the way Mbeki did and at the same time please his allies, Zuma will be forced to apply current policies and mix them with Cosatu and SACP socialist thoughts, a very difficult task. Taking one direction alone, to the exclusion of the other, will not work for him.

Matshiqi warned that if Cosatu and the SACP think that Zuma will implement their policies, they must think again.

"Zuma will take the cue from the ANC, not from Cosatu and the SACP. The best that the left can do is to ensure that they have a quantitative and qualitative presence in ANC structures where they can influence policy direction. As long as they don't influence things at that level, the ANC will not adopt their policies," said Matshiqi.

He stressed that there is very little room for Zuma to deliver the needs of the left. It will be more what the ANC wants.

"The only difference is that the ANC will be more consultative under Zuma than it was under Mbeki.

"Zuma will not be a technocrat when he goes to the Union Buildings, but he will surround himself with people who know what he does not know," he said.

In the process, he may be forced to keep some of Mbeki's people and will delegate tasks to his future cabinet and officials.

"Zuma knows that if he is to succeed, he will have to rely not only on those from his camp, but also on those from the Mbeki camp," said Matshiqi.

Gleaning from Matshiqi's observation, Zuma will not be able to reverse the ANC economic gains by bowing to the demands of the left, a stance that will have him clashing with his left comrades who will see him as being another neo-capitalist.

So what Zuma writes in the "Letter from the President" or the January 8 statement will be a barometer of his future policy direction.

Adam Habib, deputy vice chancellor: research and innovation at the University of Johannesburg, agrees that Zuma's policy approach will remain the same as that of Mbeki, but the leadership style will be different.

Zuma will find it easy because Mbeki's economic policies have already changed since 2003, when talk of privatisation ended.

"It will be interesting to see if Zuma continues with the tradition to write the online newsletter.

"He may not do it, but if he does, its content may show his leadership approach," Habib said.

If Zuma promises a socialist slant but fails to deliver he will face a revolt from his friends and if he does not apply good economic policies, we are all doomed.

Let us hope that a Zuma government will not force us to say, like the Israelites , "It was better in Egypt", while we reminisce about the Mbeki days.