South Africans Cheer Mandela, Jeer President Jacob Zuma The current South African leader was expecting to bask in the reflected glory of Nelson Mandela. But when Zuma appeared at the beloved Mandela's memorial service, he was booed at every turn. It represented the democracy Mandela championed — and the public's deep discontent with scandal-ridden Zuma.
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South Africans Cheer Mandela, Jeer President Jacob Zuma

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South Africans Cheer Mandela, Jeer President Jacob Zuma

South Africans Cheer Mandela, Jeer President Jacob Zuma

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GREG MYRE, BYLINE: It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE: And I'm Renee Montagne. Amid the eulogies and singing and cheers at Nelson Mandela's memorial service in South Africa yesterday, there was one jarring note of discord. When the country's president, Jacob Zuma, was introduced, many in the large soccer stadium booed. That came as Zuma, head of Mandela's own African National Congress Party, had apparently hoped the Mandela nostalgia might deflect from the controversies that surround him.

NPR's Greg Myre is in Johannesburg, and he joins us on the line. Good morning.

MYRE: Hi, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Tell us about that booing in the crowd for Zuma.

MYRE: Yeah, he was booed four or five times. At one point, it got so bad that they took his picture off the giant stadium screen, and they put up a still photo of Mandela. And they started playing music, they hoped this was going to drown out the booing.

Other leaders there got huge cheers. President Obama probably got the loudest round of applause. Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, a rather controversial figure, he got a warm applause. Even F.W. de Klerk, the last white president, the man who released Mandela, he received a warm cheer when his name was announced. The Star, leading newspaper in Johannesburg, had a screaming headline: Zuma's Humiliation.

MONTAGNE: Well, this all comes as there have been in recent days, calls for Zuma's impeachment. So what is behind the booing and the calls for impeachment?

MYRE: Zuma has been a controversial figure for a long time. The country is having some problems now; the economy is not doing well, unemployment is high. But the issue that is his biggest problem at the moment, is an inquiry into spending. Twenty million dollars was spent to upgrade his private home in a rural area outside Durban.

MONTAGNE: By the government, right?

MYRE: Correct. And allegedly it was done for security reasons. But, as it's been investigated, its included things like: a swimming pool, and outdoor amphitheater. And in addition, given all the other controversies, this seems to have really sort of tipped public opinion.

MONTAGNE: There is an election coming up this spring. South Africa does have a parliamentary system, so the president is not a popular vote. But even though the ANC will decide who its next president, is Zuma no longer a shoo-in for a second term?

MYRE: He's certainly hit the point where there are some questions being raised about this. And if his party, the African National Congress, chooses him to be their leader then it's expected to easily win the election. But if they decided that they don't want him, this could jeopardize his position. And there's a bit of a precedent here. The previous president, Thabo Mbeki, got into all sorts of confrontations in his own party. And in 2008, he was actually pushed out and resigned. So Zuma is no longer a lock.

MONTAGNE: Well, just finally, Greg, with the passing of Mandela - who held out so much promise to South Africans - what is the state of the country's democracy?

MYRE: I think it's important to remember that when Mandela was released, there were really no genuine democracies in Africa. South Africa really led the way. But now we've seen the African National Congress rule for 20 years. It's feeling a bit like a de facto one-party state. Nobody is denying that there is the democratic process here, but the ANC is being seen as a little complacent, a little corrupt. And Mandela set a very, very high bar.

And if you compare yourself to Nelson Mandela, you're quite likely to come out on the short end of that scale. If you're Jacob Zuma, you may feel that the only thing that you can feel is a profound sense of inferiority.

MONTAGNE: Greg, thanks very much .

MYRE: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Greg Myre, speaking to us from Johannesburg. Nelson Mandela is now lying in state in the capital, Pretoria.

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