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Ceridwen Dovey is a South African born novelist who now lives in New York. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Harvard in 2003, Dovey returned to South Africa to write[…]

Jacob Zuma’s rise is a frightening embodiment of the country’s class tension.

Question: What role does class play in South African society?

Dovey: I mean South Africa is a really interesting case right now, because I think politically what’s happening is that in the next couple . . . In the next __________ a new African National Congress president will be elected. And whoever becomes president of the ANC effectively becomes president of the country, because they get sort of 65 percent of the vote in any national election. And the front runner at the runner at the moment is this guy Jacob Zuma, who was Deputy President and then got fired because he . . . he was charged with both rape and corruption. He got acquitted on the rape charge, but said the more horrific, misogynistic things during the trial. And (45:44) the corruption charge has been sort of put off, and put off, and put off, and there’s some funny business going on there. But the reason he is interesting is he has massive popular support among low, low, low class South Africans who I think feel that, you know, it’s been too long now since ’94, and they’re not seeing the kind of practical, material change in their lives – houses, running water, electricity. And so there’s a kind of radicalism that’s sort of being fostered at that level. And for some reason Zuma has captured the imagination of these people, and he is now being seen as the antidote to the kind of politicians like Mbeki who is the current president; or a lot of the extreme Iraqi Black businessmen like __________ who is basically a mining magnate. So I think what’s coming to a head now in South Africa is this thing of, you know . . . What’s happened is a lot of the wealth was just sort of transferred from this __________ of elite Whites to elite Blacks, and the people on the ground saw nothing change in their lives. And so there’s a . . . there’s a kind of backlash against that, and so it’s playing out more along class lines now than it is along race lines. Race is still used as a galvanizing factor politically. So you know Zuma will often, I think, use Whites as scapegoats to sort of get people, you know, riled up. But really it’s an issue of feeling like not enough has happened to kind of change the economics of the country in a way that benefits ordinary South Africans. That makes him sound like a much better person than he is. I mean I think this is one of the things that worries me a lot at the moment. It’s like watching a train smash about to happen. And the global community doesn’t really seem to see how terrible it would be if he were to become president. I mean there’s nothing you can do, but I think if he became president South Africa would go the way of Zimbabwe within five to 10 years. I think he would do a land grab. I think he would nationalize all sorts of things. But I think he’s a leader who has absolutely no . . . no qualms about, you know, doing what is best for him. And it scares me actually a lot.

Recorded on: 12/6/07