Zuma Favored To Be South Africa's Next President The controversial leader of South Africa's African National Congress will likely become the country's next president. A polygamist who has faced rape and corruption charges, Jacob Zuma is also a populist who has widespread respect for his role in winning black rule for South Africa.

Zuma Favored To Be South Africa's Next President

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

In South Africa, the ruling African National Congress Party is widely predicted to win this week's election. And that means Jacob Zuma will likely become the country's next president. He's a man who stirs controversy. Zuma's a polygamist who's faced rape and corruption charges. But he's also a populist, and he's widely respected for his part in the battle to win black rule for South Africa.

NPR's special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault gives us an insight into the man South Africans refer to as Jay Zed.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. JACOB ZUMA (Presidential Candidate, South Africa): (Speaking foreign language).

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Jacob Zuma knows how to make a crowd-stirring entrance.

Mr. ZUMA: (Speaking foreign language)

HUNTER-GAULT: Sometimes wearing leopard skins, he also knows what turns them on, not just political rhetoric but dancing and...

(Soundbite of song, "Umshini Wam")

Mr. ZUMA: (Singing in foreign language)

HUNTER-GAULT: ...singing, especially "Umshini Wam," "Bring Me My Machine Gun," once sung by all South Africans fighting to defeat white minority rule. But Zuma has made it his own.

(Soundbite of song, "Umshini Wam")

Mr. ZUMA: (Singing in foreign language)

HUNTER-GAULT: Zuma was born 67 years ago in poverty-stricken KwaZulu-Natal and grew up without a father. He helped his mother, a domestic, by working as a cattle herder and kitchen boy. He was never formally educated.

Dali Tambo grew up hearing about men like Jacob Zuma. His father, Oliver Tambo, was the ANC's president in exile for more than two decades and acted as a mentor to Zuma. Dali Tambo remembers Zumba this way.

Mr. DALI TAMBO (Founder, Artists Against Apartheid): My mother, Adelaide Tambo, would always says this to me. He's particular in - that he's self-educated but self-educated in a situation where he was in stormy waters and is trying to swim for survival like all these other poor, rural children and yet found a political calling and directed his life towards that. Now, he's always been one of the warrior elite, if you like, of the movement.

HUNTER-GAULT: But just as he fought for his country's liberation from apartheid, including joining the ANC's armed resistance and spending a decade imprisoned on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, Zuma has had to fight for his political life.

In 2005, an HIV-positive woman accused Zuma of rape. Though acquitted, he was widely lampooned for testifying that taking a shower was his only precaution against contracting the AIDS virus.

That same year, he was tainted in a corruption case involving a French arms company seeking a multimillion dollar deal with South Africa. From then until just this month, Zuma faced various corruption charges, all of which were eventually dropped. But because of them, President Thabo Mbeki fired Zuma who, in 2005, was his deputy president.

And though the charges were dropped, they cast a shadow. Zuma maintained the charges were politically motivated as he and Mbeki fought for control of the African National Congress. And despite the court battles, Zuma won control of the ANC last December, setting the stage for his likely ascent to the presidency.

The leader of South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance Party, Helen Zille, says there is still much evidence against Zuma.

Ms. HELEN ZILLE (Presidential Candidate, Democratic Alliance Party, South Africa): There's a huge case against him with 93,000 documents. No one has ever disputed the validity of those documents or the strength of that case, and that needs to go to trial.

HUNTER-GAULT: And in a recent editorial, The Sunday Times wrote, he will assume the mantle of Nelson Mandela with suspicion stacked against him and a perception widely held that he could be bought. Critics and avowed foes will be watching for the first sign of moral turpitude.

A similar theme has been struck by COPE, an opposition political party formed in December by breakaway ANC members angered that Mbeki was fired. Its presidential candidate Mvume Dandala, who is a cleric, also argues Zuma has not cleared his name.

Mr. MVUME DANDALA (Presidential Candidate, COPE, South Africa): It is unfortunate when there are very crucial issues, issues relating to corruption and so on, that are being asked, for a person not to stop and clear those first and then come and be available to the nation.

So as far as I'm concerned, I would have been happier for Mr. Zuma to actually become president having demonstrated and proven to the South African people his innocence of the things that are being alleged against him.

HUNTER-GAULT: And Nobel laureate and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has called Zuma unfit to be president. But George Lebusa, who recently organized more than 500 church leaders to endorse the ANC manifesto and Jacob Zuma for president, says…

Mr. GEORGE LEBUSA (Kononia Bible Church): He's a person with a heart for people. He is a person who understand God.

(Soundbite of song, "Umshini Wam")

Mr. ZUMA: (Singing in foreign language)

HUNTER-GAULT: And those Christians and other voters who polls say will deliver victory to the African National Congress have no problem with Jay Zed singing "Umshini Wam," "Bring Me My Machine Gun."

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Johannesburg.

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