South African President Jacob Zuma Booed at Mandela Memorial

President Jacob Zuma and President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama, center, is greeted by South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, right, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon looks on prior to a memorial service for late South African President Nelson Mandela at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg. Photographer: Alexander Joe/AFP via Getty Images

South African President Jacob Zuma was jeered by a crowd attending a memorial service for the nation’s first black leader Nelson Mandela, as a series of scandals weigh on his popularity before elections next year.

While there was a roar of welcome for former President Thabo Mbeki as he entered FNB stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, boos greeted Zuma, 71, with some people in the crowd making rolling hand signals used to signal a substitution at soccer matches. Mandela died on Dec. 5 at the age of 95.

“Zuma has made too many blunders,” Terror Moloi, 34, a laundry worker from Soweto wearing a cap with an emblem of the ruling African National Congress, said in an interview at the stadium. “He only favors his own friends. He’s not following Mandela’s path. He’s abandoned the values of Mandela.”

Mandela served 27 years in jail for fighting apartheid, and after his release in 1990 he helped negotiate the end of white-minority rule before taking over as president in 1994. During his imprisonment, Mandela was seen as the symbol of the struggle against apartheid and later promoted racial reconciliation.

Zuma, 71, who won control of the ANC from Mbeki in 2007, became president in 2009 just weeks after prosecutors dropped charges against him for allegedly taking bribes from arms dealers. He fathered a child with a friend’s daughter, while an Indian family he counts as friends secured access to a high-security air force base on April 30 to transport guests to a wedding. Zuma was acquitted of rape charges in 2006.

Corruption Ombudsman

A draft report by the nation’s corruption ombudsman, obtained by the Mail & Guardian, found Zuma personally benefited from a state-funded upgrade of his home that cost more than 200 million rand ($19 million) and recommended he repay part of the money. While the government said the spending was for security upgrades, the probe found the renovations included a pool, amphitheater and houses for relatives, the Johannesburg-based newspaper reported Nov. 29.

Political opponents of the ANC used the memorial as an opportunity to embarrass Zuma and the ANC, party spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in an interview with Johannesburg’s 702 Talk Radio.

The booing “could not have been spontaneous,” he said. “We are not saying people should not express their views but was this the right platform? It was not.”

The ANC has won more than 60 percent of the vote in every election since the end of apartheid in 1994. The party won almost 66 percent of support under Zuma in the last national poll in 2009.

Mbeki Cheers

“He’s an opportunist,” said Moloi. “We voted for him, because we believed in him, but he failed us. He’s an embarrassment to the nation. I cheered for Thabo Mbeki, because I need him to be the president again.”

Mbeki oversaw a period of record economic growth and implemented policies that encouraged the formation of the black middle class in South Africa, which today numbers about 4.2 million of the nation’s 53 million people.

The biggest welcome at the memorial service was reserved for U.S. President Barack Obama. Robert Mugabe, his counterpart from South Africa’s neighbor Zimbabwe, who Western governments accuse of driving his nation into economic ruin, also received a rousing welcome.

Zuma’s main support base is in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, which accounts for more than a quarter of all ANC members. Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC’s deputy leader and the master of ceremonies for the service, urged the crowd to exercise restraint and discipline as Zuma was booed for a third time.

“Most people don’t like him anymore because of poor service delivery and empty promises,” Amogelang Somo, 24, who recently finished studying for an engineering degree.

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