Publication: Mail and Guardian Issued: Date: 2006-05-09 Reporter: Sapa

Zuma Ready to Fight for Presidency



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The African National Congress (ANC) has invited its deputy president, Jacob Zuma, to discuss the resumption of his party duties after his acquittal on a rape charge, South African Broadcasting Corporation radio news reported on Tuesday.

Greeted by deafening cheers as he left court a free man, Zuma made it known that he intended to resume his duties as deputy president of the ANC despite being suspended from the post last year.

He faces a separate trial on charges of corruption and fraud in July, but the rape charge was widely seen as the most damaging to his political ambitions to succeed South African President Thabo Mbeki in 2009.

For 4 000 supporters who had gathered outside the courthouse during the six-hour verdict, there was no doubt that Zuma was back.

"Thank you, thank you, I am warm among the people who love me," Zuma said in isiZulu, to a gathering of several thousand a few blocks away.

Karima Brown, political editor of Business Day newspaper, said: "Jacob Zuma is back. This poses a serious dilemma for the ANC leadership. Now Zuma is marching back into Luthuli House [the ANC party HQ]. He will demand to be reinstated as deputy president and the others will find it difficult to block him ... This is a major victory for Zuma's political career."

Zuma's release is certain to reignite the succession battle in the ANC, in which he had been the frontrunner until last year. His supporters accused Mbeki of using the rape charges to sideline their hero and to ensure that the next leader would continue his centrist policies.

The ANC, in a joint statement with its alliance partners the Cosatu trade unions and the South African Communist party, said it welcomed and accepted the verdict after a "distressing" trial.

"The trial process confirms that our democratic institutions, which we fought for over many years, are on a firm footing."

Judge Willem van der Merwe accepted as "plausible" the explanation from Zuma (64) that he had had consensual sex with a 31-year-old Aids activist who is HIV-positive. The judge found that the woman "has a history of making false allegations of rape". He referred to testimony that she was emotionally troubled and in need of professional counselling.

The judge reprimanded Zuma for having sex with an HIV-positive woman without a condom. "I find it inexcusable that the accused would have unprotected sex with a woman so many years younger than him, who is the child of one of his comrades. That intercourse endangered her health and his," said Van der Merwe. He went on to adapt Rudyard Kipling's poem If, saying, "If you can control your body and your sexual urges, then you are a man, my son."

Women's rights activists criticised the acquittal, calling it a blow to efforts to reduce South Africa's rates of rape, among the highest in the world. Six women from the group People Opposing Women Abuse were escorted from the court by police for their safety. "It is a setback for our battle against rape and gender violence but we will not give up," said Delphine Serumaga.

Zuma's accuser cannot be named under South African law, but her identity is widely known and her family's home has been attacked twice. She is said to be afraid for her safety and has already packed her bags to leave South Africa.

Zuma's version accepted The judge said pressure groups and individuals should not jump to conclusions and express criticism before having heard all the evidence.

Although it was clear from the evidence a false accusation of rape was made, it had to be asked why the woman had gone through the trauma of the trial if she had not been raped, the judge said. For this, her history had to be looked at, which included a history of falsely accusing men of rape.

When she was confronted with these allegations, she denied knowing the men, or in some instances denied the accusations. This, Van der Merwe said, was because she could not admit that she had previously made false rape claims because then she would be found out.

He said it was clear she had experienced previous trauma. After having sex she might have felt guilty and ashamed, and that was why she accused Zuma of rape.

Evidence had been given that the woman was mentally ill.

Van der Merwe accepted the evidence of a number of church people who said the woman also accused them of rape or attempted rape. He said there was no reason for all of them to have conspired against her.

With acknowledgement to Sapa, Guardian Unlimited and Mail & Guardian.