The ANC’s most controversial figures: Jacob Zuma and Winnie Mandela

By Campaign Agent Michelle Blick

So far in 2018, there have been two momentous events that have shaken South Africa: February brought the stepping down of long-term corrupt leader Jacob Zuma, and April the death of the liberator of South Africa’s former wife, Winnie Mandela.

The now former President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, ruled the country from 2009 up until the 14th February 2018. He was an early member of the African National Congress (The ANC), which came to be the incumbent party that which has ruled South Africa since 1994. Zuma courageously served 10 years as a prisoner on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, and other ANC figures, for political crimes against the state. 

Zuma was awarded the position of deputy president in 1999 but was consequently sacked from this position by president Thabo Mbeki in 2005 due to allegations of corruption. A running theme of his time in the ANC government, Zuma’s entire presidency was plagued with allegations of corruption. Notably, one of his biggest scandals included using government funds to finance the building of his extremely large and costly property Nkandla, in Kwazulu Natal, amidst high levels of poverty. Moreover, it has been suspected that Zuma has given the Wealthy South African Gupta family considerable amounts of influence over political affairs in exchange for money. Such scandals heavily reduced the Presidents’ credibility among the South African people who have frequently taken the streets to protest his position in office.

Despite years of public disdain, it is only until this February that Jacob Zuma officially resigned. It has been reported that this action comes after increased pressure from his own fellow ANC party members who threatened to hold a 'vote of no confidence' in parliament if he refused to resign. In his last speech as president, Zuma expressed his motive in stepping down insofar that he felt “the ANC should never be divided in my name”, referencing the pressure he felt to step down.  Nevertheless, the former president ensured that he still intended to continue to serve the South African public. For many citizens of the African nation, the 14th of February marked a liberation of sorts, in which one of the most unpopular and controversial ANC figures handed their country back to them and into the safe control of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

A second controversial ANC Figure that has hit the headlines in recent months is Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. She is controversial primarily because of her increasingly radical ideology. She first came to be known as the wife of Nelson Mandela, when the two married in 1958. Their marriage had the backdrop of the Apartheid regime which divided South Africans on the basis of race: along with Apartheid came oppressive laws for non-whites, segregation and unrest. The ANC stood for equal rights for whites and non-whites. While Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 27 years, Winnie continued the legacy of her husband’s political activism and became a political figure in her own right. She found herself frequently in trouble with the government and Apartheid authorities and was even exiled to rural South Africa for many years. She was an extremely popular figure and heavily associated with liberation. 

It was only towards the latter end of Apartheid regime, ending in 1994, that Winnie became controversial, as she became increasingly radical. This included her kidnapping conviction in 1991, which she quickly met bail for. Moreover, she presented a more defiant attitude and seemed to promote radical behaviour such as ‘necklacing’.  A few Years after Nelson Mandela’s release, he and Winnie divorced in 1996. Unlike the reputation of Jacob Zuma, despite claims of crimes and radicalism, Winnie Mandela continued to have widespread support and political influence. In April Tributes were paid in abundance to honour the ‘Mother of the nation’.

Further reading

Image: flowcomm @Flickr


TalkPolitics is proud to be supported by Audible. For 50% off your new membership, click here.