Jacob Zuma was the president of good humour – a political colossus who loves to sing and dance.
With remarkable athleticism, the 75-year old has leaped, kicked and jived at any number of public events.
The dance floor is one place he commands with authority – a spot where you are unlikely to see him fall.
But after eight years in charge in South Africa, the public have watched him take a mighty tumble from the political stage as he quits as president – and it will have come as a relief to a sizeable majority.
Here is how the editor-in-chief of Johannesburg’s ‘City Press’, Mondli Makhanya, saw it: “Look, there is consensus in the country and whether it be the working classes, the middle classes or the wealthy or white or black or right across the political spectrum, people think he is the primary cause of all of our problems.”
Jacob Zuma started life as the illiterate son of a policeman. But he was bright and charismatic and the revolutionary African National Congress proved the making of him.
Zuma rocketed through the ranks of the movement that brought democracy to the country in the early 1990s.
In 2007, he wrestled the presidency of the ANC off Thabo Mbeki, who was seen by many in the organisation as arrogant and overly close to big business.
One year later, the party’s top-brass recalled Mbeki as the nation’s president and Zuma’s route to the top job was clear.
It was a stunning coup-de-grace, achieved with the backing of South Africa’s trade unions and ANC members on the party’s left.
It was also testament to Zuma’s warm and personable style.
“He is very gregarious, affable, he has time for people. He will sit down with a rural granny and make her believe that he has heard her problems, which is how he won the presidency of the ANC in 2007 and presidency of the country in 2009.
“Already these people knew that the man was corrupt but they were prepared to set that aside,” says Makhanya.
There were serious doubts about the man from a village called Nkandla, as he was sworn into office in a grandiose ceremony in Pretoria.
Zuma had been charged and acquitted of rape and accused of taking bribes in connection with a naval contract with French company Thales.
Zuma was accused of 783 counts of fraud, money laundering and racketeering in relation to the contract – a mass of allegations that were later dropped by the prosecution authority.
That decision was reviewed by the courts and the charges may be reinstated in the next few weeks.
Zuma’s business partner at the time, Shaiber Shaik, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in connection with the matter.
Zwelinzima Vavi, who headed up one of the country’s largest union organisations, told me he felt betrayed when information relating to the case began to emerge.
Union members had worked hard to get Zuma elected, he says.
“Absolute betrayal and I feel we betrayed ourselves. You can never understand why we ignored as something as big as the conviction of that financial adviser and all the details that came out of it. We asked (Zuma) about this Thales thing – about the 500,000 rand (alleged bribe). He flatly denied it.”
Complaints and allegations about Zuma’s activities followed him through his presidency but it was his relationship with the Gupta brothers that would decimate what remained of his political capital.
Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta are Indian immigrants who stand accused of co-opting parts of the government and offering MPs cabinet posts at their lavish home in Johannesburg – all with the president’s blessing.
Both Jacob Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.
“With Zuma in power, (the Guptas) would go to the Union buildings (in Pretoria) and they had a servant at the highest office, a servant who they could tell, please do this for us and Zuma did it. He did loyally, shamelessly and without any sense of embarrassment,” claimed Mondli Makhanya.
As details leaked about the Guptas’ schemes, the nation seethed and parts of the ANC rebelled. In response, President Zuma said he was the victim of a conspiracy and muttered darkly about his political rivals, white owned businesses – and the west.
“I was poisoned. Some people wanted me dead. Indeed, it was quite a strong poison and I did go through a challenging time,” stated Zuma in an interview done last November.
No evidence has been produced to further his claim.
If Jacob Zuma has regrets about his time in office he has not said so.
In fact, he continues to believe that he is popular with vast swathes of the electorate.
But a presidency which started with optimism has ended in disgrace and it seems the justice system will soon have its say.