|Stephane Tchakam, Charge de Communication Pan Africa ILGA|
The Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LeGaBiBo) have reacted very strongly to remarks made by the Deputy Speaker and MP for Tonota South Pono Moatlhodi condemning homosexuals, maintaining they will do little to help efforts combat HIV in prisons.
“MP Moatlhodi is quoted saying on this point I would agree with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who once described that behaviour as that of western dogs; I don’t like those people and will never tolerate them. This is a thoughtless, barbaric, derogative and extremely demeaning statement intended to cause harm to all persons who identify as gay,” said Lorraine Setuke, Vice Chairperson of LeGaBiBo.
She said, “It is this kind of loudly expressed intolerance that fuels the widespread violence and killings that currently assuage Africa.”
The remarks were during a 2 day workshop held on the 27th-28th January 2011, discussing HIV in Prisons in furtherance of the 50 by 15 HIV Prevention Movement in Botswana.
The “Movement for Prevention” has been established, with the primary target of reducing the number of new HIV infections in Southern Africa by 50% between 2010 and 2015 and an additional target of ending mother to child transmission of HIV.
But Moatlhodi maintained a defiant stance on the issue implicitly arguing that God made ‘Adam and Eve’ not ‘Adam and Steve.’
“I am against gayism. I am opposed to sex between men. Sex is made to be enjoyed by a man and a woman. The Holy Bible at Genesis 1 27-28 reveals that the Lord himself made man and woman and told them to go into the world and multiply,” insisted Moatlhodi.
He said “Homosexuality is a culture away from our culture. It does not meet our culture and does not suit our culture.”
He challenged his detractors to conduct a referendum on the matter, to settle the debate.
“If the nation gives nod to it, who I am I to go against it. I have never agreed with Mugabe but on this issue I agree with him,” insisted Moatlhodi.
Southern Africa carries the largest burden of HIV infections in the world.
According to official estimates the region represents 2% of the world’s population but accounts for 34% of all new HIV infections and 38% of all AIDS-related deaths.
Of the 14 SADC members states, nine countries report HIV prevalence rates of over 10% for adults (24 to 49years of age) translating into scenario where for every one person placed on treatment, two new infections are occurring.
It is estimated that, if the goal of reducing new HIV infections in the SADC region by 50% in the year 2015 is attained, it would result in 1,377,000 fewer infections and would avert US$7.1 billion in life time treatment costs.
To ensure future sustainability of initiatives against HIV/AIDS, policy experts therefore believe there is an urgent need to focus on HIV prevention side by side with the treatment of those who are already infected including sexual minorities such as homosexuals and lesbians.
Although Section 164 of the Penal Code speaks of prohibiting individuals having carnal knowledge of one another against the order of nature, there is contradictory legislation.
“A recent amendment of the Employment Act of 2010 says no one should be dismissed from work on the basis of his or her sexually orientation. It defies logic for Parliament to pass such a law acknowledging homosexuality and on the other hand have a law rubbishing sexual act of homosexuality,” said Uyapo Ndadi, Director of Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS (BONELA).
He said, “It appears that to him(Moatlhodi) religion is more important than saving lives. One good thing is that Parliamentarians are prepared to engage further and want to take issue to their constituents.”
Ndadi however expressed optimism that the discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation in Botswana is in decline owing to a number of societal challenges.
“Goodwill is increasing because people are realizing that HIV is not an ordinary disease that calls for extra ordinary measures which at times may be at odds with our religious persuasion. We need to embrace diversity and realize that we live in a world that embraces all and sundry not only Christians and Muslims,” said Ndadi.
Cases dealing with sexuality in Botswana are infrequent and the last court case involving an indictment for homosexuality took place in December 1994, when an adult male citizen of Botswana, Utjiwa Kanane, was arrested and charged with engaging in unnatural acts and indecent practices between males under sections 164 and 167 of the Botswana Penal Code.
A leaked US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks, titled, Accreditation of Same-Sex Domestic Partners, classified by current US ambassador, Stephen Nolan states that on several occasions, European diplomats with same sex partners have been allowed to live together in Botswana, even though government had turned down applications for accreditation of same-sex domestic partners of their staff.
The leaked cable says although homosexuality is outlawed, the Botswana government has adopted, a “Don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy towards the practice, resulting in diplomats with same sex partners being allowed to reside in the country with their partners.