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South Africa’s colourful and controversial ex-president is now behind bars12 min read

August 1, 2021 8 min read

South Africa’s colourful and controversial ex-president is now behind bars12 min read

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Part 2 of this story is available. Click on the next page at the bottom of this article.

South Africa has been in the news lately and for all the wrong reasons. An ex-president has been jailed, people are rioting on the streets for his release, more than 200 people have died and things are going from bad to worse. But before we dive into the dark and twisted world of politics, let’s refresh our knowledge of the country a little bit.

Can you find South Africa on this map?

The southern-most country in the continent of Africa, South Africa is famous for its natural beauty and diverse culture. You have rich and diverse African wildlife in parks like the Kruger National Park, where one can see rhinos, zebras, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes and spotted hyenas.

While Cape Town and the other coastal cities have their share of beautiful, sandy beaches, craggy cliffs, and lagoons. And because it has such a variety of things to offer, South Africa has become a tourist hot-spot since the end of apartheid in 1994.

And landscapes aren’t the only natural elements that South Africa has been gifted with. The country is rich in minerals and produces 90% of platinum metals and 40% of the world’s gold! It’s as if South Africa was just born with everything that a country may need for economic and ecological success.

However, things could be farther from the truth. The country has been plagued by a series of corruption issues over the last decade or so, rampant poaching and encroachment on wild areas have rapidly decreased wildlife numbers and Cape Town was at the brink of completely running out of water in 2018! Phew! That was a lot to take in. Now that you have context, let’s delve a little deeper into how one person has influenced South Africa’s world view and politics since the late 90s and what became of him.

This is the life and trials of Jacob Zuma.

Who fought tirelessly to end the apartheid in South Africa? Owliver’s Post recently celebrated a day dedicated to this person and he appears in this article as well.

Humble beginnings

Zuma as a young man. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Zuma was born in Nkandia to a policeman and domestic worker as Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. Gledleyihlekisa, in Zulu, means ‘one who smiles while causing you harm.’ Hmm… what an irony, don’t you think? Oh, you don’t know what to think yet. Ok then, let’s save this question for last.

Zuma had no formal schooling, meaning that whatever he learned was completely self-taught. He began taking an interest in politics at a pretty young age and joined the ANC (African National Congress) in 1959, when he was just 17 years old.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations: Zulu is a language spoken by the Zulu tribe and is the most widely spoken indigenous language in South Africa. There are around 12 million native Zulu speakers in the country today. You can watch the Extra History series to understand the history of the Zulu Empire. The first episode is below:

The activist

Zuma grew within the ANC party and was arrested in 1962, after it was banned by the South African government the previous year. He spent around 10 years in prison on Robben Island along with Nelson Mandela and other notable ANC members.

Owliver’s Obscure Observations: The African National Congress is a progressive political party that was formed in 1912 by politicians and philosopher John Langalibalele Dube, who believed in bringing all Africans together under this banner to fight for their rights and equality (remember that at this time, South Africa was a British colony and discriminated heavily against the native black population).

A young Zuma and Nelson Mandela

After this release, he spent time reestablishing some of ANC’s structures since their disbandment and then went on to head its intelligence wing. He was first exiled from the country in 1975 and went to Mozambique, where he served in the ANC’s political and military wing. In 1987, he moved to Lusaka, Zambia, and lived there until 1990.

The.. err.. corrupt politician

Photo: Caglecartoons.com

The ban on the ANC ended in 1990 and Zuma came back to his home country and got to work. He was elected to head the ANC party in the Natal region and fight communal violence there. Since the region had a large Zulu population, people related to his Zulu heritage and it helped him end the violence and win them over.

Corruption is a crime committed when a person in power abuses their authority for personal gain.

After a stint as the deputy president in 1999, he rose to power as the President of South Africa in 2009 and began to work towards what he eventually came to be known as – the People’s President. But it was not without controversy.

Zuma was battling legal charges for corruption and sexual violence

Zuma was battling legal charges for corruption and sexual violence

Zuma was battling legal charges for corruption and sexual violence in the run-up to the presidential elections! The latter was the first charge to be dropped but the corruption charges over an arms deal were harder to let go of. Suddenly, a few months before he took the oath as president, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped the case, and he came out an innocent man.

! The latter was the first charge to be dropped but the corruption charges over an arms deal were harder to let go of. Suddenly, a few months before he took the oath as president, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped the case, and he came out an innocent man.

! The latter was the first charge to be dropped but the corruption charges over an arms deal were harder to let go of. Suddenly, a few months before he took the oath as president, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) dropped the case, and he came out an innocent man.

Even though Zuma was acquitted of all charges and has a history of political activism in areas that were important to the local people, do you think it was still wise for him to be elected to President following the controversies that came up?

Pause, think and flip to page 2 to know more.

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