Be­ing gay

CityPress - - Voices - Mbuyiselo Botha voices@city­press.co.za Botha is a com­mis­sioner with the Com­mis­sion for Gen­der Equal­ity

For­mer higher ed­u­ca­tion deputy min­is­ter Mduduzi Manana has fi­nally done the right thing. He re­signed in the midst of a scan­dal in which he al­legedly beat up a young woman, al­though he said that he was ex­tremely pro­voked. Re­ports say that the provo­ca­tion lead­ing to the beat­ing was that the woman, Man­disa Duma, made com­ments about Manana’s sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

Af­ter this in­ci­dent, the Twit­ter brigade and many call­ers to ra­dio sta­tions were scathing in their con­dem­na­tion of the per­pe­tra­tor and the vic­tim of the abuse in equal mea­sure.

One male caller to Kaya FM even went a step fur­ther by say­ing that, just be­cause the ma­jor­ity of South Africans haven’t ex­pressed an opinion about peo­ple with dif­fer­ent sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions, doesn’t mean that so­ci­ety has fully ac­cepted or em­braced this sec­tion of the pop­u­la­tion. Hence, the caller said, he too would have been of­fended had he been called gay.

Our coun­try is known for its in­abil­ity to ad­dress dif­fi­cult top­ics, such as Manana’s be­hav­iour and his vic­tim’s ob­vi­ous ho­mo­pho­bic ten­den­cies in us­ing gay­ness as a slur.

We strongly con­demn abuse against women and we be­lieve there are no ex­cuses if some­one hits a de­fence­less woman.

The crim­i­nal charges – which Manana pleaded guilty to this week – are go­ing to en­sure that Manana doesn’t lay a hand on an­other per­son again, and he has owned up to the fact that he needs coun­selling to deal with his feel­ings of anger.

He ad­mit­ted as much when he said: “That shame­ful in­ci­dent should not have hap­pened. I know my ac­tions and those of the peo­ple in my com­pany have dis­ap­pointed and hurt many peo­ple in this coun­try. As a leader, I should have known bet­ter and acted bet­ter. Re­gard­less of the ex­treme provo­ca­tion, I should have ex­er­cised re­straint.”

In re­sponse to Manana’s res­ig­na­tion as deputy min­is­ter, ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe said some­thing pro­found about our at­ti­tude to­wards peo­ple who are not het­ero­sex­ual, adding that Manana would re­main a mem­ber of the ANC in Par­lia­ment and would not face any ac­tion from the party.

He said that, dur­ing the al­ter­ca­tion that led to the al­leged as­sault, Manana was ridiculed for his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

Man­tashe said: “That as­pect must be de­bated be­cause, if we don’t, we are go­ing to con­tinue this iso­lat­ing of peo­ple with dif­fer­ent sex­ual ori­en­ta­tions in the com­mu­ni­ties. Beat­ing up women is not ac­cept­able; women are not for beat­ing.”

Man­tashe is spot on. He con­demned Manana’s vi­o­lent ac­tion to­wards the woman and agreed that what he did was wrong.

Yet, he im­plored us to deal with the is­sue of ho­mo­pho­bia. We can’t just sweep it un­der the car­pet, be­cause throw­ing the gay slur around just shows how so­ci­ety still views what we gen­er­ally re­fer to as gay peo­ple, and the type of con­ver­sa­tions held be­hind ev­ery­one’s back.

And, as much as some peo­ple say be­ing called gay is not an in­sult, in a so­ci­ety such as ours – in which we have not fully em­braced that there are peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from us, but who de­serve the same re­spect ac­corded the rest of so­ci­ety – gay­ness will con­tinue to be re­garded as a swear word un­til we come up with ways to ed­u­cate and teach ev­ery­one that gay peo­ple also have a right to be here and, there­fore, they also de­serve our re­spect and sup­port.

The call­ers to the ra­dio sta­tion just demon­strate that we have not even be­gun to tackle the problem of how some peo­ple per­ceive those of a dif­fer­ent sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. The rage that they have ex­pressed should have us wor­ried, be­cause it means many of us still don’t un­der­stand what our Con­sti­tu­tion de­crees on hu­man rights, where we come from as a coun­try and why those rights have to be pro­tected.

We need to find a way to get our chil­dren to read and know the Con­sti­tu­tion by heart – from an early age – so that they un­der­stand what is meant when we call South Africa a con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy, as op­posed to coun­tries such as Ghana, where gay rights are nei­ther recog­nised nor pro­tected by any laws.

With­out un­der­play­ing the abuse and rape of women, we can’t at the same time ig­nore the cases of vi­o­lent at­tacks on gay peo­ple in many com­mu­ni­ties. Some les­bians are even sub­jected to what is called “cor­rec­tive rape”, which is a vi­o­la­tion and bru­tal­i­sa­tion of women by straight men. Many of these women are also bru­tally killed. If we fail to take stock and ad­dress this cul­ture of vi­o­lence meted out to all those per­ceived as weaker than and dif­fer­ent to het­ero­sex­ual men, we will be fail­ing our chil­dren and our­selves as pro­tec­tors, broth­ers, fa­thers, un­cles, hus­bands and sons of this beloved coun­try.

The gay tag is al­ways hang­ing like a sword over men in our so­ci­ety. They feel they have to keep prov­ing that they are not gay or “soft” by some­times act­ing vi­o­lently to­wards oth­ers and com­mit­ting acts such as rape, as­sault, mur­der, al­co­hol and drug abuse, road rage and femi­cide. All be­cause we want to prove that we are men. That is to­tally un­ac­cept­able.

When men com­mit vi­o­lent acts and other atrocities against women, chil­dren and other vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­nity mem­bers, they are show­ing that they are in­hu­man and in­ca­pable of feel­ing com­pas­sion for other hu­man be­ings – a huge in­dict­ment on their con­science.

It has noth­ing to do with be­ing a man and ev­ery­thing to do with be­ing in­se­cure and a coward, and pick­ing on those more vul­ner­a­ble than your­self to feel stronger.

Mduduzi Manana

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