Mixed messages from HIV-negative Zuma
So... Jacob Zuma is HIV-negative. His very public declaration has prompted a range of responses here in South Africa.
- Many people seem genuinely pleased that Mr Zuma, whose private life usually makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons, is leading by example and helping to fight the stigma of Aids. It is striking how much that stigma endures here given that the disease reportedly kills 1,000 people a day.
- But would he have gone public if his test result had been positive? Isn't this just a stunt to try to repair some of the damage done by his irresponsible sexual behaviour. In terms of breaking stigmas, his announcement certainly doesn't compare with Nelson Mandela's admission, back in 2005, that his eldest son had died of Aids.
- Mr Zuma has a reputation as a womanizer, and famously told a judge at his rape trial in 2006 that he showered after having sex with an HIV-positive woman instead of using a condom. He's had four tests that he says were all negative for HIV. What message does that really send to young men here? That Zuma is very lucky, or that the risks of unprotected sex aren't that big.
- At least he's open about things, unlike his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. The National Union of Metal Workers put it rather neatly: "This public disclosure by President Zuma buries the denialism, aloofness, poetic and bookish approach to the HIV/Aids pandemic associated with the presidency during the 10-year tenure of President Thabo Mbeki." Let's just hope he keeps pushing the message about the importance of testing, and backs up that message with sufficient funding.
I suspect that the first and last conclusions could be the dominant ones here in South Africa.
Mr Zuma may be flawed, and his private and public lives clearly send out mixed messages, but on certain issues he has a little of the Bill Clinton about him in his ability to admit faults and ask the public to keep the faith.