Jacob Zuma's delayed fall from grace

Customers watch a telecast in a bar in Randburg, Johannesburg, on February 14, 2018, as South African president Jacob Zuma makes a live address to the nation on the South African Broadcasting Corporation network from The Union Buildings in Pretoria. PHOTO | WIKUS DE WET | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Kuzwayo was forced to flee to The Netherlands with her ailing mother after Zuma supporters burned their house and threatened their lives.

Jacob Zuma’s assertion that showering after sex prevents HIV infection might have made him the perennial butt of South African satirist Zapiro’s cartoons, but it certainly did not hold him back from being elected the fourth President of South Africa.

Zuma, lest it be forgotten, made this statement while defending himself against allegations that he had raped Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, who was HIV positive.

He told a packed Johannesburg court that taking a shower after unprotected sex “would minimise the risk of contracting the disease”.

Later, while defending this statement at a press conference, he would add that he took that shower because “I knew the type of person I was sleeping with”, therefore fuelling the stigma that people living with HIV are “unclean”.

With these ignorant statements, and the casual misogyny that coloured them, the man who was once the head of South Africa’s National AIDS Council made a joke of the country’s anti-HIV efforts, a dangerous and morally repugnant move that derailed campaigns that sought to lower the HIV prevalence rate in one of the worst affected countries in the world.

Yet this did not diminish his chance at the presidency - it in fact seemed to re-energise his supporters who stood in their hundreds outside the courtroom chanting and waving placards in support of Zuma, drowning out the few women rights activists who had gathered in support of the victim.

The ire against Kuzwayo was so great that Zuma’s supporters yelled “burn that bitch” and threw stones at a woman they confused for Kuzwayo.

Zuma claimed that Kuzwayo had lured him by wearing a kanga and that she had seduced him during a visit to his home in Johannesburg.

But Kuzwayo, whose father had been close friends with Zuma after they both served time at Robben Island Prison during the Apartheid struggle, denied initiating sex and said that she saw Zuma as an uncle and a father figure.

She was half his age when the incident happened.

Zuma would go on to win the case after the judge ruled that the sex had been consensual, and Kuzwayo would be forced to flee to The Netherlands with her ailing mother after ANC supporters burned their house and threatened their lives.

She died in exile in 2016, aged 41. That even rape accusations were not enough to derail Zuma’s political career were proof that a man could ride on the coat tails of misogyny, pushed by the winds of rape culture, to occupy the highest office in the land. (Donald Trump and the 2017 American presidential election is further proof in that pudding.)

What eventually turned the tide against Zuma, leading to his resignation, was a corruption-riddled and destructive administration, which lost public trust and led to his own party, the ANC, deserting him.

In the past few years, when he has had to endure vote after vote of no confidence (six in total), it finally became opinion du jour to publicly castigate Zuma, to be angry with him, and to attempt to hold him to account for his actions.

Yet it was not okay to come after him in this way in 2006 during that rape trial when his supporters proudly sported “Zuluboy 100%” t-shirts and proclaimed his innocence.

So, yes, Zuma has finally fallen from grace in the eyes of South Africans but perhaps the country would have been spared years of misrule and scandal had they just listened to, and believed, Kuzwayo.