Media reports that President Kgalema Motlanthe has been involv ed in extramarital affairs have raised the question of whether this is an invasion of privacy, writes Business Day in an editorial. If no law was broken in gathering the information, the reports are probably justifiable.  He's a public figure, after all.

Business Day writes in an editorial:

WEEKEND media reports on President Kgalema Motlanthe’s allegedly “complicated” private life raise two separate, but equally important, issues as the country hurtles towards the most important national election since 1994.

The first is whether Motlanthe’s right to privacy has been invaded — indeed, whether a public representative has any legitimate expectation of privacy, and if so where the boundaries lie. The other concerns how the dirt on Motlanthe — he is alleged to be romantically involved with two women other than his estranged wife, and to have impregnated one of them — came to be in the public domain.

Motlanthe has avoided the limelight throughout his political career, and has consistently declined to talk about his family life. He gave the impression of being a reluctant deployee to Tuynhuys, but must have been aware that he had been appointed caretaker president during a particularly volatile period in the politics of both the country and the ruling party, and that being left holding the parcel when the music stopped could be detrimental to his career. As a seasoned politician, he will also know it is easy to make enemies when you wield power, and that they will invariably use any real or perceived indiscretions to their benefit.

Whatever the circumstances behind his swearing-in, Motlanthe accepted the job, and all the powers and perks that go with it, and so cannot expect special treatment. If the stories are true, and no laws were broken to gather the information, the mere fact that they have been published does not constitute an invasion of privacy. Of course if they are fabrications, or the media involved used illegal methods to find out what Motlanthe was up to behind closed doors, he is well within his rights to lay criminal charges or begin civil proceedings for defamation.

Adultery is not a crime, and morality is a matter of personal opinion. But that does not mean there should be laws preventing the media from publishing scandal, especially where it involves a public representative. If politicians want to avoid public humiliation, the onus is on them to avoid doing anything that could come back to haunt them.

Anyway, there is plenty of evidence that while the South African voting public may on the whole be socially conservative, they do not necessarily hold it against individuals who transgress societal or religious rules. Witness the obvious popularity of African National Congress (ANC) president and lay priest Jacob Zuma, despite numerous media reports and critical analysis of his private life, including intimate details that emerged during his acquittal on rape charges.

The ANC has dismissed the reports on Motlanthe as a political smear campaign, and it is almost certainly right. It is not altogether clear, though, who is doing the smearing. There are indications of a low-key power struggle in the ANC as individuals and alliance partners manoeuvre in anticipation of an election victory — it is not inconceivable that some might see Motlanthe as a potential obstacle to power. On the other hand, there is an election looming and the ruling party is in the throes of a drawn-out splitting process, so there are any number of possible sources for the information, both inside and outside the ANC.