South Africa’s Ex-President Zuma Makes Surprise Comeback

South Africa’s scandal-plagued ex-president Jacob Zuma has made an unexpected return to politics by competing against his former party, the ruling African National Congress (ANC), in the May elections.

Zuma, the fourth president of democratic South Africa from 2009 to 2018, was removed from office amid a litany of corruption allegations.

He is still on trial for corruption charges.

He was briefly imprisoned in 2021 for contempt of court after refusing to testify in a corruption investigation.

Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison, but served only two months.

He was initially released for health reasons, and President Cyril Ramaphosa remitted his sentence.

In recent months, he has defeated a series of legal challenges by the government aiming to dismiss the minor party with which he has allied himself, effectively invalidating his candidacy.

Zuma, aged 82, declared in December that he will run for the small radical uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK, or “Spear of the Nation” in Zulu) party.

The name of the party is derived from the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC) during the struggle against white minority rule.

South Africans will vote for parliament on May 29, in what is expected to be the most closely contested election since the end of apartheid.

The elected members will vote for the president.

After 30 years in office, the ANC fears losing its absolute majority and being forced to form a coalition administration.

ANC battle

According to recent surveys, Zuma’s old political party, the ANC, is on track to score below 50% for the first time since coming to office in 1994, when apartheid ended.

According to an Ipsos study issued this week, the fledgling MK might score more than 8%.

Zuma has asked his supporters to “take back the country”.

He is a powerful orator who has increased his attacks on the ANC, which he says he “no longer recognises” and denounces its leaders as “traitors”.

For a long period, Zuma hindered Ramaphosa, his successor as president, from establishing himself within the ANC, which fueled internal turmoil.

Zuma, a colorful and charming figure who enjoys singing and dancing on stage, has always received enthusiastic public support.

He still wields power at the center of the political machine.

‘He who laughs’

His imprisonment in July 2021 sparked protests that resulted in more than 350 deaths, South Africa’s deadliest outbreak of violence since apartheid’s demise, against a backdrop of economic stagnation.

When the ANC was forced into exile under apartheid, Zuma was a terrifying intelligence chief who cracked down on traitors and government informants.

He also served ten years at Robben Island prison alongside Nelson Mandela.

But a slew of legal issues harmed his reputation.

Zuma, whose middle name Gedleyihlekisa means “laughs while crushing his enemies” in Zulu, claims he is not afraid of the courts.

In 2006, he was found not guilty of raping an HIV-positive daughter of a former colleague.

He raised a sensation in court when he stated that he showers after unprotected sex to reduce the chance of infection.

An anti-corruption commission was formed to investigate the public funds he allegedly embezzled during his nine years in office.

A damning 2022 assessment revealed that Zuma played a key role in state corruption.

He is set to stand trial in a bribery case dating back more than 20 years, in which he is suspected of pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars from defense contractor Thales, one of the corporations awarded lucrative arms contracts.

Zuma has four spouses and at least twenty children.

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