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15.05.2006 Africa

Cleared Zuma resumes ANC duties

By BBC

South Africa's governing African National Congress (ANC) has reinstated Jacob Zuma in his duties as deputy leader after being acquitted of rape.

Mr Zuma asked to be relieved of his duties in November last year when a rape charge was laid against him.

But last Monday he was found not guilty and he has made it clear that he now wants to resume his political career.

Mr Zuma is still seen by his supporters as a possible future president, but faces a corruption trial in July.

'No conspiracy'

"The NEC [National Executive Committee] agreed that, as a consequence of the conclusion of the trial, Cde [comrade] Zuma should resume his duties as ANC Deputy President and his participation in the leading structures of the movement without delay," the ANC said in a statement on Monday.

The NEC made its decision on Sunday night, during a meeting at which Mr Zuma was not present.

The ANC statement also underlined the party's commitment to opposing sexual violence and promoting safer sexual practices: an apparent attempt to deflect some of the criticism that women's rights and Aids activists directed at Mr Zuma during the course of the trial.

The statement sought to quash accusations by Mr Zuma's supporters that the rape charge was the result of a conspiracy against Mr Zuma within the party.

"The ANC finds that there is no basis to suggestions that any member of the ANC encouraged the complainant in the rape case to lay a charge against the ANC deputy president."

Mr Zuma was sacked as the country's deputy president when prosecutors began to investigate corruption charges against him in June last year.

He retained his office as ANC deputy president, but was later relieved of his duties in party structures as a result of the rape charge brought against him in November.

Succession

Mr Zuma was cleared of rape at the end of his trial in the Johannesburg High Court a week ago.

The following day he made a public apology for having had unprotected sex with an HIV positive woman.

An opinion poll conducted by the Sunday Times in Johannesburg has found that nearly half of those questioned last week did not accept Mr Zuma's apology for his behaviour and 64% of the respondents were against him becoming the next president of the country.

Party leaders deny that the ANC is divided over the Zuma saga but the public perception is of a fierce battle now under way to decide who will succeed President Mbeki, who is due to step down in 2009.

Mr Mbeki recently suggested that the next South African president should be a woman: his clearest indication yet that he did not favour Mr Zuma as a successor.

Mr Zuma's acquittal on the rape charge has strengthened his chances of mounting a challenge for the leadership of the party and the country, but his suitability has been called into question.

He also faces another trial on corruption charges, due to begin in July.

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