He's a charming former rebel intelligence chief and a working
class hero for the ideological left. He's a 64-year-old power broker
for his ethnic Zulu tribe, and a man who has recently survived a
crushing one-two punch of rape charges and a corruption trial.
Meet Jacob Zuma: He may be the next president of South Africa.
Few politicians would be able to appreciate the turnaround of
fortune in Mr. Zuma's climb to power within the African National
Congress, the largest party in South Africa, which has consistently
held power since the end of apartheid in 1994. But with a court
decision this week to postpone indefinitely a corruption trial
against Zuma, South Africa's most controversial black leader has
become the odds-on favorite to succeed President Thabo Mbeki, should
Mr. Mbeki step down from his post, as expected, at an ANC leadership
conference next year.
"Jacob Zuma is in a stronger position than he was in yesterday,"
says Aubrey Matshiqi, a former ANC member and government spokesman
and now a senior analyst at the Center for Policy Studies in
Johannesburg. "If the damage to his reputation does not extend to
the rank and file (of the ANC), then he will emerge as the strongest
candidate and most likely be elected president of the ANC in 2007,"
and the party's probable candidate for the president of the country
Few major changes expected
With South Africa's booming economy in the balance, any transfer
of power here is bound to gain international attention. Markets
responded quickly to the news of Zuma's postponed trial, and the
rand dropped sharply in value, from 7.3 to 7.4 to the US dollar. Yet
while political analysts expect Zuma's rising political fortunes to
set off a volatile leadership struggle over the next year, few
expect any major changes in economic or social policies, even if
South Africa's leading advocate of the political left comes to
"If you read the local media, you'd get the impression that
[Zuma's leadership] would bring Zimbabwe in 24 hours," says Steven
Friedman, a research associate at the Institute for Democracy in
Southern Africa, a think tank in Johannesburg. "But you've got to
remember that the coalition behind Zuma is very diverse," with
leftist trade unions and ethnic Zulus who would have very different
"I don't think who wins is the issue," says Mr. Friedman. "I
think the question is how the battle is fought."
Judging by the many trials of Jacob Zuma, the battle has been
quite ugly and personal thus far. …