South African President Jacob Zuma has been described by many as the luckiest head of state. Throughout his career, Zuma has been able to escape serious scandals, including rape charges, corruption charges and now misuse of state funds for developments at his private home.
Popularly known for his singing and dancing talent, Zuma’s art of escaping serious scandals have left many people dumbfounded.
In 2005, then Vice President Zuma’s financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for fraud and corruption charges related to a government arms deal. Though Zuma was implicated and investigated in connection with Shaik’s charges, he survived.
In 2006, Zuma was tried at the High court for allegedly raping an HIV positive family friend. He was however acquitted after convincing the court that the two had consensual sex.
In the following year he was elected president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
In 2009, the National Prosecuting Authority finally dropped hundreds of fraud, corruption, racketeering, money laundering and tax evasion charges against Mr. Zuma citing evidence of political manipulation of his case.
This cleared the way for him to be elected president in May, 2009.
In 2013, the Guptas, a wealthy Indian family with close ties to President Zuma, landed a private plane full of wedding guests at an air force base. But a ministerial task force found that the president did not influence the landing.
Currently, Zuma is accused of using nearly $19 million of public funds for developments at his private rural home at Inkandla. The matter is still pending, yet his second term in office is almost guaranteed after the May 7 elections.
Susan Booysen, political analyst and senior lecturer at Witwatersrand University in Johannesburg, said Zuma’s ability to escape scandals has baffled everyone. "President Zuma has had an amazing act of escaping charges, from years ago hundreds of charges relating to South Africa’s infamous arms deal to personal charges about sexual behavior. Yet each time he has escaped it,” she said.
Stephen Grootes, political reporter at Eye Witness News, argues that having a tight grip on state security organs might have helped President Zuma to survive this long.
“He has tight control over the Justice Department, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Intelligence Services and there has always been a suspicion that he is so interested in those parts of government because he is worried the charges that were withdrawn against him could be lodged against him again, in other words he could still face a trial,” said Grootes.
Prince Mashele, executive director at the Center for Politics and Research, a think tank and research institute, said Zuma has strategically made the survival of those around him, dependent on him, hence their reluctance to act against him.
“There is a great deal of loyalty towards the ANC, So people will be voting for the ANC even though they don’t like Zuma. But Zuma will benefit from that," said Mashele. "Secondly, a majority of them by the way, they know that if Zuma were to go down, they will also go down, so they will protect Zuma. By protecting Zuma they are protecting themselves.”
Booysen said, however, President Zuma’s scandals are hurting his party in a big way.
“The ANC is losing much credibility which in due course will be reflected in the electoral support as well,” he said.
With the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), still pushing for the reinstatement of corruption charges against President Zuma, Grootes said the charges will certainly catch up with him someday. “I think that they will certainly hang around him until he has his day in court which he said so many times he wanted and yet he has tried not to have," he stated.
Many agree that when he is gone, President Zuma will always be remembered as a giant who survived scandals that brought all others down.