Sunday, April 17, 2011

Barack Obama: America's Savior or Judas Goat?

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President Obama and members of his administration observe the U.S. attack on Osama bin Laden's compound (AP)

The May 1, 2011 assassination of Osama Bin Laden has conferred new prestige to Barack Obama's presidency and of course, his poll numbers are bound to go up. His ‘gutsy” decision and the success of the Navy SEALs operation has become a history-making moment defining his presidential legacy, much to the chagrin of his Republican detractors and right-wing pundits. It’s quite interesting that the covert action has taken place within a week of the President releasing his "long form" birth certificate, as the wild cacophony of the “birthers” and Donald Trump the “carnival barker” became an increasingly absurd distraction. Many of Obama’s supporters felt the birth certificate decision was needless capitulation to crazy conspiracy theorists who will never accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama simply because he is African-American. The cloud of fabricated propaganda and distortion was so extreme that even CBS Face the Nation host Bob Schiefer stated that there was an“an ugly strain of racism” underlying Trump's courting of the birther movement.

Many Americans seem unable to move beyond seeing Barack Obama through a compulsive reactive filter of race. Rush Limbaugh may not be a birther, but he can’t bring himself to give Barack Obama any credit for his leadership or any role he played in bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice. The bold decision to target Bin Laden inside Pakistan is certainly confounding birthers, as they will be forced to spin more elaborate conspiratorial delusions to ease their own cognitive dissonance. Their (temporary) silence is deafening right now. On the other hand, many of Obama’s supporters on the left are confounded by their own perception of Barack Obama as a symbol of change. They feel deeply betrayed on progressive causes like a public option or single-payer national health plan, extensions of the Bush tax cuts, gun control, environmental regulation, expansion of the war in Afghanistan and many other issues. (To be fair, Obama expounded his views on Afghanistan during the 2008 campaign, but current critics probably didn't listen carefully enough to his speeches.) It seems on both sides of the divide, Obama has become an enigma, as identity politics obfuscates the realities of a human personality attempting to navigate powerful special interests that inevitably weigh on the office of the President and his administration.


Barack Obama: America's Savior or Judas Goat?


Judas Goat: noun 1) A goat that is trained to lead other animals to being slaughtered, to the point where the Judas goat is allowed to pass safely

Since his historic inauguration on January 20, 2009, I’ve observed Barack Obama’s presidency with a perceptive analysis that has almost felt like unveiling a mysterious prophecy. Two years into his term, Barack Obama’s public persona, gravitas and his poll ratings look vastly different than what most of us might have expected from the exultant optimism surrounding his election. With tremendous criticism and disillusionment from liberal and progressive supporters and a mid-term election “shellacking” by Republicans and the Tea Party movement, Obama seems to be operating from an obscure no-man’s land where no one seems to know or recognize the charismatic leader who made so many grand promises in the name of hope.

In 2008 my friend Andrew P. Jones published his brilliant book, Barack Obama: America’s Savior or Judas Goat: The Diary of a Mad Black Voter. He wrote the book while living as an expatriate in South Africa, keenly observing the elections and being fascinated by the prospect of America electing its first Black President. While the concept may have seemed unlikely in 2005, Obama’s 2008 campaign awakened many people to the idea that the United States is changing and perhaps entering into a new “post-racial” era. Indeed, the inauguration itself was a mass event that the vast majority of Americans openly celebrated as a historic transformation. But Andrew’s book was written as something of a warning to Americans to not confuse Barack Obama as a symbol of racial achievement with the actual constraints of Barack Obama as a human being contending with overwhelming forces beyond his control. Barack Obama the man could end up inadvertently compromising and selling out key aspects of his own progressive agenda, because in the euphoria of electing a Black President his followers could be caught unaware of the dangerous pitfalls of politics and pragmatic policy decisions.

In 2011, the question of whether Barack Obama is really “America’s Savior or Judas Goat” is more prescient than ever. So many people, liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, feel deeply betrayed by Obama on many issues. From health care and a public option to gun control, the environment and energy, Obama has disappointed vast numbers of his supporters and abdicated many of his campaign promises. It seems that Americans – and perhaps African Americans in particular – are gradually awakening to dealing with Obama apart from being a symbol of change, but as a real politician, with personal weaknesses and actions that belie his lofty rhetoric. During the 2008 campaign, Andrew Jones was trying to get Americans to ask these very questions, even before that extraordinary historical inauguration day. He was encouraging everyone to be a mad Black voter - to pressure their elected representatives and to demand the changes they seek.

A remarkably far-sighted thinker, Andrew sought to stimulate a broad-based discussion with his ideas, so he sent copies of his book to a wide range of people on all sides of the political spectrum, including John McCain, Rush Limbaugh, Jesse Jackson, Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and of course, Barack Obama. He didn’t really have an agenda; he simply wanted to cut through illusory public perceptions and elevate the dialogue around the potential and meaning of an Obama Presidency.

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Barack Obama: America's Savior or Judas Goat
Diary of a Mad Black Voter

Andrew P. Jones © 2008. Black Earth Press, Johannesburg.


Andrew was a brilliant journalist and television producer, a truly insightful, talented and intelligent man. But the world has lost a great light, as sadly, Andrew committed suicide on October 20, 2010. I believe something has died in all of us who knew Andrew, and something deep and profound in our humanity. Andrew is not with us to help raise the right questions as we confront the paradoxes of Obama’s presidency and the challenges of a world reeling from oil spills, nuclear contamination, economic uncertainties and revolutionary conflicts.

I cannot explain in words what my extraordinary friend Andrew meant to me. Shortly after I first met him, Andrew scooped the South African media and international press agencies with an interview with Dr. Wouter Basson, detailing the CIA’s involvement with South Africa's apartheid chemical and biological warfare atrocities. Beyond his serious political views, Andrew was bright, funny and warm, a great pleasure to be with. He was a virtuoso violinist who played heavenly music daily for the pure joy of his art, and it was oddly beautiful to see a Black man so thoroughly entranced in the classical genre. On certain beautiful, clear sunny days Andrew would take me on short flights around Johannesburg, as he was thrilled to share his skill as an aviator after earning his pilot’s license. His son Cochise and my son Morris were the same age and played together and became childhood buddies. Andrew's wife Kubeshni was a very kind friend who worked together with me in designing media promotional material for the South African Gender Commission. Andrew and I worked on scripts and treatments for SABC (South Africa's main public broadcaster) and we spent hours in his home editing suite or at the Congress of South African Trade Union's (COSATU) media department. I knew Andrew for more than 10 years and I often sought his advice about virtually all of the personal challenges, achievements and setbacks I experienced.

In honor of Andrew, I would simply ask that people continue to confront the questions and paradoxes of Obama’s presidency, as these questions really represent are our own American paradoxes, our own dilemma in this rapidly transforming world. Our leaders are an extension our active involvement with government, and the voices of democracy are precious, whether in America or the Middle East or Tibet or Cote d’Ivoire or Zimbabwe. If a movement toward more critical, grass roots participation in politics were to manifest in 2012 and coming elections, I know my friend would be smiling, as if his cautionary message was received and understood. I would also ask that we open our hearts and extend loving compassion to everyone who may cross our life path, because we never know what someone may be struggling with, or what difference we personally can make.
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Shocking and tragic end to activists' incredible life

by Brian Wright O’Connor

Andrew Philemon Jones didn’t just play the violin, he made it sing. Horsehair bow flying over the strings, resin rising like smoke, he’d walk around the room, coaxing notes and chords from the fragile shell that came at you in a wall of sound.

Throughout the performance, his eyes would peer out over the lacquered wood, gauging the effect of his solo symphony as his digits ran up and down the fingerboard. A wry smile completed the picture of Andrew in his glory, provoking with music before setting down his beloved violin to provoke you with ideas.

In all the years I knew Andrew, he was a gentle soul – angry at injustice towards humanity but possessing a great love towards humans. News of the manner of his death in South Africa came as a shock. In late October, after an argument with his estranged wife – the mother of their three young sons – Andrew left their office, returned with a handgun, and fired one bullet. The shot went through her shoulder. He pulled the trigger a second time. The gun jammed. Andrew killed himself after she fled from the room. He was 58 years old.

Andrew had battled demons but demons could hardly explain or condone such a violent end.

Friends and family who attended his funeral in Johannesburg, the city where Andrew had started a new life after leaving Boston in 1995, were similarly shocked. His wife, Kubeshni Govender Jones, was sufficiently recovered to attend the services, as were their boys – Cochise, Sicelo, and Ayanda.

Many Bostonians may remember Andrew as the driving force behind the Greater Roxbury Incorporation Project (GRIP) – the movement for the secession of Boston’s African American neighborhoods into a new municipality. The 1986 referendum campaign attracted national attention and embarrassed the Flynn administration, which mounted an aggressive campaign to defeat a ballot question seen as a vote on the quality of City Hall’s governance of Boston’s black community.

The idea for black self-governance was not a rebuke, however, to the South Boston-born mayor who made racial reconciliation a theme of his administration. It came to Andrew during a stint as an ABC News field producer covering a town hall meeting in Vermont, where the notion of self-determination, deeply stamped into the character and landscape of rural New England, struck in Andrew a resonant chord.
It just seemed to Andrew like the right thing to do. “The right of a people to self-determination cannot be denied,” he often said. “It’s as American as apple pie.”

Working with urban planner Curtis Jones, Andrew launched the campaign in 1985. By the following year, the pair had come up with the name “Mandela” for the municipality in honor of the imprisoned South African leader.

Faced with the hope of self-rule on one hand and predicted financial disaster on the other, voters rejected the question by a 3-1 margin in the midst of national news coverage of the bid for black self-determination.

Andrew was “crushed” by the loss but acknowledged that GRIP should have been hatched at kitchen tables in Roxbury rather than over linen table cloths at the Harvard Faculty Club. Joyce Ferriabough, who ran the opposition campaign, respected Andrew’s passion but questioned his judgment. After hearing Andrew grumbling about Flynn’s “plantation politics,” Joyce confronted him.

“How do you want your ass-kicking?” she asked. “Over easy or well done?”

Andrew just laughed. “You had to hand it to him,” said Joyce. “He had a sense of humor.”

Andrew had first come to New England as a child of the segregated Creighton Court projects in Richmond, Va. – a violin prodigy plucked from the banks of the James River and sent by the program A Better Chance to the elite Phillips Exeter Academy, where he was a varsity football player and wrestler and played in the school orchestra.

Andrew loved competition. He thrived on full contact – physical and political. In music, it probably explained his love of Beethoven, the sweeping contrasts and plunging moods of a score in constant struggle.

After graduating from Exeter in 1970, he studied at the New England Conservatory of Music, but concert halls and recording studios couldn’t contain his searching mind and restless spirit. He got a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University in 1982 and set out to use the media to change the world. Or, as a more seasoned Andrew put it later, “I switched from one form of entertainment to another.”

The inevitable clash occurred when ABC sent an executive to the network’s Prudential Tower suite to advise bureau employees, who had long complained about strange fibers in the office air, not to talk to the press about asbestos dust falling from the ceiling. Andrew laughed at the man in the suit and denounced the network in public.

The end of Andrew’s network producing career gave rise to a successful run as an agent provocateur seeding intellectual sedition through documentary films. In segments for public television stations around the country, including many first aired on Boston’s WGBH-TV, Andrew told the story of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, captured the growing pains of Russia in the first gasps of post-Soviet life, and conducted pioneering interviews with the reclusive leaders of North Korea.

He broadcast reports from Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Jordan, Malawi, Angola, Mozambique, Brazil, Mexico and Zimbabwe. He picked up a New England Regional Emmy and scores of film awards along the way. His segments aired on NBC, Black Entertainment Television, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the PBS Network and Russia’s TASS News Agency.

When leaving Russia after his last trip to Moscow, security stopped him at the airport gate, suspecting that the black American with the Homey the Clown haircut had illicitly obtained the expensive, 19th century violin in his possession. A burly guard came to escort him to a private room for questioning.

Andrew held up his hand. “Now wait a minute, fellas,” he said. “Just give me a chance.” Andrew removed the instrument from its battered case and tightened up the bow. Cascading notes from Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major spilled from the strings. Andrew smiled his smile. A crowd of spectators, drawn by the bravura performance, applauded. The apparatchiks shook his hand and let him board.

In all his travels, Andrew did not just report history, he participated in it as an unabashed advocate, unafraid to show his political stripes. Hours before filming the first salvo of bombs falling on Baghdad during the first Gulf War in 1991, he was playing violin as a guest musician with Iraq’s national orchestra.

In 1989, Andrew interviewed members of Manual Noriega’s government hours before Special Forces troops assaulted the Panama leader’s barracks headquarters. Leaving Panama City with his precious video, he came upon American soldiers engaged in a firefight and barely escaped strafing machine-gun bullets when they turned their weapons on his approaching vehicle.

In 1995, Andrew left behind his U.S. producing career and a teaching post at Northeastern to move to South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s homeland and a society busy re-inventing itself.

He was one of the first black men to earn a pilot’s license in the republic. On the media front, he turned his critical eye to the faltering promises of the ANC government, which brought political but not economic empowerment to the masses of poor blacks still living in townships. He produced programs for South African television and in the course of his work met Kubeshni Govender, a talented media professional who helped launch their own company, Black Earth Communications.

After marrying and starting a family, Andrew and Kubeshni ran a successful media and production business, interrupted at times by Andrew’s focus on a crusade to protect “reproductive choices for men.” His “Fathers Bill of Rights” campaign grew out of his own bitter experience as a father forced to pay child support for a daughter born in the 1980s whom the mother and the courts would not allow him to see.

Andrew’s decision to force the issue in a 2003 Massachusetts Probate Court appearance led to a 40-day sentence at the Suffolk County House of Corrections for refusing to pay arrearages. Typical of Andrew, jail-time proved to be more educational than punitive, opening up his eyes to the reality of the prison-industrial complex and the sometimes whimsical power of the law.

In the dedication to his provocative 2009 book, “Diary of a Mad Black Voter,” Andrew offered special thanks to the judge and prosecutor who put him behind bars “and ignored everything I had to say about freedom of choice, justice, liberty, father’s rights, the illness of my sons, the safety of my family, and dignity. For had you not done so I would have been cheated out of the most special 40 days and nights of my life.”

The book, a searing examination of the Barack Obama candidacy as either a redemptive opportunity for black America or a cruel illusion, was based in part on his perceptions of the ANC’s failure to bring real change to the struggling poor of South Africa. In writing the book, Andrew thought back to his cameo role playing boxing promoter Don King’s aide in the movie “Ali.”

Zelig-like, Andrew was in Maputo, Mozambique, at the time of the 2001 filming and found himself in front of the cameras.

“One night, Michael Mann the director decided to replace 30,000 black Mozambicans, who were supposed to be spectators watching the ‘Rumble in the Jungle,’ with cardboard cutouts flown in from Hollywood,” wrote Andrew.

“My thought was ‘This is deep.’ All these people replaced just like that by cardboard figurines that actually looked better than the people did in the final movie. So that’s when it hit me that all of us regular people – black, white, yellow, whatever – walk a tightrope between what is real and what isn’t in our media-drive society. And at any time ‘mediarchical’ forces can replace any of us with cardboard cutouts.”

Andrew struggled against forces most people took for granted. He questioned everything.

Reflecting on Andrew’s life, Kubeshni recalled her husband’s belief in “Gaia,” the concept of Earth as a living organism on which mankind has become a threatening rather than benign and integrated presence. “Despite his reverence of Gaia – the living spirit of the planet – he came to believe that his way in life was to fight for everything all the time,” she wrote.

“In adopting this stance, he missed out on the blessings that were his from the start. I pray that our boys are always able to pause and still their emotional beings long enough to hear the tone of the universe, to realize the sound of peace and love that we are born with despite the trials that life will bring us.”

The last major work of Andrew’s long career as a political and media gadfly was a feature film completed just weeks before his death. The final scene was shot in the same cemetery where his body was cremated.

The film left Andrew frustrated because he had no luck finding a distributor willing to release it.

That failure came after he had come close to fulfilling a long-held dream of media self-determination. Black Earth Communications had won a valuable satellite TV license from the Botswana Telecommunications Authority to launch Black Entertainment Satellite Television.

But financing troubles scuttled the effort. “Andrew,” said a friend, “was a visionary but not a businessman.”

Meanwhile, Andrew’s marriage had faltered.

Darkness closed in. The end came after Andrew penned a final message.

“The illusion of death is that it’s final,” he wrote. “It isn’t. There is life after death. Life’s greatest illusion is that the conscious mind resides inside the body. It doesn’t. The truth is that we are avatars.”

If so, then Andrew is still playing that violin, sawing out notes for heavenly hosts, mortals, and avatars alike, his eyes peering across the strings, provoking, searching, and ever restless.

Brian Wright O'Connor's article was reprinted in its entirety from the Bay State Banner .

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Polygamy, a President and a Crisis of Sexual Relations

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South African President Jacob Zuma

I like South African President Jacob Zuma far better than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. At least Zuma doesn’t question the basic link between HIV and AIDS and he seems to show some rhetorical interest in addressing the massive poverty and inequality that plagues South Africa. I’m definitely not trying to deal with South African politics here; in my mind the public life of Zuma and his four wives brings to light a more fundamental issue about the nature of polygamy and its impact on Africa and the Diaspora. Polygamy is intriguingly real and very complicated in Africa, and perhaps Zuma's dilemma raises important questions about the nature of certain polygamous behaviors and their implications, even for African Americans.


Polygamy, a President and a Crisis of Sexual Relations


One of the most bizarre stories to unfold in 2010 was virtually unknown in America and has barely been noticed by the Western media in general. South African president Jacob Zuma – who is married to four women – created plenty of controversy in his country when it was discovered that he fathered a “love child” outside the circle of his official wives. In the Motherland – where polygamy is openly practiced as a part of traditional African culture – the love child infidelity might not be considered unusual. However, the woman's father, wealthy businessman and soccer entrepreneur Irvin Khoza was a family friend and was said to be livid when he heard the news. The friendship has apparently never quite recovered from this betrayal, and the act seemed especially egregious considering that the 67 year old Zuma had just barely escaped conviction after being put on trial for allegedly raping another young female “family friend.” The rape trial – which occurred in the period leading up to Zuma’s presidential inauguration – cast more aspersions on Zuma’s character when Zuma acknowledged that he knew the girl was HIV-positive and had unprotected sex with her anyway. Zuma told the court that he took a shower after the act, believing that it would keep him from contracting the HIV virus, forever sealing his image as a complete fool in the eyes of many South Africans.

Of course, to an American or a European accustomed to Western style democratic elections and intense public scrutiny, the Zuma saga would seem unfathomable. Even with the common acceptance of the diverse cultural and sociological influences that meld into modern South African society, many South Africans themselves – regardless of racial or ethnic background – find Zuma’s presidency somewhat surreal. Beyond his sexual dalliances – in a country that has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, where nearly 1 in every 5 people are HIV positive – Zuma brought even more personal baggage to the presidency. Zuma’s financial advisor, Schabir Shaik, was convicted of having a “generally corrupt” relationship with Zuma, paying for Zuma’s residences and extravagant lifestyle in exchange for being awarded large government contracts and preferential treatment for his business interests. While Shaik was sentenced to 15 years, Zuma was charged separately and claimed that he looked forward to having his day in court to vindicate his name. But Zuma evaded a trial when a lower court ruled that his predecessor and political foe, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, tried to influence the prosecution of Zuma for his own purposes.
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In a country where the vast majority of the population is African and poor, Zuma has a populist appeal as a leader who has risen to presidential power from humble beginnings in rural Zululand. Zuma has definitely demonstrated skill as a coalition builder and diplomat working on some of the most challenging issues in Africa, including the regional conflict in the Congo, which engulfed 7 nations and led to 6 million deaths and unspeakable atrocities. But Zuma’s rise as a politician is complicated by the fact that his personal actions inevitably lead to serious questions about his judgment and intelligence, regardless of the fact that he managed to secure the highest office in South Africa.

Outside of South Africa, the extraordinary dynamics and questions surrounding Zuma’s presidency are rarely discussed, After all, they are not mentioned AC 360 or Larry King Live, and hence for insular Americans, the news barely raises an eyebrow, especially considering the obscurities of South Africa itself. But inside South Africa polygamy is known and practiced – in overt and covert ways – and is discussed and debated in various public forums, in talk radio and other media, especially among Black and African populations. I can remember a particularly fascinating radio show, where one of the female callers spoke emphatically about wanting to be the second wife, because the second wife has the benefits of the first wife without many of the same constraints. She argued that the second wife has more freedom, has to do less work and has to put up with less irritation from the husband’s idiosyncrasies. The telephone dialogue was sincere, animated and fascinating, and I could not believe my ears that a woman was actually saying that she preferred to be a “second” wife! But then again, this is perhaps why some women in the United States or in other Western societies might enjoy having an affair with a married man; they might like the companionship and sex, yet still maintaining a certain distance, freedom and independence.

At a party in Johannesburg, I was once approached by a very beautiful and intelligent South African woman who had earned her Master’s Degree in the States. This sophisticated, professional sister told me that even with her experience in the America, she believed very strongly that there were many things about African traditional culture that were superior to Western society. And this included the idea that a man should have his freedom to be with several women. “There should be one rooster and many hens,” she said.

Another woman I knew told me flat out that she did not believe in traditional monogamy. She thought that polygamy, the way it was practiced by her ethnic group, Zulus, was more functional, if the women knew each other and had an understanding about their relationship with the same man. When I talked about this with an African American friend of mine who had lived in Southern Africa for many years, he just grinned and said, “Yea, those Zulu women – they sure know how to share a man!” And when I broached the subject with a Sotho friend of mine he told me of a traditional Sotho saying that “A man is an axe and he must be shared.”

There are many aspects of African traditional culture that are profound and offer a much-needed balance and wisdom to dominant Western culture. A sense of community, unity and interrelatedness, respect for elders, sharing, gentleness, harmony and peace are African values that at times seem wholly absent from European cultures. African cultures have never demonstrated the aggressiveness and acquisitiveness of Europeans and some people might make the argument that these very qualities allowed Europeans to colonize the parts of Africa where they had significant contact. The differences are palpable, and perhaps hard to fathom without some direct experience in such divergent cultures. Many people who have traveled to or lived in Africa – regardless of their racial background – speak of the love, kindness and humanity of Africa, the consideration children show for elders, and how people treat each other as if they were all part of one family. It is hard to doubt that we would have a more balanced global society if America, Europe and the Western world could manifest some of these positive expressions of African culture.

The Jacob Zuma saga may be an extreme reflection of the need to have a broader dialogue about polygamy and Black relationship patterns within Africa and among African people in the Diaspora. HIV/AIDS is decimating Black populations globally, and one has to wonder about what part monogamy, fidelity or the acceptance of multiple partners plays in the overall picture of what is happening to African people and their future. Please don’t misunderstand me – I like Jacob Zuma, his leadership style and many of the initiatives and policies he is trying to implement. Zuma has the unenviable task of trying to do something about the gross inequities in his nation, appeasing White elites and the business class to attract global trade and investment. In the meantime South Africa faces widespread poverty, not to mention a massive influx of immigrants and refugees from many countries and regions throughout Africa. But regardless of what I think about Zuma’s domestic and foreign policies, my mind keeps wandering back to his personal escapades and the effect they have had on his public image.

On surface appearances, I must admit – polygamy has a certain appeal to me, as a Black male. Why wouldn’t I want to have several wives/girlfriends/lovers, if each of the women was willing to accept my relationship with the others? Maybe the reason why so many marriages fail is because it isn’t natural for a man to just have one partner, and if more people practiced polygamy or an “open marriage” then perhaps that would stem the divorce rate. As someone who has tremendous respect for African traditional culture, it seems reasonable to question some of my own assumptions and societal conditioning about different kinds of relationships, and try to see things from a non-ethnocentric perspective.

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Oddly enough, I a neighbor of mine in Denver was from Cameroun, and he married a woman from Wyoming and immigrated to the United States. He explained to me that his father was a chief, and had four wives and 36 children. Before I knew him well I would hear him talking on his cell phone, waving his arms emphatically while talking to his family in Cameroun; it seemed his conversations had a tone of anger and frustration. He later told me that his father had been ill and passed away; he was very sad, and he felt bad that he was not able to do more for his father in his final days. But he also was disenchanted with the internecine conflict between his father’s wives, as they vehemently fought over land and property as he was dying. I never had the chance to ask him in more detail about his personal feelings about polygamy and what it was like growing up in his father’s home; but he was clearly upset by the conflicts between his father's wives.

With regard to African Americans, I can’t help wondering to what degree polygamy or infidelity may be part of deep cultural conditioning that stems from African culture or our more recent cultural history relating to the strain of slavery on the Black family. I like asking this as a rhetorical question, because there are quite a few brothers and sisters who are sharing partners. But in the broader picture of Africa – and perhaps among African Americans – the problems of HIV/AIDS, sexual promiscuity and multiple partners should be considered in the context of polygamy. While some aspects of polygamy are very much a part of African tradition, it could be something that needs more evaluation and dialogue regarding its social impact and the epidemiology of HIV/AIDS.

I certainly don’t have an issue with Jacob Zuma having four wives (although I’m sure some Black women and feminists would). It seems to me that a man who has four wives in a socially-sanctioned polygamous arrangement would have every satisfaction of his whims and fantasies taken care of. Why would Jacob Zuma need to have sex with women outside of his four wives? Perhaps polygamy simply does not offer a solution to a dilemma between the sexes, but simply provides a superficial veneer that encourages more imbalanced and dysfunctional sexual relations. It may also be that polygamy, in whatever form we label or describe it, is one of the patterns that is ultimately harming Africans and African Americans in the new millennium.