The BBC reports that Jacob Zuma, the man who will almost certainly be South Africa’s next president intends to take on a third wife. Zuma married his second wife in a traditional Zulu ceremony last year. This will be his third wife.
Now, I have nothing against Zulu customs and traditions. But there is something to be said when the man poised to be the most powerful African leader decides to behave in this manner. South Africa, because of its big economy and history, is seen by many as the leading country in Africa. Nelson Mandela ranks high in the pantheon of the great sons and daughters of the continent. Mbeki, although mostly delusional (I had so much hope in him though), didn’t go on a marrying spree. As the de facto leader of the continent we demand better than this from Zuma. We have seen (with deep embarrassment) the sorry affair that is the life of the King of Swaziland. Let not the same become of the leader of a democratic, and supposedly modern, republic like South Africa.
Most importantly, I am uneasy about Zuma’s habits because of what it means for women’s rights in South Africa and to a great extent on the entire continent. It should no longer be deemed appropriate for a man (and especially a public figure like the president) to run around with as many women as he wants. If prominent leaders like Zuma do it, the local man in the streets will follow suit. What this means for Africa’s HIV/AIDS situation, not to mention other venereal diseases and the loads of children that will result from these bad habits, is unfathomable. I am not making a cultural argument here. I am simply stating that when a man marries more than one wife it takes away any leverage his wife may have on him. It is also an expensive affair. Zuma may be able to afford it, but most African men can’t. But they do it anyway, resulting in loads of uneducated, poorly raised children, most of whom die before they are five. THIS IS A BIG PROBLEM. Plus it doesn’t make any sense. How is he (Zuma) going to be a caring father if he has three homes to attend to? The presidency must be a demanding job. It says a lot about Zuma’s work ethic when he prepares for it by taking on a hugely demanding task like marrying a third wife (as if being in a monogamous marriage is not exacting enough). Either his presidency will suffer or his marriages will be neglected – or both. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this doesn’t turn into an annual spectacle like the (in)famous one by King Mswati.
Mr. Zuma, the daughters of Africa deserve better. Your bad habits, and those of your neighbor, King Mswati, continue to denigrate our mothers and sisters. I don’t care what motivates your actions – tradition or otherwise. This is simply unacceptable for a public figure. Period. The saddest thing about this is that Mr. Zuma will still be elected president of South Africa. He was accused of corruption. He has not been faithful to his TWO wives. But he will still be elected president of South Africa. South Africa, the land that gave us Mandela, Winnie, Sisulu, Tambo and many others of their ilk, can do better.