South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid

Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma

(April 12, 1942 - )

President of South Africa (2009 -), African National Congress (ANC) President (2007 -)and former Deputy President of South Africa.

Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma was born on 12 April 1942 at Nkandla in northern KwaZulu-Natal (then Zululand), the son of Nobhekisisa Bessie and Geinamazwi Zuma.

He was the first born of five children from his father's second wife. When his father died he and his mother left for his mother’s parental home in Maphumulo. Zuma began herding cattle while other children his age went to school.

Zuma spent his early years moving between Zululand and the suburbs of Durban, where he worked in shops and did domestic work. According to Zuma, in an autobiographical report for the South African Communist Party (SACP), he organized and influenced an anti-pass campaign in the Noxamalala district in the Nkandla area.

In 1958, he joined the African National Congress (ANC) and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), and began to attend ANC and Trade Union meetings at Lakhani Chambers in Durban.

In 1959, he joined the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), and in 1961, Zuma became involved in the discussions organized by SACTU in the Durban area.

The banning of the ANC in 1960 led to the formation of its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). Zuma participated in sabotage actions in Natal and planned to leave South Africa for military training abroad.

In 1962, he was introduced to a political study group in Cato Manor (Mkhumbane), and was recruited by South African Communist Party (SACP) leader Moses Mabhida as an active member of MK. In 1963, he was recruited into the SACP.

When Zuma left the country for military training in June 1963, he was arrested with a group of 45 recruits near Zeerust, in the then Western Transvaal. Zuma, Andrew Mlangeni and others were convicted for conspiring to overthrow the government and were sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on Robben Island.

On Robben Island, he was among the prisoners from Natal who initiated political study groups. He also served in a number of positions in ANC structures, which included being a group leader, a Public Relations Officer, cell leader and Chairman of the Political Committee.

On Zuma’s release in December 1973, he helped mobilise internal resistance and was instrumental in the re-establishment of ANC underground structures in Natal between 1974 and 1975.

He later became part of an initiative, led by Harry Gwala, to send young people out of the country for military training. After Gwala’s arrest, Zuma left the country in December 1975 for Swaziland.

Over the next 12 years he was based in Southern Africa, first in Swaziland and then Mozambique. During this period, he was involved in underground work with former President Thabo Mbeki and others, supporting ANC structures operating inside South Africa.

During this time, Zuma was involved in internal work, and he served in the Natal military machinery, the ordinance department, as ANC Deputy Chief Representative in Maputo, a member of the political committee and Secretary of the senior organ.
Later, he served on the ANC's Military and Political Committees after its formation in the mid-80s, and the Intelligence Department at the ANC Head Office in Lusaka, Zambia.

Early in 1976, Zuma secretly entered the country to re-establish contact with activists in the Durban area. A few months later he was detained by the Swazi police with two others, after Joseph (Mkhuzi) Mduli was arrested and murdered in Durban. Zuma was then deported to Mozambique, where he worked for the ANC.

In Mozambique, Zuma dealt with the thousands of young exiles that left South Africa after the Soweto uprising in June 1976. He was then co-opted as a member of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) in 1977 and was re-elected to the NEC at the Kabwe Conference in 1985.

In 1977, he began working for the SACP, and completed a three month leadership and military training course in the Soviet Union in 1978. By the end of the 1980s, he was head of the ANC Intelligence Department.

By 1984, Zuma had been elected the Deputy Chief Representative of the ANC, the year the Nkomati Accord was signed between Mozambique and South Africa.

After this accord was signed, Zuma was appointed as Chief Representative of the ANC and remained in Mozambique. In January 1987, he was forced to leave Mozambique, and was appointed Head of Underground Structures and Chief of the Intelligence Department in Lusaka.

Along with Mbeki, Zuma formed part of then ANC President Oliver Tambo’s negotiation team, which met with the South African government in the late 1980s.

After the ANC was unbanned in February 1990, Zuma was involved in the Groote-Schuur Minute, which outlined important decisions regarding the return of exiles and the release of political prisoners.

In November 1990, Zuma was elected chairperson of the ANC’s southern Natal region. In 1991, at the first ANC conference held in South Africa since 1959, he was elected Deputy Secretary General and attended the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) and served as an ANC representative in December 1991.

In 1993, Zuma was involved in negotiations between the ANC and the Inkhata Freedom Party (IFP), when violence erupted in Natal. He was later elected National Chairperson of the ANC and as Chairperson of the ANC in Natal in December 1994.

In January 1994, he was nominated as the ANC candidate for the Premiership of Natal, a position the ANC lost to the IFP. Later that year, Zuma was appointed MEC of Economic Affairs and Tourism for the KZN provincial government. In December 1994, he was elected ANC National Chairperson.

After the 1994 elections, Zuma requested to be deployed to KwaZulu- Natal to work to cement peace between the ANC and IFP within the multiparty government of South Africa.

Zuma was later elected as the ANC’s Deputy President at its National Conference held at Mafikeng in December 1997. He then served as Deputy President of South Africa from 1999 until June 2005.

During his tenure he was involved in mediation with Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and between Rwanda and the DRC. Zuma also launched the Moral Regeneration Movement to galvanise government and civil society.
In October 1998, Zuma received the Nelson Mandela Award for Outstanding Leadership for his role in ending political violence in KwaZulu-Natal in Washington DC (USA).

During his tenure as Deputy President of South Africa, Zuma was also involved in controversies, which resulted in legal problems for Zuma. In 2002, Zuma was implicated in a major corruption scandal, in connection with the trial of his close associate Schabir Shaik.

Further controversy arose in November 2005, when Zuma was accused of rape. Zuma informed the NEC that allegations of rape had been made against him, but issued a denial through his lawyer Michael Hulley. He went on trial in February 2006.

The trial was heavily publicised in the media and when Zuma was acquitted in May 2006, he endured both negative and positive public response to the case. Despite public response, Zuma was reinstated as ANC Deputy President a week later.

In December 2007, Zuma was then elected to the office of ANC President at the national conference in Polokwane, Limpopo. A month before this event, the South African Court of Appeal ruled that investigators’ raids on Zuma’s home and office were legal, which allowed for the reinstatement of Zuma’s corruption charges, and a trial was set for August 2008.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) withdrew all 16 charges (of racketeering, corruption, fraud and tax evasion) against Zuma in the Durban High Court on Wednesday, 6 May 2009. Zuma was later elected him as South Africa’s fourth democratic President, and was inaugurated on 9 May 2009 at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

In January 2008, Zuma married his fourth wife, Nompumelelo Ntuli, at his Nkandla homestead. Zuma now has four wives, including Sizakele (MaKhumalo), Nompumelelo (MaNtuli) and Tobeka Madiba. He was formerly married to South Africa's current Foreign Minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

To date, Zuma has been awarded Honorary Doctorates in Administration (University of Zululand), Literature and Letters (University of Fort Hare) and Philosophy (University of Medicine of South Africa).

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