Being gay is the elephant in the room

2017-09-17 06:06
Mduduzi Manana

Mduduzi Manana

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We can’t just sweep the widespread homophobia in SA under the carpet.

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.”

We can’t just sweep it under the carpet

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.

Botha is a commissioner with the Commission for Gender Equality

Read more on:    mduduzi manana  |  gwede ­mantashe

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