South Africa has a relatively new Constitution, birthed soon after iconic former President Nelson Mandela was released from prison and Apartheid ended. Included in that dramatic change was equality for all, including LGBTI people. Yet, despite its all inclusive Constitution, South African gays, lesbians, and transgender community has experienced profound homophobia and transphobia, often resulting in serious assaults, rape and even death,. Activists have been hard at work in efforts to cultivate a sentiment commensurate with law, yet it has been very difficult, and perhaps largely in part to failed leadership. There is a lot of story behind this statement and I will spare you all the gory disappointing details and simply say how happy I am to hear that finally the LGBTI community of South Africa may have found its political champ.
Our friends at MambaOnline explain how Minister Malusi Gigaba, the Minister of Home Affairs, has admitted that his department has often failed LGBTI South Africans, but says he is finally taking steps to ensure that they are treated as equal citizens.
As we’ve regularly reported over the years, Home Affairs has been slated for some of its officials’ discriminatory refusal to marry same-sex couples, as well as its degrading and harmful treatment of transgender people.
On Tuesday, Gigaba met with representative of the LGBTI community in Pretoria. The historic meeting was followed by a press conference in which Gigaba outlined new efforts to turn things around.
The minister noted that this year is the tenth anniversary of the Civil Union Act that legalised same-sex marriage and said that this was an opportunity “to look back at the challenges in implementing the act to fulfill the rights of the LGBTI community”.
Gigaba said that in the meeting with the LGBTI representatives four main areas of concern were identified. These were the implementation of the Civil Union Act; changing the sex of transgender people in their ID documents; the registration of adoptions by same-sex couples; and the treatment of asylum seekers on the basis of sexual orientation.
The minister said he had set up a task team, consisting of department officials and LGBTI groups, to review legislation, clarify those areas in law that are not clear, and to standardise operations at Home Affairs.
The task team would have 14 days to bring him recommendations on the way forward and a timeline to resolve issues. MAMBAONLINE
When asked if any particular discriminatory incidents had shocked him, Gigaba replied that he had learned that in two cases, one involving a gay couple wanting to marry and another in which two people applied for asylum, Home Affairs officials had demanded “proof” that the applicants were gay.
At The African Human Rights Coalition, we get constant inquiries from LGBT asylum seekers in SA who have been so badly treated by Home Affairs in South Africa, often denied their basic rights. There is a lot of confusion. Police often harass Asylum seekers. Many are given a run around and have been left with very little hope. There are few resources for survival while people wait for work permits. Sometimes offices close and people receive no services at all. We have attributed this also to horrific homophobia with a strong mix of Xenophobia. At least 34 countries on the continent of Africa outlaw and criminalize homosexuality, with extremely harsh penalties. One of the very few remedies for LGBT Africans is to seek out the easiest route to a country where they are accepted for their sexuality and gender identity. While South Africa has been their only hope, once there, they are greeted with the same problem they escaped and sometimes even worse. And worse yet, often that Xenophobia can be attributed to the LGBT community itself. In fact some asylum seekers in SA had to seek refugee status and have been resettled in the USA through UNHCR. The fact that there has been and continues to be a need to do this is absolutely unconscionable on the part of the SA Government. HERE is an example of such a case: https://oblogdeeoblogda.me/2014/12/16/from-congo-to-castro-unhcr-resettles-persecuted-lgbti-activist-in-the-u-s-a-2/
The minister promised that those officials that conduct themselves in this way would face penalties “so that wrongdoers know that they cannot continue to do it”.
Let us hope in addition to this promise by Minister Gigaba, that other leadership in relevant departments, such as The Department of Justice, and The South African Police, take note and shape up their work to include much more on behalf of the LGBT community. A Task Team was established back in 2011 to address the issue of so called “corrective” rape of lesbians and hate crimes – but we have yet to hear about definitive remedies and programs that address this as an ongoing problem, especially in South Africa’s townships.
Hat tip to MambaOnline for this important story.