Oh, and then there was that rape case. In November 2005, the daughter of a friend of Zuma’s claimed that he had raped her. A court ultimately dismissed the charges, saying the sex was consensual. Still, Zuma hardly boosted his image in a nation with one of the world’s worst AIDS crises, and where he himself once headed the national AIDS organization, by claiming during the trial that he reduced his risk of contracting HIV from the woman, who was HIV-positive, because he took a shower after they had sex.
policy leanings appear little more enlightened. A former member of the
apartheid-era armed wing of the ANC, Zuma retains many of his militant and
populist tendencies. Known for bellowing out anti-apartheid songs like
“Bring Me My Machine Gun,” Zuma also has worried many South African companies
because of his links to trade unions, socialists, and
wonder, then, that many of the suave, international advisors around current
South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has presided over a period of
business-friendly orthodox fiscal management and strong growth, could barely
conceal their disdain for Zuma. According to the Daily Telegraph, one
senior ANC official was overheard saying that “if Jacob Zuma became president,
it was time to flee
yet for all of Zuma’s numerous flaws, his triumph in the ANC election should be
celebrated. The ANC poll probably will bring to power a president far more
troubled, and far less polished, than Mbeki. But the poll also shows that,
unlike countries like Zimbabwe or Namibia, South Africa is not headed toward
becoming a one-party state where a small circle of ruling elites meet in back
rooms to transfer power amongst each other. (Mbeki himself was essentially
installed as president as the choice of the first post-apartheid leader, Nelson
In fact, Zuma’s victory demonstrates just the opposite. The ANC mandarins around Mbeki would have preferred any other leader than the fiery populist. For months, they maneuvered to have Mbeki himself elected head of the ANC, which would allow the president to essentially select the party’s candidate for president before the 2009 election. Leading South African figures like Archbishop Desmond Tutu condemned Zuma, with Saki Macozoma, head of one of the country’s biggest financial services companies, saying that a Zuma presidency would be a “calamity” for the nation. At the ANC conference in December, Mbeki himself spoke at length about the danger of corruption, a barely veiled swipe at his rival.
All these efforts failed: The aloof Mbeki had not listened closely enough to the party members demands for more accountability and wealth redistribution from government. Instead, Zuma’s raucous supporters commandeered the 4,000 delegates at the ANC meeting, singing and bellowing to drown out Mbeki, and ultimately delivering their man an overwhelming victory with some 60 percent of delegates.
Compared to the bland, scripted election meetings of many
other African leaders, which seem more like coronations, the ANC gathering
seemed more like the 1968
Indeed, as South African commentator Steven Friedman wrote after the ANC meeting, this was a significant change: "In no post-independence African country has a sitting president been peacefully and democratically defeated by his own party.” Or as one Zuma backer reportedly screamed after the victory: “The members have taken back the party.” And since the ANC still faces no real opposition party, the fact that it has established vibrant intra-party democracy means that these members are unlikely to be silent again. On a continent where real democracy usually remains an illusion, this was a landmark indeed.
Joshua Kurlantzick is a special correspondent for The New Republic.
By Joshua Kurlantzick