Mouth wide shut on African abuses

Deputy President David Mabuza
Deputy President David Mabuza
Image: GCIS

Deputy President David Mabuza has confirmed that if the US or Britain ever pass a law making it illegal to be South African and threaten to execute any South African found living in those countries, his government will not object.

Certainly, that is what any sensible person would have extrapolated from Mabuza’s astonishing insistence last week before the National Council of Provinces that, when it comes to Uganda’s threat to impose the death penalty on LBGTQI people, “we must be decent enough to keep our mouth shut”.

After all, there is no difference whatsoever between criminalising the existence of LGBTQI people and criminalising the existence of South Africans.

And if Mabuza says SA should not speak out against the one, why would it denounce the other?

Clarifying his supremely gutless position, he explained that SA “upholds the international principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other states” (except, I assume, for Lesotho, which sometimes needs to get invaded by the SA National Defence Force for its own good. Am I right, Mangosuthu?) and “respects the sovereignty of the Republic of Uganda”.

SA does, however, “condemn any form of human rights violations and abuses, especially when perpetrated by any state, including those directed at lesbian, gay and transgender persons, otherwise known as LGBTQ+”.

Now, given that “we must be decent enough to keep our mouth shut”, does anyone know how, exactly, those condemnations will be delivered to the Ugandan government once it starts murdering gay people?

Perhaps a selfie of Mabuza in which he is deliberately not smiling? Pointedly arriving late for parties at the Ugandan embassy in Pretoria?

Kissing only one buttock of President Yoweri Museveni rather than both?

Of course, absurd contradictions and hypocrisy are nothing new for Mabuza, a cheerleader for National Health Insurance (NHI) who gets his medical treatment in Moscow.

And last week was no different: having told us to stay silent about state-run pogroms against people based on their sexuality, he then told us SA’s new sex education curriculum is a good thing because it is “preventing and reducing gender-based violence, reducing discrimination, increasing gender-equitable norms and building stronger and healthier interpersonal relationships”.

Ja well, no fine.To be fair, splitting your brain in half like this can take it out of a man, and when he was asked to clamber down from his gilded fence and take a principled stand, Mabuza’s reply — “It is not as easy as you say” — was almost touchingly honest. Because, of course, he is right.

It is difficult to know right from wrong, especially when none of your colleagues in the ANC knows the difference. And if you do decide to take a stand, where does it end?

If you call out state-sponsored hate crimes in Africa today, tomorrow you will be expected to condemn Russia’s colonialism in the Middle East, or its habit of murdering journalists, and then bang goes your private bolt-tightening suite at the Joseph Stalin Memorial Hospital.

Luckily, Mabuza is not alone.

The ANC has never seen a totalitarian patriarch whose knee it did not want to bounce on, and the deputy president had vocal support from his backbenchers.

MP China Dodovu, for example, sprang to his defence, asking if SA is under any binding obligation to “interfere in the internal affairs of another country, as some members expect us to do?"

I assume the answer is no, just as the international anti-apartheid movement had no binding obligation to “interfere” in the internal affairs of Hendrik Verwoerd’s SA, and Cuba and the Soviet Union had no official letter of invitation to “interfere” in Southern Africa’s liberation wars during the 1970s and 1980s.

(Just don’t get the honourable Dodovu started on those goddam meddling Americans in 1941, interfering in the internal affairs of poor little Nazi Germany by shipping supplies to the interfering UK!) But of course, Dodovu’s question and those like it are mere sophistry.

Mabuza’s carefully calculated nonposition was the only one he was ever going to take.

The ANC has told us for years that protecting the thin skins of rich patriarchs is much more important than protecting the rights of the people those patriarchs rule.

Twenty-eight out of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have laws punishing same-sex relationships.

Mabuza was never going to challenge the colonial-era rules of the Big Man Country Club he dreams of joining. His critics wanted Mabuza to take a stand. I would argue that he did.

On Thursday, he told us Cyril Ramaphosa’s government believes some crimes committed by states against their people are not worth talking about.

To some, that might sound like an evasion, or an admission. To me, that sounds like a threat.

• Eaton is a Tiso Blackstar Group columnist.

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