The actions of former deputy-president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, may have negated whatever progress, if any, HIV-awareness activists have made in South Africa.
The on-going rape trial involving the current deputy president of the African National Congress has exposed how high up the ladder the ignorance about HIV/AIDS is in the nation.
Zuma is currently defending rape allegations by an HIV-positive woman, 32 years his junior, who claims that Zuma took advantage of their father-daughter relationship. Any allegation of rape should not be taken lightly, especially in the country with the highest rate of rape cases.
The shock and disappointment continued when other elements of the case are examined. When Zuma, the former head of South Africa’s National AIDS Council, was asked why he did not use a condom when he engaged in what he says was consensual sex, he said he believed his risk of contracting HIV was minimal because men had statistically slimmer chances of contracting it from the opposite sex than women. When probed further, he also admitted to taking a shower afterward to further minimize contact with the disease.
Zuma’s comments have raised eyebrows, especially with anti-AIDS activists who fear his comments would undermine prevention campaigns in South Africa (the country with the highest number of AIDS victims). Ironically, Zuma had repeatedly promoted the use of condoms as head of the AIDS council and appeared to be quite knowledgeable on the issue of HIV and AIDS. However, if someone in that position can publicly display his genuine lack of education, it says a lot about where HIV awareness stands in South Africa and, perhaps, other neighboring countries. His comment about taking a shower to minimize the contact is similar to a female’s assumption that douching or showering after having sex will prevent pregnancy.
To further damage his reputation, Zuma defended the rape allegation by saying that he was obligated to have sex according to his Zulu tradition. He said that when a woman is aroused, as he claims the victim was, denying her sex was equivalent to rape.
Zuma’s comments have not reflected a person who has the welfare of his nation at hand. His comments have set back the progress of a nation in search of ways to reduce and prevent the increase of HIV diagnoses. No matter the outcome of the trial, and the amount of support he still commands, Zuma should never be allowed to hold any public office again, and should be forced to undergo an intensive sex and HIV education program to properly inform him.
Wandoo Makurdi is a mass media studies student at Florida State University from Lagos, Nigeria. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.