South Africa’s fourth President, Jacob Zuma, was born on 12 April 1942 at Inkandla in Zululand, part of the province of KwaZulu-Natal. The name of his brother is Ngekengithule. It was his task to look after his father’s cattle. Zuma’s father, a policeman, died at the end of World War II, and following his demise, Zuma’s mother started working as a domestic worker in Durban. He spent his childhood moving between Zululand and the suburbs of Durban. When he turned 15 he took on odd jobs to supplement his mother’s income.
Owing to his disadvantaged childhood, he did not receive any formal schooling but completed Grade 2. Heavily influenced by a trade unionist family member, he became involved in politics at an early age (17) and joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1959. At the age of 20 he became an active member of Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the nation) in 1962 after the banning of the ANC in 1960.
While on his way out of the country in 1963, he was arrested with a group of 45 recruits near Zeerust in the Northern West Province, and charged with conspiring to overthrow the government. He was found guilty on the charges, and was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, which he served on Robben Island. This, however, did not end his involvement in resisting apartheid. Following his release from Robben Island he once more became part of the struggle by assisting in the reorganisation of the internal underground ANC structures between 1973 and 1975 in the old Natal Province (KwaZulu-Natal).
In 1975 he left the country for the following 12 years to work with the exiled ANC – first in neighbouring Swaziland and then in Mozambique. Here he carried out the work of the organisation, crossing in and out of South Africa on several occasions. During these years he worked with thousands of young exiles that poured out of South Africa in the aftermath of the Soweto uprising. In 1977 he became a member of the ANC’s Executive Committee.
The South African government pressurised the Mozambican government, and in 1987 Zuma was forced to leave Mozambique. This pressure was tightened especially after the two Presidents, P W Botha and Samora Machel signed the Nkomati Accord in 1984. At the time that he had to leave Mozambique, he was a Deputy Chief Representative of the ANC. He then went to the ANC headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, and first became the Head of Underground Structures and then the Chief of the Intelligence Department. During the 80s he was a member of the ANC’s political and military council.
Subsequent to the unbanning of the ANC in February 1990, Zuma was one of the first ANC leaders to return to South Africa to set in motion the process of negotiations. He was instrumental in arranging the Groote Schuur Minute between the government of President FW de Klerk and the African National Congress, which reached significant decisions about the return of exiles, and the release of political prisoners. Zuma also played a very important role in combating violence in Natal (KwaZulu-Natal), including the Peace Accords between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) of Dr. Mangosuthu Buthelezi. The IFP is a party with predominantly Zulu-speaking support. Being a Zulu himself, he was seen as the best person to negotiate with the party and to obtain support for the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal.
At the ANC’s first National Conference held in South Africa after the unbanning of the organisation in 1991, he was elected the Deputy Secretary General of the ANC. Zuma was the ANC’s candidate for the KwaZulu-Natal premiership in 1994. He, and therefore the ANC, however lost the position to the IFP after the 1994 elections but he became a member of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) provincial government as Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) of Economic Affairs and Tourism. At this stage he was also elected National Chairperson of the ANC, and in 1997 became the organisation’s Deputy President.
At the National Conference of the ANC held at Mafikeng in December 1997, Zuma was elected Deputy President of the African National Congress, and following that he was appointed Executive Deputy President of South Africa in June 1999. It was generally accepted that he was the heir apparent to the presidency after President Mbeki steps down. In June 1998 he was divorced from his wife, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the present Minister for Foreign Affairs. During October of the same year he received the Nelson Mandela Award for Outstanding Leadership at a function held in Washington DC, USA. The award was for Zuma’s role in combating violence in KwaZulu-Natal.
In 2002 Zuma became involved in a corruption scandal when he was accused of accepting a kickback from a French arms company. The accusation caused a great deal of controversy within the ruling ANC and in South Africa in general. During August 2003 he was excused from the charges due to a lack of sufficient evidence.
Zuma’s was dismissed as Deputy President of South Africa in June 2005. He remained an important political figure and is still a very prominent Zulu-speaking politician within the ANC. He remained a role model and a leader for leftist consituencies within the ANC as well as trade unions. This loyalty of many of his supporters remained even when he faced trial for corruption charges. A charge of rape was added late in 2005. At one stage it was speculated that Zuma may be expected to resign from his position as Deputy President of the ANC.
According to ANC tradition Zuma as the deputy president was already in line to succeed Mbeki. At the ANC’s 52nd National Conference held in Polokwane 16-20 December 2007, the provincial meetings selected nominees for the party’s president. At the national convention Zuma won five of the nine provinces of South Africa, and former president Mbeki won four. The margins of victory were far greater for Zuma – he won 2,270 votes nationwide compared to 1,396 for Mbeki
Zuma as president
During September 2008, the ANC “recalled” Thabo Mbeki from the country’s presidency, and announced that the party’s deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe, would become the caretaker-president until the elections of 2009, Following the elections Zuma would become the president. On 6 April 2009, the National Prosecuting Authority decided to drop the charges citing political interference. Zuma won the election on 6 May and was sworn in as president of South Africa on 9 May 2009.
Zuma is a polygamist and has been married at least four times:
Gertrude Sizakele Khumalo
Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, a cabinet minister since 1999
Kate Mantsho, who committed suicide in December 2000
Nompumelelo Ntuli (MaNtuli)