Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, born on April 12, 1942, in Nkandla, a rural area in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma rose to prominence as a key figure in the African National Congress (ANC) and served as the President of South Africa from 2009 to 2018. His political journey was marked by both achievements and controversies.
Early Life and Political Awakening (1942-1962)
Growing up in poverty, Zuma faced adversity from a young age. His father, a police officer, died when Zuma was just five years old, and his mother worked as a domestic worker to support the family. With limited access to education, Zuma taught himself to read and write, later joining the ANC in 1959.
Anti-Apartheid Struggles and Imprisonment (1963-1975)
Zuma became a member of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), in 1962. A year later, he was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison for conspiring against the apartheid government. Zuma served his sentence on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela and other prominent ANC figures.
Exile and Leadership in the ANC (1975-1990)
After his release, Zuma went into exile, first in Mozambique and later in Zambia. He continued his work with the ANC, taking on leadership roles within its intelligence department. In 1987, he was appointed head of the ANC’s intelligence department and became a key figure in the negotiations that led to the dismantling of apartheid.
Return to South Africa and Political Ascendance (1990-2009)
With the lifting of the ban on the ANC in 1990, Zuma returned to South Africa. He was elected as the ANC’s National Chairperson in 1991, and in 1994, he became a member of the South African Parliament. Zuma held various positions within the ANC, including serving as the Deputy President from 1997 to 2005.
During his tenure as Deputy President, Zuma faced corruption allegations that led to his dismissal in 2005. Despite these allegations, Zuma remained popular among ANC supporters and was elected as the party’s president in 2007.
Presidency and Controversies (2009-2018)
In 2009, Zuma was sworn in as the President of South Africa. His presidency was marked by various achievements, such as the expansion of social grants and the National Health Insurance initiative. However, it was also marred by controversies, including allegations of corruption, the handling of the Marikana massacre, and the Nkandla scandal.
In 2016, South Africa’s highest court ruled that Zuma had violated the constitution by using public funds to upgrade his private residence in Nkandla. Amid mounting pressure, Zuma resigned as president in February 2018.
Post-Presidency and Legal Battles (2018-Present)
Since leaving office, Zuma has continued to face legal challenges related to corruption and fraud. He was briefly imprisoned in 2021 for contempt of court after failing to appear before a commission investigating corruption during his presidency.
Jacob Zuma’s political career has been marked by resilience and determination, overcoming significant adversity to rise to the highest office in South Africa. However, his time in power was overshadowed by controversy and allegations of corruption, which have continued to follow him into his post-presidential life.
Legal Woes and Health Concerns (2021-2022)
In the latter part of 2021, Zuma faced a series of legal challenges related to the arms deal scandal from the late 1990s. He was charged with 16 counts of corruption, racketeering, fraud, and money laundering. The trial was postponed multiple times due to Zuma’s ill health and various legal maneuvers from his defense team.
Zuma’s health became a focal point in 2021 and 2022, as he was frequently hospitalized for undisclosed medical conditions. His legal team argued that his poor health and advanced age should be taken into consideration during the trial proceedings.
Despite his health issues, Zuma continued to command a loyal following within certain factions of the ANC and among grassroots supporters. Many viewed him as a champion of the poor and a symbol of resistance against South Africa’s political and economic establishment.
Reckoning with Zuma’s Legacy (2023)
As South Africa moves further away from Zuma’s presidency, the country grapples with his complex legacy. While his tenure saw some improvements in social welfare and healthcare, his administration was also characterized by widespread allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and a weakening of state institutions.
Zuma’s impact on the ANC remains a point of contention as well. His presidency exposed deep-seated factionalism within the party, which continues to reverberate in South African politics. The party’s handling of Zuma’s various scandals has raised questions about its commitment to transparency and accountability.