Transformative Leaders Must Recognise LGBTI Rights

human rights gender Governance and Democracy
Tuesday, 31 January, 2012 - 16:15

Anti-gay messages conveyed by African leaders have the potential to fuel more violence, corrective rape and other forms of abuse encountered by the LGBTI community  

The acceptance of lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Africa is a battle that is yet to be won. Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral aspects of an evolving society. In conservative societies where LGBTI's face discrimination, political and traditional leaders must lead in the discussions towards the acceptance of sexual minorities.

This follows the recent homophobic comments made by King Goodwill Zwelithini of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

On 21 January 2012, King Zwelithini, addressed crowds at the 133rd commemoration of the Battle of Isandlwana in KwaZulu-Natal. It is alleged that in his speech, the King commented that, "Men would go for months in battles to fight the enemies without their wives, but did not harass each other sexually and there were no cases of rape of women. Nowadays, you even have men who rape other men. If you do those things, you are rotten. We condemn those involved - no matter who you are." The King’s office has since denied this statement saying that what the King said in a local language has been recklessly translated.

Whether the King made homophobic comments or not, the allegation itself begs to a more pertinent question of who our leaders represent. If we want transformative leadership in Africa, are the King's alleged comments progressive? Politicians and traditional leaders are very influential in shaping public discourse and actions. When it comes to sexual orientation, their utterances could assist in the respect of gay and lesbian rights in a conservative African society.

LGBTI people in SA and the continent at large have had their rights infringed upon. Many countries in Africa do not have laws that protect sexual minorities. African leaders have not been very supportive of the LGBTI agenda.

In 2006, the then deputy president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma caused public outcry when he publicly said that same-sex marriages were "A disgrace to the nation and to God." In Zimbabwe, during the country's constitutional review in 2010, the president said that gay marriages are similar to dog behaviour and said he did not support gays. He added that his government would "Not listen to those advocating for the inclusion of their [gay] rights in the constitution."

The situation is not different for other countries such as Malawi and Uganda where in the latter, social media has been used to commit hate crimes against the LGBTI community.

South Africa is known the world over for having a progressive constitution. Lately, cases of corrective rape have been on the rise. According to Ndumie Funda of Luleki'Sizwe Project, a charity that supports survivors of corrective rape, more than 10 lesbians are raped or gang raped every week in Cape Town. Conservative men are on a mission to ‘cure’ lesbian women. However, if it is genuinely a sickness, why is it that conservative women are not on a mission to ‘cure’ sick men?

Clearly, the deep patriarchal structure of our society is to blame. Society still appears to be defined by the many men who are the custodians of culture and do not want to work towards the realisation of all constitutional rights for South African citizens.

Eudy Simelane and Noxolo Nongwaza were both members of Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee (EPOC), whose and their mutilated bodies were found in Kwa-Thema, Springs, with evidence of stoning, stab wounds and rape. Their killers remain at large. Zoliswa Nkonyana's case dragged from 2006 and had been postponed at least 40 times by a court in Cape Town, until October 2011 when four of the suspects accused of raping and murdering her, were sentenced. Some of them were released due to a lack of evidence. Even with evidence, the justice system is failing the LGBTI community.

These women are gone, but society needs to honour them and with a collective voice condemn any acts that perpetuate hate crimes against the LGBTI community. The signing and handing over of a petition to the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Development after Magwaza's death in SA is one step towards demanding transformative leadership. The Ministry has since set a national task team to tackle hate crimes against LGBTI South Africans.

Disrespect and crimes against the LGBTI community will increase if political and traditional leaders do not lead in the fight for sexual diversity.

The alleged utterances of the King point to the fact that a progressive constitution is not enough to promote and protect LGBTI rights. Africa is in urgent need of leaders, political and traditional, who can articulate a different discourse and condemn the expurgation of sexual minorities. They must articulate a discourse that promotes unity and the fact that each human being has a right to be what they want to become.

- Nomthandazo Mankazana is the Governance Programme Officer at Gender Links. This article was first published on the Gender Links website. It is republished here with the permission of Gender Links

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