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Zuma Elected Head of South Africa's ANC


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

In South Africa, ruled since the end of apartheid by the African National Congress, it's big news when the ANC gets a new leader. And last night delegates to the party's annual congress overwhelmingly chose a new man, Jacob Zuma. It was a huge defeat for President Thabo Mbeki, who wanted to hold onto the job, and it puts Zuma in line to be the next president of South Africa.

NPR's Charlayne Hunter-Gault was there for the announcement and the celebration that followed.

Ms. DRENEE RUPEN (Election Agent): The number of votes received by Comrade Jacob Zuma, two thousand...

(Soundbite of cheering)

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The wildly exuberant crowd drowning out the overwhelming numbers giving Zuma victory - Jacob Zuma 2,329 to Thabo Mbeki's 1,505.

It was the Comeback Kid moment for Zuma, once the country's deputy president, fired two years ago by the president, Thabo Mbeki, over charges of corruption, and further tarnished in a rape trial in which he was acquitted but for which he was widely criticized for statements some gender activists called sexist. Others criticized his statement that he took a shower to protect against HIV after having unprotected sex with the accuser.

But clearly, the massive outpouring of support and votes show these issues paled in comparison to hand language of the rain-soaked voters: two raised fingers, indicating Mbeki's two terms was enough, and rapidly rolling fist, indicating it was time for a change.

Ms. NOMA QUAYSI BONISWA(ph): Ever since 1994, you know, nothing happened.

HUNTER-GAULT: Noma Quaysi Boniswa, ignoring the pouring rain outside the conference hall, as she passionately told me change was the reason for her pride in Zuma's victory.

Ms. QUAYSI BONISWA: We haven't got water, haven't got toilets, even the electricity. And we're living in (unintelligible) areas. You know, we want change.

HUNTER-GAULT: A new dawn was how Andreas Mowagi(ph), a voting delegate, was describing the Zuma victory, in one of the many congratulatory phone calls he's taking in a parking lot outside the conference hall.

Even the charges facing Zuma - of accepting bribes in a government arms deal - are not clouding his new dawn.

Mr. ANDREAS MOWAGI (Voting Delegate): (Unintelligible) the best constitution money can buy. So one of the clauses is you are not guilty until proven otherwise.

HUNTER-GAULT: But change clearly was the operative word, from parking lot pundits to those in the ivory tower.

Mr. ADAM HABIB (University of Johannesburg): I think there will be change in style of management.

HUNTER-GAULT: Adam Habib, University of Johannesburg's Research and Innovation Department.

Mr. HABIB: You're going to have a president who jigs on the conference floor. He is not going to be quoting Shakespeare. He's going to strike it easy with poorer people.

HUNTER-GAULT: Even an Mbeki supporter like South African businessman Kusaseli Jack(ph) agrees, and reflecting further on the fact that the last contested presidential position in the ANC was over 50 years ago...

Mr. KUSASELI JACK (Businessman): I think the situation is such that our loss is a good thing that shows the strengthening of our democratic system in the country.

HUNTER-GAULT: The pro-Mbeki Jack echoed many in the immediate aftermath of the Zuma victory.

Mr. JACK: I am confident also that Zuma will be able to work very hard to show the international community about the fact that South Africa is not going to depart from this road of stability that we have embarked on.

HUNTER-GAULT: And others hoped and believed that Zuma would be true to their image of him as a man of the people and begin the work of reuniting the ANC.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault, NPR News, Polokwane, South Africa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Charlayne Hunter-Gault
Charlayne Hunter-Gault recently left her post as CNN's Johannesburg bureau chief and correspondent, which she had held since 1999, to pursue independent projects. Before joining CNN, she worked from Johannesburg as the chief correspondent in Africa for NPR from 1997 to 1999.