Loose zips in high office suck

‘It sucks. I used to be governor of New York.”

That was the delicious quote from Eliot Spitzer in Time magazine’s December edition when asked how he was enjoying his new job as a columnist for Slate magazine.

You’ll remember Spitzer as the one-time golden boy of the US Democratic Party whose speedy descent to notoriety came about when his indiscretions with a New York prostitution ring were revealed late last year.

Spitzer, once considered one of the brightest sparks in the party, had excelled as New York attorney general and was admired for cleaning up Wall Street.
However, a few centimetres of newspaper column space and mere minutes of camera footage later, he became just another guy with a loose zip in US politics. His “exposure” led to the requisite ridicule and he was shown the door.

Last week I was reminded of Spitzer’s political demise by our own antics here at home. Though I’m hardly ever surprised or shocked anymore at the putrid nature of what spews out of Julius Malema’s potty mouth, he outdid himself during an address to students in Cape Town.

The ANC Youth League president told students that Jacob Zuma’s rape accuser actually enjoyed her encounter with the ANC president.

“When a woman didn’t enjoy it, she leaves early in the morning. Those who had a nice time will wait until the sun comes out, request breakfast and ask for taxi money!”

Like many, I’m mortified by this brazenly backward view, but the real shocker for me is that, according to newspaper reports, he delivered it to rapturous audience applause.

What is alarming for South Africa is that some pockets of our society share Malema’s views. Women are there to be subjugated and objectified and there will be no come-uppance for this disrespect. Sure, commentators and pot-stirring NGOs will holler far and wide and fill up newspaper column space (which they should), but where it really matters, no one will be taken to task.

So when it emerges or is alleged that the president of South Africa himself may be sleeping with two women other than his wife, we don’t question his behaviour or its appropriateness in relation to the high public office Kgalema Motlanthe holds. We don’t use the example of his alleged indiscretions—which include getting a 24-year-old pregnant—as a prism through which to look into the extent to which gender relations in South Africa have been poisoned.

Rather, the central theme focuses on who is spilling the beans on the president’s alleged bad behaviour. The media has been pounced on for infringing on the president’s privacy.

It’s election silly season and naturally with the skulduggery we’ve seen in the race for positions of power in South African politics, sleaze and smear will dominate the game over the next months. Anyone with a nasty secret or a bizarre sexual proclivity is bound to be outed.

This disregard for women illustrates an “acceptable” behavioural pattern that may be more pervasive than we think, as demonstrated by the cackles and applause that greeted Malema’s latest gem in Cape Town.

This is the national debate we should be having. Two issues are at play here: a seeming lack of accountability when women’s rights are trampled and the toxically unequal gender relations that exist.

According to the IEC’s latest election registration figures, a gender breakdown of voters registered showed 55,1% are female and 44,9% male. All political parties should study these figures carefully and watch what they say and do.

It can be a quick decline from the lofty towers of power to well — nothing. Ask Eliot Spitzer.

Also, we South Africans should stop the hypocrisy and start engaging one another honestly about what kind of society we want.

I’m not just referring to politicians here. In our own homes we seem comfortable pontificating about what we deem to be the poor behaviour of the powerful and famous, but we don’t adequately interrogate what’s happening in our own lives. What do the loosened zippers and the lascivious bar-room banter say about us?

Nikiwe Bikitsha is one of the country’s leading radio and television news personalities. She is senior news anchor at CNBC Africa

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