Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
It seems the storm has passed. A week after the latest gossip about our President's private life commandeered vast oceans of blog space and airwaves, President Zuma has issued a public apology and the debate is dying down.
I must say, I was taken by surprise by the brazenness of some journalists in their enthusiasm to jump on the popular bandwagon. One actually cornered me in a public bathroom in an attempt to get my comments. Another, who has never once asked me to speak on one single matter of national significance, invited me to write about the practice of polygamy.
Then a reader's letter to the "Business Day" questioned my silence on what was an on-going furore about the issue of the President and his latest paramour and their baby. While I was determined not to step into this debacle and tried to keep my views on the matter to myself, one radio station after the next phoned to ask for my views. Eventually I was interviewed by the representative of the London Sunday Times.
It was not that I have nothing to say on the issues of marital fidelity, family values or views on our cultural practices. As I told the London Sunday Times, although I am monogamously married, my mother - Princess Magogo - was the tenth wife of twenty wives who were married to my father, Inkosi Mathole Buthelezi. So even though I did not choose polygamy, which most of my people expected me to choose, I cannot therefore be in the forefront of those who are horrified by the number of wives the President has taken or intends to take.
According to the media, the President has paid the penalty to the family for putting Ms Sonono Khoza in the family way. So from the point of view of our culture, I cannot expect anything further.
The only thing that I find difficult to understand is that the President was praised from all sides for his statement on HIV/Aids and how to combat the scourge. And it sends very conflicting signals when he seems to continue to do something contrary to his message to the nation. I think that this has tarnished the President's leadership on the issue of HIV/Aids.
One cannot help but think of former President Clinton and the intimate public involvement in his confessed extra-marital relations, following which he quickly lost the trust of the American people. That was about one man, one wife and one mistress. South Africa's story is far more intricately woven. How is the world to understand what we have just been through?
Perhaps the hidden tragedy in all this is the timing. Why did it not hit the papers a few months ago when the President's child was born? Or a year ago when the affair was happening? It doesn't take much to calculate that Mr Zuma was just then heading into a presidential election campaign. The story could have hurt him far more then. Having broken now, it hurts our country more than it hurts the President.
I appreciate the fact that we as public figures cannot claim privacy as a defence when the media puts such things in the public domain. So there needs to be some sort of balance in our thinking when such things happen, as they are bound to happen from time to time.
We as leaders of the opposition were invited by President Zuma to have a discussion with him at Tuynhuys on Tuesday. This was not a preview of the State of the Nation Address. The President briefed us about some of the international conferences that he has attended since we last met in that forum.
But there were certain issues which dominated our discussion with the President, such as corruption, the issue of Zimbabwe, and others which I am sure are bound to feature in the State of the Nation Address. In commenting to the media afterwards about the meeting I said that I think we should refrain from making unrealistic promises to the citizens of this country.
The ructions which arise as a result of what is perceived as lack of delivery of services or the slow pace of delivery will escalate as long as we make wild and unrealistic promises, particularly when we canvass for votes during elections. People are not so stupid.
This evening, President Zuma goes before Parliament and the cameras to deliver his second State of the Nation Address. We in the opposition are praying for news on how his administration is tackling the economic recession and mitigating its ongoing effects on all our people. We are hoping to hear that the President is taking our economic crisis seriously, and not believing the Blind Optimists that it will be quick and painless.
There are critical challenges to address, and we in South Africa are not the only ones waiting for answers. As the world watches tonight, we can only hope that the focus will have left the President's indiscretions completely and come to bear on matters of national consequence, like the economy, security, education and healthcare.
We are still a fledgling democracy, no matter how many years have passed since our first democratic elections. We are fledgling because we still have a lot to learn and a lot to prove in terms of how to grasp the full benefits of democracy, including broad-based empowerment, equality before the law and the important role of independent institutions.
It is a great pity that the public discourse fails to focus on these matters of significance, which could move our country forward, preferring rather to pounce on the tidbits of gossip about who the President marries, who he fathers and what he does in the morning.
I hope that what the President does tonight will steer us back on course towards more beneficial debates. We are hungry for something of substance.
Yours in the Service of Our Nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP