"It's the messaging on what being gay is that is a huge problem in South Africa, making it seem abnormal and even dirty." This is according to S'bo Khumalo, project coordinator at the Lesbian and Gay Community and Health Care Centre in Durban.
Khumalo spoke to HuffPost SA following allegations that deputy minister of higher education and training, Mduduzi Manana, assaulted Mandisa Duma at Cubana, a restaurant in Johannesburg on Sunday night.
"My brother, when she swore at me and called me gay, I slapped her," Manana can be heard saying in a phonecall between him and Mandisa's brother, Phesheya, obtained by TimesLive.
Khumalo says although Manana's response is by no means acceptable, it is not too shocking either.
"Boys are being taught from a very young age that being gay is abnormal and that's the first problem. Then they are taught being gay equals being soft and feminine, and that's also problematic. So they grow up wanting nothing to do with gay," said Khumalo.
This can be traced back to how men are brought up, clinical pyschologist Zamo Mbele told HuffPost SA. "Men are taught to not express their feelings, cry or do anything remotely feminine," he said.
Mbele's thoughts are echoed by Lindani Hadebe, whose research focused on Zulu masculinity. "Traditional Zulu masculinity was constructed around aggression, authority and the use of violence to mark manhood," Hadebe stated.
"So when you call a traditional straight man gay, one who reduces being gay to being soft and feminine, to him it can be a great insult, because you are saying he is not this strong, true man he was taught to be," added Khumalo.
And this is where the problem lies.
"It's this binary structure of thinking, that a person is either this or that, feminine or masculine, that contributes to certain attitudes," said the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Professor Cherly Stobie.
Stobie explained: "We need to show that people, things aren't just either or, they are much more complex, nuanced and varied, especially in a plural society like South Africa, with many cultures, religions and sexualities."
Khumalo and Stobie both agreed that there needs to be more awareness created about different sexual orientations and this needs to happen from a very young age.
Manana, ironically, was one of the key speakers at a gender-based violence dialogue at Rhodes University in 2016.
It also doesn't help that people like Jabu Mfusi, who is the Deputy Police Minister's chief of staff, said the assault took place because Manana "was provoked beyond limit."
Mfusi later apologised for his statement:
Manana has since apologised and although no arrests have yet been made, a case has been opened with the police.
"Leaders must not confuse people. Such statements fuel intolerance and it's inexcusable," concluded Khumalo.Suggest a correction