Hate Crimes, Gay-Bashing and South African Silences

Many silences cut through the present hype of a “decade-of- democracy-in-South-Africa”: silenced people, silenced memories, silenced hopes, and silenced debates. Among these, the silencing of real oppositional thought from the left has been especially resounding. Whether resulting from the view that ten years is too short a time for too many bold steps, or by the belief that support for the ruling party and government is necessary to avoid a far-rightwing backlash, or by a complacency about South African “uniqueness” (“Why bother? We’ll never be in the situation of Zimbabwe?”), many ostensibly progressive spaces, organisations and individuals have slowly but surely been muting some urgent struggles.

The silence among feminists, women’s movements and gender-based violence activists about hate crimes and homophobia is one example. Even though our Constitution explicitly identifies sexual orientation in relation to unfair discrimination, homophobia remains rampant in our society. As South Africans, we smugly congratulate ourselves on our uniquely progressive Constitution, our emphatically rights-based culture, our singularly enlightened laws and policies.