Peter van der Merwe
Peter van der Merwe

Time for the ANC to grow up

So the ANC is bleating about what it sees as an “unwarranted intrusion” into the private life of acting President Kgalema Motlanthe — who, it seems, suffers from the Bill and Jacob syndrome of being pathologically unable to keep his hands off women he is not married to.

In fact, that bastion of sense and logic, the ANC Youth League, has gone so far as to accuse the media of waging a “concerted effort” to create a crisis around Motlanthe’s personal and private life. ANCYL spokesperson Floyd Shivambu says the “the levels of attack expose the immaturity of media coverage of politics in South Africa, which subjectively and repulsively define leaders of the ANC outside organisational mandate and process.”

Several points come to mind. For one, it is high time the ANC grows up. If anything, Mr Shivambu’s garbled rhetoric exposes the immaturity of a ruling party that can’t take the heat in the vibrant democracy it fought so hard for. And in a democracy, a free press will expose the human frailties of its leaders. Get used to it, or go into gentler pursuits, like creating vast BEE conglomerates.

It’s also a little rich for Mr Shivambu to talk about “the immaturity of media coverage of politics”. In his mind, and that of his masters, a mature press clearly shuts up when elected leaders dip their fingers into places where they shouldn’t. Sorry for you, Floyd. The media doesn’t really give a hoot about the ANC’s organisational mandate and process. All they care about is leaders who are accountable for their own behavior. That’s what a mature media does.

Sure, every politician has a basic human right to privacy. I don’t want to know what Mr Motlanthe had for supper last night, when last Jacob Zuma had a domestic tiff with one of his umpteen wives, or who wears the pants in the Zille and De Lille households (although I have a strong suspicion).

But the moment you run for public office, you should know that you are implicitly binding yourself to a certain moral and ethical code. After all, you are effectively representing a larger body of people and, if you want to lead politically, you must be prepared to have certain aspects of your life held up to scrutiny. In other words, you have to set an example. And if you don’t, you should leave politics.

For a start, let us not kid ourselves for one moment that politicians actually attempt to keep their private lives private. On the contrary. They talk to the media at every opportunity. They pose for pictures, often with their families. They go out of their way to present an image of their private lives. If that image is less than accurate, they are lying to the people who elected them. And if a politician will lie about one thing, why won’t he lie about others? And if so, that is something I am fully entitled to know, Mr Shivambu. Whether you like it or not.

But here’s the real deal about Kgalema Motlanthe’s “private life”. If it is, in fact, true that he has sexual relations with women other than his wife, it says a good deal about his attitudes to women and people in general. Those attitudes — let’s call them exploitative and unliberated, at best — are what informs his every decision as a political leader. Do I want decisions of national import taken by a man who shows a willingness to use people to support his own ego? I don’t think so.

So here’s to South Africa’s media. Long may they act as the conscience of a political class that thinks it can do whatever it likes.

  • Belle

    Peter,
    I agree that politicians’ private lives should be up for public scrutiny, and with the contents of your blog. And there is another point I’d like to mention about politicians’ private lives – one that links with the fiasco of impeaching (former US President) Bill Clinton. While I found the details of the cigar, the stain, the blue dress, the did-she-swallow question and the treatment of Ms Lewinsky all a bit sordid, it fascinated me that the Republican Party (esp. Henry Hyde) went after Clinton’s (um) blood in order to get him impeached. What fascinates me about the Motlanthe revelations is not that it is (once more) a politician’s sex life making headlines, rather I wonder if those ANC and SACP “comrades” who leaked this story to the press realise that they are using good old Republican tactics to do so. The more things change, the more they stay the same, methinks.

  • Sean

    You’re kidding, right?

    “The media doesn’t really give a hoot about the ANC’s organisational mandate and process. All they care about is leaders who are accountable for their own behavior. That’s what a mature media does.”

    Wow. All hail the virtuous press. Thank heavens editors never choose stories that sell over well-researched, accurate & relevant journalism.

    Join the real world, Peter.

  • Jon

    Well, time and time again they just can’t keep it in, hey?

  • Kit

    See, I see tales of the Pres’s various mistresses to be just as tedious as what he had for supper. Actually, I’d find a list of what he ate for supper this week more entertaining than a list of which women he hung out with. We could then predict whether he’s likely to get podgy or how much he works out in his spare time – both of which are pretty relevant for leaders these days, what with obesity and cholesterol and all that. But let not the tabloids despair, I’m not their primary readership.

    The thing that incenses me the most about this is the YL and others chastising people old enough to be their parents and grandparents about ‘dissing the Deputy President of the ANC’. You know, dissing the deputy of a political party isn’t a crime really. I mean, we all dissed little Simon Grindrod enough, we dissed Ivy when she even WAS the Pres for half a day or whatever (actually, we didn’t diss her really, we only pretended; we just kept our heads down and eyes on the clock), we diss Helengodzille all the time and she’s a leader of a political party, not a deputy. We dissed Tony the yapping, Patty the loud, Bantu and Roelfie, and such nice boys too…and they all by and large pretty much ignored. There’s no ‘immunity from pointless scrutiny’ for random political people just as there isn’t for us less political people. Of course much then depends how you use the information; blackmail is certainly out.

    However, if they would stop this ‘deputy president’ thing and start asking for a bit of respect for the President of the Republic instead of making this a party thing, then they’d be on less shaky ground. A little less shaky anyway, in terms of the President being someone who matters as opposed to someone that young boys tell us should matter.

    But that would be admitting he’s the real life President as opposed to a bottom keeping the throne warm.

  • http://pitsotsibs.blogspot.com Pitso Tsibolane

    If indeed Pres.Motlanthe did impregnate the 24yr old we should also question his attitude to HIV and AIDS as well. Coupled with Jacob Zuma’s shower remarks, Motlanthe’s alleged attitudes reveal a lot about the kind of leadership coming out of Luthuli house. Juxtaposed with Mbeki’s eternal suspicions about his “non-existent” relationship with Zanele and his “womanising” allegations by Winnie Mandela and others, we then get a complete view of the quality of men that are leading this nation!

    We should also ask ourselves as a nation whether we should simply accept the low levels of morality that is shown by these men who are vying for the highest office in the land. In other countries, this would be impeachment material on Kgalema, but here, we simply look away and pretend that our president has extra-marital affairs and all is well, some people even say that it does not matter! It is shocking but also telling, i see a link with the women abuse statistics and even sexual abuse statistsics right here!

  • Mike Atkins

    If the rumour about the younger lady’s pregnancy are true, why hasn’t anyone started talking about “safe sex”? Can nayone find any speeches made by Mr. Motlanthe where he encourages the youth to use condoms, and tested for HIV?

  • pete ess

    HEAR, HEAR! Here’s to SA’s media! In fact, here’s especially to those who are brave enough to publish what they discover.

    I am so sick of slimy politicians blaming the media (and even sicker of non-politicians who buy their lies!).
    Zuma takes money. The papers say “Zuma took money”; The media is distorting things!
    Zuma has sex with a friend’s daughter; She complains; The media says “Zuma had sex with a young family friend and she’s not happy”; The media is inventing things!
    Motlanthe is ‘fratenising’ with the staff; The media says Motlanthe is “fratenising” with the hired help”; The media is waging concerted efforts, launching repulsive attacks, blah, blah.

    NO, actually, OUR PRESIDENT is making the repulsive moves, launching the scandal and generally acting questionably, Mr Puce Floyd!

    Long may the media continue to shine a light on his every embarrassing move (hey! and yours, Floydy!). My next request: Some paparazzi photos, please. Let’s check out these Presidential chicks.

  • Kit

    Pitso, I must say that I agree with you on the attitudes with regard to the relationship with the younger woman particularly. But in some ways, dragging this into the public domain may just add fuel to the woman abuse mentality. The overblown reporting of this issue seems to make out as if she is an object, like ‘he allegedly impregnated a 24 year old’, as if she is just something he played with, a toy, not a woman carrying a child; and the press then follow her around and publish anecdotes that just reduce her to an object of his entertainment. That doesn’t help uncover anything or change attitudes, in my view. Far too many people seem to be taking this line. Nothing I have seen published anywhere – except your comment here – has even come close to changing anything with regard to woman-as-object and abuse. Thank you for introducing some relevance to this topic. The tabloid screeching is getting to me.

    As for the issue of HIV and AIDS, my honest view is that these elders are not the ones that we need bother to look up to. Youth need to know that they are more educated, more aware and more street-smart than any of the public figures when it comes to an issue that affects them so deeply. They need to look to warm people in their own communities to guide them, not to distant cold idols with the proverbial feet of clay. These public figures, who are entrenched in an unyielding mindset that makes them ignore the obvious, need to be discarded as role models if they show that they can’t live up to what we’d expect.

  • Craig

    Of course the intrusion is unwarranted – it is bad publicity for the ANC.

    What if he took drugs or drank too much in private – would the public have a right to know that too or would they classify that as unwarranted too?

  • http://marvcbarr.blogspot.com/ Marvin Caldwell-Barr

    This is by no means the first alleged instance of antisocial behaviour on the part of President Kgalema Motlanthe.

    There was that alleged episode of the midnight flit from a house that he bought, or didn’t buy, depending on who you believe, leaving half a million bucks worth of damage to the house.

  • Peter van der Merwe

    Sean, your comment made me laugh out loud! Yes, I concede that was laying it on a bit thick. But for the purposes of my argument …

  • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/sarahbritten Sarah Britten

    I do love Floyd. Always good for a laugh. Especially his use of the word “repulsively” which, in the context, makes as much sense as COPE’s attack on Tokyo Sexwale as a “destitute” member of the ANC.

  • ddaydoll

    Who hangs what out where and how… It makes for selling the news, the more important you are the bigger the news. I believe if you dont walk a straight line, you should be scared (or atleast aware of the possibility) of being caught out. But how many a cheating husband/politician only has remorse for being caught in the lie. It pains me to say; if they think they can get away with it, they will try it again…

  • S.P.van Niekerk

    Thank God for the SA media – at this stage they seem to be the net preventing this country from falling into total anarchy.

  • Jean

    I agree that the ANC needs to grow up. I agree that the ANCYL are a bastion of irrationlity and are a constant embarassment to themselves and the ANC.

    I don’t agree that Motlanthe’s private life should be scrutinised in this way. The sort of journlism is gutter street stuff, more suitable to seedy tabloud publications and not matters of national interest.

    If Motlanthe has an open marraige, so what!? Lots of people do. This is of zero concern to national matters, nor is it a moral issue. Unless of course you’re living in the past, and you’re taking your own religious views an requiring them of others.

    Get over it South Africa. Start discussing things which are actually important!

  • obzino latino

    Yes Van Der Wat Wat – you are indeed expected to be hard at work and not to take a rest until you win your passionate battle to faulter our leaders & movement – nothing clean expected out of your racist head in any way

  • Rory Short

    People’s relationships with others, whether sexual or not, are always of interest to other people. If they are public figures of some kind then there is even more interest in their relationships.

    Whether an individual person can discern something sensible about the character of another person from knowing something about that person’s relationships is, I would guess, pretty much dependent on the level of moral maturity achieved by that individual.

    That said most of us like to pass judgement on the calibre of a pulic figure based on what we think we know about them and their relationships with other people. We need to do this because that public figure will be involved in the spending, wisely or unwisely, of our tax money.

  • Peter

    Mad Bob started by impregnating his secretary.

    The whole country has been in downward s[iral ever since.

    Deja Vue?

  • http://Webmail Phillipa

    Kit, you are exactly the kind of woman this country needs. Other people think this whole issue is funny-forgetting he deeper implications of the case.

  • Richard P

    At least Mbeki appeared to have been able to keep it in his pants …

  • Peter van der Merwe

    Obzino Latino, does the ANCYL know you are surfing the web on company time?

    Pitso and Kit, you’re absolutely right about the objectivisation of women that takes place in the midst of the sensational dash for the grubby details.

    But if you read the comment piece about the issue elsewhere in the M&G – http://www.mg.co.za/article/2009-01-30-the-sound-and-fury – you will see a yawning gulf in opinion between the academics and activists on the one hand, and the person in the street on the other.

    In a nutshell, it seems that the men polled don’t think there’s anything wrong with men having affairs with younger women; and the women say it’s ok, because this type of relationship is largely transactional. Does that make it ok, then? It is sobering to realise that there is a vast body of people out there who hold radically different views to those thought to be progressive and modern.

  • ddaydoll

    Yes, Kit!
    No, Obzino!

  • pierre hough

    By whose authority will the ANC ‘grow up’? Impossible prospects …