Jacob Zuma, so often declared a political corpse during a scandal-plagued career, has pulled off a huge comeback by unseating Thabo Mbeki as head of South Africa's ruling ANC.
Despite facing graft accusations that may yet sink his chances of becoming president, Zuma has ridden a populist wave of disenchantment with Mbeki's record in government that has been dubbed an "Unstoppable Zunami".
An ethnic Zulu whose earthy congeniality offers a sharp contrast with the patrician Mbeki, the 65-year-old Zuma has nevertheless unsettled many South Africans with his avowedly populist approach to politics.
Idolised by his mostly leftist backers as a champion of the poor, Zuma has unnerved the markets and the ANC old guard who recall the disciplined nature of the movement when it was at the vanguard of the fight against apartheid.
Zuma earned his spurs during that campaign, spending time alongside former president Nelson Mandela on the notorious Robben Island penal colony.
Like Mandela, he has an instictive rapport with the people characterised by his tendency to break into dance often accompanied by supporters singing his signature tune "Umshini Wami" (Zulu for "Bring Me My Machine-Gun").
"In Zuma we see ourselves, we see humility, down to earth. We see somebody we can speak to, who has a genuine love for people," said Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, a Zuma ally.