S. African denies rape allegation at trial
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa --The man once groomed to be South Africa's next president defended himself Monday against charges that he raped an HIV-positive family friend, arguing that they had consensual sex.
Jacob Zuma, who was fired as deputy president under a cloud of corruption in June, told a packed courtroom that his accuser did not try to resist him at any point during their encounter.
"If she had said no, I would have stopped there and gotten up and left," Zuma, 63, said in his native Zulu language, recalling the evening in quiet, measured tones.
Zuma, who once headed South Africa's National AIDS Council, said he did not use a condom. He said he believed the risk from unprotected sex with someone with the virus that causes AIDS was relatively small.
His 31-year-old accuser, who has known Zuma since she was a small child and refers to him as "uncle," said the former freedom fighter abused her trust and raped her at his home in Johannesburg on Nov. 2.
The case is the most politically explosive here since the end of apartheid and has gripped South Africa, with large crowds of Zuma supporters gathering daily in front of the Johannesburg High Court. It has also cast a spotlight on the high incidence of rape and the treatment of victims.
Monday's session was the first time Zuma took the stand. His lawyers tried unsuccessfully last week to have the case dismissed.
Dressed in a dark suit and maroon tie, Zuma tried to demolish his accuser's claims that they enjoyed a father-daughter-like relationship.
He said he never referred to her as his daughter and in the two months leading up to the incident, she frequently sent him mobile phone text messages and she started sending him "lots of love," "hugs" and "kisses" in the messages.
He said she had asked to come to his home that evening and they had dinner with his son, daughter and another family friend. He testified that he later retired to his study to work and she went to bed, but told him to wake her up because she needed to talk to him.
He subsequently woke her up and she then went into his bedroom, he said. She was wearing a flimsy wrap without underwear and got under his covers to get warm while he changed into pajamas.
Zuma said the woman then asked him to massage her with baby oil, which he did. They had sexual intercourse, she returned to the guest room and he kissed her goodnight, he said.
The woman said she was so shocked by Zuma's advances that she froze and did not try to resist -- behavior one psychologist said was consistent with rape victims in shock.
But Zuma discounted this. He described her as a strong, independent and assertive woman.
"She could easily push me away," he said.
He said he was surprised to hear she had pressed charges as he thought they had parted amicably. He said he suspected an ulterior motive.
Zuma testified that he subsequently contacted the accuser and her mother through relatives and friends, apologized to the mother for any emotional distress caused and offered financial help to the family, which is the traditional Zulu way of settling disputes.
Earlier in the trial, the accuser testified under cross-examination that she was raped by other people three times as a child and had an abortion after being raped by someone else at the age of 19.
Zuma's attorney, Kemp J. Kemp, argued that the woman had a history of making false rape accusations.
Women's groups fear that the trial and the aggressive probe into the woman's sexual history will deter rape victims from reporting future crimes. South Africa has the highest rape rate in the world -- four times higher than in the United States -- with more than 55,000 cases reported to police in 2003-04. Only an estimated one in nine cases is reported.
Under South Africa's current sexual offenses law, which dates to the apartheid era, those who claim rape have to prove they did not give consent, which can lead to questioning about how they usually give consent. This is set to change under proposed legislation that has been stuck in parliament since 1998.
Zuma once seemed certain to succeed President Thabo Mbeki. But Mbeki dismissed his deputy in June after Zuma was implicated in a bribery scandal surrounding a government arms deal.
At Monday's session, Zuma reiterated his view that the charges were part of a political conspiracy to deny him the presidency.
Despite the rape trial and separate corruption trial in July, Zuma remains deputy president of the governing African National Congress and still commands widespread loyalty from many black South Africans.
The trial was due to resume Tuesday.