Andile Mngxitama: Decolonising the African Queer Movement
Because the LGBTI movement lacks a radical anti-colonial framework, its concerns have often been hijacked by the West, writes Andile Mngxitama.
Celebrations of Zanu-PF's massive parliamentary and presidential victory have been marred by homophobia within the most revolutionary party in Zimbabwe. This presents us with the question of how we can decolonise our societies and liberate ourselves from all forms of oppression, including on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender and Intersexed Community (LGBTI) issue.
This concern is no longer a marginal one because often the LGBTI struggle is hijacked by pro-colonial white supremacists. This is so primarily because the LGBTI struggle lacks a thorough anti-colonial ideological framework.
There is little doubt in the imagination of most black nationalists who see colonialism and white supremacy as the defining questions, even in the 21st century, that Zimbabwe is the most advanced in the fight for black liberation. Decolonisation is essentially a land issue, where the native takes back the land and the white settler is rendered superfluous or flees to their mother country. Only upon this event can a new relationship emerge among the people, one that is no longer defined by the indignity of colonial oppression. There is no doubt that Zimbabwe has indeed resolved the land question under the leadership of President Mugabe and Zanu-PF. However, both social liberation and the deepening of democratisation of the economy must still be advanced.
It can be said that with the indigenisation process currently under way in Zimbabwe, where the government compels all major companies to shed 51% of their ownership to Zimbabweans, the struggle on the economic plain is also at an advanced stage. It's not an easy matter that such global companies as Anglo-American have indeed signed away 51% of its platinum mines in Zimbabwe. Again Zanu-PF has to be commended for designing an ownership formula that is much more advanced and more broad-based than South Africa's elite-benefiting BEE programme. In Zimbabwe the expropriated 51% is distributed as follows; 10% to workers, 10% to the local mining community, 10% is to a BEE-type consortia and the state takes 21% into a national fund. The key is that ordinary Zimbabweans benefit directly and severally.
The question is how, then, within this reality of impressive decolonisation, do we confront the problem of homophobia? What has happened up until now is that the LGBTI movement has failed to raise the issue of sexuality politics as central to decolonisation. Because the LGBTI movement lacks a radical anti-colonial framework, often its concerns have been hijacked by the West to attack the decolonisation programme in Zimbabwe. It must worry us all that those who proclaim solidarity with the LGBTI struggles from Europe and the US are the same people who reject decolonisation and hate Mugabe for his anti-colonial efforts. It can be said therefore, that Zanu-PF's homophobia has been used by colonial forces to attack a revolutionary programme.
The burden unfortunately falls within the LGBTI movement to undertake an almost impossible task of rejecting the western false allies and an internal struggle against homophobia and other related oppressions. Here, the liberal hyper individual rights discourses must be tempered with collective concerns because before we are queer, straight, or anything else, we are black and shaped fundamentally by our experiences of slavery and colonialism.
A unifying discourse of sexuality politics as central to decolonisation has to be found and struggles around it mounted. The legitimate argument that homophobia is a colonial Victorian construct can no longer be made to mock Mugabe and Zanu-PF from the vantage point of generalised western denigration of Africa and the Black.
Within this search for radically decolonising queer politics must be a study of how in South Africa the extension of gay rights has not meant the protection of black gay people against violence or discrimination. In reality, gay rights in South Africa are white rights. This is so because one is black before one is gay and as a consequence one lives one's queerness through one's race. The shocking racist events of last year's Jo'burg Pride, where black lesbians came under attack from their fellow white queer people, makes this point even more clearly. It's also a known fact that only black lesbians find themselves faced with the reality of being murdered for their sexuality. This is because they are already trapped within black spaces that do not respect life, not only of gay people.
The above conundrum raises the question the western and white influenced LGBTI movement often avoids in theory and indeed that there is no possibility of liberating individuals on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation outside a generalised decolonialising and anti white supremacist struggle. From this point of view, in the Zimbabwean situation, our first responsibility is to defend and advance the decolonising struggle, while we advance the course of liberation all at once. Here, a dialectical move is called for, it has to be stated publicly that Zanu-PF is the most authentic friend of the queer African in its decolonising moment and, at the same time, the worst enemy when it advances homophobic rhetoric and politics. From here the challenge is how to construct decolonising queer politics that don't, by default, land the LGBTI movement in the hands of colonialists.
Some promising yet underdeveloped discourse is heard in some South African black LGBTI activists who have constructed the slogan, "Lesbians for Land", a further development of this line of thought would open up possibilities of a unifying struggle for land and gender sexuality. In constructing such a new queer politics, regard will have to be given to the fact that a new morality and value system is being constructed, demonstrating how what is regarded as African is in most instances the creation of our colonisers. One hopes that in the 2018 elections Zanu-PF will elaborate a new vision on sexuality politics and begin to see the LGBTI movement as a legitimate part of decolonisation. That reality is dependent in large part on what the African Queer Movement does between now and then to decolonise itself.
Andile Mngxitama is a member of the central command team of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). He writes in his personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter: @mngxitama.