Jacob Zuma and culture

Date: May 3, 2010
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Description: The articles discuss South African president Jacob Zuma, and his lifestyle i.e. the birth of his child out of wedlock, in relation to debates around “African culture.”

Articles analysed:
– Zuma is hiding behind culture ,The Star 9 February 2010
– Zuma married to his country ,The Star 4 February 2010
– Polygamy: What’s culture got to do with it? GL Service, February 2010

These articles may be used to:
– debate whether the personal is political, and the expectations of privacy in public leader’s lives
– raise discussions about media and holding leaders accountable
– highlight some of the challenges of polygamy
– open a debate into the meaning of fatherhood

Trainer’s notes

The articles open up debate about culture, and the accountability of political leaders. It can be argued that some men use culture to justify their action, as like Jacob Zuma has. However, by having children out of wedlock, this custodian of ‘African culture’ should have known that polygamy only applies within a marriage. Having children outside that set up is considered unfaithfulness and is shunned upon, by this same culture that accepts polygamy.

Challenges facing people in polygamous relationships are highlighted in these articles. Such unions are often stressful as parties I.e the husband/father finds it difficult to share his time equally amongst with his wives /children leading in some cases to spite and resentfulness of others in the relationship. Furthermore, polygamous relations are bound to be faced with financial difficulties as it is a lot more expensive to take care of bigger households. In short most polygamous are expensive and emotionally stressful with children having to pay the price.

The articles are praiseworthy for a number of reasons, amongst them the fact that they hold leaders accountable. Jacob Zuma is held to account for his actions and is challenged to practise what he preaches. He is criticised for undermining efforts of combating HIV/AIDS. For a president of a country with one of the world’s highest HIV infection rates in the world to have multiple concurrent sexual partners and unprotected sex outside marriage is highly irresponsible. A few years back the president also admitted to knowingly having unprotected sex with an HIV positive woman. His having sex outside marriage makes people questions his moral character questionable.

The issue of fatherhood is brought into the core,it is unlikely that President Jacob Zuma will see his daughter grow into adulthood given his age. One therefore wonders whether it is wise to be fathering children at President Zuma’s age .It should be not be forgotten that parenthood involves both parents and raising children is not only a mother’s responsibility.

Perhaps the most important issue brought about by the articles is the debate concerning the extent of the privacy of public leader’s lives. When the story about President Zuma’s latest child first broke, he challenged the media to stay out of the matter as it ‘private’. However, the question to ask is just how private are the lives of public leaders? And wasn’t the media simply doing its duty to inform? It should however, be noted that the media is bound by certain principles and laws which ensure that the rights and dignity of their subjects are not compromised. In this case the media got it wrong by naming the child in question. One also wonders the relevancy of naming the child’s grand father. Surely it would have been enough to state that he is the President’s friend. His name not adds any value to the story, apart from sensation.

Discussion questions
– Are public leaders lives private, or of public interest? Should media report on private issues?
– How can gender equality and the celebration of culture both be respected?
– What does it mean to be a father?

Training exercises
– Carry out vox pops to find out if people think leaders private lives are of public interest?
– Write profiles of fathers who can be role models to other men.
– Select a few different cultural traditions, analyse how they fit into commitments to gender equality.
– Research examples of how cultural traditions have changed in some cases to reflect modern human rights approaches, i.e. the use of alternative ceremonies as opposed to FGM.

Other training resources

Zapiro on Zuma’s 20th Child

The great debates: gender equality, quotas, polygamy



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