Last weekend’s City Press published another piece on business mogul Kenny Kunene’s lifestyle and his relationships with women.
I say another because it is the media’s fascination with Kunene and men like him that has contributed significantly to his visibility.
Last week’s piece focused on a pudgy businessmen surrounded by a ‘collection of girlfriends’, also called his ‘harem’. At the same time, we are told that these are intelligent young women who don’t mind sharing Kunene’s affections. The article carefully suggests that everybody is there freely. The women choose to be there, just like Kenny does.
Indeed, the journalist and writer of the piece, Charles Cilliers, seems half-charmed and partly shocked by the performance Kunene and his harem stage for him.
But what are we, the readers, supposed to make of Kunene and these women? We are no strangers to men who flaunt their multiple female partners. They are a dime a dozen in our society, in the realm of politics, among the ranks of celebrities and in royalty.
Conventional patriarchal wisdom has it women are attracted to wealthy men. Men are also taught they have to guard against being taken advantage of by these same women. The names we give to men and women in such arrangements tell us much about where we place value and judgement.
Men like Hugh Hefner and Kunene are playboys, sugar daddies and playas. The names for the men suggest fun and pleasure. Their female lovers are either gold-diggers or naive. The young women are cast as opportunists or out of their depth.
And, while the ways in which the media renders the Kunenes and Hefners normal is pornographic, it is not very different from how successful manhood is staged elsewhere.
Rich and powerful men repeatedly use beautiful, younger women’s bodies to say something about their own importance.
It may be helpful for some readers to think about Kunene as an exploitative rich man who vampirically feeds off these young women who do not know better. Are these young women simply adornments, a “collection” that allows him to signal to society, and to other men, that he is still here, wealthy, sexy and powerful?
The writer of the piece, after all, points to how the interview is staged to show how false the rumours of Kunene’s decline are.
Kunene’s place in the public imagination cannot be separated from the sexual dynamism that radiates off young women’s bodies. This perspective makes sense when we think about the ways in which the women in the narrative, whose limbs are visible in the accompanying photograph, are simply Kunene’s accessories.
Being an accessory is to be both insignificant and crucial to the ability of a man to be one kind of man, rather than another. Even in the language of fashion, it is taken for granted that accessories enhance how we think about their owner.
Yet, if these women are on the way to lucrative careers in finance, somatology and logistics, with their studies already paid for, Kunene is not their only chance at the spotlight or a meal ticket.
If we really believe that these women also choose to be there, we have to assume that they are invested in some aspect of his lifestyle. What such articles do not tell us about is the psyche of women who are willing to be the faceless beautiful bodies next to rich and powerful men.
The possible lesson we can learn from really paying attention to the women wrapped around men like Kunene requires that we see them as more than naive girls engaged in exploitative transactional sexual encounters.
What is it about our society’s celebration of manhood that makes this an option for girls like these?
Written by: Pumla Gqola
Picture credit: City Press
- Gqola is the author of What is Slavery to Me? and A Renegade Called Simphiwe. This article was published on City Press.
Please help us to raise funds so that we can give all our students a chance to access online teaching and learning. Covid-19 has disrupted our students' education. Don't let the digital divide put their future at risk. Visit www.ru.ac.za/rucoronavirusgateway to donate