Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Burning Question


A general look at similarities between some persecuted minority groups in SA, based upon differences in  race, sexual orientation, and religion or spiritual beliefs - and the similarities in the methodology of their persecution.


In this article I will broadly discuss my perception of the current situation in South Africa, in conjunction with general reference to "the Stanton Report", a model which assesses the make-up of a genocide, and to which the UN also refers. Broadly, the Stanton Report, developed and presented to the UN in 1996, demonstrates the different stages of the development of social discrimination into a full-blown genocide. There are 8 of these stages in the model, and these show how the removal of civil rights and legal protections of a social minority group is usually followed by vilification and persecution of that group, and that the persecution of the group is the real intended goal of removing such legal protections in the first place. 

Thereafter, identifying or associating with that group becomes illegal and a punishable offense before the law, and often goes hand in hand with the use of state empowerment and unchecked propaganda intended to incite hatred and violence against that group, and which, if unchecked, may well lead to genocide. This model was developed using extensive reference to the Rwandan and Bosnian genocides of the 1990's, and holds true for the state of human rights deterioration in other places where genocide has almost happened, such as Uganda. The link to the Stanton Report is included above, and I will leave it to the reader to draw any comparisons between it and the situation I describe in South African politics in my discussion.

Last week it became known that the Traditional Leaders Forum had submitted a suggestion to a government body which monitors and evaluates suggestions for modifications to be made to the SA Constitution, that gay rights be removed from the Constitution. Suggestions and requests of this nature which involve the removal of the civil rights of gay people from the Constitution are not a new thing. In fact, these efforts have been a regular feature of right-wing and religious extremist politicking since at least the very early 1980's in South Africa, and have been made by numerous groups in various forms since the birth of our democracy, and since the drafting of the Constitution.

Homosexuality and transsexuality has been at the focus of hostile religionist (dare I say Christianist) attention in South Africa since the 1980's. Certain groups seem to need a scapegoat for their fears and zealotry in order to keep their support base strong and the money from supporters flowing in to keep the machinery turning. Groups like Christian Action Network (CAN) and its affiliates and immediate forebears have worked without remorse against legal equality and every single human rights victory won by GLBT, Pagan or gender rights advocates since 1993, and has ever sought to overturn these after the fact. Even today we need to be vigilant and keep an eye on groups such as the ACDP, CDA, CAN and Errol Naidoo's "Family Policy Institute", who have been pressuring government to rip out Constitutional human rights protections and equality clauses since day one.

In 1993, at the very same time while those prominent in the incitement of hatred against the sexual orientation and gender group were arguing in Parliament against the inclusion of our human rights in the Constitution - they also argued against the inclusion of religious freedom or freedom of belief, specifically relating to the Pagan community and associated non-Christian religions, spiritualities or faiths. It was implied that essentially, any such Constitutional right was in violation of the Christianist "divine" right to hate and vilify anyone or anything they disagreed with. Historically speaking, these efforts failed and were dismissed, and we now have the present Constitution which guarantees us these rights. When the battle for marriage equality raged in 2005-6, the nut-jobs and human rights opponents tramped mud back into Parliament to wave their fingers once more. However, the Christianists have nevertheless retained the legal right to vent as much hatred on the basis of sexual orientation or other religions, as they desire, as long as it is done so within the ambit of their churches or enclosed communities. This is still in contradiction to the spirit and ethos of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as far as I am concerned, as it is in these breeding grounds for hatred that many people act out of when they commit human rights abuses against those outside their own communities.

Western and pre-colonial views on sexuality and gender differ greatly, and while today African views have largely become Westernized, when it comes to religious viewpoints, the two cultures are still oceans apart. "Witchcraft" as argued by those who murder helpless old people in rural areas of this country today, is not the same thing described by European missionaries when they spoke of "witchcraft", "devilworship" or "satanism" back in the days when they came to destroy heathen culture and traditions in Africa. Even if it were, and even if their victims were really practitioners of these belief systems, these people who hunt "witches" could care a stuff that they are violating the Constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion or association, or the Bill of Rights.

However, unlike any in the past, this attack on freedom and equal rights does not come from a westernized aspect of South African society, but rather from an ethnic perspective of African traditional leaders - and yes, there is definitely a Westernized religious aspect to this attack as well. Also, this is the very first time ever that such a suggestion directly threatening the civil and human rights of a social group has been debated or even considered worthy of debate by this governmental body.

This is not a simple situation, and someone who hasn't been in South Africa for very long, or who is examining the situation from outside, won't know what it's like living here, or how we got to this point. Also, there are many views in SA, and of SA, and many fellow locals won't agree with some or all of what I'm about to say. Nevertheless, I will try to give a brief, broad descriptive outline.

South Africa is presently ruled by a three way alliance (called the "tripartite alliance") between the ANC, the SA Communist Party, and a political labor union. Although the ANC is officially the ruling party, it greatly depends on the support and agreement of the other two parts of this alliance, and many individual members  of each party holds membership of another, or both others. 

The majority of the present government and all state bodies and organs are almost entirely populated by black ethnic folks, and white-on-black racism is not a notable feature of the SA landscape as it was in the apartheid period, which ended officially in 1994. Today in terms of racial politics, the SA economy, political scenery and also foreign policy of this country are dramatically different from what they used to be in those times. By and large, people of all races work together, interact and socialise, peacefully. Children of all races and ethnic groups go to school side by side, and have no first-hand experience of the hatred that permeated the youth and later lives of preceding generations.

Despite this improvement in terms of human rights and equality, not all is rosy in modern South Africa. There is a widespread and out of control crime problem, made worse by gross incompetence of the SA Police (whom, it has been reported, have over 6000 outstanding cases of police brutality and wrongful arrest against them) disintegration of infrastructure, failing service delivery, and countless corruption, fraud and tender scandals implicating government and ANC officials. This has all culminated in heightened pressure on the government to perform according to expectations, and other individual partners within the alliance are applying increasing pressure to the ANC to satisfy their demands. Investigative journalists have exposed many scandals implicating government, which have embarrassed the ruling party and its alliance partners. All this has contributed to the introduction of draconian laws which encroach on Press freedom, and other freedoms as well. If the government cannot fix the problems, it seems they will opt to try and cover them up to avoid criticism and thereby avoid losing more votes to growing opposition parties such as the DA and COPE. 

The general infrastructure of the country has been steadily disintegrating since 1994, despite much publicised development in certain aspects. As an example, despite the taxable income dramatically increasing since 1994, and the development of a highly efficient tax and financial department, and with increased revenue income from various supplemental sources, South Africa still loses millions each year due to internal fraud and corruption as well as careless spending on frivolous parties, exhorbitant salaries and increases for officials, and other wasteful expenditures. Promises of eradicating poverty, job creation and free housing continue to make slow, if any progress while money allocated for these purposes vanishes mysteriously time and again. Public schools, universities hospitals and clinics are in an abhorrent state of disrepair and malfunction, and always the state's solution is to place an even greater financial burden on the taxpaying citizen. This has resulted in a propensity for blaming current trends on things that stopped being relevant 20 years ago. 

For the first time ever, SA is no longer exporting food as one of the breadbaskets of the world, but now has to import food from other countries. As a communist-aligned party, the ANC with its roots based in communist liberation ideology, has been forming alliances and economic agreements with former soviet states, and communist countries such as China. The ANC-led government has also provided continued support to countries which show an absolute disregard for human rights (including China and Uganda) and refuse to debate or address concerns of persecuted minority groups, such as GLBTI people, or with concerned human rights activists or advocates in these matters.

The systematic and brutal murder of farmers since 1994, some thousands of people - has resulted in an endemic fear among white folks living in farming communities, and even among the rural ethnic communities themselves. Despite having embryonic hate crimes laws hinted at in the Bill of Rights, no such murders - or any other crimes committed out of hatred against any group specified in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, have been defined as "hate crime" perse', with the exception of racism.

Racism is still very much a feature here in SA, only now it is predominantly black on white racism. White people especially struggle to find jobs - or to change jobs, while the job market is dominated by a government instituted policy of "affirmative action" which after more than 15 years, still shows no sign of being lifted - and creates the impression that "transformation" implies replacing people of non-black races with black folks until there is no room left for them in the job market. This policy sees the enforcement of employment ratios dictating what percentage of any company's staff has to be of what race, regardless of what qualifications they hold, if any. This has contributed to the deterioration of service delivery, particularly in municipal authorities, where officials are appointed based solely on their race, or political affiliation, or family relation, and regardless of their qualifications or apparent business or managerial skills. This has also exacerbated and aggravated racial tensions in some arenas, resulting in the growth of ultra-right wing political and even fascist para-military organizations - and also more concerningly, an exodus of qualified and experienced workers to other countries, such as Australia, New Zealand and the UK, where they can find employment without discrimination on the basis of their race, or live without fear of falling victim to rampant violent crime, which sometimes appears to have a distinctly racial bias. 

To recap, over all, things have changed a great deal since 1994. In terms of oppression and democratic improvement, there is no question that things are better. We have the present Constitution granting freedom and equality to all, at least in theory. Since 1996 however, various entities and forces within government in collusion with external entities, have been working to undermine the Constitution and the bodies which underpin it, such as the independence of the Judiciary, and the Constitutional Court. The current Judge President for example, was appointed by the President amid outcry from the Pink Community, despite it being known that he is openly homophobic. This man made news headlines earlier this year when he attempted to force other Judges to attend a course in Christian leadership in the line of their work - a serious concern to those who value the impartiality of the Judiciary as well as preserving the separation of religion and the state.

All this serves to highlight Government support and empowerment of various far-right religious extremist groups and ideologies which abhor the fact that the present Constitution prevents the open expression of their hatred and/or persecution of various groups which they do not approve of - which despite the Constitution, still appears to take place, but more covertly rather than overtly - and the interests of individual groups are given obvious preference over those of others.

As an example of this preference, race-based crimes receive preference in South African courts, which are dealt with swiftly and receive wide publicity. For example, the Reitz Four matter shot to the heights of the SA government's propaganda machinery within a day of the matter breaking, and was processed very quickly. While the severity of the offence committed by these men is not in question, nor the findings of the Court - no such reaction on the part of SA government has ever been forthcoming in terms of any similar incident relating to the violation of the human or civil rights of anyone on the grounds of their sexual orientation or religious freedoms. This revelation serves to draw attention to the detail that, as in the words of George Orwell, "All animals are equal - but some animals are more equal than other animals".

With regards to gender-based violent crimes such as so-called "corrective rape" of lesbians, these cases are typically sidelined and dragged out for 6 years or more, being postponed time and again for anything up to 6 years. This appears to be the rule rather than the exception. Reasons for this can often be found in missing case files, missing witnesses, intimidation of witnesses or victims etc. Additionally, victims of such abuses face the indifference on the part of police officers who reportedly refuse to open case files for gender or sexual-orientation based violence or intimidation.

Coming back to the government's role in fostering this climate of political instability and contradiction, this has manifested several examples of special significance to human rights activists, as follows:

In its current form, the SA Constitution forbids discrimination on the grounds of various issues, including among others, religion and sexual orientation. Yet, paradoxicaly, representatives of the SA government have been flouting and patently ignoring these provisions, as well as turning a blind eye to legitimate complaints against those who violate human rights, and also covering for them. Let's look at a few notable examples in recent years:

Jacob Zuma, current president of South Africa's ANC-led government, is on record as making homophobic utterances during a speech in 2006, when he was still Vice-President - where he stated that same-sex marriages are "a disgrace to the nation and to God". "When I was growing up, unqingili (homosexuals) could not stand in front of me," Zuma was quoted as saying.

In 2005 South Africa supposedly won the marriage equality battle in the Constitutional Court. However, the government resisted and dragged its feet - eventually having to be ordered by the Constitutional Court to implement the necessary changes during 2006.

True equality in marriage is in having the same marriage rights described under the same law - however there are two laws in South Africa pertaining to marriage - one is for heterosexual marriage, and the other deals with same sex unions. The name of the law giving us supposed marriage equality is called the "Civil Union Act". Marriage officers have to do two separate exams to be allowed to perform the same ceremony for either gay or straight weddings - and for what is in the eyes of the law, a secular or civil matter. Even to this day, Pagan marriage officials are given a run-around and passive resistance by disinterested or hostile Home Affairs officials. Similarly, officials at Home Affairs conveniently place their personal religious hypocrisy and bigotry before their job of conducting a civil and secular service for which they are being paid, towards representatives of other religions, or same-sex couples seeking to get married. 

In 2008, a delegate to the United Nations declined to ratify a UN Declaration on human rights on the grounds that it included human rights protections for gay people, citing "principles". A similar event occured again in 2010, where a government representative made homophobic utterances during a session of the UN discussing human rights protections around sexual orientation.

In 2008, homophobic journalist, Jon Qwelane, known for his anti-feminist and racist views, published a column in the Sunday Sun newspaper attacking gay rights, and the rights of women in the Constitution. He did so in a way which encouraged action to remove these rights from the Constitution, and also stated prophetically that he would never be made to apologize for his remarks. A mass outcry by human rights activists and the Pink Community began, and complaints were sent to the Press Ombudsman, who refused to take any action on this matter and speculation as to reasons for this focused his personal friendship with Qwelane. Following this, The SA Human Rights Commission was approached, and eventually proceedings began, however, the case has been obstructed ever since by legal manoeuvring and stalling tactics which appear to vindicate Qwelane's statement that he would never be made to apologize. More on JQ later.

In late 2009, Lulu Xingwana, who was the Minister of Arts and Culture in SA, caused a furore over homophobic remarks she made at an exhibition of art photography, before storming out. Apparently she was upset at seeing tastefully displayed semi-nude photographs of same-sex couples, and angrily stated that it was "anti-family" and a threat to moral values, etc, yadda yadda yadda. She later denied ever saying such things, and that the whole incident had been some kind of misunderstanding.

Despite the international uproar surrounding the tabling of "the Kill the Gays Bill in Ugandan parliament, legislation which would have ratified the murder of thousands of GLBT Ugandans, the SA government has been for over a decade supporting the Ugandan government and economy, and has never allowed the appalling human rights record prevailing in Uganda, nor any amount of public objection, to interfere with this support. 

This issue surrounding the bill went back and forth for several years, with South Africa steadfastly insisting that the internal issues of other countries were "nobody's business", despite it being the obligation and mandate of South African diplomacy to promote the human rights values in the SA Constitution internationally. The paradox and stark contradiction in this statement is most striking when looking at the other examples where South African intervention and involvement in the affairs of other nations in Africa, HAS been deemed "our business" - such as government involvement in Zimbabwean politics and peace-keeping in the DRC. This contradiction clearly shows up cases of what can only be described as "convenient morality".

Further, in 2009, the President appealed to ultra-conservative Christian voters by stating in a radical evangelical and anti-gay church, that the removal of gay rights was up for discussion. This sparked another furore and alarms went off in the activist community. A month later, the debacle over "Zuma's God Squad" broke the news, where it was reported in the media that a conservative Christian body made up of ANC-officials and representatives of the same church, was receiving logistic and material support from the government in order to investigate the removal of liberal laws, including those protecting sexual orientation, from the Constitution. The NILC body was reportedly not only being provided with government offices and stationery - but also the support and involvement of ANC office-holders in government employ, who also happened to be lay preachers, pastors and evangelists who formed part of the so-called "God-Squad". Of course, the NILC has faded into obscurity and has not been heard of since, presumably having served its purpose.

During the 2009 election period, political parties placed radio and TV advertising. One right wing Christianist party's radio advert - which only played once - labelled gay rights and gay people as a threat to civilization and their religion. Despite this matter being reported to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the SA Human Rights Commission, these bodies both refused to investigate the matter, claiming that it was up to the complainant to provide proof - while radio stations refused to supply complainants with copies of the offensive advert and the political party in question vigorously denied any knowledge of this advert being aired or that it contained the offensive statements. Since this advert was aired only once on April 1, despite being in the correct placement with other adverts, in the same week as the election, the claim was dismissed by all autorities as an "April Fool's Day" joke. Despite this, the Pink Community did not find this slap in the face amusing in the least.

South Africa's government, despite all the emailing, telephonic and faxing campaigns mounted by South African human rights groups on the topic of the "Kill the Gay's Bill" and human rights violations in Uganda since 2008, only made one brief and tepid statement condemning the "Kill the Gays Bill". This was made by the President at virtually the last minute - and then, at a point where mounting public and international attention had been drawn to South Africa's increasing association with Uganda - and right before the start of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. Still, any condemnation is probably better than none.

Jon Qwelane - the infamous journalist, was appointed in January 2010 by the President as SA Ambassador to Uganda - despite having still to face any charges of incitement to hatred and violence against women and the gay community in the Equality Court. In spite of this, the government smuggled him out to Uganda in the midst of a public outcry, to take up his post in Uganda during a visit by the SA President to that country. All this took place right in the midst of international pressure for Uganda to kill the "Kill the Gays Bill". Despite numerous calls to the short-lived and rather pointless "Presidential hotline" by concerned members of the public, the government denied that Qwelane would be returned to South Africa, or that he would face such charges. 

JQ was then subsequently found guilty in absentia by the Equality Court. This hard-won conviction was then overturned in an appeal mounted on his behalf, presumably at the taxpayer's expense. To this day, South Africa is represented in a foreign country by a man who has nothing but contempt for the SA Constitution, for equality and human rights, and who has openly and repeatedly expressed his unrepentant racial and homophobic hatred as a Media journalist - and he represents South Africa's interests in a country whose government shares his views, and which has several times nearly succeeded in making them a reality.

I find the sum of these mounting incidents to be a compound personal insult to my dignity as a South African citizen on the part of my government. My government's failure to take my dignity - and the dignity of all those like me, into consideration - is a direct affront to our civil and human rights as citzens under the current Constitution and Bill of Rights. It is also offensive to all human rights advocates, because for one group to point at another and to claim that they do not deserve the same rights held by themselves, is to cheapen and devalue the human rights of all.

At the end of the day, this present and particular move to strip the rights of people to not be discriminated against on the grounds of sexual orientation, is not racially motivated - although its roots are most certainly based in cultural differences.

In pre-colonial ethnic culture, homosexuality was not stigmatized, and not seen as a threat to society. Since the introduction of christianity by English, German and Scottish missionaries in the 1800's however, practically everything viewed by Victorian society was described as a threat - and is today dealt with in the only way a barely post-tribal mentality can cope with a threat. Missionaries taught their forced converts to abandon their old ways and to adopt the ways and beliefs of the white man, and that to be different or to deviate in any way from the "norm" was "evil". Consequently today, we have misconceptions endemic in ethnic culture, which result from the paternalistic attitude of the colonial era - which the ethnic population have now taken upon themselves and now view as being one with their "tradition", despite these being as alien to Africa as the religion which conducted them into their present belief structure and society.

Today in Africa, people are intimidated, abused, and often killed for being gay, or transgender. Conversely, this is not limited to matters of sexuality or gender, but also superstition, age and religious tolerance. Ignorance also plays a big role. People with medical conditions such as epilepsy or albinism are accused of devil-worship or black magic or "witch craft" and burned or stoned or brutalized to death, despite this concept being wholly different to the European concept of the religion of witchcraft - which is yet another blood-soaked thank you note that may be dopped at the feet of the noble missionaries and their "good works". 

In much of present SA society, there is no culture of human rights or respect for human life, and so to many, the laws regarding human rights for all are somewhat flexible and open to personal interpretation. People are killed so often here in robberies, hijackings and house-breakings, that it almost never makes front page news any more. General society here is so desensitized to death and suffering because we see it and hear about it every single day. 

You can't walk down a public street talking on your phone, because you fear a gang of 4 or more will surround you and kill you if you don't hand it over to them - and even if you do, you know they may still kill you for the sport of it. We know that people get away with murder every day in this country, and that even those who are caught, don't stay put away because there is no such thing as a life-sentence here. Even a serial killer who gets 6 25 year "life-sentences" (which are served concurrently by default) could be out in 10 years with good behavior - or even less, if the President feels like pardoning him on "Freedom Day". Human life here is cheap and virtually worthless. "Justice" is an apparent fallacy. The only thing that seems to matter these days, is public perception and votes.

Behind the mask of unity and democracy and paternal concern, the modern ANC and its alliance with Cosatu and the SA Communist Party is split into various internal factions. With all the power plays recently between these different factions, this move to consider the removal of gay rights from the Constitution being one of these, it's become increasingly clear that support of the mob is up for grabs. Give the mob what they want to hear and you may win some votes back.

It's simple - the governing party needs the support of the traditional leaders forum, which represents tribal chiefs and clan leaders - and they are aware of this. The traditional leaders are homophobic and patriarchal and schooled in the ways of the Christian missionaries of old - and they dislike the freedoms in the Constitution, because it denies them the "right" to oppress and ruin people's lives at a whim of their ignorance and bigotry - so they have suggested changes to suit them. The government fears alienating an important part of its support base, so it seems it chose to entertain debate on the matter at the very least, rather than to just dismiss this insult to the Constitution and to human rights - and to millions of South Africans by default, as it should have.

Mostly, the ordinary ethnic population has no real education in politics, no concept of history or political analysis or culture, and they tend to do just what anyone would do if they were told things by their heroes in power - they follow like sheep. However, in recent years, the ruling party has fallen out of favor with a large part of its following (including other member groups of the tripartite alliance) due to corruption scandals, such as the infamous arms deal, failure to deliver on election promises or to improve the economic state of the country - and many supporters have switched to other parties. 

As if to demonstrate this, in 2009 the ANC split virtually down the middle, resulting in the creation of the second-largest opposition party, COPE. Also, the official Opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, recently won control of the Western Cape province from the ANC, and aims to increase this lead in future elections in other provinces - and the ANC is clearly shaken by its gradual loss of ground. 

Given this perspective, it is hardly surprising that the lives of a minority which most other larger minorities (generally focused on religious superiority) also don't tend to care much about - the LGBTI community - are often used as pawns to further whatever gambles are made on the political chess board by those in power. The trouble with this is that in the game of chess, pawns usually end up being sacrificed.

In my humble opinion, a change in government to a human-rights and equality centered administration is one of the few things that could ensure continued Constitutional human rights protections in SA - as with the repeated use of human and civil rights of minority groups as "bait" and being presented up for grabs to the haters in a scramble for political power - sometime it's bound to really happen - and then we will all suffer for it.

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