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Yesterday’s Man

by Carlos Amato / 10.02.2010

Questioning the sincerity of an apology is an infantile, mean-spirited habit. If the apology is phrased properly, you accept it, and move on. It’s what grown-ups do. But Jacob Zuma’s mea culpa for fathering a child out of wedlock has done little to quiet the tiresomely puritanical screeching in the South African media.

Why such rage? Nobody got killed. A successful 38-year-old woman had a baby. She wasn’t married to the father, who happened to be a polygamous politician. So what? Babies are lovely, even illegit ones. Reading the papers, you’d think this was the first love child ever born on these shores.

Many Zuma-bashers are presenting his infidelity as a personal betrayal of every South African citizen, and of every woman in particular. Bollocks. Millions of women voted for him, knowing full well that he’s a veteran polygamist and womaniser.

And I’m tired of hearing about “unequal power relations” every time a powerful man has extramarital, consensual sex with a grown-up woman. To cast such a woman as a desireless victim is to infantilise her. Women have always lusted after powerful, promiscuous men, and they always will. No amount of feminist activism is ever going to change that, because it’s a function of biology, not patriarchy.

Needless to say, polygamy is a function of patriarchy – and an absurdly pointless institution, as Zuma has inadvertently demonstrated. It’s just organised philandering. Is it really a sin to cheat on your official harem? It’s a bit like drinking an espresso after a three-course meal. It follows naturally.

It’s true that Jacob Zuma has ruined the progress he made on the state’s HIV prevention campaign when he publicly tested for the virus last year. Monogamous partners who know they are both HIV-negative can safely dispense with condoms. HIV-negative people with many concurrent partners can’t. Hence Zuma can’t.

But it’s pointless to pillory him for behaviour that remains endemic in our society – behaviour that the voting majority tacitly endorsed by electing him. Zuma’s excesses are just one symptom of a reckless sexual culture, not its cause.

And the profound cultural change that the country needs cannot be triggered or prevented by any individual. It can only be brought about by a long flood of blunt, accurate information. Millions of young South African men and women have to lead the change – not yesterday’s men like Zuma.

If we have any cause to get snippy about Zuma’s latest offspring, it’s his infidelity’s effect on his productivity: all this pomping is time-consuming, and he has a country to run.

But the thing is, we all know he’s not running the country at all. He’s just a placeholder, a walking bandwagon for a wagonload of power-hungry cadres. All he does is laugh, dance, get married and refer all questions to the collective wisdom of the ANC.

Zuma is a useless leader, because he doesn’t lead. South Africans should vote him into obscurity in 2014, should he not be recalled before then.

But right now, let’s accept his laudable apology, and let Thandekile Matina Zuma grow up in peace.

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