By President Sea (@SeadimoTlale)
Following then acting UCT SRC president Zizipho Pae’s Facebook homophobic comments after the USA’s legalisation of gay marriage, President Sea wrote an open letter to her on the problematic nature of her comments and how as a leader, with an understanding of intersectional oppression, she must and can do better.
First of all, I would like to make it clear that the aim of this letter is not to further harass you, but an attempt to provide an opportunity for growth from this experience. I write this instead because it bothers me greatly that you still do not understand why your post and subsequent comments and responses and the lack of an apology are wrong and this is what I would like to discuss.
Before I do so, I would like to extend my apologies for the abuse and harassment you have suffered as a result of your post, I don’t think this was necessarily the best way to handle the situation as I don’t believe that two wrongs make a right. Having said that, I feel that it is quite a shame that all of this commotion has taken away from the opportunity for you, and others that think like you, to learn from this mistake which you have made.
The fact that this has become about: Your s15 (Freedom of Religion, Belief and Opinion) and s16 (Freedom of Expression) rights vs The Queer Community’s s9 (Equality) and s10 (Human Dignity) rights is problematic because it provides you with an opportunity to play victim and shy away from addressing the real issues about this situation, which I will be unpacking for you in this letter.
Christian or not, your statement was oppressive. One way to define oppression is as “Prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or exercise of authority”. That being said surely now you see why your social media rants were oppressive? Okay, let me explain:
- On being ‘cruel and unjust’: Your statements were ‘cruel and unjust’ in that they incited division in your community. You targeted a minority group without due cause. No one can stop you from subscribing to your homophobic Christian views, but once you started imposing them on others, that’s where the problem started. It’s one thing that you actually believe what you wrote (which I will not entertain for now), but I think the real question here should be: Was it necessary for you to post that statement? In your mind, how was that supposed to play out? What was the intention behind making that statement? In answering these questions, you should be able to see why your statements were cruel and unjust. It’s the same reason people don’t just go up to others and say things like “hey you’re ugly” or “I think you’re stupid” no matter how strongly we believe that, because we know that nothing good could ever come from such.
- On authority: the grey area between your s15 and s16 rights and oppression. What you say in your capacity as a leader carries far greater weight than anything I could ever say in my capacity as a layman. You have the power to incite certain reactions. For you to use this power to incite homophobia or marginalize a minority group is not good or responsible leadership. And so, the oppression in your statement comes more from the effect and consequences it had, as opposed to its actual contents.
In many of your responses on this issue you highlight the fact that you ran as an independent candidate and therefore do not have the responsibility to represent any constituency. I don’t understand what weight this argument is supposed to hold. Independent candidates do not vote themselves into office. You too, like any other candidate, were voted into your position of leadership by people who trusted you to represent or uphold a certain view on their behalf. The fact that there was never any one point during your very public SRC campaign where you stated that you will represent the constituency of people whose Christianity requires them to be homophobic means that this is not the constituency you were elected to represent.
In fact, from the little that I do know about your campaign (being someone who all the way from Wits, retweeted here and there during your election campaign – because I thought I understood what you stood for and supported it) your campaign slogan was “Here I am, send me” and many of the people that did send you into that office were black women. Being black women, we suffer oppression because we are black and we suffer even more oppression because we are women. We (the black women who supported your campaign) trusted you to represent our voice; the voice that stands against oppression.
For you to think that oppression is okay, insofar as it is not directed at us, but to other people, is disappointing. Oppression is wrong, whether it is directed at women or black people and oppression is also wrong when it is directed at the queer community. You cannot stand against one form of oppression but endorse another. You are either for oppression or against it, and if you are for oppression, as your statements indicate, then you do not represent the constituency that we thought you did.
So, just because you were an independent candidate does not mean that you are not accountable to anybody. Leadership is about accountability. You have to be accountable to the people that put you in power. Currently, these people are hurt, and just because you didn’t mean to hurt them, doesn’t mean they didn’t get hurt. Lack of intention does not excuse consequence. Once you become a leader, it stops being just about you and starts being about your constituency. And this is why in my personal opinion, your refusal to apologise is problematic. If you cannot be accountable to your constituency, then who are you leading?
If you find it hard to put this constituency above your own personal desires, that is okay, but then maybe leadership isn’t something you are ready for yet, and you need to acknowledge this. Nobody is against your Christianity and your s15 rights, but you have the responsibility to not impose your Christianity on everyone else. You cannot let your Christianity get in the way of you executing the mandate of leadership you have been elected into. You need to understand that you were voted into power by a diverse group of students who needed a vice President and not a vice Jesus.
I think you need to ask yourself why you are in leadership if you do not want to be accountable. Personally, I think you need to reflect on what it means to be a leader and why you are in leadership. In your recent post you spoke about contesting the latest decision to remove you from office because of some technical irregularities.
Why is it important for you to insist on leading students who no longer want to be led by you?
I hope you understand my concerns and I that hope you didn’t take any offence to me equally exercising my s15 and s16 rights. Most importantly, I hope you understand how this had more to do with the principles of leadership and what it means to be a leader, than it did about your Christianity. I have no doubt that you are destined for much greatness and this is just the beginning of your leadership career, and this is why I feel so strongly that despite the commotion and abuse that have arisen from this incident, you should not let the opportunity to grow from this experience pass.