SA Divided as Blood Is Spilled in the Name of God-Fearing Homophobia
BYLINE: Dale T McKinley
As much as those of us who identify ourselves as social progressives would like to believe otherwise, the reality is that South Africa is a bastion of social conservatism. Indeed, one of the most glaring contradictions of South Africa's post-apartheid "transition" is that the widely acknowledged (and regularly celebrated) social progressiveness of the constitution is, in large part, at fundamental odds with the beliefs and views of the majority of South Africans.
Until a few years ago this was one of our best-kept "secrets". If the heady "rainbow nation" days of the early mid-1990s served to largely obscure the political and economic fissures in South African society, then they positively buried many of the underlying realities of majoritarian social norms and values. While some of the "colours" of that rainbow began to fade fairly quickly thereafter as increasing economic inequality and an accompanying class struggle came to the fore, it has taken several more years for the divided social heart and soul of South Africa to be exposed.
Besides the consistent defence of narrow-minded, patriarchal social relations and ongoing displays of general indifference to the epidemic of violence against women, in more recent times the most publicly visible and propagated form of social intolerance has been homophobia.
It was none other than Jacob Zuma who got the ball really rolling back in 2006 when, at a public function, he proudly stated: "When I was growing up, ungqingili (gay men) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out." Although he later apologised, his complementary remark that "same-sex marriage is a disgrace to the nation and to God", and the positive reception such a view received from sizeable numbers of South Africans, gave a firm indication of a deep-seated and widely held social conservatism.
Empirical confirmation of this was clearly revealed in the Human Sciences Research Council's 2008 South African Social Attitudes Survey. The study, using a national representative sample of respondents aged 16 and older, found that between 2003 and 2007 more than 80 percent of the population across various age groups "consistently felt that sex between two men or two women was always wrong".
Further, it found that "gays and lesbians were characterised as 'un-African' and that intolerance towards homosexuality was prevalent". One of the study's authors, Vasu Reddy, accurately described these dominant views as "an attempt to tell African gays and lesbians to 'go back into the closet' because you're a 'disgrace' to African culture" - an attitude he said represented a view of homosexuality as "something that colonisers brought with them to contaminate African culture".
Tragically but predictably, such views have been brutally translated over the past few years into the unprecedented levels of violence against black lesbians in particular, which has seen more than 30 murdered and countless others physically and emotionally abused.
In 2006, the life of 19-year-old lesbian Zoliswa Nkonyana of Khayelitsha was cut short by a gang of marauding male youths.
In 2007, Sizakele Sigasa, an outreach co-ordinator for the Positive Women's Network, a lesbian rights organisation, and her friend Salome Masooa were tortured, raped and brutally murdered in Soweto, and Thokozane Qwabe was murdered in Ladysmith. …