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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 September 2006, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Zuma apologises for gay comments
Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma retains his presidential ambitions
South Africa's former Deputy President Jacob Zuma has apologised after offending the gay community.

He was quoted as saying that same-sex marriages were "a disgrace to the nation and to God".

He also said that when he was a young man, he would have knocked down any homosexual person he met.

Mr Zuma is trying to rebuild his career after being sacked over corruption allegations, although he was cleared of the charges last week.

Mr Zuma was also acquitted on separate rape charges earlier this year - his supporters say there is a political vendetta against him, designed to remove him from the race to succeed President Thabo Mbeki in 2009.

'Sterling contribution'

"My remarks were made in the context of the traditional way of raising children... I said the communal upbringing of children in the past was able to assist parents to notice children with a different social orientation," Mr Zuma said in his apology.

How can a narrow-minded person like this be expected to lead our nation?
Joint Working Group
"I however did not intend to have this interpreted as a condemnation of gays and lesbians."

He also said he respected the "sterling contribution of many gay and lesbian compatriots in the struggle that brought about our freedom".

The homosexual lobby organisation Joint Working Group said Mr Zuma's comments were a "form of hate speech".

"It would seem Jacob Zuma still has a lot to learn about leadership... How can a narrow-minded person like this be expected to lead our nation?" the group said.

South Africa's constitution bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and the government is considering legalising same-sex marriages after a court ruling that the ban was illegal.

The charismatic Mr Zuma is popular among poor South Africans, many of whom say the current government has not done enough to help them.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, Cosatu, last week said Mr Zuma should be reinstated as deputy president, following his acquittal.

The case was thrown out because the prosecution said they were still not ready to start the trial more than a year after he was charged.

The prosecution, however, say they may still press new corruption charges against him.

Unless this happens, Mr Zuma would be free to contest next year's leadership contest of the ruling African National Congress.

Whoever is elected to head the ANC would be favourite to become South Africa's next president.

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