Zuma, Jacob 1942–
Jacob Zuma 1942–
South African politician
Jacob Zuma, a native of South Africa’s Zulu region and longtime member of the African National Congress, has spent a large part of his career shuttling between the two parties, who are often at odds over the course of South Africa’s future. White South African rule and the segregationist politics of apartheid held the country in a vise grip from the late 1940s onwards. The country was characterized by bloody riots, political tortures, endless strikes, burning townships, and the immeasurable suffering of Black South Africans. Nelson Mandela, a leader in the anti-apartheid movement, was sentenced to life in prison by the government. As he languished there for over two decades he became a revered international symbol for human rights, freedom, and perseverance. When apartheid finally crumbled and the first democratic elections were held in 1994, Mandela became president of South Africa and his political party, the African National Congress (ANC) took a majority of the votes across the country.
But Black South Africa did not rise in unison to toss out apartheid together. Different political factions formed, each with their own agenda. One of the more contentious of those factions is the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). Based in Zulu tribal territory, the IFP stressed Zulu ethnicity and traditionalism. According to the South African government’s official website, “Battles for turf between Inkatha and the ANC became a very destructive accompaniment to South Africa’s transition to democracy.” In a country with such a volatile history and as many varied ethnicities, Zuma’s job has been to find a non-violent way to communicate between opposing factions.
Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma was born April 12, 1942 in Inkandla, KwaZulu-Natal (then called Zululand). His name was created by his police officer father, from the sentence ‘Ngeke ngithule umuntu engigedla engihlekisa’—meaning, ‘I can’t keep quiet when someone pretends to love me with a deceitful smile.’ Breaking the sentence in two, his father gave Zuma the name Gedleyihlekisa while his brother became Ngekengithule. His father died when Zuma was just four years old. This loss meant that his mother had to take on the role of breadwinner, and Zuma would have to forego school to help support the family. The family moved closer to his mother’s homeland and Zuma got his first job as a cattle shepherd. “I used to look after them very well. That was the first time I was praised for a job well done,” he told the Saturday Argus. When the family moved once again to a township just outside of Durban,
Born Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma on April 12, 1942 in Inkandla, KwaZulu-Natal (then known as Zululand); Education: Mostly self-taught; attended night classes for a few years starting in 1955.
Career: Became a member of the militant wing of the ANC, the Umkhonto We Sizwe, 1962; arrested for conspiring to overthrow the government in 1963 and served 10 years in prison; upon release organized ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, 1973-75; exiled, 1975; ANC National Executive Committee, 1977, chief representative in Mozambique, until 1984, Political-Military Committee, mid-1980s, head of underground structures, late 1980s, Intelligence Department, chief, 1987; chairperson of the Southern Natal, Executive Committee of Economic Affairs and Tourism in KwaZulu-Natal, 1994; ANC, national chair; KwaZu lu-Natal, ANC chair, 1994; ANC, deputy president 1997; appointed deputy president of South Africa, 1999.
Memberships: ANC, 1958- Government Business in the National Assembly, head, 1997- South African National Aids Council, chair; University of Zululand, chancellor; Jacob Zuma Bursary Fund, patron, 1998- Peace and Reconstruction Foundation, patron; Albert Luthuli Education and Development Foundation, patron.
Awards: Nelson Mandela Award for Outstanding Leadership, Washington DC, 1998; honorary doctorates from: University of Fort Hare, 2001; University of Zululand, 2001; Medical University of Southern Africa, 2001.
Addresses: Mailing— Private Bag X1000, Pretoria, South Africa, 0001, Office-Union Buildings, West Wing, 2nd Floor, Government Ave., Pretoria, South Africa; E-mail—[email protected]; Press Agent— Ms. Lakela Kaunda, [email protected]
his mother took a low-paying job as a domestic servant and Zuma held a variety of odd jobs.
Despite not being able to attend school, Zuma had an insatiable appetite to learn. Each day he pestered young school-going friends and relatives to teach him what they had learned. Eventually he taught himself to read and write, a fact that he would later use as a politician to “encourage those whose circumstances also did not allow them to go to school,” as he told Briefing. “Education is education whether it is formal or not.” The bit of formal training he did have came when his cousin agreed to take Zuma to night classes in 1955. The rest of his education has been on his own and he’s done an exceptional job. “I have done everything the educated have done,” he told Briefing.
In 1958 Zuma turned his energies from education of the books-and-paper variety to a different kind of schooling—that of politics, resistance, and activism. At seventeen he joined the ANC unbeknownst to most of his family members. This secrecy was necessary as the ANC as well as all other opposition groups had been banned by the government. In the early 1960s, in reaction to increasing oppression by the apartheid system, the ANC—long committed to non-violent resistance—created a militaristic wing, Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). Zuma became an active member in 1962. Just a year later he was arrested along with 45 other recruits and convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government. He spent ten years in prison.
When Zuma was released in 1973 he returned directly back to his ANC activities. He is widely credited with establishing the underground ANC infrastructure in KwaZulu-Natal. In 1975 he was forced to flee South Africa and spent 15 years of exile living in many African countries including Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zambia. He continued working with the ANC and became a powerful player in its activities. Among his inner circle of friends was fellow ANC leader and exile, future South African president Thabo Mbeki. Zuma served in a number of high ranking positions in the exiled ANC including executive committee member, head of Underground Structures, and chief of the Intelligence Department at ANC headquarters in Zambia. During his exile, Zuma married Nkosazana Dlamini. Although they later divorced, they would serve together in the post-apartheid government.
Back in South Africa, the political front was changing. The continued work of the ANC, as well as that of the Black Consciousness Movement, and other opposition groups was having the desired effect on the apartheid government. Internationally, South Africa’s treatment of its majority population represented the worst of civilization—inhumane, immoral, and shameful. It was in this environment in 1990 that then-president F. W. de Klerk lifted the ban on opposition groups and released political prisoners, most notably Nelson Mandela. Zuma was one of the first ANC leaders to return home.
In the intermediate years before the democratic elections that would make Mandela president, Zuma was instrumental in a number of political decisions. From negotiating the release of political prisoners and the return of exiles, to brokering peace in KwaZulu-Natal and promoting relations between the ANC and the IFP, Zuma left a definitive mark on the burgeoning democracy. He developed a support base in KwaZulu-Natal and according to the Mail and Guardian, even took on two wives and a traditional house according to Zulu custom.
In 1994 Mandela was elected president of South Africa. Zuma played a key role in this new political arena, both in the ANC and in KwaZulu-Natal politics. That year he was appointed national chairperson of the ANC, chairperson of the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal, and member of the Executive Committee of Economic Affairs and Tourism for the KwaZulu-Natal. He also ran an unsuccessful campaign for the premiership of the KwaZulu-Natal region. Though he is widely credited for increasing the peace and stability of the region and for building stronger ties between the ANC and the IFP, he has also come under criticism for dividing his time between ANC party issues and KwaZulu-Natal practical issues. The Mail and Guardian commented, “[Zuma] is suited to either task, but not both.”
Despite the competing nature of his positions, Zuma did not shirk from the task, though he did acknowledge the extreme difficulty of obtaining lasting peace in KwaZulu-Natal. “The political violence has not come to an end,” he told Briefing in 1998. Discussing the prospect for a co-operative pact between the IFP and the ANC, he stated, “We are still working on that.… We need to ask what the practical and fundamental issues are that we have to face … to come to terms with peace and stability.”
Zuma found finally found some resolution of his dual roles when he was appointed deputy president of South Africa, following his old friend Thabo Mbeki’s election to President in 1999. Because of his experience in KwaZulu-Natal and his proven skills as a peacemaker, he assumed the de facto role as governmental peace mediator. Whether dealing with trade unions, other political parties, or traditional leaders, it is generally agreed that Zuma is successfully applying his hard-earned talents. He has a well deserved reputation as hard working and loyal and he remains firmly committed to improving the lot of South Africa—its people, economy, and international standing. The Mail and Guardian, in evaluating the record of the Mbeki government in 2000, gave Zuma a B-minus, stating “his approach usually generates warmth, even among opposition [leaders]” and “within the presidency Zuma is seen as something of a gem.” With crime, political violence, poverty, and AIDS still plaguing many South African citizens, it is fortunate that a man such as Zuma is onboard to lead the beleaguered nation into the 21st century.
Mail and Guardian (South Africa), June, 1999; December 22, 1999; December 22, 2000.
Saturday Argus (Cape Town, South Africa), September 11, 1999.
Official South African Government Website, www.gov.za