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Thursday, June 17, 1999 Published at 17:25 GMT 18:25 UK


World: Africa

Profile: Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma (left) is a long-standing friend of President Mbeki

By BBC South Africa Correspondent Greg Barrow

Jacob Zuma, South Africa's new Deputy President, is a close ally and long-term friend of President Thabo Mbeki. His appointment to the second-highest post in government consolidates a small circle of trusted advisors around Mbeki, and also ensures that the African National Congress is not accused of anti-Zulu sentiments.

Mr Zuma, who at 57 is the same age as Mbeki, was born into a poor family in what was then known as Zululand, and spent his early years looking after his father's cattle.

His political awakenings began early, and at the age of 17 he joined the ANC. It was the beginning of a turbulent political career, which led to his arrest and imprisonment for 10 years with other anti-apartheid activists on Robben Island in the 1960s.

Underground work

On his release, Mr Zuma was instrumental in the establishment of the ANC's underground structures, and he rose rapidly through the ranks of the organisation. By the mid 1970s he had become a hunted man. He was forced to leave South Africa and spent much of the next decade in exile.

It was while he was overseas that Mr Zuma cemented his friendship with Thabo Mbeki. When both men were tipped for the deputy presidency in Nelson Mandela's first cabinet, it was Mr Zuma who stepped aside to allow his old comrade a clear run at the post.

Following the lifting of the ban on the ANC in 1990, Jacob Zuma was one of the very first activists to return to South Africa, and the following year, he was elected deputy secretary-general of the ANC.

Zulu support

During the political violence in KwaZulu-Natal in the run-up to the 1994 elections, Mr Zuma is credited by the ANC for winning over support among the Zulu population, and limiting the powers of the Inkatha Freedom Party leader, Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

Ironically, it was Mr Buthelezi who was Mr Zuma's closest rival for the position of deputy president this time round. In the days following the ANC election victory on 2 June, the ANC tried to woo Mr Buthelezi into accepting the ANC presidency in exchange for giving the ANC control of KwaZulu-Natal. Those negotiations appear to have hit problems, and Zuma may have been seen as a more convenient candidate for his post.

His appointment as deputy president in this government does not make Zuma the anointed successor to Thabo Mbeki. Mr Mbeki hopes to run for two five-year terms, and there will be many others jostling for leadership of the ANC and the country over the next 10 years.

Jacob Zuma enters a cabinet which includes his ex-wife, Nkosazana Zuma, another ANC favourite who has just been promoted to the powerful Ministry of Foreign Affairs.



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