Did You know? That back in the 1960s a new word emerged. Swag. An acronym used by those in the know to communicate that aha ” Secretly We Are Gay” and the word/slash acronym soon became a popular word used world-wide to describe really cool people who more often than not tend to dance to their own tune and possess copious amounts of style and were more often than not – quite simply fabulous people to be with. So it was with a great sense of irony and (private humour on my side) that I observed that the African National Congress’s Youth League (ANCYL) has adopted this term for this year’s election campaign in an effort to lure young voters to join and vote for the party.
It was actually quite hilarious to watch the ANC’s General Secretary Gwede Mantashe, former National Police Commissioner (a man with a lot of “swag” read style ) Bheki Cele, KwaZulu Natal Premier – Senzo Mcunu and a host of other ANC provincial and national officials literally shaking their bosoms to the South African hit song and now the MetroFM song of the year “Y-Tjukuja ” by Uhuru, next to skimpily clad young girls wearing the Yellow Black and Green T-shirts with the tag-line “MY ANC MY SWAG”
They all clamoured on stage and jokingly tried to out-do each other with their skillful dancing: shaking hips, waists, bottoms and stamping their feet at the launch of the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal “ANC Friday ” campaign. It was meant of course to be a hip cool event with the goal of projecting the ANC as a current and relevant professional party, not stuck in old traditions and customs , but a party which is truly moving with the times; one which is relevant and accommodating of young people’s love for fashion, accessories, music and the good times.
I mean it was really funny to observe because though the ANC was at the helm of ensuring human rights and dignity for all including LGBTI (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transexual and Intersex) people; although both party and government policies are quite progressive on that front: I honestly doubt that the ANC would have approved such a campaign in aid of the LGBTI community.
The ANC and government have maintained a very contradictory (if not schizophrenic) narrative when dealing with issues pertaining to the LGBTI community. Two cases spring to mind. Comments by the former Minister of Arts and Culture Lulu Xigwana in 2010 after viewing Photographer Zanele Muholi’s work at a collective art exhibition held at the Constitutional Court’s Women’ Goal labeling her photographs; portraits of women in same-sex relationship as ” non nation building” as she angrily walked out of the exhibition co-funded by her own Department of Arts and Culture. She was indeed quite disturbed that she had been made party to such “wrong behaviour, which disturbed core South African society, it was simply not nation building”. We can also similarly recall hateful comments made by South African Ambassador to Uganda Jon Qwelane in his July 2008 article published in the Sunday Sun titled: “Call me names, gay’s not okay” which he skillfully penned at the height of brutal killings of black lesbians in the country. Though the Human Rights Commission (HRC) launched a case against Mr Qwelane for Hate speech. Mr Qwelane stood by his words asserting that he too has a right to freedom of expression and those rights are guaranteed by our constitution. Not surprising the Department of International Affairs and Corporation (Dirco) said in a statement responding to President Museveni’s draconian new anti -gay law would see queer people being sentenced to life in prison, that ” The South African Government will adopt a quiet diplomacy approach on the Ugandan issue”. Constitutional Court expert Pierre De Vos says there is untold danger in this particular type of quiet diplomacy:”
Sometimes absolute silence becomes politically impossible. Those who are not prepared to embrace the full humanity of fellow human beings because of prejudice or self-protection will then hide behind impersonal statements or will make hollow declarations devoid of any real compassion.
It is the absence of any words or actions that display true solidarity with the oppressed minority that is usually the dead give-away. Such statements impose a different kind of silence – even as it pretends to speak about the love that “dare not speak its name” – which can often have equally devastating effects. This silence – which hints at but never names or describes the oppression of gay men and lesbians and its often devastating effects on fellow human beings in full – is the silence of the hypocrite and the closet homophobe. This, unfortunately, is the quality of the “half-silence” of the South African government about the horrors faced by many people who experience same-sex sexual desire in South Africa and elsewhere in the world.
So while this may have given me a chuckle and some much-needed comic relief, it left me with more questions than answers. I wondered if they would have danced and jived, with such glee had they known what Swag actually stands for. I wondered if they would have approved the SWAG campaign had they known that SWAG is in actual fact an acronym declaring that they are secretly gay. Imagine if Secretly We Are Gay was an actual ANC election campaign – what difference that would make to so many people on the continent…. but the ANC’s SWAG is all about appearances as concept developer (pictured – far left) explained on Friday that the campaign was to lure young people who love fashion, to express themselves in ANC colours. The MY ANC MY SWAG Facebook page states:” MY ANC MY SWAGG AIMING @ KEEPING ANC MEMBERS ON A SWAGG ESPECIALLY YOUNG PEOPLE THIS IS A ONE OF BIG CAMPAIGNS MOVING TOWARDS 2014 N BEYOND THAT WILL KEEP ANC IN THE MINDS OF THE PEOPLE THIS WILL ALSO ASSIST IN KEEPING BORN FREE GENERATION MOBILIZED ”
One can only sigh at the missed opportunity. More than anything though, the recent events both in South Africa and in Uganda make one thing crystal clear: Those in power will do just about anything to get votes and remain in power for as long as it is humanly possible. They will do so by any means necessary even at the expense of minority groups, the poor , the young and the uninformed. They will hold on to power even at the expense of everyone’s most basic human rights. Which means we must equally stand up and defend minority rights and the basic human rights for ALL by any means necessary. Because power plus love equals Peace.