Feb 07 2010

Has Mbeki ever met Jacob Zuma?

Category: Uncategorized<ADMINNICENAME> @ 12:16 PM

South Africa’s former president, the austere and dignified Thabo Mbeki, often lectured Europeans and Americans, hectoring his country about the relationship between sexual promiscuity and the spread of HIV/AIDs, that African men are not obsessed with sex and in pell-mell pursuit of new sexual liasons as if quantity, rather than quality, matters most to them.

Well perhaps Mbeki never met Jacob Zuma, who happens to be his replacement as South Africa’s president. Reports that Zuma has fathered a child with the 39-year old daughter of one of his cronies has ignited an unusual level of protest in a country where, since his election, “Big Daddy,” as Zuma sometimes is called, has maintained high popularity ratings.

Zuma, who practices polygamy and an estimated 19 children with four former and current wives, last married only in January of this year. This month he admitted fathering a child with a girlfriend last year. Zuma divorced one wife and another committed suicide ten years ago. His latest paramour may become wife number four. South African media are reporting that Zuma may already have married her in a “customary” ceremony.

Whether Zuma’s personal behavior represents South African “manhood” as a whole is clear: the answer is a resounding no. Not only Mbeki but of course Nelson Mandela have provided very different notions of manhood and the male relationship to marriage and female partners. Mandela especially presented a model of husbandly devotion to Graca Machel, a wife of intelligence, independence and dignity.

By treating women as a form of property, and accumulating them in public fashion the way another man might collect art or race horses,  Zuma raises questions anew about how best to promote gender equality in his country and the region as a whole.

One Response to “Has Mbeki ever met Jacob Zuma?”

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