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South African President Under Pressure for Personal Misconduct

Printer Friendly VersionPrinter Friendly VersionSend to a FriendSend to a FriendChurches and opposition leaders in South Africa are criticizing President Jacob Zuma's leadership after he admitted to fathering a child out of wedlock. The criticism follows Mr. Zuma's state of the nation speech which appeared to be overshadowed by the scandal. The Anglican church of South Africa Friday criticized what it called President Jacob Zuma's misconduct. The church said in a statement that his actions highlighted the way in which women in society face exploitation and abuse. TheSouthern Africa Catholic Bishops Conference earlier said the president was setting a poor example and was damaging the fight against HIV/AIDS in a country with the one of the highest infection rates in the world. Mr. Zuma earlier this week issued a statement apologizing for fathering a child out of wedlock with a 39-year-old divorcee. He asked for respect for his private life saying his actions are part of his traditional culture which allows polygamy (multiple wives). The 67-year-old Mr. Zuma married his third wife last month and is reported to be engaged to be married to a fourth. South African law allows polygamy. Many South Africans say they do not object to the president having several wives but that fathering children out of wedlock is not respectful in their culture. And they say such behavior from a national leader sets a poor example when the government is encouraging citizens to use condoms and avoid multiple sexual partners as part the struggle against HIV. The scandal overshadowed the president's traditional state-of-the-nation address before parliament Thursday night. It was delivered on the 20th anniversary of the release from prison of former-president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, affectionately known as Madiba. "As we celebrate Madiba's release, let us recommit ourselves to building a better future for all South Africans, black and white," said Jacob Zuma. "Let us pursue the ideal for which Madiba has fought his entire life, the ideal of a democratic and free society, in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities." Mr. Zuma did not mention the scandal in his hour-long speech. But the head of the opposition Inkatha Freedom Party, Mangosuthu Buthelezi noted on national television that the president drew murmurs from the assembly when he mentioned the fight against HIV. "I was a bit distressed when people actually ridiculed him [Jacob Zuma] when he tried to address the issue of HIV and AIDS," said Mangosuthu Buthelezi. "From our benches as opposition, you could see that there was no credibility, like the recent events have damaged his credibility." The hour-long address received polite applause but did not meet with the enthusiasm of Mr. Zuma's first state-of-the-nation address following his inauguration last year. In his speech, Mr. Zuma noted that the worldwide economic recession had hurt the South African economy but he predicted a recovery this year. He pledged to promote more vigor and efficiency in government and said he would crack down on corruption. Opposition leaders, like Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, called the speech uninspiring. "I thought it was very vague and very disappointing," said  Helen Zille. "There were again a lot of assertions, a lot of statements, a lot of commitments but nothing of the how, none of the concrete detail as to how we are going to change this complete delivery failure." The opposition said the Zuma government had done little to implement its goals in its 10 months in power. Leaders of Mr. Zuma's African National Congress said the speech was meant to lay out the goals of the government and that specific actions would be forthcoming from the relevant ministries.