A recent article in the student newspaper of the North-West University’s Potchefstroom campus (Wapad, 25-04-2013 / Vol 6) claims that a student has been a victim of homophobia when a lecturer supported a comment that ‘homosexual people should not exist’.  When the student confronted the lecturer about this she argued that ‘I will never agree with your repellent lifestyle.  I know for a fact the Lord has a big problem with gay people, because two male dogs don’t mate’ (English translation PdP).  In addition, she mentioned that she daily prays for the forgiveness of the student’s sins.  The student reported the incident to the subject chairperson, but it has seemingly not been followed up.

The Human Rights Education in Diversity (HREiD) research group situated at the Faculty of Education Sciences at the North-West University’s Potchefstroom campus and since 2004 established internationally, would like to comment on this issue in the following way:

  1. We in no way associate with homophobic behaviour.  In the spirit of the Constitution and its values, we support anti-discrimination in all its dimensions.
  2. We do not merely find this level of discrimination distressing, but totally unacceptable.  The most distressing is how a lecturer, in service of a tertiary and state subsidised institution, who has a duty to prepare well-rounded students for a value-based democratic South Africa, could be guilty of such discrimination.
  3. We find it problematic that religion was used in such a fundamentalistic interpretation to justify a claim of why homosexuals should not exist.  This level of justification is destructive for any religion and its followers and does not underpin our democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
  4. The article also provides guidelines of what to do when you are discriminated against.  These guidelines indicate that a subject chairperson should be consulted, but in this specific case it did not help the student at all.  How serious should students, lecturers and researchers take these guidelines?  What are the responsibilities of lecturers, the human rights committee and management of the university in such cases?  What is the message and hidden agenda sending out by the NWU if a blind eye is turned on such discriminatory practices in our lecture rooms?

In conclusion, we have a Constitutional obligation not to discriminate against anyone on whatever base.  Although we are entitled to our own viewpoints we need to remember that they ought to be morally justifiable on a universal human rights level.  In addition, as a state subsidised institution we have a responsibility of curriculum enactment that is non-discriminatory and in line with the Constitutional values of non-sexism, etc.

Charlotte Brontë (in Jane Eyre) has written: “Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilized by education; they grow there, firm as weeds among stones”.

Our plea is to take hands and speak out on this matter: to loosen and fertilise the soil through our curricula so that a culture of human rights can prosper, and to eliminate the weeds that resemble prejudice and discrimination in our institutional discourses.  If for nothing else, we owe this to our country and the next generation!

Petro du Preez and Co-Researchers

On behalf of the South African HREiD and HRLit research group

 14 May 2013