Recently, during my studies I delved into the concept of stereotypes and their effects, albeit from a gender perspective. This academic encounter has become an important one to both my personal and professional frames of reference. I have discovered that my prior use and appreciation of the term stereotype was presumptuous, without depth and assumed familiarity. I had nonchalantly used the term often, in writing and conversation without fully appreciating the intricacies of this concept.
Quite worrying one might say, coming from a professional working on human rights, justice and equality issues – but I believe that my nonchalance is common among many of us. We tend to have a general over familiarisation with issues that form part of the realm in which we work and operate without necessarily appreciating the rudimentary theories underpinning particular terms or concepts.
So I think I deserve some credit for acknowledging my deficiency, and urge that we do not rush to deem as catastrophic such inadequacies in all circumstances because it is impossible to know everything about everything, even in your most familiar of territory. To be expected to know and fully understand each and every detail about a subject is a naïve expectation on the part of peers and an arrogant unintelligent assertion on the part of any such declarants. The universally renowned great mind Michelangelo, is remembered for his famous quote “ancora imparo” reportedly made at the age of 87 which means ‘I am still learning’ – well, so am I. So I ask for your indulgence as I share some of my learning on how stereotypes perpetuate inequality and marginalisation – you might just also learn that we all are still learning and need to keep learning.
I have learnt that stereotypes are a component of stigma. They assign negative attributes to socially salient differences forming what social identity theorists call in-group and out-group categorisation. People tend to stereotype as a means of screening people into either the in-group (us) or out-group (them) which in eventuality determines whether a group is accepted or rejected.
This categorisation (stereotyping) of other(s), provides people with a feeling of comfort and confidence based on what they are accustomed to, for predictability and personal security’s sake. Whilst it may be argued in some quarters that categorisation is useful in, for example, target marketing or planning of community and development projects among other mass planning purposes; unfortunately the cumulative effects of general categorisation and consequent stereotyping in most circumstances reinforce and perpetuate inequality.
Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe is known for its spectacular and majestic water falls. In August last year it was not just water that was falling at Victoria Falls but the SADC Tribunal as we know it fell spectacularly as leaders from the Southern African Development Community approved a new protocol to reconstitute the SADC Tribunal. The new tribunal has a limited mandate. By adopting a new protocol, the leaders effectively buried the SADC Tribunal which used to operate under the 2000 protocol. They decided to ignore recommendations from their own legal advisors and attorney generals and created a new Tribunal whose mandate is limited only to the adjudication of inter-state disputes. Simply put, under the 2014 Protocol, citizens are deprived of their right to refer a dispute between themselves and their government to the SADC Tribunal. Without a tribunal, justice and redress will remain elusive for people of the region.
It is important to remember that central to the demise of the tribunal is the case of Mike Campbell and Others v Zimbabwe (Campbell Case) in which the Tribunal found in favor of Zimbabwean white farmers whose land had been compulsorily acquired and without compensation by the Zimbabwean government. In retaliation Zimbabwe strategically attacked the jurisdiction and operation of the tribunal, mobilized support for its suspension and ultimately, its eventual disbandment. By succumbing to the demands of Zimbabwe, SADC Heads of state have ultimately eliminated the access of individuals and groups to the Tribunal at the behest of one State [Zimbabwe] and consequently depriving the entire region of the benefits of such an important institution. Discussions and decisions on the utility of the Tribunal should rather surpass the opinion of one State’s argument based on just one case and personal short term gains. Even so, Zimbabweans themselves and particularly politicians and elected MPs who represent the people of that country must objectively review the wisdom in taking such a stance – more so at a time when Zimbabwe chairs the SADC bloc. They must never forget that they too are ordinary individuals who also depend on fair, transparent and accessible judicial mechanisms which they may need at some point in their lives regardless of their political affiliations. That is, at any given time the tide turns, politicians whether in opposition or in power are susceptible to becoming victims of State sanctioned attacks on the dignity of individuals, including political violence.