A RainbowUCT member, Michael Laws, wrote an article for the Varsity newspaper:
I’m writing in response to Lungisani Khuboni’s article “Shaka was not Gay” to strongly disagree with some of the sentiment expressed by Mr Khuboni.
I first saw this sign at the protest in question and remember feeling slightly irritated, knowing that this sign might generate a controversy that would distract from the real issue we were protesting about - Uganda proposing to put homosexuals to death.
However, I think that this particular response highlights the very kind of mindset that gay and lesbian activists are fighting against and I want to use an analogy to draw some parallels to some of the issues raised.
Imagine you were at an anti-apartheid protest 40 years ago, and while protesting someone holds up a sign reading “Jesus was a black man”. What I want you to imagine particularly is the response it would have created at the time, keeping in mind that the national party believed that the Bible itself told them that black people were born evil and that Apartheid was God’s plan: the dominee getting up in church condemning the “absolute nonsense” of the sign, preaching about the “real facts” about Jesus’ race; the angry housewife writing into the paper to point out her “disgust” that it was even suggested that Jesus was not as white as her cremora; or some religious conservative group on campus getting together and protesting passionately that Jesus was certainly no black man.
While historically it might be an interesting question what Jesus’ racial identity was, what most of us now would point out to those of the past is just how irrelevant Jesus’ race is to his significance as a person or what he stood for. Unless you hold the same deeply flawed racist beliefs as someone like Verwoed, in what possible way would it affect your opinion of Jesus if he was actually a black, white, Arab or Indian guy? Asserting he was black certainly wouldn’t result in you feeling “upset, disturbed and disappointed” and would be no more likely to upset you than if someone suggested he was left-handed.
With this same point in mind, let me explain why I disagree so strongly with Khuboni’s letter: at the core of his argument lies the belief that gay people are vastly inferior to heterosexuals and that to be gay is a character flaw so embarrassing that only a weak or evil man would possess this quality – thus calling Shaka gay is a terrible insult, as without this bigoted foundational belief, calling Shaka gay would just be a random statement. He said that he wasn’t opposed to the actual march itself but I think his words betray a homophobic mindset and if this were not true where would his sense of offence come from? Would he be as “disgusted and disturbed” if I said that Shaka was left-handed?
This idea that a gay person is shameful, evil and inferior is what defines homophobia and is so embedded into society as a whole that often we accept it at face value without being aware of the immense damage it does.
To flip this whole argument on you, how would you feel if someone said to me, “Michael you are a Zulu” and I got so insulted that I publically stated that I was disturbed about such a comment? Surely you would think me a ethnicist fool? Ethnicism and homophobia are two sides of the same coin as both rely on false beliefs of superiority over another group of human beings to justify treating them with disrespect and hate.
Of course though, you might feel sincerely that gay people are indeed shameful, evil and that we are inferior to you. If this is so, I invite you, come meet some gay people. You’ll see we’re not that different, we have the exactly the same capacity for love, desire and attraction; the only difference being that ever since we can remember, we have been attracted to members of the same-sex and not the other. And the best part is you won’t have to look hard: there are openly gay people on campus from professors and lecturers in every faculty to fellow students in your classes.
So in conclusion, whether Shaka was gay or not is quite irrelevant. What is actually important here is the devastating effect deeply rooted homophobia is having on communities. As I’m writing this reply, I’m on my way to protest the relunctance of the state to move forward in a case where Zoliswa Nkonyana, a 19 year-old girl, was assualted and murdered in Khayelitsha just because she was a lesbian. Violent homophobia is real, and as much as I respect your right to practice and live your Zulu culture and to enjoy the history of Shaka Zulu, I think its about time we started being as passionate about the dignity and wellbeing of the living as we are about dead historical figures.
The original letter can be found here:
I am writing this letter very upset, disturbed and disappointed about the picture in the recent varsity newspaper that shows a group of people protesting about the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill. This picture is on page 9 of Volume 69: Number 2 and shows this woman with the words “SHAKA ZULU WAS GAY!” written on a poster in bold capital letters.
I would also like her, if she can, to explain where she got that nonsense because we have real facts about the whole life of king Shaka Zulu. I`m saying this because this is an insult and she is a disgrace to us as AmaZulu knowing the truth about Shaka’s love life. I would suggest that next time girl, you stay at home or not write anything about which you don’t have facts if you are going to any protest. First it was about president Jacob Zuma marrying too many wives and now its Shaka Zulu being gay - what do you people want us Zulu to do? I’m not saying because I’m a Zuma supporter, but as UmZulu.
In conclusion, I’m not against any protest but people must stop using our great leaders’ names in any manner to get their opinions heard by concerned parties because I don`t understand what Shaka had to do with their protest. Lastly, I would like her to apologise for disrespecting our Zulu Kingdom in public for her motives.
I simply don`t understand how a person in her right state of mind can write something of that nature about our late great king Shaka Zulu and go to the streets to protest using it to help her convey her personal needs. I’m very disappointed about this because it shows that she does not know anything about her heritage, culture and does not know anything about respect of other people’s heritage if she is not Zulu. These assumptions she wrote simply mean she does not know anything about Zulu history, and disrespects us all as a Zulu nation.