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Former President Jacob Zuma
Former President Jacob Zuma

Former President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma was born on 12 April 1942 at KwaNxamalala in Nkandla, northern KwaZulu-Natal.

His early political consciousness was shaped by his cousin Muntukabongwa Zuma, who had fought in the Second World War and later joined the trade union movement and the ANC in Durban. The young Zuma was drawn into the organization and attended its meetings in Mkhumbane (Cator Manor).

The President joined the ANC Youth League and SACTU in 1959.  He became an active member of the ANC during the Roaring Fifties - which came as a result of the militant Programme of Action of 1949 – the 1950s were characterised by the Defiance Campaign, the adoption of the Freedom Charter during the Congress of the People held in Kliptown in 1955, the anti-pass campaigns and the historic 1956 Women's March on the Union Buildings.

This was the decade of the youthful and visionary Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Chief Albert Luthuli. It was also a decade of the implementation of the most brutal, ruthless and draconian apartheid laws, including the Suppression of Communism Act and the Group Areas Act, as well as the first of a series of treason trials, including the 1956 Treason Trial.

He has fond memories of the mass struggles under the direction of the then President of the ANC, Chief Albert Luthuli and of workers struggles led by the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), of which he was a member.

He served with and drew inspiration and knowledge from giants of the struggle such as Harry Gwala, Steven Dlamini, Moses Mabhida, and John Nkadimeng. He was introduced to the socialist movement and attended evening political classes under Moses Mabhida and Stephen Dlamini for several years.  

President Zuma was recruited into Umkhonto Wesizwe by the stalwart of the liberation struggle, the late Moses Mabhida and participated in sabotage operations in KwaZulu-Natal. He was arrested in June 1963 near Zeerust in the present day North West Province. On the 12th August 1963 the sentence was passed, 10 years imprisonment on Robben Island. He was only 21 years old when he began serving his sentence.

True to its name, Robben Island taught President Zuma and many of his peers many things about our country and struggle. It became a university in the true sense of the word. He continued with his political development on the Island and received his political education as well as general education with the help of his comrades.

He was released from Robben Island Maximum Security Prison in 1973.

He came out more determined than ever before to fight for freedom. Abandoning the struggle was never an option for him. He found Durban engulfed by workers’ struggles and other mass action. He immediately began the task of rebuilding the ANC underground structures, serving under Harry Gwala, the legendary Lion of the Midlands. He recruited young people for military training and arranged their passage to Mozambique and back.

The mission was compromised and he had to leave the country in 1975 on the instruction of the leadership. This was after the arrest of his mentor, Mr Harry Themba Gwala.

The struggle continues in exile

During his period in exile, President Zuma was based in Swaziland and Mozambique, where he led most of his outstanding operations. During this period, he engaged in underground work with former President Thabo Mbeki and others supporting internal resistance. He worked primarily with the Natal machinery, while former President Mbeki and Mr Albert Dlomo focused on the Swaziland side.

He was never completely in exile. For example, early in 1976, he secretly entered South Africa to re-establish contact with activists in the Durban area. He was directly in daily and weekly contact with the underground network inside the country, processing reports from and giving direction to the underground operatives on a regular basis.

In March 1976, Messrs Zuma, Mbeki and Dlomo were detained by the Swaziland authorities at Matsapa prison and were only released after the intervention of President Oliver Tambo, who sent Moses Mabhida and Thomas Nkobi to negotiate on their behalf. President Zuma was released in April 1976 and was deported to Mozambique.

He began serving at senior leadership levels at this time. In 1977 he was appointed to serve into the Maputo Regional Committee, and in the same year, was also co-opted as a member of the ANC National Executive Committee, while at the same time he also began working for the SACP. In 1978, he completed a three-month leadership and military training course in the then Soviet Union.

In 1984, President Zuma was appointed the Deputy Chief Representative of the ANC, the year the Nkomati Accord was signed between Mozambique and South Africa. After this accord was signed, he was appointed as Chief Representative of the ANC and remained in Mozambique. He was re-elected to the ANC’s NEC at the Kabwe Conference in 1985.  He also served on the ANC's Politico-Military Council after its formation in the mid-80s, and the Intelligence Department at the ANC Head Office in Lusaka, Zambia.

In December 1986, the South African government requested Mozambican authorities to expel six senior members of the ANC including President Zuma. As a result of the pressure applied by the apartheid government on Mozambique, in January 1987, he was forced to leave Mozambique. Subsequently, he was appointed Head of underground structures and Chief of the Intelligence Department in Lusaka.

When the ANC began to talk to the apartheid regime in the 1980s President Oliver Tambo selected Mr Zuma and Mr Mbeki to execute this delicate and complex task.

The National Executive Committee selected President Zuma to lead the compact advance group that came into the country to prepare for the commencement of Talks-about-Talks after the release of former President Mandela and the unbanning of political organizations by the last President of the white-minority based Republic, Mr FW de Klerk in 1990. He secretly returned to the country in March 1990, alongside Penuell Maduna and Mathews Phosa, to work as part of a steering committee tasked with identifying remaining obstacles to negotiations between the apartheid government and the ANC.

Later he was involved in negotiations which resulted in the signing of the Groote-Schuur Minute, an agreement that outlined important decisions regarding the return of exiles and the release of political prisoners.  The ANC at this time also began re-organising itself inside the country. In November 1990, President Zuma was elected Chairperson of the ANC’s Southern Natal region. In 1991, at the first ANC conference held in South Africa since 1959, he was elected Deputy Secretary General, serving under the current ANC Deputy President Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, who was Secretary General at the time.

The negotiations began around December 1991, and President Zuma attended the Convention for a Democratic South Africa as an ANC representative.

During this period violence was still continuing in what is now KwaZulu-Natal and also what is now Gauteng. The apartheid state security forces led a sustained and brutal covert campaign against the ANC and allied organisations in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

President Zuma worked tirelessly persuading and convincing the leadership cadres to pursue peace initiatives. It was not easy. The ANC leadership in the Natal Midlands, which was feeling the brunt of the attacks, was sceptical about the peace negotiations with the Inkatha Freedom Party. President Zuma had to swim against the tide, firm in his belief that the end result will be peace in KZN and the country as a whole. He knew that the enemy was the regime that was fomenting violence by proxy.

The ANC national leadership knew the havoc and devastation that war and violence had caused to many African countries. 

It was a great achievement for the country when the National Peace Accord was signed by all political parties, the apartheid state, organized labour, organized business and communities. In 1992 the National Peace Accord was signed and this was a significant achievement and a step closer to restraining the actions of the security forces.

This made it possible for all the parties to work together in a structured way in achieving peace and created the space for the negotiations for the transition from white minority rule to democracy to take place.

In January 1994, as the country prepared for the first democratic elections, Mr Zuma was nominated as the ANC candidate for the Premiership of Natal. The ANC lost the elections to the IFP.

When the results of the election became known there was solid ground to challenge the validity of the results in KZN, which showed a narrow win for IFP. The ANC decided not to contest the results and JZ played a very improtant role in persuading the leadership in Natal to go along with this decision.

In 1994 he was appointed MEC of Economic Affairs and Tourism for the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government.

It was during this deployment that President Zuma made his everlasting contribution to ensuring peace and stability in this country. Through bringing peace and stability to KwaZulu-Natal and its consequent impact of ending violence in the former PWV and Reef areas, now Gauteng, South Africa could make a peaceful transition to a new democratic order.  He had requested to be deployed to KwaZulu-Natal to work to cement peace between the ANC and IFP within the multiparty government of South Africa. He was convinced that if that matter was not dealt with, it could destabilise the whole country.

President Zuma’s role in cementing stability went beyond gaining acceptance of defeat by the ANC. He became the glue that held the fragile provincial government together. Some of the difficult episodes included attempts by the provincial IFP-led government wanted a Constitution for the province.  As leader of the ANC in the province and of the official opposition, President Zuma skilfully managed this issue in the provincial legislature and the idea of a constitution died a natural death.

President Zuma’s role in managing the constant and on-going crises in the Provincial Legislature and the Provincial Cabinet was outstanding to say the least.

He was later elected National Chairperson of the ANC and as Chairperson of the ANC in then Natal, in December 1994. An exception was made in the ANC constitution to allow him to hold both positions, a move that was called the Zuma clause, thus signifying his stature within the organisation and the fact that his role and contribution was critical.

In October 1998, President Zuma received the Nelson Mandela Award for Outstanding Leadership for his role in ending political violence in KwaZulu-Natal, in Washington DC in the United States of America.

In addition to making peace, President Zuma also had a full time responsibility as MEC of Economic Affairs and Tourism. He found that the functions of the Department had effectively been outsourced to the KwaZulu Finance Corporation. Despite this lack of capacity and a bare bones budget, then MEC Zuma focused on critical issues that could move provincial government forward and integrate it with national government.

Key amongst these was the production of a Provincial Economic Development and Growth Plan, fast tracking of the Reconstruction and Development Fund (RDP) from national government despite the majority party’s opposition to the RDP, and putting into place legislation to create the Provincial Tourism Authority.

This ensured that all the local obstacles were dealt with to develop the Lebombo Spatial Development Initiative between Swaziland, Mozambique and South Africa (KwaZulu-Natal). Today, this is the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, one of the country’s foremost World Heritage sites. As MEC he did not neglect local community development. He initiated and ensured the development of Shu Shu hot springs in the northern part of the province. This has since developed into a community tourism project amongst many.

President Zuma’s greatest contribution to KwaZulu-Natal as MEC, however, was his commitment and drive to get major economic infrastructure off the ground. In this regard, he took the lead to initiate the development of King Shaka International Airport and the Dube Trade Port.

In 1999 Mr Zuma was appointed as the Deputy President of the Republic and worked hard in his role in cementing peace in the continent in pursuit of South Africa’s mission of contribution to building a better Africa. His skills as a peacemaker came to good use in the national government, when he was asked by former President Nelson Mandela to assist him as Burundi peace mediator. He spent at least two years working to resolve the protracted Burundi conflict. His efforts ended triumphantly in a landmark peace agreement in December 2002.

This agreement also had a first for Africa as the President had, working through the AU, managed to secure the first ever African peacekeeping mission. The South African National Defence Force began serving in Burundi protecting leaders and assisting to stabilise the transitional process. When President Pierre Nkurunziza was inaugurated in August 2005, it was a major achievement for President Zuma who had gone through many trials and tribulations to bring about peace in that country.

During his tenure as Deputy President, President Zuma was also involved in mediation between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.

President Zuma also launched the Moral Regeneration Movement to galvanise government and civil society towards building a caring society amongst his highlights as deputy president, and also began championing rural development and the fight against AIDS, as chairperson of the South African National Aids Council.

He performed his tasks diligently until he was released from his duties as Deputy President of the Republic in 2005.

He continued serving as Deputy President of the ANC until his election as President of the organisation in Polokwane, Limpopo Province in 2007. Given the acrimonious nature of the contestation leading to the 2007 ANC conference, President Zuma and the leadership collective then gave themselves the task of rebuilding and renewing the organisation.

He led the organisation in the 2009 election campaign, fought in the midst of a breakaway from the ANC by a group that went on to form an organisation called the Congress of the People (COPE). The ANC emerged victorious in the 2009 national elections after a campaign based on the improvement of services in five priorities, rural development and land reform, creating decent work, the fight against crime, health and education.

Mr Zuma was inaugurated as President of the Republic for his first term on the 9th May 2009. The fourth administration was given clear directives by the 52nd National Conference of the ANC. These are generally referred to as the Polokwane Resolutions.

Working together we can do more

President Zuma began his first term by reconfiguring government to improve performance, while promoting collaboration with society under the theme of the fourth administration, Working Together We Can Do More.

New government departments were established, such as the Departments of Women,  Children and People with Disabilities, Rural Development and Land Reform – decoupling Agriculture from Land Affairs; Basic Education – decoupling it from Higher Education, Cooperative Government and Traditional Affairs –refocusing Provincial and Local Government, Military Veterans (from both statutory and non-statutory forces), International Relations and Cooperation –refocusing what was then called Department of Foreign Affairs, and Economic Development.

Most importantly, two new functions and Ministries were created in the Presidency, Performance Monitoring and Evaluation and the National Planning Commission.

Another key change was the refocusing of the housing portfolio to that of Human Settlements. Under the new approach it is no longer just about providing shelter but all the infrastructure and services that enable decent life.

One of the key achievements of the administration is the development of the National Development Plan Vision 2030 by the National Planning Commission, established by President Zuma in 2009. The country now has a plan that looks beyond just a few years.

Another key feature of the administration has been the President’s hands-on management of the economic development programme. This led to the establishment of the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission to drive the implementation of the massive and successful public infrastructure development programme.

The fourth administration also prides itself on the success of many other programmes. More impetus has been given to the programme to fight the HIV and Aids with dramatic achievements such as the halving of mother to child transmission of the virus and putting more than 2.5 million people on treatment and an increase in life expectancy among South Africans.

The enrolment of children in school including pre-school and early childhood development centres has increased tremendously under his tenure, with pre-school enrolments having doubled.

The enrolment of youth in higher education institutions has also increased tremendously due to government support, with the enrolments in further education and training colleges having gone up by more than 90 percent. His second term will see a further expansion of higher education access given the building of three brand new universities in Gauteng, Northern Cape and Mpumalanga provinces.

President Zuma’s erstwhile administration also demonstrated capability to keep all the social partners together in 2009 during the worst economic crisis globally which has had a serious impact on national economic growth and the loss of a million jobs on top of the extremely high levels of unemployment. The country has since regained the lost jobs.

President Zuma has also promoted the practice of regularly going back to communities to get a personal sense of the conditions under which the poor live and also check on the performance of Government programmes to fight poverty, under his Presidential Siyahlola programme. 

The African agenda, the principles of Pan-Africanism, the unity of the African continent and the economic development and integration of Africa have also been hallmarks of President Zuma’s fourth democratic administration.

The economic development of the continent has also continued to be high on the agenda. South Africa has consistently sought to nurture regional integration at three levels, SADC, the Southern African Customs Union and the Tripartite Free Trade Area comprising SADC, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa  and the East African Community. The President is determined to continue promoting  the developmental goals of the continent through these important continental structures.

South Africa became a member of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa bloc of countries (BRICS). BRICS has proved to be an important platform for engagement on issues of developmental cooperation, African Agenda and reform in global governance institutions. 

Under his leadership the country continued to participate and promote the transformation of international institutions such as the United Nations, the G20 and Bretton Woods institutions.

Several institutions of higher learning have recognised the leadership attributes and contribution of President Zuma to the country with a number of awards. He received honorary doctorates from University of Fort Hare, University of Zululand, Medical University of Southern Africa and the University of Limpopo in 2001.

Beyond our borders, in 2009 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Zambia and in 2011 degrees from the American University of Nigeria, University of Abomey-Calavi of Benin and Texas Southern University in the United States. In 2012 year he also received an Honorary Professorship from Peking University in Beijing, in the People’s Republic of China. These were honours not just for the President but for the country as well.

Moving South Africa Forward

President Zuma assumed his second term in office as President of the Republic on 24 May 2014 following the ANC victory in the national general elections held on 7 May 2014.

His priority during this second term will be to mobilize society behind the 2030 Vision enunciated in the National Development Plan, the country’s socio-economic development blueprint. 

The implementation of the National Development Plan will help move the country closer to the cherished vision of a truly united, non-sexist, non-racial, democratic and prosperous South Africa.

On 14 February 2018 President Zuma tendered his resignation as President of South Africa.

 Union Building