JOHANNESBURG (AP) — At Nelson Mandela’s memorial, the crowd applauded dignitaries and even cheered the last apartheid-era president. But spectators booed South African leader Jacob Zuma, embarrassing him on an international stage and reflecting challenges that the ruling party, once led by Mandela, faces ahead of elections next year.
“Can we please be disciplined?” a vexed Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy leader of the ruling African National Congress, said Tuesday to the stadium crowd after jeers erupted when a giant video screen showed Zuma, seated among heads of state paying tribute to Mandela. The anti-apartheid leader died Dec. 5.
Corruption scandals have stained Zuma and the ANC, the liberation movement during apartheid that casts itself as the standard-bearer of Mandela’s legacy of reconciliation and inclusiveness. Crime, economic inequality and other social challenges have added to public discontent, two decades after the end of apartheid.
“We know he’s taking the government’s money,” said Mmule Matlhabane, a 42-year-old unemployed man, said of Zuma.
Simon Maphosa, a 45-year-old multimedia designer, said people were booing because they felt the ANC had failed to rein in their man.
“They are trying to say to the party, ‘You have to control this guy,’” Maphosa said.
In the days before Mandela’s death, South African media were filled with reports on the alleged use of more than $23 million in taxpayer money for construction at Zuma’s family compound.
Earlier this year, a chartered plane carrying about 200 guests from India to a lavish family wedding was allowed to land at a South African air force base in violation of security protocols. Zuma has connections to the family.
Prof. David Glaser, head of political studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said the booing partly reflects discontent within the ANC over its leadership. As ANC leader, Zuma is likely to be the party’s candidate for the presidency.