South African president provokes anger by saying it is important for women to have children ‘to give them extra training’
A traditional Zulu polygamist with four wives and around 20 children, Zuma has a history of making controversial remarks about gender and sexuality. He was acquitted of a rape charge in 2006. His latest gaffe came in a TV interview at his home in which he discussed his daughter Duduzile’s marriage. “I was also happy because I wouldn’t want to stay with daughters who are not getting married,” Zuma told interviewer Dali Tambo on SABC3. “Because that in itself is a problem in society. I know that people today think being single is nice. It’s actually not right. That’s a distortion. You’ve got to have kids. Kids are important to a woman because they actually give an extra training to a woman, to be a mother.”
The comments, made during women’s month in South Africa, have generated anger from equality campaigners. Kubi Rama, chief of operations at the non-government organisation Gender Links, said: “How does the president feel about women’s empowerment and gender issues? He’s pigeonholing women into the traditional role of motherhood, nurturing and marriage. We all know the world has moved on. Marriage is now a choice.”
She added: “To make such statements is actually quite insulting in this country and does not move the women’s agenda forwards. It raises serious questions about his commitment to equality.”
The sentiments were echoed by the activist group Sonke Gender Justice Network. Its spokesperson, Mbuyiselo Botha, said: “The president’s comments stereotype women, suggesting that if you don’t have kids and are unmarried, there’s something untoward. It’s dangerous.
“In the work we do, it’s important that choices are respected, and it’s critical that as the head of state he should epitomise those values. He is supposed to be an embodiment of our constitution that respects freedom of choice.”
Zuma’s attitudes are also out of step with the governing African National Congress, Botha added. “The ANC has a good history on issues related to gender but he does not seem to be in sync. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand does or says. It’s up to him to live, walk and talk those values.”
There was criticism of Zuma on Twitter. Popular radio presenter Redi Tlhabi tweeted: “Zuma says being single (4 women) is a problem & it’s good 4 women to have kids cos “it gives them extra training” Happy Women’s Month ladies.”