Defend Truth


Enough about Zuma’s penis!

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

You know what? I’ve just about had it with the constant caterwauling over Zuma’s penis. Up to here.

We know that, statistically, about 50.24% of the world’s population have penises. Many use their penises as biology and years of nature’s brutal laws intended – which is to spread their seed far and wide. Some photograph and film their exploits and this footage ends up on the internet for the compulsive among us to get off on. There’s even a chap called Pricasso who – you guessed it – paints with his penis. According to a few YouTube videos – feel free to find them for yourself – some chaps are very proud of their weightlifting penises.

Penis fascination is a well-established human tradition. Even so, I cannot for the life of me understand why we’re supposed to have deeply held, passionate opinions about Zuma’s penis. I really don’t. And frankly, I’ve had it.

The latest episode involves a Zapiro cartoon, which drew a guffaw from me (if you’re going to click on the link, take a moment to imagine Zapiro carefully drawing the pubes – now that is attention to detail) in the same way that some Jackass stunts made me laugh. Then I forgot about it.

But we were not to be so lightly spared. The ANC immediately issued a long statement about Zuma’s penis.

“As the ANC, we are taken aback by this so-called cartoon and comment by Zapiro,” the ANC said. “We find it unacceptable and shocking that after the harsh experiences that South Africa, the President and his family has (sic) experienced few weeks ago, that Zapiro and the Mail and Guardian will find it appropriate to continue with the insults and hurt to the President, his family and the broader ANC constituency.”


Okay, let’s dial back a bit. To be perfectly honest, I found the whole Spear episode laughable. At least, I find the political reaction laughable. The only thing that genuinely took me by surprise was the reaction of thousands of people, who helped to legitimise the ANC’s obfuscation and bluster. I added my two cents to the debate by pointing out that apartheid often used the humiliation of public nakedness as a weapon, which is true. But that point does not take away the sheer ridiculousness of an entire political organisation devoting its time and energy to complaining about someone’s penis drawing. What is this, junior school all over again? “Mommy, mommy, he drew my penis!” Give me a sodding break.

The ANC Women’s League also chimed in: “The cartoon is an insult to those who suffered under the indignity of Apartheid and a slap in the face to real efforts for the social cohesion of our fragile society. Shapiro is showing his disregard for the healing process which is currently underway in South Africa after the divisive era before democracy.”

But that’s exactly it, ANCWL. The fragility of this nation is in your heads alone. In another part of the press release, we are called “this great nation”. Really? One which can be brought to a juddering halt by a Zapiro doodle? I wonder who is the one who is insulting our intelligence, Zapiro or you?

Also, ANCWL, are the extremely sexist comments made by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in one of his judgments not deserving of the same outrage? How about the treatment of Zuma’s accuser during the infamous rape trial – did that not disturb the healing process we’re going through after Apartheid rammed down the most outrageous forms of patriarchy and sexism on to the nation? Why must we all focus on Zuma’s penis? Why is this supposed indignity more worthy of your time and attention?

In fact, our national conservatism is nauseating. Did anyone else laugh hysterically when the Films and Publications Board said it would frogmarch down to Rosebank to “have a look” at the painting and decide whether it was suitable for children to look at? And then they had that nonsensical hearing, with lawyers and everything, to try and hold a fig leaf up to a drawn penis? People – it’s a frigging penis. It’s natural. 

Yet, here we are, tittering nervously like prepubescent boys behind the cricket nets with a Victoria’s Secret catalogue. Why are you all so embarrassed by penises? In fact, why does nakedness embarrass you at all? I remember being told, in the middle of The Spear episode, that all this lasciviousness and baring of the self in public was un-African. Since when? Our people never had problems about strutting about with nothing more than the thinnest of cow skins coyly wrapped around the loins. 

To Zapiro: dude, what is your point? Okay, so we know that Zuma is extremely susceptible to penis teasing. Are you going to keep doing this till he bashes your door down and smashes your head in with a knobkerrie in a blind rage? Or will you be satisfied when he’s reduced to a blubbering wreck on the side of the road, running about, flapping endlessly like that Kony2012 guy?

You know what, I don’t respect Zuma’s penis, nor his macabre fear of having it drawn. This is not because I hate or disrespect Zuma, and it is not because I have any particular opinion on his sexual behaviour. I don’t respect Zuma’s penis simply because I don’t care about it. That’s it. End of story. 

To the ANC: we’re not stupid, you know. There’s no rational reason for a serious organisation like yours to lose its cool because of a silly drawing – unless you’re doing it to draw our attention away from something else. And what is the party of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo doing spending its time fighting one man’s war against artists? Has the ANC finally succumbed to the interests of one man? DM


Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted