Quote of the week

Regard must be had to the higher standard of conduct expected from public officials, and the number of falsehoods that have been put forward by the Public Protector in the course of the litigation.  This conduct included the numerous “misstatements”, like misrepresenting, under oath, her reliance on evidence of economic experts in drawing up the report, failing to provide a complete record, ordered and indexed, so that the contents thereof could be determined, failing to disclose material meetings and then obfuscating the reasons for them and the reasons why they had not been previously disclosed, and generally failing to provide the court with a frank and candid account of her conduct in preparing the report. The punitive aspect of the costs order therefore stands.

KHAMPEPE J and THERON J
Public Protector v South African Reserve Bank (CCT107/18) [2019] ZACC 29 (22 July 2019)
15 February 2010

Privacy for “us”, but not for “them”?

Sometimes a politician says something that seems so out of sync with what people believe and think or is so hypocritical that one wonders whether he or she was not misquoted. Sometimes the politician says something that is both out of sync with public beliefs and spectacularly hypocritical and then one can only laugh derisively.

Helen Zille said just such a thing this weekend. Commenting on the sex scandal engulfing Lennit Max, who is alleged to have had an affair (or at least sex) with police station clerk Belinda Petersen and is further alleged to have used his position to get Petersen to have sex with him, Zille said:

Unless there is evidence to the contrary, this matter has nothing to do with anyone except the Max and Petersen families, their consciences and their respective churches. This does not imply, in any way, that I or the DA condone marital infidelity. We merely believe that private matters that do not have deleterious public consequences are not matters that should be delath with by a political party. Private actions by politicians are a matter of public concern, for example, if a politician does not practice what he preaches.

So, allegations that Max sexually harassed someone who, in effect, works for him is a private matter because Max has never publicly made statements condemning sexual harassment. The DA is a moralistic party who hates marital infidelity but it has nothing to do with them if one of their leaders allegedly cheats on his wife. Come on!

As I said during the Zuma Babygate scandal, I am not a particularly moralistic person and personally I do not think that it is of much consequence when a politician has lots of sex with different men or women – as long as the politician does the job we pay him or her to do and as long as the private actions do not contradict the public utterances of the politician or the policy positions of the party he or she belongs to. 

As with Zuma, we do not have all the facts yet. Maybe Max is an angel and “never had sexual relations with that woman” (to quote Bill Clinton). However, it is clear that the allegations that Max used his position as MEC for Community Safety to secure sex with Petersen, is not a private matter. Nor would it have been a private matter if there was indeed a relationship and it was all consensual. 

If it is true that Max had sexually harassed Petersen, it would display a shocking lack of commitment to gender equality on his part. As far as I know the DA is against sexual harassment of women, so when allegations of such harassment are made against one of its leaders, the party cannot claim that this has nothing to do with it.

If Max merely had consensual sex with someone who was not his wife, while the DA believes this to be a terrible thing (as Zille claimed this weekend), it would also be a public matter as it would show that Max is a hypocrite. It would show that while endorsing the policies of a party which he wants to serve in a leadership position, he was doing things in private that the party really finds rather distasteful – in its prissy, moralistic way. Just like it would be a public matter if an ACDP leader has sex with a member of the same sex because it would show that the leader’s private actions completely contradicted the political party’s public stance on homosexuality, so Max’s alleged infidelity is a public matter.

If Zille had said the DA believed that marital infidelity was no big deal to the DA as it says nothing about the ability of the leader of the party to do his or her job, I would have agreed with her. Who cares about whether Max sleeps with someone who is not his wife? I don’t. But to try and have it both ways, being all moralistic about “marital infidelity” and then claiming – exactly like President Zuma did only two weeks ago! – that this was a private matter, seems so tone deaf and hypocritical that it takes my breath away.

If the DA claims to espouse certain values and one of its members (and someone aspiring to a leadership position in that party) allegedly fails to adhere to those values, it clearly is not a private matter. It goes to the heart of whether the party practices what it preaches.

Furthermore, the way in which men treat women in our society and the attitudes of men towards woman as sex objects in our society is almost always a public matter – even when one is not a politician of the DA, ANC or ACDP. Our Constitution guarantees gender equality and when any of us behave in a sexist manner – even in private – the media would have any right to report on it.

The DA, who says it supports gender equality (but whose track record has not been great on this, what with Zille appointing an all male cabinet and all), cannot now run away and hide behind the old chestnut that Max’s alleged relationship with a woman is a private matter which is of no consequence to the party. Just like President Zuma cannot pretend that having three wives and cheating on these wives with many other women is not a gender issue that should be up for public scrutiny and debate, so Zille or Max cannot pretend this is private.

A better line of reasoning would have been to hide behind the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra so beloved by politicians. It would have been nonsense, but at least it might have bought the DA some time to try and sort out this mess.

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