What does it mean to be an African? What is traditional African culture? Does it really condemn homosexuality, though it exists throughout Africa? And if it doesn’t, why are certain individuals and institutions clamouring for legislation against homosexuality?
The recent utterances by the president of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of SA, Inkosi Phathekile Holomisa, about the need to review the constitutional protection of gay rights is indicative of questionable institutions clamouring for relevance and survival. It further raises questions about the legitimacy of such institutions as they claim to be the “custodians and protectors” of the cultural identities of the indigenous people of South Africa and the rest of Africa. Are we witnessing, through such utterances, the hijacking of the identity of millions for the benefit of illegitimate aristocrats?
At the beginning of May, amidst heated discussions about the tolling system and police corruption, another debate was raging. This was the debate about the constitutionally guaranteed rights of same-sex relationships. It was sparked by a submission by Contralesa, a traditional leaders’ trade union of sorts. This organisation submitted a proposal to the Portfolio Committee on Constitutional Development in the National Assembly, requesting a review of the portion of the Constitution, namely section 9, which guarantees the rights of same sex relationships.
Explaining Contralesa’s position in an interview with a Sunday publication, Holomisa said: “The ANC knows that the majority of South Africans do not want to promote or protect the rights of gays and lesbians.” Holomisa explained that homosexuality was a “condition which occurred when certain cultural rituals had not been performed but when these rituals are done they (the gay people) behave like other people in society.” He confessed, however, that he “did not know how it works for people in other cultures or people in urban areas.”
I’m not sure what “it” refers to. He failed, however, to explain the existence of homosexuals in rural or ancient African societies, despite these rituals since time immemorial.
It is important to mention Holomisa is an ANC Member of Parliament and he is also the chairman of the Portfolio Committee, to which Contralesa made this interesting submission. Oh, and did I mention that he, the inkosi, is also president of the very same Contralesa that has made this submission...to his committee...?
It is a submission from which the ANC has “distanced itself”, saying through its chief whip, Mathole Motshega, that “the ANC has noted with concern the utterances of Holomisa and will be meeting with him to discuss this issue”.
Motshega insisted in his response to these utterances that “section 9 of the Constitution was one of the core values of the Constitution and at no stage was this issue up for debate in the ANC’s caucus.”
Interestingly, in the same interview with the Sunday newspaper, Holomisa also revealed that there was contention about other issues within the ANC’s caucus and named the Protection of State Information Bill, better known as the Secrecy Bill, as an example of such disagreement. Yes, if your head is spinning at what seems to be a convoluted mess of confusion, incongruence and organisational incest, I can’t blame you. The ANC really needs to get its house in order. Broad church or not, this is getting ridiculous!
What is more disturbing than Holomisa and Contralesa’s position on what he calls the “condition” of homosexuality is that this bigoted ignorance is peddled as somehow representative of the traditional values of the indigenous peoples of Southern Africa and perhaps Africa. It is conveniently presented as an authentically “African” worldview, to cunningly suggest that any other understanding of this issue is somehow “unAfrican”. This is nothing less than subtle cultural extortion by a band of aristocrats clamouring for relevance and survival. They use the lack of education and exposure of their “subjects” to steal the identity of millions for personal gain.
In his Sunday Times column, Mondli Makhanya brilliantly expresses the same frustration on yet another issue hijacked by cultural gangsters. He writes: “There is this very strange thing that happens when someone dies. Their sins, shortcomings and weaknesses suddenly vanish. They become paragons of virtue and get turned into valiant heroes. Thieves, murderers and whores (of both genders) become saints. While this is not specific to any culture, in our country we are told that it is ‘unAfrican’ to speak ill of the dead. In this way culture is used to blackmail us all into whitewashing the legacies of those who did bad things while they lived.”
It is this suppression of truth by aristocrats who wish to impose a convenient identity on the masses which must be exposed.
The African identity has become hotly contested terrain in recent years. It has graduated from being the most undesirable of identities, in the old SA and before, to being the most powerful political currency in the hands of skilful pundits in the new SA - particularly those who have appointed themselves “custodians and protectors” of this identity.
Perhaps it would be useful to explore the reasons for this situation. I contend that it has come about largely because of the blatant oppression that Africans have endured throughout history, for no reason other than their African-ness. The absurdity of the reasoning for so venomous and prolonged a hate for Africans, by different oppressors of every colour, including Africans themselves, is in fact the reason why African-ness has been elevated to a position of mystery and wonder. More importantly, it is the relentless, irrepressible resilience of this identity that has overcome and vanquished racism through the different struggles of African people and others, which has rendered African-ness in and of itself a noble and desirable identity. It is this trajectory and history of struggle and triumph, like a refined precious stone, that has given African-ness untold value. This value, this precious, fragile and yet rugged value, has in many instances been the very source and reason for the abuse of African-ness.
Africans, more than anyone, should understand the terror of oppression and discrimination. It was not too long ago that being African was ignorantly believed to be an aberration, an abnormality, in much the same way that some Africans are choosing to label African homosexuality an aberration today. It was politically convenient for those who labelled Africans as mistakes of nature because they could then continue unabated with the exploitation and abuse of Africans. The same is being done by the likes of Holomisa, in that they refuse to seek relevant information about homosexuality and educate themselves and those whom they claim to represent in order to keep them in the dark ages of superstition and lies.
It is convenient for them to do so in order to keep their questionable positions in dodgy institutions such as those represented by Contralesa. It is important for them to continue to blackmail all of us with this false notion of a “majority” that does not want to promote nor protect the rights of gay people. This is a red herring if ever there was one, or perhaps I should say it is a “dead snake”.
The truth is, what we should be afraid of is ignorance and those who promote it as truth, not the “majority”. It is convenient for the Contralesas of this world to keep us afraid so that we can perpetually pay a “protection fee” to them. This is a “shakedown” of huge proportions. This is nothing less than the theft of a people’s identity for personal convenience.
What have homosexuals done to you or me that they should not be protected under our Constitution or law? What would Contralesa have happen to homosexuals in order to give expression to their submission to the portfolio committee? Who do the members of Contralesa really represent, politically? Who elected them as traditional leaders? Why do my taxes and those of homosexual South Africans pay for institutions such as traditional houses when I do not subscribe to notions of tribalism and aristocracy? Surely, those who believe in these institutions should fund them, not the national fiscus? What is their real duty other than ceremonial appearances here and there? Do these traditional leaders really deserve the huge salaries they earn when their so-called “subjects” are subjected to such poverty and repression? Why do we continue to support enclaves of outdated systems of oppression within a democratic, progressive and egalitarian society?
It is the right of anyone in this country to have an opinion on any matter, however uninformed and offensive it may be. That is the freedom of a constitutional democracy. What is wrong and reprehensible is the presentation of that opinion as though it is divine fact, universally representative of a people when it is clear that a selfish political agenda is being pursued.
I am an African, I owe this identity to no one accept Providence. As such I do not need to be told how to be an African by dubious entities and individuals. My identity as an African is not determined by their presence or absence. It is inalienable, like being human or gay. I take exception to the thought that Africans are doomed to remaining hostages of archaic ideas and superstitions by such groups as Contralesa. These ideas facilitate the oppression and enslavement of Africans to obsolete “traditional” ideologies, which are out of sync with modern realities.
I take serious exception to the use of the African identity by unscrupulous aristocratic thugs and ruling classes to oppress homosexuals, many of them Africans, throughout the continent.