He is South Africa’s most embattled president, from crushing court defeats, allegations of corruption and series of impeachment attempts by the opposition and even members of his own party.
Outgoing Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, South Africa’s fourth post-Apartheid leader who was once fired as deputy president has managed two terms as leader of the ruling party and of the Rainbow nation.
He took over from Thabo Mbeki in 2009 and appointed the third president Kgalema Mothlanthe as his deputy in his first term (2009 – 2014) before he picked Cyril Ramaphosa – the new ANC leader as deputy for his second term.
Young Zuma as a freedom fighter
Born on 12 April 1942 in Nkandla, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Zuma joined the African National Congress (ANC) at the age of 17, becoming an active member of its military wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe, in 1962.
Convicted of conspiring to overthrow the apartheid government, Zuma was imprisoned for 10 years on the notorious Robben Island, alongside Nelson Mandela.
When he was freed from prison, Zuma left South Africa for Mozambique, then Zambia and rose through the ANC ranks to become a member of the executive committee.
He returned home in 1990 and was one of the ANC leaders negotiating with the white-minority government when the ban on ANC was removed.
His Zulu roots and charming personality are credit for having endeared him to South Africans throughout his long political career.
Zuma becomes ANC President
In 2007, Jacob Zuma clinched the ANC presidency at the party’s Polokwane elective conference. The position was won at the expense of the country’s president Thabo Mbeki who had fired Zuma from his position as Deputy President in 2005 after the latter was implicated in the corruption trial of his former financial advisor Schabir Shaik.
Zuma would go ahead to use his influence as ANC president to cause the recall of Thabo Mbeki as South Africa’s president. He would also contest and win the country’s presidency in 2009 after corruption charges against him were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority in the same year.
The People’s President
Following his 2009 election as president of South Africa, Zuma would face his sternest test as the nation waited on him to deliver the radical economic transformation that he had promised.
When he reassured the international community that nothing was going to change in South Africa, many of his allies that had supported him on the basis that he would change the business and environment to empower young black Africans started to jump ship.
Notably, the vocal ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema severely criticised the president’s failure to deliver on campaign promises and was subsequently expelled from the party in 2012, just a few months before the party’s Mangaung elective conference where Zuma was elected for a second term.
Fall from grace
Malema would go ahead to form the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) that have since become Zuma’s harshest and most ruthless critics.
It is the EFF that brought to the country’s attention the Nkandla scandal where Zuma was accused of using government funds to make ‘non-security’ modifications to his private residence in his native Kwa-Zulu Natal province.
The EFF took the matter to court which historically handed Zuma his biggest political defeat when it ruled that he had breached his oath of office by using government money to upgrade his private home in Nkandla. Zuma eventually repaid the money, but has struggled to regain his credibility as the country’s president.
Zuma’s presidency was to be fundamentally shaken again by the infamous ‘state capture’ scandal involving the wealthy Gupta brothers. The country’s deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas reported that the Guptas offered him the finance minister’s post weeks before the position became available.
The accusations were closely followed by leaked emails that showed the shocking influence that the Guptas had in the Zuma government and also revealed the close relations between the Zuma family and the Gupta family.
In March this year, Zuma infamously fired finance minister Pravin Gordhan and was forced to rescind his decision when the South African currency plunged in reaction to the change in the finance portfolio.
Then came the court rulings from the Supreme Court; upholding the decision to reinstate nearly 800 charges of corruption, canceling the appointment of Zuma-appointment state prosecutor Shaun Abrahams and most recently, the order to President Zuma to set up an influence peddling inquiry into the allegations of ‘state capture’.
Since the Constitutional Court indictment of the president, opposition legislators in South Africa have severally tried and failed to impeach the president over the weakened economy and undemocratic tendencies.
As South African courts continue to force the president to face legal consequences of his actions, while at the opposition lawmakers seek ways of impeaching a leader they despise, one can only wonder how much more Zuma’s ANC party can stomach before it breaks faith with one of its most trusted and powerful ‘generals’.
The ANC’s elective congress which ended on Monday (December 18) was said to be close to call as Zuma’s ex-wife and deputy chased his position.
The ANC presidential race ended in favour of South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa who beat Zuma’s preferred candidate Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former African Union Chairperson.
Ramaphosa is one of South Africa’s richest people and is seen to be a candidate who is investor friendly. He has promised to revive the economy and tackle corruption if elected president. A Ramaphosa ANC presidency might implement the dreaded recall of Zuma before polls slated for 2019 are held.
Dlamini-Zuma on the other hand was perceived by many to be sympathetic to her former husband seemed a sure and safest bet for Zuma in the matter of facing the legal consequences of his actions.
While she has did her best to distance herself from Zuma as a politically independent candidate, she pledged to deliver the rapid economic transformation to the black community, a pledge that was made and unfulfilled by President Zuma.
South Africa’s opposition are seen to be favoring a Ramaphosa win with EFF’s Julius Malema predicting that the ANC Deputy President who was anointed by Mandela as his successor will win because Dlamini-Zuma despite her strong credentials is ‘surrounded by crooks’.