For her first interview with a gay publication, the DA’s Parliamentary Leader, Lindiwe Mazibuko, recently met with Mambaonline.

Born in Swaziland and raised in Durban, this open and charismatic 32-year-old political high-flyer is touted by some as a possible future head of the DA. 

She spoke to Mambaonline Editor Luiz DeBarros about hate crimes against the LGBT community, the failings of the ANC government, the scarcity of openly-gay politicians and her days as a self- confessed ‘fag-hag’. Mazibuko revealed that she’s well-informed about the complex issues facing LGBT South Africans.

MAMBA: Why do you think that the DA has been the most outspoken party on LGBT issues, including hate crimes?

LINDIWE MAZIBUKO (LM): We’re vocal about crimes against any group of people who self identify as gay or black or women or men or intersex people. That’s the cornerstone of liberalism. Whoever you are you should be free to express your identity in whichever way make sense to you, as long as you commit no harm. But South Africans are not amenable to liberalism. We have a liberal constitution but it doesn’t necessarily translate on the ground. As political parties it’s our responsibility to reiterate what exactly equality means and what exactly freedom means. I think people think that you only need to respect people’s rights as long as you approve of them. As soon as it comes to an opportunity for people to moralise or force their beliefs on other people it becomes very easy to condemn people on the basis of religion or sexual orientation or anything else – simply because we’ve come from such a divided past.

MAMBA: At a protest march recently, an activist said that while she would never vote for Helen Zille, she was deeply embarrassed about the ANC’s silence on hate crimes against LGBT people and on the issue of growing homophobia in society.

LM: The ANC has not done a very good job of expressing that part of its ideological stance. In fact it’s allowed misogynistic people to go out and speak on its behalf. So the ANC is one thing in principal and another thing in practice.

MAMBA: There’s been an upsurge of violence against LGBT people, and particularly lesbian women, in the last few years. Why do you think that is? What do you think is behind that?

LM: I’m not an expert. But I think that’s a consequence of a brutalised and dehumanising past that we haven’t yet in any structured way found a method to work through. People are wounded. Mamphela Ramphele often uses the word ‘woundedness’. A lot of that past pain has to do with thing like patriarchy and sexism, paternalism, cultural chauvinism, all kinds of belief systems and practices that were alive and well under apartheid. So the combination of people being wounded and a lack of leadership means that in the most vulnerable parts, the most vulnerable communities, of our society, people who are different are vulnerable to a resurgence of violence in an attempt to assert some kind of manhood. There’s an emasculation that, coupled with economic depression, makes particularly men, heterosexual South African men who feel emasculated in other ways… it opens up doors for them to engage in things like domestic abuse, rape and sexual violence and now this horrible so-called corrective rape. All of these things are symptoms of a similar problem which hasn’t been dealt with at its root. And I think it takes a combination of leadership and political parties holding their leaders accountable for the things they say and not tolerating homophobic sentiment, sexist sentiment, xenophobic sentiment in public by their leaders as well as embarking on a process of national reconciliation.

MAMBA: What have been the failures of government in tackling hate crimes?

LM: The fact that they moved very swiftly to establish a task team is an indication of some good political will. But I think it’s been too bureaucratic. It’s a laborious task team because if you’re working with NGOs you can’t keep shunting them around the country. The government failure is in winding this process up in too much red tape, too much bureaucracy and not enough speediness.

MAMBA: So what would you suggest?

LM: What I’m going to do is ask for a set of parliamentary hearings. These are useful because it will go on for something like a week and Parliament has to fund the people it invites. We have the legal right to subpoena testimony in parliament and we usually have to foot the bills. So we can have parliamentary hearings in the justice committee and start to talk about this, but in one place with one set of proposals where government is present, the legislature is present and the lawmakers and the NGOs, civil society all have inputs. And then we can start a process after that, rather than involving everybody in every step of the process.

MAMBA: Do you think that there is homophobia at play in the government?

LM: I need to emphasise that there are good liberal people in the ANC who fought for the passage of the Civil Union Bill – even thought their rank and file were against it. They have tried, but what they consistently failed to do is show leadership. They allowed Blade Nzimande, Julius Malema and various others to go out – even their own president – to go out into public and say inflammatory things. And they don’t condemn them. I think it’s irresponsible because it feeds that machismo that makes men who are feeling emasculated in the context of economic depression and post apartheid South Africa that they’ve got political support for some of their sentiments.

MAMBA: When it comes to the criminal justice system nothing seems to be changing.

LM: We have a criminal justice system in which people who commit crimes don’t get punished. You have a 20% odd chance of seeing the inside of prison if you commit a crime in this country. So that just incentivises more crime and it demoralises people who are victims or crime. So as the faith in the criminal justice system deteriorates so fewer and fewer people come forward and actually say “I’m being subjected to harassment, sexual abuse etc…” We have got an ailing criminal justice system that again has got zero leadership. Either our police commissioners are being carted off to jail or they’re being sacked or our ministers are involved in corrupt activities. It’s hard to have faith in a system whose leadership is tainted.

MAMBA: How should the government be dealing with homophobic police? We hear stories of secondary victimisation of lesbian victims that go to police stations…

LM: The government used to have [in the SAPS] what were known as Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences (FCS) units. And a unit like that would have been perfectly poised to deal with hate crimes because they were designed especially to prevent secondary victimisation. The idea is that every police station would have a detective or a police officer who was a specialist in this area so that if a victim of sexual crime, or domestic crime or child abuse walked into the station there was someone who had been given all of the training required to help victims tell their story in a non-threatening environment. To get the necessary samples, get them to the forensic labs in the right way at the right time and prevent secondary victimisation. Instead we have a situation where a lot of rape victims, both heterosexual and homosexual, are going to police stations and either being beaten, abused or assaulted or simply ignored. Our solution would be to reinstate those units and to incorporate hate crimes against members of the LGBTI community into the unit and enhance the training so that there exists an understanding to deal with the prejudice and stigma surrounding being a victim of sexual violence or a hate crime.

MAMBA: Does the DA support hate crimes legislation?

LM: Yes, we do. We are in the process of processing a piece of legislation called the Hate Crimes Bill, I think it is. I think it’s been approved by cabinet and it’s on its way to parliament. So Dene Smuts and Debbie Schafer [Shadow Minister and Shadow Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development] are going to have chance to look at that legislation. I don’t want to pre-empt what they are going to say because that does depend on what the draft law looks like but in principle, yes we are [in support of it].
MAMBA: Why do you think that hate crimes legislation would help? What would its value be?

LM: Dianne Kohler Barnard, our police spokesperson, often speaks about the way crime is measured being a prime indicator for how to prevent it, because the ultimate goal of punitive measures is to get to crime prevention. So for example, different types of sexual assault are not always categorised as rape. And if you can’t track it, you can’t put preventative measures in place. Having legislation that deals specifically with hate crimes would force every single strand of the justice system, from the judges to the police to the investigating detectives to the legal system, to get a picture of the types of crimes that are being committed and prosecuted, the rate at which they are being prosecuted, if there are problems, and being able to identify if there’s secondary victimisation or prejudice. It’s both a means of dealing with punitive measures as well as dealing with preventative measures.

MAMBA: At a workshop I attended on hate crimes, interesting comments were made about why hate crimes should be acknowledged. How crimes that are targeted at an individual or a group because of their identity are particularly egregious and anti-democracy…

LM: Absolutely. Particularly in a country like ours, with a history like ours. You’re saying that there needs to be moral sanction for engaging in crimes that victimise people on the basis of their belonging to a particular group and I agree completely. But my concern is with preventing these things from happening in the first place and the way we prevent them from happening is by having accurate information and putting preventative measures in place to educate people.

MAMBA: The DA governs the Western Cape. It has put out all these amazing press releases in favour of gays and lesbians, but what has the DA actually done in terms of hate crimes in the Western Cape?

LM: We don’t have control of the criminal justice system. So when it comes to criminal justice, when it comes to crimes of this nature our primary measure is to lobby in parliament as the opposition. That said, what we have done in the Western Cape we’ve put together a project called a VPUU [Violence Prevention through Urban Upgrading], where routes home in certain communities, where there is a bush or a building or an abandoned lot where crimes are often committed, against people, are deliberately lit and policed at various points in order to drive out opportunities for crime to be committed. We’ve piloted it in Khayelitsha, there’s another one that’s being rolled out in Mitchells Plain. But again, because of the competency limitations we can only use metro policing and private security to do the policing. What we can’t do is, for example, legislate for particular crimes or changes punitive measure. That’s something that’s a national competency.

MAMBA: What about education? I’m not talking about the education system, but in the wider public awareness sense – of saying that this is something that’s not acceptable or that this is something that you could do? Has anything been done in that way in the Western Cape?

LM: Not as far as I’m aware, although I’m the wrong person to ask about that. I’d be happy to put you in touch with social development in the province…

MAMBA: I think that’s quite important. There are public announcements on TV or on radio for all kinds of issues but not this… The hate crimes issue is not a particularly glamorous cause. It’s not broadly discussed… and I think that needs to change.

LM: I agree.

MAMBA: And returing to leadership, when can we expect to see you or Helen Zille at a gay pride parade?

LM: I’ve been to two in Cape Town. And the DA always has a stand at Joburg Pride and Cape Town Pride. I was meant to open the Out in Africa Film Festival but it was in the middle of my campaign for parliamentary leadership and I sent [DA MP] Ian Ollis in my place, for which I apologised. I’m not gay. But as a feminist, LGBT rights are a really important issue to me. And there’s a lot of crossover between the two. [LGBT] rights are a hugely important issue to me and, whenever I can, I make myself visible.

MAMBA: I think it might be very helpful if someone with stature, such as yourself or Helen, would be more visible in terms of, for example, visiting victims of this kind of hate crime and being photographed and making a statement in person as opposed to only through the press release process.

LM: I take that on board. You’re absolutely right…

MAMBA: If the DA were to come into power tomorrow, what would it do to change things? And I’m talking about dealing with everything from the Jon Qwelane issue – would you recall him from Uganda – to dealing with Contralesa?

LM: We wouldn’t be the kind of government that would deploy Jon Qwelane to Uganda in the first place. We would be human rights based in our foreign policy in order to demonstrate to South Africans that in the community of countries we show that kind of leadership and likewise in their communities they need to show that kind of leadership. And we would do all the things that we are trying get done at a legislative level. We would ramp up oversight and accountability in the criminal justice system. We’d make sure that every single district in the police system had a proper functioning FCS unit that was well-staffed, well-resourced and that people attended retraining. For example if you were an FCS SAPS officer in 2008 you wouldn’t necessarily know what corrective rape is. The moment it starts to emerge in 2009, you go for training. So we keep the system refreshed so that the police service would be ready to deal with crimes of whatever nature that presented themselves in the future.

MAMBA: I feel that the government needs to put together some kind of action plan when it comes to the hate crime epidemic. To say “this is an issue that is costing people’s lives – people are being killed for who they are. This is what should be done; these are the steps that can be taken” Does the DA have this kind of action plan?

LM: I agree but what we don’t do in the DA is write policy for individual groups of people, because we represent everybody. So a policy on hate crimes would have to take in hate crimes against many groups, not just against one group. What we have to do is recognise that hate crimes are not just something that happen or are committed against sexual orientation but also against religions, races and against genders. And we have to protect everybody in an equitable way.

MAMBA: I think the issue, however, is not about looking at the interests of a particular group but it’s about dealing with a crisis. No one is acknowledging it as such. In the same way that if there is a problem in the economy or in some other area of life the DA and the ANC would step up and say, “this is how we believe this could be dealt with, this is how it could b
fixed”. How many people have to die before it becomes acknowledged as a crisis?

LM: I agree. I understand…

MAMBA: The DA seems to have almost all, if not all, the openly-gay MPs in parliament. I’m not aware of any ANC MPs.

LM: Me neither.

MAMBA: Why do you think that is? There must be some MPs who are gay in the ANC? Why is it that only DA MPS are open about it?

LM: In theory, the ANC is amenable to the same level of participation and there should be no reason why any politician in the ANC would need to hide their sexuality, if indeed they were gay. I think that it has something to do with organisational culture. That liberalism is not just an ideology that we have on paper but it’s something that we live in practice. What we say we are, and what we are, is the same thing.

MAMBA: That brings me to the kind of homophobia that is embedded in communities. How does a government tackle something like that? That kind of ingrained prejudice?

LM: It’s got to do with ignorance. The same way that racism has got to do with ignorance. The same way that sexism has to do with ignorance. And the best way to combat ignorance is to integrate. The lack of space for gay people in communities to be themselves means that very few people know that they know gay people. And so the ignorance persists. It’s a combination of creating the space to allow people to be who they are. Now, if you can create that space people will realise how pointless their ignorance is. I sound like Miss World, but I can’t find another way to articulate it because it’s a very straightforward thing. That’s the point of integration – to smash down people’s prejudices by giving them a space to know each other.

MAMBA: But there is also some level of responsibly for gay public figures to stand up. If you have a gay politician, openly-gay, in the upper echelons of the ANC then that is saying something. And I think as long as these politicians continue to hide they are to some extent perpetuating that continued ignorance that “we don’t know any gay people, gay people are weird, they are people we can’t relate to…”

LM: Or that it’s not an African thing…

MAMBA: Exactly. It’s bizarre that all the openly-gay politicians in South Africa are white. That the only openly-gay and only openly-HIV positive judge in Africa is white. That perpetuates this idea of homosexuality being foreign when it clearly is not. So it’s a self perpetuating cycle. And someone needs to break out of that. Someone needs to have the bravery to do it, especially in South Africa. That racial wall need to be broken down.

LM: Yes, yes…

MAMBA: Contralesa… what are your thoughts on that and should basic rights be up for discussion when it comes to the Constitution?

LM: Well, the committee that Contralesa addressed is the Constitutional Review Committee or the CRC, and it exists in parliament as a nod to the fact that the Constitution has got primacy but that it’s also a living document. That it can change and that it should be allowed to change. And anybody, an NGO, any person can approach the CRC with a constitutional amendment, however preposterous. And many often do. Many Christian groups do. And the CRC must give the public, however unpalatable their views are, the space to express that view. The problem is when a member of parliament, who is at the same time a traditional leader, endorses that view, knowing full well what the spirit of the Constitution is supposed to be. There are checks and balances to change the Constitution, you need all the Premieres to sign on, and so it’s not something that can just happen because a… umm… I don’t want to use the word mad… but I’m going to use it… a mad ANC MP says something offensive in a review committee.

MAMBA: I think that the concern was that the level of disapproval of his views from the ANC was somewhat muted.

LM: And that’s a political problem. For which we held them accountable. Because at the same time the Traditional Courts bill is being considered. So now we know that this person is a member of parliament, is a traditional leader and his party is trying to advance a bill that would give traditional leaders like him more power to determine how people in their communities live. It made it clear why it was such a danger. And for the ANC not to see the need in that context to pull him from the brink and say to him you’re no longer the chairperson of this committee… it demonstrates a severe lack of leadership – political leadership.

MAMBA: So the DA’s position on the Traditional Courts Bill…

LM: We’re fundamentally against it. We believe that people should have choice. The Traditional Court Bill takes choice away. It forces you, simply because you live in a particular jurisdiction to be subject to a magistrate who is a traditional leader who can often rule in their own favour, making you work in their field or pay a penance. There are consequential problems that flow from having a patriarchal system preside over people who often have to pay penance to the people who are doing the presiding. So you literally get to be judge, juror and executioner. We’ve always welcomed people’s rights to choose to live how they wish to live but if I live in a particular jurisdiction I should be able to choose whether or not I want to go to a magistrate or I want to approach a traditional leader. I shouldn’t be forced to approach one or the other because I live in a particular part of the country.

MAMBA: To wrap up, tell us a little about you… Do you have many gay friends?

LM: Don’t ask me to say that some of my best friends are gay. That’s ridiculous [Laughs]. But, yes, I do have many homosexual friends. Yes…

MAMBA: Do you remember the first time you met a gay person or the first time you became aware of what being gay meant?

LM: Primary school. There were a couple of boys and a girl in my class in primary school who I thought were gay, but they were taunted a lot. So naturally they resisted the accusation. So I never found out if they are. That’s the first time I remember being aware of homosexuality. I don’t know where I learned about it or where I learned what it meant, anymore than I can remember where I learned about boys and girls. It’s just something I knew. And I went to a girl’s high school and there were a couple of gay classmates at school, who weren’t openly-gay. And they’ve subsequently come out the closet.

MAMBA: You’re based in Cape Town. Would you agree with the statement that Cape Town is the gay capital of South Africa?

LM: I would, simply because… I don’t think it’s a numbers thing. I think it’s a space thing. I think for all communities, that’s how it works… if you have the space to express yourself, be who you are and not have to hide. I would wager that there are more gay people in Johannesburg than Cape Town But simply that Cape Town has a particularly open space… and by Cape Town I mean the City Bowl because if you drive 15 kms to Langa or Gugs (Gugulethu) it’s a very different story. But like Sydney and London and couple of other cities where shops and restaurants celebrate gay culture, if such a thing exists, then it seems larger than life. It that sense, yes gay capital of South Africa but I’m pretty sure that Durban and Johannesburg have as many gay people. They just don’t live in a similar way…

MAMBA: Have you ever been to a gay club or bar?

LM: Many! Yes. When I lived in the UK, I was… I can’t say these things, I’m a politician… [Laughs] I was a notorious fag hag! I discovered this club in the UK called Heaven where a lot of really high profile people like Kylie Minogue would come and play gigs. So that’s where I discovered dance music – like hardcore dance music. I wasn’t the type of fag hag who was in love with some poor gay man thinking I could “turn him”. It was about being 21 and dancing the night away. And ja, ever since then I’ve made the odd appearance at De Waterkant. I don’t really have time anymore… [Laughs]


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