"...Looking relaxed and flashing his trademark smile, Mr Zuma demonstrated the warmth and charm that have helped this unschooled cowherd from a rural backwater in KwaZulu Natal rise to be one of the dominant — and, some say, sinister — forces in South African politics. A key figure in the struggle against apartheid, he was imprisoned for 10 years with Nelson Mandela.
Yet his political career has been more controversial. Sacked last year as deputy president over allegations that he accepted bribes from a French arms company, Mr Zuma has refused to lie down and instead mounted a campaign to portray himself as a victim of a conspiracy to prevent his becoming president of the ANC in party elections next year. Whoever wins that contest is almost certain to become president when Mr Mbeki steps down in 2009.
He denied suggestions that the party was split on tribal lines, with his own backers drawn from the Zulu tribe and those of Mr Mbeki from his Xhosa tribe. The passionate support of his followers sprang from a natural sense of justice, not tribal or political rivalry. "What people are protesting about is the apparent victimisation of a comrade — me — by the organs of state," he said.
Even the admission that he had unprotected sex with a 31-year-old HIV positive woman who accused him of rape — a charge of which he was cleared this year — has failed to dent his appeal. When the corruption charges were also struck from the roll in September, it appeared Mr Zuma was unstoppable. "I support Mr Zuma because he fought hard for the liberation of our country and he would do more for ordinary people than the current government," said Bonginkosi Mbhele, 50, as he waited for Mr Zuma's arrival.
But the business establishment is deeply suspicious of him. Azar Jammine, the head economist of the analysts Econometrix, said he knew of many white business people who said they would pull out of South Africa if Mr Zuma were elected. They fear his economic policy would be dictated by his trade union and Communist Party supporters.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has suggested that Mr Zuma should pull out of the presidential race, citing his sexual irresponsibility and the mob antics of his supporters. Mr Zuma said only: "I respect him and I don't think I want to politic with him on this."
As to allegations raised during the trial of his former financial adviser Scahbir Shaik — jailed this month for fraud and corruption — that he had been bailed out by Shaik because his own finances were in a terrible mess and was therefore unfit to be president, Mr Zuma said "no president, no leader in the world" had been subject to this kind of examination.
"I've been in the ANC for decades," he said. "I've had many responsibilities at different levels, including responsibility to handle money and nowhere could you find a record that I was unable to handle money.
"In any case, if one day the ANC says this man will be president, people are not judged by how they manage their personal finances. It is on their understanding of the policies and their responsibilities towards the country."
Mr Zuma's supporters are reported to be targeting weak ANC branches with propaganda material in an effort to build up greater support for his coming campaign...."