So, Jacob Zuma is acquitted. I won’t say “I told you so”; it should have been obvious to any thinking person for at least the past month that the state’s case was weak, and their only witness unreliable. Willem van der Merwe ruled the same way any other judge would in his position, given the evidence before him. A rape trial is always a binary process: only two people really know what happened, and both of them have to convince the court that the other one is lying. Attacking the credibility of the opposing party is really the only legal strategy you have – at least, that’s what Kemp J Kemp must tell himself to get to sleep at night. (The per-hour fees probably don’t hurt either.) Perhaps, in this case, both parties were telling the truth: the woman genuinely didn’t want to have sex, and Zuma genuinely took her reticence to mean consent. Anything’s possible.
But I’m not going to second-guess the judge. I’m willing to accept that justice was done, the system worked, and Zuma isn’t a rapist. But he’s still a scumbag.
Lest we forget, Zuma put himself in this position. He was a cad. The self-styled head of South Africa’s “moral regeneration movement” took sexual advantage of a psychologically disturbed young woman who, by all accounts, thought of Zuma as a father-figure. During the trial, he enunciated the evil idea that women are “asking for it” in the way they dress; in this case, by wearing a knee-length skirt. Women’s groups are correct to call this a “setback”: in a country which already has one of the highest incidences of rape in the world, the damage Zuma did will take years to undo.
Zuma did even more damage to the nascent struggle against AIDS. For years, AIDS awareness groups have desperately tried to promulgate to a resistant public the message that unprotected sex is a Bad Thing. Into the fray steps Zuma, not only admitting to having unprotected sex with a woman he knew to be HIV-positive, but casually boasting that he wouldn’t have picked up the disease himself because “he is a man”, and infamously admitting that he tried to prevent HIV transmission by “taking a shower” afterwards. How many young South Africans will die of a horrible wasting disease because they accepted Zuma’s belief in masculine AIDS-immunity, or imitated his method of post-coital showering?
Such concerns seem not to bother Zuma at all. He has moved onto other matters, such as – tellingly – his political career. He is a nasty, narcissistic man. This trial may not have proved that Zuma is guilty of rape. But it did prove, beyond any doubt, that Zuma is completely unfit to be president.