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Last Updated: Saturday, 8 April 2006, 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK
Zuma's HIV courtroom revelations
By Peter Biles
BBC southern Africa correspondent

South Africa's former deputy president, Jacob Zuma, is on trial for rape. It is alleged that he attacked a family friend, who is HIV positive. Mr Zuma denies the charge.

Jacob Zuma supporter in front of police (Pic: Jonathan Biles)
Jacob Zuma's supporters are decreasing in numbers

The nation has absorbed intimate details of what may or may not have happened on the night in question, some of which have appalled many local Aids activists.

Every morning at 0900, a convoy of luxury cars with blue lights flashing, sweeps into Pritchard Street in downtown Johannesburg.

They pull up outside the High Court - a granite, domed building, and men in black suits emerge from the vehicles.

Presidential-style, Jacob Zuma's bodyguards form a phalanx around his car, and then trot into the yard at the back of the court.

On the street outside, the diehard Zuma supporters cheer and sing, but are held back by the police.

During the five weeks since this trial began, their numbers have dwindled markedly.

This time last year, though, Mr Zuma was the second most powerful person in the land - deputy president of South Africa - and a strong contender to succeed Thabo Mbeki when he steps down in three years' time.

Mr Zuma certainly had many of the right credentials to lead this country.

He was a fighter in the ANC's liberation struggle, a prisoner on Robben Island for 10 years, and a former head of intelligence when the ANC was in exile.

Now though, Mr Zuma has suffered a dramatic fall from grace.

He is on trial for rape, with the details of his sex life splashed across the newspaper front pages day after day.

It is more than most people can stomach, but there is no respite.

We now know, at the very least, that Mr Zuma had unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman, half his age, who says she regarded him as a father figure.

She used to call him Malume - the Zulu word for uncle - because her late father and Mr Zuma were once comrades-in-arms.

The legal teams

Inside Court 4E, the atmosphere is always expectant.

Former SA deputy president Jacob Zuma
Zuma's comments about HIV have angered Aids activists

There is no jury system in South Africa, and the sole arbiter in this case is Judge Willem Van Der Merwe, described by the press as a "courteous, anglicised Afrikaner".

He is best known as the man who sentenced the notorious apartheid assassin, Eugene de Kock, to multiple life terms for murder in 1996.

On the left hand side of the court, sits the prosecution team, led by Advocate Charin De Beer.

She is the one who subjected Jacob Zuma to two gruelling days of cross-examination.

She too, is Afrikaans. Her command of English is strong, but sometimes rather quaint.

At one stage, she put it to Mr Zuma that he had "tippy-toed" down the passage to see if the complainant was sleeping, shortly before the alleged rape.

Facing the judge is the Zuma defence team, headed by the Dickensian-looking Advocate Kemp J Kemp.

With his tangled mop of hair and ill-fitting legal attire, the papers call him "Unkempt Kemp".

But although he is a virtual stranger to criminal trials, he is no slouch, and is regarded as one of the best defence lawyers in the country.

Finally, there is Mr Zuma himself. First sitting in the dock, and then taking his seat on the witness stand when he was called to testify.

He chose to speak in Zulu, with the aid of a court translator, although it soon became clear that Mr Zuma's English may well be superior.

Frequently, he would lean over to assist the interpreter.

Zulu culture has featured rather heavily in this trial.

Mr Zuma is described by his followers as "the 100% Zulu Boy".

Expert knowledge

Under cross-examination, he was asked why he had taken the risk of having sexual intercourse with a woman who was HIV positive, when he had no condom available.

Sub-Saharan Africa: 25.8m
Asia: 8.3m
High-income nations: 1.9m
Latin America: 1.8m
E Europe, C Asia: 1.6m
Australasia, Pacific: 74,000
N Africa, Mid East: 510,000
Caribbean: 300,000
Source: UNAids/WHO

He explained unashamedly, that in accordance with Zulu tradition he had been brought up to understand that a man could not abandon a woman in a state of arousal, otherwise she might become infuriated, and accuse him falsely of rape.

In other words, he had had no choice but to carry on.

If that was not bad enough, Mr Zuma told the court he thought the risk from HIV was small, and that he had taken a shower immediately after the sexual intercourse on the night in question, because - he believed - it was one thing that might reduce the chances of contracting HIV.

These assertions came from the man who was head of the National Aids Council and the Moral Regeneration Campaign.

This is someone who should have expert knowledge of the threat of Aids in a country where more than five million people are HIV positive.

Local Aids activists and supporters of the complainant who have been picketing the court, have been horrified and outraged by Mr Zuma's comments.

They say it has set back South Africa's battle against HIV and Aids by many years.

One of the country's top cartoonists, Zapiro, summed it all up with a sketch about "The Jacob Zuma Moral DE-generation Handbook".

Under a code of ethics, is Point 3: "Before casual unprotected sex, remove brain and place on bedside table".

From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 8 April, 2005 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.

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