Zuma: A Biography

By Mokoena, Hlonipha | African Studies Review, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Zuma: A Biography


Mokoena, Hlonipha, African Studies Review


MEMOIRS AND BIOGRAPHY Jeremy Gordin. Zuma: A Biography. Johannesburg and Cape Town: Jonathan Ball Publishers, 2008. xix + 307. Photographs. Notes. Sources. Index. $20.95. Paper.

One way of understanding the timing of Jeremy Gordin's biography of Jacob Zuma is as a response to the two biographies of Thabo Mbeki that preceded it. This link is not just chronological, however; it vividly illustrates the paradoxes of public life and leadership in postapartheid South Africa. Whereas the African National Congress (ANC), as a political party, decries and denies leadership struggles and contests, its leaders imprint themselves on the public imagination through infamy, notoriety, and just plain soapbox theatrics. Whereas the ANC would like to present a united front of ideological vigor and democratic consultation, its leaders "go public" with HIV/ AIDS denialism and other conspiracy theories. Gordin's book attempts to bridge and explain the gap that exists between the ANCs self-image and its often spectacular public-relations blunders. His subject is obviously Jacob Zuma, the current president of the Republic of South Africa, but the book is as much a biography of the persona as it is of the party of which he is a loyal member.

In Mark Gevisser's Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred (Jonathan Ball, 2007; published abridged in the USA as A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream [Palgrave MacMillan, 2009]) and William Mervin Gumede's Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC (Zebra Press, 2005) we find depicted a leader struggling to position himself between the towering image of Nelson Mandela and the competing ideological demands of inclusiveness made by the ANCs alliance partners, Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and the SACP (South African Communist Party) . Here the two figures of Mbeki and Zuma also represent a struggle over a nebulous but emotive phenomenon called "the soul of the ANC." Although it is not clear when the ANC acquired this metaphysical dimension, the battle for its "soul" has taken on august proportions. …

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