Reja Vu - A Hair Of The Dog That's Going To Bite You

Christina Engela's picture

The newly elected president of the UN General Assembly has called homosexuality "unacceptable" for his own personal religious reasons. How could such a man with such a negative anti-human rights bias be elected to such a post with such hefty human rights responsibilities? What does this bode for the future of human rights regarding the UN? How will this effect the many rights battles in the UN for women and the pink community around the world - especially in areas directly affected by human rights abuses specifically directed against the pink community?

It reminds me of the fact that our wonderfully diverse country - which the preamble to the ACDP Facebook groups always remind me of - refused to sign the UN Declaration to Decriminalize Homosexuality last year. Hmm. Apparently they cited having "principles" for not signing. The USA under conservative anti-gay Republican Bush also refused to sign, but changed its mind as soon as the Obama administration came in. We are still eagerly awaiting a South African reconsideration, but I wouldn't suggest anyone hold their breath - especially this bigot who clearly shouldn't be working in such a high UN post - he should be sitting back home in his village, sucking on a hubbly-bubbly surrounded by his harem of slaves, feeling all patriarchal.

Aside from that, our own wonderful country never seems to miss an opportunity. I heard yesterday that NESTLE South Africa (the famous sweet manufacturer) is buying milk from Mrs Mugabe's dairy farm. Never mind the international trade embargo and the fact that they are helping to fund the private fortune of a man who can only be described as a petty dictator and human rights abuser. Money is money, and of course, money talks. That outweighs anything else, which is perfectly understandable, trading up "morality" and "principles" in order to support oppression and fascist values. I suppose they will buy dates or sandals - or even hire airline pilots from Osama next *wink* or perhaps buy his stock of sour grapes?

Right now though, there is little that concerns me more than the impending assault on the human rights and equality of women and the pink community in South Africa. Right now there are events afoot in this country which justify my concern.

The ANC/Rhema/NILC initiative to remove marriage equality and abortion laws is what I am talking about.

Neither the ANC nor this new body, which is recognized only by the ANC government - have denied working together on their stated aims. What the stated NILC aims are is pretty clear. They are a religious fundamentalist group, they view the removal of a few surplus cells as "murder" and gay people having equal civil rights as "religious persecution".

What I find curious, is the stony silence in the media about this matter. Only one mainstream paper reported on it - the one that broke the story in fact- was the Mail & Guardian, and that was nearly two weeks ago. Since then there has been nothing in the news on the matter, no denials, no outcries, nothing. How do women's rights groups feel about it? How do gay rights groups feel about it? I would have to say "tense". We seem to be entering a period of watching and waiting, to see what will happen next. Perhaps they are hoping it will just go away - which is sweet, but so naive.

The NILC's focus is as narrow as their minds, their faith and their politics - gay rights and abortion are the sole reason they exist. Their statements in the press on the subject say it all - to "abolish" "liberal laws" - specifically those allowing abortion and gay marriage. The religious right in South Africa have followed the lead of American fundamentalist groups for decades and echo every move made there. They follow the American model - which means if they are successful, once they have disposed of marriage equality - the next logical step will be to re-criminalize homosexuality.

Zuma's much publicized current campaign, which he calls a "war on crime", features the encouragement of policemen by the chief of police to "shoot to kill" and other allusions to "corruption" and a return to "morality". What happens with this "war" if homosexuality becomes criminalized again? Will this mean a wholesale purge of non-heteronormative people from society and a resumption of oppression as it was in this country pre-1994? After all, if you are in government and don't like somebody, how hard is it to pass a law in order to conveniently turn them into criminals? And is this not co-incidentally what certain religious political parties and fundamentalist groups have been crying for - and promising - since 1994?

Who will make the next move? The human rights haters have already made theirs. Will they make another before there is an outcry? Or will that old example of the frog slowly boiling to death in a vat of hot water apply?

One thing we cannot simply brush off today is the fact that we have a religious fundamentalist for a President in this country. And more so, a man who has been described as a "lay pastor". This in itself is a threat to secular government - the separation of church and state - but when you add to it the homophobic remarks made by him in the media several years ago, the homophobia of his support base, their rabid and fanatic support for having him as President, their being willing to kill for him, his offer to fundie groups to "revisit" marriage equality and abortion laws, his statements regarding the close cooperation of the ANC and religious groups, I start thinking about keeping my passport handy. I don't know how you feel about this, but all my alarms are going off.

If it talks like a duck, walks like a duck and acts like a duck, then it sure ain't no pigeon.

South Africa is widely recognized as having the most liberal Constitution, protective of human rights, dignity and equality in the world today. And that is really saying something. That being said, it is more a legacy of foreign involvement in the reconstruction of South Africa as a state following the free elections of 1994, rather than a home-grown product. Looking back at that time, it seems to have been a hasty compromise which satisfied the Western democratic world, but not some malcontents here at home who despised the rights of some to the same equality they jealously guarded for themselves. It's a pity there are so many people eager to start tearing pages out of such an advanced and enlightened safeguard of human rights and equality - a drive by some to deprive people of the same rights which they themselves enjoy.

It would seem that the right to equality and human rights is far more an exclusive thing that an inclusive thing. By this, are these people saying "I am equal to everybody, but I am better than you"?

Those criticizing the SA Constitution for allowing liberal laws should bear in mind that their own civil rights are also just as enshrined in the same constitution as the rights of those they don't happen to like or agree with. Do laws which grant civil rights to specific groups not increase the civil rights and civil liberties of all the people under the Constitution?

If we have a constitution that defends human rights then shouldn't it be enforced to defend the rights of all those who are human? Considering this, shouldn't a faith such as Christianity which promises unconditional love and acceptance to all people, hold to this promise - and not be promoted by a specific group as exclusively for themselves, while in the process condemning others?

If you expect me to respect your private beliefs and faith and your rights and dignity as a person, how can you actually expect that from me if you are unwilling to reciprocate and continue to incite hatred and the vilification of mine?

If I may use a silly scenario to help illustrate my point: One group requires the right to wear orange pants, which is enshrined in the Constitution. How can other groups whose right to wear different shades of pants are also protected in the same Constitution, want to ban this right? After all, the right of that group to wear orange pants does not mean that others HAVE TO wear orange pants as well - it just means that they can go on wearing blue pants and that nobody can stop the other group from wearing orange pants should they want to. This right also extends to other groups, of course, should they feel like wearing orange pants as well, instead of blue pants - and protects the right of anyone to wear any color pants they want.

On the other hand, those who might not like to see this group wearing orange pants might object and strive to prevent that group from having this right. Instead, they would prefer them to wear blue pants, perhaps ironically as they themselves do. Those who wear orange pants have to put up with those who wear blue pants - and neither has the right to deprive the other of that right. That is the basic principle of civil rights and equality.

To add to the silliness and pettiness, if the group who favor blue pants keeps denigrating the group who wears orange pants in the press, and in cultural or religious activities, in effect inciting intolerance or even hatred for them simply on that basis, does this illustrate my point? Perhaps if I added an objection by the blue-pants-folks to the passing of hate-crimes legislation to prevent the attack of anyone on the basis of the color of their pants, it might clarify my point further? One might also ask if it is the central core of the blue-pants-wearer's beliefs to attack anyone who differs from them?

A silly scenario - but no more silly and outrageous than the bitter and tragic truth: even though a hate-crime protection law would protect heterosexual people as well as those who are not heterosexual, this law is opposed vehemently by fundie groups who seem intent on attacking the pink community and their civil rights as a manifestation of their "faith".

Likewise, in the argument against gay rights, it is the religious fundamentalists who try to deprive the pink community of their equality and civil rights, even though the pink community having equality actually does nothing to them - nor does it take anything away from them.

Same gender marriage does not take away anything from heterosexual marriage. And it must be said (because some fundies can't seem to get this simple point) that just because you MAY marry a partner of the same gender as yourself, does NOT mean you HAVE TO.

This brings up more questions for me, than answers. For instance;

Are human and civil rights safe in South Africa?

Will Zuma and the government allow tinkering and editing of the SA Constitution?

Will the rights of the pink community and of women be sold out in exchange for political support?

Are the attempts by some to deprive others of the same rights they enjoy, any more than hypocrisy? I ask this because those doing the attacking seem to want to keep their own status enshrined in the Constitution, while taking away the rights of others.

How in any way does EQUALITY with other people equate to "religious persecution"?

How does the superior civil rights of one group over others amount to "equality"? Is this not more like saying "Equality for all? No - just for these folks over there under the white flag with the blue cross on it."

Does the dignity of the fundamentalists depend on the opportunity to crow superiority over others?

Does the survival of a religion depend on the vilification and desecration of the humanity of people who do no harm?

Is it "moral" to force all people of all religions and faiths to blindly follow the customary and ritual laws of one religion? Is it right to force such religious laws into state law?

Was the lesbian judge left out of the running for the Constitutional court posts in order to "conservatize" the panel to make the rest of conservative Africa smile on a country which they perceive as "far too liberal"?

Is the unity of South Africa with other bigoted and conservative states in the much-advertised "United States of Africa" so vital to the ANC government that it will throw away the rights and equality of a minority group in order to facilitate their having more common ground wih these human rights violators?

Is human dignity and human life so cheap that the rights protecting it can be traded away to appease the appetite for intimidation and prejudice of a vicious and self-centered group?

All these questions present themselves, awaiting answers. Looking at news headlines, I feel nothing is certain.

If this fundamentalist drive to merge church and state succeeds, and I fear it is already well on the way, does it mean that everyone in this country, regardless of their own beliefs, will have to follow the religious law of one particular religion as if it were the law of the state?

We all know that old saying about "those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it".  I am getting a distinct feeling of deja vu.

Could this current state of affairs have been prevented by education of the electorate?

Would educated voters with an inkling of the implications of inaction and apathy have decided a different outcome in the latest general elections? Would educated and intelligent voters have paid more attention to the internal politics at play in the ruling party and their policies? Would educated voters have stuck blindly to a party, regardless of their performance, even in the face of a blatant disregard for human rights? And lastly, would we be left wondering if we will still have civil rights by morning?

You tell me.

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