Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma was born in 1942 in Inkandla, KwaZulu Natal to Gcinamazwi and Nokubhekisisa Zuma. He was forced by circumstance to educate himself as his father passed away and his mother could not afford to pay for formal schooling. He established an informal school in his village.
Influenced by a trade unionist family member, President Zuma became involved in politics at an early age, joining the ANC in 1958. He became an active member of the ANC's armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1962.
He was arrested with a group of 52 recruits near Zeerust in 1963 and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment, which he served on Robben Island. After his release, Zuma 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 underground work with former President Thabo Mbeki and others, giving leadership to ANC structures operating inside South Africa.
President Zuma also dealt with 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 (NEC) in 1977. By the end of the 1980s he was head of the ANC Intelligence Department. He became widely known in this critical position at a time when the ANC had the difficult task of protecting the organisation from infiltration and to ensure its survival.
Following the re-establishment of the ANC in February 1990, he was one of the first ANC leaders to return to South Africa to begin the process of negotiations with the then apartheid regime.
President Zuma was instrumental in organising the Groote-Schuur Minute between the De Klerk government and the ANC that reached important decisions about the return of exiles and the release of political prisoners.
His strategic thinking and conflict resolution skills also played a pivotal role in ending conflict in KwaZulu Natal and the then PWV region, where state-sponsored violence was tearing communities apart.
In 1991, at the first ANC conference held in South Africa since 1959, he was elected Deputy Secretary General.
After the 1994 elections, Zuma requested to be deployed to KwaZulu Natal to work to cement peace between the ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).
He joined the provincial government as MEC of Economic Affairs and Tourism. He played an instrumental role in normalising relations within the multiparty government of the ANC and IFP. President Zuma worked hard to develop the tourism industry in the province and was highly regarded by the sector. He created a good working relationship between business and labour, and worked tirelessly to facilitate new investments into the KwaZulu Natal economy.
He was elected ANC National Chairperson in December 1994. An exception was made in the ANC Constitution to allow him to serve as both provincial chairperson and National Chairperson. In 1997 President Zuma was elected ANC Deputy President. 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).
As Leader of Government Business, he worked to ensure good working relations between government and political parties in Parliament, and between Parliament and the Executive.
President Zuma kick-started the process of promoting positive values through the launch of the Moral Regeneration Movement.
In 1998 he established the Jacob Zuma RDP Educational Trust Fund. The fund has educated more than 20,000 children at primary school level to university. Beneficiaries are primarily from impoverished backgrounds in rural areas.
Zuma was elected ANC President in December 2007, becoming the ANC's candidate for South African president in the 2009 elections.
President Zuma has three wives, Ms Sizakele Khumalo (MaKhumalo), Ms Nompumelelo Ntuli (MaNtuli) and Ms Tobeka Madiba (KaMadiba). He has 20 children.
He loves sports especially soccer and rugby and was a keen soccer player in his youth. He dabbled in ballroom dancing on Robben Island. South Africans know and love him for his prowess on the dance floor and his impeccable vocal chords.
Zuma has received several awards, including the Nelson Mandela Award for Outstanding Leadership in Washington DC, US (1998), and honorary doctorates from University of Fort Hare, University of Zululand, Medical University of Southern Africa, and University of the North (2001).
He was elected President of the Republic of South Africa on 6 May 2009. He was inaugurated at the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 9 May 2009.