A controversial figure, particularly among South Africa’s white voters, Jacob Zuma is undoubtedly popular with the country’s black majority. Happy to acknowledge his modest background, Zuma represents the hopes and disappointments of many of his followers.
With a charismatic popular touch, Zuma often sings and dances during ANC meetings, performing in particular “Umshini Wami”, the anti-apartheid anthem. The 66-year old’s political journey began when he was 17, imprisoned at Robben Island as an active member of the ANC’s military wing. During 10 years alongside Nelson Mandela, he educated himself and became a key figure in the party. Returning to South Africa in 1990 after several years in exile, Zuma’s rise has been monumental for a boy who once looked after cows in his home village. In December 2007 Zuma was elected head of the ANC after replacing Thabo Mbeki. Nine months later Mbeki would quit as South Africa’s president. For many, the election of Zuma will result in a huge shift in styles from his predecessor. Tried and acquitted of rape, Zuma has also been entangled in a series of embarrassing corruption cases which have only recently been dropped because of a legal technicality. Nevertheless, his victory is remarkable recovery for a man whose political career was all but written off four years ago.