Profile of the president: Msholozi and politics

By Melindah Sango

Pic by: Sean William Messham

Born on the 12 April 1942, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma spent his childhood moving between Zululand and the suburbs of Durban. Less than two decades later, in 1959, he joined the African National Congress (ANC). The banning of the ANC in 1961 did not detract him from his political involvement, as he became an active member of Umkhonto we Sizwe the following year.

In 1963, his political activity became more pronounced as he joined the South African Communist Party (SACP). In the same year, he was arrested and convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government. His sentence of ten years imprisonment was served on Robben Island, where he served with other notable ANC leaders such as Nelson Mandela.

His release was the prelude to his major contribution as a freedom fighter and, in 1975, he left South Africa for Swaziland (soon followed by Mozambique), where he helped deal with the influx of South Africans who had been exiled following the Soweto Uprising. Within two years, he had become a member of the ANC National Executive Committee, a position he held concurrently with that of the Deputy Chief Representative of the ANC in Mozambique. The latter post proved to be a stepping stone to his appointment as the Chief Representative, after the signing of the Nkomati Accord (between Mozambique and South Africa).

The removal of the ANC ban in 1990 saw Zuma’s return to South Africa. He then became involved in the negotiation process with the apartheid government, which played a part in bringing democracy to South African. In the same year, he became Chairperson of the ANC for the Southern Natal region. It was in this position that his mediation skills came to the foreground as he played a prominent role in resolving the political violence occurring between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

When he stepped aside to allow Thabo Mbeki to run for deputy president, the introduction of the ANC as the governing party in 1994 resulted in Zuma being appointed the Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) of Economic Affairs and Tourism for the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government. However, South Africa was not the only country in which Zuma invested his time. He became involved with post-genocide Rwanda, where he worked as a facilitator for the Burundi peace process with African leaders, such as the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. His esteem within the ANC and throughout the country continued to grow as he was elected Deputy President of the ANC in 1997. This was rapidly followed by his appointment to Executive Deputy President of South Africa less than two years later.

The tide turned against Zuma, as his supporters would argue, when the first round of corruption allegations, related to an arms procurement deal by the government in 1999, resulted in his being dismissed from his duties as Deputy President by then President Thabo Mbeki. Soon after corruption charges were filed against Zuma, the daughter of one of his deceased comrades laid rape charges against him. However, he was acquitted of the latter charges in what was viewed as a sweeping victory with Judge van der Merwe lambasting the complainant for lying to the court. The corruption charges were dropped earlier this month when the National Prosecuting Authority revealed that there had been serious flaws in the course of the investigation against Zuma.

Zuma is a self-proclaimed polygamist and has had at least four wives. He divorced one wife, former Foreign Affairs Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in 1999. Another of his wives, Kate Mansho, committed suicide at the end of 2000. In 2002, he paid lobola for Swazi princess, Sebentile Dlamini, whom he still has not married. In 2007, he made another lobola payment for Thobeka Stacey Mabhija, further adding to the debate about who would become Zuma’s next wife.

He has four children with Dlamini-Zuma, five with Mansho, two with Nompumelelo Ntuli (whom he married in 2008), another two with Mabhija, and last, but not least, a three-year old son with Bongi Ngema.

“In a certain kind of way, Zuma will be our first African President. Nelson Mandela transcended everything and was a world figure. Thabo Mbeki spent a lot of time in England, wearing pinstripe suits and smoking a pipe. Zuma is a real African.” These are the words of Jeremy Gordin, who authored a biography of our incoming president. Part of this view of Zuma has been attributed to the fact that he has inherent compassion, which allows him to connect with the people, especially the poor, regardless of colour, and express their concerns about crime and jobs.

Zuma has additionally stated that the ANC’s main foreign policy aim was to strengthen the role that SA played in peacemaking, reconstruction, development and integration in the world, with a main focus on Southern Africa and Africa as a continent. He asserted that the ANC “has a clear plan to fight poverty and other global ills.”

With regards to the situation in Zimbabwe, Zuma explicitly said that “We cannot agree with Zanu-PF, we cannot agree with them on values. We fought for the right of people to vote. We fought for democracy.” Zuma has been vocal on his opposition of President Robert Mugabe’s manner of ruling South Africa’s northern neighbour.

Closer to home, Zuma has affirmed that the ANC will use its mandate responsibly and would ensure it maintains direct contact with ordinary South Africans. In a bid to reassure South Africans, it has been stated that the new government will not change the conservative and fiscal policies within the economic sector, as the aim is to mitigate the impact of the global credit crunch.

President Zuma has confirmed that the government looks to rid itself of those who do not perform up to standards. “This is a time to bury uncertainty, pain and tension. We cannot afford to dwell on the negative, we have work to do,” he stated shortly before his inauguration.


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