Friday, July 17, 2009

Equality - A Goalpost On Wheels For Every Occasion

In December last year, a man was thrown off a moving commuter train in Johannesburg. The Metro security didn't come to his aid - because the two men who threw him of the train were Metro security guards - supposedly there to protect the passengers from just this sort of thing. His crime? Carrying a woman's handbag and behaving in a feminine manner. To compound this insult to his person and dignity, when he tried to report the incident at a police station, the policemen refused to take his statement or lay a charge - and chased him away.

A few weeks ago, a transgender woman reported being assaulted in the street by a man who hurled abuse (and a soft drink can) at her for being transsexual. And this for just daring to walk past him in the street while being transgender! Police refused to take her statement when she wanted to report the incident or to lay a charge of common assault.

Last Friday night a man was accosted by four other men while walking home who called out obscenities and threw small stones at him from behind, striking him on the back. When he stopped to confront them, they taunted him by saying "what are you going to do about it?"

Despite the fact that every time a particular gay business owner calls the cops to remove illegal foreign criminals selling drugs at the nearby corner, they never bother to show up - but last Saturday night a pair of policemen and a security guard turned up to harrass the regular car guard hired by them (who has been instrumental in foiling a number of robberies in the immediate vicinity) outside, threatening him with arrest for "being in the street".

On Monday I heard about a post-op transwoman who had a job offer at her current employer for a permanent contract withdrawn after she informed the HR officer about her trans history and called her a "he-she thing". She had to threaten them with legal action and public exposure in the press to get the company to deal with the offender and rectify her contract details.

Yesterday a man reported being called a "fucking moffie" (three times) by a municipal street cleaner in the street accosted him at the entrance to his business - and told by him that his complaints to the municipality would "get him nowhere". So far this has been the case.

This morning another man reported that his HR department at work was repeatedly harrassing him about the family responsibity leave he submitted for leave he took when his partner was ill, despite the repeated explanation that they are in a civil union and he cannot produce an actual marriage certificate.

It seems that everywhere around us there is still prejudice and bigotry which regularly boils over into discrimination and hate crime - and yet many of us for some weird reason believe that we have "already won equality" in South Africa and can therefore afford to sit back and not worry about affairs which concern us. While there are other larger concerns which affect us all, such as discrimination in the national blood service, no hate crime laws targeting homophobic or transphobic offences, no legal definition of male rape - or the perpetual threats of certain groups to revoke the rights we do have, these incidents are the other side of the coin. The side we don't see much, unless we experience this ourselves. It is reminiscent of George Orwell's Animal Farm in which he states that "all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than other animals".

If this is equality then perhaps my understanding of the lingua franca has slipped a little - because equality means not having to face any of the above scenarios.

I wonder what that means... Don't you?

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