Dear Mr Zuma
With me being a blonde white woman and you being a president, you’re probably expecting an address from me to be a breathy rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. But I’m afraid I’m not in a celebratory mood at all. In fact, since Anene Booysen’s death in Bredasdorp, I’ve mostly just been afraid.
I’m afraid that the version of manhood that you are currently the poster boy of poses a life-endangering threat to us, the women of South Africa. You swagger about trailing this wife, then that wife, then having a baby with a mistress, then having unprotected sex with a family friend … what you’re shouting from your Nkandla rooftop is that real men are worth as many women as they damn-well please. And women are, I suppose, worth some anti-wrinkle cream from that patronising bunch at L’Oréal.
I’m afraid that there are men out there who are clearly inspired by your unlimited access and apparent success with women and set out to achieve the same heights of masculinity. But sometimes they fail simply because they’re not presidents like you and not all women dream of being a member of a harem or aspire to end up as a single parent in that dubious holding pattern of mistressdom. Not all women say yes. Definitely not all the time as it appears to be in your case. Mr Zuma, let me explain to you that this is the nexus where the problem arises. When a woman says no, like Anene did to her ex-boyfriend, this man-made and deeply redundant version of manhood feels threatened, endangered even. And maybe the guy who has to take no for an answer, in an effort to preserve that manhood, and to save face with his friends (who frankly feel the same way, that a woman should cry and comply and never say never) he enforces his dominance with the one thing he knows he has more of than her, brute physical strength. All in an effort to be a real man just like those presidents and hip hop stars and gangsters who have a bevy of adoring female groupies that never transgress their prescribed roles and dutifully serve as conclusive evidence that these men must surely be the real deal.
But it doesn’t end here Mr Zuma. I’m afraid that your entire household reinforces the idea of this mythical super-man. Please don’t tell me it’s tradition and as a white woman I know nothing of this and should therefore keep my comments to myself. I’m sorry, but while it may be traditional to take more than one wife, I don’t believe it’s sanctioned by tradition to endanger the lives of your wives. If the fancy takes you to have sex with a family friend, and she happens to be HIV positive and you don’t use protection and just go home and carry on your life as normal after you’ve showered, you are putting your wives at risk of a life-changing disease. Is this traditional? I don’t think so. When the woman in question cries rape, and you tell her she’s just crying wolf, is this also traditional? And this is where your wives come into this – by saying nothing, and smiling sweetly in carrying out their presidential wifely duties as usual, I’m afraid they are complicit. I don’t believe after this fiasco they sat you down to negotiate safer sex practices Mr Zuma; you know, just in case. And I certainly don’t believe that in the wake of their scare, they were at liberty to say “not tonight dear”. Now that would just not be traditional. But we are all complicit, not just your string of wives, because these are not key point secrets, these are facts that roam around freely in the public domain, we are all guilty because we have let you get away with it and we have allowed you to continue to proudly strut your manly stuff. This national endorsement of dangerous male role-modelling has to stop. Today.
Mr Zuma, you may be wondering why I’ve singled you out? Let me assure you this is not a special punishment I’ve devised for you, no, I’m just starting at the top and working my way down. I thought I’d start with you because after all, you are our leader and as such, call me crazy, but I feel you have a responsibility to … erm … lead, if only by example. It’s a god-awful mess out there and I’m afraid the effort to preserve this version of manhood has escalated into a full-scale war on women, with a casualty every four minutes. So, as our leader I would most definitely expect you to do a lot more than just get Mac to tell us what we already know – how unacceptable it is that intimidation, bloodshed and general mayhem is unleashed among half of your constituents. Every. Four. Minutes. Not even our grandmothers or our baby girls are safe, there are no limits to this particular brand of brutality. Mr Zuma, you need to be afraid of what you represent in this particular war zone and afraid that you are being emulated for all the wrong reasons. Because this war does not discriminate, it renders your own daughters and wives and aunts and granddaughters equally unsafe; certainly when they venture outside the gates of Nkandla.
What I’m saying is that I’m afraid the women of this country simply cannot afford you any more Mr Zuma. The price we’re paying is just too high.