I am (un)African
By Siwe Memela
African leaders are clear about their feelings towards the western ‘abomination’ that is homosexuality. It has been agreed (don’t ask me by who) that it is a foreign concept and goes against all the continent’s traditions. So much so, that Ugandan President Museveni and some African Christian Pastors has equated it to acts of sodomy – punishable by imprisonment on the account of it being ‘un-African’.
Indeed, it sounds like an excerpt from a book written decades ago instead of the globalised 21st Century. In 2017, an individual’s lifestyle preferences are grounds for their identity to be tipped over the racial border and have them stripped of their ‘blackness’. Motivated by the noble cause of protecting our “Africaness” many traditionalists and scholars such as Matthew Beetar will stand up in fervour and proclaim that homosexuality is a western phenomenon and we shouldn’t allow our morally pure country to be tainted by outside influence.
Every so often, the morality police spark heated debates on what they have deemed a threat to the preservation of African society. There are many crimes that can be cited to disbar members from the “Society of Africaness”. Offences include: caring for pets, donning weaves/hair extensions, vegetarianism, and heresy and of course homosexuality – participating in any of these practices is unforgivably un-African!
Interestingly, ideologies such as Christianity, monogamy and women’s rights which are the true western imports, have existed comfortably within the African continent. So why is it that when it comes to homosexuality there is an accepted intolerance where living an openly gay lifestyle can result in a death sentence? Heralded as a beacon of human rights, the difference between what is law and what is reality in South Africa is vast. Our very own president makes light of the situation stating in parliament: “When I was growing up, ungqingili (homosexuals) could not stand in front of me…” While he apologised for the comments, the event emphasises the underlying attitudes and beliefs most Africans have – that homosexuals are lesser humans, unnatural, un-African: and therefore have no place in our society.
Culture and morality are large and dynamic notions that carry different interpretations by societies at different times and places. A continent of 55 countries, each with its own customs, practises and beliefs: what does being African mean? Too often in today’s African community intolerance and abuse is ignored and dismissed in the name of protecting culture! Perhaps it is time somebody tells our leaders that being African is not founded on homophobia, misogyny and judgement (those are general human traits) but rather that our culture is based on community- Ubuntu. The Constitutional Court outlines the principles of Ubuntu to include recognising “…a person’s status as a human being entitled to unconditional respect, dignity, value and acceptance from the members of the community…’’ ergo if homosexuals are human beings and acceptance is the very foundation of African culture, the intolerant are themselves guilty of being un-African.