Book Title: Zuma, A Biography
Author: Jeremy Gordin
Publisher: Jonathan Ball Publishers
Zuma, A Biography is an intriguing story of an uneducated herd boy who became president of the Republic South Africa, Jacob Gedley’hlekisa Zuma, (2009 to the present). He is the third democratically elected president of South Africa following in the footsteps of the international icon Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. Both Mandela and Mbeki were educated presidents in the finest educational institutions graduating as barrister and economist respectively.
Zuma was born on 12 April 1942 into the Zuma clan at Nkandla, a rural area situated in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, the birth place of the great Zulu King: Shaka Zulu. Zuma was the first son of Nobhekisisa Zuma and his second wife, Gcinamazwi. Zuma’s mother was a domestic worker and his father a policeman. Zuma’s father died while his son Jacob was too young. He remembers nothing of his father.
In the book, a portrait of Msholozi (Zuma’s praise) as a man of contradictions emerges. He is at ease in his leopard skin attire embedded in his deep cultural roots of the Zulus (the largest tribe in South Africa). He is a shrewd modern politician and also a proud polygamous man. He is known for his affable demeanour and infections smile. Yet, he is equally eloquent in the international arena and talks through the complexities of global economy without a hint that his formal highest standard of education remains the primary school level.
In this unauthorised biography, veteran journalist Jeremy Gordin takes us through the journey of Zuma – from his humble beginnings as a herd boy, trade unionist, political prisoner (with Nelson Mandela), exile life and of course his quest to become president of South Africa.
Gordin paints a picture of a man whose life was never destined for greatness. Zuma spent his childhood years as a herd boy and never had an opportunity to complete his primary education. Zuma’s family was poor, if not destitute. However, it was his mother’s work as a domestic worker in the white suburbia in Durban that introduced Zuma to the harsh realities of apartheid.
The book tells of Zuma’s quest for freedom – joining the African National Congress (ANC) at a tender age of 17, his incarceration on Robben Island, his time in exile, and the transitional years of the 1990’s.
However, the book focuses on Zuma’s role in the post-apartheid South Africa. Zuma served in the President Thabo Mbeki’s cabinet (1999 to 2005) as deputy president. On 14 June 2005, Zuma was fired for the misdemeanours of his friend and former financial adviser.
Gordin takes us through Zuma’s political roll-coaster ride from political wilderness (after his firing from the deputy presidency) to his election as a president of the ANC in 2007 and his descend to highest office – that of the president of the republic. Zuma defeated Mbeki his political nemesis in the highly contested party election in 2007. He later presided over his party’s national executive committee meeting (2008) that decided to ask Mbeki to resign from the presidency, a mere six months before the end of his term of office. Mbeki agreed to step down in an emotional televised address to the nation.
To this end, the Zuma’s biography is an important book in that it shows the workings of democracy in Africa’s newly independent state (since 1994). Despite the intense political rivalry of the two men – no blood was shed, although Mbeki’s supporters deserted the ANC to form their own political party shortly after he was fired. But, Mbeki remains a member of the ANC and works closely with Zuma in the peace building mission on the African continent.