ANCWL defends Zuma after ‘sexist’ complaint

The Commission for Gender Equality has received a complaint from the Democratic Alliance (DA) about President Jacob Zuma's remarks that it's "not right" for women to be single, and that having children is "extra training for a woman", while the ANC Women's League has come out in his defence.

The DA said Zuma's utterances were sexist and, by implication, unconstitutional.

But the Women's League told the Mail & Guardian the comments were taken "grossly" out of context by the media and commentators. "If you look at the statements made by the president in the context of the interview it seems clear to me that he is talking about his aspirations for his own daughters," said league spokesperson Troy Martens. "Like I'm sure most parents, he wants to see his children happily married and have grandchildren."

Zuma's comments were made during a wide-ranging interview with television personality Dali Tambo in his TV series, People of the South, which returned to SABC3 screens on Sunday evening after a decade-long hiatus.

Speaking about his daughter Duduzile's marriage to Lonwabo Sambudla, Zuma said he was happy for her.


"I was also happy because I wouldn't want to stay with daughters who are not getting married, because that in itself is a problem in society. I know that people today think being single is nice. It's actually not right. That's a distortion.

Due processes
"You've got to have kids. Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother," Zuma said.

"The commission is investigating the complaint and will allow due processes to run its course," the commission said.

Lisa Vetten, one of the country's foremost researchers and analysts on gender and violence, took issue with the implications of Zuma's sentiment that there was something wrong with a woman if she was single.

Speaking to the M&G when the comments were made, she said: "From our experience of counselling women, it increases the likelihood that those women feel pressure to get into relationships and stay in it no matter how abusive, unsatisfying and unfulfilling it may be, because they are well aware of the social stigma attached to those who are single."

But Martens responded: "We also recognise that many women are single rather than being in abusive relationships and as the Women's League we commend these women for their bravery and congratulate them for escaping the clutches of an abusive relationship. It is far more commendable to be single in such instances."

She also emphasised that the league, while recognising the importance of the family unit, felt there was "absolutely nothing wrong" with being a single woman. "Like myself, many women in the ANC are single."

Unfortunate comments
"It's unfortunate that these comments get made during Women's Month," said Gender Links CEO Colleen Lowe Morna. "We should be pushing the envelope in this month but instead it becomes a glorified Mother's Day."

Tambo's interview took him into Zuma's home in Nkandla, where he dined with the president and two of his children: his son Edward and his daughter Duduzile, along with her husband Lonwabo. The five were filmed conversing over their meal about everything from Zuma's fathering methods to the debacle involving The Spear painting, which showed the president with his genitals exposed.

Duduzile told Tambo in the interview that she once wanted to be a successful businesswoman, but that her priorities had shifted now that she was married with children. She was also vehement that she would never allow her husband to take a second wife, after her father told Tambo it would be up to the man, with input from the wife. "No way. Hell no," said Duduzile. "Not that I don't believe in it. My father practises it. I understand it, I accept it, but it's just not my choice."

The latest in a series of gaffes from a man known for his conservative and traditional values, the comment served to show up the contrast between his dedication to some forms of women empowerment, such as employment equity; and his deeply entrenched patriarchal take on a woman's role in the domestic sphere.

Zuma's biographer, journalist Jeremy Gordin, was unsurprised by the sentiment. "For him it seems completely in character. His explanation, if he were to make it, would be that he is in favour of good family values, and he thinks having children is good for family cohesion," said Gordin, who wrote the unauthorised Zuma: A Biography. "He could have said worse," he added.

Zuma is known for his traditional views that are often at odds with South Africa's progressive Constitution—and with more liberal South Africans.

Fatherhood
In September 2006 he was compelled to apologise for a homophobic statement, and comments made during his rape trial in 2006 for which he was later acquitted, also angered gender activists.

Tambo's interview with the president steered clear of dwelling on such controversies and delved into Zuma in the context of his role as a family man.

Duduzile, in particular, spoke glowingly of her father in an interview that was often poignant. Zuma was revealed to have never raised a hand to his children and often told them he loved them.

But he didn't preach on fatherhood, instead choosing to focus on the role of women as mothers.

"In a society based on equality we would want to see the same comments made about fathers and fatherhood," said Morna. "Would Zuma stand up and say if a man doesn't care for his children he would be any less of a man? I've never heard him talk about the importance of fatherhood."

But the ANC Women's League felt the president's comments about children were also taken out of context. "I'm sure any mother will tell you that having a child is an entirely new education," said Martens.

"But again I believe the president was making that comment in jest talking fondly of his own daughter and his desire for her to have children." – Additional reporting by Sapa. 

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

Related stories

How graft arrests came together

Learning from its failure to turn the Schabir Shaik conviction into one for Jacob Zuma, the state is now building an effective system for catching thieves. Khaya Koko, Sabelo Skiti and Paddy Harper take a look behind the scenes at how law enforcement agencies have started creating consequences for the corrupt

Richard Calland: South Africa needs a Roosevelt style of leadership

President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to hold ‘fireside chats’ and have more power and institutional muscle around him, writes Richard Calland

This beef smells like manure

What’s that animal sound? Is it a Hawk swooping? A chicken roosting? No, it’s Zuma remembering a beef

Editorial: Arrests expose the rot in the ANC

The ANC has used its power to create networks of patronage. And this means going after corruption will cost the party financially

eThekwini’s everlasting security contract

An invalid contract worth R85-million a month is still being paid — three years after a court order to stop

Zuma vs Ramaphosa? Neither is the leader South Africans deserve

Neither statesman could command sufficient authority in an ANC that remains mired in corruption and infighting and at the behest of big capital
Advertising

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Mboweni plans to freeze public sector wage increases for the...

The mid-term budget policy statement delivered by the finance minister proposes cutting all non-interest spending by R300-billion.

SAA to receive R10.5-billion government bailout after all

Several struggling state-owned entities received extra funds after the medium term budget policy speech

Malawi court judges win global prize

Members of the small African country’s judiciary took a stand for democracy to international approval
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday