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JOHANNESBURG – South Africa's president, speaking to mark the nation's Women's Day on Tuesday, avoided making any reference to an anti-rape protest against him on live television days earlier.
On Saturday, four women stood in front of President Jacob Zuma and held up signs protesting his acquittal for rape 10 years ago, while he spoke at an announcement of election results.
The municipal elections were the worst-ever showing at the polls for South Africa's ruling party, which was hurt by multiple scandals around the president.
On Tuesday, Zuma's ex-wife and African Union Commission Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said other African leaders were calling her to ask if the country's situation was as bad as it looks.
"If the leaders of South Africa are weak, the continent is weak," she said.
She said women must continue the struggle against sexual violence.
Saturday's protest infuriated some officials in the ruling African National Congress, who hesitated to stop the women's protest because it was being televised live. The protesters stood during the entire speech by Zuma, who appeared not to notice their signs.
On Tuesday, the ANC women's league leader, Bathabile Dlamini, said women should fight "patriarchy" but not in the way people saw Saturday.
But a surviving leader of a landmark women's protest 60 years ago against South Africa's restrictive pass laws had praise. "Today you can stand in high offices like the (election commission) and demonstrate there. And that is a good thing," Sophia Williams-De Bruyn told local media.
Zuma on Tuesday instead focused on other issues underlying his party's stumble in the elections, such as high unemployment and the lack of services like water and electricity in some communities two decades after the ANC took power.
"The government will not rest until decent basic services reach all our people," he said.