Continuous, repetitive media broadcasts may help measure the culture, psychology and thinking of a country. Last week major news here in London was about gay marriage and horse meat. Traditionally, homosexuality is a taboo subject - a minority’s private life style- uninvolved in the endless natural reproduction of human species. Gay marriage discussions and debates dominated the UK government with such intensity that a vote was made in parliament. 400 votes were won against 175 and so legislation to allow same sex marriage was victorious by 225 seats.
Of those openly against gay marriage, Lord David Stoddart of Swindon(pictured), independent Labour peer (member of the nobility), said it was “completely and utterly unnecessary” for the Prime Minister to introduce gay marriage while the country faces unresolved economic problems. “Marriage was devised a long time ago to protect women and children-to tie the male to the family so that the children could be brought up and protected by two loving parents. That does not really apply in the case of homosexuals,” Lord Stoddart was quoted saying.
Others questioned why an issue that only affects one percent of the population should loom over political decisions with such intense, ferocity.
Most African countries (including Tanzania) legally punish homosexuality. I personally think killing people because they are gay is inhuman because the habit is a private choice. When I was growing up, homosexuality was regarded as only occurring in places where same sex groups of individuals are huddled together in seclusion for long periods e.g. prisons and boarding schools. We from upcountry also assumed it was practised amongst coastal folk especially those with Arabic cultural influence. I was petrified while studying at Mzumbe High School (Morogoro is not far from the coast) whereby homosexuality as a form of bullying was common.
Mzumbe Secondary, nowadays a school for gifted and talented children.
The slang used to describe this was “Umbuzi” i.e. a goat like coupling position- consequently- few “weaker” boys did actually transform into effeminate males. One had a female nickname and grew up to become a successful businessman; when he died a few years ago- his demise was reported in several blogs. They said he was a very good chap with a lovely heart. The image that homosexual men are very sweet guys is accepted- i.e. they tend to be more sensitive.
Speaking of homosexual males, Swahili language and culture makes a distinction between one taking a dominant role and the docile, softer female. Normally those taking the male role have normal relations with women and are not called gays. In gay tolerant societies they would be regarded as bi-sexual.
Few days ago one gay couple told me part of the basic issue is that legalising same sex marriage helps in business and inheritance matters. No wonder Africans reacted so vehemently against Prime Minister Cameron’s suggestion that we endorse the gay ticket back in 2011. We are certainly millions of kilometres from that kind of business.
Then the horse meat saga.
In the UK, USA and Ireland horses have a pet status, hence used in sports and given names just like beloved dogs and cats. According to Wikipedia, gambling and bets on racehorse racing generated 115 billion dollars in 2008. So then while the rest of the world in Asia, parts of Europe and Latin America consume 4.7 million horses a year- and though horse meat is essentially leaner, softer and has more protein than say, beef- it is taboo in those nations.
Horses galloping . Pic by LORRETASVERYOWN...
The scandal commanding news last week, therefore, was that horse meat was being sold in established supermarkets disguised as something else. Government officials were being pressured to ban processed beef from other European countries e.g. France where a seller of horse burgers was traced to a company in Romania. Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Patterson was questioned by ITV as to why checks have not been made since 2003. Government officials were calling for a temporary ban on imported meat due to suspected contamination. Apart from the moral and cultural attachment, horse meat was alleged to have been treated with anti-biotics and also to be infected with carcinogens.
Goats feeding on rubbish at Nungwi, Zanzibar in 2011. Pic by F Macha...
Carcinogens are drugs that can potentially cause cancer in humans. Amongst biggest sources are radiation and asbestos. In Tanzania such dangerous elements are quickly spreading through vehicle combustion and pollution. One example where meat may be poisoned (as we speak) is through goats roaming streets and feeding on everything from paper to nylons in scattered, abandoned rubbish heaps. Only problem is whether we would have the guts to stand up and expose these kinds of ills. Have we Africans reached that stage where we can challenge businesses for health reasons?
Fact is carcinogens can be found in fruits and vegetables too; through plantation close to polluted areas and busy roads. As we hurtle on in this technologically advanced 21st century, the issue of food, environment and human relations continue to affect public awareness, politics, habits and tradition.
Also published in Citizen Tanzania on Valentines Day.