Hostility to Zuma sparks ANC election concerns
South African president linked to series of scandals in recent years
South African president Jacob Zuma before making a speech in Soweto. The country’s first citizen was booed and heckled repeatedly by some sections of the crowd throughout the Mandela memorial service. Photograph: Reuters
The hostile reception South African president Jacob Zuma received as he made his way on to the stage for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service will cause the ruling African National Congress party significant concern with elections only months away.
The occasion should have portrayed the ANC in an extremely positive light given the high esteem in which Mandela is held at home and abroad. But instead, the former liberation movement came away looking like its leader is under severe pressure in terms of his popularity and appeal.
The majority of those booing Zuma were earlier singing ANC struggle songs in honour of other party leaders such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, who both received resounding applause when they arrived.
The country’s first citizen, however, was booed and heckled repeatedly by some sections of the crowd throughout the event at the FNB stadium in Soweto.
He was first heckled when the screens showed him arriving with his two wives, Bongi Ngema and Thobeka Madiba, then twice again when he was introduced by programme director Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC deputy president.
What motivated those responsible is unclear, but in the weeks leading up to Mandela’s death Zuma had been in the news for all the wrong reasons. This, combined with numerous other scandals he has been embroiled in, might well have prompted their ire.
Most recently, South Africa’s public protector sent a provisional report to affected parties on the controversial upgrades made at Zuma’s Nkandla home. It was leaked to the media.
The state spent R208 million (about €18 million) on the upgrades, which were meant to be purely security-related. But the plans for the renovations show the residence contains 10 air-conditioned rooms, underground living quarters, a clinic for Zuma and his family, 10 houses for security personnel, houses for air force and police units, a helipad, underground parking, playgrounds and visitor centres.
Many have criticised Zuma for this extravagance at the expense of the taxpayer. He maintains he has done no wrong and had no input into the work carried out.
However, the public protector’s investigation provisionally found he received substantial personal benefits from the work done.
This latest controversy is just the tip of the iceberg. Zuma has been embroiled in a number of scandals in recent years, though he has managed to overcome them all so far.
Earlier this year there was the “Guptagate Affair”. It is thought Zuma was the hidden hand that sanctioned the landing of an aircraft of wedding guests by his friends the Guptas at a military base at Waterkloof in Pretoria.
In 2005 Zuma was accused of raping the daughter of a friend at his home in Johannesburg, a charge he vehemently denied. He was found not guilty when the case went to trial a year later, with the judge deciding the sex was consensual.
Zuma was also accused of receiving 783 payments worth over R4 million (about €350,000) from his friend and financial adviser Schabir Shaik, who was accused of being a go-between between the then ANC deputy president and French arms manufacturing company Thomson.
The corruption charges relating to these payments were withdrawn only days before he was sworn in as president in 2006.