Sex is as much private as it is public, I mean the effect of sexual relations is constantly moulded and re-moulded by society (gay, lesbian, prostitution, polygamy etc). That is why there is such a fuss on the need to control sexuality. In my opinion sexuality is one of the areas one can analyse to determine just how patriarchal a society is.
This brings me to the infamous story of Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa. I think he provides us with a perfect example of just how entrenched patriarchy is. The president recently made headlines by marrying his fifth wife. Obviously he believes in polygamy. At this point I will not engage in debates of polygamy in relation to the oppression of women, after all, there are women who have re-appropriated polygamy claiming that it ensures their independence while at the same time catering for their basic needs. However, this observation is a discussion for another day.
My concern is with the words uttered by the president. He is quoted as saying:
"I have done the necessary cultural imperatives in a situation of this nature, for example the formal acknowledgement of paternity and responsibility, including the payment of inhlawulo (damages) to the family. The matter is now between the two of us, and culturally, between the Zuma and Khoza families," Zuma said. (see http://www.polity.org.za/article/zuma-confirms-child-out-of-wedlock-2010-02-04)
I was “innocently” reading this article when my African feminist senses were triggered with the following words “payment of inhlawulo (damages) to the family”. And i paused as the following question poppoed up: Who has been damaged? And how does this statement not subjugate the woman?
If one is to argue that the family has been “damaged” this then implies that the woman’s sexuality is owned by the family, and this denies the woman agency.
If one is to argue that it is the woman who has been damaged, she is still denied agency, because this takes away the woman’s right to exercise her choice to have sexual relations with whomever she desires (issues of morality aside). Who says she is damaged? Or are we again speaking for the woman?
I agree with critics that the message sent by the president especially with such high cases of HIV/AIDS in South Africa, can be unsettling. However, I am worried that once again her-story is being tainted, or lost in narration. I am aware that the spotlight is on Zuma and not the woman, Sonono Khoza. Nevertheless, his response to the situation subjugates the Sonono Khoza and strips her off agency. This is evidence of just how patriarchal our African cultures are, and sadly even our leaders’ still hang on to them in the name of preserving culture.