Today is Human Rights Day in South Africa. Today, we as the Vampyre – and associated community of this country, celebrate both our humanity as well as
our other-ness under the safety and provisions of the South African Constitution.
Since this is the very first Human Rights Day since the foundation of the SAVA in May 2011, this is a momentous and auspicious occasion. It is a day in
which we can sit back in comfort and reflect on the past year, on the work we have put into building our community, and to appreciate its growth this far – and on renewing our commitment to making it grow further.
It is also a time in which we can appreciate the accomplishments of our community, and also the friends we have made – both around the world, and here at home.
It’s also a time where we remember those like us who suffer persecution and die because of who and what they are, and for how they self-identify – or for how others perceive them; to remember those like us who find themselves living in places where society has no appreciation for diversity or human rights, no grasp of the concept of human rights, and which attaches little or no value to human life, and which even sees it as a duty to snuff it out.
We remember with sorrow, honor, and with sympathy, those teenagers in Iraq who were brutally murdered in the last few weeks by Islamist terror militia for bravely self-identifying or being labelled by their killers as “Emo”, LHP and/or “vampire”. We condemn with horror and contempt, the cruelty and savagery of any society which allows such acts and attempts to justify them “for the greater good”.
This is a time also, where we appreciate our own status, and the Constitution of our country – which enshrines our rights to the same freedoms as everybody
else, including the freedoms of religion, conscience, association, dignity, and belief – all of which are vital to communities such as ours.
It was the Pagan human rights advocate, Damon Leff, who said in 2007, while addressing the subject of still-ongoing witch-hunts in South Africa to the South African government:
“Individual self-determination and self-identity (what one calls oneself and how one defines what one is) are not mutually exclusive principles. The individual and communal right to self-definition and self-determination is a cornerstone of the principles of freedom of religion and belief and is constitutionally enshrined through the notion of according and protecting human dignity to and for all equally.
The right to human dignity is based on the common assumption that all men and women have the right to have their “substantive essence” respected simply
by virtue of their belonging to the human family. When the right to self-identity is with-held from either individual or group, the right to dignity is denied.”
For me, as a self-identifying Vampyre, this is a profound statement – and although this statement was intended to focus on the rights of witches to self-identify and to call themselves as witches – this principle wraps itself around our shoulders as well to warm us with the truth within it.
The most important part of that quotation which stands out most for me, is the last sentence: “When the right to self-identity is with-held from either individual or group, the right to dignity is denied.”
We in South Africa often find ourselves dealing with situations where the rights of one religious, racial, or social group to be ‘equal’ or protected – often trumps the right of another to be just as ‘equal’ or protected. To be blunt, situations often arise where Orwell’s statement “All people are created equal – but some people are created more equal than others” is proven disappointingly true.
We have the Constitutionally guaranteed right to self-identify as Vampyres in this country, because to deny us this by law is to deny us freedom of conscience, the right to associate with one another, freedom of belief, and the right to our personal and community dignity. To deny us these freedoms would be to violate and invalidate the Constitution itself. For as long as our community and individuals who make it up, keep to the laws of this country within that context, we should not have anything to fear.
Be that as it may, while other communities may celebrate Human Rights Day by openly proclaiming who they are, and what – for our community it is not so
simple, and not so easy – and not so safe to do so.
In the society in which we live, the one that surrounds us – there are always individuals who will take offense at our presence, and take umbridge at the very fact of our existence, and that we dare to walk among them, work or live beside them, or even to worship at their side – and so to live openly is for many of us, to risk expulsion, intimidation, persecution, loss of property, personal injury, and even death.
Under our present Constitution – and under international human rights laws – this is unacceptable, and like all who seek to live free of persecution, threat and fear, we must work towards building a broader society which is tolerant of diversity in all things, and not just those which happen to suit but a few.
In closing, as a uniting and growing community persuing our own identity and the longing to express it, we should bear these longings in mind in our pursuit of a South Africa – and a world – where all will be free and safe to celebrate coming Human Rights Days as themselves, free of doubt, fear or risk. Let this be our goal as the SAVA, and as individual members of the SA VC.
Happy Human Rights Day 2012, everyone!
Magister Mintaka Halo, SAVA.