Traditional Leaders oppose human rights for all South Africans
Last week it became known that the Traditional Leaders Forum had submitted a suggestion to a government body which monitors and evaluates suggestions for modifications to be made to the SA Constitution, that gay rights be removed from the Constitution. Suggestions and requests of this nature which involve the removal of the civil rights of gay people from the Constitution are not a new thing. In fact these efforts have been a regular feature of right-wing and religious extremist politicking since at least the very early 1980’s in South Africa and have been made by numerous groups in various forms since the birth of our democracy and since the drafting of the Constitution.
Homosexuality and transsexuality has been at the focus of hostile Christian attention in South Africa since the 1980’s. Certain groups seem to need a scapegoat for their fears and zealotry in order to keep their support base strong and money from supporters flowing in to keep the machinery turning. Groups like Christian Action Network (CAN) and its affiliates and immediate forebears have worked without remorse against legal equality and every single human rights victory won by GLBT, Pagan or gender rights advocates since 1993. Even today we need to be vigilant and keep an eye on groups such as the ACDP, CDA, CAN and Errol Naidoo’s “Family Policy Institute”, who have been pressuring government to rip out Constitutional human rights protections and equality clauses since day one.
In 1993, at the very same time that those prominent in the incitement of hatred against sexual orientation and gender groups were arguing in Parliament against the inclusion of our human rights in the Constitution – they also argued against the inclusion of religious freedom, specifically relating to the Pagan community and associated non-Christian religions. It was implied that essentially any such Constitutional right was in violation of the Christian ‘divine right’ to hate and vilify anyone or anything they disagreed with. These efforts failed and were dismissed and we now have the present Constitution which guarantees these rights for all, equally. When the battle for marriage equality raged in 2005-6, the nut-jobs and human rights opponents tramped mud back into Parliament to wave their fingers once more. Christians retained the legal right to vent as much hatred on sexual orientation and non-Christian forms of religion as they desired, as long as it was done within the ambit of their churches or private communities. This remains a contradiction to the spirit and letter of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
In its current form, the SA Constitution forbids discrimination on the grounds of religion and sexual orientation. But government officials have been flouting and ignoring these provisions, as well as turning a blind eye to legitimate complaints against those who violate human rights. Let’s look at a few notable examples in recent years.
Jacob Zuma, the current president of South Africa’s ANC-led government, is on record as making homophobic utterances during a speech in 2006 when he was still Vice-President, when he stated that same-sex marriages are “a disgrace to the nation and to God”. “When I was growing up, unqingili (homosexuals) could not stand in front of me,” Zuma was quoted as saying.
In 2005 South Africa supposedly won the marriage equality battle in the Constitutional Court. However the government resisted and dragged its feet, eventually having to be ordered by the Constitutional Court to implement the necessary changes during 2006.
In 2008, a delegate to the United Nations declined to ratify a UN Declaration on human rights on the grounds that it included human rights protections for gay people, citing “principles”. A similar event occurred again in 2010, where a government representative made homophobic utterances during a session of the UN discussing human rights protections around sexual orientation.
In 2008, homophobic journalist Jon Qwelane, known for his anti-feminist and racist views, published a column in the Sunday Sun newspaper attacking gay rights and the rights of women in the Constitution. He did so in a way which encouraged action to remove these rights from the Constitution. He also stated prophetically that he would never be made to apologize for his remarks. A mass outcry by human rights activists and the Pink Community led to complaints to the Press Ombudsman, Joe Thloloe, who refused to take any action on this matter. Speculation as to reasons for this focused on his personal friendship with Qwelane. The South African Human Rights Commission investigation into the matter was obstructed by legal maneuvering and stalling tactics by Qwelane.
In late 2009, Lulu Xingwana, who was the Minister of Arts and Culture in SA, caused a furor over homophobic remarks she made at an exhibition of art photography, before storming out. Apparently she was upset at seeing tastefully displayed semi-nude photographs of same-sex couples and angrily stated that it was “anti-family” and a threat to moral values. She later denied ever saying anything and attempted to portray the whole incident as a misunderstanding.
Despite the international uproar surrounding the tabling of the ‘Kill the Gays Bill’ by the Ugandan parliament, legislation which would have ratified the arrest and murder of thousands of GLBT Ugandans, the SA government steadfastly insisted that the internal issues of other countries were “nobody’s business”.
Further, in 2009 the President appealed to ultra-conservative Christian voters by stating in a radical evangelical and anti-gay church that the removal of gay rights was up for discussion. This sparked another furor and alarms went off in the activist community. A month later the debacle over “Zuma’s God Squad” broke the news when it was reported in the media that a conservative Christian body made up of ANC-officials and representatives of the same church, was receiving logistic and material support from the government in order to investigate the removal of liberal laws, including those protecting sexual orientation, from the Constitution. The NILC body was reportedly not only being provided with government offices and stationery but also the support and involvement of ANC office-holders in government employ, who also happened to be lay preachers, pastors and evangelists who formed part of the so-called “God-Squad”. Of course, the NILC has faded into obscurity and has not been heard of since, presumably having served its purpose.
During the 2009 election period a right wing Christian party’s radio advert – which only aired once on April 1. – labelled gay rights and gay people as a threat to civilization. Despite this matter being reported to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the SA Human Rights Commission, these bodies both refused to investigate the matter, claiming that it was up to the complainant to provide proof. Radio stations refused to supply complainants with copies of the offensive advert and the political party in question vigorously denied any knowledge of this advert being aired at all. The incident was dismissed by all authorities as an “April Fool’s Day” joke.
Jon Qwelane was appointed as South African Ambassador to Uganda in January 2010 by President Zuma, despite having still to face any charges of incitement to hatred and violence against women and the gay community in the Equality Court. In spite of this, the government smuggled him out to Uganda in the midst of a public outcry, to take up his post in Uganda during a visit by the President to that country. All this took place right in the midst of international pressure for Uganda to kill the ‘Kill the Gays Bill’. Despite numerous calls to the short-lived and rather pointless Presidential hotline by concerned members of the public, the government denied that Qwelane would be returned to South Africa to face charges. After Qwelane was found guilty in absentia by the Equality Court, the conviction was overturned on an appeal mounted on his behalf, at taxpayer’s expense. To this day South Africa is represented in a foreign country by a man who has nothing but contempt for the South African Constitution, equality and human rights, and who has openly and repeatedly expressed his unrepentant racial and homophobic hatred.
The ANC governing party needs the support of the traditional leaders forum which represents tribal chiefs and clan leaders. The traditional leaders themselves are homophobic and patriarchal, like our President and his supporters. In Africa people are intimidated, abused and often killed for being gay or transgender. In present South African society, there is no culture of human rights or respect for human life. I find the sum of these mounting incidents to be a compound personal insult to my dignity as a South African citizen.
Also posted here: Sour Grapes – The Fruit Of Ignorance
ECGLA and Tru Colors are coordinating a protest gathering with the South African Constitution Protection Coalition on the 20th May at 1pm outside The Nelson Mandela Bay City Hall. The gathering is to protest against The House of Traditional Leaders recent proposal to remove the protection of LGBTI rights from our SA Constitution. Similar gatherings and Marches will be held around the country.
For more information visit the South African Constitution Protection Coalition on Facebook.