Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A sex scandal done right

Americans like to think everything is always bigger and better in the United States. That includes our political sex scandals. Sex in the Oval Office, affairs with South American beauties, illegitimate children with campaign workers. Possibly illegal flirtations with congressional paiges. The occasional hooker, male and female. So scandalous, especially for a nation that somehow manages to be more obsessed with sex than Kinsey while also being as prudish as a born-again Sunday school teacher.

But the last few days, I've realized American politicans are often just amateurs when it comes to matters of the heart and loins. Want a sex scandal? Do a Google News search of Jacob Zuma.

The South African president is a charismatic leader. A former prisoner on the infamous Robben Island - which was where Nelson Mandela was also imprisoned - Zuma took over in 2009, despite a recent rap sheet that included charges of corruption and rape. One case involved bribery. More seriously, he faced charges in 2005 that he raped a woman who was known to be HIV positive. Zuma said the sex was consensual.

That trial led to the type of accusations and revelations that a headline writer at the New York Post fantasizes about. Here's a paragraph from Wikipedia recapping part of the events:

"The trial also generated political controversy when Zuma, who at the time headed the National AIDS Council, admitted that he had not used a condom when having sex with the woman who now accuses him of rape, despite knowing that she was HIV-positive. He stated in court that he took a shower afterwards to 'cut the risk of contracting HIV.'"

What's the most stunning part of that paragraph? At first blush you might say the shower line. Rinse, lather, repeat. Wash away that HIV. Or maybe the line about not using protection despite knowing she was HIV-positive is the most alarming. It certainly might be the most arrogant and dumbest. My choice? The fact he headed the National AIDS Council at the time. Think of someone like C. Everett Koop back in the day saying he had unprotected sex with a woman and then took a bath to cleanse himself of any possible virus.

Who would suffer an on-air coronary first: Chris Matthews or Bill O'Reilly?

Anyway, that's in the past, if not the distant past. Although, imagine an American presidential candidate who sports that resume. Think he'd make it through the New Hampshire primary?

Zuma survived those legal difficulties and ascended to the presidency. Now to the present scandal, which combines aspects of Big Love and the John Edwards fiasco. Zuma's an avowed polygamist. He currently has three wives and has been married five times. All of that's well-known.

He has 20 children. That number was thought to be 19, until this past Sunday, when The Sunday Times in Cape Town reported that Zuma had fathered a child with the daughter of Irvin Khoza, who is a South African soccer administrator (to keep with the American analogies, what would this be like? George W. Bush having a kid with Bud Selig's daughter?). The child was born last October. There are rumors he might marry the woman, which would make her the sixth Mrs. Zuma overall and the fourth active one. Not surprisingly, many were outraged. The front-pages have been filled with angry responses from incredulous opposition. But others saw it as no big deal. And considering Zuma's past and his continued march to power, it's easy to think that viewpoint might end up being the prevailing opinion in the country. If rape, corruption and about 100 other controversies haven't ended Zuma's political career, is one more child born outside his marriage(s) going to do much harm? Maybe a better question would be, should it irreprably harm him?

As someone who rolls his eyes at the outrage - real and fake - that sweeps the U.S. whenever a politican is caught with his pants down or at least unzipped, I say no. But that doesn't mean I necessarily agree with the ANC leader who said, "We are Africans and sitting here all of us, Zuma is our father so we are not qualified to talk about that." People in this country should at least be able to talk about it, and then decide if any actions should follow.

Polygamy, kids with daughter's of friends, disease. Presidents.

Doesn't all of this make Larry Craig seem a little boring?

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