S. Africa’s ex-president Zuma makes surprise comebackMon, 29 Apr 2024 02:08:13 GMT

South Africa’s scandal-hit ex-president Jacob Zuma has made a surprise comeback by running in May’s elections against his former party, the ruling African National Congress (ANC).Zuma, the fourth president of democratic South Africa between 2009 and 2018, was forced from office under a slew of graft allegations.He is still facing trial on corruption charges.In 2021, he was briefly jailed for contempt of court after refusing to appear before a corruption inquiry. Sentenced to 15 months, Zuma spent only two months behind bars.He was released initially for health reasons, after which President Cyril Ramaphosa commuted his sentence.In recent months, he has overcome a string of legal challenges by the government seeking to disqualify the small party with which he has aligned himself, so as to invalidate his candidacy.Zuma, now 82, announced in December he would campaign for the small radical uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK, or the “Spear of the Nation” in Zulu) party. The party’s name harks back to that of the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) when it fought white-minority rule.South Africans will vote for parliament on May 29, in what is set to be the tightest election since the introduction of democratic rule with the end of the apartheid era.It is the elected members who will vote for the president.The ANC, after 30 years in power, risks losing its absolute majority and being forced to share power in a coalition government.- ANC battle -Recent polls suggest Zuma’s former political home, the ANC, is on course to score below 50 percent for the first time since it came to power in 1994 when apartheid ended.An Ipsos survey released last week indicates that the fledgling MK could score more than eight percent.Zuma has urged his supporters to “take back the country”.A powerful orator, he has stepped up his attacks on the ANC, which he says he “no longer recognises”, denouncing its leaders as “traitors”.For a long time, Zuma prevented Ramaphosa, his successor as president, from establishing himself within the ANC, fuelling internal conflict.Zuma, a colourful and charismatic figure, given to singing and dancing on stage, has always enjoyed fervent popular support.He still has sway at the heart of the political machine.- ‘He who laughs’ -His jailing in July 2021 triggered unrest that left more than 350 dead, South Africa’s worst episode of violence since the fall of apartheid on a backdrop of economic stagnation.When the ANC was forced into exile under apartheid, Zuma was a fearsome head of intelligence, cracking down on traitors and regime informers. He also spent 10 years in Robben Island prison with Nelson Mandela.But a litany of legal woes tarnished his image.Zuma, whose middle name Gedleyihlekisa means someone who “laughs while crushing his enemies” in Zulu, insists he has no fear of the courts.In 2006, he was found not guilty of raping an HIV-positive daughter of one of his former comrades. He caused a stir in court when he said he showered after unprotected sex in a bid to minimise the risk of infection.An anti-corruption commission was launched to investigate the public money he had allegedly embezzled during his nine years in power. A damning 2022 report concluded that Zuma had played a central role in state corruption.He is due to face trial in a bribery affair more than 20 years old where he is accused of having pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars from defence firm Thales, one of the companies handed lucrative arms contracts.Zuma has four wives and at least 20 children.