International: Whose lives matter?

International: Whose lives matter?

Date: December 5, 2014
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Johannesburg, 5 December: When friends and family ask why I am busier than usual, my response is rather morose and bitter: “Sixteen Days of lip service keeps me super busy.” Spammed with emails, phone rings off the hook -the media suddenly cares about gender-based violence and gender equality. Governments’ speeches, which have begun to echo the sluggish monotony of test cricket commentary, are undoubtedly recycled from years prior. But for a little novelty, they add a sexist faux pas here and there- to keep us agonised or entertained? I have no clue.

All this repetition, the lack of change, tokenism and lip service makes you wonder if you’re actually just watching a terrible rerun or a horror movie on repeat. It all starts to resemble either an Orwellian novel, sardonic satire or a twisted absurdist tragedy. The plot so beyond believability, you’re not sure whether to weep, wail with laughter or wallow in misanthropy.

During a public meeting on the Sixteen Days of Activism, our very own Ministry of Women and other rubber stamping officials, among other blunders, applauded suggestions from traditional leaders that government cut all funds for centres for abused women and children, as they should be dealing with these issues at home. 50% of South African women surveyed in a Gender Links GBV Indicators Study reported having experienced some form of violence in their lifetime. The most predominant form being intimate partner and interpersonal violence perpetrated primarily in the home. The work of the National Council Against Gender-based Violence is on ice until another department adopts it. Apparently the new Ministry of Women does not deal with GBV.

But hey, if the South African government can call the riot police into parliament, then we know anything pretty much goes. History can repeat itself and the perpetrators can get away with it.

We saw yet another Marikana moment just two days ago when police opened fire killing two people and injuring eleven others in the Eastern Cape. The South African Police Service (SAPS) are really outdoing themselves -a video of three male cops brutally assaulting an elderly woman went viral yesterday. Perhaps they are trying to compete with the Ferguson police or the NYPD. But it’s not just feeling like the 1960s in America -a few days ago a group of white men were caught on camera assaulting a black cashier. This comes less than a month after a white man beat a black woman with a sjambok because he thought she was a sex worker. The list goes on.

In 1990 South Africa held the first ever gay pride march in Africa. This year South Africa was the only African country in Geneva to vote for a resolution condemning violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. While the Port Elizabeth is flying the largest-ever gay rainbow flag in Africa to mark this past weekend’s pride celebrations, we are cognisant that hate crimes, inequality and injustice persist in this country and beyond.

During the Sixteen Days campaign we have to consider the people whose rights are persistently denied and violated. When these people demand their rights, their cause is promptly postponed and systematically excluded. Their rights are not seen as a “priority” but rather seen as a “threat” to other movements. Their humanity is deemed less important and equality is seen as a zero-sum game.

We think about Thembelihle ‘Lihle’ Sokhela and Skumbuzo Harold Mkefile who join the innumerable people across this continent and the globe that have been subject to hate crimes and murdered because they do not conform to the binaries and boundaries that patriarchy has set for society. We think about how some people’s identities are collapsed into acronyms and single-issue politics, only to further police their bodies and being.

We think about the hypocrisy demonstrated by movements that supposedly stand for equality and justice for all, but fail to see these hate crimes as abominable as every other form of violence meted out against human beings. People are subject to daily harassment, have unequal or no access to basic rights such as health, justice, education and regularly face secondary victimisation from the personnel in these sectors who are tasked to provide them with their rights. We also think of how the media perpetuates discrimination, framing people unfairly or not framing them at all.

We think of how although Duduzile Zozo’s killer got 30 years, Judge Maumela still implied that some people could be fixed and their ‘lifestyles’ corrected. We think of how across the world, because of who people sleep with; how they identify; and how they express themselves, they are deemed criminal, disease ridden satanists who are “detrimental to human existence.”

JHB People’s Pride that took place on Saturday demanded “365 Days of No Violence Against All bodies – this has been a resounding call from many activists this year. We can’t keep running on the same spot, saying the speeches and agonising over the same horrors that the generations before us did. We need to revolt, lose the lip service and unlearn this racist, capitalist, hetero-misogyny. As Audre Lorde said, “The learning process is something you can incite, like a riot”, because queer lives, women’s lives, black lives -all lives matter.

Katherine V Robinson is editor and communications manager at Gender Links. She writes in her individual capacity. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service 16 Days of Activism special series.

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