South Africa’s new president has risen from the ranks

May 8th, 2009 - 2:06 pm ICT by IANS  

By Fakir Hassen
Pretoria, May 8 (IANS) Jacob Zuma, who will be sworn in as South Africa’s third democratic president at the Union Buildings here Saturday, has been deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC) for the past decade and a former deputy president of the country.

Zuma was born on April 12, 1942 in Inkandla, KwaZulu-Natal Province. His father died at the end of World War II, after which his mother took up employment as a domestic worker in Durban. He spent his childhood moving between Zululand and the suburbs of Durban, and by age 15 took on odd jobs to supplement his mother’s income.

Owing to his deprived childhood, Zuma did not receive any formal schooling. Heavily influenced by a trade unionist family member, he became involved in politics at an early age and joined the African National Congress in 1959. He became an active member of Umkhonto We Sizwe in 1962, following the banning of the ANC in 1960.

While on his way out of the country in 1963, he was arrested with a group of 45 recruits near Zeerust in what was then the western Transvaal (now the Northern West Province). Convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government, he was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, which he served on Robben Island.

After his release, Zuma helped mobilise internal resistance and was instrumental in the re-establishment of ANC underground structures in the then Natal province, (KwaZulu-Natal) between 1973 and 1975.

He left South Africa in 1975 and for the next 12 years, based first in Swaziland and then Mozambique, dealt with thousands of young exiles who poured out of South Africa in the wake of the Soweto uprising.

He lived in several African countries working for the ANC, where he rose rapidly through the ranks to become a member of the ANC National Executive Committee in 1977.

Following the unbanning of the ANC in February 1990, Zuma was one of the first ANC leaders to return to South Africa to begin the process of negotiations, and was instrumental in organising the Groote Schuur Minute between the F.W. de Klerk regime and the ANC that reached important decisions about the return of exiles and the release of political prisoners.

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