Mr Zuma, my drunken uncle

For anyone who has an alcoholic, unpredictable uncle with a knack for disrupting families and who always leaves his kin recoiling from the dirty laundry hung out as a result of his personality-altering habit, my reaction to our president’s latest reason for being in the news would not shock them.

My opinion comes straight from the heart, from my perspective as a black woman.

My stomach turned when I read the Sunday Times‘s lead story over the weekend. The news that President Jacob Zuma has fathered another child, out of wedlock, made me sick, to say the least. My mind wandered over the countless excuses I have found myself secretly and openly making on behalf of the man and African culture in general. I’ve debated the need to loosen up as a person and embrace change in the form of Jacob Zuma. I personally am not the president’s biggest fan, but I have, since he came to power, given him and many of his administrative decisions the benefit of the doubt. Only time will tell if his critics were right about him, I told myself. That is no longer the case.

First, I feel awkward about knowing as much as I do about the president’s private life.

To say — like Zuma’s critics — that his lifestyle was always a ticking time bomb and we should have all expected this, is an understatement.

Then there’s the issue of how much of Zuma’s private life is actually private, and to what extent the public is privy to his love life.

However, it’s all out in the open now, so we might as well deal with what we know.

What does annoy me is that I’m fresh out of excuses for culture and the preservation thereof in the midst of the latest issue. It just doesn’t fly anymore. I want to be able to root for Msholozi — despite the media speculation over what is private and what isn’t — without that nagging feeling of whether I’m doing the right thing. He has a lot of admirable qualities and has been an amicable leader within the ruling party for many years, according to those close to him. But this does nothing to allay the awkward sensation over how he has failed me as a young black woman. I can’t help but wonder what other scandal might be lurking on the horizon.

This brings me back to my prodigal drunk uncle. He’s the one relative I’d love to leave off the guest list of an important occasion that will be attended by people outside the family. Keeping him out of the picture will do my reputation more good than harm, but the little voice of reason in my head reminds me that he’s family, and I don’t turn on family like that, no matter what.

So I go ahead and invite him, and he does not disappoint. He shows up and starts out as the charmer I know him to be in his sober state. Then I catch myself at how much bubbly makes it through his lips, or how frequently he reaches for another beer. The hair at the back of my neck stands up as I remember his last drunken incident. I pray that history is not going to repeat itself. I don’t approach him and put forward my concern over his frequent swigs, lest the inevitable scene of slurring insults and abuse that I know will come. I also don’t think of telling him to leave the party. I let him be and hope for the best.

His behaviour becomes more unpredictable and no one stops him, because the family believes the guests will understand that it’s the alcohol making uncle act like this. I cringe at every insult he makes because it seems my reputation among my guests depends solely on this guy. Soon, however, the damage is done, and I can do nothing to restore the respect I once enjoyed from my friends, so I decide uncle is better off left to his own devices. He’ll stop the slander when he’s good and ready.

This is my way of saying I’m bowing out of engaging in defence of culture. I’m not trying to reason with my drunken uncle. I will leave Mr Zuma to his own devices. On the one hand, he is the president and a role model to the youth, and should act as such at all times. On the other, he is a man with a private aspect to his public life. It should not matter to me how many children he has fathered or with whom, as long as he does not preach something different to the rest of the men we hold accountable to the future well-being of generations.


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