Take a look at the responses offered by Patekile Holomisa to Chris Barron’s questions in this weekend’s Sunday Times. I addressed his views in a Daily Maverick column reposted here, wherein I drew attention to the fact that his retrograde attitude towards equality seemed no less – if not more – offensive than dos Santos and Tshidi, whose racist tweets have recently caused such upheaval in the Twittersphere. (As a sidenote, the report on their “reconciliation lunch” with Mmusi Maimane is a wonderful example of how low journalistic standards can sink – “Dos Santos, who had plastered her face with make-up and pink blush” & “Thamane, 22, it has emerged, is not even a model” being two choice examples).
Holomisa has poked his head out of his cave for long enough to confirm that our suspicions are not at all unfounded, and that freedom is quite alright, so long as it’s according to cultural norms. And who defines cultural norms? Well, “traditional communities and traditional leaders”, apparently – except, that’s not quite true, because if you’re a gay person then your sexual preferences are “not part of our culture”. So, that leaves us with traditional leaders as the arbiters of cultural norms. And guess what – they’re all male, and will continue to be so, especially if the Traditional Courts Bill passes, and even if it doesn’t, because that’s the current status quo.
Gays and lesbians do what they do “despite of their culture”, according to Holomisa. But yet, this magnanimous man says they should be protected – “they can’t be assaulted, or raped or killed. According to the culture.” No, Holomisa, that’s not the only reason – it’s also according to law, which (currently) recognises sexual orientation as illegitimate grounds for discrimination. And one of the reasons for having this in law is that despite what you think the “cultural” rules are, people are discriminating against gays and lesbians. And exactly those people who you think define cultural norms are themselves frequently homophobic.
So it’s a cop-out to say that it’s “not because of the culture that they’re being assaulted and raped and killed. The culture doesn’t say they must be assaulted and killed and raped.” Because when “the culture” says “let’s remove the protections for gays and lesbians from the Bill of Rights” – as you are doing, Mr. Holomisa – then it is because of “the culture” that people are being assaulted and raped and killed. Because you know it’s happening, and you know it’s sometimes because of homophobia. And one way to change “the culture” is to put people in jail, often and always, when they assault, rape or kill (for whatever reason, but including as a result of homophobia).
Another way to change “the culture” is of course to tell people to stop doing these things. But that strategy isn’t working out too well, is it?