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Articles on political and social issues in Cameroon, Africa and the world as seen by Njei Moses Timah > S African Presidency: The Zuma Era Arrives

26 Apr 2009

 Zuma the survivor fights and dances his way to the pinnacle of power in South Africa


It is certain that Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma will become the next president of South Africa following the victory of his ANC party in Wednesday’s parliamentary elections. This will be the climax of a tortuous journey which Zuma embarked upon in 1959 when he joined the African National Congress as a seventeen year old young militant. The final process of electing the next South African president will commence on May 6th when the 400-member parliament convenes. It will be more of a coronation for Jacob Zuma (the ANC candidate) whose party won with a 65.9% margin in the legislative elections of Wednesday 22 April.  It was a commendable election whose outcome was not disputed—a rare feat in today’s Africa.

Jacob Zuma is a man that was born to face challenges, endure hardship and overcome daunting obstacles. He lost his father when he was only three and had to be brought up by his mother who was a maid. This is a man whose only taste of formal education was at the primary school level but today, he can confidently communicate like any university graduate thanks to his personal effort to upgrade his educational skills even when he was in prison.

 After barely four years militating in the ANC including one year as military wing member, Zuma was arrested by the then White Minority ‘Apartheid’ regime in 1963, convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government and sent to prison at the notorious Robben Island for 10 years. It is said that during the prison years, Zuma usually employed his humorous skills and singing talents to raise the spirits of his fellow inmates who included Nelson Mandela. After his release from prison in 1973, Zuma reorganized the underground structures of the ANC in his KwaZulu-Natal constituency before heading for exile in 1975 to neighboring African countries.

Jacob Zuma spent years in exile in Swaziland, Zambia and Mozambique and engaged in anti-Apartheid clandestine activities especially within the circles of the ANC military wing ‘Umkhonto we Sizwe’. He still uses his trademark song ‘Umshini Wani’ or ‘Bring me my machine gun’ (that was employed to stir and uplift the spirit of fighters during the Apartheid years) to entertain and rouse his supporters during his various court appearances and political rallies.

He played a role in the negotiations that saw the end of Apartheid and he is widely credited for helping to bring peace to Kwazulu Natal in the early nineties- a theatre of bloody civil conflict ignited by chief Buthelezi and his Inkatha Freedom Party that cost the lives of some 10,000 people.

 Talking about court appearances, Jacob Zuma has had quite a dose of it. Following his sacking as deputy president of South Africa in 2005 in connection with the conviction for fraud and bribery of his financial adviser, Zuma has been in and out of court to fight various charges.

At one point, observers believed that legal problems would drown Zuma’s political future but the cheerful and dancing Zuma scaled one legal hurdle after another and bounced back in 2007 when he defeated the former South African president Thabo Mbeki in the contest to lead the African National Congress ANC- South Africa’s dominant political party. Even as ANC president, legal problems still followed him until weeks to the elections that have now ushered him into the coveted post of president of South Africa.

The president -to- be is an acknowledged polygamist and a controversial figure who is loved by many and loathed by not so many. The underprivileged South Africans clearly identify with him while some on the right view him with suspicion. It is difficult to predict what South Africa will be under Jacob Zuma but it is certain that he is likely to bring a touch of color, drama and humor to the presidency—a contrast to the opaque and aloof style of former president Thabo Mbeki.  

This survivor of 67 years is certainly an interesting person to watch and more so as he heads one Africa’s leading economic powerhouses.

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Njei Moses Timah