Zuma sent out wrong message by declaring his HIV status

AT TIMES we do good things for bad reasons. Other times we do bad things for good reasons. President Jacob Zuma's declaration of his HIV status a few days ago was, at best, ill-advised.

AT TIMES we do good things for bad reasons. Other times we do bad things for good reasons. President Jacob Zuma's declaration of his HIV status a few days ago was, at best, ill-advised.

He should not have gone so far as to tell the whole world that he was HIV negative.

By declaring his status, Zuma has taken the focus away from the very important government programme that he was launching at Natalspruit Hospital and made himself the main story.

For any other president, the declaration would have been welcomed. Take US President Barack Obama for example.

While he was Illinois senator he took an HIV test with his wife Michelle during a visit to Kenya. The message from Obama was loud and clear: he was a married man, faithful to his wife, and he was not afraid to take a test with her.

One wonders what the message from Zuma was. Cynics might see his declaration as a retort to the humiliation he suffered after his rape trial and after his admission that he had had unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman and later took a shower to minimise his chances of contracting the virus. One cartoonist still continues to amuse himself and a few other people by drawing Zuma with a showerhead fixed to or suspended over his head.

I believe Zuma is so serious about the HIV-Aids campaign and committed to it that he wanted to lead from the front.

Perhaps he also felt that he had done some damage to the campaign and was over-compensating for related indiscretions.

In a country with such low literacy rates, where until very recently there was evidence of some people believing that having sex with a virgin could cure one of the disease, Zuma might well have given some ignorant people a message that taking a shower after exposure to the HI-virus does in fact minimise one's chances of contracting the virus, if not completely preventing transmission.

They would point to the president who was - four times in a row - found to be HIV negative.

On the talk show of a Johannesburg radio station a listener suggested that the Natalspruit event was a public relations stunt by Zuma to "clear himself" of suspicions of being HIV positive.

This prompted the host to suggest that it would be scandalous if Zuma had used state resources to settle issues around his reputation.

One wonders if the president was at all advised about his intentions, or whether he ignored wise counsel.

By declaring his status, Zuma also invited the public into his private life - which we sometimes invade unfairly.

Not long ago there was controversy after revelations that he had fathered a baby with Sonono Khoza, the daughter of his friend, Orlando Pirates boss Irvin Khoza.

Criticism, which was at times unfair, was levelled at him for having once again engaged in unprotected sex with a woman who was not his wife.

I say the criticism was at times unfair because at all material times Zuma had made it clear that, unlike many of us South African men, he was open about his polygamist tendencies.

It should therefore have been expected that when a polygamist wanted to take more wives he would date other women.

Zuma should have stuck to the government message of abstinence, being faithful and condomising.

He should also have followed his health minister's lead by getting tested and not declaring the results.

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