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Examining the Impact of the Jacob Zuma Verdict

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. We'll get to our roundtable in just a moment, but first we have some news from South Africa. The former deputy president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was acquitted of rape yesterday. A judge in Johannesburg declared that the alleged victim's version of what happened last year between the two was not credible. Zuma says he had unprotected, consensual sex with the HIV-positive woman. The case has focused renewed attention on the way South Africa has dealt with the AIDS pandemic. It has also exacerbated a rift in South Africa's political establishment.

Joining me now from Johannesburg to discuss the Zuma verdict and the subsequent fallout is NPR's Jason Beaubien. All right, Jason. This was big news in the country. The verdict was broadcast live over South African radio and television. Give us a sense of what the general reaction has been.



Well, this has really been the talk of the town for the last two days. The entire country was fixated on their televisions, radios, and today of course, all of the headlines are about Zuma and Zuma being acquitted. I think overall the reaction is that justice was done in this case, that the case against him was very weak, that the woman had a history of making these types of allegations in the past. There was some concern that that shouldn't have been brought into the trial, but the judge focused heavily on that in terms of his verdict, and overall, even if those weren't taken into account, she wasn't putting forward a very strong case. It turned into a he said, she said type of scenario, and I think most people agree that his story was far more credible, that they had consensual sex, and it wasn't rape.

GORDON: Not long ago, Zuma was seen as next in line to take over the presidency of South Africa. We should not that he is still a very popular political figure. What about his political future?

BEAUBIEN: This is probably the most interesting scenario that we could have gotten in terms of his political future. If he had been convicted, he would probably be serving some time. His political career would be completely finished. He hasn't come out of this trial as clean as he would have liked. He used to head the South African AIDS Council, and he made some comments, which got him into incredible hot water about showering after having unprotected sex with a woman he knows is HIV-positive, as a way to try to limit the effect of possibly getting HIV, and he also said that he didn't think he had much of a chance of getting HIV from sex with a woman. These comments in particular have really tarnished his overall image and his judgment.

So he's come out of this trial and he's trying to jump back into the political fray. He certainly has huge support. He's going to retake-he's going to regain his position in the African National Congress, the ruling party, and he's going to go back to those activities. So he's out there. He's an incredibly popular politician, and he also has a corruption trial starting in July. If he can beat that, he'll be back into the mainstream of the political scene here and very well could be a serious contender for president in 2009.


GORDON: Finally Jason, what of the victim?

BEAUBIEN: Well, the alleged victim has been in protective custody. This is another aspect that has really tainted Zuma, is his supporters have been hurling abusive language, were throwing things at her during the court, burning pictures of her, and so she's been in police custody. They're now talking about potentially sending her out of the country into exile somewhere off the African continent for her own safety at this point. It's unclear. The South African police are not disclosing exactly what's happening with her, but that has been what's been discussed, that she might have to completely leave the country. And women's groups are quite upset about that. They feel that a woman should be able to make charges and not have to flee the country afterwards.

GORDON: NPR's Jason Beaubien with the latest for the alleged victim, as well as Mr. Zuma. We thank you, Jason, and appreciate it.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome, Ed. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.