Thursday, April 1, 2010

Once Upon A Hate-Crime

Come kiddies, gather round - aunty Tina is going to tell you all a story... somebody was kind enough to send it to me, and I want to share it with you because it made me think. Pay attention in class, because I will be throwing lollipops at anyone I see sleeping - and there will be questions afterwards.
Once upon a time, a mouse looked through a crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package.

"What food might this contain?" The mouse wondered. He was devastated to discover it was a mousetrap. Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed this warning :

"There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The pig sympathized, but said, "I am so very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow and said, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse. I'm sorry for you, but it's no skin off my nose."

So, the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer's mousetrap . . .. alone.. . ..

That very night a sound was heard throughout the house -- the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey.

The farmer's wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it. It was a venomous snake whose tail was caught in the trap. The snake bit the farmer's wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital. When she returned home she still had a fever.

Everyone knows you treat a fever - with fresh chicken soup. So the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup's main ingredient. But his wife's sickness continued. Friends and neighbors came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

But, alas, the farmer's wife did not get well... She died. So many people came for her funeral that the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them for the funeral luncheon.

And the mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness.

So, the next time you hear someone is facing a problem and you think it doesn't concern you, remember --- When one of us is threatened, we are all at risk.

We are all involved in this journey called life. We must keep an eye out for one another and make an extra effort to encourage one another."

I would like to use this story to illustrate the story of human rights in South Africa. The mouse could represent any group you like, but obviously it would be a group whose rights are clearly under threat - typically at the moment, it would be us - the Pink Community. And the other farm animals? Well, they could be any other group - presumably groups which are so secure in their own social status that they feel they would never suffer the same fate which threatens to befall the mouse. Actually, the farm animals could also represent the general public - apathetic and disinterested - and the mouse, the people trying to raise the alarm about the threat facing them all. And the Farmer? Well, I think that is open to interpretation, but I would suggest that the farm is a euphemism for the country, and the Farmer is seen as the leader or owner of the farm - so paint any face you like on him... we all have our favorites.

And before you ask, no - this is not a tongue-in-cheek reference to the recent song that made it to the top of South African charts, "kill the boer" by Juliaaas and the Xtremes.

There are many stories or comparisons I have used to illustrate the apathy, disinterest and inaction in South Africa in the past - my favorite was the inscription on the Holocaust Memorial, and the second favorite was the pot of frogs on a slow stove, slowly boiling them to death, but so slowly the frogs did not even notice. I think this little story has just moved to the top of the list. Of course, it pales in comparison to the stark reality of the story which follows - which is, obviously - real.

For years we as human rights activists have been warning of the gradual deterioration of the protections and perceived value of human rights and the Constitutional protections thereof - and for years we have watched apathy and disinterest enable the rise and progress of determined groups - whether conservative or religious fundamentalists - and watched their influence grow.

I would still like to express my sincere appreciation for the hard work of the SAHRC in trying to bring Media24 and Mr.Qwelane to the Equality Court to answer for their actions. I live in hope that this matter may be resolved successfully, although I have to express my misgivings at the contents of their report on the matter, which was the focus of a press release I sent out in the early hours of this morning.

It is of great concern that this move by Media24 to challenge the validity of Act No 4 of 2000, the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (whole or in part) would constitute a direct assault on the validity of constitutional provisions for human rights, equality and prevention of discrimination against people on the grounds of sexual orientation.

As you should be aware, this Act is currently the only recourse open to human rights groups and individuals when faced with offensive material or hate speech on the basis of sexual orientation in the media or in the workplace, there being a loophole in the Constitution (sec 16.2(c)).

Should this Act be removed or altered in order to circumvent these protections, then homophobic individuals and groups will be free to vent whatever hate speech and incitement to hatred they wish against people on the basis of sexual orientation, as this will once again be allowed to slip through the same loophole in the Constitution which resulted in the drafting of the Act.

Various groups have recently been undertaking to have the Constitution changed in order to remove provisions which grant our community equality - and it seems that this is simply another one - except that they have targeted specifically the Achilles heel of our legal protections - the Act which is intended to close the loophole in the Constitution itself.

Act No 4 of 2000 has long been seen as a weak point in our equality in this country, and many feel that it would have been unnecessary to draft such an Act if the Constitution itself did not have the glaring loophole which omitted "sexual orientation" from the list of groups protected against hate speech and incitement to hate. The Constitution itself should have been checked properly at the draft stage in the first place to ensure such loopholes did not occur.

I am no legal expert, but it seems to me that Media24 is by this action attempting to either delay prosecution to the point where the case may be eventually scrapped - or escape prosecution by removing the article which criminalizes their actions.

Mr.Qwelane may of course also decide to simply not show up at the Equality Court and have his lawyers file a similar paper as Media24, asking to not be prosecuted until Media24 has finished tearing up Act No4 of 2000 - in which case he will simply walk away Scot-free. It seems in both their interests to simply play for time.

Either way, this move by Media24 is a genuine attack on the equality of diversity, which is entrenched in the SA Constitution - in fact, no matter which way I look at it, no matter what the motive, this is exactly what it looks like to me.

Apathy is an interesting thing. Back in 2008, after the Qwelane-gate issue broke - a consumer boycott on Media24 products was called - and I have to wonder, despite this interesting turn of events, just how many members of the Pink Community, their friends and families will continue to make use of their services and buy their products as if they are not in effect supporting them in doing so?

Of course, if an ordinary citizen were to be fined for speeding and wanted to challenge the relevant Act which described his or her offence, making it an offence - it could be deduced that this person is indirectly admitting to his or her crime - but is intent on changing the rules in their favor so that they can get away with it. We of course have a pretty good idea that such a citizen would not get very far, don't we? Well, anyway - I used to think so.

In fact, I would say that Act No 4 of 2000 - as well as the SA Constitution and the Bill of Rights form the very foundation of the SA Human Rights Commission and describe its Mandate - one could well take this move as an attempt to usurp the authority and Mandate of the SAHRC itself.

I sincerely hope that the SAHRC and all its legal resources are prepared for that.

What about you?

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