Polygamous president complains to group of female journalists that "white man's" rules mean he cannot compliment them for fear of "harassment" accusations
South Africa’s strife-hit president Jacob Zuma has been accused of making “outrageously sexist” comments to a group of female journalists by complaining that because it was a “white man’s world” he could not compliment them as he would like.
Mr Zuma told the women that modern sensitivities around the topic meant that he would be accused of “harassment”. He cautioned that as a result, they would miss out on “good men and marriage”.
His comments provoked the fury of the female spokesperson for the opposition Democratic Alliance, Phumzile van Damme, who said they were “outrageously sexist and an insult to every single woman in our country”.
Mr Zuma, a polygamist with four wives, was previously accused of sexism during his trial for the rape of a friend’s daughter when he said in testimony that in Zulu culture, failing to have sex with a woman wearing a short skirt was tantamount to an offence. He was acquitted of the rape charge.
He is also under fire for damaging South Africa’s economy by swapping finance ministers repeatedly, and over a corruption scandal that sawmillions of pounds of public money spent on his personal country estate.
Mr Zuma made his latest comments at the weekend when one of his wives, Tobeka Madiba Zuma, and their eight-year-old daughter, accompanied him on a visit to a voter registration campaign in his rural heartland of KwaZulu-Natal. South Africans will vote in local elections in May.
He reportedly told a group of female journalists that were he able to do so, he would tell women he found attractive that they should consider marriage even if he didn’t have the money to pay lobola, a bride price.
He is said to have added that were this kind of behaviour allowed, his bodyguards would be making advances to them.
“But when men compliment you innocently, you say it’s harassment,” the South African First Citizen lamented, according to the Times of South Africa. “You will miss out on good men and marriage.”
Miss Van Damme denounced the president’s attitude.
“It is precisely this patriarchal attitude that allows for women to remain the subjects of high levels of violence and sexual abuse throughout our country,” she said.
“It is also this sort of thinking that keeps women locked out of the economy, and out of jobs that could bring a much needed income to their family.”
The president also dismayed the ANC’s Womens’ League. Toko Xasa, its spokesman, said Mr Zuma needed to update his attitude.
“This is not being too sensitive … women have been subjected to lots of harassment which has made them feel uncomfortable, but that was quoted under the pretext of culture,” Miss Zasa said.
“In a modern age men need to change whether they like it or not.”
The presidency did not respond to a request for comment.