Zuma Trial Exposes South Africa's Secrets

The acquittal of former South African deputy president Jacob Zuma on rape charges earlier this week marked the culmination of a two-month legal battle that grew into a cultural symbol and national obsession.

For South Africans, Zuma's trial resembled a combination of the Clinton impeachment hearings and the O.J. Simpson trial. It generated a circus-like atmosphere in and outside the courtroom and exposed deep social conflicts around issues of rape, politics and AIDS.

Zuma, the leftist leader in the ruling African National Congress, was accused by a 31-year-old family friend of raping her when she spent the night at his Johannesburg home last November. Zuma said the woman, whom he knew to be HIV-positive, had all but invited him to have sex by wearing a short skirt. He admitted he did not use a condom. Much to the fury of women's groups, the trial judge allowed testimony about her sexual history and the fact that she had previously made accusations of rape against men who denied the charge. On Monday, the judge acquitted him.

"The trial has fractured the political establishment and knocked South Africa's vaunted political stability," said the Mail & Guardian. "It has damaged much that South Africans hold dear, including gender equity and the need for national unity. Battles that seemed to have been won against tribalism and sexism -- at least in principle -- now have to be waged anew."

The trial "lifted the lid on our attitude as a society towards, and the tolerance of, sexual assault and rape," said Business Day. It showed "the extent to which rape is a blight on the nation, a blight that shows no limits to its extent and scale of depravity," said the Sunday Independent.

"The law is the law, and the law has come a long way in South Africa," wrote News24 columnist Chris Roper after the trial. "Remember how terrible it was during the years of apartheid, when the law was only for white men! Now it's for black men too. Eventually, it'll be for women as well, I guess."

The trial also illustrated the failure of the country's leadership in fighting AIDS, said the Mail & Guardian. When President Thabo Mbeki stirred controversy a few years ago by saying that HIV did not cause AIDS, the national daily noted that Zuma "did not buy into the denialism." Instead Zuma advocated what South Africans call "the ABC" approach, to abstain, be faithful and condomise.

Zuma's position has now been exposed as "shallow rhetoric," says the M&G. "He did not abstain, he is not faithful and he did not condomise. Both Mbeki and Zuma have taken the battle against HIV and Aids back by 10 years."

Zuma testified that he showered after the encounter with the woman in order to reduce his chances of getting HIV, a claim that was denounced by AIDS activists who said showering would not reduce the risk of infection. One popular joke held that Zuma would have done better to take a cold shower beforehand.

At times in his trial testimony, Zuma spoke Zulu, widely seen as an appeal to his supporters, many of whom said the rape charges were orchestrated by rivals in the ANC from the Xhosa tribes who oppose Zuma's desire to move the party to the left. "Zuma has deliberately used tribalism in his fight, undermining the ANC's century-old anti-tribal philosophy," said the Mail and Globe.

The judge's "not guilty verdict," handed down Monday was hailed as vindication by Zuma and his supporters. Zuma apologized for not using a condom and asked followers not to vilify his accuser who has reportedly left the country.

Zuma also indicated that he has not given up his ambitions to run for president in 2009. His attempt at a comeback sets the stage "for increasingly bitter wrangling" within the ANC, says iafrica.com.

Kevin Dumouchelle contributed to this column.

By Jefferson Morley |  May 12, 2006; 8:03 AM ET  | Category:  Africa
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i think South Africa has already done a good job to promote democracy and justice.However,more needs to be done to better protect the rights of women.

Posted by: abby from china | May 12, 2006 10:11 AM

the Zuma trial has had one - and only one - positive spin-off for South Africa. It has proven the strength of the Judicial and Prosecution institution in the Nation.

For the average African Nation, the concept of putting a highly influential politician (our *Deputy President*) on a fair and unbiased trial is unheard of.

dave, cape town

Posted by: dave buchanan | May 12, 2006 10:54 AM

Unfortunately, the evidence was no where near convincing to convict Zuma. Regardless of what Zuma believes or propogates, he should not be convicted because of his beliefs, but rather because of his actions. Overall, the complainant's story and version of events do not ring true - the surrounding relationship with Zuma and his family does not sound real and most importantly she had cried rape before when it was not rape. Under those circumstances, it is very difficult to accept her version of events.

But do I want Zuma as my next president? No - because at the end of the day, he has shown that he is irresponsible, makes bad descisions and does not really show leadership. That is what is needed, and I don't want him as my leader.

Posted by: john, cape town | May 12, 2006 10:59 AM

I strongly believe that Zuma and his backers are the first poisonous challenge ever posed to the thriving and dynamic South African democracy.

Until now, South Africa has proven to be an advanced society where debate, human rights and the rule of law have been fostered and protected. Do you know that South Africa has more female members of Parliament than France, by far ? And also more women in Governement than in France ?

But Jacob Zuma reminds me of the typical, little-educated type of leaders who up north in Africa have proven to be awful, corrupt and ineffective leaders. That the woman involved has to pack and seek refuge out of South Africa (as we are told by the newspapers) only because Zuma's followers want to make her "pay" for going to court is outrageous. And the details that emerged (for a French person like me, it was really astounding) in court about his sexual practices, his ideas about HIV transmission and the simple fact that he was involved in a rape trial despite being the South African VP bring sufficient proof that this man is backward and certainly not a leader, especially in the 21 st century.

I am French and I love South Africa and I do not want to see that success story crumble under the attacks by such a horrible man as Zuma. And by the way, I think that he has an ugly face.

Let's not forget that he returns to court in July in order to face corruption and graft charges. I hope the South African judiciairy won't let themselves be impressed by the street demonstrators.

Jacob Zuma is a severe and present danger to South African democracy in particular, and to democracy at large.

Posted by: Daniel, Paris | May 12, 2006 11:58 AM

Zuma, Mbeki, Mugabe - no difference - they are all the same and a danger for society as is any under-educated politician which is the case for probably 50% of the South African government these days. Dark Africa has proven for years the lack of ambition leave alone democracy.

Like they say you can take them out of the bush but you can't take the bush out of them...

Posted by: Garrett, USA | May 12, 2006 12:38 PM

The posters have a point but, let's not forget our post-colonial history - "educated" leaders have proved rather severe disappointments, too.

Posted by: K | May 12, 2006 12:44 PM

This article has just touch on the tribal issue. The ANC's century-old anti-tribal philosophy is a farce. The ANC leadership is mostly made up of people from the Xhosa tribe, while Jacob Zuma is a Zulu, it was to be expected that he would eventualy be brought to a fall, like other non-xhosas before him. Before any election it is not uncommon to see Zulu leaders killed by Xhosa supporters of the ANC. Just before the "first democratic" election in 1994 the ANC opened fire on a group of supporters from the IFP (Zulus)from the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg. Today the world is considering South Africa a democratic society. I have one question - How many governments in the civilized world today would be elected in power, just after they ordered the killing of un-armed supporters of the opposition.

This lady was taken out of the country yesterday as part of the witness protection program. If South Africa was this safe and democratic society, why was it neccessary? Monica Lewinski is still living in the US without fear for her life and she brought down the most powerful person in the world at the time.

Posted by: et | May 12, 2006 12:59 PM

In a case like this you start to see the cracks that undermine the hopeful vision of South Africa's future. There is so much potential in a country that has come so far after so much suffering. It would just be terrible to see such a beautiful country failing to thrive.

When I lived in Namibia it struck me that the one party rule of Swapo (Namibia's version of ANC) wasn't sustainable over the ong term. You can't live off the glory of the victory over apartheid forever, right? (I think so, though there are difference conceptions of what a legitimate government looks like in different part of the world). Unfortunately if a devide is inevitable (for either country) I'm not so sure that the result would be the usual left-right kind of multi-party democracies. It could very well turn to tribalism, and racism. (Many colored and whites already vote for the Democratic Alliance even beyond the issues with the IFP mentioned above). It this is the eventuality it certianly wouldn't be a recipe for a hopeful future for the rainbow nation.

Any more Mandela's out there?

Posted by: David George Ferguson | May 12, 2006 01:03 PM

umm.. she invited him to have sex with him by wearing "a short skirt"?? wow.. that's an awesome defense. so rational. so logical.... because we all know that all women who wear short skirts must want to have sex with everyone.

Posted by: malcolm | May 12, 2006 02:01 PM

I would hate to be judged by one mistake. It is obvious that he used poor judgement but like so many politicians they fall into the trappings of power either real or percieved. As I read the article it also appears that he is headed to court for corruption and graft charges. It would make me second guess voting for him. As to his accuser either the story was false or she was not represented by her lawyer effectively. Either way she should not have been forced to leave the country. It is unfortunate that these kinds of incidents happen because the real victim is the truth - did he rape her or did she cry foul in the hopes of getting something out of it - only the two of them know the truth and both of them appear to be somewhat decietful......

Posted by: Keith | May 12, 2006 04:29 PM

The Zulus are distrusted for a reason. They helped oppress their fellow blacks as the NCOs of apartheid.

In fact they themselves only arrived in South Africa shortly before the white men. The Zulus were busy massacring and enslaving the other tribes when the Boers showed up and usurped that role.

Zulu political leaders in the 80s, when apartheid was being defeated, were more often to be found stirring up anti-ANC pogroms than helping to overthrow that evil system. Has everyone forgotten the godawful Chief Buthelezi?

The Zulu tend to be exclusivist and tribalistic. The Xhosa are not. They've generally gotten along fine with the Tswana, Sotho, Venda etc. The ANC is majority Xhosa because it began as a trade union movement and the Xhosa initially made up most of the mine workers. The foremen, of course, were Zulus.

I lived in South Africa, in a Tswana area, and I never met anyone who feared Xhosa tribalism. Only the Zulus tend to gang up along ethnic lines. Everyone else seems to rub along pretty well.

South Africa is in relatively good hands. Anyone who doubts that should look at Zimbabwe. The only really serious complaint I've heard leveled against the ANC govt is that they don't take HIV seriously enough. Something tells me Zuma's not the man to fix that problem.

Posted by: OD | May 12, 2006 10:34 PM

IT was very sick what happened. How was this the rule of law and the prevailing of democracy, when the alleged Victim was chased out of the country by these demonstrators?
Why is Africa is there this celebration of these "men" who do not respect women and who are sexually promiscous?

why was the judge concluding on basically no evidence - that this woman lied, - why did he castigate the anti-rape groups, and did not have any word of criticism for the Zuma Supporters with their threats?

This just goes to show that the law of rape supports often the rapist.

This trial was very ugly - and I think portrays some Aspects of african society in a very ugly light.

Posted by: American | May 14, 2006 12:47 AM

Any body can get up on a stand a lie. Just because Zuma was able to get 5 men on the stand to support his allegation that this woman has denied rape, does not mean anything. These Zuma supporters are very fanatical and I believe they will do anything, even get up on the stand and lie - if they are willing to scream "Burn the B*tch" - they would get up on the stand and lie.

I think it's a travesty of justice that the Judge credited these witnesses and concluded that the victime lied. How can he know for sure or even with a preponderance of the evidence when he was not there. At best, he could only conclude that Zuma was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, it is a bit arrogant to conclude that the Victim was lying. How does the judge know - when he was not there - and merely from these witnesses?

The Judge does not seem to respect women's rights. What happened is appalling.

South Africa is no democracy, if the accuser can not even live in her own country because of the vileness and uglyness and threats of the Zuma supporters.

I think's backwards to support a man who has showsn that he has such poor judgement and lack of self control and even decency and honor when it comes to women and sexuality. Yet he is a hero among many in Africa.

Posted by: Citizen | May 14, 2006 12:52 AM

South Africa - rather Johannesburg is the rape capital for a reason - because of people like the Judge who acquitted Mr. Zuma, and because of people like Mr. Zuma and his supporters across Africa. The law or rape is what Creates the rape capital of the world.

Posted by: Woman | May 14, 2006 12:55 AM

Zuma is a self-made Zulu boy whom we are told never made it to second grade primary school. It is through his native intellegence that he rose from the dusty villages of Kwa-Zulu Natal during the oppressive aparthied years to become South Africa's deputy Head of State. He was relieved of his duties because of a matter that is still pending in a court of law. He has not been found guilty of the charges levelled against him except by some journalists and publications in the court of public opinion. The same was true of the rape charge. Some reporters inferred Zuma was guilty before the judgement on the case was handed and when the verdict proved contrary to expectations, reporters opted to pay selective attention to the judgement. Others even lied about the the judgement. For example, a lot of publications claimed Zuma was not found gulity as charged due to lack evidence. This is not accurate. The Judge said he found Zuma not guilty because he believed Zuma's version of what transpired on the night of the alleged rape. Why does media mis-construe facts in this manner? I'm not a Zuma fan but in the interest of journalist integrity, I wish to register my dissatisfaction with news values of most so-called journalists and the publications that run with inaccurate stories or pay selective attention to stories they cover. It is not necessary to patronize media consumers in this manner. Media consumers are not passive recipients of media texts - they participate in defining the meaning of what publications report. And in some cases, as was in the Jacob Zuma case, media consumers will disagree with the mainstream version of events. Ask the tens of thousands of people who braved long distances, cold and rainy days, just to lend support to Zuma whom they felt was being villified by the press.

Posted by: Tula Dlamini | May 17, 2006 05:24 AM

Why would the Judge believe Zuma's version and not the woman's based on the facts? Does the Judge in a Court of Law have this privelage? This is giving a lot of leeway to mysogynists, and persons who support rapists, or could care less about Human rights.

I thought that the Judge only had grounds to aquitt Zuma based on what he saw as lack of evidence. I don't find Zuma's version believable. The Judge is an Afrikanaar man - one of the arbiters of the Apartheid order in South Africa - it is interesting that this Man's views aligned with "traditional" African mores on women.

South Africa is the rape capital of the world because of these types of Judgments- only about 7% of rape cases result in conviction.

I think Zuma in the end will be convicted of corruption. The ANC is suffering because it appointed him to Be VP in the first place .

Zuma is corrupt - and I think we saw a glimpse of this based on his dealings with this woman.

Posted by: Woman | May 18, 2006 06:58 AM

Tula Dlamini : many think Zuma is an uneducated, illiterate, boorish, and man. If he was intelligent, how did he end up in this great morass?

Posted by: Woman | May 18, 2006 07:02 AM

ANC is a party which was formed by Xhosas. There was ANNC which was formed by all ethnic group in South Africa. Its first president was Zulu. However majority of other high ranking people in that ANNC were Xhosas. Then when a majority of Xhosas joined ANNC they decide to change it to ANC, becuase the ANNC was irrelevent together with its policies. ANC has ever since its formation led by a Xhosas. Nothing will change ANC for Xhosas and IFP for Zulus.

Posted by: Siya Mpo | May 22, 2006 06:26 AM

Dear Woman...You say many think Zuma is an uneducated, illiterate, boorish, and man. With all due respect to you, I disagree, except with the latter (Yes he is man).
First, Zuma is educated but not certificated by mainstream education institutions. I learnt a lot through 'living perception. His skills in dealing with masses of people bear the testimony. Second, he is not illiterate judging by the eloquence by which he read his press statement soon after the judgement.

You ask "If he (Zuma) was intelligent, how did he end up in this great morass?" Well, let he or she that has no single fault cast the first stone. Personally, I do not wish to be a zealot that goes around claiming self-rightiousness. For goodness sake, Zuma has conceeded publicly that he made a huge mistake and has apologized. Everyone deserves a second chance. A lot of men and women share this view as was seen during the many demonstrations in favor Zuma. The fact that others disagreed is good for an emerging democracy like South Africa.

As for Zuma and the South African presidency, I pray for the day when Africa will be governed by constitutional participatory democracies and not by the so-called "great and self rightious leaders". My ideal President is one who will play the role of "senior civil servant" and will be loyal to a regulatory framework that we (civil society) evolve. Zuma has already stated his ambition is to serve the ANC and its contituencies in whatever capacity. And the ANC Freedom Charter is clear "THE PEOPLE SHALL GOVERN", not just the elite or sections of society.

Posted by: Tula Dlamini | May 26, 2006 12:54 PM

The PEOPLE shall govern - not only educated people, not only the elites, but all the people.

Let's stop this assumption that when a leader has more support from the working class and the poor than from the elites, the meadia, etc, then he is not a leader or that his supporters are rather misdirected.

Posted by: someamongus | September 10, 2006 04:33 AM

South Africa belong to all who live in it Black and white, often in the world stage The media because of their lack of education about our issues in our Continent, like this bile they push on the world stage, they negate our leaders, culture, ethics to present our continent as a dark place, thus negating our philosophy ethics, and morality.

We are not cursed by being black, neither we are ashamed, but we are proud to be who we are in this continent, that we are black, people with are future, great tommorrow, South Africa will be a great Nation, black and white.

Zuma's going on politics is not motivated by the ethnic bile that some are suggesting, it was motivated by a heart to save his people from biased Eurocentric mentalities, the bile of Colonialism, the Killing of our Black people by the boers, colonialist, and slaving of our women and children, it was a love for his people, care that saw him take politics, wheather Buthelezi is a killer as the world make him, that is another question, but to the people of South Africa a Father, a man who contributed to the liberation, in the same way as Tambo, Mandela, and all of them did. It was his love for the Zulu identity, which if it matures well we can in the end create our first Greek athens, not just by zulu, but by the fact that our cultures have allowed us to create a pluralistic, holistic worldview, in a world bathing in corruption, terrorism, and AIDS.

South Africa, has not been a dark place, it at all times shine, rising up, with the endless possiblities, as we speak it will take position on the UN as a non permanent member, a leader in the AU, founder of Nepad, leader of the APRM, and other great strides, we are coming from a time where Zuma was in Court, that was justice, now how do we fitt the dark concept that we are ssumed possess?

76 Erna Road,
Kwazulu Natal,
South Africa.

Posted by: Thabani Andre Cornelius Dladla | September 21, 2006 07:58 AM

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