afrol News, 4 June - South Africa is an exception in Africa. Nowhere else could the national press dig into sex affairs of its President and his family. But reports of the President's wife having an affair spur a discussion of media ethics.
The Durban-based local newspaper 'Ilanga' has been discovered by South Africans all over the country over its controversial diving into the sex affairs of the presidential family.
'Ilinga' editor Eric Ndiyane defends his newspaper's right to expose private information about President Jacob Zuma and his family. Editors had received an anonymous letter, revealing that President Zuma's second wife Nompumelelo Ntuli was unfaithful and could even be carrying her bodyguard's child.
Mr Ndiyane says that his journalists had made investigations into the allegations, finding further sources that could verify the alleged sex affair. And the editor promises "there is more to come" as journalists had found out more details regarding the alleged affair.
President Zuma, who received the breaking news while on a state visit in India, reacted angrily and "with great concern" to 'Ilinga' reports. "The reports appear to be part of an ongoing and malicious campaign to undermine the right of the President and his family to privacy and dignity," the President said in a statement made in India.
Apparently, the alleged sex affair was too embarrassing not to react to, even while on an official state visit. The response given to the controversy nevertheless was somewhat contradicting: "President Zuma continues to be seized with matters of state and will not be diverted from his duties. He will not dignify such gossip with a response," the presidency responded.
Earlier, a statement issued by a family spokesman said that the anonymous letter alleging the affair of Mr Zuma's wife did not come from any family member. "The President's family is united in distancing itself from these malicious reports about the First Lady Mama MaNtuli," said spokesman Khulubuse Zuma.
President Zuma's private affairs earlier have been given wide media coverage in South Africa, where sex issues are quickly disappearing from the press' taboo list. But earlier affairs, though equally embarrassing, had been issues with political implications, thus legitimising their reporting.
Mr Zuma, before becoming President, was taken to court by a women claiming to have been raped by him. The South African press reported very detailed from the court case, including on Mr Zuma's controversial statement that he had taken a shower after having sex as a precaution against AIDS. Mr Zuma in 2006 was found not guilty of rape, although details from the court case personally convinced many South Africans of his guilt. The later President also stood out as a male chauvinist during the case.
The South African leader has repeatedly hit national and international headlines over his many marriages. Mr Zuma is a polygamist, has been married five times of which three are still married to him, and officially has 20 children. He last married in January this year, raising questions about who would now be South Africa's official First Lady.
But the South African press increasingly has dug into private affairs of President Zuma that do not have political implications. In January, the 'The Sunday Times' revealed that Mr Zuma had become father to a "love child" in October 2009 following an extramarital affair. Mr Zuma recognised that the child was his.
But the "love child" affair caused controversy within the ruling ANC party, with the pro-Zuma wing advocating his "right to privacy", while the ANC Women's League emphasised "it is not right to have an extramarital affair if you have committed to yourself to a marriage." Again, the President's unsafe sex practices were described as a bad example for South Africa, which still struggles with an AIDS epidemic.
This week's reporting over the alleged extramarital affair of Mr Zuma's second wife however breaks new ground in South Africa's media landscape. National newspapers so far are divided in their reactions, some making big reference to the allegations reported in 'Ilinga' while many other totally ignore the reports.
The presidency, claiming the reports are "undermining" Mr Zuma, wants South African journalists and media to start a new discussion on press ethics and where the line for privacy should be drawn. So far, media organisations have been silent on the issue. But while a debate is bound to come, it is not sure South African politicians will earn more privacy from it.
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