BY ED WEST
BISHOPS IN southern Africa have criticised South African President Jacob Zuma’s “scandalous behaviour” after he admitted fathering a child out of wedlock.
In a statement issued hours before Mr Zuma gave his State of the Union address the bishops said they were “appalled that for the second time in as many years” he did not “express regret or show remorse for his adultery”.
The statement came after the president admitted fathering a child out of wedlock, reported to be his 20th, with a prominent banker. The 67year-old already has three wives, two former wives and two fiancées.
South Africa will be the focus of the world’s attention in June when it hosts the Football World Cup, the first time an African nation has had the honour, and its society will come under close scrutiny 20 years after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.
The incumbent president, who took power last May, has always been a controversial figure, having won long legal battles over allegations of corruption, racketeering and rape.
In their “Appeal to South African Leaders: Is your sexual morality making you a worthy role model for the youth?” the Church leaders, led by Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, said: “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother’... The Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference expresses its strongest concern of the scandalous behaviour of leaders who shamelessly flout the norms of morality and decency, accepted and expected by the vast majority of people.
“Basing our stance on the clear teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ regarding relations between men and women, both married and unmarried, we call on all leaders to recommit themselves to being worthy role models for the youth and children of the nation.” While they acknowledged his apology for engaging in “unprotected sex”, they said they were appalled at the “irreparable damage that such immorality has done to the nation’s efforts to slow down or even to reverse the rampant spread of HIV and Aids”.
Such behaviour, they said, flouted “the norms of morality and decency, accepted and expected by the vast majority of people. In particular we deplore the attempts to excuse or even defend bad moral behaviour in the name of ‘culture’”. They urged “all followers of Christ, all men and women of good will, but especially our youth and young adults, to obey and live by the teaching of the Lord, which sets out the behaviour that is necessary for a sound and healthy society”.
The bishops said: “We call on the whole Church community to fulfil its vocation and mission to bear witness to Christ’s life and teaching by rejecting all immoral behaviour, especially sexual immorality and instead commit itself to keeping the Maker’s instructions for a sound and healthy society.” The Church is opposed to polygamy on the grounds that it goes against the Christian idea of marriage as an indissoluble bond between one man and one woman. But the practice is a cultural tradition among Zulus, Mr Zuma’s tribe.
In many African countries, polygamy has aggravated the Aids crisis, with men often passing on the disease to several wives, who in turn pass on HIV to their children. In many parts of Africa if a man dies, by tradition his brother is honour-bound to help the widows produce children.
Although Mr Zuma was cleared of the rape charge in 2005 he admitted intercourse even though he knew the woman was HIV positive. He said he did not use a condom but instead took a shower afterwards to “cut the risk of contracting HIV”.
Statistics show that some 5.2 million South Africans nearly 10 per cent of the population, have HIV or Aids in 2008, and about 250,000 South Africans die of Aids every year.