Former President Jacob Zuma at OR Tambo International Airport after returning to South Africa, allegedly following medical treatment abroad. File photo: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)
Former President Jacob Zuma at OR Tambo International Airport after returning to South Africa, allegedly following medical treatment abroad. File photo: Nokuthula Mbatha/African News Agency(ANA)

SA's most politically polarising figure Jacob Zuma turns 78

By Sihle Mavuso Time of article published Apr 12, 2020

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Durban - An icon to some and a polarising figure to others, former President Jacob Zuma continues to hog the headlines and divide the country two years after leaving public office. 

On Sunday, the fourth democratically-elected president of the country turned 78. Birthday messages and social media comments showed he is still a divisive figure.

To his supporters, he is the father of radical economic transformation (RET). To his detractors, he was allegedly corrupt to the core. Evident that he is still worshipped by his supporters were the birthday messages from the likes of Jacob Zuma Foundation which hailed him as one of the greatest revolutionaries. 

The foundation further described Zuma as an “African Symbol, a Liberator, an inspiration and the best leader of our time.” 

“It’s so much joy that you have made it to this 78th Birthday mark. Your Excellency, it’s by God’s Grace that, despite all the hurdles and health challenges especially in 2019 and the past few years, you emerged stronger, with the same love and passion for the people and Umbutho Wabantu, uKhongolose. We know it was not easy but God gave you another clean bill of Health,” the foundation said in a statement. 

His party, the ruling ANC wished him well and said he continued to serve with “humility and dedication.” It added that Zuma has served the ANC and the masses of our people with sheer determination.

“The ANC wishes him well on his birthday, and further asks him to remain committed to the revolution and serving the people,” the ruling party said in a statement. 

The ANC in KZN, a structure that was once Zuma’s political pillar for years, described him as an organic intellectual and revolutionary that dedicated his life to seeing a free South Africa. 

“Comrade Zuma has proven to be loyal member of the glorious movement, joining campaigns and addressing the masses even after he stepped down as the president. While President Zuma's birthday comes at a time when the country and indeed the international community is engulfed by the Covid-19 pandemic, this does not diminish its significance,” the provincial structure said. 

Other notable birthday messages came from KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala and former eThekwini mayor, Zandile Gumede. In her message, Gumede said: “Your role, your contribution since your youthful days to our liberation and post-liberation was never a waste, it a legacy that we are proud of. We will continue to learn from your experience and that of your generation.”

Notably, the South African Communist Party (SACP) an alliance partner of the ANC which fervently supported Zuma's rise to power between 2005 and 2013, had (by Sunday afternoon) not said anything about the birthday. In the past, it used to be one of the first parties to send warm birthday wishes. 

Also silent was the Congress of South African Trade Union (Cosatu) another alliance partner that lent its support in 2007 in Polokwane and during the early years of the nine years of Zuma’s presidency. 

Although they supported his rise to power, Zuma’s relationship with the two soured from 2014 to an extent that they led efforts that saw him being ousted in February 2018.

Political Bureau

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