Zooming into Zuma’s shower

In 1963, Zuma was convicted of conspiring to overthrow the government and was thrown onto Robben Island where he served a ten-year jail term together with Nelson Mandela.

After his release, he was instrumental in the re-establishment of ANC underground structures in the Natal province.

In November, 2005 an investigation began into charges that he had raped a 31-year old family friend at his home in Forest Town, Johannesburg. On the morning of December 6, 2005, rape charges against Zuma were formally filed. Jacob Zuma was tried in the Johannesburg High Court.

On April 5th, 2006 in court after being asked what had happened when he allegedly raped the HIV+ woman, Zuma said he had invited the woman to his bedroom to talk to her. When the woman entered his room she lay on his bed and asked him for a massage. The lady was wearing a very short skirt, no underwear, and crossed her legs sending him sexual signals all night long, a sign in Zuma’s Zulu tribe that the woman wanted to have sex with him, thus Zuma went ahead with it.

Embraced by his supporters as “100% Zuluboy”, Zuma told the court he had been taught that “leaving a woman in that state [of sexual arousal]” was the worst thing a man could do. “She could even have you arrested and charged with rape”, he said.

Respected for his fluency in Zulu, Zuma referred to his accuser’s private parts as isibhaya sika bab’wakhe- her father’s kraal- and admitted he entered into this kraal without ijazi ka mkhwenyana- the husband’s coat (condom).

Defending himself against the charge, Jacob Zuma said the sex was consensual and unprotected despite the fact that the woman was HIV positive. He told the court that he thought he was too healthy to get AIDS. “I had knowledge that… chances were very slim you could get the disease.” Under cross-examination, Zuma said he took a shower after sexual intercourse with the HIV-positive woman because “it was one of the things that would minimize contact with the disease.”

The judge concluded that consensual sex took place between Zuma and the 31-year-old HIV-positive AIDS activist dubbed Kwezi. After the not-guilty verdict, Zuma speaking in native Zulu told the over 4,000 supporters outside court: “Thank you, thank you, I am warm among the people who love me”.


In profiling JZ, the idea is not to dole out blame but to zoom into Zuma’s behaviour and draw out valuable lessons. Aside from the furore which followed the trial, this case reminds us of the male-female sexual power games that underlie the spread of HIV/AIDS in African communities and homes. Men and boys have often embraced sexual behaviours that subjugate women and girls to lesser beings meant for sexual conquest. Some of our archaic cultures have even inculcated a mindset whereby women and girls should grow up to become sexual toys that offer pleasure to their male companions.

Due to this male superiority, our female folks are virtually left without any power to negotiate safer sex options. Men with power and money seek sexual bonuses from helpless women. In many relationships including marriage, men dictate the pace and mode of sexual proceedings. But there is another side to the behaviour of JZ- the feeling that his Zulu-given manhood was being challenged- the feeling that the woman had called him to duty. To JZ, that call of duty was to be fulfilled, even beyond the possibility of HIV infection.

It did not matter, to him, whether the woman was HIV+ or not, he felt called upon by his Zulu machohood to deliver the woman from the pangs and spasms of sexual starvation, call it sexual poverty.

Here, we learn that our behaviour is the mainstay of HIV/AIDS. Male sexual terrorism must be condemned if we are to turn the corner in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Equally, while society should not discriminate anybody that is HIV+, there is need to stop the malicious spread of the virus by those that know they are positive. We also need new spectacles to re-examine our traditions, culture, taboos and gender relations.

When Zuma was South Africa’s deputy President, he served as the boss for the AIDS Council.

Obviously, he must have read some pamphlets on HIV/AIDS research. He must have learnt about the mathematical probabilities of HIV infection, that one may be lucky and escape infection. But in supposing that a post-coital shower could prevent HIV entry into cells, JZ reminds us that ‘little knowledge is dangerous. Indeed, it is the tragedy of missing the point.

Unfortunately, the real tragedy is that HIV/AIDS content in many media outlets is scanty or lacks real substance. Many people still lack information to help them make informed decisions. For example, a survey in 2005 by the Human Sciences Research Council revealed that 66 percent of South Africans did not think they were at risk of HIV infection. This is exactly what JZ had in mind when he thought he was too healthy to contract HIV. You cannot tell by looks whether someone is HIV positive or negative.

While tremendous efforts have been made in the provision of ARVs, the media must provide information to technically back-up the efficacy of this treatment.

What food is good for people on ARVs? What are the risk factors when one is on ARV treatment? Why do we often see re-distribution of body fat and cases of ‘blood entering the brain’ in people on ARV treatment? How can we reduce these risks? The media should create portals of information that answer these questions. But often times, while plenty of information is locked up in scientific journals, the media are as ignorant as their audiences and HIV/AIDS journalists are a rare breed in Southern Africa. Or is it a case of Acquired Income Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS)?

l KC is a lecturer in the Department of Biology at the University of Namibia. Email: kchinsembu@unam.na

November 2006
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