Cape Town, South Africa has been raking in the “pink rand” as of late, thanks to its robust campaign to draw gay tourists to the captivating locale. That’s wonderful news: the nation’s economy could use some help, and the city truly does deserve a visit. I just wish, however, that South Africa would take a larger leadership role in combating homophobia in its neighboring nations, like Malawi and Zimbabwe. Otherwise those gay dollars are a waste.
It’s been well noted that South Africa, in the post apartheid years, became a bellwether of democracy not only on the African continent, but also throughout the world. They offered the most progressive, inclusive constitution in the world, which explains why the coastal town has become an increasingly hot gay destination. And the South African government’s encouraging this influx of the same-sex set.
Cape Town’s tourism CEO Mariette du Toit Hembold told CNN this week that gay travelers have helped insulate the city’s economy and that gays represent an essential market: “[They are] market that travels and is recession proof. The gay market travels regardless of world circumstances; it’s a high yield traveler. The spend per visitor is extremely good. Also, it is a traveler that is not as seasonal as other visitors are.”
The process of objectifying gays into a “market” doesn’t sit well with me, but I understand what she’s saying here, and I’ve myself admitted in the past that consumerism has untapped political powers. Considering the nation’s lackadaisical approach to their region’s rampant homophobia, South Africa doesn’t deserve the gays’ monetary love.
South African president Jacob Zuma came out this week to denounce the jailing of two gay Malawian men. “We have condemned the action taken to arrest people in terms of our constitution,” said Zuma. “We need to persuade, we need to make people understand, we need to move with them. We have never adopted a confrontational stance on matters.” The president, who has five wives, did not go so far as to say his government would press their neighbor on the gay issue. Nor does South Africa seem concerned about homophobia in Zimbabwe, where two gay activists were recently jailed for “insulting” their nutty president, Robert Mugabe, who claims gays are lower than dogs.
My father was from South Africa. I studied abroad there. I love that country and look forward to a return. I am disheartened, however, that Cape Town, and by extension the South African state, should celebrate economically helpful homos while refusing to combat anti-gay attitudes amongst its neighbors. And the United States, as the world’s premiere democracy, has a duty to help such efforts.
If South Africa wants to maintain its role as Southern Africa’s jewel, it must take a firmer hand in helping their neighbors into a revolutionary future. President Zuma must heed his fellow South African Desmond Tutu’s call: “Our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters across Africa are living in fear. . . . No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family… The wave of hate must stop.”
Zuma can’t achieve this with just words. He must take action by educating South Africans and others about the dangers of anti-gay attitudes, while also enacting policies that benefit tolerant nations, and show oppositional governments just how much discrimination hurts.