THE media scores a Malema-like G for its performance last week. Ordinary South Africans were equally unimpressive. This follows the publication of the story about a used condom that had allegedly been found at the scene of the murder of Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene TerreBlanche.
The police immediately denied the claim. Hundreds of homophobic inferences and comments on social networking sites followed. This was topped up by the Sunday press running with the theme, captured in a particularly lurid header in one paper that asked, “Was ET gay and bonking darkies?”
The vast majority of comments assumed that the alleged condom confirms the existence of a homosexual relationship between TerreBlanche and his alleged killers. It was also assumed that this gay motif now transforms the murder into a comical farce worthy of a film script. Excessive racial and political angst now replaced by the hilarity of buggery. Typical comments on Facebook included “Hectic!”, “Maybe this will bring blacks and whites together, white man wanting sex with a black man”, and “ Was this a labour dispute or did the boy call his pimp?”
One may write off these comments as the usual online shooting from the hip. But that might be naive. These sites also allow less filtering of attitudes and so might well reveal brutal attitudinal truths. Similar sentiments have been expressed on radio talk shows, for example. Worse still have been the replication of these sentiments by writers who actually had time to digest the Saturday Star’s story ahead of their own publications hitting the streets. But that did not stop variations on the speculation game. A number of Sunday papers interpreted the alleged condom’s presence as evidence that TerreBlanche may have been “gay”, might have “bonk (ed) gays” and was involved in acts of “sodomy”.
Yet, why does a used condom’s presence imply that anyone in the room must have been gay ? The presence of a condom is consistent with a number of possibilities, all of which the media ignored because doing so would get in they way of the wonderfully frivolous reduction of the murder story to a gay orgy gone wrong. Frivolity sells. Evidence-informed reasoning doesn’t.
For example, a used condom could mean that a victim was raped before he was killed. It could mean that the perpetrators enjoy necrophilia and killed someone in order to perform a sexual act on a corpse. It could mean that the victim had sex with someone else in the room some time before the killers even gained entry to the room. It could mean they were bisexual. And, yes, it could also mean a gay orgy had gone horribly wrong. Who knows which interpretation is the right one? A condom’s presence raises a million more questions than it answers.
Why, then, do ordinary South Africans and respectful reporters and at least one editor indulge in salacious assumptions about consensual sexual relationships and homosexuality in the absence of a full investigation and factual findings made by a court of law? Simple. Because the media refuses to let fact get in the way of projecting prejudices onto the death of Eugene TerreBlanche. A week later and even one of the accused has now withdrawn the claim of “sodomy”.
Last week was therefore both a low point in our political lives — courtesy of the AWB’s general secretary Andre Visagie and African National Congress Youth League president Julius Malema — and a low point in the free media’s life, courtesy of unthinking narratives imposed on a story that is very much still unfolding. We simply do not miss an opportunity to affirm our fears and prejudices. Doing so has become a national pastime.
Furthermore, the hasty inferences that have been drawn all around the condom story is, of course, exaggerated by underlying homophobic attitudes. These homophobic attitudes are nonviolent and often emanate from otherwise progressive quarters and so can be easy to miss. Subtle instances of homophobia remain, well, homophobia. And so it is important to also highlight this strand in the media’s interpretation of what a used condom does or doesn’t indicate.
If a woman had been killed allegedly by two men who handed themselves over and a condom was then found in her room, the possibility of rape and murder (as opposed to consensual sex and murder) would be the presumptive truth. But three men and a condom must be a gay orgy. Why? Because homosexuality is regarded as silly, fringe and outrageous, and so we have a right to be lurid and self-indulgent.
So much for the battery of gay rights we brag about. The gap between gay rights jurisprudence and homophobic attitudes against gay men and women on the ground is gigantic. The past few weeks have been shameful. The ghost of TerreBlanche, the studio antics of Visagie and the foul mouth of Malema are only the tip of the iceberg, I’m afraid.
- McKaiser is an associate at the Centre for the Study of Democracy.