Language has always been and remains an integral and instrumental conduit to transfer ideas and conceptualise new realities albeit sometimes distorting and borderline dangerous. We use it to connect with a constituency, with a community of voters, to write and adopt methodologies that would hopefully multiply in the future. We use it to conscientise, to influence and inspire change.
And if we are not too careful, or if we become aware enough, we use it to degrade, oppress and erase the experiences, the reality and the presence of an entire community.
State-sanctioned homophobia is not just a term sucked out of a thumb to retaliate and defend against the onslaught of verbal violence and institutional abuse. In fact, it is a term very much embedded in the psyche and history of so many places, one of those being Namibia. Namibia is one of many countries globally that inherited and retained laws considered to sanction violence against a community of people; in this case, the LGBTQIA+ community, also known as sexual, gender and sex minorities. To put it more bluntly, our laws (or lack thereof), are intently and sometimes arbitrarily used to oppress an entire community of people because of who they choose to love and have sexual relations with.
According to a report on ‘The Abolishment of the Common Law Offenses of Sodomy and Unnatural Sexual Offenses’, ‘South Africa applied its legislative power over Namibia to impose a legal framework that included the Roman-Dutch common law brought to the Cape of Good Hope by Dutch settlers in the 1600s.
This Roman-Dutch law introduced a prohibition on sodomy…’ The report goes on to say that, ‘The crime of sodomy as it currently stands covers only anal intercourse between men. Both participating men are criminally liable. The Criminal Procedure Act, 1977 (Act No.51 of 1977) provides that where a person is charged with the crime of sodomy and the evidence is insufficient to support all the elements of the crime, indecent assault or assault are competent verdicts.’
The above demonstrates that the apartheid administration used language in their law to exclude and abuse a community of individuals, but also, imposed these same laws in Namibia, to continue the sanctioned state violence specifically against gay men. It is no wonder that even our members of parliament use inciteful and homophobic rhetoric to express their serious disdain for LGBTQIA+ Namibians.
Take Jerry Ekandjo for instance, former Minister of Home Affairs, who had instructed newly graduated policemen and women to “eliminate them from the face of Namibia…Namibia’s constitution does not guarantee rights for gays and lesbians,” this was some 20 years ago. Just recently again, in National Assembly, Jerry Ekandjo expressed, “Why should we allow gays here in Namibia? We made it clear when we were drafting the constitution, it does not allow gays and lesbians.” This is the same Jerry Ekandjo who was a former ‘anti-apartheid activist’, yet here he is, post-independence, using apartheid and colonial ideology and language to incite violence and abuse against a minority community.
In the same breath, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Immigration and Safety and Security is currently appealing a recent high court verdict in the case where the ministry itself is refusing citizenship to children of a same-sex couple, which for the first time has recognised sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination. The Minister heading this institution, Albert Kawana, had already demonstrated his disregard for the protections of LGBTQIA+ individuals when as former minister of justice, he removed provisions in the Labour Act Bill that prohibits sexual discrimination. In an article in The Namibian, Albert Kawana was quoted saying, “In Namibia, sexual orientation is not accepted in any Namibian law or any policy.” And as if this is not enough, in February this year, Cabinet refused to include protective provisions for same-sex couples on the Combating of Domestic Violence Amendment Bill, rendering them vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse without adequate legal instruments.
It goes without saying, that State-Sanctioned Homophobia, in Namibia’s case, is the weaponisation of our laws, colonial laws, to subdue the voices of LGBTQIA+ persons, whilst persecuting them with taxpayer money and resources to further isolate the community.
State-Sanctioned Homophobia is our government using outdated, oppressive and demeaning laws from previous colonial administrations, to mete out abuse. It is no wonder again, Jerry Ekandjo alluded to the intentional disregard of LGBTQIA+ persons when drafting the constitution; it was the omission of language to subjugate a group of people effectively. And it continues to be the case.
Again, it is not a term sucked out of our thumbs, it is a reality for so many marginalised queer communities, especially those living on the fringes of society, or pushed to live on the fringes, because of the unabashed institutional homophobia, because of pervasive hate speech in parliament and outside targeting LGBTQIA+ persons, families and communities, because of members of parliament who have for years, shuffled through cabinet, maintained the status quo of exclusion and hate.
It is language with materially impactful outcomes with far-reaching and devastating consequences.
It is language that already existed within our laws to evoke psychological reactions towards a group of people. It will remain state-sanctioned Homophobia until we see fundamental shifts in the mindsets, policies and institutions in the country.