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Yesterday's Man

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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  1. wow says:

    lovely. what perspective.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    excellent. bitter-yet-very-insightful-&-necessary food for thought. nice one.

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  3. Jason says:

    Looks like he’s hailing the Starship Enterprise in that pic. That explains some of the odd behaviour.

    A fair comment on the whole scenario. This muppet is there because the majority of people put him there. Is the younger (our) generation any different to the older (his) when it comes to deaf, dumb and blind loyalty? I had a long chat to our cleaning lady – there’s a lot of disappointment among the folks in her neighbourhood in Alex, but they will each and every one of them vote for him again when next they’re called to duty.

    I fear the circus will perpetuate itself indefinitely.

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  4. brandon edmonds says:

    ‘all this pomping is time consuming’. ha. great article.

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  5. JT says:

    Dude you are a genius and a true conservative in the making

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  6. wow says:

    there aint nothing conservative about this writing. however, genius is fine.

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  7. Ria says:

    Sadly zuma is guaranteed to be presiden for another term

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  8. Ria says:

    Crazily zuma is guaranteed to be president for another term

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  9. Charly says:

    So the man has 20 wives and 6 children (or is it the other way round? difficult to get things straight sometimes). But so what? Apart from his being a powerful male and therefore sought after more than most, affairs get carried on in every culture and indeed in almost every marriage, also mine and yours. Get off your high horses; this is business as usual here. The only thing interesting about this love child of Mr Zuma’s is why that obviously intelligent, successful, 38-year-old woman fell pregnant and then chose to have the baby in the first place. Moral integrity or leverage for the future? Oh, and I doubt Child no 20 is the last one we’ll hear about. More will keep popping out of the woodwork for years to come, same as Steve Hofmeyr’s did, and I refuse to be shocked every time.
    Rape and corruption cases didn’t stop Mr Zuma’s getting voted in last time round, so there’s almost nothing that will keep him out of office in the next round – except perhaps the ANC itself. But he has the Youth League to help with that little problem – and what could the man possibly do to piss off the Youth Leaugue?

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  10. The JZA says:

    Charly says.

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  11. mofo says:

    Motlanthe for president!

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  12. Bee says:

    brilliant, Carl.

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  13. guy says:

    Zuma must be incredibly persuasive with his words and charm when it’s Business Time, I mean, the exact words he manifests to convince intelligent women (both HIV positive and negative), and who he isn’t married to, that it’s OK if he doesn’t wear a condom, that it’s OK if he ejaculates within them, that they won’t become pregnant, that his wives won’t mind.

    Maybe he can get away with it because of who he is, and things do happen in the heat of the moment, but at some point, he has to have a way with words when it he’s about to get busy.

    Using culture as an excuse to shirk self-restraint and responsibility to his family and the nation he’s supposed to be leading is getting boring. It’s backwards, and the biggest fallacy is that culture doesn’t evolve
    Fuck him. He wanted the limelight.

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  14. Philippa says:

    All his pomping waste time. touche. but don’t forget all his first ladies and children need to be clothed, fed, educated and given expense allowances and so we as tax payers are shelling out for his philandering

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  15. windmill chopper says:

    Jacob Zuma has taken all the unfortunate souls who queue tirelessly for their antiretrovirals in dimly lit rooms and shat on them. He has taken the arguably the biggest problem on the continent and given it the finger, and so on.

    The most direct and honest expression of leadership is in the exemplary mode and he has, once again, proved himself to be dishonest and a useless leader.

    For the author to cite man on woman relations, quirks of culture and other microcosmic excuses is really stupid. I know that it’s partonising to think that women can’t decide who they sleep with, but this question goes way beyond the tacit.

    It’s about a man and the country for which he is supposed to be a role model. He has fucked it up badly.

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  16. Sean says:

    Kief piece, reservedly. Asked once about the number of children he had, a well-known womanising president from elsewhere responded, “almost a tribe”. Womanising presidents. The basic fact is that the press loves big men with a yearning for the pomp (when I say love, I mean love as you neatly expressed it, love as a form of “tiresomely puritanical screeching”). Face it, big guys with loose canons make for good copy: Bill Clinton, JFK (latterly) and Fidel, father of that self-described “tribe”. According to Ann Louise Bardach, an investigative journalist and a member of the Cuba Study Group at the Brookings Institution think-tank, Castro is well known for his philandering. He has at least 10 known offspring. In Cuba, unlike SA (except perhaps inside that ugly monolith at 54 Sauer Street, known as Luthuli House), discussing Fidel Castro’s womanising ways is “strictly taboo”. Sound familiar? Not really. While I agree with everything you say Carlos, and greatly admire how you say it too, perhaps we should at least concede that crappy/expedient/misdirected as much of the commentary is, it’s cool that we can still (provisionally, it seems these days) talk about our nominal lead actor’s womanising ways, this without having to worry about some guys in Adidas track suits – which I imagine is how Cuban secret police disguise themselves – knocking at the door.

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  17. carol says:

    What a joke of a president!!!!!!

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  18. Wondering Jew says:

    Go Carlos, go Carlos, go – but you forgot to mention the fact that what this whole thing points to is a stupidly conservative streak in the South African psyche that is often accompanied by a ruthless and lightning fast case of collective amnesia. We just don’t know how and when to pick our battles anymore.

    Everyone was perfectly happy to switch off their moral compasses when Zuma was given a dubious and blatantly plagiarised get out of jail free card by his crony Mpshe – who has just been given his reward in the form of an acting judge position up North – on the corruption charges arising from the Arms Deal. Everyone was “so relieved” and “didn’t want to talk about it anymore” – hence the fizzling out of investigations into the origins of the tapes etc. But let the man take out his boerewors and start waving it around at anything in a skirt and listen to the indignant masses roar like a million vuvuzelas.

    When facing the courts we were told that Zuma wasn’t just an ordinary man accused of corruption. No, he was Joseph K., an innocent victim of a shadowy conspiracy intended to prevent him from taking his god given place at the top of the pile. When fathering illegitimate children, he’s a disappointment because ultimately he’s just a man like anyone else and we’re just a mob who’ve stopped chanting for Jesus and are now calling for Barabas.

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  19. Kingklip says:

    Die man is poesbefok, pussywhipped….as we would say politely in the Cape

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  20. Bel says:

    Appreciated most of the article, the wry humour and frankness are refreshing. That said: ‘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.’ Of course it’s a function of patriarchy – when little girls are taught they should find a big man with deep pockets to look after them, they will no doubt grow up to do that. And while it would be naive to say that is the standard, there are still tons of girls growing up with “find rich man to pay for everything” firmly ingrained on their to-do list. That’s not biology. That’s socialisation.

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  21. gender mender says:

    Amen Bel. Well said! Just because certain things have been firmly ingrained over generations does not mean that they cannot be fixed. That’s after all what human evolution and our ultimate survival depend upon.

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  22. Anonymous says:

    @Carlos- If you say that the change we want and deserve in the country cannot be triggered by one individual because he is the same man now that he was when people voted for him implies to me that, “what he does and say, people will do and say”, simply because people still stand by him regardless of his actions. That is a quality some politicians/public figures have. It is almost a type of hypnotic entrancement they elicit.
    I don’t think I have to point you way down history’s timeline back to a certain German politician who made a whole nation perform the most immoral and unethical actions by imploring to their race and national sense of superiority. Fact is that this one man (Zuma) can and will be able to change attitudes and behaviours of the South African population for the simple fact that he has the before mentioned quality. Perhaps not affecting a learned individual like yourself, but to more than half the population that look up to him as a father figure they adore, “…and will die for…”, the contrary is true.

    I think everyone makes mistakes, and it’s an absolute bitch being in the press the whole time, especially a liberal run one, but we do not live in a time anymore where a public figure remains a picture and some captions in a newspaper. He is a three dimensional entity that represents every aspect of his country.
    His ongoing support despite his wrongdoings shows how much people love and trust him and how they do, accept his moral wrong doings- which then fall outside of morality or wrongdoing.
    What would one have to condone further then from this assuming private citizen? That a slight addiction to sleeping pills is acceptable? That a quick murder or perhaps just a sincere beating is, ‘….as natural as a drinking an espresso after a three-course meal…” because he is just a human with human needs and desires? War?

    As much as it is perhaps difficult for a white person to understand the cultural perception and belief that this man has over his followers despite what, a collective we, view as ‘wrong’ doings, you also have to realize that it is difficult to condone behaviour that contradicts most of the religions’ in South Africa’s moral outlook. It is in this case really truly not a private affair, simply due to the fact that this kind of behaviour would be looked down on in most any ‘other’ culture in South Africa.

    If perhaps Zuma was doing an rather amazing job with service delivery, fighting crime etc etc, then it would have most likely sifted out those that are merely looking for any reason to hammer him with. But until then, until there is real effectiveness in the realm of being a leader, party head and father figure to millions—you can forget any hint of acceptance from a large part of the population who feels and wants him to represent them.

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  23. min gulbrandsen says:

    Having a president who at nearly 70 can’t keep his dick in his pants in spite of a fairly wide range of ‘legitimate’ partners available to him is just embarrassing.

    Also, when the same guy borrowed money from Schabir Shaik, as part of their ‘corrupt relationship’ to pay for his children’s school fees, it becomes a little scarey.

    Otherwise, I agree with you!

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  24. Carlotta says:

    You’re such a male – are you trying to get women to understand that Zuma’s behaviour is that of a man? That polygamy as an institution of patriachy is organised philandering? Do you assume that people only get married for love? You need look only at other reasons for people getting married to understand that there’s a broader range of reasons.

    These women may be as ‘irresponsible’ as Zuma for entering into union with him – in that they are sleeping with power. There’s a benefit for them in there somewhere perhaps? If Zuma’s culture allows him more than one wife, that’s not the issue. He’s culture has parameters too, and as president he has a responsibility to be an example – it comes with the office of leadership. It talks about your ability not to sell out your values at the drop of a hat, not to use your power irresponsibly.

    A president who can’t keep it in his pants and does not respect or value his own culture, but uses it in a way that suit’s not his need but his greed, well who wants to follow such a leader?

    His behaviour is unacceptable. The fact that he was not able to support his existing brood and needed money from Shabir Shaik as he claims does that mean because he’s president, he now has the cash flow? If he wants more kids, he can set an example, and adopt. He can use his position for the good of the country in some way.

    The example he sets – and public office comes with that – is a fuck up. There is no accountability and if he had a personal moral obligation to himself to be accountable, there’d be a different leadership. People did not die in the struggle so that the stalwarts can wallow like pigs. He’s amnesia in this regard should get him expelled.

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  25. Pauly says:

    The problem is not polygamy or illegitimacy its Aids, and the damage a leader does to the efforts to manage a killer epidemic by flouting all three of the Aids ABC mantra, (abstinence, be faithful, condomise.)

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  26. The other way says:

    Kick him out now i mean look what happened to Bill (clinton) and maybe one of the endless amount of wives he has can step in for him?

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  27. rusty says:

    millions and millions of rand spent putting the anti HIV message out and our President gave a finger up to every one of the pillars of the message-
    No A, No B , No C and lots of secret concurrent partnerships -all the things driving the epidemic . WELL done MR Zuma for your example to the country .If it werent for HIV I could not care less what he does altho I do object to my taxdollars going to pay for the circus.

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  28. Angela says:

    You have missed the real tragedy. Where Mbeki asked us to deny the reality if HIV/AIDS in the name of nationalism, rejecting ‘pharmaceutical colonialism’ and pan-Africanism, Zuma asks us to deny it in the name of CULTURE. Therein lies the supreme arrogance of it all: I, the President, have the power and privilege of choosing, misinterpreting and mutilating tradition to serve political ambition. The rest of you just sit back and get deep-throated, get pregnant, get HIV.”
    Culture belongs to the people and is not another tool of state political hegemony. I thought we had at least understood that in South Africa, after decades of subjugation and humiliation in the name of exalting all that is White and Christian.

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  29. Nicky says:

    While I agree with your general tone, and yes it’s refreshing to have a slightly more enlightened perspective, I have to take umbrage with this: “it’s pointless to pillory him for behaviour that remains endemic in our society”. No, it is *not* pointless to pillory him. In fact it’s pretty much our civic duty.

    We get the government we deserve, and even if the majority did tacitly endorse his fucked up behaviour by voting him in then those who weren’t in that majority have a responsibility to heckle, hassle and otherwise harass Zuma’s ridiculousness. If we don’t, if we don’t consistently raise our voices in outrage, then we will have no right to complain about how shit things are. A healthy society needs critique. Dissenting voices are the only things helping Mr President retain, I hope, some small grasp on reality.

    Letting him get away with it because you’re so disgusted by the whole farce is still letting him get away with it.

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  30. Anonymous says:

    fuck zuma. okay, maybe not.

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  31. Nissim says:

    Great article, but I have to agree with Nicky (above).

    What I find most inspiring about the whole sleazy Khoza episode is how previously perfectly aligned ANC-supporting citizens (with respect to the Prez, anyway) are actually starting to say “No, this is not ok. Our man has gone too far”.

    Change and accountability will only really arrive when these unquestioning, hard-core voters are prepared to break ranks and take him to task.

    I know a lot of them will never consider giving their X to the DA, the ID, the IFP or Cope, for example. At best they may choose to withhold their vote altogether. Why I say “at best” is that ultimately it’s only the ANC inner circle that can censure JZ, and take him to task.

    It may be a long shot, or clutching at straws, but the prospect of dwindling voter numbers might be the best hope we have of the ANC elite either pushing him towards reigning in these voters – by putting the squeeze on civil servants to accelerate service delivery… or proposing a more suitable candidate.

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  32. ling ling says:

    I wish he would get Aids.

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  33. sad says:

    the guy behaves more like an african chief, instead of a leader of a complicated country like south africa, he agrees with and accomodates all because that’s how he will be able to hold on power and accsess resources needed to look after all the brood he have, as some one said it is like the americans have elected native red indian Chief Sitting Bull ( with his dancing and singing) instead of Obama

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  34. artofkawaii says:

    Ditttttoooo!!! I keep telling these feminists to stop treating other woman like infants… as if they have no brains to reason out their situation and choose for themselves. The feminist lexicon is as exacting as patriarchy in its assumptions of the cerebral competence of other women.

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  35. artofkawaii says:

    Sad your associations with “African chiefs” are disconcerting… and the last allusion to American first nations just does not help at all. its 2010!

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  36. […] He then lets out a belly laugh. Hey, he is a lucky guy. […]

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