Obsessed with sex

2009-02-10 00:00

The current and concerted effort by the media to delve into the very private matters of the current president of the country, Kgalema Motlanthe, raises very important issues related to the public and private lives of politicians. Independent newspapers have carried out a month-long investigation into the private life of Motlanthe.

There are a plethora of reasons presented to justify this invasion. First and foremost there is the one that is camouflaged in the taxes debate, that is, politicians are paid by the taxes of the citizens and therefore citizens are entitled to access to the private lives of politicians. The second one is that Motlanthe is at the helm of a high-profile office, which makes him a subject of deeper public scrutiny.

It is also often argued that since they are public representatives they must be subjected to this scrutiny. Some proponents have even linked the private lives of public officials or representatives with their ability to govern effectively. In other words, how you conduct your private affairs must be a yardstick of how capable you are of running the government or state matters.

The test is whether or not the private sex life of an individual, in this case Motlanthe, is related to his capability and ability to lead? Surely that should be the concern. In other words does information about his private sex life tell us about his capacity to lead?

In simple terms it suggests that if you have a bad private sex life it automatically equals an inability to govern and to make sober decisions. However, this has not been proven. In fact, many world presidents who have been in charge of major democracies, but have at the same time had bad private sex lives have actually delivered a lot in terms of effective governance.

The famous Bill Clinton is the case in point. History is littered with many such examples. Indeed, it is nice to have public representatives who are good role models, but to suggest, as the local media have, that public representatives who have terrible private sex lives cannot think or act in a rational way is taking the issue to extremes.

The second and perhaps most critical aspect of this is the notion that is perpetrated by the media and the few who are obsessed with the private sex lives of public representatives, in this case that of Motlanthe and many others who continue to be subjected to this treatment. The notion is that it is in the public interest that such matters are revealed.

Besides the fact that this notion seems foreign since it is based on the Anglo-Saxon ways of relating to public representatives, the media often use the public to justify intrusion into the private lives of public representatives.

We need to address the question of who is this public that is so obsessed with who is warming the president’s bed? Is it possible that it’s only a few gossipmongers who are hellbent on satisfying their quest for gossip?

Members of the general public with whom I interact on a daily basis are not really obsessively concerned with who is sharing the president’s bed.

However, what is uppermost in the minds of people I know is whether they will be able to have food on the table for the family tomorrow, whether they will be able to sleep peacefully and securely in their homes throughout the night, whether they will be able to find the money to educate their children or whether or not they will be able to find decent jobs soon and provide for their family.

The notion that the whole country must now be immobilised by the news that the president is involved with a young woman misses the point and perhaps it is only significant to a certain section of the public who wants everyone to react in the same way. Certainly, this obsession with private sex lives of public representatives does not advance any political discourse.

• Thabo Manyathi is an activist working for the Association for Rural Advancement (Afra). He writes in his personal capacity.

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