South African President Insults Women Ahead of International Women’s Day

South African President Jacob Zuma infuriated women this weekend when he said they took harassment too seriously.


South African President Jacob Zuma appears to have wanted to get all the sexism out of his system in time for International Women’s Day.

He started off his week by telling a group of female journalists that he wished he could compliment their appearances but couldn’t because he lives in a “white man’s world” and would be accused of “harassment.”

Zuma didn’t stop there, adding that because Western societies criticize men for praising women’s bodies, the journalists would miss out on “good men and marriage.”

When men compliment you innocently, you say it’s harassment,” he reportedly said.

Zuma, 73, is a polygamist who has been married six times and currently has four wives and 21 children. His comments to journalists over the weekend infuriated Phumzile van Damme, the spokeswoman for the opposition Democratic Alliance, who called them “outrageously sexist and an insult to every single woman in our country.”

“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.

Zuma has repeatedly come under fire for sexist comments, but he managed to win the presidency in 2009 and again in 2014 despite the controversy surrounding his stance on women’s issues.

In 2006, he was found not guilty after a 31-year-old HIV-positive woman accused him of raping her at his home. The jury determined the sex was consensual, but Zuma, who was not president at the time, infuriated AIDS advocates by saying he did not contract HIV from the encounter because he took a shower afterward. More than 5 million South Africans had AIDS at the time, and Zuma had previously headed South Africa’s National AIDS Council.

He also told the jury that it would have been inappropriate for him to not have sex with the woman — the daughter of a Zuma family friend — because “in the Zulu culture, you cannot just leave a woman if she is ready.”

Photo credit: Gaillo Images

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