Zuma is the President of the African National Congress (ANC), the governing political party, and was Deputy President of South Africa from 1999 to 2005. Zuma is also referred to by his initials JZ and his clan name Msholozi. Zuma became the President of the ANC on 18 December 2007 after defeating incumbent Thabo Mbeki at the ANC conference in Polokwane. Zuma was also a member of the South African Communist Party (SACP), briefly serving on the party’s Politburo until he left the party in 1990. On 20 September 2008, Thabo Mbeki announced his resignation after being recalled by the African National Congress‘s National Executive Committee, following a conclusion by Judge Nicholson of improper interference in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), including the prosecution of Jacob Zuma for corruption.
Zuma has faced significant legal challenges. He was charged with rape in 2005, but was acquitted. In addition, he fought a long legal battle over allegations of racketeering and corruption, resulting from his financial advisor Schabir Shaik‘s conviction for corruption and fraud. On 6 April 2009, the National Prosecuting Authority decided to drop the charges, citing political interference.
Life and career
Zuma was born in Nkandla, Zululand (now part of KwaZulu-Natal). His father was a policeman who died when Zuma was still a young boy, and his mother a domestic worker. He received no formal schooling. As a child, he was constantly moving between Zululand and the suburbs of Durban in the area of Umkhumbane (near Chesterville). He has two brothers, Michael and Joseph.
Imprisonment and ban
Zuma engaged in politics at an early age and joined the African National Congress in 1959. He became an active member of Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1962, following the banning of the ANC in 1961. He joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1963. In 1963, he was arrested with a group of 45 recruits near Zeerust in the western Transvaal, currently part of the North West Province. Convicted of conspiring to overthrow the Apartheid government which was led by white minorities, he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, which he served on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela and other notable ANC leaders who were also imprisoned there. Whilst imprisoned Zuma served as a referee for prisoners’ association football games, organised by the prisoners’ own governing body, Makana F.A.
He became a member of the ANC National Executive Committee in 1977. He also served as Deputy Chief Representative of the ANC in Mozambique, a post he occupied until the signing of the Nkomati Accord between the Mozambican and South African governments in 1984. After signing the Accord, he was appointed as Chief Representative of the ANC.
He served on the ANC’s political and military council when it was formed in the mid-1980s, and was elected to the politburo of the SACP on April 1989.
In January 1987, Zuma was again forced to leave a country, this time by the government of Mozambique. He moved to the ANC Head Office in Lusaka, Zambia, where he was appointed Head of Underground Structures and shortly thereafter Chief of the Intelligence Department. His tenure there remains the subject of considerable controversy.
Return from exile
Following the end of the ban on the ANC in February 1990, he was one of the first ANC leaders to return to South Africa to begin the process of negotiations.
In 1990, he was elected Chairperson of the ANC for the Southern Natal region, and took a leading role in fighting political violence in the region between members of the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). He was elected the Deputy Secretary General of the ANC the next year, and in January 1994, he was nominated as the ANC candidate for the Premiership of KwaZulu Natal.
The IFP, led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, put particular emphasis on Zulu pride and political power during this period. In this context, Zuma’s Zulu heritage made his role especially important in the ANC’s efforts to end the violence, to emphasise the political (rather than tribal) roots of the violence, and to win the support of Zulu people in the region.
Rise to national leadership
Zuma had experience in national leadership, as he started serving in the National Executive committee of the ANC in 1977 when the party was still a liberation movement. By the time he became its president he had served the ANC for thirty years. After the 1994 general election, with the ANC becoming a governing party but having lost KwaZulu-Natal province to the IFP, he was appointed as Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) of Economic Affairs and Tourism for the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government, after stepping aside to allow Thabo Mbeki to run unopposed for deputy presidency. In December 1994, he was elected National Chairperson of the ANC and chairperson of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, and was re-elected to the latter position in 1996. He was elected Deputy President of the ANC at the National Conference held at Mafikeng in December 1997 and consequently appointed executive Deputy President of South Africa in June 1999.
During this time, he also worked in Kampala, Uganda, as facilitator of the Burundi peace process, along with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Museveni chairs the Great Lakes Regional Initiative, a grouping of regional presidents overseeing the peace process in Burundi, where several armed Hutu groups took up arms in 1993 against a government and army dominated by the Tutsi minority that they claimed had assassinated the first president elected from the Hutu majority.
On 14 June 2005 Zuma was expelled from his post as Deputy President due to corruption and fraud related to the $5-billion weapons acquisition deal by the South African government in 1999. Zuma’s successor as Deputy President of South Africa was Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the wife of Bulelani Ngcuka. Mlambo-Ngcuka had been Minister of Minerals and Energy since 1999. While her appointment was widely welcomed by the business community, she was booed publicly at many ANC rallies by Zuma supporters between the time corruption charges had been filed but before rape charges were made with the first booing taking place in Utrecht.
Election as ANC President
In terms of party tradition, as the deputy president of the ANC, Zuma was already in line to succeed Mbeki. The party structures held their nominations conferences in October and November 2007, where Zuma appeared favourite for the post of ANC President, and, by implication, the President of South Africa in 2009. Zuma was elected President of the ANC on 18 December 2007 with 2329 votes, beating the second-term ANC and South African president Thabo Mbeki’s 1505 votes. On 28 December 2007, the National Prosecuting Authority served Zuma an indictment to stand trial in the High Court on various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud.
President of South Africa
In September 2008, the ANC ruled Thabo Mbeki unfit to rule a country, thus ending his parliamentary support and forcing his resignation from the country’s presidency. It was announced that the party’s deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe, would become president until 2009 general elections, after which Zuma would become president. He won the election on 6 May and was sworn in as president of South Africa on 9 May 2009.
Zuma is an economic leftist, who described himself as a socialist. He has received support from trade unions and from the South African Communist Party. He also received support from women’s and youth leagues of the African National Congress. According to The Guardian and The New York Times, he supports redistribution of wealth, and has allied himself with socialists and communists that seek to redistribute wealth. But The Guardian (UK) also reported that Zuma has tried “to reassure foreign investors their interests will be protected.”
Zuma became embroiled in a corruption related controversy after his financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, was charged with corruption and fraud. Bulelani Ngcuka, the national director of Public Prosecutions at the time, investigated both Zuma and the Chief Whip of the ANC, Tony Yengeni, after allegations of abuse of power were levelled against them. This concerned improper influence in the controversial arms deal, and the question of financial benefit as a result of such influence. While Yengeni was found guilty, the case was dropped against Zuma, with Ngcuka stating “…that there was prima facie evidence of corruption, but insufficient to win the case in court”. Ngcuka moved to private practice after criticism from the ANC over this incident.
In 2004, Zuma became a key figure mentioned in the Schabir Shaik trial. Schabir Shaik, a Durban businessman and his financial advisor, was questioned over bribery in the course of the purchase of Valour class frigates for the South African Navy, a proposed waterfront development in Durban, and lavish spending on Zuma’s residence in Nkandla. In the trial Shaik was shown to have solicited a bribe of R500 000 per annum for Zuma in return for Zuma’s support for the defence contractor Thomson CSF, documented in the infamous “encrypted fax”. On 2 June 2005, Shaik was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Judge Hilary Squires elaborates in detail on the numerous transactions that transpired between Zuma and Shaik, summarising with “all the accused companies were used at one time or another to pay sums of money to Jacob Zuma”. The media mis-quoted Squires with the phrase “A generally corrupt relationship” (existed between Zuma and Shaik), whereas these exact words do not appear in the court transcripts. To the defence of the originators of this phrase, the full transcript of the judgment against Shaik actually does mention Zuma 471 times, uses word “corrupt” or “corruption” 54 times, and contains 12 sentences with both the word “corrupt” and the name “Zuma”. Media sources later switched to the phrase “mutually beneficial symbiosis”, from the judgment’s paragraph 235: “It would be flying in the face of commonsense and ordinary human nature to think that he did not realise the advantages to him of continuing to enjoy Zuma’s goodwill to an even greater extent than before 1997; and even if nothing was ever said between them to establish the mutually beneficial symbiosis that the evidence shows existed, the circumstances of the commencement and the sustained continuation thereafter of these payments, can only have generated a sense of obligation in the recipient.”
After twelve days of intense media speculation about his future, President Thabo Mbeki relieved Zuma of his duties as deputy president on 14 June 2005. Mbeki told a joint sitting of parliament that “in the interest of the honourable Deputy President, the government, our young democratic system and our country, it would be best to release the honourable Jacob Zuma from his responsibilities as Deputy President of the republic and member of the cabinet.” Zuma then resigned as a Member of Parliament.
In the aftermath of the Shaik trial, Zuma was formally charged with corruption by the National Prosecuting Authority. The case was struck from the roll of the Pietermaritzburg High Court after the prosecution’s application for a postponement (petitioned in order to allow the NPA to secure admissible forms of documentation required as evidence) was dismissed. In dismissing the application for postponement the Court rendered moot the defence’s application for a permanent stay of proceedings which would prevent Zuma from being criminally prosecuted.
Zuma’s legal team continued to delay proceedings and in spite of Zuma’s claim that he desired the matter to appear in court, succeeded in making critical evidence unavailable to the court resulting in the prosecution making an application for postponement on the set date. As the prosecution was not ready the case was struck from the roll after the prosecution’s application for a postponement was dismissed, however Zuma’s legal team was unsuccessful in its attempts to have the courts grant a permanent stay of proceedings (which would have rendered Zuma immune to prosecution on the charges). This left Zuma open to being recharged with corruption as soon as the NPA completed preparing its case.
On 8 November 2007 the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the National Prosecuting Authority with respect to appeals relating to various search and seizure exercises performed by the and rejected four appeals made by Zuma’s defence team. This ruling pertained to the National Prosecuting Authority obtaining the personal diary of senior member of a French arms company, which may have provided information relating to Zuma’s possible corrupt practices during the awarding of an arms deal.
On 28 December 2007, the Scorpions served Zuma an indictment to stand trial in the High Court on various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud. A conviction and sentence to a term of imprisonment of more than 1 year would have rendered Zuma ineligible for election to the South African Parliament and consequently he would not have been eligible to serve as President of South Africa.
Charges declared unlawful
Zuma appeared in court on 4 August 2008. On 12 September 2008, Pietermaritzburg Judge Chris Nicholson held that Zuma’s corruption charges were unlawful on procedural grounds in that the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions (“NDPP”) did not give Zuma a chance to make representations before deciding to charge him (this is a requirement of the South Africa Constitution), and directed the state to pay legal costs. Nicholson also added, however that he believed political interference played a role in the decision to recharge Zuma, although he did not say this was the reason why he held that the charges brought against Zuma were unlawful. Nicholson also stressed that his ruling did not relate to Zuma’s guilt or innocence, but was merely on a procedural point. Various media reports had incorrectly reported that the charges against Zuma had been dismissed. This was not the case. It remained competent for the NDPP to recharge Zuma, however, only once he had been given an opportunity to make representations to the NDPP in respect of the NDPP’s decision to do so. In paragraph 47 of the Judgment, Judge Nicholson wrote,
The obligation to hear representations forms part of the audi alteram partem principle. What is required is that a person who may be adversely affected by a decision be given an opportunity to make representations with a view to procuring a favourable result. The affected person should usually be informed of the gist or the substance of the case, which he is to answer.
The Court held that the NDPP’s failure to follow the procedure outlined in Section 179(5)(d) of the Constitution rendered the decision by the NDPP to recharge Zuma unlawful. Judge Nicholson found that there were various inferences to be drawn from the timing of the charges levelled against Zuma (such as the fact that he was charged soon after he was elected president of the ANC) which would warrant a conclusion that there had been a degree of political interference by the Executive arm of government. Judge Nicholson writes in paragraph 210 of his judgement,
The timing of the indictment [of Zuma] by Mr Mpshe on 28 December 2007, after the President suffered a political defeat at Polokwane was most unfortunate. This factor, together with the suspension of Mr Pikoli, who was supposed to be independent and immune from executive interference, persuade me that the most plausible inference is that the baleful political influence was continuing.
In paragraph 220 of the Judgement Judge Nicholson went on to write,
There is a distressing pattern in the behaviour which I have set out above indicative of political interference, pressure or influence. It commences with the “political leadership” given by Minister Maduna to Mr Ngcuka, when he declined to prosecute the applicant, to his communications and meetings with Thint representatives and the other matters to which I have alluded. Given the rules of evidence the court is forced to accept the inference which is the least favourable to the party’s cause who had peculiar knowledge of the true facts. It is certainly more egregious than the “hint or suggestion” of political interference referred to in the Yengeni matter. It is a matter of grave concern that this process has taken place in the new South Africa given the ravages it caused under the Apartheid order.”
Prior to the hearing there had been a spate of criticism of the South African Judiciary by Zuma supporters, amongst whom were some prominent legal minds, such as Paul Ngobeni In that context, the irony was that this was the third time the South African Judiciary had found in his favour, including Zuma’s acquittal of the rape charge brought against him. The NDPP soon announced its intention to appeal the decision.
Charges reinstated on appeal
It was improper for the court to make such far-reaching “vexatious, scandalous and prejudicial” findings concerning me, to be judged and condemned on the basis of the findings in the Zuma matter. The interests of justice, in my respectful submission would demand that the matter be rectified. These adverse findings have led to my being recalled by my political party, the ANC – a request I have acceded to as a committed and loyal member of the ANC for the past 52 years. I fear that if not rectified, I might suffer further prejudice.
The judgement for the appeal was handed down on 12 January 2009 at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein. Deputy Judge President Louis Harmse had to rule on two aspects of the appeal. The first aspect was whether or not Zuma had the right to be invited to make representations to the NPA before they decided to reinstate charges of bribery and corruption against him. The second aspect was whether Judge Nicholson was correct in implying political meddling by the then President Thabo Mbeki with regards to the NPA’s decision to charge Zuma.
On the question of the NPA’s obligation to invite representations when reviewing decisions Harmse DP found that Nicholson’s interpretation of section 179 of the Constitution was incorrect in that the NPA did not have such an obligation and thus was free to have charged Zuma as it did. On the question of Nicholson’s inferences of political meddling by Mbeki, Harmse DP found that the lower court “overstepped the limits of its authority”.
On 6 April 2009, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped all charges against Zuma, as well as co-accused French arms company Thint, in light of new revelations about serious flaws in the prosecution. The revelations were in the form of intercepted phone calls showing that the head of the Scorpions, Leonard McCarthy, and the former National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, had conspired over the timing of the charges laid against Zuma, presumably to the political advantage of Zuma’s political rival, President Thabo Mbeki. The announcement of the withdrawal of charges was made by the acting head of the NPA, Mokothedi Mpshe, who however stressed that the withdrawal was due to abuse which left the legal process “tainted”, and did not amount to an acquittal.
Just before the NPA’s announcement, however, at least two political parties intimated that they would consider legal action of their own should the charges be dropped. The Democratic Alliance subsequently filed for a judicial review of the NPA’s decision, with party leader Helen Zille stating that Mpshe had “not taken a decision based in law, but [instead had] buckled to political pressure”. The case was set to be heard on 9 June 2009. Whilst Zuma filed his responses timeously, Mpshe delayed the hearing of the matter, requesting two extensions to file the NPA’s response. NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said he could not file papers because there were “outstanding matters” to be resolved. Zille, the Democratic Alliance’s party head contended that Zuma’s response was fundamentally wrong and “devoid of any constitutional basis”. Whilst the legal challenges continued, a survey showed that, as at June 2009, more than half of South Africans believed President Jacob Zuma was doing a good job. The poll, conducted by TNS Research Studies in the last half of June 2009, revealed that Zuma’s approval ratings had steadily improved. Around 57% of the people polled said they thought Zuma was a capable leader – this was up 3% from April 2009 when the president was inaugurated. In November 2008, just months after former president Thabo Mbeki was recalled and when Zuma was facing graft charges, only 36% of South Africans were positive about him.
In December 2005, Zuma was charged with raping a 31 year old woman at his home in Forest Town, Gauteng. The alleged victim was from a prominent ANC family, the daughter of a deceased struggle comrade of Zuma, and also an AIDS activist who was known to be HIV positive. Zuma denied the charges and claimed that the sex was consensual.
Even before charges were filed, as rumours about rape accusations surfaced later in November, Zuma’s political prospects began to appear to take a turn for the worse. Most of his higher-level political supporters could not respond to these new charges the way they had the corruption charges. In a hearing prior to the rape trial, a group of thousands of his supporters gathered near the courthouse, as a smaller gathering of anti-rape groups demonstrated on behalf of the alleged rape victim. As he did throughout the trial, Zuma sang Lethu Mshini Wami (Bring me my machine gun) with the crowd, and ANC Youth League and Communist Party Youth League spokesmen spoke in support of Zuma.
As the rape trial proceeded, reports surfaced that the South African Communist Party was severely divided over how to address the issue of Zuma and the SACP’s relationship to him. Many members of the party’s youth wing supported Zuma while others in the SACP were sceptical about the value of rallying behind a particular person as opposed to emphasising principles of governance.
Despite the defection of some former supporters, many Zuma supporters continued to rally outside the courthouse, arousing criticism by anti-rape groups for regular attacks on the integrity and moral standing of Zuma’s accuser, insults yelled at a close friend of the accuser, and even stones thrown at a woman that members of the crowd mistook for the accuser. Zuma’s defence team introduced evidence relating to the woman’s sexual past, and asserted that the sex that took place was consensual. The prosecution asserted that her lack of resistance was due to a state of shock, and that the relationship between the two was like that of a ‘father-daughter’ pair.
The trial also generated political controversy when Zuma, who at the time headed the National AIDS Council, admitted that he had not used a condom when having sex with the woman who now accuses him of rape, despite knowing that she was HIV-positive. He stated in court that he took a shower afterwards to “cut the risk of contracting HIV”. This statement was condemned by the judge, health experts, and AIDS activists. The popular South African comic strip, Madam & Eve, and well known political cartoonist, Zapiro, repeatedly lampooned the matter. HIV educators emphasised that this would do nothing to prevent HIV transmission.
On 8 May 2006, the court found Zuma not guilty of rape, agreeing with Zuma that the sexual act in question was consensual. Judge van der Merwe lambasted the accuser for lying to the court, but also censured Zuma for his recklessness.
As his rape trial ended, many South Africans wondered how their political system would recover from the rifts that Zuma’s trials have exposed. A Mail and Guardian analysis saw these events as especially troubling:
- The political damage is incalculable, with the ruling African National Congress now an openly divided and faltering movement. This has had a domino effect on the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which have floundered and fractured in the face of damaging charges against a man they ardently backed as the country’s next president.
- The trial has been fought against the backdrop of a bitter succession war between Mbeki and Zuma… Mbeki’s support in the ANC has crumbled, with the party faithful refusing to accept that he will anoint a leader… But even Zuma’s most diehard supporters privately acknowledge that he cannot now be president, regardless of the trial outcome.
Nonetheless, Business Day’s Karima Brown told The Guardian after the rape trial’s verdict was handed down, “Jacob Zuma is back. This poses a serious dilemma for the ANC leadership. Now Zuma is marching back into Luthuli House [the ANC party HQ]. He will demand to be reinstated as deputy president and the others will find it difficult to block him … This is a major victory for Zuma’s political career.”
The prospect of Zuma’s return as a contender for the presidency caused concern for international investors. An Independent analyst suggested, “The fear of seeing Zuma and his crowd marching to the Union Buildings wielding machine guns is unnerving mostly to the middle class and businessmen, according to recent surveys.”
Continued support after corruption charges
While serving as deputy president, Zuma enjoyed considerable support in parts of the left wing of the ANC, including many in the ANC Youth League, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). While Zuma faced corruption charges, these organisations remained supportive of him. The influence of the semi-autonomous structures within the party helped Zuma retain support even as he was removed from the deputy presidency of the country.
Zuma’s dismissal was interpreted in two ways. Many international observers hailed it as a clear sign that the South African government was dedicated to rooting out corruption within its own ranks. On the other hand, some within South Africa focused on the fact that Zuma and Mbeki represent different constituencies within the African National Congress. Some left-wing supporters claimed that Mbeki and his more market-oriented wing of the party had conspired to oust Zuma to entrench their dominance in the ANC.
Zuma’s cause rallied large crowds of supporters at each of his corruption-related court appearances in 2005. At one court date, Zuma supporters burned t-shirts with Mbeki’s picture on them, which earned the condemnation of the ANC; Zuma and his allies urged a return to party discipline for subsequent gatherings. At the next court date in November, Zuma supporters numbering in the thousands gathered to support him; he addressed the Durban crowd in Zulu, urging party unity and singing the apartheid-era struggle song Lethu Mshini Wami with lyrics that translate literally as “bring me my machine” but understood to refer to a machine gun. At an October tour for the ANC Youth League elsewhere in the country, Zuma also earned the cheers of large crowds. While his political strength is at least partly based on his relationships within intra-party politics, one analyst argued that his supporters’ loyalty could be explained as rooted in a Zulu approach to loyalty and mutual aid.
Because of his support among elements of the party, Zuma remained a powerful political figure, retaining a high position in the ANC even after his dismissal as the country’s deputy president. A panel of political analysts convened in November 2005 agreed that if he was to be found innocent of the corruption charges brought against him, it would be hard for any other potential ANC candidate to beat Zuma in the race for the country’s presidency in 2009. However, these analysts also questioned whether Zuma was indeed a left-wing candidate of the sort that many of his supporters seem to seek, and noted that the global and national economic constraints that have shaped Mbeki’s presidency would be no different in the next presidential term.