By Melanie Nathan. July 18, 2012.
At precisely noon today, South Africa sang Happy Birthday to Nelson Mandela. Thousands of school children sang in classrooms and South Africans walked out of stores onto the streets, as car radios blared, all singing in unison, celebrating Nelson Mandela day.
However this was a somber day for South Africa’s LGBTI community, which celebrated Nelson Mandela day in protest, noting their disdain that the ANC, the Party of Nelson Mandela, had failed to come out forcefully against the rampant homophobia sweeping the country and also had failed to speak out sufficiently against the attack launched by CONTRALESA and the Traditional Leaders against the South African Constitution’s entrenchment of equal rights for all South Africans.
South Africa’s Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community described the day as one of “mourning.” They assert that while the legacy of former President Nelson Mandela should glow with all the freedoms that come with the promise of equality as is entrenched in the Constitution, the legacy has in fact been hindered by the broken promise.
“How can we celebrate Madiba’s legacy when we are dying because his own party is ignoring what he stands for? Today we celebrate our love for Madiba but we must protest as Madiba would have done because we are crying for our friends.” asked an angry marcher who wanted anonymity.
It was indeed the promise of Mandela that “never again” would a class of South Africans be oppressed and the “new Constitution” was designed accordingly; with equal rights for all, making it the only one in Africa and one of the few in the world, to fully decry discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. But that has not helped the homophobia which activists believe has been fueled by an attack on the equality clause in South Africa’s all inclusive Constitution.
According to Eugene “Huge” Brockman of the Gay Flag of South Africa, the promise of Mandela has not materialized: “This already marginalized community mourned the violent mutilations and murders of 8 of or community within this last month alone. “
In a strong sign of unity the protests were attended by a coalition of LGBTI individuals, activists, and civil societies, spearheaded by The Gay Flag of South Africa (GFSA) including FEW, EPOC, Luleki Sizwe, GLAAD, Out in Africa, Health4Men, Sweat, Good Hope Metropolitan Church, Free Gender, Gender Dynamic and others.
In Johannesburg a large group of loud LGBTI activists gathered at the Library Gardens before advancing on Luthuli House where activist Virginia Setshedi addressed Gwede Mantashe, before handing over a memorandum to a delegate of ANC representatives. The Johannesburg crowd swarmed the streets, regardless of police warnings, demanding justice and recognition of the crimes in the name of hate against LGBTI people. “I am a lesbian and I pay taxes,” read one sign.
Cape Town Activists attempted to balance their mourning and frustration with an acknowledgment of the ideals of Nelson Mandela and the promise of his legacy. The Cape Town started at St George’s Cathedral, once the home base of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The group of a few hundred protesters marched with banners and a 60 square meter flag down St George’s Mall, chanting, singing and dancing in Thibault Square, at the foot of the ANC Cape Town offices, where a representative from the ANC, Rep. Songezo Mjongile received a memorandum on behalf of the Party.
The memorandum made it clear that the LGBTI community in South Africa wanted the South African Government’s ruling ANC party to take a decisive and vocal stand again CORALESA and the Traditional leaders, headed by their own party member Hon. Pathekile Holomisa, to immediately cease from its goal of trying to strip LGBTI South Africans of their Constitutionally entrenched equal rights. The LGBTI community believe that this endeavor by Traditional leaders is fueling the already hotbed of homophobic flames, causing rape, assault and murder to LGBTI people in South African Townships and beyond.
Henry Bantjez, Gay Flag of South Africa ambassador spoke to Mjongile who stated:
“I confronted Holomisa on your issues. This is a CONTRALESA issue not an ANC issue.”
He then thanked Bantjez for highlighting this important issue and intimated that indeed they needed to be more vocal and he then vowed that the ANC will show more support. But he wanted to be clear that:
“this is CONTRALESA’s policy is not the ANC’s policy”.
However Pathekile Holomisa is also a prominent ANC member. Though the ANC has publicly distanced itself from Holomisa’s views,
“they have not made an outright condemnation of such a homophobic proposal to strip rights from a highly vulnerable group,” says Brockman. “ Furthermore, the ANC and this administration has also been silent on the severe surge in brutal murders and mutilations that rocked our queer community since Holomisa’s proposal on removing gay rights.”
A fellow organizer Pam Dhlamini stated that:
“I am a lesbian, and because of that it is not safe in me in my surroundings. Violence and murders are a reality in my community.”
Unless the ANC speaks out loudly against CONTRALESA and takes a decisive step to negate the threat of the revocation of entrenched rights, it is anticipated that many more LGBTI South Africans will be brutalized and murdered by the next Mandela Day.
The South African LGBTI community would like nothing more than to celebrate next year’s Mandela Day in song “Happy Birthday Madiba.”