Monday, December 14, 2009

From The Squeak To The Tail


Have you seen the Uganda issue is finally making the news in SA? Finally? After more than a month of international protests and campaigning by human rights bodies? A month and a half?

Three whole mentions on 5fm news this past Friday morning, plus an enjoyable and lengthy rant on the topic by DJ Gareth Cliff - in the Mail & Guardian and one tiny paragraph I found buried somewhere in the middle of the Herald. What continues to upset me is the broad lack of interest in SA. No official comment, no acknowledgment of objections or petitions and no protests either. Over in the US and UK groups are calling for protest action - and gathering outside Ugandan embassies. That's right, people actually pitch up when you call a protest over there. I have to wonder how many people would turn up for a protest in SA anyway with all the pervasive apathy? Past experience tends to make me cautious.

The Ugandan Genocide Bill has been widely publicized over the last month and a half - mostly by pink media and advocacy organizations and other NGO's - and mostly not in South Africa. This proposed new law addresses every possible factor which may be used to corner and further oppress and even destroy GLBTI Ugandans. It adopts a pose that flies in the face of accepted medical practice by grouping all sub-groups of what is known as the pink community (such as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex) together, labeling them all "homosexual" and then adding insult to injury by labeling them "un-Ugandan", "un-African" (even "un-Christian") and a "threat" to religion and Ugandan society as well. It even criminalizes heterosexual people who do not betray family members, friends, employees, employers, acquaintances - or anyone they encounter - to the authorities on suspicion of their sexual orientation or gender identity - and rewards them with a 3-year jail sentence.

Given the Ugandan government's defiance in the face of mounting international outrage and pressure, it still seems this bill may yet pass in its un-altered form, although an all-too-brief attempt was made by some in Uganda to say it would pass with alterations. The main proponent of the Genocide Bill, an MP called Bahati - describes it as "Christian". I have to wonder about that, considering that he does not stand alone on that point. Over in the USA there are some very high-profile clergymen who are now trying very desperately to avoid being connected to their former star pupils. In fact, their recent condemnation of what could be called their own handiwork leading up to this Bill has even backfired, with Bahati lamenting their "giving in to pressure" and for not standing by their "Christian" principles. Indeed.

And yet, we have to wonder what that altered form would look like - seeing as it is a draconian piece of legislature even with the omission of the death penalty and lifetime imprisonment for GLBTI people. In fact, there is even talk this disgusting and downright uncivilized law would include the forced "treatment" of their victims in so-called "ex-gay therapy" centres, no doubt encouraged by the Ugandan government's ally - Exodus International, a US anti-gay group which has desperately tried to shed its mantle of responsibility and complicity in the oppression of innocent Ugandans.

A few things are clearly evident in the Ugandan saga. Hatred, fear, ignorance, religious fundamentalism - and outside interference. But the biggest for me is the hatred. It says how little they know about us, how much they think they know about us, how little value they place on our lives, how much they want to deprive us of freedom, liberty, equality and even the right to live. How right they believe they are and how much they try to justify their hatred for something their colonial masters taught them to hate, with the very same remnants of the colonial mindset, religion and laws which they claim to so bitterly resent.

The extent to which they hate us is evident in the complexity of this bill - a piece of legislation which says "we hate you, what you stand for, where you came from, what you feel, and everything about you - from the squeal to the tail".

South Africa - a huge investor in Uganda - is doing nothing, and saying nothing. Of course, the recent discovery of oil in the central African country could be a contributing factor to this. The silence of the SA government - and our silence as a community can only be interpreted to mean that the plight of the pink community in Uganda and the genocidal drive in Ugandan society are either not important - or not as important as the Soccer World Cup - or that they are in full agreement with it. You might guess which point I think applies.

People only seem to be outraged by human rights abuses if they happen to think of the victims as human, or if it affects their particular social group. I often wonder if straight people had to realize how much our lives and relationships are so much just like theirs, would they not lose interest in their "culture war" very quickly? I also often wonder if this is not why they fight so hard to prevent the truth about GLBTI people from being portrayed unhindered, and that they flood the internet and public media with absurd claims about the pink community being "perverted", "deviant" or a "threat" to everything from religion to economic stability in order to maintain the oppressive status quo.

As for the Ugandans now seriously looking for places to go, South Africa is most likely the very last place Ugandan refugees should come to. With all the ongoing xenophobic violence here, they would be targeted soon enough.

And all this because of apathy and disinterest in politics. I say this because the simple truth is that if there had been any voices in authority, in government or in the influential Ugandan churches, this foul misdeed would never have escalated to this point. Pink voices and the voices of the fair and just would have spoken up and opposed the madness in Uganda. Instead, those voices were absent and the pink masses lie at the mercy of the mad, the vicious and the vile who would commit a slaughter in the name of "family values", "justice" and "God's Will".

All this leads me to one conclusion: change in Africa - and for us in South Africa - is very, very necessary. A change of heart and a change of government. It actually makes me look forward to the next local and national elections. One thing is absolutely certain - apathy and silence equals death.

I have to agree with Mahatma Gandhi, who said: "Be the change you want to see in the world" - in fact, I live by it.

Let's start working on that now already. Let's start today, right now. Let's make this world a safer, better world for everyone. Let's make a difference.

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