President Cyril Ramaphosa (Pic: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock.com)
As South Africans deal with a spike in horror LGBTQ+ murders, an angry Mpho Buntse tells President Cyril Ramaphosa in an open letter that talk shops, speeches and press releases are simply not enough.
Dear Mr President,
As I pen this letter, I am overwhelmed by a series of emotions. Emotions of great sadness, anger, disbelief, great shock, fear, as well as rage. Like many Queer activists, I cannot help but only be sympathetic to the families of the many Queer folks who on an almost daily basis lose their precious lives at the hands of the brutality directed at members of the LGBTIQ+ community.
Mr President, I write this open letter to raise an important question about the realities of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Intersex, Questioning and Queer community in this country. I am confident that when I say we live in great fear, I echo the many voices of hopeless Queer folks across the country living in great and constant fear. I echo the many voices who begged for their lives to be saved just before they were brutally hacked, stabbed, raped or burnt to death.
This, Mr President, questions the integrity of whether our judicial and constitutional efforts and law enforcement are at all willing to bring an end to these heinous crimes against humanity.
In fact, speaking of humanity makes me think about how the South African government is deliberate in watching as we contravene key treaties on the protection of human rights. The Declaration of Human Rights for one guarantees protection to all people regardless of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
Mr President, it is under your leadership that even as an activist I fear for my life. I fear to walk into my demise for living my life. The voices of Queer activism are silenced by instilling this fear. The recent brutal and incessant killings of LGBTIQ+ persons in South Africa are a deliberate attack not only on our Constitution, but also demonstrate an increasingly obvious lack of political will to address issues of hate crimes head-on as a state.
For many LGBTIQ+ persons, the idea of a progressive Constitution remains just that, an idea. Although you have been vocal in calling out the recent attacks, you are also equally attacked and as custodians (government) of this Constitution you must fight back, it must be made clear through real action. We have said in numerous proposals to government, one best solution to addressing current challenges facing the community remains the institutionalising and mainstreaming of LGBTIQ+ issues.
How many lives do we have to lose before implementing a mere directive — it’s as though we are asking for a ministry when all we want is the mainstreaming of our agenda in your busy government schedule. Your government is evidently protecting my community through speeches and well-written press releases. This is evident because innocent lives continue to be taken by hate-driven and motivated criminals, these criminals believe it is okay just to rid South Africa of the LGBTIQ+. If it is not a syndicate then what do we call this horror currently plaguing South Africa?
I think you and I can agree that since your address on Human Rights Day no effort or interventions specific to these attacks have been presented to us or yourself by Minister Bheki Cele or any of your security clusters. Please take us into your confidence Mr President; we cannot continue to live every day thinking whether we may be next or not.
The Hate Crimes Bill is gathering dust in Plein Street as members of Parliament come and go. This is the sad reality about the political will to which I am referring. Because both those houses of Parliament do not have chairs occupied by voices with the Queer lived experience, and we have to suffer the consequences of that lack of representation. Not only is it problematic that for the last 10 years we have not signed into law the Hate Crimes Bill, but it also demonstrates that we do not care about the lives we continue to lose.
Mr President, I also believe that in your former capacity as chair of the African Union and without fear of sovereign protection, you will agree that our situation could be seen as being at the same crisis point as your Ugandan counterpart’s law imprisoning Queer persons in that country. Well, your situation is much worse because it is camouflaged under a beautiful Constitution and legislative frameworks purporting the protection and recognition of the community.
Those who truly believe in the protection of international human rights should sanction South Africa on key relations, transactions and trade to remind us of these gross human rights violations happening under the country’s watch.
Yes, the country’s watch, Mr President. It is fortunate that elements of the faith-based sector have not been silent on Queer issues, but it has been extremely bothersome that some churches have been vocal on exactly what exacerbates the hate directed towards members of the community. Under your watch Mr President, we have allowed this spewing of hate to take place in many pulpits mounted on the grounds of this constitutional democracy — we have empowered religious as well as traditional authorities to exceptionally hate those who choose to love differently from them.
As far as I am concerned it remains high-level ignorance to hate on the basis of who the other person chooses to love. These institutions, Mr President, continue to infringe on the many rights that protect Queer people like any other citizen. This disenfranchisement leaves many Queer persons with no social structure or support.
In a constitutional democracy that has for the last 25 years claimed to recognise and protect sexual orientation, we still don’t have shelters and healthcare unique to the needs of a Queer person. Our public institutions are characterised by their understanding of societal problems from a gender-binary lens. This is secondary victimisation to my Queer siblings who are already subjected to victimisation by their families and communities.
Institutional homophobia, transphobia and queerphobia present those with Queer antagonist tendencies with the opportunity to exercise hate while justifying it.
When a Queer person is killed in this country, their families go through the same emotions associated with the loss of a loved one — their friends, work colleagues and sometimes communities also feel a great sense of loss. I am most disappointed, but not shocked at all by members of many of our communities who protect and promote LGBTIQ+ hate at every opportunity they receive. The majority of these anti-Queer stances started at churches, taverns, and traditional makgotlas and have led to instilling hate, and many have proved fatal.
In a study I co-authored with the Institute for Inclusive Society we uncovered that in the Covid-19 period alone, close to 60% of LGBTIQ+ persons reported mental challenges and difficulty accessing mental health care that is Queer-embracing.
Your government is part of the problem, the public service is in dire need of a policy facelift, our service provision should break the gender-binary ceiling we are subjected to when accessing government services. The transgender community remains side-lined and silenced on their choices regarding the identity and the changes in their government sex marker, in some cases individuals have been waiting for many years since their transitions for Home Affairs to update their identities.
These are a few of the many daily struggles by Queer people when interacting with your government. I call upon you to lead a trajectory that will finally end this victimisation and brutality.
The community is not entirely powerless. If advised correctly, Mr President, you will be aware of the massive contribution the LGBTIQ+ buying power is adding to our gross domestic product as well as contributions in advancing the socioeconomic and political agenda of the Republic. Mr President, this justifies the need and urgency to address the senseless killings of members of the LGBTIQ+ community.
The community is desperately looking up to you to intervene. Your political will and leadership are needed more than ever before and, as it stands, talk shops are no longer doing much to conscientise our people.
An angry young Gay man
Mpho Buntse is a Queer activist currently serving as national head of communication for Embrace Diversity Movement and leader of the ANCWL LGBTIQ Desk.