Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma was born in 1942 in Inkandla, KwaZulu Natal. Influenced by a trade unionist family member, President Zuma became involved in politics at an early age, joining the African National Congress (ANC) in 1958. He became an active member of the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1962.
In 1963, President Zuma was arrested with a group of 52 recruits near Zeerust and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, which he served on Robben Island. After his release, he helped mobilise internal resistance and was instrumental in the re-establishment of ANC underground structures in the then Natal between 1974 and 1975. He left South Africa in December 1975 and for the next 12 years was based in Swaziland and Mozambique. During this period, he was involved in the underground work giving leadership to ANC structures operating inside South Africa.
President Zuma handled the thousands of young exiles that poured out of South Africa in the wake of the Soweto uprising in June 1976. He became a member of the ANC National Executive Committee in 1977, and later the head of the ANC Intelligence Department. Following the re-establishment of the ANC in 1990, he was one of the first leaders to return to South Africa to begin negotiations with the then apartheid regime.
In 1991, at the first ANC conference held in South Africa since 1959, he was elected Deputy Secretary General. He was elected ANC National Chairperson in December 1994 and as Deputy President in 1997. During his tenure he distinguished himself in his role as mediator and facilitator of peace on the continent, especially in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Zuma was elected ANC President in December 2007, becoming the ANC's candidate for South African president in the 2009 elections. He was elected President of the Republic of South Africa on 6 May 2009.