Today the Treatment Action Campaign added their voices to those calling on President Jacob Zuma to show “leadership and responsibility for himself”.
TAC distanced itself from the clamour against Zuma, saying in its newsletter: “We do not want to impose moral judgements on people, especially on their private matters. Many of the responses to the President’s actions have been hysterical and self-righteous.”
“But the president is not just any person. People look to him to set an example,” TAC stated.
“In a country without a serious HIV epidemic, it might be arguable that his extra-marital affairs are for him and his family alone to resolve. But South Africa has the world’s largest HIV epidemic.
“The President holds the highest office in South Africa and therefore there are high expectations of him, as a leader, as an elder and as a role model.”
“The theme for World AIDS Day 2009 was ‘I am responsible, We are responsible, South Africa is taking responsibility’, TAC recalled.
“The message encourages individuals to reduce their number of sexual partners, for men and women to take responsibility by protect themselves and others, and to encourage consistent and correct condom usage.”
And this is the issue. How does Soul City – which is running creative HIV prevention campaigns – promote a “One Love” campaign when the man holding highest office has three wives and reportedly 20 children born out of wedlock.
“The president’s recent actions undermine all of who are really trying to meet the prevention target of reducing HIV transmission by 50%,” stated TAC.
“The message of responsibility – agreed upon by civil society and government – applies to all of us including our highest leaders.”
Zuma is right when he says South Africa needs to debate its “moral code”.
But he is mistaken if he thinks the criticism against him is in fact an attack on traditional culture.
He said that it was unconstitutional to use one own’s culture to judge others, adding: “Some of the traditions are being rubbished; called names, they’re backward; and we keep quiet.”
Mr President, this is not about what is culturally or morally acceptable. This debate is about what is acceptable presidential conduct in South Africa – a country with the highest numbers of people with HIV in the world.