Mr. Zuma, 66, has been president-in-waiting since December, when he bested Mr. Mbeki for the top job in the party hierarchy. His shadow has loomed over the government ever since, and it now becomes even starker.
He is a husky man with a shaved head, a high-beam smile and an outsize personality. Should people be afraid?
“I can’t tell you why, but he scares me to death,” said Rita Middleton, as she took in the newspaper headlines on Sunday in a neighborhood grocery....
Mr. Zuma considers himself a Zulu traditionalist. Some aspects of that tradition have upset human rights groups. Mr. Zuma has advocated the practice of testing virgins — inspecting girls to make sure they have preserved their virtue. A practicing polygamist, by most counts over the years he has taken six wives.
In 2005, on trial for the rape of a 31-year-old family friend, Mr. Zuma testified that she had seduced him by wearing a short skirt and sitting in a provocative way. He said that “Zulu culture” had left him no option but to oblige. Afterward, he said, he took a shower, believing it would minimize the risk of contracting H.I.V. He was found not guilty.
That same year, President Mbeki fired Mr. Zuma, his deputy since 1999. Evidence showed that a Durban businessman convicted of bribery had brokered payments from a French arms supplier. The money was alleged to have gone to Mr. Zuma.
“Some may think Zuma is a crook, but they don’t think he’s the big fish,” said Barney Mthombothi, editor of The Financial Mail.
Much of Mr. Zuma’s support within his party comes from the other two members of the “Tripartite Alliance:” the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the Communist Party...."
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