Zuma unrepentant on the eve of the Sixteen Days

Date: January 1, 1970
  • SHARE:

With less than a week to go to the Sixteen Days of Activism on gender violence, African National Congress (ANC) deputy president Jacob Zuma gave a briefing to editors that should leave all South Africans worried.

The issue is not just whether or not he wants to be president (“the ANC will decide”) or whether indeed he has a view on any substantive issue (“my policies are those of the ANC.”) It is whether Zuma would uphold the core values of the Constitution: the pledge that all presidents take when they are sworn into office.
While the National Prosecution Authority decides whether or not to renew corruption charges against Zuma, a potentially far more serious issue – Zuma’s views on women and homosexuals – serves as a litmus test of his suitability for the top job of the land.
The Sixteen Days of Activism runs from 25 November, International Day of No Violence Against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day. Among the most highly publicised cases since last year’s campaign is that in which a young HIV positive woman and family friend accused Zuma of raping her.
Zuma won the case (or, some would say, the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that sex had not been consented to). But he came in for severe criticism over the views he expressed on women and HIV in court and for the behaviour of his supporters, carrying banners like “burn the bitch” outside the court, that resulted in “Khwezi” going into exile soon after the judgment.  
Six months after his court victory, Zuma could afford at the dinner briefing of the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF) to step back and take a statesman like look at the broader landscape of gender injustices in South Africa. Instead, he slunk back into the kind of antiquated defenses that won favour with a judge from the old school working off laws that should have been shelved long ago, but left gender activists reeling at just how unreformed the judicial system is.
Given an entry point by one editor who asked if there is anything about the recent past that he regretted or would have done differently, Zuma said he could not think of any. That of course is not true. Faced with a barrage of criticism over the comment that he had taken a shower after intercourse to ward against contracting HIV, Zuma apologised to the nation at a press conference after his court victory.
But he said nothing about the other statement that caused an outrage in activist circles: that in his culture, he could not “leave a woman in that state” (ie wearing a kanga, and according to his version, though certainly not hers, making overtures) without having sex with her. 
Asked specifically if he had any regrets about this statement, Zuma said that he did not lie in court; that if we were to go to his home village, Inkandla, this is exactly what we would hear. Leaving aside for a moment that one paper (in a story titled “Zulu culture or Zuma culture”) did just that and found conflicting views, the question we must ask is: where there is a conflict between culture and the values of the Constitution where would President Zuma stand? Are we to conclude that policy under his leadership would not just be determined by the ANC, but also by the elders in Inkandla?
Since the court case, Zuma has again used culture as a weapon (pun intended) to explain the gaff on gays made at a rally in his home province of Kwa Zulu Natal. As the ANC deputy leader reiterated at the SANEF forum, he was giving a pep talk on when girls were girls and men were men. Girls preserved their virginity so that they could be pure for the reed dance: this is a good thing, in his view, as it delays sex and therefore the possibility of contracting HIV. But what about the fact that recent studies show that most young women have their first sexual encounter before fourteen and that in two thirds of the cases this is coerced?
Where are the young men, while the young women are preserving themselves?  Ah, according to Zuma, they should be fighting to be strong.  In his day, stick fights showed up the sissies (which also happens to be the Zulu word for gays, hence the gaff) and they got walloped to make them strong.
Is there something in the language (gay men equal women-men) and in the understanding of masculinity that need to be challenged by a future president?  Is there not a dangerous link between this understanding of manhood and the unabating instances of gender violence? And where does Zuma stand on the fact that one in nine women have been cowered into never reporting on the abuse they experience, for fear of the kind of treatment that befell his accuser at the hands of the courts, the media and society at large? 
Understandably, Zuma feels vindicated by his court victory. But a true mark of leadership, given the high levels of gender violence that engulf the country, would have been to say that while he disagreed with the charges, he would defend to the hilt the right of his accuser to take her grievances to court.  
At the press conference after his court case Zuma did urge his accuser, then in protective custody, not to leave the country. But asked why he had done so little to control the crowds during the trial leaving her exile a fait accompli, Zuma responded that he could not control crowds while he was in court. Following on from that logic, are we to conclude that if Zuma were in the Union Buildings and the country broke out in a riot we would just have to sit it out because he is inside and not outside the building?
In fairness, maybe Zuma has become more used to answering questions in a court of law rather than before the court of public opinion. What he needs to bear in mind is that it is possible to pass the court test, and fail the leadership test. While he may have been acquitted of rape, Zuma has done little to show that he is capable of upholding a fundamental cornerstone of the Constitution: equality between women and men.  
(Colleen Lowe Morna is Executive Director of Gender Links. This article is part of a special series prepared by the GL Opinion and Commentary Service for the Sixteen Days of Activism)

Comment on Zuma unrepentant on the eve of the Sixteen Days

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *