OPINION PIECE: From sympathy to adultery: what S’bongile’s affair says about our culture

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With a plot that thickens, the Baby Siwaphiwe story has captured an online audience with plenty to say.

Social media blew up over the weekend as the too-close-to-Tsotsi saga played out. Pleas for the hijackers to return the child were expressed on social media platforms with the hastags, #BringBackDurbanBaby and #HelpFindDurbanBaby. Police were joined by concerned citizens in a fervent search fuelled by belligerent tweets.


The level of concern expressed by the public was overwhelming as hearts went out to the ‘poor mother.’ No one suspected a thing.

But when baby Siwaphiwe was discover sorrow turned to rage as social media posts went from sad solidarity to angry accusations.

As S’bongile’s affair comes to light the story has made a 180 degree turn as the ‘poor mother,’ morphs from victim to villain in the blink of an eye.

How quick the community was to share in this mother’s sorrow and how quick will the same society wash their hands clean of her guilt.

Will the social media stones be thrown at the adulterous woman caught in sin as assumptions fly high? If this was Puritan Massachusetts Mrs Mbambo would be branded with a scarlet letter and as the saga unfolds the question is: how far has our society really progressed?

This story might reveal how far the patriarchal root is lodged in a South African society governed by a man with four wives. If it was Siwaphiwe’s father who had been unfaithful, how shocked would the public be? The contrast from scared mother to sultry adulteress might add to the shock factor, although generally women get a harsher judgement- after all, I don’t recall the pastor adding a red ‘A’ to his wardrobe.

Yet, in a society where sex sells, no one seems to be batting an eye as social commentary focuses on Sibongile’s ‘bad parenting’ and that she wasted police resources. As reckless as S’bongile’s actions might seem, she is a mother to 3 other children and there have been no claims about her ability to parent them at this point.

Studies state that women who cheat are filling an emotional void more than anything else, although the motive can often be revenge as wives retaliate toward their husband’s infidelity or monetary when women simply need the money that goes hand in hand with an extramarital affair, although it is unlikely that anyone is wondering about S’bongile’s motive.

Sadly, the ethical question of the affair might just overshadow the fact that a mother did still lose her child. Though little Siwaphiwe was not kidnapped by thugs in a hijacking, she was still separated from the woman that gave birth to her. So, why the retracted sympathy? No answers have been given as to why ex-lover, Phumlani wanted the child. Not to mention what his new girlfriend might feel about that. Perhaps it is still too soon to decide whether S’bongile plays victim or villain or something in between.

A child goes missing every five to ten  hours in South Africa, according to statistics so why was Siwaphiwe’s case splashed over the media so freely while other cases go unnoticed? Could the hype have been a matter of hijacking and nothing else? Was the community concerned for the mother who lost her child or for the crime that could affect them?

And why was this mother willing to go to such lengths to hide her affair from her husband. Why did she risk criminal charges when she could have simply come clean? When it comes to infidelity, it’s almost expected from men, often excused. Yet this mother of 4 went to desperate lengths to cover up her affair. Would a man have done the same thing?


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