Political Sexual Conspiracy in the African Context

Political Sexual Conspiracy in the African Context

By: Moises M. Antunes, “Wima the Poet”*

African contemporary politics have been marred with a lack of intellectualism due to a common trend of political conspiracies. This emerged in the second wave of democratic transitions in the late 90s when in many African countries, ruling parties had to share their political space with opposition parties for the very first time.

As part of this trend, politicians exercise low-level politics and make use of an array of plots to ostracize their political opponents. For example, they use:

  • Assassinations and threat plots
  • Fabricated allegations to institute legal cases
  • Distorted information to alter public opinion of their political opponents
  • Sex scandals

I focus on the plotting of sexual scandals to discredit political opponents instead of using rhetoric and intellectualism. In my opinion, this practice, which I call political sexual conspiracy a virus destroying the democratic political system, is increasingly becoming a worrying trend in African contemporary politics.

One might wonder why it is crucial to scrutinize this trend; this trend in African politics poses a serious threat to the consolidation of democracy as it weakens institutions; replaces freedom of opinion with fear; heightens political intolerance and leads to a political culture based on undemocratic practices.

But most importantly, it compromises the fight against women’s abuse and rape in Africa because women are sometimes used by certain politicians as bait to nest their political opponents.

For instance, if a sexual scandal was politically motivated and comes out as into the public domain, then a perception of women falsely accusing politicians for sexual scandals or rape sets in. As such many people will not believe women that claim to be raped by politicians.

This compromises the fight against women’s abuse, and it jeopardizes the promotion of women’s rights and dignity. Further, this perception ultimately can be used by politicians as an umbrella to protect themselves from sexual crimes that they commit by simply singing the usual song of “politically motivated”.

To get a sense of what I mean, let us look at two recent political sexual conspiracies: one from Zimbabwe and the other from South Africa.

The Zimbabwean case

According to an article from tvc news’ editor, in the time before the general elections in Zimbabwe the state-controlled television ran a campaign to discredit Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement of Democratic Change (MDC) and the main rival leader to Robert Mugabe. The television aired an advert where three women former lovers of Morgan Tsvangarai revealed how they were dumped by him.

I believe there is a correlation between MDC’s defeat and this advert, irrespective of the alleged votes rigging, simply because morality and ethical conduct of leaders are taken very seriously and have profound impacts on voter’s perceptions.

The probability of this sexual political conspiracy being engineered by ZANU-PF to tarnish the image and integrity of the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is high, taking into account that the Zimbabwe National Broadcasting is controlled by the ruling party.

The South African case

In the last few weeks, South Africa witnessed a sexual scandal involving Zwelinzima, the general-secretary of COSATU, the powerful trade union in South Africa.

Vavi admitted to having sex at the office with the junior employee in January. He also implied that matter came to light as part of a conspiracy to do way with him. Before this sexual scandal, Zwelinzima Vavi had been receiving threatening messages, and he had been warned by the South African Intelligence Agency that there is a plan to assassinate him. Is this just a coincidence?  Or reflection of hidden agenda being orchestrated to end his political career?

One man’s fall … another man’s rise?

A popular adage says “where there is smoke, there is fire”.   The smoke was already there with threats of assassination and now the fire is flaming. Some argue that Vavi’s case is not politically motivated and that he should be suspended because he conducted himself in an unethical manner which compromised the Organisation’s reputation.  Others argue that there is a political conspiracy mainly within the organisation to get rid of Zwelinzima Vavi.

According to an article written by Moshoeshoe Morena, published on the August 17th 2006 at IOL news, a Cosatu official made the following statement:

“Vavi’s security has told him that he had been followed. The plot against him is three-fold. First to spread rumours that he has an affair with a married woman; secondly, to plant a woman who would later claim that she had been raped like they tried to do with (ANC deputy president Jacob) Zuma; and ultimately to assassinate him and play it out as if it was a love-triangle killing,”

Politics that enhance democratic consolidation and strong civil society, are politics played on an intellectual level: using democratic means and instruments to attain power and influence for the best interests of the people. The opposite causes the continuance of leaders who attained power or positions for their own interests and used undemocratic means.

If leaders that create profound debates, challenge policies and stand for issues of the public life which affects the people on the street, are being plotted against and persecuted, then as African societies we should ask ourselves: why?

Political leaders and the African civil society must shame those who exercise this practice of political sexual conspiracy because it undermines our liberation struggle as it deters democratic consolidation and delay our long walk towards my African dream and Thabo Mbeki’s African Renaissance.

*Moises Monteiro Antunes, “Wima the Poet”, is a Finalist Graduate of a BA Degree in International Relations and Diplomacy at University of South Africa, Cape Town. He is a Business Development Consultant residing in South Africa. 

Guest Author

I am a guest contributor but also an avid reader of this blog.

7 Responses to Political Sexual Conspiracy in the African Context

  1. It is a very interesting insight.

    I could not agree with you more that it seems that a trend is showing in our fragile adolescent democracies, of politicians using women as instruments for their political agendas.

    I will not comment on the Zimbabwe case as yet, as i am not well informed. I will however comment on the South African case.

    First of all, Vavi as the general secretary of Cosatu has been seen as the main figure that pushes for the betterment of the working class, as such and as in any other capitalist country, a figure like that can either be an asset or a liability, depending on his position with regards to the economics of the country.

    Unfortunately for him, his position is very clear, rather support the workers’ agenda instead of capitalist ideologies. Remembering that Cosatu is in alliance with the ruling party and the problem is that in his own organization, there is another front supporting the economic class (capitalists) headed by the president of the organization. It is obvious that a conflict of interest arises.

    It is not honestly correct to claim that a woman was used as a pawn in this case, as in the beginning she had her own agenda but because it did not workout, Vavi’s enemies saw this an opportunity. He has been a marked man for a while and with numerous failed attempts to remove him. His opponents, saw the opportunity and turn things around.

    Women should not let themselves be used for personal gains, undermining the advances already made in gender equality.

    • Jose N. Sonhy,

      Thank you, very interesting comment, you touched on something that requires another debate when said the following:

      “Unfortunately for him, his position is very clear, rather support the workers’ agenda instead of capitalist ideologies. Remembering that Cosatu is in alliance with the ruling party and the problem is that in his own organization, there is another front supporting the economic class (capitalists) headed by the president of the organization. It is obvious that a conflict of interest arises.”

      This really requires another debate on its own. Thank you.

  2. I am disappointed in this article which to me is violent patriarchy framed as concern for rape against women while in actual effect not only perpetuating rape culture but also victim blaming. Instead of calling the perpetrators to task – you turn your gaze to the victims.

    You state that “politicians exercise low-level politics and make use of an array of plots to ostracize their political opponents” and then proceed to make the case that sexual scandals form a part of these “political sexual conspiracy.”

    I am very disturbed, because for sex scandals to work these politicians have to *actually* have engaged in these illicit scandals. I am not familiar with the Zimbabwean case you cite, but I am especially disturbed that you would use Zwelinzima Vavi as a case study of these political sexual conspiracies – is a conspiracy not something that has not been proven? Whay are you working against the available evidence to defend these miscreant politicians?

    Zwelinzima is a married man as you correctly state and has indeed admitted to have having had sex at the office with a junior employer. What is relevant to me here is not whether she was raped or not, whether she is telling the truth or not – but for me I like to extend this issue to sexual power.
    Women, particularly those who do not have advanced degrees/higher education/economic and social capital – often do not have enough power to resist sexual advances by powerful men like Vavi – where women have to make decisions for economic survival, men like Vavi often show up to ensure that they abuse these opportunities for the sexual exploitation of women. Read the literature on survival sex.

    Moreover it is disturbing that you portray these “political sexual” conspiracies as normative of politics or leadership as if all men who are leaders do this/have been subjected to this. Having read your article it is clear to me you asking the *wrong* questions — perhaps the question you should be asking is why powerful men like Zwelinzima Vavi prey on young (economically) marginalised women? Again, I repeat, what you overlook is that there would be no “conspiracy” or “scandal” if this old man had not had sex with a junior employer no one could perpetuate a conspiracy/evidence that it happened.

    The biggest irony here of course is that Vavi is supposed to represent the organisation which is supposed to stand for workers rights – yet the fact that men like him practice (violent) patriarchy through the abuse of their economic power shows how far we still have to go in South Africa for women to be free from sexual harassment.

    And that young “intellectuals” like you push for vigorous intellectualism but yet ignore critical dimensions to this case such as the difficult position the young woman occupied in this case is worrying.
    Lasstly, is it not interesting that these women you claim have been baited for political reasons, have not be proven to have been paid to make these accusations (while we know for sure these men have had sex with them?). You could not state one factual case where it has been proven that these women are paid. As we wrestle with the ravages of HIV/AIDS, can suggest you read my article of the dangers of multiple concurrent partnerships and how actions of men like Vavi actually drive up infections in South Africa: http://bokamosoafrica.org/2011/10/rethinking-hivaids-prevention-strategies-for-south-africa-searching-for-appropriate-responses-for-the-south-african-epidemic.html

    I really hope you will reconsider these thoughts for they perpetuate rape culture and the blaming of rape victims.

    • Dear Gcobani Qambela,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Vavi’s sexual scandal can be approached from different angles but with the same goal.

      My article aims at creating provocative debate and i see that it is doing exactly that.

      I believe in looking at this issue from different angles.I approached it from a different angle from yours,we are both contributing to the dabate, now, you cannot force me to adopt your view.

      The fight against sexual abuse can only be won if we are willing to look at it with two eyes instead with one eye.

      I am against rape and sexual abuse, I am against men who use their authority to perpetuate these crimes, at same time I am also against married women that cheat on their husbands or having an affair with married politicians or men, because this practice of multiple concurrent partnerships deteriorates the spread of endemic HIV/AIDS.

      So, Vavi and the woman are all wrong, they both cheated on their partners, we should condemn them both.

      My grandfather once told me: “Wisdom is found where there is more than one head”. In that, i believe only through divergent views we can realistic find a suitable solution.

      Dear Gcobani Qambela with due respect, we are in the same struggle, just different angles. I respect your view so respect mine as well.

      A LUTA CONTINUA!

      Thank you,

      • Thank you for the expansive response to my comment.

        I am not one to censor other people’s views, but I do worry when those views have the potential to do harm.

        You are right, dialogue is important especially when it comes to issues of gender which we, in SA, continue to largely ignore.

        Certain elements in your article are important, but again as I said my main worry is that your article does not take into cognizance patriarchal male POWER.

        None of us will ever know for sure the what took place between Vavi and the woman in question. Your article is premised on harmful assumptions about what is supposedly happening, other that what we know for sure.

        What I am simply saying is that we should work from what we know for sure. That: 1) This was a powerful man who had sex with this woman (with consent/without consent) 2) That he had the power to remove her from her position should he have wanted (as he did place her there without even following procedure. 3) That research does show that women in these position have limited option to negotiate their sexual agency when they have to make ‘bread and butter’ decisions against powerful men like Vavi.

        Rape is not always this, you know, thing where a woman has to be sexually assaulted screaming and shouting. Economic blackmail (eg. threatening to take a woman’s job should she not want to have sex) is also to me forceful sex for it limits the agency to say no for the woman.

        Respectfully, I do think dialogue is not only about expressing different views, but also about a willingness to learn, listen and also UNLEARN.

        We must have dialogues, but we must be courageous enough to admit when we do not know all, or are wrong.

        Like you, I do want a vigorous intellectual culture in South Africa, but we can have that without resorting to controversialism especially in issues where women’s bodies are violated in the hands of rape culture.

        But I want intellectuals who can admit that they do not know it all BUT are willing to learn and listen. That to me is true intellectualism – it does not have to be a situation where we all disagree/agree with each other – but where we can listen and open our minds to others views (and especially suffering).

        Your response does tell me you are open to critique, which is important and admirable. And you’re right, I cannot force my views unto you, but as I said, my hope in posting the comment was not to be authoritarian, but a hope that you would reconsider some thoughts espoused in your article wwhich I still percieve to be harmful!

        Thank you for the response.

        Aluta!

      • PS: You might find this article by TO Molefe useful. Some of the relevant portion reads:

        “In our response to Vavi and his accuser, we have shown that rape culture is interwoven into our society…

        At this point it does not matter whether Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi’s accuser ever files charges of rape with the police. It doesn’t even matter if she is lying, as some have claimed. Equally irrelevant now is whether she was a pawn in a political plot and if she and her husband tried to blackmail Vavi.

        This sordid mess has become about much more than what did or didn’t happen before, after and on January 25 at Cosatu’s headquarters in Johannesburg when a trade union leader allegedly entered the office of a subordinate and locked the door behind him.

        In our aggregate response to her accusations against a man we’ve come to admire, we have shown that rape culture is interwoven into how our society thinks and behaves.

        From the moment the story hit the pages of the weekend newspapers, her claim was treated with doubt and judgement. Pronouncements were made about how and why her actions discredited her claims of sexual harassment and rape, yet no scrutiny was directed at the actions of Vavi and how and why they discredit his claim that he did not sexually harass or rape her.”

        You can read the full article here: http://m.iol.co.za/article/view/e/1.1555957

        • Once again, thank you Gcobani Qambela.

          We are on the same page:

          You said:

          “You are right, dialogue is important especially when it comes to issues of gender which we, in SA, continue to largely ignore”.

          And i said:

          “I am against rape and sexual abuse, I am against men who use their authority to perpetuate these crimes, at same time I am also against married women that cheat on their husbands or having an affair with married politicians or men, because this practice of multiple concurrent partnerships deteriorates the spread of endemic HIV/AIDS”

          We both agree. i learnt something from you and you learnt something from me. Therefore, our debate was constructive and on intellectual level.

          Let us not escalate this any further as there is no need. I thank you, it was great having this debate with you.

          A Luta Continua!

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