Thursday, October 8, 2009

White Noise

I saw an article yesterday about our friend Julius Malema - yes, him - the same genius who as President of the ANC Youth League, made the statement that because there is no such equivalent word in Sepedi, hermaphrodites do not exist and that the "concept" is being forced on African culture by "imperialists".

The originator of this gem of idiocy has just found out the cost of rushing into making ignorant statements like a bull in a china shop - adding fuel to an already roaring fire.

The Rapport newspaper yesterday ran an article which featured enlightening comments from some learned individuals who would dare to dispute this all-knowing oracle. According to one, who is a senior lecturer at the Wits School of Languages in Johannesburg - Ms. Thelma Tshebane, told The Star that the Sepedi word for hermaphrodite is - “setabane”.

Apparently this word is considered insulting or offensive and is "kept away from children".

There are many other cultures which consider being called a hermaphrodite offensive - including those being called "hermaphrodites" themselves. The correct and inoffensive term is "intersex".

If there is just one good thing that came out of all the media exposure in the Semenya case, it is an increased awareness of GLBTI states of being and what it means to be intersex. Thankfully poor Caster has received more sympathy than belligerence, unlike the Indian athlete at the 2006 Olympics who failed a gender test, lost her medals and her career and nearly wound up a suicide statistic. I only hope Caster is spared what she went through, having to begin her life all over from scratch. I am left in doubt though, that Caster Semenya's competitive athletics career is over.

So Julius was proved wrong - and not for the first time, nor do I think it will be the last. In his defense, his widely publicized appalling matric results which show he got an "E" for Sepedi - his HOME LANGUAGE - has to be pointed out. No wonder Julius didn't know - I mean, how can he suddenly be expected to know anything? Isn't the world being unreasonable towards poor Julius? After all, it's not his fault the ANCYL doesn't have standards when it comes to choosing people to speak for it, let alone the whole organization. Sepedi obviously doesn't have a word for advanced concepts and technologies such as computers, so naturally he would think this means PC's don't exist - they are also an "imperialist concept" being forced on Africa - just like freedom, equality and democracy. Naturally, I have to ask whether or not he actually believes in those concepts.

I was also very, very glad that when I saw this ( I was sitting down. Malema for president indeed. But then, stranger things have already happened in our interesting country.

Sticking with government related issues - more than six months after the elections, I still have not seen any comment by opposition parties on Jacob Zuma's comments earlier this year while speaking to Rhema. Hopefully the invitation to the conservative religious crazies such as McCauley and Naidoo to "come and chat" to the ANC about knotty problems such as abortion and marriage equality did not go wholly unnoticed by the mainstream media or political establishment. After all, the fundies have certainly noticed and have been banging on Rhema's and Zuma's doors ever since - and I would hate to think they pay more attention to current affairs than the people who are supposed to be in the business of protecting human rights, constitutionalism, democracy and promoting good governance.

I have also heard of no official comment by any Opposition parties on the article in the Mail & Guardian two weeks ago, where McCauley and his new NILC crew announced their intentions to "help" government to clean house and abolish abortion and marriage equality - or on the article a day or so later where the government denied that Zuma would act to change the SA Constitution.

I hope Sunday's article in the same paper, which reported the entry of other groups and personalities in the religious right wing in SA, to the bid to assist the "God Squad" to achieve this did also not go unnoticed.

Has anybody else noticed the sudden rise of fascism around the world? After an almost complete absence from the political landscape for decades these groups have begun to reappear in public view, unashamedly competing for votes. In Europe and the UK there is the British National Party (BNP) with its racist membership policies and clear opposition to liberal human rights policies - and open hostility for gay rights. There are several parties in the European Parliament it has ties with, particularly the homophobic Polish Law And Justice Party which has similar values. Not as openly crazy and fundamentalist as the US Republican Party, but close enough. Just prior to the German general elections two weeks ago, concerns were expressed about the rise of fascist and proudly neo-Nazi parties on the rise in Germany, who are in firm opposition to the current government of Angela Merkel. Merkel's government expressed reluctance to act against these groups on the premise that it would signal "panic" and encourage their growth.

That being said, last week I saw a newspaper article in which the leader of the AWB was being interviewed. According to it's fearless fuhrer Eugene Terreblanche, it seems the recently dormant fascist nationalist Afrikaner party has been awoken from its slumber by calls from younger South Africans to reactivate. They have a new website displaying an AWB flag with its Nazi-esque propeller thing fluttering in a cyber breeze. Other related groups are making small inroads on the web, such as the BWB site "Stormfront" ( It would seem that Nazism and fascism are still alive and well in the South Africa of the 21st century.

Young radicals are taking up where their forbears left off, either due to the onset of old age or tolerance and wisdom which soon follows it, at least usually - unless you are an incurable bigot such as James Dobson or Jimmy Swaggart, who are in their 70's and still hate gay people. Granted, these two popular examples don't wear snazzy uniforms or give Nazi salutes, but they may as well. They are certainly adored by millions of fans who unswervingly believe God told them to conquer the world and place it under Christian government.

I knew a man who used to say "Growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional" - well, guess which option they have chosen? Is the spectre of the right wing, fascist Afrikaner "white-power" group still lingering in South Africa? Or has it long been laid to rest? I fear not.

The AWB of old used to openly advocate hatred for anything which wasn't White, Afrikaans, heterosexual or Christian, but now it seems to have changed with the times - or at least, would like people to think it has. It seems to have toned down the racist rhetoric a notch, but it is still pretty clear what their aims are - a White, Christian and heterosexist independent state. Although it is doubtful it will ever get its way, the AWB and similar groups have long touted the typifying viewpoint that anything which affects the ability of the "master race" to breed, or which "weakens" the strength of its "soldiers" is a threat and it uses religious rhetoric to good effect in putting this view across.

A perfect example of this is the Boerestaat Party, which on its website, among other things that seem motivated by eugenics and other obscurities, states: ""Ons staan vir die beskerming van die tradisionele familie wat boustene van ons Boere Volk is. Ons staan vir die natuurlike orde van manlike mans en vroulike vroue en is totaal gekant dat dieselfde geslag mense mag trou of `n verhouding mag hĂȘ." - translated into English, "We stand for the protection of the traditional family which is the building block of our Boer Nation. We stand for the natural order of masculine men and feminine women and are totally opposed to same gender marriage and relationships."

Their forums are laced with criticisms of gay rights and also other heterosexist remarks. Far from giving up on fascism, these nice guys even registered for the 2009 election, and although they performed dismally, they certainly show determination and tenacity. Regardless of how they dress up their desire for a self-determining state as being "non-racist" we can still remember how racist they were in the past and how racist many of their supporters still are - and also how anti-gay they are currently. Also bear in mind having an independent state entitles them to making their own rules as they see fit, and also policing itself - and provides them with a mandate to establish a military force to defend its borders. Some may be so naive to think that perhaps it is only a coincidence that the AWB was one of only two most well known groups to provide military uniforms and military training to its members? It goes without saying that this state clearly would feature no room for the pink community, regardless of their race, language or religion.

Admittedly, I would feel most uncomfortable with the thought that a bunch of national socialists pushing fascist ideology suddenly favored the human rights and equality of the pink community, but it might be nicer than having them hate and condemn us. Oddly enough, anti-gay religious groups often accuse gay human rights advocates who resist their policies and campaigns, of being "fascist" ourselves. I find that, as many other things, ironic - and were it not so threatening - it would be quite amusing.

An acquaintance in the field of South African gay human rights activism recently informed me that he had begun receiving notice that he was under surveilance by a particular so-called Afrikaner "patriotic" group, which can only by its own rhetoric and ideology be described as fascist and anti human rights. It seems he may have riled them slightly by highlighting their vindictiveness against the pink community and criticizing their press releases filled with nationalistic zeal, heterosexist comments and insults directed at gay people in general. He received confirmation of his own movements, and notification by acquaintances and business partners that people seemed to be trying very hard to gather contact and other details for him. I am sure most ordinary people would be unnerved by this sort of thing - which is clearly the intent of course. It is a scare tactic, meant to intimidate him into keeping quiet as an activist, to prevent him from continuing his work, and speaking out against their hostile acts and motives - which is either beginning to have a negative effect on them and their movement - or just pissing them off and making them look bad. Well, okay - worse than usual.

That appears to be South Africa in a nut shell for the moment, save for the underground rumors that Zuma may in future put the legality of marriage equality to a referendum. It would be interesting to see if such a move materializes. If it does, I wonder how he will be able to justify a referendum on such a matter, which after all was decided by the Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation? Surely to do so will mean paving the way to making changes to the Constitution?

I have an idea there are many in this country who would jump at the chance to amend the constitution to define marriage in the fundamentalist Christian sense as "a union between male and female" in the same way as the US Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA). The very name of that act is an affront to the humanity and dignity of the pink community. I know Erroll Naidoo and Ray McCauley would probably never be happier, should such a tragic thing happen. Some people are burying their heads in the sand, preferring not to know anything, while others are starting to pay attention. Some may be reassured by statements by the Presidency to the contrary, but at this point I seriously have my doubts - and I have to wonder what will happen when the world's focus on SA fades after the 2010 Soccer World Cup, and if many loyal supporters would vote against such a party line?

What should we do as a community? Stay informed. Think about these things as they appear in the media and about how they affect your rights. Participate in groups which play a role in affecting the pink community, so that decisions cannot be made about things that affect you without your say-so. Find gay-friendly churches and societies and become active members and participants. Don't wait for others to speak up for you - speak up for yourselves. Focus on your individual efforts and in doing so, inspire others to do the same.

Above all, don't lose hope. We won't let the Naidoo's and McCauley's of this world win out. This is not Uganda:

( Uganda gays are "recruiting"

In the mean time, I intend to spread education about the community as far as I can and to get as involved as I can, and to encourage others in the pink community to do the same.


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