Rape, scandal and politics: why Kodwa should brace for impact
Trump, Clinton, Zwelinzima Vavi, Pule Mabe … politics seethes with examples of what happens to those caught in a sex scandal
Because of who he is and what he represents, the rape allegation against ANC presidency spokesperson Zizi Kodwa is politically explosive. Nobody seems to know how to navigate the matter.
Until the alleged victim lays a complaint with the police, Kodwa and rival factions in the ANC are caught in a holding pattern.
The ANC has asked Kodwa to “step aside” as spokesperson, but the terms of his suspension are unclear because there is as yet no legal or disciplinary process against him.
The facts in the public domain are vague, and the only information to go on is the content of a letter, purportedly from the woman in question, circulating on social media.
Kodwa has denied the accusations of rape, sexual assault and drugging of two women, saying they are part of a “dirty tricks campaign”.
“I wish to expose and condemn this feeble yet dangerous attempt at political blackmail and manipulation.”
But Kodwa has not said whether he was at the “private party” the woman referred to; neither has he given his version of his interactions with her.
How information emerges and how the authorities handle the case can have a bearing on public sentiment, especially because sexual violence is a priority and highly emotive issue in the country.
In October 2016, Hillary Clinton was confident that she would become the first woman president of the US. The polls gave Clinton a clear lead and even the Trump campaign’s voter data indicated they only had a 15% chance of winning.
On Friday October 28, 12 days before the election, ex-FBI director James Comey informed Congress that his agency had stumbled upon e-mails “pertinent” to the investigation into Clinton’s private e-mail use. The e-mail cache was found through another investigation entirely.
Anthony Weiner, the husband of the vice-chairperson of Clinton’s presidential campaign Huma Abedin, was under investigation for sending sexually explicit material to a 15-year-old girl.
E-mails linked to Clinton's private server were discovered on Weiner’s laptop since Abedin had unwittingly used her husband’s computer to send messages to her boss.
Comey’s letter to Congress was vague but cryptic enough to cause the perfect storm in the most crucial period before the election.
“Although the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work, I believe it is important to update your committees about our efforts in light of my previous testimony,” Comey said.
The Clinton campaign was unable to fight the fire and Donald Trump seized the moment to heighten suspicion and distrust of the Clintons.
“If she were to win this election, it would create an unprecedented constitutional crisis. In that situation, we could very well have a sitting president under felony indictment and ultimately a criminal trial,” Trump told a campaign rally.
Weiner’s disgusting behaviour had nothing to do with Clinton, her campaign or even his wife. But the Trump campaign used the saga to remind voters of Bill Clinton’s abusive behaviour towards women.
Clinton and Abedin bore the consequences as their husbands’ sordid conduct became weaponised. It was, of course, not the only thing that cost them the election, but it was a major factor.
Remarkably, Trump’s support base excused his own abusive and exploitative behaviour, including his boasting on the Access Hollywood tape that he could do anything to women, like “grab ’em by the p***y”.
Wages of ‘original sin’
There is no doubt that Kodwa’s adversaries will use the rape allegation as a weapon against him and the faction loyal to President Cyril Ramaphosa.
It is in the nature of politics to use scandalous information against your opponent. It does not necessarily mean that there was a political motive behind the “original sin”.
Former president Jacob Zuma argues even now that the rape case against him was concocted to defeat him politically. But he had to testify under oath that he willingly had unprotected sex with the daughter of his comrade. He still refuses to take responsibility for this.
When Zwelinzima Vavi was accused of having sex in his office (the accusation was initially rape), his opponents in Cosatu used the scandal effectively to boot him out of the trade union federation.
ANC spokesperson Pule Mabe had to step aside when his personal assistant accused him of sexual harassment. His opponents celebrated the scandal as there were concerns about him using the ANC’s communications channels to promote his faction’s agenda.
If there is any truth to the allegations against Kodwa, or if there is any other dirt on him, he should brace for impact.
Besides being one of the most recognisable faces in the ANC, Kodwa is one of Ramaphosa’s strongest allies.
Since public hearings in the Zondo commission began in August, Kodwa has become a robust voice against state capture, even speaking out against perpetrators within the ANC.
He has changed the ANC’s position from fence sitting to distinctly anti-state capture.
Kodwa was also in the fast lane to a ministerial post in the next government. But SA cannot and should not tolerate a rapist in the cabinet.
Kodwa’s dilemma is that if he is innocent, it is difficult to clear his name for as long as the matter is not handed over to the police.
The political battles in the country are high stakes and dirty. Ramaphosa himself was the target of a smear campaign ahead of the ANC’s national conference at Nasrec, and had to admit to an extramarital affair eight years prior.
Like with Trump and Clinton, people will perceive scandal according to their own bias.
Our country has a high tolerance threshold for sexual deviance, especially involving powerful men, but a line must be drawn when it comes to abuse.
Kodwa can protest that this scandal is used politically against him, but if he created it he will have to bear responsibility and the consequences.