POLITICS

Ferial Haffajee: The Sex Scandal Won't Kill Ramaphosa

Fidelity is the exception not the norm in our country.

02/09/2017 23:19 SAST | Updated 03/09/2017 10:37 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (L) arrives with his wife Dr Tshepo Motsepe at the Farlam Commission, in Centurion, outside Pretoria August 11, 2014.

ANALYSIS

One night I was swinging my car into a parking lot at E-TV's Hyde Park headquarters in Johannesburg when a black Land Rover pulled up to next to me.

Out jumped an energetic Gauteng MEC and we greeted. Through the darkened windows of his car, I saw a young woman sitting in the passenger seat and greeted her too. "Your daughter's lovely," I said. Awkward silence.

The sex scandal about Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was going nowhere until he panicked

She wasn't his daughter. Or his wife. #facepalm, as they say on Twitter. I should have known better. As a political journalist, you get to notice that powerful political men have affairs and lots of them. I know there are exceptions, but I've seen enough to know that fidelity is exceptional, not normal in the South African body politic.

The sex scandal about Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was going nowhere until he panicked and took the Sunday Independent to court on Saturday night. His leaked emails reveal details of several extramarital affairs.

But he has squandered his kudos as a leader who values media freedom.

South Africa does not live by the sexual mores of many Western nations where a sex scandal may fell a politician. Our norms are African and on our continent, looking for a male political leader who does not keep a wife and several mistresses, is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Moreover, powerful men like bevies of women around them as symbols of their power: pretty much as they like pulling up their cuffs to reveal an expensive watch or use a fast car as an extension of their drive. It's patriarchal, demeaning and sexist but it's a phenomenon and Ramaphosa will not be mortally wounded by his first public sex scandal.

The scandal is only likely to hurt his appeal as a prince to the more conservative white South Africans and to the business community

Most South Africans will salivate over the detail but ultimately shrug and ask: "What's the fuss"? After all, it's pretty common. The family structure in our country is not the nuclear norm: it is the single-headed woman household. Polygamy and polyamory are standard forms of relationships across the land.

The scandal is only likely to hurt his appeal as a prince to the more conservative white South Africans and to the business community, which has deified him as one without fault and the antithesis of the bankruptcy of President Jacob Zuma. Now he has shown himself to be mortal and to have feet of clay. And to, apparently, have more girlfriends than Zuma has wives.

By Saturday evening, the Sunday Independent, which revealed the emails, had decided to remove the names of the women Ramaphosa is alleged to have had affairs with from its newspaper reports.

This has limited the harm from the emails, although the question of who hacked into the deputy president's email and whether state security had a hand in it are vital questions to answer if we are to keep politics clean.