Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jacob, Jacob, Wherefore Art Thou?

Why has President Zuma of South Africa, who visited Uganda for a few days this past week, not condemned the Ugandan Genocide Bill?

The bill in question, which is still being debated in the Ugandan Parliament and - if passed, will condemn millions of innocent Ugandans to death simply for being born gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex - and simply for being a favorite scapegoat and target for the hatred of an increasingly virulent homophobic agenda in Uganda. This legislation will also effectively turn many heterosexual people into criminals just for not reporting the existence of GLBTI colleagues, parishioners, neighbors, clients, family and friends to the authorities and for "harboring criminals".

This bill has over the past six months drawn the ire and outright condemnation of churches, companies, advocacy groups, the UN, and governments from countries all over the world - except the largest, most prosperous and influential country in Southern Africa. A country, whose Constitution promises dignity, equality and legal protections to everyone, but in this case - specifically pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity. A country, whose government has thus far completely ignored all requests from advocacy groups in South Africa to speak out on this issue, and to add its voice to the weight of condemnation from those countries who are concerned with the welfare of the human rights of the Ugandan people.

Of course, this Bill - which seems likely to be passed, is more drastic than the current anti-gay laws which stop short of instituting state-endorsed mass murder, but are in themselves, quite drastic and make a mockery of the concept of human rights. Of course, it is because of these "shortcomings" that the new Bill was proposed - and welcomed by politician, clergyman and commoner alike.

I checked all the newspaper reports on JZ's visit to Uganda that I could find - including mention of his speech - and NOTHING about the genocide bill! Not a word! But I did notice a lot of mention of South African government investment and involvement in supporting the Ugandan regime and about increasing future SA investments in Uganda! I also saw mention of some SA companies and role players investing in Uganda - which included our famous MTN - the so-called "better connection"! Let me just state for the record that because MTN has pointedly ignored the situation there, without even so much as condemning the Ugandan government for its actions - I will NEVER support MTN again!

I and others have been asking for months why South Africa's government has been ignoring our questions and requests to speak out on the Ugandan issue. Email and fax campaigns by SA GLAAD and others have gone unanswered and unacknowledged, while the same government has given us, repeatedly, reason to doubt their enthusiasm for gay rights and equalities enshrined in our own Constitution.

Why? Why have they stonewalled us? Why have they failed GLBTIQ South Africans and Ugandans alike? Why have they forsaken the commitment in the SA Constitution to equality, dignity and human rights?

Read between the lines - investment, business opportunities, repaying Uganda's president for helping liberation movements during the struggle years, uniting against former colonial powers, and last but not least - the sticky and enticing promise of cheap OIL.

It is about many things - but I think it is mainly about GREED.

Is the humanity and human right to liberty, equality, justice and decent treatment of the Ugandan and South African pink communities just not shiny enough to attract his attention, or to compete?

Is the world watching this? Are they watching South Africa sell our Ugandan family's lives down the river? Are they watching our President trade his silence and complicity for a bag of coins?

Am I disappointed? Yes I am. Am I surprised? Not one bit. I am glad of his visit to Uganda, though. Why?

Because even though he failed us as President and even though he and the ruling party have failed the GLBTI people of Uganda, his visit has generated coverage of a speech which contains NOTHING about the Bill - or about Ugandan GLBTI human rights - and listed some of South Africa's economic and business interests in Uganda - and what SA has been doing there for the past few years, while remaining completely silent on blatant human rights violations - and highlighting this silence.

I am repulsed by the kind of mentality which can claim to want to "boost moral regeneration" by considering lewd propositions from fundamentalist groups of the same ilk that influenced Uganda to pass murderous laws, to bombard the SA public with increased religious programming - but which refuses to speak out against horrendous crimes against ordinary people.

I am outraged by a government which calls works of art pornographic and which seeks to limit freedom of expression on the excuse of "morality" and yet when an opportunity to prove how "moral" they are, they side with abusers of human rights and those who glorify acts of terror - and show solidarity with those who commit crimes against humanity. I am utterly and profoundly shocked by the sheer hypocrisy of those who claim moral high ground and trade human lives and dignity - and forsake the downtrodden - for the sake of power and wealth.

Mr Zuma, your speech in the Ugandan parliament mentioned unity and "moving closer" to Uganda. You mentioned nothing about the cruel policies being enforced by the Ugandan government - which violate human rights by every definition of the term. You would have the people of South Africa believe that stronger ties and even unity with impoverished neighbors who have inferior concepts of human rights and inadequate perceptions of the value of human life - are more important than the very principles which you seem keen on trading away - and that this is somehow a good thing for all concerned!

Mr Zuma, because of your actions - and your lack of good moral character as President of South Africa, I am well and truly ashamed of my own country, it's president, your government - your failure to defend the Constitution of this country and the mandate it places upon you to protect the lives, dignity and rights of ALL your citizens and those of countries which you deal with on our behalf. And of course, of all those social groups and businesses - and their owners - still involved in Uganda and only interested in where the next immoral blood-soaked Rand will come from.

I FOR ONE, WILL NEVER SUPPORT MTN AGAIN - nor any other company whose services I can do without which I discover to be complicit in imposing misery and oppression on people like me. And I don't want oil from Uganda - or anything else from there which costs the dignity, freedom and human rights of people like me - and which causes those behind the terror, oppression and destruction of innocent lives to profit in any way.

All right, we cant actually boycott Eskom for supplying Uganda. We cant exactly stop paying taxes to the SA government for stabbing us in the back - at least, not without getting into trouble with the law. But we CAN boycott the companies operating in Uganda and supporting a murderous regime intent on killing the Queer community in that country. Even if that means no Coke, no beer, no DSTV and changing bank accounts and other service providers. Right?

I hope so. I have heard of a condemned person paying their own executioner - but this is taking things a bit far.

This oppressive crackdown on the human rights of GLBTI people in Africa seems to be spreading, like a cancer. Even in the murders in Kenya last week, it was minority groups who were targeted - and specifically people seen as different - us - the gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender and intersex - and anyone with the moral character to stand up against mob-rule and violent fanaticism. This lapse in humanity is eating away at the illusion I had only just started believing in, called "ubuntu" - an intrinsic part of what we have only recently come to call "the South African Dream". Well the shocking truth is that the dream is hanging on by a thread - it is rapidly morphing into a blood-soaked nightmare.

Surprisingly, South Africa has also been involved in Zimbabwe for the past decade, and President Zuma was recently there too, brokering cooperation between Tsvangerai and Mugabe. And, we hope - promoting the morality which cherishes, nurtures and protects a culture of human rights and the value of human life, dignity and equality - and all the values we hold dear in a constitutional democracy.

Of course, I have never read or heard anything from our government condemning anti human rights practices in Zimbabwe either - and whenever they try to dismiss criticism for not speaking out against human rights violations, they claim to not have "the right to interfere in the workings of other sovereign nations". Yet despite this claim, they have been doing this whenever it suits them - just not whenever it affects the well being of those they obviously do not care about.

What I found even more shocking, was the news article reporting that Morgan Tsvangerai, leader of the Opposition and the Prime Minister, has joined Mugabe in denouncing gay rights and their inclusion in the new Constitution of Zimbabwe.

I have personally, and as part of advocacy organizations, consistently condemned Mugabe for his fanatical grip and obsession with remaining in power to the detriment of his entire country, even running the economy into the ground in the process. I have also condemned his attack on the humanity and dignity of his GLBTI citizens and his claim that being gay is "un-African" when in point of fact it is his personal twisted brand of "morality" which is that.

I have consistently supported Morgan Tsvangerai and his MDC in the pursuit for a new government, his battles against the intimidation and oppression of Mugabe and the Zanu PF, and his talk of freedom from tyranny, an end to corruption and equality before the law.

Until now, it seemed they could never agree on absolutely anything.

Until now I thought the flame of freedom and democracy burned bright in Zimbabwe. Now I see it is instead their country which is burning.

Until now, I had been cheering Tsvangerai on - but no longer.

In Zimbabwe, this anti-human rights sentiment - and in Uganda, Musseveni's talks about "the dangers of the re-colonization of Africa" are a dire harbinger of the emerging mindset in the 21st century Africa - unity - and unity at all costs - and the elimination not only of diversity, free thought and human rights - but just the diversity, free thought and human rights they don't think people should have.

What kind of liberation group would fight for freedom, justice and equality not for ALL people - but only for themselves while joining their own adversaries in oppressing others? Perhaps the same as fundamentalist religious groups who proclaim their God's love of all people - and the same God's hatred of people they dislike - in the very same breath?

Now, all of a sudden - more than ever - Zimbabwe reminds me of a closing line in George Orwell's classic "Animal Farm" that says: "The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Africa has gone mad. Again. Or still. I can't make up my mind which applies.

Of course, if you live in SA, you need to ask yourself what all this - the ANC's new "morality vote", Zuma's homophobic stance, the government's support of groups such as the NILC and its failure to live up to its claims of "morality" and failure to speak out in defense of human rights - may mean for the future of our rights in our own country. It is a question I have been pondering deeply for some time now, with increasingly dark answers forthcoming.

More than just the opportunity to speak out against these stark crimes against humanity has just gone down the tubes, Mr Zuma. Care to guess what else has?

South Africa's human rights record.

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