The stylistic rebranding of oppression
By: KIM STARR
Before independence, the concept of ‘apartness’ legally sanctioned segregation among races, affording rights to some races over others. It was legal, so it could not be challenged through legal means. The motives: racial supremacy. Three decades later, we still have state-sanctioned othering. You’d think our history would make us wiser than to draw on legal grounds for unequal treatment of human beings. The current straw-man arguments against same-sex marriage rely on fabricated religious values, on misappropriation of culture and on the false perception that the legal system cannot therefore go against the majority. Historically; slavery, racism, and apartheid all had legal backing that legitimized their practice. Usurpation and secular-ship are principles that lay dormant in the legal system as hypocrisy hinges around admin-decisions with sanctimonious flair in actions that should be free from the afore-mentioned influences. If we cannot comprehend the malignant nature of this practice, it is only fair that we should revisit our education system, as well as the fundamentals of Constitutional Law. The biggest inhibiting factor towards the recognition of LGBTQIA+ rights, is not the law , but the propaganda used to sway public perception and the problematic rhetoric echoed by those in seats of power, as their voices reverberate louder than those of ours without the same massive platforms or title to validate these opinions. The LGBTQIA+ issue is not about human rights, rather it is about control, tyrannous in nature with a majority backing. Zimi Mabunzi said it best, ‘’society needs to release itself from the authority it tends to exercise over other people’s lives’’.
So how does this play out? To begin with, the LGBTQIA+ rights movement is more than the movement for same-sex marriages Reducing it to that is an act of erasure towards identities within the community whose existence defy or reject the binary. The very existence of the LGBTQIA+ experience involves more human rights than we care to admit primarily because of push-back from the status quo: Articles 5: Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, 7: Liberty, 8: Respect for Human Dignity, 10: Equality & freedom from discrimination, 12: Fair Trial, 13: Privacy, 14: Family, 16: Property, political activity, education amongst others, It’s simple to see that sexual minorities do not enjoy these rights to the same degree that democratic equality requires of us. And there is no rational defense of this other than factors of oppression. For proof, merely turn to the subjective nature of the justifications given for legal judgements and legislation that retain the status quo.
To understand why this is so problematic, we need only to look at how rights are usually understood. Ideally, equality is a foundational principle in the analysis of rights, but suddenly falls away in the case of sexual minorities. The danger would be obvious to all if this failing logic were extrapolated to other minorities, but instead the fate of an entire community lies in the hands of misinformed and prejudiced perceptions that cloud the ability to make sound judgements. LGBTQIA+ awareness campaigns make some inroads by humanising the queer experience, and disassociating their value from one single facet of their expression (i.e., sexual orientation) towards integrating them into society as complete beings, bestowed with personhood in all its faculties. It helps to inform the average citizen of the validity of the concerns tabled, primarily because the right-leaning public majority in Namibia act as gatekeepers to the realization of these rights, and freedoms.
So how does a country founded on a fight for equality, come to reject it so vehemently?
To quote W. E. B. Du Bois ‘’A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect’’. In brief, the government system aims to promote social welfare and protection of its citizens. Since ushering the democratic government, there’s been a noticeable shift towards efforts of inclusivity and equality. The expressed recognition of women and the protection of their interests through policies such as affirmative action validate the injustices of sexism suffered under previous governance and seek to correct it. Similar functions are exemplified in provisions that expressly stipulate the advancement of indigenous groups such the San community to aid in their welfare and acknowledge the systematic discrimination that set their progression in society back. The equity policies enacted to cater to physically challenged citizens are another example. The ‘’unity’’ preached as a slogan does not mean the Namibian identity or experience is a monolith. Even in our diversity, every person regardless of their views, disposition, or background by virtue of being part of this shared national community requires access to public services and protection of their bodily integrity, autonomy and privacy within the legal framework, failure to which renders such people vulnerable to abuse, discrimination and oppression.
There’s no mention of sexual minorities in any legislation today, deliberate or not, their existence as part of the community has however been noticed with a sodomy law and the expressed exclusion from protection against discrimination in the 1992 Labour Act amendment. The systematic effort to exclude gay people begins to take shape with the vitriolic verbiage political figures utter on public platforms today. This marks the tip of the iceberg when discussing the abuse this community faces under the current political, social, and legal sphere. 30 years later, and the government system has played a waiting game by keeping silent on the matter knowing it only springs up once every few months, much like how LGBTQIA+ awareness campaigns only take prominence once every year in June to be specific. Herein lies the problem, the inconsistency of the movement gives no sense of urgency of immediate concern to incentivize government agencies to act any differently. Cosplaying in the streets does not educate, inform nor shift public perception about the propaganda held in people’s minds about the community. Politcal strategies for gaining voters, borrowed from America, co-opt biblical excuses to breed personal disdain in otherwise loving people. Complacency in government authority enables the continued systematic oppression in opposition to the principles Namibia was founded on, and partialize fully consenting adults from engaging in activities that bolster self-expression and self-actualization. Potential life yet to exist (foetus) in Namibia are arguably given more public concern than the LGBTQIA+ community. Where is our outcry for the unborn baby’s life when they turn out to be gay?
Propaganda has been every oppressor’s weapon of choice when systematically excluding a group from enjoying the same rights and privileges members their clan relish in. False narratives spread the lie that affording rights to an Othered group, will prevent the former from enjoying their own freedoms and privileges. However, rights are inherent and thus cannot be given, but they can be withheld by those with enough power as is clearly the case in our country in mimicry of American trends.
The limited legal protections that are in place to address the issue, fall short by a long margin, because life does not happen in court but out on the streets and in homes.. The overt rejection of ‘gayness’ by some influencial voices impact on the personal, psychological, and sociological development of LGBTQIA+ members. Society can become conditioned to be intolerant of, and abusive towards members of this community, and there is no legal language tailored to address the specificity of this type of infringement on their personal liberties and invasion of privacy regarding their intimate lives. Failures of the legal system do not end there, it also involves its own cognitive dissonance.
Usually, the legal system understands the need to fashion legislation aimed at punishing vile behaviour. Sex is widely permissible unless the action lacks consent, in which case it becomes rape, and when rape occurs amongst persons in a relationship, special severity is accorded in the form of domestic abuse bylaws. Even when consent is obtained but includes a minor, it renders the act legally reprehensible given that one of the parties forms part of a protected group in society. But then, with no apparent logic, when sex narrowly defined as anal penetration is enjoyed by fully consenting adult men, it is given a biblically derived name and criminalised, carrying the same punitive measure as rape, in an act where capacity for consent and consent itself are substantially different.
Even the more subtle violations of psychological welfare receives legal protection in certain contexts such as domestic abuse, threats, or sexual harassment for example, and policy is enacted that recognises how psychological ailments or threats to one’s security, are an attack on one’s personal freedoms and count as discrimination or oppression that is punishable by law. The same cannot be said for the lived experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community. The derision, assault, murders, and suicide resulting from severe discrimination against the community, remain unchecked. To borrow an American legal term that best explains this phenomenon ‘Hate Speech’ incites abuse, exclusion and discrimination and thus should be legislated. Unlike other motive driven cases that carry an intention within an intention, thus subsequently rewarding compensation for the circumstances surrounding the blanket crime, a gay person would essentially have to settle for an assault claim, performed with specific intent against him or her. This inequality is blatant, enabled and condoned by the public and the legal system.
LGBTQIA+ Children’s welfare and education is incredibly overlooked. Most LGBTQIA+ children experience social ostracization earlier than their peers and deal with longer lasting psychological effects and trauma. These children are more likely to experience sexual harassment and are vulnerable to exploitation of numerous kinds. In addition, the omission of sex-ed on LGBTQIA+ pleasure is a breeding ground for numerous unsafe or harmful sexual practices. Essentially education for the LGBTQIA+ child and adults alike is withheld, and this is an infringement on their right to education. Non-promotional subjects such as life-skills offer a course on compassion in relation to the discrimination against sexual minorities, however, the presence of this topic only accentuates the disconnect.
Religion and culture have acted as gatekeepers to the recognition of these human rights claims. Excluding the secular state argument, this country has functioned well for over three decades with paradoxical belief systems, with some members encompassing both belief systems simultaneously: religious and cultural practices, which also find constitutional protection notwithstanding the frequent conflicts, co-exist seamlessly in our society today. The christian majority argument is routinely offered as a defence against homosexuality thus outlawing any interactions that confirm it (marriage, adoption by a homosexual couple etc), however no mention of criminalizing the practice of witchcraft appears in any legislation granted Leviticus 19:26 and Exodus 22:18 ban the practice. The nature of personal liberties/freedom of choice enables this irony to exist, and the secular principles of constitutional law cushion it. T he biblical banning of the consumption of certain food produce, the mixture of fabric, harlotry, and sorcery is ignored, but guns blaze at the mention of allowing non-heterosexual partnership and expression. It cannot be reiterated enough that Namibia is a secular State and not a theology where priests rule.
Misogyny, racism, colonialism, antisemitism, tribalism, slavery, and LGBTQIA+ discrimination all have the shared experience of structural oppression by a group wielding power over-, with language to indoctrinate a falsehood so as to effect the exploitation, abuse and oppression of the Other. When it comes to sexual minorities, however, it is playing out post colonialism and the fight for human rights recognition. The hesitation to fully address sexual minority rights is cause for concern and should receive the same accountability politics every marginalized group has been afforded. Perhaps this further illustrates the lingering facets of apartheid (apartness) in present day Namibia, only this time it is against its own people. The violence (physical or otherwise) faced by the LGBTQIA+ community is objectively wrongful; the irony is that it is performed by the ‘morally superior’. If compassion is the basis of morality, and morality is simply the attitudes we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike, surely Arthur Schopenhauer and Oscar Wilde respectively foresaw this current predicament. We as a people, only respect the law when the law respects ours needs, should the statement be false, our ancestors would not have rebelled against the legality of slavery, women would not have marched their way to obtaining their civil rights, war-heroes would not be praised for freeing countries from captivity and lastly, we would not be having this debate.