South Africa's Zuma gets 'rain boo' wake up, but will tough it out

Wed Dec 11, 2013 10:16am EST
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By Peroshni Govender

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The booing of South African President Jacob Zuma at Nelson Mandela's memorial laid bare popular anger against him, but the thick-skinned ANC leader can call on a powerful political base to carry him and the party through elections next year.

Zuma, who was popular when he took over the presidency of Africa's largest economy in 2009, suffered public humiliation on Tuesday in front of world leaders when thousands attending the rain-soaked Mandela commemoration booed and jeered him.

The president, no stranger to criticism in a scandal-plagued tenure, endured the public pillorying with a stony face. But it must have hurt him to hear those who booed, some wearing African National Congress (ANC) T-shirts, then cheering U.S. President Barack Obama and Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

Even more painful would have been the audible cheers for apartheid's last white leader, former President F.W. de Klerk, and even for former President Thabo Mbeki, the man Zuma replaced as ANC leader in 2007 in a tumultuous party takeover.

Newspapers splashed the booing incident on their front pages. "Zuma's humiliation," the Star said in its headline. The Johannesburg Times headline read "Rain boo nation", a sarcastic play on the multi-racial "Rainbow Nation" Mandela proclaimed when he became South Africa's first black president in 1994.

Writing in the Daily Maverick, political commentator Stephen Grootes called the Zuma booing experience "some sort of turning point in our public discourse".

"For someone who used to be met with rapturous ululation wherever he went, this is a huge change," he added.

But while in many nations such a crushing public humiliation would probably have led to a resignation, or calls for swift leadership change, the ANC's monolithic dominance of South Africa's political landscape since the end of apartheid in 1994 means such outcomes are not immediately likely.   Continued...

South African President Jacob Zuma makes a speech in this still image taken from video courtesy of the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) at the First National Bank (FNB) Stadium, also known as Soccer City, during former South African President Nelson Mandela's national memorial service in Johannesburg December 10, 2013. REUTERS/SABC via Reuters TV