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

Happy New Year?


Christina Engela - 2011-01-26

When I sat down to write today’s article I started off thinking about last year and all the things I felt good about. It’s my first article for the new year ... And then I thought about last year, and the year before that, and all the things that p’d me off during that time – and about how many of them are still applicable and have been carried over like “remainder” in some obscene parody of Sub A maths.

I’m still ashamed to admit I live in a country which is called the rape capital of the world.

I’m still ashamed of a government with a track record of denying there is a crime problem, and a lack of interest in addressing this problem – in fact, getting them even to talk about rape, and especially the "corrective rape" of lesbians, is near impossible. (If you are reading this and are a government official who can do something about it – shame on you – get off your rear end and do something.)

I’m still ashamed to live in a country whose government and its representatives keep doing and saying things that embarrass me as a South African in the international media – whether it is issues of corruption, or human rights neglect, or patent ignorance about what they are saying or talking about.

I’m still ashamed of a government that claims other country’s policies are "their own business" and refuses to get involved or to speak out against human rights abuses – but has been intimately involved in the affairs and internal disputes of neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe and Uganda for over a decade.

I’m still ashamed of a government that by its actions or words – or absence of both – keeps sending out the message that people like me are "immoral" or a "threat" to their religious, "family" or "African” values – when they are supposed to be acting as the embodiment of the South African Constitution which is supposed to guarantee me protection against such unwarranted and inexcusable indignity and shame.

I’m still ashamed to admit that my government – the government that inherited this country’s advanced Constitution and was established under it – is too ashamed to promote its forward-thinking principles and values which safeguard human rights and the sanctity of human life abroad, in the UN – and in African countries or bodies which are making increasingly hostile noises against minority groups like mine.

I’m still ashamed of a government that sees itself as a higher power over the very people who put it in power, and plays Big Brother with their human and civil rights, and works to undermine the underpinnings of the Constitution in order to keep itself in power indefinitely as well as to target specific sections of the population.

I still find it threatening when the government works to destroy press freedom, freedom of expression and association and virtually every freedom guaranteed in the Constitution. If the still pending Protection of Information Bill passes, you can bet activists will be next on the list of things to ban and censor ... and to make disappear.

Bearing this in mind, I still worry whether, if this will be the case, my passport will still be valid.

I am still aggrieved when considering where I would like to travel internationally, and I have to consider first how gay- or trans-friendly those countries are, and whether or not my life or liberty would be in danger there – which cuts out the majority of countries on the continent I call home – and also close trading partners, "friends" and allies of my nation.

I still find it insulting and extremely threatening when I see the high number of African states hostile to human rights and diversity clamouring to join in a "United States of Africa" with my country – but who wish my country to see people like me the way they do – not wanting to see us the way we as South Africans do.

I still feel threatened by small vicious groups of religious fundamentalists who stand tenuously on fragile soapboxes, spewing hatred and bile while claiming to do so in the name of all others of the same faith – in exactly the same way hijackers and other terrorists often do.

I still find it intimidating, annoying and frustrating that quite intelligent people can still lower themselves to measure, morally, what kind of person I am and cast judgement based on factors such as what my race or language is, whether I choose the same religion as theirs, who I have relationships with, or what equipment is, or was, between my legs.

I still find small right-wing groups threatening, particularly ones who hoard caches of weapons and military equipment and who harbour a laager mentality along with ambitions of indulging in a little ethnic cleansing and complain about people touching them on their studio.

You know what? I hate politics. I detest it. It’s boring. But I love people – and I care about what happens to people like me. That’s why I got into human rights advocacy to begin with. That’s why I’m planning a move into politics. You know the old saying: It’s a dirty, thankless job – but somebody has to do it.

I still think that if we leave the protection of our rights and freedoms to "someone else", we put our lives in their hands. If we turn our backs on the government and let them do their thing behind closed doors – as they want to do, which is what the POI is really all about - then we, the people, will lose control of our own democracy.

I still firmly believe that we as a minority group, the pink community, need to get more involved – or run the risk of becoming another Zim-BOB-we or Uganda, where the pink communities there were left with no representation in government, and now stand on the precipice of persecution and genocide.

This is a big year in terms of local elections again. This is a new year, and we face numerous challenges, many of which are ongoing and have been carried over from the past year, two years, decade – but it is also a fresh start – our chance to get involved and do our part to ensure the bad things happening in other places around the world don't happen here. Not to us.