South Africa profile

President: Jacob Zuma

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Jacob Zuma trod a rocky road to the presidency

The leader of the ruling African National Congress party, Jacob Zuma, was chosen president by the newly-elected parliament in May 2009.

Born to a Zulu family in 1942, Mr Zuma has spent his entire adult life since 1959 in the service of the ANC. He joined its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1962 and was arrested the following year. He spent ten years in prison for conspiracy to overthrow the apartheid-era government.

After his release he left South Africa and was a leading figure in the ANC abroad until he returned home in 1990 to take part in the talks that brought apartheid to an end.

Mr Zuma was prominent in promoting the ANC among Zulus who had voted for the Inkatha Freedom Party in the first free elections in 1994, and was consistently elected to senior ANC posts. In 1999, he became the deputy president of South Africa under President Thabo Mbeki.

Mr Zuma's standing in the country fell rapidly after he was named in a corruption case related to a controversial arms deal, and President Mbeki dismissed him from the deputy presidency in 2005. Prosecutors then brought corruption charges against him, and shortly afterwards he was charged with rape.

He was acquitted of the rape charge the following year, and his support on the populist left of the party ensured that he was able to defeat President Mbeki in elections for the ANC leadership in December 2007.


Mr Zuma looked set to become president of South Africa after the 2009 parliamentary elections, but the corruption allegations persisted. It was not until April 2009 - weeks before the parliamentary polls - that state prosecutors finally threw out the charges on the grounds that there had been political interference.

The opposition said this was a technicality and that Mr Zuma ought to answer the charges in court. Nonetheless, he led the ANC to a convincing election victory and was duly inaugurated on 9 May.

In November 2011, a man seen as a potential serious challenger for Mr Zuma's post, the firebrand ANC youth leader Julius Malema, was suspended from the governing party. He remains a thorn in Mr Zuma's side, however, and called for him to resign over the Marikana mine shooting incident in August 2012.

In December 2012 Mr Zuma was was re-elected as ANC leader with an overwhelming majority. And in May 2014 the ANC again won a commanding majority in parliamentary elections, providing President Zuma a second term in office.

The country's worsening economic woes, coupled with scandals over his contacts with business groups, led to hitherto close allies like the Communist Party and COSATU trade unions to call in 2017 for President Zuma to resign.

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