/ 26 July 2023

EFF hosting homophobic academic is a warning ahead of the elections

According to Patrick Lumumba
This week, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), in celebration of its 10th anniversary, hosted academic Patrick Lumumba

This week, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), in celebration of its 10th anniversary, hosted academic Patrick Lumumba, who supports Uganda’s anti-gay law, at the University of Cape Town. This is a rather quick about-face for the so-called revolutionary party, which not long ago protested against that country’s deadly anti-queer legislation.

It feels like yesterday when they emerged as fighters in red saying the things that needed to be said. But, in listening deeper and for a longer time, some of the words and actions are disappointing. Earlier this year the EFF capitalised on the neocolonial law that harms queer people by demonstrating outside the Ugandan embassy in Pretoria.

Dr Stella Nyanzi, a queer Ugandan exiled in Germany, is outraged, saying that Lumumba is a defender of dangerously toxic colonial relics — homophobic laws outlawing “sex against the order of nature”. 

Despite discussions, UCT’s leadership went along with having a person whose utterances contradict our constitutional values speak from the hallowed Sarah Baartman Hall.

Nyanzi says Sarah Baartman will not rest as queer bodies endure the violence of bigotry, and asks the EFF why it has resurrected Baartman with the defence of colonial laws.

Hundreds of people protested against the public lecture, including a broad coalition of LGBTIQA+, who demonstrated to express solidarity with queer Africans in Uganda.

“Through our protest, we want to hold the EFF accountable for platforming a homophobic proponent of hate speech, in direct dereliction of their duty as an opposition party to uphold the Constitution of South Africa, which prohibits all forms of unfair discrimination on the basis of sex, gender, or sexual orientation.”

The EFF’s invitation to Lumumba, they say, “is detrimental to queer Africans seeking refuge in South Africa, believing it to be a safer haven due to the protections granted to the queer community by the country’s Constitution. The decision to celebrate their anniversary with Lumumba as a speaker is viewed as a betrayal of these Africans seeking safety and acceptance.”

The EFF has responded by saying that one should not censor a different opinion simply because you do not agree and allowing different views makes a discourse more exciting. 

Although this is a commendable approach to particular differences of opinion, the line is drawn when harm and danger is perpetuated. At the protest LGBTIQ+ refugees from Uganda and Kenya spoke about the horrific violence they have experienced in their own countries. South African queer activists read out the names of LGBTIQ+ people who have been killed in hate crimes and then sang a poignant Senzeni Na (What have we done?)

Death sentences in Uganda and hate crimes in South Africa are unconscionable. In the face of such hostility and life itself at stake, this is not a subject for an exciting difference of opinion. 

There is evidence of growing reactionary neocolonial, ultra-conservative Western organisations with strong transnational links, creating campaigns, appointing local spokespersons, setting up satellite offices and providing funding and training in Africa. Their focus is generally the revocation of the right to abortion, LGBTQI+ rights and comprehensive sexuality education, at a high cost to queer communities, women and youth.

As South Africa’s election season rolls forward we are left asking ourselves, what does it mean to not hold the line clearly on positions that are so unique to our South African democracy and firmly entrenched in law? 

In 2019, the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition held a reproductive justice campaign where political parties were scored and reviewed in relation to their positioning on a range of issues. Political parties registered in the 2019 general elections were asked to respond to governance and implementation questions on reproductive justice. A reproductive election campaign that included a petition and a public event called on parties to explain their manifestos and political positions on these issues. 

Queer issues was one area that, in 2019, was evident that the EFF had an unequivocal stance on. After the 10th anniversary EFF celebrations at UCT, with an openly hostile bigot, the traffic light has changed to a certain red.

As we listen and watch political parties compete for our vote next year we have to be vigilant. There are a number of concerning changes since 2019 that need to be considered. The ANC has reneged on its support for sex work decriminalisation. Comprehensive sexuality education remains contested. We have not gained any ground in terms of a wide range of contraception methods in our clinics with injectables being the most widely distributed option. 

Abortion services are being outsourced to Marie Stopes as the public sector defaults on its duty of care. This is truly bizarre given that their pioneer, Marie Stopes, called for new laws that allowed the “hopelessly rotten and racially diseased” to be sterilised and wrote fiercely against interracial marriage. Marie Stopes’s services are expensive and one has to pay extra for anaesthetics and a cup of tea, advertised on their MS Plus service. This is no way to provide services that treat everyone equally. Poor and black women will be subjected to inferior care. 

But it is not only political parties who must hold the line. Independent candidates must be measured by the same yardstick. Zackie Achmat’s recent announcement of political candidacy has triggered a number of people given his history. His widely critiqued interview with Eusebius McKaiser, where many were disturbed, remains. Achmat’s declaration of love for Doron Isaacs (identified in women’s stories of sexual harassment as an assailant), his refusal to acknowledge the meaning of his own power as an influential man, and his use of a survivor’s gang-rape story to impugn her credibility more than rattled the sector. Achmat’s responses to McKaiser’s questions about a 2011 sexual harassment inquiry in Equal Education and the current allegations against several men in EE were shocking: evasive, superior and faux-sensitive to the meaning of patriarchy-in-action. 

The disappointment is hard after some 30 years of democracy. It is heartening to hear civil society groups organise and think through responses to campaigns for next year’s elections. A new generation of activists, some feminist groups, LGBTIQ+, sex workers and legal NGOs are going back to the drawing board. They will not let political parties think they can be inconsistent.

But lest we only hold political actors to account, it is important to remember that all institutions need to hold true to South Africa’s constitutional values — not least public universities. In 2021, UCT appointed an independent panel to review policies and practices to ensure that “we are living our values with regards to LGBTQI+ rights and to ensure that UCT is inclusive for LGBTQI+ people”. Despite the panel’s conclusions, UCT continues to falter miserably.

Triangle, Gender DynamiX, Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce, and Asijiki and the Women’s Legal Centre contributed to this article. Marion Stevens has an academic background as a midwife, in medical anthropology and in public and development management and has worked in sexual and reproductive justice for more than 30 years. 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.