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Bigoted Minister should resign

Annelie Lotriet, Shadow Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture
3 March 2010

Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana's behaviour has revealed her to be a homophobe and her attitude as bigoted and regressive. She is unwilling to recognise or accept that every South African citizen is equal before our constitution and that our new democracy has no place for the kind of prejudice she publicly espouses. She should be ashamed and embarrassed, as should the ANC and the government. The Democratic Alliance believes we cannot have a bigot overseeing any government portfolio, but particularly Arts and Culture. We believe she should tender her resignation.
 
The Minister walked out of an exhibition featuring photographs of black lesbian couples, stating that what she had seen was "…immoral, offensive and going against nation building". She said: "Our mandate is to promote social cohesion and nation-building. I left the exhibition because it expressed the very opposite of this".
 
I have seen a range of the photos on display and I can state categorically that I think they are quite beautiful.
 
It is worth, at this point, identifying some of the principles at stake here.
 
First: constitutionalism. The new South Africa is a constitutional democracy. At the heart of our Constitution is a Bill of Rights. And, contained in that Bill are the following provisions:
 
Equality: It states, "Everyone is equal before the law", that "equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms" and that neither the state, nor any person, may "unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone" on one or more grounds including, among other things, their gender, sex, marital status or sexual orientation.
Dignity: It states, "Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected".
Freedom: It states, "Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion" and "the right to freedom of expression"
 
In her capacity and as a representative of the state, the Minister has a duty to uphold, protect and promote those values; indeed, she has taken an oath before the Chief Justice to that effect. But she has failed fundamentally to do so. And, as such, her position as representative of the South African people is no longer tenable.
 
Second: nationalism. The state has no place interfering in the lives and morals of private citizens. But the ANC, led by a wounded Jacob Zuma, is on a drive to socially re-engineer South Africa and its citizens according to its own image, to redefine our 'moral code'. This exercise is borne of a nationalist impulse to impose uniformity and social and moral conservatism. It is anti-constitutional and should be opposed.
 
But even in practice, the idea is profoundly disturbing - when one sees the kinds of values and attitudes the ANC's representatives in government hold. The very people who publicly promote prejudice are the same people calling for us to redefine our moral code. It is a deeply alarming state of affairs.
 
Remember too that Jacob Zuma - the man at the forefront of this drive - is deeply compromised on this particular issue. It was Zuma who stood before a crowd in 2006 and stated: "Same sex marriage is a disgrace to the nation and to God. When I was growing up, 'ungqingili' [homosexuals in isiZulu] could not stand in front of me, I would knock him out"; a statement for which he would later apologise, saying that he "did not intend to have this interpreted as a condemnation of gays and lesbians".
 
Most recently, Zuma appointed Jon Qwelane, an outspoken homophobe as Ambassador to Uganda. It would appear that, below the surface bigotry and prejudice run deep in the ANC. It is disgraceful.
 
If this government is serious about creating a genuine democracy built on a foundation of human rights, it needs to act against the kind of prejudice the Minister espouses. One would hope the Minister has enough perspective to sanction herself and resign, should her pride prevent her from doing so, President Jacob Zuma needs to take action.