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South Africa's Zuma Concludes Testimony in Rape Case  


Former South African deputy president Jacob Zuma, on trial for rape, has concluded his testimony. The man once considered a possible successor to President Thabo Mbeki, also faces trial on charges of corruption later this year.

Jacob Zuma went on trial in February, following allegations last November by a 31-year-old family friend that he had raped her when she stayed overnight at his home.

The trial commenced with testimony from his accuser that he had come into the guest room where she had been sleeping, and that, when she refused an offered massage, he raped her.

The complainant told the court that she is a lesbian, that she has been raped three times before, and that during one of those encounters, she became infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. She said, consequently, she would never assent to unprotected sex.

Zuma concluded his Thursday testimony, after being on the stand for just over four days. He denies the rape charge, and says that he and his accuser had consensual sex without a condom.

But while his testimony has been long awaited, particularly by his supporters, his responses to questions on HIV/AIDS have stunned many South Africans.

Under cross-examination, Jacob Zuma told the court that he took a shower following sex, because he believes that can minimize the chances of HIV infection. He also said he believes that chances of transmission of the virus from female to male are slim. Zuma said he knew this because he had become knowledgeable on the disease, when, as deputy president of South Africa, he headed the country's National AIDS Council.

Zuma's utterances on the transmission of HIV have stunned experts, and outraged AIDS campaigners. The Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication said in a statement that Zuma's actions and comments were highly irresponsible in a country where one-in-nine people is HIV-positive.

Experts say that men may not become infected in a single sexual encounter, but add that when sex is forced, robust or violent, the chances of transmission increase exponentially. The same applies when the female has cuts or abrasions, and when the male is uncircumcised.

The doctor who examined the complainant following the incident last November testified that she had a vaginal tear consistent with rough or forced sex. Under cross-examination he acknowledged it could also have been acquired during robust consensual sex.

Until he was fired as South Africa's deputy president last year by President Thabo Mbeki, many believed that Zuma would succeed Mr. Mbeki. But now, many South Africans say that, even if he is acquitted on both the rape and corruption charges, they do not believe Zuma has a political future.

Zuma's advocate has not yet indicated how many more witnesses he intends to call, but earlier told the court he may decide to recall the complainant.