Portent Pending

Christina Engela's picture


I am not qualified to say what God wants - or what God says - and I don't believe anybody else is either. In fact, all I know is what I feel and what I want and what I need - that is what it is to be human and mortal - and fallible. Some people would do well to realize this and put down their sharpened books, get off their pedestals and stop waving their fingers down at us, as though they are somehow special and have a hot line to God.

There is a disturbing trend developing in parts of the modern world, to connect good morals (called "morality") and Christianity, as if people who are not fundamentalist Christians are somehow automatically exempted from being people of good moral character. Feminists, even when Christian, are described as "backsliding" or "misled" simply because they believe, somewhat controversially - that women are equal to their male counterparts - and thus disagree with the Patriarchy, which has appointed itself, somewhat arrogantly and presumptuously, as a middle-man between humanity and the divine.

I still cannot quite understand what makes some people think that their faith or even their fanatical belief in a religion or deity makes some people "better" or more "worthy" than others, qualifies them to sit in judgment of others, and somehow elevates their own personal view of the world - or "morality" above that of the rest of us mere mortals. The fact that this unenlightened sectarian point of view seems to be steadily creeping into South Africa's young democratic government however, while undeniable - is frightening.

We have government ministers who are also religious ministers - and not just ordinary pastors - but fundamentalist clergy - people who have a distinctly conservative agenda - people like the Chief Whip of Parliament and several ANC MP's who are also leading members of Ray Macaulay and Jacob Zuma's "God Squad" - people who run a group which has openly announced its intentions to attack the SA Constitution to remove the civil rights of the pink community. Clearly the infiltration of religious fundamentalism into government and organs of state is a conflict of interests, and can be compared to a slow, creeping cancer.

To my understanding, a government of the people, by the people and for the people should represent and care for ALL the people - not just the elite, or the upper echelons of society, but also the poor, the down-trodden and protect the civil and human rights of each and every person. As much as those pushing South Africa's progress in terms of human rights over the past two decades like to brag, they still cannot hide the fact that South Africa is falling far short of the promises made by its leadership, and its advanced Constitution.

There are many signs in South African internal affairs of late which indicate that the part of the state - and ancillary bodies - which should be enforcing the provisions of the SA Constitution which gives us equality and protection against hate crime, hate speech, persecution, oppression and which guarantee us equality - is not doing it's job. We, as a portion of South African society, are being let down and failed by the state.

Let's look at a few examples:

Aubrey Levin and his sidekicks in the state-sponsored GLBTI torture program, slipped through the legal cracks during the 1990's, when the TRC somehow managed to let them off the hook and let them slip through their net - and nothing has been done about it in South Africa right up to this very day. As a matter of interest, some of Levin's colleagues still practice psychology and medicine in South Africa. The records show that no serious effort was made to round these people up and bring them to justice. Rather, it was allowed to slip through the cracks and now lies in the hands of Canadian Justice to right some of the wrongs done to our community by the Apartheid regime, because as we all know by now, racism is a far more serious crime than insignificant little homophobia.

Is our blood not as red as straight people, our tragedies not as tragic or as meaningful, our joys as rewarding, our lives as valuable?

That homophobic Media24 journalist, Jon Qwelane, who should have already appeared in the Equality Court to face charges brought against him for inciting harm and hate speech against women priests and gay people for wanting to marry - has instead been rewarded by our state President, who spirited him out of SA and into a job as SA Ambassador to Uganda - where their government is involved in gross human rights violations against the pink community. Of course, he is the right man for the job, being a racist, anti-feminist and homophobe in a country that views these qualities as "patriotic". And let's not forget that Uganda threatened to boycott SA interests in their country if Zuma acceded to our wishes, and recalled Qwelane. Well, guess what?

Our government is not engaging with us in dialog - and when I say "us", I mean the pink community. We send them emails, we call the presidential hot line, we send press releases, requests and objections and complaints - and they ignore us completely. If that isn't a clear sign, then I don't know what is.

Religious groups are freely setting up billboards attacking diversity and specifically the pink community - the so-called "Real Men" campaign in Johannesburg is just one example (using a slogan of "Men be men, women be women, pansies be flowers" - as is the similar program of the Christian Democratic Alliance (CDA). And yet nobody says or does anything about it. How did this get by the Advertising Standards Authority? We have lodged complaints, several weeks ago and eagerly await an outcome.

The recent case of the Rev Ecclesia de Lange - who was fired from the Methodist Church of South Africa - simply for marrying her partner, even in another church - demonstrates the latent level of hostility and intolerance manifest in South African churches - even those which supposedly welcome diversity. This is yet another upcoming court case which we as a community should be watching - and most keenly indeed.

Many advocacy groups are concerned about the rising frequency of attacks on gay and trans people in the black community - with so-called "corrective rapes" claiming several lives this year already, it is clear that the pink community is facing increasing hostility. The fact that the SA government and SAPS seem to be saying and doing nothing to address this issue in terms of education campaigns or improving relations with the pink community and CBO's, speaks volumes and is most distressing.

The fact that Media24 has asked for a stay in proceedings in the Jon Qwelane case pending the outcome of their challenge of Act no 4 of 2000 (The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, 2000 (4 of 2000) - and that this has gone virtually unreported in the media is very, very worrying indeed. This Act is the only real hate crimes law we have protecting our community, it is the front line of what seems rapidly to be a war which has been declared on us by conservatives - it blocks a loophole in the SA Constitution, which failed to mention "sexual orientation" in it - and if it is removed or altered, it will allow media companies and their homophobic journalists to target the pink community freely without fear of facing legal redress for their actions. Media24 has done this in reaction to the charges brought against Media24 and Qwelane - the journalist who wrote that hateful article in 2008 "Call me names but gay is not okay" by the Human Rights Commission. This means simply, that if the law is changed, no charges can be brought against Qwelane or Media24. This will in effect, exonerate Media24 and Jon Qwelane of their crimes - and also clear the way for unprincipled, prejudiced and misogynistic journalism to go completely unchallenged in the future.

I say this, because it also means that if the law is changed to allow hate speech against people on the basis of sexual orientation, we will no longer have any grounds to lodge complaints - and they will be able to publish and incite hate speech freely. It will also undermine what little authority the HRC still has in terms of human rights protection, if any. As it is, it seems the Human Rights Commission only has EFFECTIVE authority over matters regarding racism, which are handled very expediently with full and vocal government interest and support - and when it comes to matters of homophobia, its hands are tied by bureaucratic bungles, government interference and interlocutory applications by powerful media conglomerates.

While it is bad enough trying to get convictions and action taken against homophobia and transphobia with laws already in place that are simply not being supported or enforced - imagine what we will face if even these laws are cancelled or overturned?

Do we write to Media24 to tell them what arrogant cocky s.o.b's they are? Do we still buy their products and give them our money? Did you watch DSTV this morning? That's right, that "YOU" magazine or "Beeld" newspaper you just bought didn't cost much, but it will help fund their war on our community. Where is our pride? Where is our solidarity? Where is our outrage at the way these people treat us like second class citizens and objects of ridicule and derision? Where is our anger at their challenge to the one piece of legislation that protects our dignity?

If it were up to me, I would do one or all of the following: 1) Write to Media24 and let them know how you feel about their attack on our rights. 2) Boycott Media24 products, goods and services 3) Write to the government to let them know how you feel about their failure to act on our objections to appointing Qwelane as Ambassador to Uganda 4) Pay attention to current events and stay informed - and inform others 5) Get involved in advocacy organizations, even if you just join them or get onto their mailing lists 6) Write to advocacy organizations and ask them to speak out in these matters 7) Write to Opposition political parties and ask them to speak out in defense of Act no 4 of 2000 and the SA Constitution. 8) Talk about this to friends, family, colleagues - people in the community need to know what is happening around them and how it affects them.

That's what I would do. But hey, that's just me, and I'm only an activist. I really feel that all human rights advocacy groups - and not just gay community groups - should be taking these matters up far more vocally - these incidents are on the increase and the community is still generally apathetic...but that's okay folks - partying is far more exciting than paying attention to politics, right? This is potentially a very dangerous time for us in SA - and we all know how cool it is to say "I'm not interested in politics", don't we? Yes, very cool indeed.

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