​Jacob Zuma and his sexism – as laid out in the president’s own words

On Women’s Day, President Jacob Zuma made the keynote address at Union Buildings in Pretoria to commemorate the iconic 1956 women’s march. But following from the #RememberKhwezi protest on the weekend, the president’s attitude towards women has come under the spotlight once again.

Corruption and ill leadership have plagued Zuma’s presidency, but so too have the president’s comments on women. Women’s rights organisations like Sonke Gender Justice have spoken out against some of the president’s remarks, while opposition parties have used them as a weapon against the ANC and to garner support for their own party.

When the president took the mic for Women’s Day, he lauded the women who led the protest against pass laws in 1956.

“Thank you for your bravery. You told the man who was in charge at the time that ‘you strike a woman, you strike a rock’,” Zuma said.

But when four young women stood in front of the president’s podium as he spoke at the local government election results ceremony in Pretoria last Saturday, Zuma remained silent while his bodyguards violently removed them. The women were silently protesting rape culture in South Africa, reminding the country that in 2006 Zuma was accused of raping a woman who is known only as Khwezi.


Over the years, the president has been accused of making statements which contribute to gender inequality in South Africa. Some of these Zuma Says moments include:

1. It’s not harassment, it’s a compliment

“But when men compliment you innocently, you say it’s harassment,” Zuma told female journalists in March, while checking his voter registration details at Nkandla. “You will miss out on good men and marriage.”

Zuma made the remark while discussing how modern women are less receptive to “compliments”. He spoke in front of his wife Tobeka Madiba Zuma and their 8-year-old daughter, Nqobile. But in a country where women fear walking alone in public streets because of catcalling, lewd stares and physical harassment, Zuma’s comments received vigorous criticism.

“The president is really undermining the laws of this country that seek to protect the citizens of this country and deal with sexual violence against women and children,” Nonhlanhla Skosana, the spokesperson for Sonke Gender Justice, said at the time.

“We are rated the highest in the world in terms of sexual violence against women and children so I think he would be a bit sensitive… I feel that he really ignored and undermined the situation women are in.”

2. Laying at a man’s feet is a sign of respect

Standing before a crowd of people in Impendle in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, the president said that if he wasn’t married, he would take a Venda women to be his wife, because lying down in front of a man is the way to show respect.

“When I was in Venda recently, I was so impressed to see how people there express respect for other people,” said Zuma.

“A woman would clap her hands and even lie down to show respect.”

It’s not so much about Venda cultural traditions, but rather the way in which the president expects women to behave for men. Zuma didn’t mention if he would appreciate men doing the same for women.

3. When a woman cries rape

During his 2006 rape trial, the president told the court that it would’ve been direspectful to leave Khwezi.

“… in Zulu culture, you don’t just leave a woman… she will have you arrested and say you are a rapist,” Zuma said.

Around the world women have been accused of lying when they have spoken out about being raped, and needless to say, the president’s remarks did nothing to school rape apologists.

4. Real women have husbands and children

“I wouldn’t want to stay with daughters who are not getting married. Because that in itself is a problem in society … Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother,” Zuma said in a 2012 television interview with Dali Tambo, on his SABC 3 show People of the South.

At the time, Zuma was happily discussing his daughter Duduzile’s marriage to Lonwabo Sambudla. The Democratica Alliance filed a complaint with the Commission of Gender Equality, who reprimanded the president.

“We admonished him to be more careful in the future,” then commission chairman Mfanozelwe Shozi was quoted by Beeld as saying.

5. The President’s silence on Saturday night

When four young protesters, Simamkele Dlakavu, Amanda Mavuso, Naledi Chirwa, and Lebogang Shikwambane were violently shoved out of the IEC election results ceremony on Saturday night, Zuma did nothing to call his security off.

The irony of Zuma standing by on Saturday night and then making a Women’s Day keynote address was not lost on women’s rights supporters, some of whom protested at Union Buildings after the president spoke.

As the frustration continues over gender inequality in South Africa, Zuma has found himself fighting a battle he had perhaps forgotten about.

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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