We must be wary of policies oppressing rights of gays

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
Pride marches can be happy events but in reality the safety of queer people is a big concern. /ALON SKUY
Pride marches can be happy events but in reality the safety of queer people is a big concern. /ALON SKUY

Uganda is once again in the spotlight for its human rights abuses, particularly its proposed imposition for citizens found "guilty" of being gay.

Soon after the news of the possible reintroduction of the anti-homosexuality bill spread, Deputy President David Mabuza was under fire following his comments in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) that "we must be decent enough to keep our mouth shut", when he was asked about the reports, and rightly so.

Of course, he may argue that his remarks were premised on the principle of state sovereignty and non-interference in international affairs, but a government cannot remain mum when there is a clear violation of human rights.

Respecting a state's sovereignty does not necessarily come with a force field of non-responsibility, especially when SA prides itself on being the leader of the continent.

Unfortunately, Mabuza's comments did not come as a shock. South Africa and Africa as a whole have a problem of homophobia. Uganda may have made the news a few weeks ago, but homophobia in Africa is pervasive and alive.

Some African countries may not have gone as far as passing anti-gay bills, but homosexuality still remains largely stigmatised, and proponents of the anti-gay lobby argue that to be homosexual is counter to our African values.

But what does it mean to be African? I choose to use the very same argument of "Africanness" to highlight the irony of being African and homophobic.

The African nguni ubuntu, loosely translated as "humanity towards others", best highlights this irony. The word ubuntu embodies virtues that build harmony and the spirit of togetherness.

Precolonial Africa is usually lamented for its inclusivity and communal DNA. Why, then, are we selective in our longing for Africanness? Why do we selectively leave out the fact that to be African is to be kind, and to be African is to love both your brother and your sister?

Furthermore, as a continent whose "being" was violently distorted through violence and oppression, when will we realise that our hatred for apartheid and other forms of oppression is not consistent with homophobia, since homophobia is also premised on the hatred of the "other". Why, then, do we call out one form of hatred and not the other?

We seriously need to conduct introspection and ask ourselves why the world, particular Africans, hate gays and lesbians so much that we make laws that do not advance the protection of the LBGTQ+ community?

I have always argued that rights are not indivisible, meaning that we cannot be selective when it comes to ensuring that individuals' rights are protected. Freedom, by its very nature, is something that all of us have embraced in SA and we as a country have a history of violence.

This notion of heteronormativity is dangerous to the body politic of our country, and its pervasiveness causes more harm to our constitutionally enshrined rights. This is why we need to collectively hold each other accountable.

Religious and traditional leaders have a critical role to play. They cannot just look away and fold their arms as if it is business as usual.

Our educational structures also need to come to the party. Our children should be taught about inclusivity and anti-homophobic behavior from an early age. It cannot be normal that we consciously bash and dismiss homosexuality in the 21st century.

I hope that as we begin to observe the beginning of 16 Days of Activism, we will also focus on the violence that we inflict on those we deem inferior.

As German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller puts it: "First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist. Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist.

"Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me."

X