Maureen Isaacson: I fear for South Africa's women in the Zuma era

Related Topics

As Jacob Zuma took the crown as president of the ANC, South Africa's ruling party, in the city of Polokwane this week, champagne spilled among the victors. Elsewhere, disppointment and fear took hold as the country faced a divided ANC.

The electorate who had voted Zuma in on a pro-poor ticket got to hear some curious reports. On his whirlwind charm offensive of western capitals, Zuma had announced there would be no shift to the left in his policies.

Just because he enjoyed the support of the trade unions, the youth leagues of the ANC and the South African Communist party as well as of the Communist party itself did not mean he was going to lift the dispossessed out of the middle-class elitist rut of which it has fallen foul.

Quite what he is going to do is not clear either. And it is this fear of the unknown, as well as the unknown person who is Zuma, that is the worry. Zuma's election has proved that a humble herd boy from Kwa Zulu-Natal, the son of a policeman and a domestic worker, can rise to dizzy heights and charge around the country in a convoy of big black German cars. It has proved that if you are Zuma you can go out on a campaign trail boasting that in fact you have no policies of your own, that your policies are those of the ANC and that you will not deviate from these and still be voted the best man. Surely he has noticed from the increasing service-delivery protests under Thabo Mbeki's leadership that economic success that serves only a rising middle class is of no use to the poor?

Coming hot on the heels of the tweedy, pipe-smoking, Yeats-quoting, internet surfing Mbeki, whom Zuma has referred to as "the briefcase president", he hopefully has some new tricks up his sleeve.

He has promised that he will declare a national emergency on crime and Aids. What exactly this means is another point of imprecision. And we can surely be relieved that Mbeki's denialism is behind us. A recent UN Aids report revealed that South Africa has the highest number of Aids infections in the world, and 1,000 people die of Aids-related illnesses daily. But is Zuma the right man to tackle this crisis?

Last year, during a rape trial in which he was acquitted, some patriarchal views returned us to the dark ages. We learned that women who wear short skirts are looking for sex, and that Zulu men, (for Zuma is a Zulu), are obliged to satisfy women whom they have aroused. Zuma was accused of tribalism, populism, you name it. But, to be fair, his reach is inclusive and he has not traded on ethnicity in his campaign although it surely does not count against him among those who have referred to the country's leadership as the Xhosa-nostra.

During the trial, Zuma, who admitted to having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman, said he took a shower afterwards, to prevent infection. But it wasn't just male supporters who embraced Zuma and burned his rape complainant in effigy outside the court.

He apologised afterwards, to the country, for these admissions, just as he later apologised for an admission of homophobia which clashed horribly with the famously tolerant constitution that was later to give same-sex marriage its blessing.

Zuma was forgiven, embraced too, for showing that he is human, that he too could suffer humiliation and victimisation. But women fear that Zuma's election will bring a reversal of the remarkable advances in gender equity that we have made.

Zuma's election on Tuesday night revealed that a show of charisma, and the machismo that comes with being a traditionalist polygamist, can allow you to slide into, and out of, statements about sexuality and homosexuality with apologies and winning smiles and be perceived as a man with great leadership qualities.

Before his fall from grace, when he lost his position as the country's deputy president because of alleged corruption, and before his rape trial, Zuma headed up the moral regeneration movement. He spread the message of Aids awareness. His remarkable ability to ride the obvious contradictions he presents are alone deserving of a medal. He is, however, aware of the fears that his election has brought and has tried to placate the country.

He knows that the flip-side, the contradiction of fear of the unknown, is hope. And we allow hope to flood in as we look to the five new faces who are going to help steer Zuma to prosperity and peace. We will focus on these goals as we join in Zuma's signature liberation song, rousing his followers to action: it is called Lethu Mshini Wami; it translates as "Bring me my machine gun".

Maureen Isaacson is literary editor of the 'Sunday Independent' newspaper in Johannesburg

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

Vote Tory and you’re voting for the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer

Mark Steel
General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'