Monday, May 08, 2006

Jacob Zuma's shower scene

Well, Jacob Zuma has beaten the rape rap. I haven’t been following the sage closely enough to have an opinion on his guilt or innocence, but for those interested enough in the minutiae of the case, Johannesburg’s Mail and Guardian has a special report and there’s more on Wikipedia.

Nevertheless, what he should be standing trial for is stupidity so dangerous that it is arguably a public menace.

After admitting to having had sex with an HIV+ woman without practicing safe sex, Mr Zuma declared that he had indeed taken precautions to stop the spread of AIDS. He’d taken “a hot shower”.

Of course, the effects have been brilliantly set up in the popular Madam & Eve satirical cartoon series that is syndicated to many South African newspapers…

(For more Madam & Eve, see their online archive or order the books.)

… but the damage may be much more serious.

The rate of HIV infection in South Africa is pushing 1 in 3. It is on the increase by about a percentage point per annum. In 2000 it was almost 25% and by 2005 it was alreadt 29.5% and going up.

What’s worse, is that not only is Jacob Zuma’s ex-wife, Dr Nkosazana Zuma, the former minister of Health, but he himself has an honorary doctorate from the Medical University of Southern Africa.

But this is the clincher… and it’s hard not to swear… he was the Chair of the South African National AIDS Council. Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!

Now, Jacob Zuma has a long and distinguished political career. He has proven to be a very influential and capable leader, committed to his country. After all, he sacrificed ten years of his life on Robben Island in the cause of freedom.

But his recent political career has been rocked by financial scandal – and now this.

Equally as troubling are his comments - the excuse of many rapists - that:

"You cannot leave a woman if she is already at that stage (of sexual arousal)."

Women's rights group POWA have reacted angrily, saying ‘Zuma’s acquittal does not mean he is innocent." The group accused the defence lawyer of subjecting the woman to "a relentless and invasive cross-examination aimed at discrediting her as a witness and cast doubt on her ability to distinguish between consensual and non consensual sex".

Now, obviously Mr Zuma is entitled to the most robust defence he can muster and the issue of consent vs non-consent is of compelling interest, but given Mr Zuma's own statement (above), it is perfectly clear that he himself doesn't understand the boundries between 'yes' and 'no'. On the balance of probabilities, therefore, POWA are proabably right. Full marks, too, for POWA taking an interest in this case and reasserting the fact that women certainly do have the right to say 'no' - at any point.

However, even though he's beat the rape charge, the revalations about his own sexual stupidity and, given his position as a government AIDS supremo, staggering ignorance about basic safe-sex practice cast doubt not only on his own reputation, but on the entire government's anti-AIDS programme. Beyond concern, beyond crisis, beyond catastrophy, South Africa heading for an AIDS calamity.

Zuma has, in the words of journalist Moyiga Nduru, literally turned on ‘The Shower That Washed Anti-AIDS Efforts Down the Drain’.


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