Maverick Citizen

LGBT INJUSTICE OP-ED

Queer folk, we are the ones we have been waiting for, the hour to save ourselves has come

Queer folk, we are the ones we have been waiting for, the hour to save ourselves has come
Scores of LGBTQ activists protest at KwaNobuhle Magistrateís Court ahead of the court appearance of a 28-year-old suspect accused of allegedly killing a gay man on April 13, 2021 in Kariega, South Africa. According to media reports, Andile Ntuthela also known as Lulu was murdered and his body found eleven days later dumped in a shallow grave. (Photo: Gallo Images/Die Burger/Lulama Zenzile)

It is not enough for us, as South Africans, black, gay and otherwise, to be silent and hide behind constitutional rights that only sparkle on paper. We must offer our solidarity and support to fellow LGBTQ Africans, and use our voices to challenge leaders to do the right thing and cast our votes to choose better leaders when the old ones fail us. In the absence of good leaders, we must become the good leaders we seek.

On paper, LGBTQ people in South Africa are protected by the Constitution from discrimination, however, the reality is that many continue to face discrimination and sexual harassment, with no real access to justice for those hate-related crimes. Lesbian women are raped by men seeking to show them what it means to be ‘a real woman’, trans people do not have access to gender-affirming healthcare and LGBTQ people are increasingly seen everywhere as the reason for moral degradation. 

We are in danger and in constant attack and our leaders don’t care.

In February this year, Iranti, an LGBTQ organisation, called on the South African president to address the issues faced by LGBTQ people in his State of the Nation address. 

“We believe that if the president says something, then we can use his word to hold his cadres and officials accountable, which we are unable to do,” said the co-executive director of Iranti, Nolwazi Tusini. Tusini said Iranti were blocked by government officials from doing their work of ensuring that people on the ground have access to the most basic services and human rights.

Despite these efforts, the president said nothing about LGBTQ people or their challenges. In fact, he invited the Uganda president, Yoweri Museveni, to receive the Order of South Africa medal, shortly after the Ugandan parliament had introduced the ‘Kill the Gays Bill’ which promises the death penalty and life imprisonment to those who identify as queer. 

A few weeks after adorning Museveni with the medal, the Ugandan parliament passed the bill, and civil society and various other organisations called on Ramaphosa to condemn the laws. 

He has still said nothing. He is siding with a leader who has been publicly encouraging other African leaders to strip away the rights of LGBTQ people or a community he calls “a Western disease”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: What it’s like to be Ugandan and queer when your country turns against your identity

The silence of our leaders on the growing hate towards LGBTQ people makes them complicit in our oppression, if not responsible for it. Silence in the face of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, is a form of solidarity with those who seek to obliterate us, queer people, from the face of the earth. Our leaders continue to fail us by disregarding their responsibilities towards us, trivialising our rights and fabricating principles of equality to advocate for hate. 

It is not enough for us, as South Africans, black, gay and otherwise, to be silent and hide behind constitutional rights that only sparkle on paper. We must offer our solidarity and support to fellow LGBTQ Africans, and use our voices to challenge leaders to do the right thing and cast our votes to choose better leaders when the old ones fail us. In the absence of good leaders, we must become the good leaders we seek. 

If our leaders will not hear and see to our cries, then we, ourselves, must become the leaders who will. National elections are coming up next year, and we must be actively involved in deciding our future. 

We are people with voices and issues that need to be heard.

LGBTQ political representation

Although significant progress has been made in advancing LGBTQ rights, true equality remains elusive, and one crucial avenue for progress is through LGBTQ political representation in elections and governance. We too deserve and require robust political representation to ensure our rights and interests are effectively addressed in the political arena. 

Achieving political representation would allow us to break free from historical oppression and enable us to reclaim our agency. Through political representation, we would get a chance to shape policies, laws, and public discourse and address systemic discrimination. 

We face unique challenges that require specialised legislation and public policy attention. Without political representation, our issues may be unheard or underrepresented, hindering progress and perpetuating injustices.

Our political landscape needs young, vibrant voices that will stand up for the rights of all minorities with a nuanced understanding of how power intersects with various forms of identities. 

Imagining a political landscape that is intersectional requires minority groups to also consider the ways in which they could also be implicated in the oppression of other minority groups. This realisation might bring social movements together, instead of dividing them, so that they can collectively uproot the root of all oppression. 

For example, black men, although marginalised, have been implicated in the oppression of women, children and LGBTQ people. Women have also been implicated in the oppression of LGBTQ people. Cishet women are fighting trans women over the definition of a ‘real’ woman. Gay men are transphobic towards both trans men and women and sexist towards lesbians. 

White women have failed to show solidarity with black women on women’s issues, the same way white LGBTQ people have not shown enough solidarity to black LGBTQ people and the same way that LGBTQ South Africans have failed to show solidarity towards fellow LGBTQ Africans. 

We are fighting each other, instead of trying to understand each other.

All oppression, as the artivist Stacey Ann Chin said, is connected. 

No one is free if their freedom depends on the oppression of others. The ‘Kill the Gays Bill’ in Uganda, does not only target those who identify as LGBTQ, it also targets those who live with and support LGBTQ people, as criminals guilty of ’promoting homosexuality’. To exclude the rights of LGBTQ people to self-determine their identities, and to freely express that identity is not freedom or protecting morality; it is to become the new perpetrator.

The strides that were made to get where we are today, did not happen spontaneously. They were achieved as a result of the determination, courage and perseverance of those who imagined and pursued a just society. If it wasn’t for the likes of Simon Nkoli, Phumi Mtetwa, Bev Ditsie, Edwin Cameron, Donne Rundell and others, we wouldn’t have the explicit protection of sexual minorities in section 9 of the South African Constitution

We need to charge ourselves with their courage and continue the work they have started.

Simon Nkoli, who was at the forefront of the LGBT liberation movement in South Africa, started his activist career fighting against apartheid as a black man. And then he experienced homophobia from his own comrades whose idea of liberation did not extend to sexual minorities. 

When Simon Nkoli came out as gay to his comrades during the Delmas treason trial, they saw his sexual orientation as a threat to the liberation of black people. In fact, Gcina Malindi, who was a co-accused in the Delmas Treason Trial, as well as an ally and friend to Simon Nkoli, told me (in my research for the Nkoli Vogue Opera) that “there were a few of us who were supportive and who were politically mature and progressive enough to know that his sexual orientation was no blemish on the struggle for freedom. And that in fact his struggle for recognition as a homosexual man had to form part of the struggle for liberation so that discrimination is abolished across the line.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: A life resurrected — an opera about Aids and the life of queer activist Simon Nkoli 

We need leaders with the political maturity to abolish discrimination across all lines. The kind of political maturity we need must unite marginalised groups in their oppression, instead of dividing us with Olympics of oppression about who is the most marginalised. 

Standing up for one social group doesn’t have to come at the expense of another, and each struggle is valid and deserves to be resolved. We can listen to and support each other if we are open to a conversation that seeks to unite us in collective freedom, rather than divide us into hierarchies of marginalisation. 

To be divided into hierarchies of oppression only makes us victims of divide and conquer, a tactic that was used by the apartheid regime to fuel divisions among anti-apartheid social movements, as a way to digress their collective efforts against the one true enemy. We are stronger together and more united than we are scattered and squabbling. 

And so the time has come for us to unite in the margins of our oppression, to do more than just complain about the state of our country. We have to fight for our rights to become reality and not mere platitudes on paper. No one will do this for us but ourselves.

There is no longer time to hope, only time to act. 

Queer folk, we are the ones we have been waiting for and the hour to save ourselves has come. We can’t afford to be so despondent that we throw our hands in the air as if there is nothing we can do about our fate. There is much we can still do, individually and collectively. Let us not allow ourselves to be apathetic to injustice against us or those around us and we must, at all times, remain committed to our own liberation. To freedom. DM

Welcome Mandla Lishivha is a journalist, author of Boy On The Run and researcher for the Nkoli: Vogue-Opera, a musical opera on the life & trials of anti-apartheid and gay activist Simon Nkoli, composed by Philip Miller. Follow the @NkoliVogueOpera on Instagram

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