Freedom of speech is being eroded by the very groups who have most benefited from it. American fundamentalist preacher Pastor Steven Anderson has been denied a SA visa.
This follows a campaign by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or intersex (LGBTI) community, whose online petition garnered about 60 000 signatures. There is no doubt that Anderson is a bigot and holds deeply offensive views.
This is the man who hailed the June shootings at a gay nightclub in Florida with the words: “The good news is that there’s 50 less paedophiles in this world.”
However, there is a huge leap from merely having hateful opinions to actually endangering public safety. After all, we have a leader who, while deputy president, boasted that as a teenager, he would not have tolerated even the presence of a homosexual in his company. Same-sex marriages, Jacob Zuma warned, were “a disgrace to the nation and to God”.
Despite such deeply traditional and sometimes offensively expressed opinions, Zuma has gone on to become a two-term president. Indeed, this might to some degree be the result of his views, for this is a socially conservative country.
Take the research just released by the Human Sciences Research Council. It found that 72% of people believe that homosexuality is morally wrong and are offended by gender nonconforming behaviour.
It is the constitutional right of these people to hold these views and to invite to visit a pastor who shares and endorses their beliefs. It also is the right of agnostic and atheist critics to deride this religious majority for what the secularists see as naive and primitive beliefs.
In the same vein, it is the right of these secularists to invite, as they did, the controversial anti-religious Danish journalist, Flemming Rose, to deliver an academic freedom lecture at the University of Cape Town.
The question is, if those opposed to Rose’s views had been able to marshal 60 000 signatures, should he have been denied a visa?
We shall never know. Dr Max Price, UCT’s bendy-spine vice-chancellor, was quick to “disinvite” Rose, a self-professed “classical liberal”, because in the opinion of Price, Rose is a “rightwing Islamophobe … whose statements have been deliberately provocative, insulting and possibly amount to hate speech”.
The LGBTI community in SA is unique on the continent in the rights that it has won. Those include, critically, the right to speak freely, despite the fact that their opinions are deeply offensive to the majority of South Africans. It’s this right that the LGBTI community and the likes of UCT are now wanting to deny to others.
Ours is not a cotton-wool society and nor is it a tinderbox. That HSRC survey also found that despite the antipathy to LGBTI people, by a margin of two to one, the respondents supported the retention of constitutional protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
So had they been allowed to visit, neither Anderson nor Rose would likely have found much traction, in the unlikely event that they advocated anti-gay or anti-Islamic violence.
On the other hand, the social conservative majority will no doubt be pleased to note that all it takes to subvert our hard-won constitutional freedoms is 60 000 signatures or poking the belly button of a fall-over academic.