Jacob Zuma, the new leader of the African National Congress, has previously spoken out against gay marriage.

Mr Zuma, 65, won a considerable victory over incumbent South African President Thabo Mbeki and is the clear favourite to become the country’s next leader, despite concerns he could face corruption charges.

In 2006 he had apologise for offending the gay community and claimed that his views on same-sex marriage were misinterpreted.

Mr Zuma, a former deputy President of South Africa, angered LGBT activists after comments he made at a Heritage Day celebration calling plans to legalise same-sex marriages a “disgrace to the nation and to God.”

He had commented in particular about the manner in which communities tended to neglect boys and over-emphasise the traditional upbringing of girls, as evidenced in ceremonies such as the reed dance.

“I said the communal upbringing of children in the past was able to assist parents to notice children with a different social orientation,” explained Mr Zuma,

“I however did not intend to have this interpreted as a condemnation of gays.”

He later said that “one can be judgmental” with regards to gay marriage.

“We have a constitution that guides us and we have to abide by it; no matter at times what other kinds of views people have.”

Concerns about Mr Zuma’s fitness for office intensified after he was charged with rape in late 2005.

He admitted at trial to having unprotected sex with his HIV-positive accuser even though he knew her status.

He was head of the National AIDS Council at the time.

In court he said he had taken a shower to try to minimise the risk of infection, which did little to engender the confidence of AIDS activists.

He was acquitted on of rape in May 2006.

The perception that Mr Zuma is closer to the attitudes and aspirations of the South African population was a key factor in his huge victory of 2,329 votes to 1,505 over President Mbeki at this week’s ANC conference.

Writing on the LGBT rights website Behind The Mask, South African activist Mashilo Mnisi said:

“It was clear from the outset when the ANC Women’s League (ANC WL) nominated Jacob Zuma that the South African lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community did not favour Zuma to take lead, hence it deplored the nomination.

“I am concerned and wondering that the LGBTI community denounced the nomination based on the fact that Zuma once taunted the gay community [but later apologised although many believed it wasn't genuine] or that Zuma once raped a lesbian woman and was acquitted of the rape, or both.

“It’s quite obvious to contempt some LGBTI individuals as they believe that Zuma [if elected for presidency] might look at challenging the country’s constitution based on his different principles and beliefs towards gay people.

“And that could mean to challenge or even attempt to reverse the Civil Unions Act that was adopted last December and protecting the rights of gay people to marry – if he’s still holding on to those beliefs.”