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Last Updated: Monday, 13 February 2006, 13:26 GMT
Crowds stand by Zuma in rape case
Former South African Deputy President Jacob Zuma is becoming politically ostracised after being charged with rape - but he can still draw the crowds, reports Justin Pearce in Johannesburg.

People with Jacob Zuma poster
Mr Zuma had been seen as a possible future president
"I love Jacob Zuma."

That was Thandi Khubeka's best reason for being outside the Johannesburg High Court on Monday, as South Africa's former deputy president appeared to hear a charge of rape.

"He's innocent," she added. "It's a dirty campaign."

Next to Mrs Khubeka , Ambrosia Ammie was just as ardent in her support.

"He does everything for us. We wouldn't have to pay school fees if we had Jacob Zuma."

Sometimes it is sheer adoration - sometimes it is a belief that "JZ" can deliver what some people feel the post-apartheid government has failed to do.

One man in the crowd compared Jacob Zuma to Bill Clinton: "Both presidents, who were accused by a woman."

Singing

The rape charge brought against Jacob Zuma may have made him a liability among the leadership of the ruling ANC and its allies - even among those who stood by him as he faced corruption charges last year.

Police outside the court
The crowds managed to get past the police lines
But Monday morning demonstrated that Mr Zuma can still pull the crowds.

A large number of them were bystanders but there was a core of several hundred dedicated supporters whom the police failed to keep outside of the cordon they had thrown up around the court building in central Johannesburg.

They chanted, they blew vuvuzelas (plastic trumpets) and sang the rousing song that has become the Zuma camp's anthem over the last six months: "Awuleth' umshini wami" (bring me my machine gun) - a relic of the armed struggle against apartheid.

'Landmark'

To one side, a group of about 40 women and a few men demonstrated against rape, and against South Africa's Sexual Offences Act which has been criticised for being too lenient towards rape accused.

"This case will be a landmark for other survivors and how seriously we take them," spokeswomen Carrie Shelver said.

The Zuma fans had other ideas: A man dressed in South Africa's bright orange prison uniform shuffled around with his feet shackled, bearing a placard that read "Jacob Zuma has been raped".

People with Jacob Zuma poster
Some hope Jacob Zuma would help the poor
It was a rowdy gathering, but mostly a peaceful one.

Scuffles only broke out when people handed out t-shirts with Mr Zuma's image - and some shirts ended up ripped in the struggle between eager recipients.

There had been plenty of shirts at Mr Zuma's appearance on corruption charges in Durban, but for a new charge in a new city, there was a new t-shirt design too.

"Zuluboy 100%" was the latest slogan - these t-shirts had phoney web addresses on the back, like "www.chatroom.monkey".

These were a jibe at the bogus e-mails and chatroom transcripts that were investigated last year, purporting to be evidence of an ethnically driven campaign led by President Thabo Mbeki against Mr Zuma and other Zulus.

The fake exchanges referred to Mr Zuma by the nickname "Zuluboy" - the fact that they have been exposed as a hoax has not stopped Mr Zuma's supporters from reclaiming the insult that was never, in fact, directed at their hero.

But the wit shown by those who produced the t-shirts didn't extend to the people wearing them, few of whom seemed to get the joke.

"He's innocent," was the only comment from a man in one of the "Zuluboy" t-shirts, who added that he had travelled the 600km from Durban to be outside the court.

How did he know that?

"That's too difficult - I can't say."


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