by Raymond Suttner, The Cape Times
At the moment Jon Qwelane is in the middle of controversy for being appointed Ambassador to Uganda.
Before focusing on the present, let us rewind to the 1980s when Qwelane was a reporter for the Star. At that time a fake priest, Ebenezer Maqina, purporting to represent the Azanian People’s Organisation (Azapo), who later disowned him, repeatedly claimed attacks by United Democratic Front (UDF) supporters. He was awarded honours by cities and similar recognition.
He was exposed in the 1980s and later it was found by the TRC that Maqina had been a SADF agent and had incited the abduction of then trade unionist, Dennis Neer and journalist Mona Badela. He had also instigated killings.
In the meantime, Maqina’s false claims had been popularised and never scrutinised by one Qwelane.
He has never returned to the subject, where he misled the public and spread lies on the word of Maqina. I do not claim that there were no misdeeds by UDF. I merely point to an element of Qwelane’s past that has receded into the memory of a few who were politically active then.
The response of ANC spokesman, Jackson Mthembu, to objections to a self-confessed homophobe being sent to a country which has strong backing for legislation to hang gays/lesbians, is “bring the proof”. Now Mthembu seems to confuse his role. He forgets that he is not a government spokesman and it is Foreign Affairs or the Presidency which ought to answer.
But the question shows his ignorance of what homophobia is. It’s all over the media that Qwelane compared the constitutional right to same-sex marriages and freedom of choice in sexual orientation to bestiality. Is this not homophobia? Or does the ANC spokesman not read the press? Or does he not see anything offensive in Qwelane’s writings?
My guess is that the answer lies in a deeper problem, the high tolerance and level of violent masculinities, what one scholar describes as an “epidemic of domestic violence”, the murders, especially of African lesbians. This is linked to hate speech of the Qwelane type.
We know that President Jacob Zuma’s heart lies in homophobic thinking. While he apologised for reminiscing on his youthful gay bashing, he now has alliances with a range of forces that want to reverse laws that prevent patriarchal violence, entrench gender equality and secure the rights of those who do not choose the norms of heterosexuality.
Most ominous of these is with the National Interfaith Leadership Council (displacing anti-apartheid ally, the South African Council of Churches), a range of charismatic churches led by Rhema’s Ray McCauley. Their mission statement says nothing about the Lord but a lot about helping with delivery, ie tenders. Whatever other reasons for this link, they and the unelected chiefs (a term that is open to contestation), make no secret of their desire to push back laws on homosexuality, freedom of choice over abortion and a range of others.
Sending Qwelane, who is not a fit and proper journalist or fit for many other tasks, as an ambassador to a country which is currently wrestling over potential legislation providing for the death penalty for homosexual activities, is a message.
It signifies that our answer to the internal policies of Uganda is not merely to “respect their sovereignty” by not interfering.
We send a person who is a kindred spirit to those who are wishing to impose the supreme penalty for what has long been practised in Africa. Marc Epprecht, in Heterosexual Africa? writes that “while heterosexual marriage with a gendered hierarchy of power are widely held up as ideals…throughout Africa south of the Sahara, same-sex sexuality is also… substantively documented in scores of scholarly books, articles, and dissertations in a range of academic disciplines, in unpublished archival document like court records and commissions of enquiry, in art, literature and film, and in oral history from all over the continent…”
Its being “unnatural” is to assume that the patriarchally based norm of heterosexuality continues as a way of policing both heterosexual and homosexual behaviour, for it is not only against gays/lesbians, but “saving” all from temptation to do what is “abnormal”.
Intolerance of the Other is not a characteristic of any group of people and can in fact be found in all situations of dominance and hostility to democratic institutions. Nazi propagandists applauded when homosexuals together with Jews and Romanies (gypsies) were sent to their death.
In appointing Qwelane the Zuma government is showing its unstated objectives, the danger it represents not only to homosexuals but for all who sought and wish to establish a democratic, emancipatory constitution.
Suttner is a former leader in the UDF, ANC and SACP, currently politically inactive. He is a Research Professor at Unisa.