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Bafana Bafana! Radical World Cup

June 11, 2010, 12:22 pm

As those of you who were reading Tenured Radical last fall know, our household (minus the travel-averse Portuguese Water Dog) spent several months living and working in South Africa. Therefore, although work will not be entirely suspended today chez Radical, tasks will be chosen with an eye to their compatibility with World Cup football. I am also wearing my orange National Sea Rescue tee shirt for luck. I haven’t gone mad, however: good wishes aside, Bafana Bafana (which roughly translates from the Zulu as “The Little Guy”) has small hope of beating Mexico today.

Life is not a Matt Damon movie, my friends. And football is not rugby. Thank god.
However, football does offer more options than a Matt Damon movie: if South Africa loses, I will switch hemispheres and root for Brazil, which is easy to do, because I don’t give a rat’s a$$ for the United States team.

In other news, can we please not take this opportunity, in which South Africa gets to show off just a little bit, to caricature South African sexuality? Yes, along with intense poverty, sexual violence is a terrible problem in South Africa, as is AIDS. But frequent assertions in some of our best American newspapers that, because Jacob Zuma has been married five times and currently has three wives, polygamy is legal in South Africa are ill-informed. Polygamy has no legal or civil standing in South Africa. It is a Zulu tradition that powerful men keep more than one wife, and Jacob Zuma is a very well-to-do Zulu who can afford to have as many wives as he likes. Not only does it cost money to maintain each wife and her children in her own household, but one also pays a steep bride price, or lobola, to the woman’s family before a marriage can take place. Zuma has been roundly criticized for his polygamous practices and illegitimate children — five out of twenty have been born outside these marriages — by Christian churchmen (South Africa is 80% Christian), his political opponents, and more cosmopolitan South Africans. But one suspects that Zuma’s public embrace of Zulu identity is part of his popularity: polygamy is a shrinking practice, but not unusual in the areas of the country where the ANC is strongest. Illegitimate births are not particularly stigmatized either, particularly when the father acknowledges and takes financial responsibility for the child, but also because it is not unusual for parents not to wed until they can do so respectably — in other words, when the husband can pay lobola and set up his own household.

Americans might be interested to know that polygamy, although a hidden practice in the United States, is also not entirely illegal (although it can get you excommunicated from mainstream Mormonism), as long as other laws that regulate sexuality and the family are not broken. Prosecutions tend to occur only if the multiple “marriages” (which have no legal standing beyond an initial marriage, and almost always occur within a religious community) involve breaking other laws against incest, statutory rape, or welfare fraud; or violate the tax code.
What South Africans tend to be more concerned about are accusations of rape filed against the President in 2005, which were officially dismissed, but tarnished Zuma’s reputation; and his numerous illegitimate children which, in a country where AIDS is a critical policy issue and condom use is officially promoted, sets a bad example to say the least. But these things pale in comparison to other problems; corruption, housing, unemployment, the collapse of public services, deficiencies in education and the yawning gap between rich and poor.
If you have suddenly become interested in South Africa (and I hope you have), Karen Tani has provided a good reading list at Legal History Blog. Might I also suggest Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom? In addition to being a memoir of one of the most important activists of our time, it is an excellent short course on the political history of modern South Africa. You will also learn a few things you need to know about Zulu culture and tradition, so as not to speak about the ruling clique in the ANC with utter and complete ignorance. For a call to arms issued by young intellectuals in the new South Africa, I recommend Leslie Dikeni and William Gumedi, eds., The Poverty of Ideas: South African Democracy and the Retreat of the Intellectuals (Jacana Media, 2010).

You might also want to start following three South African bloggers, two of whom are currently in my sidebar. Afrodissident targets reactionaries, demagogues and corrupt public figures of all kinds, particularly those (like Julius Malema, head of the ANC Youth League) who pose as radicals. Khayelitsha Struggles is written by activists from inside the vast township on the Cape Flats that stretches from the Capetown airport down to False Bay; the most recent post announces a “township” of tin shacks that will be built outside the multi-million dollar Greenpoint stadium to protest dollars that were diverted from housing for, and extending utilities to, the poor. Constitutionally Speaking examines political and social issues in South Africa from the perspective of constitutional law. Although today he admits being temporarily uncritical due to being caught up in the excitement, go here for blogger Pierre de Vos’s “World Cup Guide To South Africa.”

Ayoba!
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