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South Africa's Zuma Popular, Polarizing


The man who is likely to become South Africa's next president is both one of the country's most popular politicians and one of its most polarizing.

African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma's campaign theme song, "Umshini Wami" or "Bring Me My Machine Gun," is a legacy of his days as a foot soldier in the anti-apartheid struggle.

He rose to prominence from a humble background, which along with his populist rhetoric has helped endear him to the poor.

Zuma is poised to take over the nation's highest office after overcoming a rape charge and repeated corruption charges that he dismissed as politically motivated.

The corruption charges prompted then-President Thabo Mbeki to fire Zuma as South Africa's deputy president in 2005. Three years later, as head of the ANC, Zuma helped engineer Mr. Mbeki's forced resignation from office.

Zuma is a Zulu traditionalist who proudly practices polygamy. He has two wives, and is known to have had at least two others in the past.

Born in rural Zululand, Zuma joined the African National Congress as a teenager and rose through the party's ranks during the anti-apartheid struggle. He was imprisoned for a decade on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela, and then lived in exile for 15 years.

He became head of the ANC's intelligence service, and was one of the first ANC leaders to return to South Africa in 1990 to negotiate with the apartheid government for a democratic transition to majority rule.

He was first charged with graft in 2005, but the case fell apart in 2006. The charges were reinstated in 2007, dismissed by a judge in 2008, and then reinstated again in January of this year. Prosecutors finally dropped the charges in early April, blaming misconduct by the investigators.

He was acquitted of rape, having admitted to having sex with a much-younger, HIV-positive family friend but arguing that it was consensual. He was publicly ridiculed for testifying that he had taken a shower afterward, thinking it would protect him from contracting the virus that causes AIDS.

Although he favors populist rhetoric on the campaign trail and draws most of his support from the left wing of the ANC, he has said that he believes policy-making should be done by consensus within the party. Analysts see that as a sign that he is unlikely to depart from most of the policies of the previous administrations.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.


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