Jacob Zuma: South Africa’s charismatic, yet divisive ex-president
South Africa’s ex-president Jacob Zuma, once jailed for fighting the apartheid regime, is returning to prison, this time for contempt after handing himself in to authorities.
Charismatic and jovial, he fell from grace before the end of his second term in 2018, ousted by his own ANC party over accusations of corruption. He was replaced by the current President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Zuma – whose middle name Gedleyihlekisa means “one who laughs while grinding his enemies” – started off as a herdboy and rose to become South Africa’s fourth president.
The 79-year-old was once dubbed the “Teflon president” for his ability to evade the verdict of justice.
He walked out of a special panel investigating massive state corruption — accusing its chair, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, of bias, despite dozens of witnesses having linked him to malfeasances.
Zuma is no stranger to impropriety.
He also faces 16 charges of fraud, graft and racketeering relating to a 1999 purchase of weapons and gear from European arms firms when he was deputy president.
In 2006, he was hauled to court for the alleged rape of a colleague’s HIV-positive daughter — of which he was acquitted.
During the trial, Zuma infamously told judges he had unprotected sex with the woman and showered after intercourse to avoid catching the virus.
He succeeded Thabo Mbeki as ANC leader in 2007 and inherited a party riddled with divisions that continued to mar his presidency.
A Zuma-led ANC faction in 2009 disbanded an elite anti-corruption body set up by his predecessor, known as the Scorpions, after it began irking the president and his allies.
But his dodgy dealings caught up with him.
It was Zuma himself, under pressure over an emerging plethora of graft scandals, who set up the anti-corruption judicial inquiry shortly before his ousting.
He testified only once, in July 2019, and has since ignored several invitations to reappear.
Rise through the ranks
Born on April 12, 1942 in a rural hamlet in KwaZulu-Natal province, Zuma joined the ANC as a teenager, when the party was still underground, and rose through its ranks.
After a 10-year stint in prison at Robben Island for fighting white-minority rule, Zuma fled into exile and became the party’s feared head of intelligence.
The anti-apartheid struggle song “Umshini Wami”, Bring Me My Machine Gun, became his signature tune.
In 1999, he was elected deputy president.
A proud traditionalist, Zuma still often swaps tailored suits for traditional Zulu leopard-skin dress, taking part in ground-stomping warrior dances during ceremonies in his native village.
A teetotaller and non-smoker, he married seven times and has at least 20 children.
And Zuma’s private persona is more approachable. A TikTok video posted in May showed him dancing with some of his granddaughters.
En route to hand himself in to prison on July 7, his daughter Dudu Zuma-Sambudla tweeted that he remained in high spirits and jokingly hoped his detainers still had the same prison garb he wore at Robben Island.
He has retained a loyal network of lawmakers, officials and grassroot supporters who have continued to rally behind him despite the scandals tarnishing his reputation.
But at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in 2013, he was loudly booed by ordinary South Africans in front of world leaders.
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