A leading contender to replace President Jacob Zuma as head of South Africa’s governing ANC has said he believes the woman who accused Mr Zuma of rape over a decade ago was telling the truth.
Mr Zuma’s deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, told a local radio station: “Yes, I would believe her.”
In 2006 Mr Zuma was found not guilty of raping Fezekile Kuzwayo – the daughter of an old family friend.
He said she had agreed to have sex.
Mr Ramaphosa is competing against Mr Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to become the leader of the ANC in a contest starting next Saturday.
The winner of the party race will be well placed to become the country’s new president in 2019.
Analysis – Lebo Diseko, Johannesburg
There has been mixed reaction to Mr Ramaphosa’s comments about Ms Kuzwayo’s rape allegation.
Some have praised him for being more unequivocal in his response than rival candidate for ANC presidency Lindiwe Sisulu.
When she was asked the same question she responded: “I believe she believes she was raped”.
But many on social media have asked why Mr Ramaphosa did not publicly support Ms Kuzwayo when she was alive.
There has been renewed public interest in the rape trial, following the release of a book detailing Ms Kuzwayo’s account of events.
In particular there has been public anger over her alleged treatment by members of the ruling ANC at the time.
In the radio interview, Mr Ramaphosa praised Ms Kuzwayo’s courage for taking the case to court, saying:
“I know how difficult and painful it is to for a woman to garner up the courage and say: ‘Yes I was raped’. It must be one of the most difficult decisions she had to make.”
Ms Kuzwayo, who was 32 years younger than Mr Zuma, fled abroad and later died after a long illness, but the BBC’s Andrew Harding in Johannesburg says controversy surrounding the case has lingered.
Ms Kuzwayo was HIV-positive and Mr Zuma’s statement during the trial, that he showered after unprotected sex with the woman to guard against possible infection, provoked ridicule.
When he acquitted Mr Zuma, the judge concluded: “The complainant was inclined to accuse men of raping her or attempting to rape her,” .
The president’s office has issued a statement saying: “The court acquitted the president of the rape charges.
“The presidency affirms the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the primacy of the courts as the final arbiters in disputes in society.”
The race for the ANC:
- Detained for two years for anti-apartheid activities; launched mineworkers’ union in 1982
- Headed committee that prepared for Nelson Mandela’s release from prison
- Left politics to become one of South Africa’s richest businessmen – on Lonmin board during 2012 Marikana massacre
- Became South Africa’s deputy president in 2014.
- A leading anti-apartheid activist, fled South Africa to complete medical training in UK
- Met Jacob Zuma while working as a doctor in Swaziland, divorcing him after 16 years of marriage in 1998
- Declined offer to take place of her ex-husband as deputy president in 2005 after he was sacked
- Chair of the African Union commission from 2012 to 2016.