A selfish, predatory practice
Culture offers no defence for the practice of polygamyFeb 8, 2010 12:08 AM By Justice Malala
Justice Malala: Let us not beat about the bush here. The issue is not who President Jacob Zuma sleeps with and how many times he does so. That is not what necessitates an apology.
South African ladies are saying that Zuma is revolting
What he should apologise for is the fact that he has opened the door for our democracy to be hijacked by people who want to hide behind culture to justify their selfish and predatory practices.
A patriarchal society benefits and flowers from women being oppressed, uneducated and disempowered. We know now that it is precisely because we used to live under patriarchal rule that men could indulge in the selfish act of sleeping with and marrying as many women as they like, without a care.
That was then. This is now. Today all of that is rubbish and a defence of it only perpetuates the oppressions of the past. To all those who have been defending polygamy over the past week, here is the bottom line. It may well be that many, including Zuma, still practise polygamy. It may also be that polygamy is something that is allowed in our constitution.
That, however, does not make it right and it is not defensible under the guise of culture. Polygamy is inherently undemocratic and oppressive of women. It is a practice for men who hate women.
The position has been common cause in the ANC since its formation in 1912. Not once under its first president, John Dube, or successive presidents did the party feel the need to defend practices like polygamy or the use of muti - another fashionable addition to today's ANC. Unique in this respect, the many cultures our ANC claims to defend are alien to its very nature. At heart, the party is non-sexist, scientific, progressive, non-racial and democratic.
The core of the ANC does not believe in the deification of individuals. When Nelson Mandela was adored by the world and our nation, the ANC very early on in the 1990s released a statement warning against the culture of deifying the man. The defence of "uBaba" Zuma, which borders on idolisation, is alien to the very nature of the ANC.
So this is an alien ANC we see today. This is an ANC lost, an ANC foundering. That is for the ANC to sort out. What needs to be kept in mind is what South African ladies in taxis are saying of their president: "LoBaba uya Nyanyisa" (this man is revolting).
But what does the rest of the country want? The rest of us want a nation that does not hate women, a country that - even if it accepts that some among us do not appreciate the contradiction of speaking about a non-sexist country while practising a fundamentally sexist institution - wants to systematically remove all barriers and practices that lead to the denigration, discrimination, victimisation and ultimately rape of women in our country.
Statistics show that a woman is raped every 23 seconds in South Africa. When we talk about South African culture, what we are actually saying is that we hate women, hence it is okay to "acquire" as many of them as possible and say this is our culture. Our culture perpetuates gender oppression.
However, last week also demonstrates that this is not what South Africa wants. The ladies in taxis and the men who load and unpack merchandise are disgusted with a president who - for the second known time - has slept with the child of one of his friends. These people are aware that most of the rapes that happen in our country are committed by relatives or male friends of the family.
The thought makes them feel sick and the revelations about the president affect them in the same way. The Sowetan was absolutely right in its front-page editorial last week: in any other democracy the president would have been forced to resign. Are those ladies in the taxis so disgusted that in 2014 they will look at the ballot paper and say "Enough is enough"?
Zuma now has some time until the ANC's 2012 conference to clean up his name and his game. He has an extra two years to make disillusioned South Africans believe in him again. My view is that Zuma can and will win the 2014 election. He will do it on a populist vote and he will do it largely because the opposition remains weak, despite the vigorousness of the Democratic Alliance parliamentary machine.
But the ANCs 2014 victory is already sounding hollow. A hundred years after its formation, the party is a moral shadow of its proud self, choosing to hate women.