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.