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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Gay > Rubrieke | Columns > Christina Engela: Fundamentally Speaking

System failure


Christina Engela - 2011-08-19

Any system of government where human or civil rights depend wholly on the public opinion of the moment is fundamentally flawed.

Where did that come from? Well, it goes back to before we had the present Constitution in South Africa, when as a teenager I was threatened with being labelled a criminal because being gay was illegal in this country then. That's right – I was threatened with jail because I dared to consider that I might not be your average heterosexual cisgender boy. And in those days, even being transgender was a very grey area in legal terms. Being caught in a raid dressed in women’s clothing as a biological male was a risky business. It was "fine" to be a cross-dresser or drag queen busted at a gay club during a raid - but you’d better still have been wearing male underwear, or you would be thrown in jail for "impersonating a female". LOL. Go figure.

Society in the old South Africa used to persecute anyone with a pink tint to them, the armed forces experimented on gay service people and in some cases, tortured them. Churches blamed all manner of ills on us, more than some of them still do, and people would be victimised for who they were - losing their jobs, their homes, their dignity and even their lives. People today often talk about the apartheid days, focusing exclusively on the struggle for racial equality, as if our persecution and exclusion from society never happened. These days I hear very few speak about the struggle for our equality. Perhaps that's because it's not yet truly over?

Sometimes I actually hear people long for the old days when "everything still worked properly", when there was supposedly less government corruption - and well, there may have been - but not many people today will claim that the government intrudes as much into the private lives of its citizens as in those days. The simple truth of the matter is, we lived in a fascist state, and a theocracy. It was for all intents and purposes a throwback from the Second World War - an Aryan state, where politics and social status were not dictated only by race, but also by language, religion, sexuality and gender. Anyone who longs for those days has got to be sick.

The solution is to build a new country, a new nation - where all these lines of division have disappeared. That is the foundation of the New South Africa - at least I thought it was?

Over the past few years, since entering the field of human rights activism, I have seen people first opposing the extension of human rights and equality to me and people like me in the early 1990s, and then lamenting the rights we do have today, and then conspiring and labouring to deprive me of my equality before the law and of my very human rights. It was a battle in the past to attain the rights we have now in South Africa, in many ways a "struggle", to use the popular South African revolutionary term - and it seems this struggle will continue for many years to come, in order to hold on to those rights. If we ever stop fighting for our rights, to protect them, if we relax and think everything is okay, we will be in for a nasty shock.

Our country's government continues to act unilaterally, and without seeing a need to heed the will of the people, to consider the Constitution - or to explain its actions to us - and even desires to conspire to hide its activities from us. Our government still has a very weak and poor grasp of the concept of democracy - a system which it feels is working just fine, just as long as the wind continues to blow in their favour. And yet this same government which is given its power and authority by the constitution which extends civil equality and human rights protections to me and those like me in this country, continues to show economic and political support to countries which wage open war against the same ideals which allow us to be treated as equals within their borders. People with open hatred for people like me continue to be appointed in high-profile offices by no less than the President himself, and to be paid salaries from tax monies paid for by people like me. That's quite an insult, isn't it?

An advanced human rights-friendly Constitution is fine and well - but what good is it if it is not put into practice? The government says it cherishes the principles in the South African Constitution, and yet acts in a manner which cannot be reconciled with that very Constitution.

I would love to hear the explanation for that one.

In America it seems that human rights and equality continue to blow in the wind, being passed into law in various states, but perpetually under threat of being repealed depending on the weight of public opinion. Many in South Africa, most typically religious fundamentalists who share ties through so-called "church planting" and also share the same views as those human rights detractors who would even like the death penalty applied to two people of the same gender who engage in romantic relations. I know for certain they wish they could do the same here - a fact which is reflected in the utterances and efforts of those who would like nothing better than to rip out the paragraphs which grant civil rights to people like me from the South African Constitution. I have to wonder how some people think, I really do. I cannot understand how people who enjoy equality and full civil rights can presume to judge that other people, for no logical rhyme or reason, are not deserving of the same rights as they.

Equality should be embedded in the nation's constitution, and not put up for debate every five minutes when some conservative halfwits get their knickers in a knot over X, Y or Z being allowed the same privileges as themselves.

I would go so far as to say that even if one person in a country is not afforded the same civil and human rights as others under the law of the land – then there is no equality. Either everyone is equal before the law - or there is no equality. Even a scientist will tell you that *wink*.

With continued debate in countries like the USA, where different states have different laws governing human rights for specific groups, such as the pink community, I believe the human rights of every individual - regardless of any identifying characteristic (gender, identity, sexual orientation, religion, culture etc) should be passed into federal law or the US Constitution - instead of having different laws in each state, and individual states being able to repeal these laws every time enough money or noise is raised around the issue by conservatives. Human rights are human rights and not some ticket to be used every time elections come round.

Right-wing human rights abusers have done their level best to sabotage human rights by attempting to pass DOMA into federal law - why does someone in the USA not launch a campaign to get the human rights, fair and equal treatment for all, entrenched in the US Constitution instead? Why not pass a new Amendment?

The new darling of the Teabaggers, Michele Bachmann, actually makes Sarah Palin look almost intelligent. I shudder to think of the USA under her, should she win the election - it will be another Bush administration - an unmitigated disaster for human rights and equality. If she wins at all it will be because (a) she is white (playing on the politics of race being negatively applied around Obama) and ( b) female (let's give the girls a chance - who cares if she's an anti-choice, anti-feminist, hang-the-gays teabagger?). As a human rights activist I find her remarks against pink rights and women's rights nauseating. People like that give Christians, and Americans, a bad name.

The failure of modern "democracies" in this respect harks back to the feudal system, where people were born into class systems, slavery and castes - where "nobles" ruled by the right of their birth and nobody born of lower classes could expect any upward mobility. How is this in any way different from a society which discriminates against people simply because of who they are?

I have little time for people who operate under the assumption that they are somehow more deserving than others, or better than others, especially me.

Debating human rights is fine, it helps people actually to think for a change - but putting the equality of some people with what is considered the norm up for a vote every other day is contrary to human rights ethics and ethos - undemocratic, and insulting. All people should be considered equal before the law in order for a country to be considered truly democratic. And any country that does so while claiming to be democratic and to have the interests of all its people at heart is, quite simply, full of it.