INYALA lisikizi: aliyonto yokuqhayisa – debauchery is shameful and not something to boast about, goes a Xhosa saying.
Drawing from his fountain of African wisdom, Julius Malema, the ANC Youth League president, has warned “... we are Africans, we cannot discuss the private affairs of our elders and Zuma is a father to us all ...”
He might not know that there are times when elders, through their actions and choices, lose the respect of the young. This does not only apply to elder-youth relationships but also to those who hold leadership positions and men of title.
Among the Yoruba, for example, if a king behaves in a manner not befitting the title, his subjects, through the Royal Council, will hand a calabash bowl with lead in it to him.
Sending these beautifully carved bowls says: “You are no longer fit to hold that title so we ask you to put your head in this bowl”.
According to the cultural milieu, to which Malema refers, leadership is earned every day. Ukuzeyisa nobungcathu – self-control, discipline, modesty about one’s desires are critical qualities of leadership.
The revelation of yet another child fathered by the president in one of his many sexual liaisons has been described by the ANC as his private life and something on which we should not comment. Yes, the president or any human being has a constitutionally protected right to privacy.
In the same vein, we must accept that the president of the country, by virtue of his position, has to exercise caution and inspire certain norms, values and principles.
The issue is not about whether the man is a self- proclaimed polygamist, as ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said. Even by the standards of polygamous arrangements , the latest revelations raise many questions.
Firstly, polygamy does not require an intimate liaison of the kind that produces a child. Often a man will come to his relatives and say: “I have seen a woman from a certain place or family”. After this, arrangements of courtship will be made.
That, according to the newspapers, there has been payment of inhlawulo suggests an extra-marital affair that took place beyond the cultural norm on which it is now supposedly justified.
The alleged cultural norms of the president’s preference prescribe certain procedures and forms of behaviour, including courtship, with daughters of acquaintances and friends. By these standards alone the president has failed to live up to these provisions.
We are a constitutional democracy that protects cultural freedoms of all, including those of the president. But the choices of the President of the Republic concern all of us .
In a country where the hatred of women , misogyny, is rampant and there are patterns of gender inequality, the president must lead by example. In a country where there are so many girls who are victims of incest and many children suffer paternal neglect, the president must show responsible conduct towards those he relates with.
In a country where HIV- Aids statistics are so high, multiple concurrent partners simply do not augur well for the infection prevention campaign.
Globally, the women’s movement was founded on the principle that “the personal is political”, because what is done in both the public and private spaces influences and shapes the normative cultural paradigm of societies.
To this standard we hold not only the president but all of us, including those who hold senior public office.
Among his many gifts, strengths and weaknesses, we know that Zuma was a brave freedom fighter.
Does that make him a good president? Must we live with and pay for his apparently self-indulgent tendencies? The ANC must weigh these matters and act decisively.
As citizens we must reclaim our own agency and the public space. We should raise our voices and say no. We deserve better leadership.
# The writer is editor of Women in SA History, HSRC 2007, a political, gender and cultural analyst