There’s been a spotlight on corruption, as well as the murders of LGBTI people. These issues are connected and can be addressed using B-BBEE to challenge hegemonic power, writes Siya Khumalo.
An LGBTI conference hosted by the Thami Dish Foundation had Gauteng Premier David Makhura as one of its speakers. Prompted by the remarks of previous speaker Judge Edwin Cameron, Makhura waxed lyrical about how You Have To Be Gay To Know God was a very "important book".
In the photo ops that followed, I shamelessly wrapped an arm around him, gloating that my book on the ANC’s failures towards the LGBTI community had been hyped up by a politician who probably hadn’t read it.
Since then, Thami Dish (who hosted that event) and the ANC-aligned Embrace Diversity Movement have thrown the premier under the bus for failed promises towards the LGBTI community, including a dedicated desk at the Premier’s office. Embrace Diversity, said Makhura’s government, was one of "spectacle".
With the recent spike in violent LGBTI murders, some have questioned the effectiveness of South Africa’s biggest LGBTI organisations. But maybe the strategy of many of these organisations, which was lobbying political will alongside the private sector, had to be tried lest far-reaching legislative change look like "special rights". Maybe we needed receipts that politicians who promised bite-sized, incremental changes were engaging in bad faith and pleas directed at them fell on deaf ears.
Empty promise of change
Maybe such politicians dangle the empty promise of change in front of LGBTI activists to win their support and feature on their platforms without upsetting, say, the Congress of Traditional Leaders South Africa (Contralesa) and its support, by following through on those promises. This is the Standard Operating Procedure of the ANC: to make both sides of any conflict feel deeply heard, without doing anything to show which side it’s actually on.
Traditional leaders need gay urban voters to vote ANC so that the ANC can keep them in power. But for that to work, those traditional leaders need for the ANC to turn around and betray gay people where it counts the most. Here’s why:
Homophobia skews the bar for accountability by empowering leaders to undermine feminist critiques of the way they deploy power. The existence of LGBTI bodies raises deeply personal questions about why men and women don’t experience the same privileges if some of their assumed intimate roles blur and interchange in the lives and acts of LGBTI people.
This shows how arbitrarily and recklessly we choose leaders, which further shows how unelected leaders’ claim to power is based on their popularity within a hierarchy. That popularity, in turn, depends on those leaders’ commitment to enforcing the hegemony of those who are in power.
This, by the way, is how a patronage network guzzles up an untold amount of tax money, without delivering a return.
The face of leadership that acts this way is often straight black men. The face of Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment (B-BBEE) is also often straight black men. Traditional leaders just happen to be in rural areas, whereas black political and politically-connected elites happen to be urban — but they need each other, and they need each other to make empty promises to their respective bases, so the resources and political capital it’d take to follow through on those promises is spent on building their patronage networks.
When I was in the military, I was presented with the opportunity to go to medical school. This was in 2007. I instinctively sensed I was a pawn in a proxy leadership war, a palace coup that involved grooming golden boys/girls into protégés and then using their loyalty in behind-the-scenes tribal conflicts among the English and the Afrikaaners, the Vendas and the Zulus. The military also has procurement budgets, you know.
The heteronormative respectability demanded in each of these tribal hierarchies was why the only openly gay people anyone knew were those whose privileges buffered them from direct discrimination: these were straight-acting white men whose dependence on group dynamics was less acute than black people’s. Otherwise, such hegemonies don’t blur the lines between "them and us", male and female, penetrator and penetrated, master and slave; I’d have to sacrifice something of myself to fit in.
Extrapolating from the background dynamics of the 2007 public servant strike (which resulted from a factional battle within the Tripartite Alliance) through what was happening in my corner of the military, I projected this factionalism as the emerging pattern of politics in the ANC.
Tone 'the gay thing' down
Years later, a politically-connected acquaintance told me I could get a construction tender. "You won’t have to do the work yourself," he explained. I’d just have to register a business and wait for further instructions without asking questions, as I’d started doing, about the inefficiency of adding middlemen who didn’t know the industry. I’d have to tone "the gay thing" down.
Moeletsi Mbeki often says that an economic policy based on race is bound to be corrupt. I’d expand that to say an economic redress policy based on race apart from an intersectional responsiveness to the legacy of oppression is bound to be hegemonic and therefore nepotistic and corrupt.
Gender-based violence, homophobia and transphobia are examples of straight male hegemony enforcing the division between those who access resources, and those who don’t. Consider xenophobia as a parallel: it’s how one group punishes "the other" for competing with itself for resources. This is a self-fulfilling zero-sum economic prophecy because once the elites and their power are protected by those who idolise them, by those who wish to be one of them, those elite use those resources and political capital to make the elitism more inaccessible to those who’ve protected them.
This increases inequality, which intensifies attacks on "the other": so the vicious cycle repeats itself. When a politician promises to change something about this cycle, but fails to deliver, he is kicking the can down the road.
Could amending B-BBEE to incentivise LGBTI inclusion and visibility address hate crimes? As explained in a previous article, it indirectly opens up funding and economic opportunities for organisations and persons at the front of the struggle. It also facilitates inclusive economic growth so there are fewer squabbles for resources.
An affront to masculinity
Most profoundly, it compensates the queer community that (whether empowered by legislation or not) gets sacrificed to the tribal hegemonic idols whose irresponsible use of power worsens the inequality for which "the other" is scapegoated by wannabe-members of the ruling tier of the power totem pole.
Whether queer people are included in B-BBEE or not, we’re paying for it because we’re perceived as an affront to the masculinity of black men who aren’t as powerful as most B-BBEE tenderpreneurs. Our lived critique on their eligibility to access opportunities reserved for "real men" reminds them they’re economically emasculated, so they perform and prove their masculinity over-and-against us, "the other" — not realising that by legitimising straight male hegemony, they’ve set themselves up to be dominated by those who perform and prove their masculinity over-and-against them.
This is amplified when queer people aim questions about male privilege at wanna-be elites, who know they’ve made a strategic mistake by buying into patriarchy. And what do insecure people do with mistakes? Erase them.
They erase those of us whose very existence is perceived as a reflection of their failure to be "man enough" in a system where it’s impossible for every man to be "man enough". The killings are a performance of the masculinity our existence says isn’t there.
Queer people are already being killed for B-BBEE, and the B-BBEE codes’ silence on the legacy of LGBTI people’s oppression under apartheid echoes the erasure perpetrated by queer killings.
- Siya Khumalo is the author of You Have To Be Gay To Know God (2018). He is also a Mr Gay South Africa runner-up and Mr Gay World Top 10 finalist.
To receive Opinions Weekly, sign up for the newsletter here. Now available to all News24 readers.
*Want to respond to the columnist? Send your letter or article to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and town or province. You are welcome to also send a profile picture. We encourage a diversity of voices and views in our readers' submissions and reserve the right not to publish any and all submissions received.
Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.