The thing about sex and politics

2013-07-28 10:00

Democratic South Africa is developing an attitude to the sex lives of men in power that is decidedly more French than British.

Until recently, the French could not give a zip about the sex lives of their politicians and, in fact, considered a healthy libido a qualifying factor. But in Britain, a sex scandal could be the end of you.

In South Africa, where multiple-partner relationships are very common, there is often a live-and-let-live (or at least a live-and-turn-a-blind-eye) attitude to the sex lives of politicians.

But most recently, former communications minister Dina Pule was axed for being in a high-profile love affair with a married man – though it is likely she was fired not for this, but because her boyfriend received favours allegedly owing to his ministerial proximity.

President Jacob Zuma also had a baby out of wedlock with Sonono Khoza at the start of his presidency, for which he apologised to the nation.

While our key Aids-prevention strategy is “Abstain. Be Faithful. Condomise”, our official attitude to extramarital or multipartner sex by our politicians seems more credible on paper than in practice.

Today, we report another sex scandal. The courts will determine whether a key South African leader is guilty of a sex crime or whether he is the victim of extortion.

Either way, he would not be in this position if he hadn’t had a casual sexual relationship.

Zwelinzima Vavi, union federation Cosatu’s general secretary, has an established reputation for being an anticorruption crusader and a voice of reason. His name and reputation are besmirched now, and his career hangs in the balance.

It raises the spectre of the rape case against Zuma when he was ANC deputy president. Acquitted of rape, he still engaged in unprotected and extramarital sex with a woman young enough to be his daughter. That episode in our history was as painful as the case facing Vavi is likely to be.

In New York, where former US congressman Anthony Weiner is running for mayor, the tide has turned against him. Again caught texting lewd images of himself, the public consensus appears to be that Weiner must take Carlos Danger, his alter ego, to bed and forget politics.

In France, the sex scandal involving the former International Monetary Fund boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn has also changed that society’s mores.

Is it time for South Africans to think again about sex and politics?

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