By Allison Barrie, ,
Published May 18, 2015
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.
South African presidents are chosen by the 400 members of the directly-elected National Assembly, one of the two houses of parliament.
Although more than a dozen parties are represented in parliament, the ruling ANC has been the main player in South African politics since 1994, which means that Zuma is the most likely successor when current president Thabo Mbeki steps down.
(The ANC's rivals include the Democratic Alliance (DA), the biggest opposition party, and the predominantly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).)
Women's groups may be sounding off over the values of the polygamist president-to-be, but Zuma is no stranger to controversy.
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.
At one point, Zuma was caught attempting to bribe the victim's aunt with an offer of two cows and a new garden fence in exchange for persuading the victim to withdraw the allegations.
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?
"I had a shower afterwards," Zuma explained after announcing that he had chosen not to use a condom.
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.
Despite claims that the judiciary is independent, he will have significant influence over his own prosecution as the head of the ANC.
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.
Ironically, Zuma's problems have only increased his support among the poverty-stricken and the oppressed.
Under President Mbeki, discontent has escalated in the black population.
Most South African blacks still live in shocking conditions, with one person murdered every 20 minutes and unemployment at 90 percent in some townships.
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 left home at 16 and joined the ANC as a foot soldier for the armed wing of the liberation movement, Umkhonto we Sizwe or "Spear of the Nation."
At 21, he was arrested for conspiring to overthrow the apartheid government and served 10 years in prison alongside liberation hero Nelson Mandela — as well as his rape accuser's father — in the notorious jail on Robben Island just offshore from Cape Town.
Mbeki is also a veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, but unlike Zuma, he is an intellectual who left South Africa to pursue an economics degree in England during the anti-apartheid struggle and never spent time in prison.
A series of corruption scandals, including the theft of millions intended for vital drugs, increased opinion against Mbeki.
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.
Ironically, while Mbeki has been criticized for his refusal to take action against the dictatorial Mugabe, a fellow veteran of the liberation struggle, Zuma has called for a tougher South African stance.
Thirteen years after emerging from apartheid and starting down the path of Mandela's "Rainbow Nation", South Africa, Africa's superpower and largest economy now embarks down the road of "Bring Me My Machine Gun."
Allison Barrie, a security and terrorism consultant with the Commission for National Security in the 21st Century, has an M.A. from the King's College War Studies department and has just completed her Ph.D thesis with King's. She attended law school in England and practiced law for four years at two leading global law firms. Allison has contributed to various projects with Britain's Ministry of Defense, including Iraq Operation Telic 5 and other operations dealing with imprisoned soldiers, combat experience and management of combat. She has traveled to over 45 countries and performed as a ballet dancer in productions of the Royal Opera House and English National Opera.