He may be the most controversial figure in African politics—a skirt-chasing, self-described “Zulu Boy” shrouded by accusations of corruption and rape who marches to a catchy tune called “Bring Me My Machine Gun.”
South Africa, meet your next president.
Jacob Zuma, the 65-year-old “100 Percent Zulu Boy” and new leader of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC), has garnered the popular support of communists and young people, some of whom publicly display anti-gay and anti-feminist views.
In the most recent installment on his path to the South African presidency, one that could be mistaken for an episode of HBO’s “Big Love,” Zuma took his fourth wife over the weekend.
Zuma has an estimated 20 children by six different women. His eldest wife, Sizakele Khumao, has renounced her “first lady” status in favor of his new 33-year-old wife.
A former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is South Africa’s foreign minister and a potential political rival. Another wife killed herself in 2000.
Despite Zuma’s removal as deputy president of South Africa after fraud charges two years ago, and subsequent corruption and rape charges, the ANC announced this week that the party will support his candidacy for the national presidency.
During his rape trial, Zuma took a “short skirt” excuse, claiming it was his duty as a Zulu warrior to have sex with a woman if she wore a short kanga (an African wrap), and that he could not leave her “unfulfilled.”
Zuma told the court that he knew the woman was “clearly aroused” by the fact that her kanga was “quite short”—meaning knee-length.
“In the Zulu culture, you cannot just leave a woman if she is ready,” he explained.
According to his defense team, Zulu men have sexual primacy over women. Therefore, he could not be guilty.
“To deny her sex, that would have been tantamount to rape,” Zuma claimed.
The accusing woman, who was 31 and HIV-positive at the time of the incident, is the daughter of one of Zuma’s now-dead liberation-war comrades.
She alleged that when she went for advice in late 2005 to the home of the man she had known since childhood and had always called “uncle,” Zuma forced his 250-pound frame upon her.
During the subsequent trial, thousands of Zuma’s supporters congregated outside the courthouse, chanting “kill the bitch” and pelting the accuser with rocks as she arrived each morning. She was given police protection due to death threats.
But was Zuma, the former head of the National AIDS Council in a country where one in seven citizens are HIV-positive, and aware of the woman’s HIV-positive status, concerned about unprotected sex?
In a country where, according to human rights groups, a woman is raped every 26 seconds, Zuma was found not guilty. His accuser has been granted asylum in the Netherlands.
Zuma’s throngs of supporters, who refer to him as simply “JZ,” dismiss the rape and corruption allegations as plots masterminded by government intelligence agents to prevent his rise to power.
Zuma has also been accused of taking bribes in a defense-contract scandal for which he still faces trial, as well as charges of consorting with criminals, prostitutes and corruption.
A recent KPMG auditing report alleges that the man at the center of the defense-contract scandal, fraud convict Schabir Shaik, spent over $21 million on Zuma’s children, including allowances, cars and cash payment for a wedding.
The report also suggests that Shaik and his companies footed the bill for Zuma’s household and travel expenses.
Zuma faces 16 charges, including one charge of racketeering, two counts of corruption, one count of money laundering and 12 counts of fraud.
In his striking political comeback, Zuma, who often wears a traditional cowhide robe and Zulu shield, led his thousands of supporters Tuesday, many from the Young Communist League, in preparation to succeed Mbeki as the new ANC leader.
Zuma has signaled his intent to “Africanize” the country, and there rumors he plans to seize some white-owned South African farms.
In neighboring Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s “Africanization” land-reform policies have brought famine to his country through the seizure of white-owned farms.
Jacob Zuma—Never one to leave a lady unfulfilled.
The new African National Congress leader and would-be national president Jacob Zuma took another wife Saturday—in a Zulu tradition of polygamy that coexists uneasily with calls for gender equality in modern South Africa.
With a corruption scandal brewing around him, 65-year-old Zuma married Nompumelelo Ntuli, a 33-year-old mother of two of his children, in a low-key Zulu ceremony at his home in rural KwaZulu-Natal, according to the South African Press Association and radio.
It was reportedly at least the fourth marriage for Zuma, who keeps his private life under wraps. He is said to have more than 10 children and at least one other wife. He is divorced from South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, and another of his wives committed suicide eight years ago.
The ruling ANC—which started as a liberation movement—has pushed gender equality and women’s rights in South Africa. Many women who called in to national talk shows Friday, when news of the wedding emerged, said that Zuma’s plans to take another wife went against this.
Zulu traditions allow men to take more than one wife. But the practice is limited, due to the fact that it is costly and runs against the Western norms that are increasingly pervading society. No legislative moves have been made, however, to abolish the practice, considered part of South Africa’s cultural diversity.