Since Sunday evening, social media has been ablaze with news implicating the deputy minister of education for allegedly beating up a woman at a popular bar and cigar lounge. At the time of writing this article, Mduduzi Manana was the number one trending topic on Twitter with many calling on President Zuma to fire Manana. This allegation is further aggravated by the fact that we are observing women’s month in a country that is often touted as the gender based violence capital of the world.
South Africans are rightly angered by these revelations and while charges have been laid against Manana with the police, we are yet to see action from President Jacob Zuma. Ironically, in 2005 president Thabo Mbeki relieved then deputy president Zuma of his duties as deputy president for allegations of rape. It will be interesting to watch if Zuma takes similar action against Manana.
While it is important for all of us to speak up and stand up against women abuse of any kind, we should not lose sight of other forms of discrimination. Based on eye witness statements, Manana allegedly hit the woman patron because she called him gay during a heated political discussion. It is this implied homophobia by a deputy minister that I would like to address.
I am not interested in whether Manana is gay or not. What motivates my curiosity is why he or anyone else would find being called gay offensive. Is “gay” a swear word? Is it dirty? Why would one feel emasculated by the word? Are gay men not men too? If it is a dirty word, would that make “heterosexual” a “clean” word? Who determines this? Should a gay man feel insulted at being called heterosexual? Should a gay man hit somebody because that person refers to him as heterosexual?
For decades the apartheid government succeeded at indoctrinating both black and white people about the meaning of blackness. Whites were lead to believe they were superior to blacks while blacks were lead to feel inferior. Back then, being defined as black meant one was sub human and unworthy of basic human rights. If you were called black you understood that you were being out in your place-it was an insult.
The late great Steve Biko spent his days urging the black person to resist and to see him/herself as equal to all others. Black Consciousness was a self-love movement aimed at enabling black people to define themselves as opposed to accepting who the regime said they were. Today, being black is no longer seen as an insult and each day young black South Africans are affirming that they are proud of their identity. We all seem to understand this and it is for this reason that we rise to speak out against race related incidents. We see uprisings related to race in our schools and in other public spaces like restaurants. Why do we not feel the same about other identities and not just race?
If being black was “wrong” during apartheid what makes being gay “wrong” post-apartheid? Or have we adopted a double standard now that we are free to be black and proud? Have we become the new oppressor by placing negative connotations on other identities? If one browses through the comments of various publications that have covered the Manana story, one would believe we are still living in apartheid South Africa.
On the one hand, supposedly straight men argue that being called gay is offensive. On the other, the same men were angered a few days ago about an attack at a KFC involving white people and a black couple. Do straight men perhaps not think that the whites involved find black people disgusting? You know, the same way they feel about gay people? Nope, they want justice for the black couple. We live in a country in which some men believe a woman has to ‘taste a dick’ if she is lesbian and that will ‘change her mind’. You’ll be hard pressed to find straight men seeking justice for these women. Indeed, a certain Aaron Mannya commented on the Times Live page report on this story by saying, “If a woman calls you gay don’t take offence. Take her to your place and show her what you’re made of”. Some cheered him on.
It is true that our country is full of contradictions in which one easily disregards discrimination if it does not directly affect them. I would like to make the case that this is not the freedom our forefathers fought and died for. None of us are truly free until everybody is free. Heterosexual men have to stop expecting gay people to stand shoulder to shoulder with them in confronting ills like racism but turn around and inflict harm on them for being who they are. The hypocrisy must stop. The next time somebody calls you gay, simply tell them you are not and walk away. You will lose nothing. If you don’t believe me ponder this: do you see Manana as more of a man after this incident? I thought not.