Pretoria - The murder of Duduzile Zozo forces me to ask myself what drives a human being not only to kill another person but also to brutalise her body, even after she is dead? What sort of hatred causes an individual to act in such an inhumane manner?
I am tempted to describe the behaviour as animalistic but that would suggest that the perpetrator or perpetrators were somehow disconnected from the society that raised them, and that is not true. They are a product of an environment filled with prejudice, bigotry and irrational hatred, emotions responsible for driving someone to feel as if brutalising a person to this degree is acceptable, simply because she was a lesbian.
Violence has become so normalised within our society that it is viewed as an acceptable way to treat people whom one deems unworthy of respect. In many instances, this violence is perpetrated against women because they are perceived by so many men as being inferior to them.
But the same applies to gay and lesbian people; it is their non-conformity to our ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman that offends so many of us and triggers feelings of hatred and abhorrence. And because we’re taught that violence is the way we deal with such things, these heinous acts are carried out. But why is it so normalised?
I asked myself: why is it that in our country, well-known religious leaders will not say anything about the death of either a gay or a lesbian person? Is it because they find being gay or lesbian repulsive or reprehensible? If they don’t feel this way, why then have we not heard from them? Why have there been no statements or other public displays of outrage and disapproval? Should one construe their silence as quiet agreement with such heinous acts? If not, why are they so silent? Do they believe being gay or lesbian is a perversion or ungodly?
If they hold a contrary view to this, why have they not raised their voices?
I find their silence disheartening, disturbing and disappointing. It gives licence to perpetrators who think that attitudes of violence and bigotry are acceptable and normal. When issues such as same-sex marriage are raised, such leaders are vocal and assertive.
Sheikh Saliou Mbacke, a Senegalese Muslim leader who co-ordinates the Interfaith Action for Peace in Africa, was quoted as saying: “The subject of homosexuality must not be used as a tool to blackmail and coerce society to defy God’s command, which is more important than any world power.
“We will oppose any manner of arm-twisting that threatens us to embrace it in our societies.”
And yet when such heinous acts are committed, the silence is deafening. My understanding of religious leaders’ calling is that of representing God; the God of justice, love, respect and above all embracing those with whom one differs. Is this what we see from their silence? I don’t think so.
I find the lack of leadership from these men and women of the cloth sends a message that says “being gay is abnormal, un-African, ungodly”.
Their silence in some ways creates a fertile environment for the killings and brutalisation of gays and lesbians. Is it not about time that they are seen to be taking to the street or using their hallowed places of worship to condemn those who kill and brutalise gay and lesbian people?
Surely the sheer numbers of people they influence is reason enough to ensure their messages should be of love, acceptance and affirming human dignity.
By failing to challenge homophobic and discriminatory behaviour, I strongly believe they are undermining the very essence of what they are called to do – which is to proclaim the truth even under difficult, uncomfortable and inhospitable circumstances.
Our constitution should become more than a piece of paper, but rather principles we live and uphold in our everyday lives. Religious leaders, being such powerful role models, should be the first to embody this.
Until this happens, we will continue to produce men, women, boys and girls who think that someone who is gay or lesbian deserves to be brutalised as Duduzile Zozo was.
If we as a country want to honour and continue the legacy of Nelson Mandela, shouldn’t we be embracing values such as tolerance, non-condemnation and above all his unconditional love for humanity? These are the values that defined his lifelong struggle against the abhorrent system of apartheid.
Tata, once more, thank you for these values.
Duduzile, rest in peace, my sister. I hope your death and those of other gays and lesbians will not be in vain.
* Mbuyiselo Botha is the media relations manager at Sonke Gender Justice Network.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.