Pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls must come clean

It isn’t enough to say a woman must be pres­i­dent. Candidates must spell out what they aim to do

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Colleen Lowe Morna

What is of in­ter­est to the public is not nec­es­sar­ily in the public in­ter­est — that is one way of look­ing at the re­cent ti­t­il­lat­ing claims con­cern­ing Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa’s al­leged ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fairs.

If he were in France, where the pre­vail­ing view is that the pri­vate lives of lead­ers are just that, the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent al­le­ga­tions of many in­fi­deli­ties would prob­a­bly be rel­e­gated to the back pages.

If he were in the United States, where ev­ery detail of a pres­i­den­tial hope­ful’s life is scru­ti­nised, there would prob­a­bly be a whole lot more in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the unan­swered ques­tions aris­ing from the al­leged emails with eight women whom Ramaphosa says he is sup­port­ing fi­nan­cially.

He is in South Africa, where he was chief ar­chi­tect of one of the most demo­cratic con­sti­tu­tions in the world, one of the few that claims gen­der equal­ity as a cor­ner­stone, and the only one that recog­nises sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and iden­tity.

I pro­pose we set a new stan­dard of where to draw the line be­tween pri­vate and public. To the ex­tent that pri­vate con­duct re­flects where a leader stands on women’s rights is in the public in­ter­est. Lead­ers must walk the talk of gen­der equal­ity and of all val­ues in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Many have ar­gued on so­cial me­dia that it is hyp­o­crit­i­cal to rip into Ramaphosa while we are led by a pres­i­dent who nar­rowly es­caped rape charges, is a po­lyg­a­mist and a self-con­fessed phi­lan­derer. This misses the point. On the gen­der score, and now on many others, Ja­cob Zuma should never have been pres­i­dent of one of the world’s new­est democ­ra­cies that won its free­dom based on some of the high­est eth­i­cal stan­dards around. Let us not lower the bar as we seize the win­dow of op­por­tu­nity for new lead­ers in 2019.

Ramaphosa has dis­missed the al­le­ga­tions as a smear cam­paign, be­cause he has spo­ken out on cor­rup­tion. He ad­mits that he had an af­fair with a doc­tor eight years ago, but has “dealt with that” with his wife and now has a pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship with the woman.

He has not de­nied the ex­is­tence of the emails (though he says they may have been “doc­tored” but gives no de­tails on how), but he has de­nied that he is a “blesser”.

Why is a pres­i­den­tial hope­ful, let alone the main­stream me­dia, even us­ing the bib­li­cal term that has been twisted to re­fer to older men who give young women ma­te­rial re­turns for sex­ual favours? Why do we fail to recog­nise or ques­tion the ob­vi­ous power dy­nam­ics at play in a deeply pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety in which poor young women (the “blessed”) are easy prey for rich and pow­er­ful men?

Many other ques­tions re­main unan­swered and the me­dia is not pur­su­ing them. Ramaphosa has a foun­da­tion for sup­port­ing the per­sonal de­vel­op­ment of un­der­priv­i­leged South Africans. Why is that foun­da­tion not the one con­duct­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the women stu­dents he is sup­port­ing? Why three email ad­dresses un­der pseu­do­nyms? Why does he con­duct per­sonal com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the women and not the men he is sup­port­ing? Is this pro­fes­sional con­duct for a phi­lan­thropist, not to men­tion pres­i­den­tial can­di­date?

Ramaphosa says he and his wife are sup­port­ing 34 women and 20 men. Why? Is that be­cause women have been his­tor­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged and this is his way of pro­mot­ing gen­der equal­ity? If so, why not come out with a strong state­ment on what he as pres­i­dent would do to pro­mote gen­der equal­ity, the most im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal and so­cial rev­o­lu­tion of our time post-apartheid?

Where was Ramaphosa dur­ing the fifth an­niver­sary of the Marikana mas­sacres that in­volved one of his min­ing com­pa­nies? What did he have to say to the wid­ows? What is he do­ing for them?

These are the sorts of ques­tions we need to be putting not just to Ramaphosa but to all pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls. Among the line-up in the rul­ing ANC is Min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dency Jeff Radebe, who re­cently apol­o­gised for send­ing an SMS to a woman staffer ask­ing for a pic­ture of her cli­toris.

He also com­mented most in­ap­pro­pri­ately at a march on gen­der vi­o­lence, which in­cluded women’s rights to wear miniskirts.

When will we wake up to the fact that sex­ist com­ments that rel­e­gate women to be­ing ob­jects for the plea­sure of men have no place in our democ­racy.

We scored a small vic­tory dur­ing Women’s Month, when for­mer deputy min­is­ter of higher ed­u­ca­tion Mduduzi Manana re­signed af­ter a storm of protest fol­low­ing his as­sault on a young woman in a night­club on a Satur­day evening. She and her friends were air­ing their views on the suc­ces­sion bat­tle. His boss, Zuma, did not fire him — it took him sev­eral days to do the right thing — and he is still re­fus­ing to step down as an MP.

But as the first ever in­stance in South Africa in which a pow­er­ful man has had to pay the price for gen­der mis­con­duct, this is a new stan­dard we need to take to a higher level.

For the first time in our his­tory, there are three women in the pres­i­den­tial line-up. These in­clude speaker Baleka Mbete, Hu­man Set­tle­ments Min­is­ter Lindiwe Sisulu and the for­mer African Union chair­per­son and for­mer for­eign af­fairs, health and home af­fairs min­is­ter, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Ramaphosa’s main ri­val, DlaminiZuma, rightly makes the point that she should be judged on her mer­its, as a min­is­ter un­der Nel­son Man­dela and Thabo Mbeki, and not as the for­mer wife of Zuma, whom she di­vorced many years ago. But she has failed to dis­tance her­self from Zuma’s public en­dorse­ment of her can­di­da­ture; she has failed to pro­nounce her­self on state cap­ture and cor­rup­tion; and she has failed to put for­ward a blue­print for women’s em­pow­er­ment un­der her lead­er­ship.

It is not good enough to jump on the band­wagon of “now is the time for a woman pres­i­dent”. This elec­tion must not be about jobs for girls, but gen­der equal­ity for the na­tion. Can any one of the candidates out there tell us how that will be achieved? We are hun­gry for a real de­bate on the is­sues, and for lead­ers who lead by ex­am­ple — per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally.

Wannabes: ANC deputy pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa (above) and other politi­cians who want to be­come pres­i­dent, women in­cluded, must be clear about their gen­der agenda. Photo: Ro­gan Ward/Reuters

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