Former South African deputy president Jacob Zuma has been charged with rape in a Johannesburg court. The development is likely to end any chance Mr. Zuma may have had of becoming the country's next president.
Mr. Zuma was arraigned following a rape complaint filed by a 31-year-old AIDS activist. The woman, who under South African law cannot be named, alleges Mr. Zuma raped her in early November when she was a guest in his Johannesburg home.
The alleged victim is a member of a well-known family, traditionally aligned to the the African National Congress, whose members played a significant role in the anti-apartheid struggle. The family had close ties to Mr. Zuma and the complainant, having lost her own father when she was a child, has for years has regarded Mr. Zuma as a father figure.
Mr. Zuma was secretly brought to court before it opened, and while his appearance was in normal duty hours, the media was barred from attending. The South African National Editors forum has issued a statement condemning this secrecy and charging that it is counter to freedom of press guarantees in the constitution.
Soon after leaving court, Mr. Zuma announced he would suspend all his activities in the executive structures of the ANC, but said this would not affect his position as number-two in the party. Neither Mr. Zuma nor the ANC explained the apparent contradiction in this statement.
In his statement, Mr. Zuma said he is innocent of the charges brought against him.
The ANC is to issue a formal statement Wednesday, after its executive committee has time to discuss the development. But senior ANC official Smuts Ngonyama told national radio that the party will consider a number of factors in reaching any decision about Mr. Zuma.
"Let the law take its course, depending also on the charges preferred, a number of areas usually are considered, the consciousness of the individual also comes to the fore," said Smuts Ngonyama.
Oppositions parties and women's groups have welcomed the decision to charge Mr. Zuma, adding that a speedy trial is important.
This case is the latest in a long list of controversies surrounding Mr. Zuma who was fired as the country's deputy president in June when he was indicted for corruption, stemming from the corruption and fraud conviction of his financial advisor.
Those allegations were rejected by Mr. Zuma and his traditional supporters, including those in the labor movement and the ruling party, saying the case had been politically contrived to prevent him from becoming the next president.
Analysts here say that the charges have most likely ended any chances Mr. Zuma may have still had of attaining this office. Even his most vocal supporters have adopted a much more cautious stance since the rape allegations first surfaced.