Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Will The Real Ruling Party Please Stand Up?

What the hell is going on in South African politics?

The ANC has been coming apart at the seams since last year, with the split that resulted in the formation of COPE - something that seems to be continuing today with the threats of the President being removed through internal politic. A blood-feud between the ANC, SACP and Cosatu goes beyond threatening to tear their fragile alliance apart - and is actually making good on it. Chaos is a theme these days it appears, with mounting evidence of growing conservatism in the halls of government and a generous infusion of religious fundamentalism to boot.

If you look at the past two years or so, we've had quite a ride. Hate speech in the media by Jon Qwelane - the homophobic bigot journalist expected to appear before the Equality Court for his hate speech, who has been appointed Ambassador to Uganda while having mysteriously vanished at the same time - a curious state of affairs indeed. Next, we shall probably hear he has been in Kampala all along, carrying out duties there on behalf of the SA government (and all the taxpayers whose rights and dignity he publicly defecated on in his article in which he equated to pedophilia, bestiality and incest - and refused to apologize).

Last year, the Minister of Home Affairs threatened to table a bill to place a global ban on pornography - which less savvy people failed to realize would in effect open the door wide for the re-introduction of state censorship of all media. This in the midst of the de facto Government-slash-ruling party take-over of the national broadcasting service.

And lest we forget our Prez, who in his drive to win votes last year, opened his arms to the religious right radicals who are now clamouring to challenge the SA Constitution to rip out everything they find offensive to their religious fervor, like gay rights, abortion and marriage equality and the right to freedom of expression, religion, speech and conscience. Yup. Quite a ride. And as current events show, it is far from over.

I'm sad to bring it up, but another question has been nagging me too of late - if Caster Semenya had in fact been Indian, Colored or White, would Julius still have shown up at the airport to embarrass her with his unforgettable lack of style and diplomacy? As a trans woman myself, I have to wonder. She surely is not the first intersex person to participate in sport - many others have too, internationally - and almost without exception, they were stripped of their achievements, banned and sent home in disgrace to be ridiculed and forgotten.

Sure, she's intersex, sure she won gold - but we all know race plays a part in everything in this country - even 16 years after Apartheid supposedly kicked the bucket - or was it simply cleverly replaced with BEE? And if she had been stripped of her medal, would the grounds for objection have been discrimination against her race - or gender? That's right - intersex is a gender state too - and yet, is it recognized? No, the powers that be dared to suggest that Caster should undergo surgery "to correct her gender discrepancy" in order to compete further in sport. How dare they? Their sense of propriety, fairness and justice astonish me.

Last week when Minister of Arts & Culture Lulu Xingwana walked out of an art display citing "immorality" and making other offensive homophobic remarks because it featured pictures of something as commonplace in the art world as semi-nude females - and horror of horrors - semi-nude females embracing, I laughed out loud. Firstly, because if Lulu dearest knew anything at all about art, she would know that most classical art features at least some - if not FULL nudity, and some occasional intrinsic aspects of homosexuality. Is not native African culture not replete with scenes of group female nudity? Is that "pornography"? Is the pot not calling the kettle black?

Secondly, there is a school of thought that argues most artists might be gay. Prime examples are masters such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci - and who could seriously argue that their fine contributions to art history are "pornographic"? While that touchy matter is still open to debate, what is not - is the narrow-minded and utterly offensive behavior on the part of this Minister who flouted every article of protocol and propriety and embarrassed herself, her department and the government she represents - which gave the Opposition a golden opportunity to blast her and the ANC clear out of the water - an opportunity which I am most happy to say, they took. The DA Shadow Minister of Arts & Culture did this very satisfyingly in a press release.

Lulu's actions trampled the dignity of the artists and the guests - and trashed the Constitutional protections of freedom of expression, and freedom of speech, among others. Her little hissy fit slammed the door closed on any chance of debate or intelligent discussion or dialog, as is so typical in Government policy these days - if you agree with us it is democratic, if not, then you are being racist/xenophobic/immoral and we will not talk to you and pretend you do not exist.

Interesting things are happening in this country these days, and by "interesting" I am making a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Chinese curse that goes "may you live in interesting times". By "interesting" I mean, if you look at history, it is a sad and distressing fact that the most "interesting" times are the ones laced with strife, death, suffering, violence, cruelty, natural disasters and social instability. Hmm.

Yesterday I wrote about the groups of right-wing churches making war on gender diversity in the city of Johannesburg. It was only afterwards that I saw the Christian Democratic Alliance's newly revamped website advertising their so-called "Real Men Campaign" which claims that "real men do not rape" and "real men do not support abortion".

Ahem.

Somehow, to me, this claim seems strangely at odds with the Patriarchal ideology which aims to enforce the treatment of women like servants and second class human beings, and which seeks to use the Christian bible as rather flimsy justification for this. It seems to me that rapists and other abusers of women (or even weaker men - that's right, men can be and often are weak too, BEIN) tend to think of themselves as "real men" for what they do, with whatever is hanging between their legs. It seems to me that the entire concept of "real" men is the defining characteristic of the demagogue, the Patriarch and the abuser of the physically weaker, or effeminate.

Anyway, we know this party as a particularly homophobic and bigoted group, which fortunately for human rights in this country, did not win a single seat in Parliament in last year's general elections - it's first year of existence. Of course, this has not deterred them from trying even harder since, and scoffing at the suggestion that they are out of touch with the electorate (and reality) and should stop wasting their time, turn over a new leaf and actually start acting like the Christians they claim they are.

We were however, more than a little upset about the prayer meeting in Pretoria this weekend, attended by many right wing conservatives who have typically called for changes to the Constitution to remove gay rights, as reported in the Afrikaans newspaper Rapport.

This prayer meeting, attended by notable right wing fundamentalist figures such as Angus Buchan (who is anti-gay and promotes abusive and dangerous "ex-gay therapy" to supposedly "pray gay people straight"), and the head of the Moreletta Park NG church (the church that fired a gay music teacher in 2008 and was forced by court order to make reparations).

All the regular points of import on the conservative fundamentalist checklist were made at the event, from promotion of conservative moral laws to promoting abstinence only education and outlawing abortion.

Gay marriage was one of the points they addressed. One could be forgiven for thinking that this was an ACDP, CDA or Family Policy Institute rally. I wonder if Erroll Naidoo was there? He would be cheering on from the sidelines for sure. As it is, he has been bragging in his FPI newsletter since late last year on how he has been making inroads influencing government ministers to share in his conservative and anti-gay delusions - and in the Western Cape too, disturbingly enough - currently a DA stronghold. Of course one has to wonder how true his claims are, him having the flair for the dramatic and all. Must go with that hairstyle of his. Irony of ironies, perhaps his hairstylist is "family" and thinks the "Family Policy Institute" is a gay rights group. If only.

According to the Rapport, the usual fundamentalist Christianist calls were made to re-introduce prejudiced Christianist clauses into the SA Constitution - as well as calls to remove human rights equalities of the pink community from the same Constitution. "Oom Angus" as his flock of devout dyed-in-the-wool followers call him, was called to pray for political leaders and "morality" in South Africa - but as it turns out, we were in for another surprise.

Strangely enough, Opposition Party leader, Helen Zille was also in attendance. This troubled me. Many thoughts flashed through my mind at finding this out. Had our rights suddenly become too much of a liability to stand up for? Had we become a casualty of convenience?

Perhaps we can excuse Helen for being there, after all, she might not know the Ranting, Raving, Radical Right like we pink folk do. She might not know that "Oom Angus" hates gay people and refuses to accord us any respect or dignity, or that he unrepentantly reduces women to servants of men on a regular basis - and uses the same God she worships as a convenient excuse for his bigotry. She probably doesn't recall the Moreletta Park court case of 2008, where the NG church was tarred and feathered for its unrepentant cruelty and injustice for firing a gay music teacher for daring to not obey their decree that he should remain celibate if he wanted to continue working for them. Nor is she likely aware of what kind of crowd such a lineup of right wingers would draw.

What Was Helen Thinking?

We wanted to know, so we decided to ask her. Ms Zille responded to an inquiry via email, very promptly I might add, by the very next morning, despite being on a tight schedule:

"I was invited to be part of a gathering that would pray for government, and for South Africa’s future. I accepted the invitation.

I made it quite clear, repeatedly, to the media at the gathering, that the Democratic Alliance strongly supports the constitution -- indeed we are the only remaining defenders of the constitution -- and that means that we defend ALL THE RIGHTS enshrined in the constitution. I said we did NOT associate ourselves with calls to change the constitution, because that is all that stands between us and power abuse.
I am a Christian and I believe in prayer. But this does NOT mean that all Christians agree with one another. And I did not fudge this issue at the meeting either.
I shall speak to the organizers of the upcoming meeting in Cape Town to make it clear that we must uphold the constitution as the point of departure and that we must defend everyone’s rights under the constitution. I will never fudge this issue."

I am satisfied with this response and relieved that the DA remains the bastion of democracy and equality - and equal opportunity in South Africa. At least I can see that Ms Zille has far more integrity, diplomacy and professionalism than our friend Lulu. By this I mean she did not throw a tantrum, offend anyone, make a scene or storm out of the proceedings, leaving a red-faced subordinate to try and do her job and public duty for her, just because she didn't agree with them - which is obvious from her statement. And at least she made her position clear in such a way that offended nobody and kept channels for dialog open - which is the mark of a professional politician, and a true diplomat.

Although I might add, that a follow-up statement in the media to this effect would not go far wrong. After all, there are so few GLBTI people in this country who seem to be paying attention to what is happening around them - so many actually think there really are no political parties in this country that cover our rights or defend our Constitution - the Constitution which they think is indestructible and untouchable and gives them reason to be apathetic and inert. So many of them haven't the vaguest idea which political parties support or condemn anything. If political parties interested in growing and cultivating an equal opportunity society in this country want to succeed, then they have to start reaching the people they support. They have to start telling people who should be listening - and the people who should be listening - those who have so few choices - should open their eyes, open their ears - and start paying attention and stop acting like lost ostriches looking for holes in the ground to hide in.

It's clear to me now that 2009 was just a warm-up. 2011 is coming - and 2114 thereafter. Those who hate us and plot our excision from the Constitution have not given up, they are planning their next campaigns in earnest. We must also be smarter voters next time around.

I might also take the time to point out that in stark contrast with the rapid response we received, we have been asking the Government of this country for responses on numerous issues that worry us - and so far, in the last three years, they have never bothered to respond, reply or even to acknowledge receipt of any of our communiques.

I also know that some - even in the pink community, will call me biased in favor of this political party. Let them. What they will refuse to admit is the fact that, at this point in time, there really are no other realistic alternatives among the horses in the stable - and I refuse to support a party just because I like the pretty little logo, or the color, or because my parents or friends support it, or because of what they represented twenty years ago. Whoever they are, if they want my vote, they have to make a real difference, stop the lip-service, talk sense - act in kind, and defend my rights and equality. And that goes for all of them.

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