Melanie Nathan – March 21, 2011
Cape Town – South African President Zuma entered Athlone Stadium in Cape Town to commemorate the South African massacre of 69 protesters of the Apartheid pass laws, at Sharpeville in 1964, to a great applause from supporters. The ANC supporters were placed on one side of the stadium and the opposition parties on the other. The day has been named for Human Rights in General. The MC speaker announced the theme “to working together to protect the human dignity for all” – and speakers spoke passionately about the importance of the guarantee of rights entrenched in the SA Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”
It seemed so inspiring until the first opening speaker, Patricia de Lille the current Western Cape MEC for Social Development, and the Democratic Alliance‘s candidate for the Mayor of Cape Town in the 2011 municipal elections, came to the podium. Ms. de Lille is also the leader of the Independent Democrats, a South African political party which she formed in 2003 during a South African floor-crossing window. On August 15, 2010, the ID merged with the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s official opposition, and de Lille has taken on dual party membership.
As Ms. de Lille arose and started to speak, the crowd started to boo and make a lot of noise, including heckling and mocking. The crescendo became a single shrill dulling the speech to a virtual silence. But she continued.
Given the purpose of the day; had I not witnessed the extent of the spectacle for myself I would never have believed it. The crowd screamed over her and she continued with great reserve and posture to speak. Not once did she indicate anger or veer from her human rights stand in her prepared words. Two officials came up to her microphone while she spoke to urge the crowd on the right side of the stadium to please let her speak. But their pleas were ignored. She continued to speak, clear that South Africa is not truly ready to embrace full human rights even in the context of a human rights celebrations and nor in the memory of those who died so this very day could be celebrated with an ANC president at the helm.
It was almost a riot, as police stood at the ready and people danced at the joy of the mockery – all human rights forgotten – this ought to have been a severe embarrassment to any President of any Nation in that situation. de lille was shut up by a crowd not willing to hear her or give an opposition party a voice.
All the while President Zuma sat whispering in the ear of the person sitting next to him and I taped a piece where he he held his hand in a sign of “well too bad what can iI do?”
When the President gave his speech, “Human Rights Unite us, that is what we stand for as a Nation,” screaming across his initial greeting, surely he could have stood up and asked the same people for the dignity that the day was supposed to represent and for them to hear Ms. de Lille. Instead sat there in silence, a pattern of silence in South Africa and the rest of Africa especially on matters affecting the entrenched rights of gays, lesbian, transgender people in Africa and the rights of women raped by 3 out of every 4 men in some townships.
Sexual orientation and gender identity are entrenched in the Bill of Rights, but each politician only spoke to racial benefits of the Constitution, citing equality and a free South Africa, which included the apartheid oppressors, in this new unity. He kept emphasizing the freedom and worth of every human being. Yet, very little has been done to give attention to the oppression of gays and lesbians and transgender people in South Africa.
Zuma quoted, His Excellency Nelson Mandela – “never again shall we allow oppression of any South Africans.” Zuma continued to note that todaywe celebrate our Constitution for all South Africans as so many sacrificed their lives for human rights. “We must celebrate the Bill of rights in this constitution nobody can take it away from us.” We must unite in condemnation of women who are raped and beaten…. we must unite and strive for a society that those who seek to trample on these hard earned rights – that is a duty of every South African.”
Then why has President Zuma failed to put his words into action – to provide the services that the people of South Africa need as a basic human right- and that includes woman who are being raped by the thousands each and every day in your townships. It includes the 635 women out of each 100,000 who die in childbirth because of lack of resources a number which had increased dramatically since 1994. We also mention the fact that gays and lesbians and transgender people remain subjects pf persecution and oppression in the Township.
He then went on to talk about International affairs: Ivorians and their plight – he asked all Africa to put Ivorian interests first. In Middle East “we reiterate our call for resolution of Palestinians and Israelis to live side bv side in peace”; he also called for harsh action against Libya and said that it a government could not bomb its own people.
(Glaring Omission WHAT ABOUT UGANDA President ZUMA and the Kill the Gays Bill?)
In conclusion he included these words. AND EVEN WHO THEY CAN MARRY (and I thought great he will finally mention LGBTI – but instead he said ” who they can marry based on the color of their skin!!!”
“Let us work together to protect the dignity and freedom for all…” That includes homosexuals, gays, lesbians, gender identity, transgender dignity! or does it President Zuma……..
COMMENTS by Kayum Ahmed from human Rights Commission said the speech was “uninspiring” Helen Zille was uninvited and de Lille booing- he says- is indicative of racial tension in the Western Cape. He mentioned as I said abovethe President should have taken up stage to protect the speaker.
One commentator and I did not get her name – spoke specifically of the failure to mention corrective rape of lesbians