John Qwelane’s homophobia: Old lefty answers are bankrupt

Eudy SimelaneEudy Simelane

Last Sunday, a South African Sunday paper published a homophobic polemic by a veteran and well known journalist John Qwelane.

In it, Qwelane was asking for ‘a politician with balls’ to change the constitution to ban gay marriage and equating marrying a same sex partner with marrying a goat. He went on to praise Robert Mugabe’s stance towards gays.

It’s highly objectionable stuff, but in a country where gays are not tolerated and lesbians are regularly raped and tortured, it is grossly irresponsible as well.

On the Blacklooks blog some of these crimes against Lesbians have been documented.

‘Sizakele Sigasa, lesbian activist and outreach worker with the Positive Women’s Network (PWN), and her friend, Salome Masooa, were first tortured and then murdered.

Sizakele was found with her hands tied together by her underpants and her ankles tied together by her shoelaces, with three bullet holes in her head and three in her collarbone.

In June, Simangele Nhlapho , a member of a support group for women living with HIV run by PWN, was, along with her two year old daughter, raped and murdered. Her daughter’s legs were also broken. In April this year, 16 year-old Madoe Mafubedu, was raped and repeatedly stabbed until she died.’

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) reports on another case, the murder of former women’s national football team player Eudy Simelane. A case that really should have made the headlines:

‘The murder of Eudy Simelane 31-year-old Eudy Simelane former Banyana Banyana midfielder was gang raped and stabbed to death, last week Monday 28th of April 2007. Her body was laid to rest last week Sunday 4th of May. She was murdered in KwaTema, Ekurhuleni east of Johannesburg, returning home with friends from a tavern. She was confronted by a gang who allegedly gang raped and repeatedly stabbed her to death. Her half-naked body was found in a field near the hostel KwaThema last Tuesday.’

Mhambi is absolutely addicted to news. I read everything I can lay my hands on.

I was rather startled when I learned on the Constitutionally speaking blog of Eudy Simelane’s death, which was also mentioned in response to the John Qwelane article.

Why did I not pickup on this? I Googled ‘Banyana Banyana murder’ and it soon became clear why. If you don’t follow the gay and the human rights press you would probably not have known about it.

Eudy Simelane’s murder was only a couple of days before South Africa’s recent bout of xenophobic violence in which at least 62 foreigners were killed. I had blogged about South Africa’s xenophobic murders for more than two years, and had been decrying the paltry press response.

Come to think of it. The reason I was well informed about the xenophobic murders was that I had heard allot about them from a friend working at the NGO Lawyers for Human Rights. Like these murders, the murders of foreigners went under the radar of the South African and international press.

In this blog I will argue that a dominant ideology that pervades the left world wide is to blame for the lack of reporting of these incidents. An ideology that blames colonialism as a matter of course and at the same time denies black agency.

Let’s look a recent South African events. When compared to the blanket coverage of the local and international press reaction to the Skierlik shootings and especially the Reitz video abuse – cases where white’s were the perpetrators, the contrast in the coverage is striking.

If you have been reading the blog before you will know that I have argued that whites, but Afrikaner’s in particular, have been perpetually cast by the press as the bad guys in their South African narrative.

And that this twisted view of South Africa is harming the country and ironically black South Africans themselves is a point I have tried to make again and again.

Eudy Simelane

Eudy Simelane’s death was another case of where the manner of the murder and the profile of the victim should have reverberated around South Africa and the world. Yet it had not. Why is that?

Academic Ivor Chipkin attempted an explanation of this phenomena in relation to the xenophobic violence and the excuse offered by government that the violence was caused by a mysterious third force.

In an article titled The curse of African nationalism he said that one has to look deeper at the ideologies at work in our society.

One the ideological tenets of the Mbeki administration has been – “whites could not escape their racism” and from that followed “they could not be trusted in public life.

This thinking is closely associated with “African nationalism” he added.

‘It is distinguished from the politics of non-racialism by its insistence that the post-apartheid government is a black government.’

And he diagnoses the negative fall out of this kind “African nationalism” (I disagree, I think its racially exclusive Africanism, but I digress).

The result of this ideology is the dismissal of all criticism which is invariably equated as racism. And it works quite simply like this:

1. the government is a black government;
2. criticism of the government is, therefore, criticism of blacks; and
3. criticism is racist.

‘The inability to come to terms with the agency of black people is, ironically, the hallmark of African nationalism. It is driven to reduce the actions of blacks to the machinations of others (white racists, in particular). Claims of a “third force” are merely instances of this political logic — a refusal to come to terms with the racist nationalism of those committing ethnic cleansing throughout the country.’

Like I have blogged before, I don’t think this is African nationalism at work, but there certainly is an ideology at work here. Chipkin has a point.

And it’s not an ideology found only on our shores. It exists world wide but has a particular negative impact in this country where very real power are in the hands of black South Africans.

Ideology blinds people to their own deeply held beliefs an ideas. Pierre de Vos, Constitutional Law blogger, who roundly condemns Qwelane, but fails to see how his past utterances contribute to the problem is a case in point.

Pierre certainly is not an African Nationalist or a racial Africanist, but he is beholden to the general left discourse that invokes colonialism and apartheid as a matter of course and that still is widely accepted as gospel.

He like many other lefties (John Pilger’s recent weak explanation for the Mugabe phenomena springs to mind) regularly abrogates black agency and responsibility when seeking to explain South Africa’s and Africa ills.

I can demonstrate how self defeating these arguments can be.

In another article in April (before the publicised xenophobic violence) this year Pierre laments on his blog the sentencing of a number of Egyptain men for being gay and wondered why this is not covered in the press more widely.

‘Why do we not get to read about this flagrant abuse of human rights in our local papers? While the newspapers report every move from Zimbabwe, every farm invasion and every utterance from Mugabe’s thugs and while opposition parties and now even the ANC seems to be clamouring for President Mbeki to “do something” about Zimbabwe, there is not a peep from anyone about this scandalous abuse of the rights of innocent and defenseless individuals in another African country.’

In response at the time I commented that like the Egyptian case, the murder of South African farmers (as opposed to Zimbabwean farm evictions) and Somalis were not covered by the press either:

‘Pierre sometimes I think many South Africans including you are caught in a parallel universe of prejudice…

…even English speaking SA newspapers hardly cover SA farm murders so we cant expect UK ones to do so. Compare this to the farm murder in the Mark Scott-Crossley (who was white and the accused) case. It was covered by every UK newspaper I could lay my hands on.

The relentless xenephobic killings of Somalis since 1997 in SA are a another case in point. How many serious reports can you find about that in SA or international newspapers. Very very few. Somalis don’t matter to anyone it seems and besides they are being killed by blacks which makes for even more of a non story.’

To which he replied:

‘I for one would not choose to focus on farm murders in South Africa as I do not see it as a pressing human rights issue. This is because the farmers are NOT being persecuted or murdered by the state or agents of the state, but by fellow citizens completely independent of the state, they are not targeted because they form part of a group that have traditionally been marginalised and oppressed and the scale of the killings is modest compared to the kind of mass murder that happens in many parts of the world.’

I disagree. Like lesbians and foreigners, white farmers are a vulnerable minority. But the fact that their murders don’t get column inches in the newspapers is not a consequence of their identity.

It is a consequence of the identity of their attackers and the dominant discourse that seeks to consistently pin responsibility to western colonialism and deny black responsibility.

“A consequence of its legacy of white supremacy and apartheid”

When Googleling for information about the murder of lesbians in South Africa, I came across an American blog, named rather aptly – The Primary Contradiction. In a post titled ‘Rape and murder of South African lesbians‘ and tagged ‘white supremacy’ the following was written:

‘Like the United States, South Africa is a deeply misogynist, racist, and homophobic society, a consequence of its (our) legacy of white supremacy and apartheid. It has one of the highest per capita sexual violence rates in the world, and women who identify as lesbians or who are thought to be LGBT are routinely targeted for rape. Police are often unresponsive to this violence and insensitive to its victims. Perhaps not surprisingly, misogynist-homophobic violence often hits Black women and girls the hardest.

Despite the tremendous achievements that LBGT people have gained in South Africa over the years, most notably the legalization of same-sex marriage, homophobic hate crimes remain an ever-present threat in society, as they do here in the States. As people brainstorm strategies for combating the violence, the deeply entrenched remnants of colonialism that feed this violence cannot be ignored.’

Two commentators objected to the allusion that this hate crime was a white problem. A white South African lesbian who said as much were cast as subliminally racist by one Julian and Yolanda.

Lerato, a South African black lesbian countered:

‘It is clear that you have no idea of what is happening in South Africa. The girls in question were my friends.The were murdered and brutally raped by BLACKS!!!!! Like I was gang raped – by BLACKS!! As Landi said it was cultural. Before you want to lift your opinion you should understand my community, my culture! It is an insult in South Africa to be GAY! Let go of the old excuse of rasism. Not everything in the world is about rasism or the whites.The only place where we can truly be “Lesbians” are amongst the white gay people. Between the Blacks we get spat on. We focus on the problems that we face as gays not as blacks.’

Lerato’s opinion was promptly and condescendingly pooh-poohed. What blacks say and do are irrelevant to our ideologists.

The Yolanda’s and Julian’s on this blog are of the same ideological stripe as Pierre (if not as tolerant to diverging opinions). Their analysis is not only shallow and stale, it’s wrong.

If it was true that colonialism, and white racism is the genesis of homophobia, how strange that it is one of the countries which have suffered from the longest colonial histories in Africa and suffered apartheid on top of that, is South Africa. The only gay districts in the whole of Africa exist in South Africa.

But we can not gloat. There’s reason to be worried. Braamfontein’s scene – the gay area in Johannesburg – is no more. In Greenpoint Cape Town gay clubs and bars are closing. These dying gay districts are the canaries in the South African coal mine. They signal a democratic displacement from the cities and public spaces of South Africa.

Am I saying that African culture is intrinsically anti-gay? Despite most African clerics and African leaders saying as much, we can not be sure. I have read little academic studies on the matter.

Paternalistic and macho it is for sure, but so is Afrikaner culture. And Afrikaner culture has a rich body of gay literature, while camp artists like Nataniel are volksbesit in spite of the best efforts of some in the Afrikaner Nationalists.

Is the homophobia in SA today because of poverty or a lack of education? It probably plays a role. But there’s no escaping that South Africa’s black elite and middleclass have yet to condemn Qwelane. Just as when the likes of Xolela Mangcu had nothing to say about the xenophobic killings before it was impossible to ignore, I won’t hold my breath that they will now.

Acknowledging that there’s a problem and condemning South Africa’s Qwelane’s is an important condition to fighting homophobia.

But there are other big hurdles to cross. The biggest factor at play here is not the just unacknowledged intolerance and hate, but it is the inability of the state to provide protection. There are many homophobes the world over including Britain and the USA, but their gay communities are thriving.

One of the lessons the world will eventually learn from the South African experience is that the rule of law and effective policing can provide for a kind of democracy, even in an autocracy, that a broken and dysfunctional democracy can not. Just ask the women of Iraq.

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Related deployments:

  1. UK Guardian on South African ‘corrective rape’
  2. Eugene was gay? Is this still a hate crime?
  3. John Hlophe – fear and loathing in the beloved country
  4. Oh – the white lefty blues

19 Responses

  1. George Maru says:

    Good analysis. I am in agreement. Regarding the closing down of gay bars: I’m not so sure whether there is reason for concern? The same trends have been observed by bloggers in the United States. Some bloggers believe it is indicative of more tolerance, acceptance and integration of gay life into society. Well, in the cities at least.

  2. Kameraad Mhambi says:

    George I think you can not compare the SA situation with the west. It probably indicates more acceptance and integration of the gay scene in those countries. In SA where the identity is all but accepted, it is important for the gay community to be visible and claim their public space.

    But the only ‘public’ space left in SA that is kind of safe, is in the shopping malls.

  3. well written

    No, not really. And not well argued either.

    The basic argument? Africans’ present troubles (or some important subset of) aren’t the result of colonialism. Therefore, to blame colonialism for them is to deny Africans agency (or responsibility).


    Pierre certainly is not an African Nationalist or a racial Africanist, but he is beholden to the general left discourse that invokes colonialism and apartheid as a matter of course and that still is widely accepted as gospel.

    He like many other lefties (John Pilger’s recent weak explanation for the Mugabe phenomena springs to mind) regularly abrogates black agency and responsibility when seeking to explain South Africa’s and Africa ills.

    The rest follows quite smoothly. The treatment of gay people is just a special case: there are deeply anti-gay aspects of African societies; colonialism (or apartheid) is not responsible for those elements; Africans are responsible for them; sorting them out is a task for Africans. An analysis that locates responsibility for these aspects in colonialism robs Africans of their agency.

    Unfortunately, the general case is rubbish.
    Colonialism and African agency aren’t competing explanations. The rigidification of ethnic identities in colonial Kenya should illuminate. Roughly speaking, the Brits thought, or affected to believe, that black Kenyans lived in tribes – exclusive territorial groups of common descent. They distributed power accordingly. Tribes – willed into being, sometimes ex nihilo, by ethnic entrepreneurs – weren’t long in coming. Tempting as it is to avert one’s eyes – so disastrous have the consequence of this innovation been – you shouldn’t: this is an authentic example of the joint agency of Africans and the colonial order. Difficult, then, to avoid a smirk when you show yourself an unexpected champion of African agency as a competing explanation.

    None of this is to say that there is equal responsibility. I’m no fan of Kenya’s ethnic sub-nationalisms, or of their founders. But those founders had their choices constrained, in peculiarly brutal and stupid ways, by the colonial order; it was in power after all. I can ascribe greater responsibility to the colonial order for the mess without having to deny African agency.

    Since there isn’t a general argument opposing colonial and African responsibility, the argument’ll have to be made case-by-case. (Maybe you should lay off the leftists when they argue for colonial responsibility.) You haven’t really made it in the homophobia case. And if I were looking for the path of causation to present-day African homophobia, I’d be looking at the influence of Protestant missions.

  4. Kameraad Mhambi says:

    Hi Daniel, thanks for your comment. I’m always glad to get perspectives from elsewhere on the Africa continent.

    You argue that my argument might hold with respect to gays and lesbians, but it falls down when applied more widely.

    Now, my Kenyan history is very incomplete, so I will take your word for the extent that the colonial authorities created or built up tribalism.

    In Southern Africa’s case the most severe military challenges to colonial rule came from black ethnic based groupings (tribes or nations even). I’m talking about the Zulus in 1879 and the Matebele uprising on the white Rhodesia in 1896. These ‘groupings’ were already well formed by the time the British arrived, and were by far the most effective resistance to colonialism for it.

    I have argued before that one of Africa’s key problems is the lack of nationalism, and the defeat of Zulu nationalism by the British is in my opinion a calamity.

    What I do know about Kenya, is that it had arguably the most violent modern anti-colonial struggle, even more so than that of Algeria. Also I have read that this struggle against colonialism was primarily driven by one ethnic group – The Kikuyu. The British policy of building up tribes spectacularly backfired on them it would seem?

    I would agree with you that it should not be an either or choice. I can see what damage colonialism has caused and argue for black responsibility. But my point is that there is a dominant discourse that does deny black responsibility *as a matter of course” for **all** manner of ills. The most striking other recent example being the murder of foreigners in South Africa.

    This has after all been taking place since 1997, and had received hardly any press. In one month in 2007 as much as 40 Somalis were killed in South Africa. You’d be hard pressed to find many press reports. None, and there are many, of SA’s black intellectuals, politicians or journalists wrote about it (please correct me if I am wrong), and very few white ones (Pearly Joubert is the only one I could find). And when it erupted in downtown Johannesburg and could not be ignored, we were told it was a third force or a criminal element.

    How do you explain this phenomena?

    I can take my argument into other sphere’s, like economic development if you want.

    John Pilger is one of these celebrity lefties that really grates me with his shallow analysis. Recently he tried to explain Mugabe, by offering amongst other things a report on poverty that the Catholic Church had produced. The church had of course also produced another famous report about the massacre of thousands of Matabeles by Mugabe. Has Pilger ever quoted that? No.

    There’s allot of other things that Pilger fails to mention. People call him brave. He is not brave. He gallivants the world flitting in and out of local debates throwing ideological hand grenades that only clouds the real issues. Braver is Ferial Hafagee, with this analysis.

    As for your line on Protestant missions. If you were to draw a map of the world of protestant influence, and gay and lesbian acceptance, you’d have pretty much the same map. Protestant Northern Europe is the most gay friendly place on Earth.

    PS: Thanks for calling my writing politically incorrect on your blog. Thats a nice compliment.

  5. Abbie Heunis says:

    It is just a further abragation of black agency to blame protestant missions.

  6. amandzing says:

    i’m going to link to this.

  7. Anonymouse says:

    What about a new blog ‘Bruh’?!

  8. Kameraad Mhambi says:

    Anonymouse, a blog or two is long over due. Some are in the pipe line.

  9. Marlene says:

    gay culture is being used as a reinforcement of White Supremacy to burry the oppression of Blacks. Any Black Nation putting up with any Gay nonsense will pay homage to their oppression by colonists. This is further brainwashing of white insanity propagating sanity for manipulations of large populations by distraction and hoodwink techniques.

  10. Kameraad Mhambi says:

    “Any Black Nation putting up with any Gay nonsense will pay homage to their oppression by colonists.”

    Marlene – so your saying being gay is race specific?

  11. [...] dangers were all to aparent as well. The murder of foreigners continued and other vunerable groups likes gays and lesbians have continued to [...]

  12. [...] This time round they are about 10 months late. Kameraad Mhambi coverered the original story of Eudy Simelane’s murder here after South African journalist John Qwelane’s homophobic outburst last year. What [...]

  13. [...] John Qwelane’s homophobia: Old lefty answers are bankrupt [...]

  14. [...] speak of institutionalized violence seeking outlet in economically troubling times. One bleak assessment observes that the worst phase in South Africa’s xenophobic rioting, killing 62, began two [...]

  15. [...] while ago I wrote in repsonse to the murder of lesbians in SA [...]

  16. [...] press did not report on this xenophobic violence. I saw a similar pattern in the under reporting of violence against lesbians. Like lesbians and foreigners, white farmers are a vulnerable minority. But the fact that their [...]

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