JZ lovechild strains ANC, say analysts

2010-02-10 13:58

PUBLIC outrage over President Jacob Zuma’s out-of-wedlock child has

strained the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and raised the stakes for

his state of the nation address tomorrow, analysts said.

South Africa hardly murmured when its polygamous president married

his third wife last month, even with another fiancee waiting in the wings.

But news last week of his four-month-old daughter, the 20th child

for the 67-year-old president, born to the daughter of a top World Cup

organiser, has been greeted with headlines like “Shame of the Nation”.

Cartoons depict Zuma at the podium in Parliament, delivering

the state of the nation while rocking a crib.

Editorials question his fitness for office.

“If the president is unable to respect social boundaries such as

those created through marriage, how can he be trusted to respect the boundaries

erected in terms of the national constitution’s checks and balances?” Business

Day wrote.

Initially defending the lovechild as a personal matter, Zuma

apologised on Saturday, saying he “regretted” the pain he had caused the


But the apology won a lukewarm reception, and the normally

gregarious Zuma has studiously avoided public appearances – taking two days

unscheduled leave last week and cancelling a tour through a Cape Town township

on Monday.

“It’s about the ANC trying to minimise impromptu public contact and

fearing if anything were to happen it would overshadow the state of the nation

address,” said University of the Witwatersrand political analyst Susan


“This couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” said Aubrey

Matshiqi, of the Centre for Policy Studies.

With strong labour backing, Zuma rose to the top of the ruling ANC

two years ago after a bruising leadership battle with former president Thabo


Months later, the party forced Mbeki to resign as head of state.

Zuma took over the job after last year’s general elections, but along the way

rankled some of the top ANC brass who questioned his abilities.

“There has always been this myth that Zuma is loved by everybody,”

said political analyst Steven Friedman, of the Centre for the Study of


“There is a quite significant section of people who didn’t like

him, but voted for him because he was the only candidate against Mbeki” for

leadership of the ANC, he said.

Even Zuma’s allies in labour unions have appeared at a loss to

respond to the latest scandal. The main labour body, Cosatu, initially declined

to “pass judgement” on Zuma, but reiterated its support for using condoms to

fight AIDS.

Cosatu welcomed Zuma’s apology, but Matshiqi said the ruling party

appeared “one apology away from a leadership crisis”.

“The immediate challenge would be to consolidate the forces that

supported him” during his rise to power, Matshiqi added.

Zuma’s speech to Parliament, to be broadcast live during prime-time

television, was expected to focus on creation of decent work as the country

recovers from last year’s recession.

Nelson Mandela will be seated nearby, to mark the 20th anniversary

of his release from apartheid prison, symbolism Zuma had hoped to seize to

promote his political agenda.

Now analysts warn that unless he manages to win public opinion back

to his side, Zuma could suffer from the comparison to the former president,

known fondly as Madiba, his clan name, still seen as the nation’s ethical


Booysen said Zuma “is one of our big national symbols, and if

people are laughing about this, it affects everyone.”

“South Africans want to be proud of their president and draw

parallels to Madiba, who everyone is proud of.”

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