This analysis from today's Financial Times shows how the demonstrations have effected Zuma's start as President.
A hail of stones greets the two armoured cars as they rumble past the tree trunks, concrete blocks and burning tyres that litter the main road in Thokoza, an impoverished black township a dozen or so miles south-east of Johannesburg. Policemen wearing riot helmets, their rifles primed with rounds of rubber bullets, jump out and for the next hour or so play cat and mouse with demonstrators mainly in their teens and 20s.
Most of the youths are armed with sticks, batons or sjamboks (rawhide whips) and since first light they have been out on the streets protesting against deprivation and the area’s dismal public services.
Scenes like this are becoming ever more common across South Africa as President Jacob Zuma – who on Monday completes his first 100 days in office – struggles to contain a wave of community protests and labour disputes. In the last month alone, striking municipal workers have dumped rubbish in the streets of the big cities; work on new soccer stadiums, railways and power plants stopped for a week as tens of thousands of construction workers downed tools; and wildcat action by doctors halted normal service in public hospitals.
Barely a day goes by without a protest somewhere as the poor fret at the absence of improvements promised by Mr Zuma ahead of April’s election. “It is so slow,” says Bongani Santos, 33, a member of the ruling African National Congress’s youth league in Thokoza.
“People feel dissatisfied,” says William Gumede, a Johannesburg analyst. “The election campaign whipped up expectations and increased people’s impatience. There has clearly not been a long honeymoon.”
Mr Zuma, who won a landslide victory and promised to make the fight against poverty a cornerstone of his administration, denies that the protests amount to a pattern of “national unrest”, arguing that “we should not claim these events to be more than they are”. Nevertheless, the tensions of recent weeks have begun to stain what in some ways has been a solid and optimistic beginning by his government.
In office, Mr Zuma has been more pragmatic politically than many expected. Fears that he would back the policies favoured by the leftwing allies that supported him in a long power struggle with Thabo Mbeki, Nelson Mandela’s successor as president, have proved exaggerated. Important ministerial appointments – such as the nomination of Pravin Gordhan to the Treasury and the retention in the cabinet of Trevor Manuel, formerly finance minister and now in the potentially powerful position of planning minister, have been welcomed in the private sector.
Financial markets also applauded the more recent decision to bring Gill Marcus to head the South African Reserve Bank. Ms Marcus is a former deputy both to Mr Manuel and to Tito Mboweni, the central bank’s outgoing governor, and is chair of Absa, one of the country’s biggest commercial banks. Other crucial positions have been filled quickly. For example, Mr Zuma named a new national police commissioner as soon as he was legally able to do so. The post had remained open since Mr Mbeki suspended its previous occupant early last year, an absence of leadership that did not help the fight against a high rate of violent crime.