/ 1 March 2010

Zuma heads to UK in wake of love-child scandal

President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday makes his first state visit to Britain in the wake of a damaging scandal at home over his love child born to the daughter of a World Cup official.

During his four-day stay, the charismatic leader will visit Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and address members of Parliament.

“This is his opportunity to present himself as a statesman, leading Africa’s most powerful nation,” said political analyst Dirk Kotze.

“Despite some high-profile economic and political matters that are likely to be addressed, Zuma will also use this opportunity to project a good image of himself, given the issues associated with his rise to power,” Kotze said.

Zuma is South Africa’s first openly polygamist leader, and has suffered a firestorm over an out-of-wedlock daughter born in October to the daughter of soccer official Irvin Khoza.

The child is reportedly the 20th for the 67-year-old president, and the scandal marked an abrupt end to Zuma’s honeymoon in office.

His ascent to power had been marked by a lengthy corruption investigation that was ultimately dropped, but the uproar that erupted in February over the baby reignited public criticism and doubts about Zuma.

But in his talks in London, Zuma is more likely to face a grilling over his government’s stance regarding the controversial call by the African National Congress Youth League and the Congress of South African Trade Unions to nationalise the country’s mines.

The debate has dominated public and investor forums, but Zuma’s administration has sent mixed signals about the matter.

His mining minister has flatly rejected the call. But in his State of the Nation address last month, Zuma told Parliament that nationalisation of mines was not government policy, but said the topic was open for debate.

Anglo American, which is South Africa’s largest platinum producer, and diamond giant De Beers are both headquartered in London and are among Britain’s largest investors in South Africa.

Mining of precious metals like gold and platinum is the country’s biggest foreign-exchange earner.

Britain is South Africa’s fourth-largest export partner, with two-way trade at R74,9-billion in 2008, according to government statistics.

Zuma’s office said the president would also use his meeting with Brown to discuss the fragile unity government in neighbouring Zimbabwe, which has failed to make major headway since it was installed a year ago.

British sanctions on President Robert Mugabe and his inner circle remain a major sticking point in Harare, and Zuma has previously indicated that he would like to see the sanctions lifted.

“President Zuma and Brown are expected to brief each other on the issues affecting the Zimbabwe government,” said Zuma’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya.

On the home front, South Africa wants Britain to lift a new visa requirement for South African visitors.

British authorities imposed the visa requirement last year, saying South African passports were susceptible to fraud.

Zuma’s new home affairs minister has taken steps to stamp out corruption, but he will have to convince London that enough has been done to prevent faking of passports. — AFP