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Leefstyl | Lifestyle > Gay > Artikels | Features

We’re all African

Cobus Fourie - 2010-08-04

It is the theme of 2010 Joburg Pride (Africa’s oldest and largest Pride event) and the venerable Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu proclaimed it during the kick-off concert of the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup. It is a statement encapsulating unity in diversity. And its scope is not limited to denizens of Africa, as anthropologists and historians alike have postulated that humanity has its origins in Africa.

The preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa and the inscription on the South African coat of arms cemented the phrase “unity in diversity”. The old, clichéd adage still holds true: united we stand, divided we fall.

The Joburg Pride Board adopted the theme in light of prevailing threats of xenophobic violence which immediately conjure up memories of the deplorable events of May 2008 when about 100 000 people were displaced, homes and businesses of foreigners ransacked and set alight, the most indigent people in South Africa assaulted and murdered and chased away from their homes like subhuman beings. The victims’ only “crime” was being different – of a different nationality. It is identity-based crime and victimisation personified and a close parallel to genocides through the ages from time immemorial to the Holocaust to 1994 Rwanda.

South Africa is one of only a handful of countries that grants asylum status due to persecution on the basis of sexual orientation, inter alia. Many members of the Pink community from all over Africa fled to South Africa in search of a sense of normalcy and freedom from persecution/genocide and to experience some of the legal rights and protections South Africans so often take for granted.

If you think xenophobia applies only to foreign nationals, think again. Xenophobia literally means (from etymology) “having abnormal fear or hatred of the strange or foreign” (Wordweb, Princeton University). I hate to break the news, but many people view us in the Pink community as strange or foreign or both. It doesn’t matter if we are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersex, questioning, queer, polyamorous, asexual or of the various shades of alphabet soup identities in between artificial semantic boundaries.

Those who are not completely heterosexual and cisgender face possible identity-based crimes along with foreign nationals. Yet some in our little convoluted community harbour the Orwellian notion that they are more equal than others in the same boat as they are, or simply lack the insight and cerebral capacity to grasp the interrelatedness of human rights. These bitter and self-destructive people draw endless us/them dichotomies to stymie the work done by many in the Pink community to foster a sense of unity in purpose, severalty and diversity.

Here’s the caveat: even if a community is defined as one that is not 100 percent heterosexual and cisgender one should display extreme caution not to alienate our allies who are both heterosexual and cisgender, otherwise we will be just as bigoted and disingenuous as our detractors. If we approach everyone with the premise of confrontation and contempt, that is most likely exactly what we'll get. We'll not only exude gross antagonism, but will exhume it from the darkest trenches of misdirected resentment too.

Despite our efforts to fight for the whole Pink community there are continuous assaults from industrious armchair critics, radical feminists (who act contrary to the original suffragette raison d’être), a variety of incessant, unreasonable and belligerent gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender malcontents. Their identities are not the causation of the squabbles but rather their attitudes and being strangers to the concept of reciprocity and being well versed in how arm's-lengthing can maintain doubt. There’s no use pleasing the unappeasable.  

Notwithstanding the fact that all known Pink community organisations in South Africa fight for the rights of everyone, some disgruntled and acerbic minorities within an already minority community completely subvert their own cause by vexing those who do not exclude and discriminate. Instead of widening the rifts of self-fulfilling prophecy in the Pink community these armchair critics should roll up their sleeves and jump in to join the fight for fairness, equity and social justice.

If certain letters of the alphabet soup par example deem the fight for their rights relegated and given inferior treatment and deficient attention they should get involved and make their voices heard in a constructive way. People tend not to react very positively to gratuitous abuse and wanton destructive criticism. I am using the minority within the minority here as one sees the livid and irrational lamentations of more traditionally “marginalised” community members. Certainly much more should be done for super-minority rights, but then activists identifying as such should add their voices to established organisations and if all else fails form their own all-inclusive organisations.

If the marginalised form a community exclusively for the marginalised while harbouring resentment for others in the Pink community for the rights they gained, the marginalisation would perpetuate due to continued isolation. The marginalised would also be no better than those they despise, as they would inherently relegate the issues of all others besides their own due to the “other” being inherently excluded as a member of the clique by birth. Fairness and equality is a two-way street.

I could juxtapose the aforementioned situation and my own experiences and a certain commonality comes to the fore. I am atypically gay in the sense that modern-day gay identities seem to emanate from shop fronts. The great irony is that for decades our predecessors fought for the right to be different, with the unfortunate emergence of rigid gay stereotypes and gay men fighting a battle of a different kind to try and reconcile themselves with these convenience store stereotypes. I refused to lose my personality to fit in some superficial mould and I did not attack already established Pink rights groups to blame these social constructs on them – I decided to add my voice, even if it might be seemingly insignificant. In the process I realised there are many others like me who are not content with conforming to some stereotype who also thought that they were the only mismatched socks.

I am thus flabbergasted that those who urgently need coherence and solidarity are wasting their time with infighting. I am quite dejected that people of sound mind lack the insight to see the interrelatedness of our rights, hence this equation:

Xenophobia = homophobia = transphobia = racism = anti-Semitism = any form of bias.

The socio-economic realities of Africa lead to demagogues displaying obscene McCarthyism – they blame socio-economic circumstances on the “other”, which leads to societal intolerance. The blame game is used as political weapon to cover up the lack of service delivery, tenderpreneurship, fraud, corruption, and misappropriation of public funds, and a plethora of callous activities by public representatives.

All nonconformists out there are just as vulnerable as refugees and foreign nationals – we need to see the wood for the trees. As long as there is great inequality and a lack of social justice out there we should not rest on our laurels.

It is a pity a lot of people are stuck in this phrase/frame of mind: “There’s an obvious attraction to the path of least resistance in your life. There’s an obvious aversion no amount of my insistence could make you try tonight.” (“Wake up”, Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill, Maverick, 1995)