Mike Tyson appearance creates criticism

January 30, 2008 9:53:10 AM PST
ANC leader Jacob Zuma withdrew from a charity fundraising banquet honoring former boxer Mike Tyson Wednesday after receiving criticism from women's groups in South Africa. In a country with one of the highest rates of rape, Zuma was found not guilty of raping a family friend two years ago. Tyson served a three-year sentence for the 1991 rape of an 18-year-old beauty queen in Indiana.

Reporters arriving at the event were handed a statement from organizers saying Zuma "had been called away on urgent ANC business, according to a spokesperson in his office."

Women's groups had called on Zuma to withdraw from the event. Earlier Wednesday, the One in Nine Campaign, a group of women's rights organizations, had called "the pairing of Zuma and Tyson ... particularly distasteful and abhorrent."

Carrie Shelver, of People Opposing Women Abuse, called Zuma's withdrawal a good step.

"It may be, and it seems to us, that pressure placed on him in the media may have swayed him," Shelver said.

About 50,000 rape cases are reported each year in South Africa, almost 150 per day. Women's rights groups estimate that only one in nine rapes is reported to police.

Zuma had planned to be the keynote speaker at the banquet, where an auction of Tyson items were to benefit children's organizations. African National Congress officials did not immediately return calls.

Tyson, once called the "baddest man on the planet," will tour Soweto on Thursday and be a celebrity commentator at a boxing event on Saturday.

Both Zuma and Tyson are seen as fighters who have survived harsh upbringings to become powerful popular figures. Both have had run-ins with the law, and have poor records when it comes to women's rights.

The 41-year-old boxer, who famously took a bite out of rival Evander Holyfield's ear, also was accused of abusing his former wife.

Zuma, who is facing corruption charges, said during his rape trial that the woman had been wearing a skirt, which he interpreted as inviting his sexual advances.

Zuma has apologized for his statements during his trial, but recently earned more criticism from women's groups when he took a second wife. Polygamy is in line with some South African traditions.

Zuma's "statements prior, during and post rape trial reveal his patriarchal beliefs on men and women's roles and rights in South Africa," the statement from the One in Nine Campaign said.

The women's groups said they couldn't protest at the banquet venue, a casino and hotel on airport land, which is considered a key national security point.

Organizers promised Tyson would make a statement during the banquet denouncing violence against women.

At an earlier press conference, media were warned to stick to Tyson's sporting career, and questions were initially taken only from boxing journalists.

Mark Jakins, owner of the casino and hotel were the banquet will be held, acknowledged many sporting heroes have been "tinged by controversy," but that organizers were "focusing on Mike Tyson's credentials as a boxer."

Shelver said Tyson was a poor role model.

"There is some skepticism about his rehabilitation and you need to be careful," she said. "The youth are an easy target. They love sporting heroes."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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