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“Being single is not right” and “kids are important to a woman because they actually give extra training to a woman, to be a mother”.
The comments made by President Jacob Zuma in a People of the South interview with Dali Tambo on Sunday, have been slammed by gender rights activists and social media users.
Zuma had been asked whether he was happy about his daughter Duduzile getting married.
Zuma told Tambo: “I was happy because I wouldn’t want to stay with daughters who are not getting married. Because that in itself is a problem in society. People today think being single is nice. It’s actually not right. That’s a distortion. You’ve got to have kids. Kids are important to a woman because they give extra training to a woman, to be a mother.”
Twitter and Facebook were flooded with shocked comments, saying Zuma was |condemning single, childless women.
Colleen Lowe Morna, chief executive officer of the NGO Genderlinks, said Zuma was equating womanhood with motherhood.
“You can deduce that he is saying all women should have children. This is problematic. Not all women choose to get married and have children, they choose to have careers. Being a woman means a lot more than being a mother. If a man does not have children or does not care for his children, would Zuma say he’s less of a man?”
Morna said Zuma’s patriarchal attitude to women was not new. “We have a progressive constitution, but a president who does not embody those values. He is the chief patriarch and, in his view, every woman has to be a mother.”
Another gender activist, Lisa Vetten, told the Mail & Guardian Online that Zuma’s comments about single women were worrying. “From our experience counselling women, women feel pressure to get into a relationship and stay in it no matter how abusive, unsatisfying and unfulfilling it may be, because they are well aware of the social stigma attached to those who are single.”
Dozens of people commenting on social media networks were also shocked.
A Twitter user, Feminist in SA, said, “Patriarchal gender norms are bad for men and women. Wish President Zuma would step up and transform them.”
Television and radio presenter Bonang Matheba tweeted, “My President says we MUST get married and make children. It is GOOD training… Lol! I can’t.”
Facebook users said Zuma was out of order and trying to defend his polygamist behaviour. One of them, Lelo Ke Nna, posted, “President Zuma says it’s good for women to have kids because ‘it gives them training’. No(sic) I understand why he gives so many women kids, he’s training them.”
This is not the first time Zuma’s comments have landed him in hot water. Last year, he was criticised by religious organisations after he equated voting for the ANC with going to heaven and voting for another party with going to hell.
In 2006, he was criticised by gay and lesbian groups after he said same-sex marriage was “a disgrace to the nation and to God”. He later apologised.
His spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said Zuma had been speaking in the context of “the need to build cohesive communities and families. He believes strengthening the family is important to enable the building of stronger communities to deal with the many social ills facing society today”.