UPDATE: Prof. Pierre de Vos has written an excellent post detailing the idiocy of still having royalty in South Africa, who receive millions from the government for having the right genetics. Start a slow clap for these people…
Can you imagine any public figure saying on a public platform that all black or coloured people “are rotten”? Not only are these statements false (and I think meaningless), they are insulting to the group of people in question. But insult or offense isn’t a measurement of a statement’s strength. Anyone reading those statements, whether they are part of the targeted group or not, would rightfully think such statements unjustified and bigoted – and it’s these two conclusions that matter. In this same way, I look forward to the day when we take a similar hard-line approach to those who make homophobic statements, as King Goodwill Zwelithini has done.
The Zulu monarch – Brits aren’t the only ones with these strange titles still in existence – has recently said:
Traditionally, there were no people who engaged in same sex relationships. There was nothing like that and if you do it, you must know that you are rotten.
And in case you didn’t quite understand him or feel different, it doesn’t matter: “I don’t care how you feel about it. If you do it, you must know that it is wrong and you are rotten. Same sex is not acceptable.”
Africa as a continent is still rife with homophobic bigotry: whether it’s the fact that homosexual acts are a crime (punishable by death in some places) or, even when legal, that lesbians are “correctively raped”.
The utterances of someone that many revere as some kind of authority are obviously unhelpful, if not harmful, to the “rotten” atmosphere of treating gays and lesbians as second-class persons. When we should be trying all we can to dispel these bigoted and harmful views, such statements cannot be taken lightly.
Mr Zwelithini is wrong and he should be called out on his bigotry and hatred.
Firstly, what does he mean by “traditionally” when he says “traditionally there were no people who engaged in same sex relations”? Does he mean historically? Because this seems factually mistaken, even if we just glance through some books on Ancient Greece (also, the Old Testament indicates that homosexuality is wrong. Yahweh wouldn’t say that unless people were doing it, surely?) If he means, within his tradition, this also seems wrong. Given what we know about homosexuality, it’s unlikely in the entire history of his people that not a single person engaged in a homosexual act. Even Jacob Zuma appears to have encountered gays, as he said he’d “knock [a gay] out” if one stood in front of him, when he was younger. So I’m not sure how far back Mr Zwelithini wants to go. Though, again, I’m not sure what he means by “traditionally”.
And, secondly, even if “there was nothing like it” traditionally (whatever that means), why does that make same-sex relations wrong (today)? We shouldn’t judge according to history in these cases: after all, women “traditionally” were not granted the same rights as men, but most of us think it is good that women have equal rights, under the state. So, even if we grant Mr Zwelithini the argument from the past, it’s not a justification for calling homosexual acts “rotten” today.
He is correct that this is not about feelings and feelings shouldn’t justify our stance on something like same-sex marriage in public discussion. But upon what then is Mr Zwelithini making his judgement? I’ve encountered no good reasonable argument to criminalise homosexual acts or to think them wrong by any reasonable standard of morality. I find it doubtful therefore that he is basing his views on anything other than feelings and, if not feelings, an elaboration on disgust.
We should be doing all we can to establish some sense of equality of persons, in terms of rights and treatment, within our very traumatised continent. Homophobia, not just in Africa but all over the world, is one of the last great pillars of bigotry we must be opposing, along with the horrible treatment of women, especially in Islamic countries. These kinds of statements, by a monarch of all things, are entirely unhelpful (and, indeed, possibly harmful) to our attempts to right this very wrong situation. Ultimately, I would like to see Mr Zwelithini’s statements and view treated with the same contempt that we treat all other unjustified prejudices.
(Note: I’m still undecided whether we should censor racist, xenophobic, etc., statements, since I think the market will destroy them out – again – I’m not certain. Frankly, I would rather know how someone views things than that he only allows it to fester among his family, friends and associates. If it’s out in the light, the bigotry can be targeted as it should be.)