sex and the SA presidencies (1)

Last week, and the weekend before, headlines of first the Sunday Independent and then The Star screamed out information about the SA president’s multiple sexual partners. The Star article quoted his wife in a telephone conversation saying she did not know what the reporters were talking about when questions were posed to her about her husband’s alleged infidelities.

I have a quandary when it comes to SA and sex. It has nothing to do with the nonsense about people’s lives being private when they have a direct bearing on our society. No, it is that we need to question the deadly culture of promiscuity in SA. It also does not matter that journalists may or may not take some pleasure in embarassing person x or person y.

Anybody’s schadenfreude is their business, and this applies to journalists too. Politicians should understand this more than anybody else.

But back to promiscuity on the sly or openly. Public officials will have our eyes set on them. It is our duty to mind their business. They may be entitled to dignity like the rest of us, but sexual politics matter — whether you’re president or peasant. Pretending they don’t is exactly what keeps us in the quagmire that is SA’s gender politics.

Much more importantly, as Gail Smith reminds us, “privacy is a function of class”. [Since she moved to the City Press mainbody, my weekend reading is a lot more interesting – what with Rehana Rossouw’s column (and editorship) of The Weekender as well. Yes, the fabulous Ms Smith is a friend of mine. I was reading her work with relish long before we met. But you don’t have to believe me. Read her for yourself.]

In my book, promiscuity matters full stop. Now, before you rush off calling me a prude, I recognise that not everybody wants to be in a monogamous relationship. When relationships are open and flexibly walled (or completely unwalled), there is a different kind of challenge: safety from sharing a myriad of nasty infections.

That aside, isn’t it irresponsible to have multiple lovers in the age of AIDS? How do you keep track and control of “how many women you’ve put inside of me”, to borrow from a poem by Lebogang Mashile? Isn’t it dodgy to have secret unsafe sex “as a loyal cadre” of a party that claims to uphold gender equity as a priority? Should people in leadership positions not be open to scrutiny given that they have to uphold and “take leadership” on a whole range of politics, including health and safety? Or is that just the problem? Is the State president is simply following (or sharing in) his Party President’s promiscuity?

I was going to have a long post on this, but some other commentators have already said much of what bothered me. So, I’m going to quote from two, and suggest that after you finish reading me, you read their complete posts as well (in a separate window, or tab, please:)

Rossouw’s column had me in stitches this weekend. Called, “The custom of dangerous liaisons”, she wrote

And because our constitution says we shouldn’t discriminate on
the basis of sexual preference, we should extend the recognition
of customary liaisons to everyone.
It follows then that if polygamy is allowed, polyandry should be
too. Any South African woman wanting two, or 15, husbands
should be free to marry them.
The only problem with polygamy is that it clashes terribly with
our political leaders’ commitment to eradicating AIDS.
What do we expect from polygamous males? That they should not
court other women? That they should not impregnate them while
lobola is being negotiated?

And the best part:

Here’s an idea: there’s another age-old South African custom
called thigh sex. Our leaders could insist on their right to practise
that. Then we won’t have to read about them having yet another
baby with yet another woman. And we might listen to their
messages about AIDS and follow their example — and stop dying.

Indeed. The SA double standards on horrifying gender and sexual orientation are horrific. But read Rossouw’s full piece here:

On another platform, Anton Harber’s The Harbinger declared:

If the President is caught between three women in this way,
complicating his personal life and raising questions about the
position of First Lady, it seems to me that this does go to his
character and values. It is a fine line, but I thought the Indie
stayed within the line. It falls into that category of story that
public figures must live with: choose a life in the media eye, and
choose to mess about with multiple and apparently conflictual
relationships, and you better have a thick skin.

That’s all I am going to say on the matter. For the time being, that is. I want to see Smith’s piece in the paper this weekend. Check here the Monday after.


Posted on 4 February 2009, in Southern African politics, things that suck and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Wouldn’t it be better to insist on safer sex and testing rather than no sex? Any behavior change is difficult to encourage, but in many places, women and men coming up now who have been raised in the age of HIV don’t tolerate unprotected sex. There is a problem of economics and self-efficacy when you are talking about politicians with money and women that count on them for support. But I see more potential success in encouraging protection (and sure, throw fidelity in there too, but multiple women will likely always be a status symbol sought by men of means) than monogamy.

  1. Pingback: Global Voices Online » South Africa: Presidents and Sex

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