A man widely touted as his country’s president shocks everyone when he is charged with rape.
His accuser is less than half his age. Her accusations scare even her.
She hides from an insistent media pack. She considers leaving the country.
The man is charged. There is shock – at home and abroad.
His people put out the message that all that happened that night was consensual sex and, though he is married, this is in the private sphere.
He pleads his innocence and awaits his trial. This story rings familiar with South Africans.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) boss Dominique Strauss-Kahn was marooned by his private life this week.
His political future lay in tatters by week’s end. He resigned from the IMF, and is unlikely to be the next French president.
Sex and politics are a powerful and dangerous admixture.
In France, the country was aghast at the public spectacle of Strauss-Kahn’s arrest in handcuffs.
They are far more liberal about the sex lives of politicians than countries such as the US and Britain, where the private lives of public figures are held to be fair game.
In France, that has never been the case.
But Strauss-Kahn’s arrest has provoked national introspection in France as many thinkers wondered out loud if its laissez-faire attitude had gone too far this time.
It turned out that Strauss-Kahn had long been known as a groper.
A woman who had complained about his advances during an interview was ridiculed and pressured until she dropped the charges.
Now, French writers are holding up a national mirror and wondering if it has allowed sexual harassment, and even rape, to be swept under the rug.
In South Africa, we are more French than American in our attempts to divorce the private lives of politicians from their public conduct. So it should be.
The affairs of the heart are always complex matters – sometimes beautiful, sometimes painful.
But occasionally, more peer pressure and public scrutiny may be necessary to encourage a different set of mores.
In those instances where the public purse is at stake, or where a leader risks not walking the talk, intense scrutiny is required.
President Jacob Zuma knows full well how quickly the personal can become political.
He has faced rape charges similar to those that Strauss-Kahn now wilts under.
When he had a baby out of wedlock with his friend’s daughter, questions were asked about how this squared with the state’s anti-Aids message of abstinence, faithfulness and the use of condoms.
Right now we are without a local government minister because Sicelo Shiceka is on sick leave.
This, while he faces grave questions about how he used public funds to pursue private conquests.