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

Reading between the lines

Christina Engela - 2010-12-01

Apparently South Africa has gained a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council - for the second time. I can only imagine the kind of mayhem they could wreak if they ever got a permanent seat. As a South African of mixed sexual orientation and gender identity it makes me shudder. No, really. I love my home, and I love my country - but lately I cannot help but be ashamed of it.

In the past 20 years I have seen this country rise from the depths of racist, heterosexist and theocratic abuse of power to become an inspiring young democracy - only to become once again mired by the same flaws and failings which characterised the apartheid state, only in slightly different shades of neo-fascist red and totalitarian purple.

According to an article in the latest Pink Tongue, SA International Relations and Co-operation minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane says that "SA will be too busy dealing with African issues on the UN Security Council next year to worry about who goes to bed with whom” - this when asked whether South Africa would use its non-permanent seat on the Security Council to address gay rights and other human rights issues.

This flippant and insensitive response demonstrates at best a cavalier approach to very real and very serious human rights issues faced by our community in Africa. Delegates concerning themselves with saving pink lives and working to cancel out prejudice and oppression are (a) reduced to a matter of bed-partners, (b) not an African issue, and (c) obviously not important, duh, what are you thinking? At worst it demonstrates a callous disregard for the plight of the human rights of gay, bisexual, intersex and transgender people on the continent - a continent on which South Africa is a major role-player and economic power.

All of this, coupled with the appalling record South Africa has of sabotaging or ignoring human rights issues over the past few years, proves to me that our government is hostile to the pink community - no matter what the Constitution says.

Most African states have no civil rights for the pink community - none - with accompanying poor human rights records. Again, most African states list jail terms - some life sentences - for the "crime" of being gay. Several countries on the continent have made overtures of indulging in state-sponsored genocide of gay people – chief among them Uganda, a country which to this day enjoys major political and economic support from South Africa. Rwanda and Burundi echoed these sentiments, but quickly backed down when they saw the international weight being brought to bear on Uganda. And indeed, today the news headlines featured Kenya - a country with a fairly liberal constitution – whose PM has called for all gay people to be arrested.

Back in 2007-8, according to the article, the last time South Africa held a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council it voted against some human rights resolutions, excusing this action by saying that such issues should be decided by the Human Rights Council instead. I suppose I shouldn't find that surprising - passing the buck is, after all, a national pastime here.

The minister is also quoted as saying that because human rights are enshrined in the Constitution "there shouldn't be any fears" about the government defending human rights at the UN. Right - well, we're still waiting for the South African government to live up to that increasingly apparent empty promise.

Over the past five years SA has done nothing, zip, nada, zilch to alleviate the suffering of the pink community in Africa. In fact, if memory serves, in the debacle around marriage equality here four years ago it was not the government which sanctioned it; it was the Supreme Court which had to order the government to ratify it a year after the fact. And the same old example repeats once again – South Africa refused to sign the UN Declaration to Decriminalize Homosexuality in 2008. The USA also at first refused under the homophobic Bush administration, an affront to human rights corrected soon after the elections. What was South Africa's excuse? Last week's vote against the human rights of the pink community was just another case in point.

The government has in the past decade shared initiatives with groups such as Focus on the Family in KZN, which purveyed ineffective abstinence-only "education" programmes in rural areas - and also their infamous "Love Won Out" ex-gay programme, as well as the paradoxically named "Truth Project". The Mbeki administration denied the clear links between HIV and AIDS, spoon-fed AIDS sufferers garlic and sweet potatoes and then wondered why so many patients were dying. Granted, this was under the previous administration, right? Okay - so let's review the current prez and his performance.

In about 2006, Zuma made a PR blunder when he made homophobic remarks in the press. Back in 2009, just before the elections, he practically put gay rights on the bargaining table when he made his pre-election speech in the Rhema cult's temple, schmoozing the Levitican fundamentalist vote with offers to "debate" abortion and marriage equality with them. Shortly after that the "God Squad", which consists of Ray McCauley and primarily ANC MPs who are also lay pastors (and presumably the products of that promise) started making noises about challenging the marriage equality ruling in court.

Cases of so-called "corrective rape" against lesbians and violence and intimidation against transgender and gay men in the black community continue to rage unabated - and unaddressed by the government. In fact, the only people making a noise about it in South Africa are NGOs, the community, and the victims themselves.

This year Zuma appointed Jon Qwelane – a visceral homophobe who wrote hateful remarks in a newspaper column against gay people and women priests in 2008, inciting violence against them as well as threatening the South African Constitution - as ambassador to Uganda. The court action against Qwelane remains in limbo pending a challenge to Act No 4 of 2000 (our sole protection against hate speech in the media), by Media24. Zuma's new presidential hotline was inundated with phone calls from the pink community to protest Qwelane's appointment, but to no avail.

Qwelane was claimed to have been sneaked into Uganda on the quiet when Zumas delegation popped over to address the Ugandan parliament to discuss even closer trade links between the two countries. Despite the fact that this visit took place while the whole outrage about the gay genocide bill was raging internationally, Zuma didn't utter a word about it at the time. He finally muttered a few words of objection about the Ugandan bill after the issue had been raging internationally for months - presumably because South Africa's involvement in Uganda and failure to speak out against Ugandan human rights abuses had made the news and we didn't want to spoil things for the Soccer World Cup.

In the meantime we have had ministers of arts and culture who know stuff all about either art or culture and who view artistic expression as threats to "nation-building" and "family values", religious fundamentalist pastors-cum-home affairs ministers, and the Pornography Bill, the Protection of Information Bill and various other censorship measures intended to turn South Africa into a police state which would be a democracy in name only.

South African mediators have been coaching Zimbabwe in setting up agreements between Zanu-PF and MDC factions for years now, and assisting them in setting up a new constitution - from which the human rights of the pink community are conspicuously absent. Neither Zanu-PF nor MDC seem to understand the concept of democracy or human rights, except where it doesn't apply to them, of course - and nor did the South African mediators seem to make any effort to help them right. In a country where the illegitimate president (he never won that last election fairly, remember?) calls human beings "worse than pigs and dogs", several gay rights activists are on trial on trumped-up charges of possession of drugs and pornography when the whole world knows they are on trial because they are gay and refuse to cower in fear in a basement.

The South African government clearly won’t admit to homophobia, but its actions (and in-actions) are outright and undeniably homophobic. In the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary, it denies that there is a problem in Africa with regard to human rights - but acts to oppose, stymie, hamstring and sabotage UN resolutions intended to address human rights issues involving the pink community.

And now a South African government minister at the UN states that human rights issues affecting the pink community are solely concerned with "who goes to bed with whom", clearly "un-African" and "unimportant". Oh, but we needn't worry, because the government will defend human rights à la the Constitution at the UN. Sure. Just like they have been doing all along. Uhuh.

I am once again reminded of Mugabe's comment about gay people being "worse than pigs and dogs" - because that may explain why South Africa claims to be protecting "human rights" while completely omitting a whole portion of human society from their efforts.

The minister is quoted as saying "[W]e should focus less on who goes to bed with who and more on peace and security." Perhaps I'm just stupid, but to me that statement implies that the human rights concerns of the pink community are only about sex and therefore unimportant - and peace and security issues do not include the pink community in the majority of African countries - where they currently have neither.

Somewhere between "x" and "y" the wheels are coming off. Either the people representing South Africa at the UN are working purposely to subvert the purpose of the UN, and to sabotage the cause of human rights specifically for the pink community, or they are just too plain obtuse or ignorant to understand the concept of human rights - and the UN should post the whole damn lot back to South Africa.