Carnal temptations can destroy a political career

To this day, Harry Mwanga Nkumbula remains a legend of Zambia's struggle for independence, long after his death, after that country achieved freedom under his former lieutenant, Kenneth Kaunda.

To this day, Harry Mwanga Nkumbula remains a legend of Zambia's struggle for independence, long after his death, after that country achieved freedom under his former lieutenant, Kenneth Kaunda.

For such a legend, one has to write with the utmost delicacy of an incident in which he was involved with two journalists.

My intention in bringing it up three decades later is in the earnest hope that it will have a salutary effect on Jacob Zuma.

He must have heard of the charismatic Nkumbula, who led the African National Congress of Northern Rhodesia into and after independence in 1964.

Zuma might have sat down, with other young revolutionaries, to listen to Old Harry regale them with one or two anecdotes of his own struggle against the colonialists in his land.

My involvement was a mission to rescue a damsel in distress, a reporter with The Central African Mail, sent to interview Old Harry at his house in Lusaka.

The editors decided, on the rational basis that the reporter had been away for far too long for just a routine interview, even with a legend of the status and reputation of Nkumbula.

Moreover, there was always that monster of the conscientious editor - the dreaded deadline. His danger lights were flashing something mad: time was running out to put the paper to bed.

So, my mission, while not impossible, had "urgent" written all over it. By that time the telephone had long been invented and had been thoroughly exhausted as a means of trying to establish with the Nkumbula residence what the hell was going on?

Specifically, we were anxious to know if our reporter, a young lady who had trained in Yugoslavia, was still alive.

As I entered the house, I was hit by a suspicious wall of silence: was the interview being conducted in sign language or mime?

Then our reporter emerged - from Nkumbula's bedroom. Soon thereafter, the old rascal himself emerged, a glass of you-know-what clasped in his hand. They were both smiling. "I got the interview, in the end," she said. "Thank you, Mr Nkumbula."

On the way back to the office, I didn't ask anything. In the end, we journalists are gentlemen of the first water, particularly where a reporter doing a "big story" is involved. An indiscreet remark, however delicately phrased, might blow her top - and bang goes the story.

For Jacob Zuma, the lesson is: These things do happen. I am not saying because Nkumbula never made it as president of Zambia, Zuma should drop plans to run for president of the ANC.

Yet the incident with the HIV-positive woman, out of which he came out clean - without the prosecution being able to make the charge stick, I mean - isn't going to evaporate just like that, especially if he became president of the republic.

John F Kennedy (Marilyn Monroe) and his brother Ted (Mary Jo) were fortunate that their peccadilloes occurred after they had both achieved their political goals, more or less.

John Profumo wasn't so lucky, perhaps because he was British - they are so hypocritically straight-laced it's just incredible.

The Christine Keeler thing blew up when Profumo was war minister. It cost Harold Macmillan the next election to the Labour Party.

The truth is, with this sex thing hanging over his head, Zuma won't know when someone will lower the boom. Who can tell how much damage it would inflict on his career - or on South Africa?

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