Zuma, who has three wives, has apologised for fathering out of wedlock his 20th child with Sonono Khoza, the daughter of close friend Irvin Khoza, who heads South Africa’s organising committee for this year’s soccer World Cup.
Publicly, the ruling African National Congress has backed the 67-year-old but in private senior party members feel the latest in a long line of sexual scandals is the “last straw”.
“He is becoming too much of a liability to the party and his image is damaging,” a member of the ANC’s national executive committee, who did not want to be named, told Reuters. “Polygamy and promiscuity is not the same thing.”
In 2006, Zuma was cleared of raping an HIV positive woman, but admitted during the trial he had unprotected sex with her even though he knew she had the virus.
Even before the love-child scandal broke, Zuma’s chances of being the next presidential candidate hung in the balance. The latest incident can only have weighed against him.
The ANC elects a new leader in 2012, and Communist Party chief Blade Nzimande — now Zuma’s higher education minister — and powerful trade union movement leader Zwelinzima Vavi appear to be lining up a bid for the top position.
“Zuma has managed to keep the party together and present somewhat of a united front but his embarrassing personal life may see him fall from grace,” another ANC source said.
“Even his backers are fed up with what he is doing to the image of the party. This incident could be the last straw.”
Even if ANC decides to replace Zuma, he would remain national president and could seek re-election with a different party.
However, there are others in the running for the national presidency in the 2014 election, including Tokyo Sexwale, a billionaire businessman now serving as housing minister, and ANC Secretary General and Communist Party chairman Gwede Manatashe.
Opposition parties and many ordinary people are angry with Zuma’s cavalier attitude towards sex, saying it undermines the safe sex message preached by the government in a country with one of the world’s highest HIV-AIDS infection rates.
The Congress of the People have refused to accept his apology and called for a no confidence vote in parliament.
Zuma admitted paternity of the four-month-old girl last week and has paid the traditional Zulu inhlawulo (damages) to Khoza’s family.
In January, he married Tobeka Madiba, his third current wife. It was his fifth wedding, and while it is not clear if he will marry Khoza, he is engaged and is expected to marry soon for the sixth time.
Multiple marriages form a central part of Zulu culture, and are allowed in the South Africa constitution. Reuters