Saturday, December 29, 2007

Holding Up Half the Sky

A few weeks ago, Jacob Zuma was named the new head of the African National Congress. This is part of a larger struggle in South Africa against the policies of the ANC, which has been carrying out a neo-liberal agenda ever since it gained power. Zuma is the left-wing candidate; Zuma's supporters sang Lethu Mshini Wami (bring me my machine gun). I haven't read much discussion of this on the blogs I read, which surprised me. I don't know enough about South African politics to offer any analysis of the ANC. But I wanted to comment on the discussion of Zuma's election, or the lack of it. There's definitely been more attention among the socialist blogs I read than the feminist blogs, and the analysis is a little bit like the paragraph above. From Lenin's Tomb:

Zuma is far from the ideal man to lead such a fight, burdened as he is with corruption charges over bribes from a French arms company, and he is actually doing his best to present his policies as pro-business. He is in all probability an opportunist who has harnessed a unique chance based on the unrest. However, the fact that he has successfully channelled the energy of this revolt into a leadership bid which may lead to him taking power in the ANC (but not the country) is itself significant. And however disappointing Zuma is likely to be (Chavez, he ain't - even Chavez isn't always Chavez), the very fact of ousting the wretched Mbeki may give further confidence to the already insurgent working class.
There's something missing from these stories. Zuma is a rapist. He was acquitted - they always are. But in 2005 he raped 31 year old woman who was a friend of the family. I wrote about the trial last year:
The trial sounds hideous, and familiar. She was put on trial and her sexual history, including other times she had been raped, was put into evidence. When Zuma took the stand he argued that she consented by wearing a knee-length skirt and complaining that she didn't have a boyfriend: "She had never in the past come to my house dressed in a skirt. Including times when I was living in Pretoria. When she came to me in a skirt after those talks I referred to earlier on, well, it told me something."
This has been treated as a side-note by many different people. From AP Zuma was acquitted of rape last year, but could still face bribery charges in a multimillion-dollar arms deal. From WSWS "Zuma was sacked from office as deputy president by Mbeki and then faced a further trial on rape charges last year, in which he was acquitted."

Maybe it's just that the New Zealand left has developed some clarity on these issues, but if a powerful man is accused of rape and is acquitted that doesn't mean he's not a rapist. It means he is a rapist.

The inability to call a rapist a rapist displays an indifference to rape as a political issue. When asked in 1999, 1 in 3 Johannesburg women said they had been raped in the last year - they deserve more than one line in an analysis of the political meaning of Zuma's victory.

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous2:22 pm

    Not that I'm disagreeing about Zuma's unsuitability - although it is a distressing situation to have a choice between a neo-liberal candidate and a candidate who at least promises to enact more acceptable policies (even if he may try to weasel out of them, he is at least committed to them) but whose personal life is unsettling - but I think you're drawing a long bow here:

    "if a powerful man is accused of rape and is acquitted that doesn't mean he's not a rapist. It means he is a rapist."

    You seem to be saying that accusation is proof. Again, I don't want to comment on the specifics of this case, and I fully agree that the idea that wearing a skirt implies consent is ridiculous (to be blunt, most lawyers for accused rapists are much more inventive), but I'm wary of the idea that somebody should be considered guilty on the basis of accusation. Can you really think of no situation where a powerful man would be falsely accused of rape?

    I'm particularly worried because, although you qualify this by saying that accusation = proof only applies to powerful men, this is a patriarchy, so there's a very strong case to be made that all men are powerful. Even a minimum wage earning man is more powerful than Helen Clark, in certain, but very real, senses of the word.

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  2. Sometimes you will have unsavory choices like socialism for a country and a rapist as your leader OR corrupt capitalism and a guy who is a lovely father and loves his wife and children, just not his countries people.

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  3. Why can't we have both? I'm sure there are capable leaders in the ANC who are both socialist AND not rapists?

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  4. Good on you for pointing this out Mia, the guy's a creep.

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  5. The problem is finding a decent person who is willing to be a leader. I'm not totally pessimistic, but generally the sort of personal flaws that make someone crave power to the point where they will be eligible for leadership of a national political party, those flaws will also lead to a nasty personal history. That's what a deep desire for power-over is all about. The only leaders I can think of who are not like that are mythical and usually religious.

    This also feeds into the tricky path that The Greens and other minor parties follow - they have to pretend that they want to run the government even if they don't, just to be electable. Personally, I think there's a lot more value in being a minor party, with the freedom to take extreme positions when needed (350ppm, anyone?) rather than always fudging about with the compromises necessary to hold a middle-of-the-road party together.

    So while I sympathise with your "accusation is proof" position in a way (we need to push the system in that direction), I'm aghast that you think that an accusation should be all it takes to derail someone's career. The Civic Creche case should have taught you that even a conviction is not always enough certainty.

    Final thought: this sort of character assassination is one thing that stops women considering leadership roles. Have you tried to balance the "leaders must be perfect" demand with the reality of people's lives?

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  6. Anonymous12:07 pm

    Maybe it's just that the New Zealand left has developed some clarity on these issues, but if a powerful man is accused of rape and is acquitted that doesn't mean he's not a rapist. It means he is a rapist."

    No....it just might mean he's innocent and the so called victims a liar....happens a lot.

    Neo liberal ANC....?! Oh please...!

    Read 'Die, the Beloved country" to cure yourself of that delusion.

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  7. Anonymous11:22 pm

    //Maybe it's just that the New Zealand left has developed some clarity on these issues, but if a powerful man is accused of rape and is acquitted that doesn't mean he's not a rapist. It means he is a rapist.//

    What!? Powerful men if accused of rape are rapists? Bit of a leap isn't it?
    Maia that is a disgusting comment, grow up please? Aquital is not innocence but neither is it guilt.

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  8. Anonymous10:33 pm

    "if a powerful man is accused of rape and is acquitted that doesn't mean he's not a rapist. It means he is a rapist."

    Christ, what are you smoking. This statement has as much credibility if Ron Mark came out saying that if left wing radicals were accused of terrorism and acquitted due to inadmissable evidence that doesn't mean they are not terrorists.

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  9. In Maoist China denying your guilt was seen as proof of your guilt. The views expressed in this blog simply reflect sympathy for initiating violence, as long as it is against someone who belongs to a group you hate.

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