Mon, Jan 28, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Jacob Zuma slams other African nations at Davos


Jacob Zuma, who survived rape and corruption charges to become the president-in-waiting of South Africa, has harsh words for Kenya and Nigeria, where recent elections were marred by alleged fraud, violence and disputed results.

"What has happened in Kenya I think is absolutely not right," Zuma said on Saturday in an interview. "It does not help to advance the case for the African continent."

Of last year's Nigerian election, won by the governing party and condemned by observers as deeply flawed, he said: "It's not a good example if you've got the kind of infrastructure or method that allowed that kind of thing."

He also said he was hopeful for a fair election in Zimbabwe -- where on Friday President Robert Mugabe set national elections for March 29 despite opposition calls for more time to prepare -- and promised to continue South Africa's efforts to mediate between Mugabe and the opposition.

That is Zuma at Davos: a man trying to project stability and seriousness and dissolve concerns about his readiness to govern a country that may not have the most people in Africa -- that's Nigeria -- but is looked to by millions on the troubled continent for leadership.

It is that special role that magnifies the concerns about Zuma, who unseated South African President Thabo Mbeki at a party convention of their African National Congress (ANC) last month -- in the first time in 55 years that the party leadership was openly fought.

The victory virtually assured him of being the party's presidential candidate in elections scheduled in 2009 -- if he survives new corruption charges against him. The ANC is so dominant in South Africa that its candidate is seen as assured of the presidency.

Last week Zuma was one of the most sought-after figures at the annual gathering of the World Economic Forum in this Swiss resort -- an engaging and enigmatic would-be president.

But can the mantle of the widely revered Nelson Mandela, the first post-apartheid president, really pass to a man who only a few months ago was acquitted of rape charges?

After all, the moral voice of the nation, former Cape Town Arch-bishop Desmond Tutu, urged ANC members not to elect Zuma, pleading that they "not choose someone of whom most of us would be ashamed."

Zuma brushed off the insult.

"People like Bishop Tutu, a few others, might have their views. I respect him," he said in the interview. "My understanding is that clergy people are there to pray [and not] take political stances."

The first corruption charges against Zuma were thrown out of court in 2005.

Soon after, he went on trial for rape, accused by the HIV-positive daughter of a family friend. Zuma argued the encounter was consensual and was acquitted, but not before he made damaging comments that led many to question his judgment -- including that he believed taking a shower after the sex would reduce the risk of AIDS.

Zuma linked his rise to the displeasure of many South Africans with Mbeki's decision to fire him as the nation's deputy president in 2005.

"Since that time people have felt that some of the things that happened to me were certainly unfair ... that there was [an] interfering with Zuma's human rights," he said.

Zuma said he still meets with Mbeki and brushed off concerns about dysfunction in South Africa's governing party.

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