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By SIBUSISO NGALWA and CARIEN DU PLESSIS Political Bureau
President Jacob Zuma has plunged the governing ANC into crisis by breaking a top-secret pact he made with its leaders three years ago.
After his victory at the party's conference in Polokwane in 2007, the party's elders told him to make a full and frank disclosure of all relationships, sexual dalliances and children, illegitimate or otherwise.
He had to promise not to embarrass the ANC with other sexual revelations. Zuma was warned unequivocally that the ANC could not afford a repeat of his controversial 2006 rape trial and acquittal.
Zuma declared his current three wives as the women in his life and said he had 18 children.
At the time he was married only to Sizakele Khumalo. He married Nompumelelo Ntuli in 2008 and Thobeka Madiba last month.
On Sunday it was revealed that he had fathered a four-month-old baby with Sonono Khoza, the daughter of soccer supremo Irvin Khoza.
This week, as the country united in an unprecedented show of revulsion, Zuma was forced to issue a statement confirming both the baby's paternity and that he was in a current relationship with Khoza.
He then went on an unplanned two-day break from office.
Senior party officials and leaders of the tripartite alliance tried to rally to his defence, but as the week wore on, the cracks began to show.
The Saturday Star can reveal that the revelations have stunned senior party leaders.
This was the second time they have been caught unprepared about revelations regarding Zuma's life in as many weeks.
Last month, as Zuma was marrying Madiba, it emerged he had already begun a process to become engaged to Bongi Ngema, who has borne him a child, now four years old.
A senior national executive committee (NEC) member - who did not want to be named - said the reports were embarrassing.
"Some of us are paralysed (by embarrassment)... This is something that you cannot even raise in meetings. We don't know what to do. We are embarrassed when asked about this by decision-makers internationally," said the NEC member.
A youth leader also spoke about their powerlessness over the matter.
"We don't know how to handle this man and his sexual appetite. We will defend him to you (the media) but (his actions) are (indefensible)," said the leader, who also did not want to be named. He is a known Zuma supporter.
The SACP has yet to break its silence, while Cosatu has raised the issues of condom usage, abstinence and having only one partner - aspects of the government's HIV message that Zuma has disregarded.
But yesterday Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi stopped short of condemning Zuma's behaviour.
"We do not want to pass any judgment but we hope that it will be a matter on his conscience," he said.
Vavi reiterated Zuma's appeal this week that the president be accorded his "right to privacy" and the child protected from undue publicity.
Western Cape Cosatu leader Tony Ehrenreich broke ranks with his comrades and vented his unhappiness with the president's conduct.
He said Zuma's behaviour was "not fitting, especially in this country, where we want to encourage young women not to have children outside marriage when they cannot support the baby".
The ANC on Friday changed its public stance on the matter.
"This experience, painful as it is, has taught us many valuable lessons. The ANC, true to its character, has listened to and heard the concerns. President Jacob Zuma has also listened to and heard the concerns," the party stated.
An ANC spokesman, Jackson Mthembu, denied knowledge of any meeting between the elders and Zuma. He renewed the party's plea for the media to respect Zuma's privacy and give him an "opportunity to reflect on the concerns".