Quote of the week

Mr Zuma is no ordinary litigant. He is the former President of the Republic, who remains a public figure and continues to wield significant political influence, while acting as an example to his supporters… He has a great deal of power to incite others to similarly defy court orders because his actions and any consequences, or lack thereof, are being closely observed by the public. If his conduct is met with impunity, he will do significant damage to the rule of law. As this Court noted in Mamabolo, “[n]o one familiar with our history can be unaware of the very special need to preserve the integrity of the rule of law”. Mr Zuma is subject to the laws of the Republic. No person enjoys exclusion or exemption from the sovereignty of our laws… It would be antithetical to the value of accountability if those who once held high office are not bound by the law.

Khampepe j
Secretary of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State v Zuma and Others (CCT 52/21) [2021] ZACC 18
2 November 2012

On blaming the victim

It is called blaming the victim. Those of us who have been on the receiving end of racism, sexism and homophobia, blatant discrimination, or the violence that sometimes result from extreme prejudice, know it well. Instead of condemning the racist/sexist/homophobic verbal or physical attack, apologists blame the victims of the attack. Shockingly, this sickness has seemingly now also infected the spokesperson for the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

There is, of course, often more than one version of events. But what is not in dispute is that a transgender student was attacked outside a UWC student residence last weekend. Glenton Matthyse, UWC law student and a member of UWC gay rights group Gayla, described the assault as “severe” and said he and two friends tried to stop the beating. He alleged that the security guards did not intervene immediately to protect the victim.

University spokesperson Luthando Tyhalibongo did not condemn the attack. Instead, he said an investigation was under way and that: “[The university] does not condone violence or approve of action that discriminates against any person’s constitutional rights.” He claimed that campus security and other staff stopped the fighting.

There is a vast difference between not condoning an attack and condemning it. It’s the difference between not endorsing a certain course of action — a passive and relatively neutral stance — and taking an active and unequivocal stance against a hate crime. A statement that one does not condone something is often followed by a qualification. As in: “I do not condone apartheid, but there were no potholes when the Nats were in charge….”

At the very least a spokesperson for an institution of higher learning, imbued with the values contained in the Constitution, would be expected to express outrage at a vicious homophobic assault on a student of that institution. Tyhalibongo chose not to do so, which suggests that he is not free from the naked homophobia which triggered this hate crime.

One might still have given the UWC spokesperson the benefit of doubt. But he then proceeded to say that while some students fled the scene, Gayla members verbally abused the guards. He is reported to have accused the Gayla-UWC members of being unruly and in a “drunken state” — as if this could explain or provide some needed “context” to understand the attack and the alleged inaction of the security guards.

In short, Tyhalibongo blamed the victims. But in such a case, the so-called context is irrelevant. After all, it is not a crime to get drunk. It is however, a crime to beat up somebody because he happens to be gay.

As the UWC Student Representative Council (SRC) pointed out in a statement condemning the attack:

We also read in some reports that the students were drunk and unruly, that does not explain the inaction by the security guard in question. If anything this statement condones drunken people being beaten or to be descriptive is tantamount to saying girls can get raped because they wear mini-skirts.

How different is this from the exculpatory statements so often made by some among us whenever news of another racist incident hit the media? I recall that when a Virgin Active member hurled racist insults at another member, several compatriots defended the racism by arguing that the victim was not blameless because she was too loud and disturbed other gym goers. As if this could ever justify the racism involved in that case.

The tendency to blame the victim of racism, sexism or homophobia instead of the perpetrators of the crime runs deep in our society. Often, this is based on an unacknowledged identification with the racism, sexism or homophobia that gave rise to the attack. (“I am not a racist but….”) As if those who are looking for excuses suspect that they might share the prejudices that led to the attack and are trying to find excuses for their own prejudice.

It is worth stating again that for the purposes of judging the behaviour of the UWC attackers and the campus security, it is completely irrelevant whether the victims were drunk or not.

Quite frankly, if I was viciously assaulted by a homophobe for being gay while I believed that the very people paid to protect me were failing to do so, I would probably also have verbally abused the guards — whether I was drunk or not.

Come to think of it, when my former partner was refused entry into a gay bar because he was black, I proceeded to insult the doorman. He was completely unfazed when I called him a racist. It was only after I called him “very stupid” that he punched me. I guess some people are not insulted when one calls them a racist. They only begin to get touchy when one questions their intelligence.

Surely UWC management must publicly reprimand its spokesperson for launching an unwarranted attack of the victims of a hate crime. It would also help if the management apologised to the victims whose rights were trampled on twice: first when homophobic students physically attacked them and then a second time when UWC’s spokesperson did so verbally.

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