South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma

(April 12, 1942 - )

ANC leader and Deputy President of South Africa


Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma was born on 12 April 1942 in Inkandla in what was then known as Zululand. His middle name was part of a sentence his father constructed – “Ngeke ngithule umuntu engigedla engihlekisa”, which means “I can’t keep quiet when someone pretends to love me with a deceitful smile.” The last part of the sentence was given to Zuma as a name, while the first part became the name of his brother, Ngekengithule.

It was Jacob’s task to look after his father’s cattle. After his father died in the Second World War, his mother went to work in Durban as a domestic worker. At 15 Zuma himself started helping his mother financially by doing odd jobs. He never received any formal education, but became involved in politics at 17, when he joined the African National Congress (ANC). Three years later, in 1962, he became an active member of the new military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Siswe (MK). In 1963 he was arrested and charged with conspiring to overthrow the government. He was found guilty, and sent to Robben Island to serve a 10-year prison sentence. This did not end his involvement in resisting apartheid, however. When he was released, he once again became part of the struggle by helping to reorganise the internal underground ANC structures in the Natal Province. In 1975 he left the country for 12 years to work with the exiled ANC first in Swaziland and then Mozambique. In 1977 he became a member of the ANC’s Executive Committee.

In 1987 he was forced to leave Mozambique after the South African government pressurised the Mozambican government. Ever since the two governments signed the Nkomati Accord in 1984, he was one of the few ANC representatives who had remained in Mozambique, as Chief Representative of the ANC.

He went to the ANC headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia, and first became the Head of Underground Structures and then the Chief of the Intelligence Department. In the 1980s he was a member of the ANC’s political and military council.

In 1990 the ANC was unbanned, and Zuma returned to South Africa to take part in the negotiations toward democracy. He also played a very important part in fighting violence in Natal, including the Peace Accords between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a party with predominantly Zulu-speaking support. A Zulu himself, he was seen as the ideal person to negotiate with the IFP and to get support for the ANC in Natal.

In 1991, at the first ANC National Conference in South Africa after the organisation’s unbanning, Zuma was elected Deputy Secretary General of the ANC. He was the ANC’s candidate for the KwaZulu-Natal premiership in 1994, a position that the ANC however lost to the IFP after the 1994 elections. He did become a member of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) government as Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) of Economic Affairs and Tourism. At the same time he was elected National Chairperson of the ANC, and in 1997 he became the organisation’s Deputy President.

In October 1998 he received the Nelson Mandela Award for Outstanding Leadership in Washington DC, USA, for his role in fighting violence in KwaZulu-Natal. He became South African Executive Deputy President in President Thabo Mbeki’s government in 1999.

In 2002 Zuma became embroiled in a corruption scandal when he was accused of accepting a bribe from a French arms company. This accusation caused a great deal of controversy within the ANC and in South Africa. In August 2003 he was excused from the charges, however, due to a lack of sufficient evidence.


Sources:

http://www.anc.org.za/people/zumaj.html - complete profile and positions held

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/africa/371853.stm - a BBC News biography

http://www.anc.org.za/people/zuma.html - Saturday Argus article: ‘Enigmatic Zuma - 'man of bravery and of narrow escapes'’.

Links:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2744809.stm - a BBC-article with more information on the corruption allegations.

http://www.sundaytimes.co.za/specialreports/zuma/ - several links to articles about the corruption investigations.


This biography is from South African History Online. Used by permission. 
AODL African Studies Center MSU Matrix NEH