Ask Gayleen 1 — South African Progressivism
Gayleen Cornelius is a South African human rights activist from Willowmore; a tiny town in the Eastern Cape province. She grew up a coloured (the most ethnically diverse group in the world with Dutch, Khoisan, Griqua, Zulu, Xhosa Indian and East Asian ancestry). Despite being a large Demographic from Cape Town to Durban along the coast, the group is usually left out of the racial politics that plague the nation. She has spoken out against identity politics, racism, workplace harassment, religious bigotry and different forms of abuse. She is also passionate about emotional health and identifies as an empath/ humanist. Here we talk about South African progressivism.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you go about forming the first South African progressive publication, as far as I know?
Gayleen Cornelius: We live in a very Afrikaner (Dutch) area known as the Garden Route. Local newspapers and media outlets aim to preserve the culture and never brings up progressive concerns unlike bigger cities like Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg or Durban that have progressed out of apartheid norms. News publications in these major cities are not dedicated to progressive issues either because they do not find the need to; their diverse communities are already liberal. Cornelius Press started as an initiative to counter racism (which has not progressed much in the Garden Route since apartheid because it’s a white dominated area hidden in wine/ hop farms and forests overlooking the most Southern part of the Indian Ocean. Takudzwa Mazwienduna and I ended up making it a publication dedicated to all the African progressive concerns, aiming to bring a balance to Southern African media. Social trivia (with a lot of reports on speculations about witchcraft allegations), political propaganda and tourism journals summarizes everything there is to know about Southern African media. We tried our best to juggle our livelihoods with this new initiative, but our barriers by far outweighed anything we could handle at that time.
Jacobsen: What is the state of South African progressivism?
Cornelius: South Africa is undoubtedly the most progressive country in Africa. It was the first to recognise LGBTQ rights on the continent, did away with most repressive laws (especially from Apartheid), pushed for secularism in public schools and recently legalized cannabis for recreational purposes. A lot of people will attest to the fact that South Africa is a lot more liberal than most first world countries. The people however, are not liberal. Gruesome atrocities like “correctional” rape for lesbians are very common. A lot of the demographics that make up the population still uphold inhumane cultural norms like how domestic violence is considered normal in African communities, arranged marriages in Indian groups and racism in white communities. These unhealthy social vices that people overlook slackens our progressive legislation. The South African workplace is not a pretty sight either, especially for African immigrants most of whom are undocumented, making them vulnerable to various abuses they cannot report. Income inequality is very sharp in South Africa, it could cut through thin air. This is the reason for the county’s very high crime rate and constant violent strikes. So in short, we have progressive legislation that just needs a lot of following up.
Jacobsen: What are some impediments to some of the more impactful elements of progressivist philosophy, such as the enfranchisement of women, in South Africa?
Cornelius: Inhumane cultural norms, racism and a low regard for worker’s rights are the three main impediments holding the country back in terms of progressivism. There is need for cultural reform. Cultural practices that infringe on human rights should be ruled out. There is need for race relations to improve too. There has been cases of white farmers who kill their black and coloured workers for sport, black workers who retaliate; repaying violence with violence. When the news comes out from the white owned publications, it is just the black workers who are pointed out as murderers. The media and politicians should give a non racialist view when dealing with problems affecting South Africa to encourage all the citizens to work together with a common goal. Worker’s rights should also be addressed discouraging the culture of exploiting workers.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Gayleen.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com
Image Credit: Gayleen Cornelius.