Chauvinism at its worst

LIKE all other human beings, President Jacob Zuma is not a perfect man. He has committed errors of judgment for which many South Africans have been prepared to criticise him for causing embarrassment because of some of his statements and actions.

LIKE all other human beings, President Jacob Zuma is not a perfect man. He has committed errors of judgment for which many South Africans have been prepared to criticise him for causing embarrassment because of some of his statements and actions.

He has acknowledged as much and apologised. He has even gone on to initiate a national debate on what constitutes a common South African moral code and ethical framework. It would seem that he might need to extend this debate much further than our borders.

To ridicule him for the size of his family and to call him a "buffoon" or "a sex-obsessed bigot with four wives and 35 children" as the British media have done, on account of his preference for a marital regime that allows for multiple wives, smacks of cultural chauvinism of the worst kind.

None of us is entitled to be as presumptuous as to assume that our ways are the right ways. Polygamy, contested as it is, forms part of a legitimate cultural practice to which Zuma belongs. To say so is not to hide behind cultural relativism or to deny that it is dynamic.

The British and the rest of the world are free to analyse and criticise anyone they wish. In doing this, they should rid themselves of the erroneous assumption that they are still a colonial power whose standards and ways are to be accepted as gospel.

We would have expected that an enlightened people, like the British purport to be, would be aware that Zuma is not there to live up to their expectations.

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