Speaking for the first time about his “love child“, President Zuma accused the media of invading his and the mother and child’s privacy, and “exploiting” the child for finanancial gain. I will concede one point to the president: the news media were careless in identifying the mother of the child, and thus, by implication, the child (who is entirely innocent in this matter). But, as I have pointed out previously, Zuma’s argument that his private life is his own business does not hold water. And his accusation that the news media are exploiting the child is, quite frankly, absurd.
Privacy rights “cannot be waived just because of the position one occupies”, Zuma said in his statement. He is wrong. Our law is very clear that privacy rights can be waived if there is an overriding public interest in disclosure, and that public figures – especially politicians – have a diminished right to privacy. If the president – already married to four wives – has a child born out of wedlock, it has financial implications for the state, and it contradicts his public statements about the importance of having safe sex. It also says a lot about his attitude to women (more about this later). Those issues make his sex life a matter of public interest, whether he likes it or not.
In accusing the media of “making money out of the matter” and “questioning the right of the child to exist”, Zuma is simply trying to deflect the spotlight away from himself. The news media are doing nothing less than their duty in exposing his sex life. And nobody is questioning the child’s right to exist. What is being questioned is Zuma’s sexual behaviour.
His recourse to “culture” to justify his behaviour is also out of place. Zuma seems to believe that everything is OK because he has “done the necessary cultural imperatives in a situation of this nature”.
“The matter is now between the two of us, and culturally, between the Zuma and Khoza families.”
Sorry, Sir, but no. Culture cannot justify behaviour that is contrary to the values and spirit of our Constitution, or detrimental to the wellbeing of society. Our Constitution does not see women as chattels, to be collected, shoved aside, and used and enjoyed as the paterfamilias sees fit. It demands of us to accord to all human beings, including women, an equal measure of respect and dignity.
With apologies to Samuel Johnson: culture is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
According to Beeld, Zuma’s spokesman Zizi Kodwa has defended his behaviour, saying the president did not act recklessly:
“He wasn’t acting recklessly or irresponsibly. Two consenting adults can decide not to use a condom.”
Seems Mr Kodwa has forgotten the president’s own words after his acquittal on a charge of rape three years ago:
“I wish to state categorically and place on record that I erred in having unprotected sex. I should have known better and I should have acted with greater caution and responsibility.”
Also from Beeld:
Dr. Mamphela Ramphele, akademikus, het gister in ’n lesing by die Universiteit van Johannesburg gewonder waar “hierdie kultuur van poligamie in die bevrydingstryd” was. “Patriargie en alles wat daarmee saamgaan, is destyds deur onder meer die trekarbeidstelsel in stand gehou. Maar deur wat word dit nóú in stand gehou? Kulture moet soms by veranderende tye en die samelewing se nuwe waardestelsels aanpas.”
This seals the case for the prosecution, I think (thanks to the New York Times’ Barry Bearak for picking it up): in his World Aids Day speech on 1 December 2009 – that is, about a month after the birth of his love child – Zuma urged South Africans to be responsible in their sexual behaviour and to “use condoms consistently and correctly during every sexual encounter”. He is a hypocrite.
AND YET ANOTHER UPDATE
Zuma’s spokesman, Zizi Kodwa, is quoted on News24 as saying it is nobody’s business whether the president’s love chiuld is entitled to benefits such as medical aid subsidised by the state: “If you are asking that question, you are taking it too far,” he said. “Why must we be concerned?” Nobody wants to deny the child healthcare, Mr Kodwa. But it is taxpayers’ money that is involved, and so it is our business.