Dear Black People In The U.S: Please Join Forces With The Gays

I’ve been observing the endless liberation struggle in the land of the free (ha!) with great interest, waiting for the day that black people realize the truth of the saying, “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” 

It’s astounding: having raised preachers, orators, writers and all manners of excellent academics to highlight the plight of ethnic minorities in America, you, broadly speaking, have not realized that you and sexual minorities have the same problem and could join forces to tackle it. Good people, why are so many of you so slow to realize and speak up about this?

By “enemy,” of course, I don’t necessarily mean white individuals: I mean a pervasive system that “others” those who are not white, not male and not heterosexual – othering them often with fatal consequences – with your aid. To the degree that you allow homophobia, to that degree you are complicit. Your struggles have so many overlaps with the struggles of the LGBT community that I don’t understand how you and they have not become best friends. If you are black in America, homophobia and transphobia are not things you want to tolerate, let alone perpetuate. You cannot afford to.

“But homosexuality is against God!” many of you will say. That argument has been used against emancipation, desegregation and against everything black people have needed to enjoy full equality in the U.S. It’s the same argument dressed in the same pious hypocrisy and the same imitation of godliness.

Homosexuality will undermine black society, they say. Will it do that in the same sense that racists say full black  emancipation will undermine American society, or am I only imagining the one argument to be an echo of the other?

Black people and sexual minorities have faced the same kind of hatred, similar types of endangerment and have been viewed with the same disgust and mistrust. It’s all learned and it can be unlearned. A change in laws and national policies are not going to help; in fact their multiplication will antagonize and intimidate those who do not understand. You have to internalize and become the change you want to see.

The LGBT community can help amplify the voices of black people fighting for justice but you need to make it safe for them to come out. Many say the murders of black people at the hands of white policemen have been senseless. Well, so has much of the murderous hatred faced by the LGBT community. The gender, social and religious constructs you’ve used to shun LGBT people are part of the package of ideas that have been used to shun black people. It’s the same poison, copied-and-pasted, and many of you have embraced it wholeheartedly as Gospel Truth. Many of you have thusly embraced and agreed to your own genocide. If you have kept quiet about the struggles of the LGBT community, you have exacerbated your own, tacitly saying Yes to the violence against people of colour.

You will not see justice until the LGBT community sees justice. You must understand that the senseless, systemic hatred you’ve felt directed against you is the same that the LGBT community has been receiving; the complaints and rationalizations and excuses you’ve received from the beneficiaries of the system that privileges white people are the same complaints, rationalizations and excuses that the LGBT community has received from the beneficiaries of heterosexism. If same-sex love is the same love, then racism and homophobia are the same hatred. For God’s sake, denounce the evil.

The belief that creating room for LGBTs will somehow take from straight people is the same fear held by many white people in your country. You cannot afford to hold to it any longer.

Form more and bigger coalitions. Get deliberate about tackling the intersectionality of your struggles, and use one another’s struggles to corroborate what you’re saying. It’s leverage; use it. Vast numbers of white people won’t understand what you’re going on when you insist that you feel systematically trapped or endangered, unless and until gay people get an opportunity to explain the same oppression in terms of being a sexual minority. Then both your stories will be understood, and the system that oppresses both black and gay people will be illuminated from both sides to the visibility of all. You will unmask the system as a team.

In other words, your chains fall off when you loosen those that bind the ones you have kept chained until now. If you want The Other to transform revulsion to understanding, start with your own hearts if you have not.

The world is watching, and, for better or for worse, taking your country’s lead on many issues. Kindly see this responsibility for what it is, and step up to the plate.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.

Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.

Follow @SKhumalo1987




What Just Happened, @MmusiMaimane?

On The One Hand

Shadow Minister of Transport Manny de Freitas promised to host the Mr Gay World delegates at Parliament last week.  He did.  He also promised to invite some other openly gay MPs to say hi.  He did.  He promised to draft a congratulatory motion without notice concerning the Mr Gay World competition.  Zakhele Mbele did, going so far as to mention its only two African delegates by name.  I was one of those delegates.  That is three out of three political promises kept by members of the DA.

When we went to Knysna, the Mayor Georlene Wolmarans promised to see us once.  She saw us three times.  That is three out of one more political promises kept by the DA, not to mention overwhelming support for LGBTI visibility over the course of the week.  This is in line with the DA’s liberal stance.

On The Other Hand, And In The Same Week

How does one criticize something said by the popular individual who will likely lead the DA without criticizing him personally, or the DA as a whole, or the people who stood by us in the last few weeks and continue to fight for our rights to be observed in Parliaments and city halls across this country?  The answer is in the nature of the DA itself.  This party champions open debate, freedom of expression and constructive criticism.  Unless the party changed while I was not looking.


The debate between DA leader candidates Wilmot James and Mmusi Maimane is available here and here.  It was chaired by Rapport editor Waldimar Pelser.

There was the question of whether Maimane would support a referendum on gay rights.  Maimane replied, “Well if South Africans felt that they needed to vote on the issue, they should.  I still stand on the view that gay rights must be protected, South Africans who are gay, who want to marry each other are entitled to do so – the law gives that right so I don’t know what the referendum would be about.  In fact, I still maintain that those rights are in the constitution and must be protected.”

Pelser pushed the topic of referendums on anyway.  He brought up the death penalty and asked why Maimane had once said it, too, could be put to a referendum. 

“Because without fail I’m a democrat.  I would not support that view, I would not support the death penalty as an example.  I still sit here today and understand that our judicial system still has flaws.  I don’t think the death penalty is a deterrent to crime, but ultimately as a democrat I still uphold that the rights democracy upholds it’s not the best system, but it is a system that we have.  It upholds the fact that if people – it’s by the people for the people and if people want to vote on it the people must vote on it.”

“What happens if the views of the people clash with that which is enshrined in the constitution?” Pelser asked.

Maimane replied, “No, I don’t think, I think in this instance it’s quite clear, I think we can accept the fact that many South Africans will believe in the protection of the constitution.  For example even on the expropriation bill – so long as we uphold the constitutional bill principal and the right to life.  I think South Africans can stand up and vote in against the death penalty and I still uphold that view.”

What is the basis of Maimane’s confidence?  Across the continent and in South Africa, a considerable number of people does not support many of the rights enshrined in our constitution.  And two weeks ago, a few South Africans, prompted by some leaders’ utterances, took it upon themselves to hold a referendum as to whether foreign nationals (sometimes also known as human beings) should remain alive or not.  So with regards to what is negotiable and what isn’t, Maimane’s view would leave everyone legally vulnerable.  A referendum on a Bill Of Rights matter could amputate the constitution.

After the debate, Maimane tried to backtrack: “Some people are distorting my position on gay rights as expressed in the televised debate last night.  As I said last night: ‘I still stand on the view that gay rights must be protected.  South Africans who are gay and want to marry each other are entitled to do so.  The law gives that right, so I don’t know what the referendum would be about.  In fact, I still maintain that those rights are in the constitution and must be protected.’  I have been a vocal supporter of gay rights in every sphere of my life and I will continue to stand up for the constitutional rights of all South Africans.”

I don’t know of anyone who’s distorting Maimane’s position on gay rights.  However, there are a lot of people saying that Maimane’s understanding of constitutional democracy and the fundamental rights of individuals is what’s distorted.  Maimane failed to question the bureaucratic validity of the hypothetical referendum; he only questioned its purpose.  In his worldview, South Africans are nearly unanimous in their understanding of the indivisibility of the Bill Of Rights (the world must be pretty through those rose-tinted spectacles); they are so constitutional and liberal and democratic, he says, that their power to infringe on the rights of others shouldn’t be infringed upon; the referendum should happen so as to show that South Africans support the democratic principles of the constitution by which they democratically received a voice, he’s telling us. 

This is not an abstract issue for me.  I am a gay black man living in a township, as do many gay black men.  I get stopped in the streets to be questioned by people who recognize me and have read my words in newspapers and on television. 

I openly question and critique dangerous, heterosexist ideals of masculinity that lead to domestic violence and rape.  Does Mmusi Maimane understand the risk I put myself at to sell his party’s policies, let alone how those policies were formulated?  And mine are a drop in a bucket of other human rights’ activists’ struggles and sacrifices.  People have died, and continue to die, for human rights.  How on earth could they be the subject of a referendum?  If people’s lives can be subjected to a referendum, why shouldn’t masturbation?  It is illegal in some places precisely because someone said it had to be illegal.

And who gets referendumed about whose rights?  Would men vote in a referendum about women’s rights?  Vice-versa?  On Maimane’s logic, South Africans should get a vote on issues they feel strongly about.  But which South Africans?  Are some South Africans more equal than others?  If gay rights can be voted on by South Africans, then gay people are not, by implication, South Africans; they are squatters at the mercy of South Africans just as foreign nationals (again, human beings) were.  A referendum on human rights is a denial of human being

Such a referendum could justify what many politicians have said about their countries and cities being “100% moffie-free” and other statements to that effect. 

Does Maimane know how many lesbians get raped in townships across the country, by people who seek to “cure” them?  How would he feel if someone told him the answer is probably in the region of 500 a year in some townships?  He probably knows, and he probably cares.  But to support a referendum on gay rights legitimizes the mindset that says that women ultimately do not have a say over their own bodies because society does.  When South Africans “feel strongly” enough about what women should be doing with their bodies to rape them, then capitulating to those strong feelings by supporting a referendum is just a step away from handing the lesbians over to be “cured.”  This was probably not the intention, but it could easily be the effect.   

Is it not enough that the basic human rights enshrined in the Bill Of Rights are more honoured in the breach than in the observance; would Maimane want to take the risk that there should be nothing to breach or observe in the first place?  Because that is what that referendum means.  How he feels about gay rights gives me warm fuzzy feelings too, but it does not matter if he has no mechanism by which to keep gay rights protected.  I vote DA because I vote with my head, not with my heart.  I am very concerned when the blue party sits by while the reasons I vote with my head are eroded in broad daylight.  Why isn’t the party that marched with us in Knysna saying something?

Maimane’s understanding of the Bill Of Rights leaves all of us stark-naked without a non-negotiable right to stand on – except the non-negotiable right to negotiate on other people’s non-negotiable rights.  Because we got these rights in the first place not through the process of discovering what it means to have human rights, but of deciding what human rights were, he is saying.  We negotiated them into existence, so our ability to negotiate rights in and out of existence should remain intact, never mind that our right to negotiate rights in and out of existence could also be negotiated out of existence. When the source of these rights is not the state of being human, but other people’s say-so, and other people’s say-so must always have the voice whereby people created and continue to regulate those rights, then being human guarantees no one the right to say anything in the first place.  Democracy becomes an absurdity.

If we can have a referendum on gay rights, then why not one on straight rights, insofar as straight people also participate in non-reproductive sexual activities?  Are we all Catholic, all of a sudden?  Who died and made who God?  Is heterosexuality the default by which the legitimacy of gay rights may be measured, and do straight people have a right to hold a referendum on gay rights because they are superior or because there are more of them (or so we are told)?  We must answer these questions very carefully.  Stripped of my bright blue flag, I am feeling naked right now.

A few months ago, a white Facebook friend suggested (out of frustration) that black people should hold a referendum about whether white people should leave South Africa or not.  I respectfully balked.  That would be like saying that the 1992 referendum was valid and that white people had a right to decide on black people’s right to vote for their political fates.  For years, many of them have congratulated themselves for the benevolence they showed when they voted Yes to having the vote extended to black people.  But given the circumstances, they were not performing an act of kindness; they were performing their moral duty, and not one black person owes one white person a thank you for that, just as not one white person ought to ask permission from anyone to remain in South Africa as a fully-fledged citizen.  The system was wrong, even if it had gone unquestioned for some time and no matter which way you counted the votes.  The system was not changed because it was not nice: it was changed because it was not right.  The Bill Of Rights says that no citizen may be denied citizenship.  If we ever hold a referendum about that or about anything else in the Bill Of Rights, it is the end of South Africa.  Mark my words.

No matter who you are reading this, you have a race, you have a biological sex, you have a sexual orientation, you have beliefs surrounding ultimate concerns and you have people you associate with and people you do not, by choice.  You are not superior to persons of other races, genders or sexual orientations, and you may not decide on their rights in a referendum because some politician has convinced you that you are the normal by which the others may be measured.  But that is how politicians divide and conquer communities: they convince the section that could empower them that they are the normal, and the others may be decided about.  Some referendums are wrong upfront, and the politicians who use them to gain popularity are wrong too. 

This is not to say that James did not make a similar slip-up on the television debate concerning the right to bail; he readjusted his position rather fast.  Maimane held on to his, and nobody, as far as I know, has corrected it.

When each person’s right to have a voice is contingent on other people’s decision to let him have a voice, then human rights are mirages, surds that have no basis in anything fundamental; they can be given and they can be taken away but nobody knows who does the giving and the taking away because where individual rights are in doubt, nobody has an ultimate right to give rights or take them away; we would have to become a dictatorship though a benevolent one. 

If we take Maimane’s premise to its ultimate logical conclusion, the whole Bill of Rights is an endless hall of mirrors, fingers pointing at fingers pointing at fingers pointing at fingers.  It doesn’t settle anywhere except at the biggest finger in the middle of them all saying F**k you to everything the struggle heroes fought for.  Surely Maimane does not want to be the next Jacob Zuma?

Jacob Zuma Middle Finger

Jacob Zuma Middle Finger

It is my belief that we did not negotiate human rights into existence; we realized them in our awareness and have been sharpening that awareness for 21 years, (often badly) wrestling with the implications where redress and land ownership is concerned.  Is it possible to defend both the absolute rights of each individual, yet right the wrongs of the past?  Absolutely, if the right people are doing the job; that is the promise the DA has held out to us for years.  Some of its members are on the verge of breaking it whether they realize that or not.

Human Rights: Given, Or Discovered?

This is a very simple but very important idea, one that many politicians don’t grasp.  I don’t have human rights because other human beings decided I have them; I have human rights because I am as much a human being as any other.  My human rights may only be infringed upon when I am infringing on those of another.  All we can do is improve our understanding of what human rights mean and what those rights are.  Yes, this is a metaphysical claim, and yes, Pastor Maimane is free to respond, and yes, ACDP (African Christian Democratic Party Of South Africa), I know what you did

Is Mmusi Maimane the best leader that the DA can produce?  The DA will decide that, and in so doing, will make a fundamental claim about its identity.  If it uses this as a teachable moment and is willing to lose face in order to clarify what it stands for and why, it would have chosen principle over perception.  In fact, this may be a golden opportunity for the DA to continue with its internal elections while clarifying to voters just what it stands for.  The only thing needed for that to happen is for Mmusi Maimane to admit the same thing we need King Zwelithini to admit: that he was wrong.  Not that the two errors are the same size.  We need for our politicians to admit that they are human and fallible; in so doing, they, too, would have called upon and validated the very human principles that are currently at stake.

But if the DA allows this kind of thinking to go unchecked into its leadership, it will be a betrayal of its principles and its people.  That is the simple truth.

Thank you and please share


Why The Fight For Gay Rights Is A Fight Against Dictatorships

When government has a say in how consenting adults may behave in the privacy of their bedrooms, it has too much power over its citizen’s choices.  Government’s job should be governing economies and policies and environments, not ruling people or policing morality.

But we see in Africa that when government officials can’t fulfil their promises, they turn to governing what isn’t theirs to govern.  These politicians divide and conquer; they put up scapegoats and play on myths and fears, recklessly endangering the most vulnerable and misunderstood people in society.

When they are asked to dispel the myths behind prejudices like homophobia – which would expose that they’d exploited those myths and prejudices for votes as well – these types of governments hide behind the excuse that the majority has no tolerance for same-sex relationships; therefore, the gays should perish as per the demand of the majority.

But where do we draw the line on the majority’s power?  If the majority can decide that a man should be burned to death for loving another man, then why can’t the majority also be called upon to decide, when a woman is raped for example, whether it was her fault for wearing clothes that indicated she “wanted it,” or whether her attire and make-up that day was that of a modest, “decent girl” who wasn’t out to provoke and tease male lust?  Why, for that matter, couldn’t the majority be called upon to decide whether all men should be castrated seeing as they cannot (and should not, it would seem)  help raping women who wear anything more revealing than a brick house?  Why are there never majorities convened on the issue of general male culpability where rape is concerned?  I digress.

How much power should the majority have over human experiences?  If a gay man’s right to say “Yes” to personal happiness is up for public discussion and may endanger his life and the life of his relatives, then we’re a step away from having a woman’s right to say to say “No” to personal violation also being up for public discussion.  People say that gay rights are a slippery slope to immorality.  But whatever they imagine immorality to be, it pales, pales in comparison to the very real violations currently perpetrated against very real people.

When the majority has the power to make sexual choices for adult citizens, then no individual has sexual autonomy or self-governance.  Majorities are groups of individuals that happen to be invincible at that moment because they’ve got numbers on their side.  In principle, that power is an illusion because, like the gay man and the rape survivor, not one of those individuals comprising that majority ultimately has the power of self-determination, and any of them can end up on the receiving end of the majority’s prejudice.  Power ultimately belongs to some shifting “majority”; depending on who and on whose altar he needs to sacrifice on that day, a politician will shift the power to decide to whichever group of individuals is least likely to see that they have no individual rights themselves, let alone the power of some supposed majority.  Their vulnerability is eclipsed by their immediate context in which they feel morally superior and enjoy the safety of numbers.  Straight-identified people don’t feel threatened by anti-gay laws, so they can be used by prejudiced politicians to decide quickly without thinking deeply.  If they knew what was at stake, they would know how dangerous (and dangerously false) that power is.  Because whatever majority the individuals comprising that majority think they’re part of, it’s a mirage that could and eventually does betray them.

When the South African government was asked why it didn’t condemn the anti-gay laws of other countries, the excuse given was that the other countries’ autonomy must be respected.  But we have just seen that when the majority can decide what happens in the privacy of an adult’s bedroom, then no individual truly has sexual autonomy or the power of self-governance; you can multiply those individuals into a so-called majority and stack them into a so-called government, but they have no more autonomy as a group with titles and offices than they did as individuals without titles and the offices.  In the absence of a noble social contract that protects the rights of each person, rulers use brute force for they too have no real power.  Hence, we have dictatorships thriving wherever individual human rights are not thriving.  Tell me how homophobic your environment is and I will tell you your political destiny.

If you tolerate an environment where it is not okay to be gay, you deserve everything such an environment brings with it and it can be hell on earth.

The fight for gay rights is a fight against dictatorships.  It is a fight for your freedom, no matter who you are or what you currently believe about gay people.

Thank you

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#Xenophobia & #Rhodes


Our country (and its leaders) has had sufficient time and opportunity to lead on human rights across Africa and the world since 1994. To whom much is given, much is expected: had South Africa used the opportunity to speak decisively on human rights both domestically and abroad, there would have been fewer human rights’ violations on our continent.

The number of refugee immigrations from the continent would have been digestible, administratively, and as a result, there would have been less camouflage for criminal elements sneaking through our borders. Because the higher the number of refugees coming in, the higher the number of criminals slipping in among them.

In other words, South Africa has had a vested interest in leading well on human rights. Is the violence that’s erupted against foreign nationals excusable? By no means. Should we tighten up on refugees who’ve breached our checks and measures? That would be inhumane, further victimizing victims. Should we violate people’s privacy and dignity so as to figure out whether “they ” are here with good intentions, or that they have the “correct papers” before welcoming them with open arms? No. We are not that country. “That’s the problem,” many will say. “South Africa is too liberal, allowing whoever has need to come to us.” The solution is to eliminate the need itself by upping the volume on our stand on human rights both domestically and internationally.

But South Africa is “too liberal” only on paper. The real problem is that we have not been liberal enough. We’ve been lukewarm where we should have been dead cold or scorching hot on human rights, and because we’ve been nauseatingly lukewarm, history has vomited us out. “Our foreign policy does not allow us to criticize laws in other countries,” our leaders said on a number of issues. But that excuse is only true because it’s expedient. Generally speaking, the leadership of other African countries failed first, and the leadership of ours failed afterwards, and none of them want to call one another out on those failures even if lives are endangered. Many say, “Those countries sheltered South Africans too when black South Africans needed it,” which is correct. But if those countries have been liberated, why do they need that favour returned now? I’m not asking this to wash our hands of what’s happened or to ignore the complexity of what happens on our continent; I’m asking because South Africa alone is being blamed for the xenophobic violence as though it alone is at fault. “Why are you beating our refugees up?” other countries ask. Well, why are your people refugees? Note, that isn’t, “Why did they come here?” because anybody should be able to come here. But anybody should be able to go there too, and everyone is scared to becacuse everyone intuitively knows that Africa is tough.

And to what degree have refugees internalized and normalized whatever it was that made them leave their homes? Oppression is a strange thing. Black people who were once oppressed will chant against racism in one breath, and chant against other Africans in the next. In other words, the victim can become the victimizer. A refugee can defend the mindset that led to their oppression without even realizing it. You cannot eliminate one form of oppression without fighting against all, and whoever fights against one while leaving another unquestioned, supports all. For each one leaves only to bring back seven more demons.

Subjugated for centuries and held back from decent educations, our people use violence to solve problems. Our leaders don’t challenge and educate us to rise above tribalistic simplicity. They instead exploit tribalism when it suits their agendas and recoil against it when it embarrasses them as it has embarrassed South African leaders now. For example, the ANC-led government has no direct control over what Zulus and other tribes do, and much to gain from keeping the controls loose and the consequences unpredictable. Even God knows that randomness is needed for predictability. If the ANC did exert more influence, its culpable deniability (where human rights violations occur) would vanish and they would be more directly accountable. As it is, that they exert such tenuous control over everything (thank you democracy) allows them to pass the buck on every time. Zuma didn’t know about Nkandla, and whichever government ministry now oversees any of the struggling parastatals is not accountable for their performance or lack thereof.

If the ANC can just play to Zulus tribal love of all things Zulu, and hire Zulu persons into positions of prominence, then the Party will always have an army of loyal Zulu disciples ready to (physically, if need be) defend the Party that recognizes its cultural prominence. The fact that the ANC buys this loyalty without being able to control how the loyalty is expressed means that the ANC cannot be held responsible for what the Zulus do, and as a result, cannot help being in power “until Jesus returns.” Trapped in a sweet spot, they are indeed victims of their own success.

If you tell Jacob Zuma (the magnet for Zulu votes) to step down, he’ll respond that he cannot help that the oldest liberation movement in Africa has appointed him as president. If you look to the ANC for answers, it will respond that it cannot help that the black majority voted it into power, and cannot help that Zuma gets reelected as president at party national congresses. That motions of no confidence against him are given open votes means the ANC cannot help that those who would have Zuma gone are scared to say so openly. If you ask members of the black majority that voted the ANC into power why they did so, they will respond that they cannot help voting for the one party that has validated the claims to superiority of the Zulu nation over every other. One might point out the objective truth, specifically, that the ANC is destroying South Africa. But the problem with “objective truth” is that it’s been tainted. The colonialist hijacked it once. It is said that when European missionaries found black people on the land, handed them bibles and told them to close their eyes to pray, the natives opened their eyes and had bibles in our hands and the missionaries had the land. Truth? Reason? Those words are how black people allowed the bright “white” light of white rightness* to blind them once. Never again; now, they are Afrikan and how dare you speak of a reality where 1 + 1 is 2 and the ANC is bad for you.

See? A lot of black people will now cut off their nose to spite their face. They cannot help doing so.

If the government is embarrassed by some of the actions resulting from any of this, then it need merely issue token condemnations of such actions in English (where the main violators are Zulu) so as to distance itself from what it has had a hand in. The ANC needs a volatile voter base so that if anyone were to speak out too loudly against it, it could say to that person, “We might not be able to hurt you directly as government, but we cannot help it if they decide to.” So is the government’s condemnation of xenophobic attacks genuine, or is it covering its ass where human rights’ bodies are concerned? Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba made a speech warning leaders in general to watch their words. The Zulu king rumbled. Gigaba scraped and bowed, apologizing where he should have been apologized to. Why? He who will be South Africa’s president must remember that the Zulu king is even further above the law and accountability than the national president is. So South Africa has continuously failed itself and the rest of Africa on human rights because its leaders will throw human bodies under the bus of political aspiration; we cannot help that this is how it is.

But this problem is by no means limited to just our leadership. Having fought colonialism together, African statesmen’s fates are bound together by loyalties stronger than any principle. “I’ll let you have your anti-gay bills, racism and subtly misogynistic laws, seeing as your voting majority only forgives your failings when you scapegoat those they fear, if you keep your mouth shut about how I stoke the fires of this tribal infighting on this little corner of this here country. It serves my purposes not to shut it down (I do have an election to rig, you know, so I’ll also play to ethnic divisions so the numbers don’t rouse suspicions when the count is done – the lesser of two evils and all that), and I in turn will support you despite your lack of political will on that issue you’ve kept brewing there, for which my human rights’ bodies continuously demand that I condemn your leadership.” 

Tribalism is the puzzle piece that holds xenophobia, racism, ethnicism, homophobia, and sexism together. If the government actually took decisive (not just token) steps towards eradicating these attitudes, it would also erode the unquestioning loyalty with which these tribalists worship it. Copy and paste this tack throughout Africa and extend it back in liberation history, and then ask me again why our country, which briefly upheld the beacon of the most progressive Constitution on the continent, attracted and then attacked refugees as they fled from the violence that exactly this tribalistic approach had sparked in their varying homes throughout Africa.

Tribalism is why African leaders cannot make stands on human rights’ issues. They’d lose the only magic power they can maintain over people. Just days before the xenophobic violence flared up, DA Ward Councilor Martin Meyer had homophobic slurs shouted at him – again – by members of the ANC caucus in City Hall, which the Speaker (ANC) Logie Naidoo seems not to lose any sleep over. If the dignity of a councilor cannot be defended in city hall, where does the foreigner expect to stand? The ANC keeps people divided, and conquered, by making it okay to fear difference and then lash out at it. As with many leaders across the continent, this is the only way they can get votes. 

Knowing that this is how they stay in power, the leaders of this continent’s countries don’t call one another out. It’s impolite to say out loud that the relationship among African statesmen is about the corrupt shielding one another from the bright, “white” light of accountability because if you do, you’re a house nigger who’s disloyally bought into the story of white incorruptibility, which in turn needs the story of black moral, well…blackness. You then must have your mind decolonized (read, taught to tolerate corruption and human rights’ violations as long as it’s from black quarters) and failing this, you’re a traitor, not “one of us,” and you lose your black card and black identity. And yes, some people fall for this cultural blackmail and watch the food being eaten straight out of their mouths without saying any word.

“House niggers” – that is, truth tellers and anglophiles unfairly lumped together – were once accused of having the blackness baptized off of them in the white man’s snow-white Christianity, which, as a political movement, was complicit in Europe’s scramble for Africa. I identify as Christian yet I am disgusted with what has been done in the name of God. 

“House niggers” have been accused, fairly or not, of loathing their own and trying to be better than fellow black people; they have sold their own out to unjust laws and systems in the name of “objective truths,” namely, one plus one is two and the ANC’s bad for you. They are cleva blaqs like Barack Maimane.

These accusations had merit when laws, law enforcement and systems were unjust, bent to oppressing black people. Do they have merit now? No; they are more heat than light, but that heat is scary. 

History (or the victors’ version of history) says European found and settled Africa. But Africa had already been found and it already had people living in it; they happened to be black. Language itself has long been complicit in the invisibling of black lives; for centuries, black people have been footnotes in the triumphalism of European stories of the rightness of European whiteness. As Suntosh Pillay pointed out, race filters the way we make moral assessments.

This begins early in life. Children are told stories that begin with the words, “Once upon a time there was a girl whose skin was white as snow.” Its villains ask questions like, “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Do they mean fair as in beautiful, or fair as in light-skinned? Either or both, you don’t get fairer than Snow White, and she had a heart of gold to boot. Because she was white and white is right.

And would Trevor Noah be in New York without his jokes about black women’s weaves, or the inferiority complex that has made that such a successful business? 

Do the accusations against so-called house niggers have merit? Fairly or not, Jan van Riebeeck has become a lightning rod for black people’s frustrations, and many of those frustrations are valid. The examples above are by no means exhaustive nor tell the whole story, but I submit the story of the whiteness [read, goodness] of being white and the blackness [read, evil] of being black has been internalized, and has induced more allergic reactions, more than we care to admit.

The tragedy is that black people’s need to avoid corroborating or even engaging these myths is why many were happier to destroy a dead white man’s statue for their current sufferings, than take down current black leaders for their role in their current sufferings. No, Mbeki’s recall doesn’t count; he wasn’t black enough for many black people to feel that they’d cashed out on their own. So much for I Am An African.

If it’s about refusing to corroborate the myths of black “blackness” and white “whiteness,” I believe that tearing down a bad black leader isn’t an admission that the myth of black badness is true, but proof that black people can make objective moral assessments like 1 + 1 = 2 and the ANC is bad for you, without having to defend against the perception that they’ve admitted a black leader had proven the myth of black badness; that is the test we face now. Denying the badness of leaders who happen to be black substantiates the myth even as the denial seeks to escape it. As Macbeth’s witches put it, “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” whether you read “white,” “right,” or “what we should do next” into the word “fair.”

In response to the point that Zuma’s fall was more urgent than Rhodes’ (the statue had been there a while and it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon) many insisted that #RhodesHasFallen is the “first of many steps” towards fixing systemic injustices. What does that mean? That to fell a living black leader who happens to be bad, they need to muster up courage by practicing on a piece of rock representing a bad dead leader who happened to be white? I say pick on someone your own size who can at least talk back; the dead cannot spit at the living. 

Rhodes’ statue was offensive, but I found prioritizing its fall over the fall of Jacob Zuma (and other bad leaders who happen to be black such as royal figurehead King Goodwill Zwelithini) far more offensive than the statue’s presence. The statue gets a nonstop sea breeze and bird pooh courtesy of Mother Nature; Zuma gets a R250 000 000.00 mansion courtesy of you and me. Zwelithini gets more money than we know about and the power to start genocides without consequences for himself. And the students want #Rhodes to fall? Rhodes? Cecil John Rhodes, Rhodes? Dead Rhodes? NOW? Look, I do not have any fancy degrees or anything but what are they studying? I get their reasoning, but their timing sucks because they are very late on Rhodes, who is dead, and even later about Zuma, who is living. As a friend said to me on whatsapp once he’d heard of the xenophobic attacks, #WeAreRhodes.

politicial diversion

A friend sent this to me

One of the most beautiful things to have emerged from the statues debate

One of the most beautiful things to have emerged from the statues debate

But South Africa isn’t the only guilty country, though it’s being slammed by itself. This proves that we have so deeply internalized and normalized Africa’s chronic “issues” that we are more offended when South Africa has flared up than we are that the rest of Africa is perpetually on fire. It’s like #JeSuisCharlie, but different. Do human rights’ violations that happen on South African soil count for less than those that happen in France, but for more than those that happen on another African country? Do #BlackLivesMatter more in America than they do in East Africa? Like the deployment of the army “at the right time,” the global outcry has come too little too late. We should have stood up for humans rights before refugees became refugees, not after. 

The comforting thing is that if we continue this way, then South African violence, too, will become too normal to notice. Eventually, all of Africa will become a human rights’ blind spot, the human rights’ “black hole” where no “white” light shines, the way it’s wanted to be all along. Refugee Africans of every hue will be migrating to Europe to unknowingly give back to former colonialists the violence that kicked it all off.

The patronizing little gits have a point

The patronizing little gits have a point

Those who have refused to face the bright, “white” light of the “objective truth” that we can be as bad as the settlers that activists want to put one bullet into each, will finally get their revenge: masses of suffering Africans and other foreign nationals will – and indeed, have already begun to – crowd and colour Europe’s snow-white cities. There, they will proceed to use political correctness and white guilt to coerce in ways of life that compromise liberty, and, in the long run, human rights in Europe too. Because political correctness makes it nearly impossible to interrogate certain cultures and religions without being labeled racist, oppressed people will unwittingly begin oppressing others while muzzling their questioning of those micro-oppressions.

And like Rhodes, black people will finally get to export the misery they’ve been blaming Rhodes of importing. They’d have become mirror images of the one whose legacy they thought they could eradicate by toppling statues. They would have become Rhodes, multiplied. The sins of the father would finally have been visited on the sons, and history would have come full circle. At the end of the day, #WeAreRhodes because we do not want to admit the possibility of our own evil even exists though the blood of men like Emmanuel Sithole says otherwise.

Have a cry for Africa.

*In case #ABCScandal / #TheFixer fans are wondering, I picked the phrase bright white light from this line by character Rowan Pope.

You wanted to stand in the sun. In the bright white light. It blinded you. Those people that you’ve chosen over me. You do not see who they are, what they want, how they see you. Those people are not your people, they never will be, you’ll never be one of them.







“Corrective” Rape

Hate Crimes, Black Lesbians And Townships

One of the slang words for vagina is the Zulu word for cow (“inkomo”) which is also used to indicate a token in a game.  It’s a transactional term that describes gains and losses, credits and debits.  “When my card showed Ace and the dice rolled that way, I gained izinkomo”.

That’s important to know because when men pay cows (again, izinkomo) to the bride’s father’s family for lobola, it could be said they symbolically “win” or “buy” the female nkomo.  People of pleasant temperaments will discuss this cultural* phenomena with more taste than others but it’s effectively still a transaction and women’s genitals are still men’s real estate.

I’ve asked women why the word for vaginal penetration (“ukuhlaba”) is also the word used when a cow is slaughtered during traditional ceremonies like weddings.  If you’re a girl and you walk down a township street the boys will probably say, loud enough for you to hear it, “Ngizoyihlaba leyangane” which means, “I will penetrate that child”.  I’ve also asked many women why they think the men gather gleefully to slaughter that sacrificial cow during that type of ceremony.  Do women know it’s believed that slaughtering a cow using a sharpened blade symbolizes manhood and courage, but using their bare hands to tear a bull (inkunzi) apart is thought to harness the ancestors’ power channelled through the death of the animal, and empower the men?  Men gain power and ancestral approval by first exercising power over other objects – over izinkomo and izinkunzi – and like Viagra, that power is expected not to “go to waste”.  It must be used on something.

Or someone.

And it is the “duty” of all female someones to avail themselves to a man each.

Without exception, the women I’ve asked these questions have slumped into resigned postures.  There is no other way that life could be, they reply.  It’s always been like this and it’s our identity as black people.

The words nkomo and ukuhlaba, as well as their corresponding ritual symbols of a “cow” being sacrificed, cross paths at the insistence that vaginal penetrability must accompany a woman’s sexuality, and that this sexuality must be exercised in accordance with the system we’ll call heteropatriarchy.

The system awaits the woman’s submission, as though she were a sacrificial animal, to the religion of heteropatriarchy.  In this religion, the husband’s phallus – the idol that is the liturgical “weapon”, the“spear” and “warhead” of conquest – is used to open up and offer her body up on the altar of heterosexual marriage to the only place her sexuality can be completed, redeemed and vindicated before society.

Husbands make “honest women” of their wives.

Now I’m often told that I have a very cynical view of society and marriage.  In response I rattle off rape and domestic abuse statistics.  So on one hand we have people in cultures – white and black, all heteropatriarchal to some extent or another – that insist that they’re absolutely normal and beyond critique, and on the other, we have stories of stunning violence happening in our backyards.  Whose version of the truth do we accept?

In Zulu, rape is “ukudlwengula” which I imagine comes from the sound root “dlwe”.  This is pure guesswork on my part but sounds formed by the “dl-” sound are often active and they’re useful onomatopoeia for the sounds of tearing and breaking.  From words like “udlame”, “uyadlala,” “uyadla” (which mean “violence”, “playing” and “eating” respectively) I’ve heard many Zulu-speaking people instinctively extracting the “dli” syllable, distilling the sense of force in it, and using it as an adverb. “Wayithatha ngodli!”  “He seized it with violence”.

With this particular word “ukudlwengula”, there is the sense of something being wrenched from its rightful place.  That “rightful place” isn’t the woman’s consent, for in township and African cultures the locus of female consent is not only the woman’s will but the socio-cultural context it’s found in.  “Ukudlwengula” is when one man illegitimately takes a woman from where she belongs on the pipeline to mother- and wifehood to another man and household that would have followed the expected steps to procure her, and rapes her.  It is a violation against her but more importantly, against the community, custom and ancestry.

This sounds reassuring, how women’s rights and propriety seem to be woven into the fabric of African traditions.  The problem with having her individual rights stand conditionally beside the culture is that in some instances of rape, other factors obscure justice.  This is especially true in the custom of “ukuthwala” in which a woman is kidnapped, forced into a marriage with her abductor, and her family is given a choice and she is lastly given a “choice” after a long period of disorientation and “decision-making”.

More alarmingly, when individual rights are conditioned on conformance to culture, those rights may be violated to fulfil someone’s idea of cultural demands.  This was the case in July 2013, when Duduzile Zozo was found murdered with a toilet brush in her vagina.  That brush was her rapist’s way of asking, “Well what sort of nkomo is yours anyway?”  She did not have it available for his taking on the playing board, so he violently wrenched it – wamdlwengula – not from its rightful place in the scheme of things, but into it.  She’d strayed, and he was putting her back in place.

Now we have a problem again.  A lesbian claims individual human and sexual rights over her body.  A man claims that his “right” to enforce societal and cultural expectations on her trump her individual rights.  Whose right is right?  Whole societies and cultures say they’re normal, but the rape and murder statistics aren’t normal.  Who’s delusional and who’s in denial?

And by attacking her, her rapist has said there is no room for mere tolerance.  It’s all or nothing.  He forced to the surface all the dilemmas we’re too polite to address.

By putting a toilet brush in Zozo’s body, he spat at every female lover that Zozo had ever had and also told Zozo that unless it’s offered up to heteropatriarchy, her vagina is no better than a dirty toilet because she’s flushed society’s right to her penetrability down that “drain”.  A similar message was sent out at the funeral when her female friends tried to take over ceremonial duties that are normally left to men: the men balked.

Female power and independence from heteropatriarchy is terrifying for it says the men’s monopoly on the meaning of women’s lives is under threat.  If women can skip men and just enjoy sex without them, then the military conquest of men over women is rendered meaningless because a mere woman – that is, a lesbian without a penis, without a “sharpened blade” – can pull off the same feat men had gathered in their cow-slaughtering groups to celebrate. Tearing bulls apart with their hands was for nothing, for that power won’t be transferred on women or used anywhere meaningful (God forbid men ever sleep with men); the “Viagra” was taken for nothing because the lesbian has accomplished alone, without ever preparing for it, what whole armies of boys killing bulls, slaughtering cows and standing on the side of the street just talking about it but never getting it done have failed to do.  It’s an affront to their authority as men and it must be “corrected”.  The phallic gods are outraged that they have not personally overseen the sacrifice by which women’s sexual incompleteness is resolved.

Lesbianism doesn’t render the penis irrelevant but it does make it optional.  Optional penises are as good as castrated ones. Lesbians couldn’t be more threatening if they walked around with butchers’ knives in hands and skull-and-penis necklaces around their throats.

South Africa statistics indicate that one in every four men has raped and that one in every three women has been the victim of sexual assault.  That’s higher than our numbers for literacy.  To counter this, we create slogans like, “Real Men don’t rape”.  Local activist Sian Ferguson wrote: “My entire life, I’ve heard that real men don’t rape. But the man who raped me was not imaginary – he was indeed very real”.  What’s a real man?  I personally am desperate to know.  I was listening to the radio when I heard of an email written by a listener who said that whenever he heard Scissor Sister’s Don’t Feel Like Dancing and caught himself singing along, he questioned his heterosexuality.  The radio DJ laughed and remarked in agreement that liking that particular song could cause any man to question his masculinity.

​That’s how easily the word “heterosexuality” was swapped for the word “masculinity”.  So real men who don’t rape, but actually do, are expected to be heterosexual otherwise they’ll be symbolically castrated by society.  This unspoken demand to “perform” masculinity is powerful.  While there is nothing wrong with any particular expression of typical masculinity as such, there is plenty disturbing with the expectation that every biological male will conform to all that is typically associated with masculinity.  When we say, “Real men don’t rape”, failure and shame are still haunt the men receiving this message; those men are provoked to protecting and proving their masculinity (read: heterosexuality) in some way or another.  The Viagra needs to be used on someone.

​The fight against corrective rape isn’t limited to feminists, lesbians, or to people in academia.  It isn’t just for ministers and NGO-based activists.

​The issue touches on everyone.  The numbers say that 500 women are raped in Western Cape townships a year.  That’s the physical part of it, and it’s devastating.  A fellow Mr Gay South Africa finalist, Zander Barnard, is a medical doctor and he’s seen upfront the damage these crimes can inflict.  He’s used his voice and position to urge government to distinguish corrective rape as a hate crime and attach harsher penalties to it.

When we speak up on human rights, we’re trying to fix problems that are connected in invisible ways to the safety of your body, your finances, your family and your country.  That’s why I’ve been speaking to clergy, especially: depending on how they read their bibles and minister to people, they can shift the culture and make it more humane.

In principle, every single last person is violated by such a crime – including the perpetrator himself – because each person’s human rights are conditional on their playing the role expected of them.  In principle, then, corrective rapists violate not just women’s bodies but the entire body of human rights.

Rape, for whatever reason, is everyone’s battle.

Everyone needs to speak up.

This is why the finalists of Mr GSA 2015 are stepping up to that plate.

*Disclaimer: a nuanced explanation as to why no particular factor behind corrective rape is the decisive one is beyond the scope of this piece.  Culture is not necessarily evil.


Dolce, Gabbana, Those Comments

Domenico Dolce said, “You are born to a mother and a father, or at least that’s how it should be.  I call children of chemistry, synthetic children.  Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog.”


Let’s start by mentioning the obvious: nothing about how a baby is conceived, or by whom it is raised, makes it more or less “synthetic” or chemical than any other kind of baby.

Let us also pull out the yarn of hypocrisy in the unimaginative term “rented uterus.”

It is entirely possible for a surrogate mother to have more depth to her character, as well as a richer personal story bonding her to the baby’s parents, than a couple that conceives accidentally, naturally, while high on drugs and booze. Nature doesn’t discriminate, helping along only those conceptions that will be followed up with loving attendant childcare; therefore, though nature may act as a reference point in our ethics, it is certainly not the foundation of all morality.  It never was and it never will be.

It is precisely that we don’t judge the quality of people’s choices by how “natural” they are that makes us human. Nature isn’t necessarily all-good; often, it’s red in tooth and claw and one of its rules is “eat or be eaten”. I’d personally rather be born to the family that plans every step of the “synthetic” conception, than to the family that is completely unprepared to care for me.

When the mother and the father are dirt-poor or unfit, will the “that’s how it should be” argument suddenly materialize as the provisions that are missing from life?

And don’t get me started about children conceived through rape.  If artificially inseminated children are synthetic children, are children conceived of rape “children of hate”?

What about children conceived in loveless marriages of convenience?  Are their mothers’ uteruses rented wombs too?

Where do we draw the line and stop the judgment?  At children born outside of wedlock?  But why stop there?  Why not hate every uterus and every child conceived and born into a world where natural resources are running out, greed confines many to poverty, greed spurns war and we’re all trapped in oppressions that are intimately linked to the very heterosexist system whereby children are conceived?  Where does the judgment end?

That said, I’d also like to advocate for something else.  In a world where it’s becoming easier to “design” babies, can we please adopt existing ones instead (I ask understanding that sometimes it’s a difficult process)?  Many people argue that people want their own flesh and blood to love.  But just as babies are not necessarily better off if conceived naturally, so, too, is love not measured or best contained by the traditionality of the particular family arrangement in which it’s found.

I personally believe there is more practical love expressed when someone takes an existing baby from desperate circumstances, than there is when someone brings a new baby into the world.  I believe there is more practical love expressed when someone cares for someone totally unrelated to them, to whom they have no obligation. “People want to spread their own DNA,” people often remind me. There is nothing wrong with that except that in a hundred years, your DNA won’t be yours anymore; it will be the earth’s, and you will belong to the Ages.