Privacy, Zuma Presidency and Polygamy

I will admit right of the bat that I wish that when the president of the republic makes front page news almost weekly, it would be for more politically refreshing reasons. I have wished this about all presidents of a democratic South Africa, and while interesting news can also be infuriating news, I’d rather read about something Zuma did that involves more than his love and sex life. I am not so delusional that I expect a feminist president when none was really in the running (although I did vote nationally for the one person I do interpret as Pan-Africanist, feminist, humane, unbought, Patricia de Lille).

I do expect the President to demonstrate some modicum of respect for the ideals that the highest office (in the country I pay taxes in) stands for. I expect not to have my intelligence insulted every week by the president and his praise singers in the ANC Youth League. I expect to wake up to months of newspaper reading without powerful men in the SACP-ANC-COSATU alliance badgering us with opportunistic talk of ‘culture’ to do their dirty, dirty gender work. When the ANC was re-elected into power, all of us did not suddenly hand over the mantle of being African cultural spokespersons to these men. If most Africans of any ethnicity are women, why do these men deign to consider themselves sole custodians of a culture they plunder for personal gain? This is truly filthy business, even for politicians of the sort we are mostly saddled with.

I am exhausted by Zuma and his antics. I am embarassed by him even though I did not vote for him again (I voted for him when I put my X next to the ANC in my previous national ballot papers, but that was before the rape trial), held no high hopes for this presidency given all that had gone before, and even though I am no nationalist (I will choose ‘loyalty’/’allegiance’ to the continent’s people everytime over loyalty to the nation state). I am most exhabusted by news of Zuma’s sex life – I wish I could say leave the details out of the news because I’ve heard more than I would want to. It is stunning that he really seems to think that power comes with no responsibility. Let him get married to as many women as he likes – as long as they consent. Let him even have multiple sexual partners in and out of wedlock.

However, he is the President of the country and what he does in his private life can have relevance for all of us, for HIV/AIDS policy, for gender relations, for the rise of misogyny in varied guise. The personal is political, and privacy is a function of privilege, and Zuma has both some institutional and significant class priviedge as the man at the helm.

What the president does is a matter of national importance. The talk of his privacy is nonsense – he is not a private citizen. And if he wants to carry on like he is, so that we are all constantly invitated to think about his sex life, then he must deal with the consequences of seeming to embrace living recklessly while in the Presidency. He cannot have it both ways – speak about the dangers of HIV/AIDS, about gender equity (even if some of us know better than to trust him) and then choose a life that suggests the opposite.

We do have a right to require consistency in the President, whether we voted for him or not. We also do have a right to ask him to step down, again, whether we voted for him or not.


Posted on 4 February 2010, in Southern African politics, things that suck and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I have been turning over the matter in my mind for some time now and I have been trying to understand exactly what unsettles me about Zuma’s love child. It is not polygamy because even though Zuma in his actions is perpetuating the inequality between men and women, we knew about this long before he was even deputy president. It is also not that he once again seems to have had sex without a condom. Even though this is very dangerous considering that not so long ago he confessed to having sex with an HIV positive woman (if that’s all it was) and not even mentioning the other sexual partners that he has, it is merely a symptom of a much larger problem.

    What really unsettles me is that despite his public apology, despite the responsibilities, stature and dignity of his office, despite the public outcry, is that he, in his deepest thoughts and feelings, really feels entitled to having sex with these women whenever and however we wishes.

    It is this sense of entitlement that I think worries me the most. It worries more because I think the majority of men whether monogamous or not, whether they are traditionalists, liberals, communists, Christians and all sorts of religious and political persuasions, they actually feel entitled to sex, and to its availability for sex on virtually on demand. And the refusal of which can elicit responses that vary from mild sulking to violent outrage, but such refusals of sex are always received disapprovingly as if some crime against humanity has been committed. So as I often say the issue is about Zuma but not about Zuma. In other words Zuma as a man is a symptom. As a president and public figure who embodies and projects the desires and attitudes of other men, he is a disease.

    What also bothers me is that these men really do not understand the sex/power dynamic or they seem to think its simply natural and cannot be questioned. Actually even men I would consider quite gender-aware have expressed ignorance about seems to them very thin boundaries between acceptable sex and rape. The difference I think with these men is that upon questioning and further thought they are prepared to change their minds and hopefully their behaviours. So these attitudes can be unlearned. And this is where feminist education is needed.

    At the risk of sounding a bit crass, there has to be a way of popularising feminist ideas. Not that this will solve everything because more indepth work has to follow. But the Yenza Kahle campaign is just not sexy. Somehow men have to have different ways and maybe more self-generated of validating their masculinity rather than expecting others to do it for them and women have to have different sets of expectations (choices) regarding their sexual relationships. And know it.

    When I was at a gathering at my cousin’s house I was privileged enough to sit with the women who despite my presence talked quite candidly about their sexual lives. Not that this was meant for my benefit but they were just having a lively conversation about stuff in general. But the kind of sex education I received that afternoon was worth more than all the LOVE LIFE ads and SOUL CITY series could ever possibly do. I wished I had known the things I learned that day when I was sixteen.

    But most of all, I realized just how ignorant men are about women and perhaps this ignorance is necessary for patriarchy to function. The mystification of women and their desired makes it possible for men to simply pretend that they don’t exist.

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