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African LGBT activists praise, mourn Nelson Mandela

The death of South African liberator Nelson Mandela on Dec. 5 brought sadness and words of deep appreciation from African LGBT activists.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

12th December 2013 15:52

Alessia Valenza

“Nelson was a person who fought against discrimination in all its forms,” said Dominique Menoga, president of Camfaids (the Cameroonian Foundation for AIDS).

Ugandan LGBT rights activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera said:

Goodbye, son of freedom. Your inspiration will forever live on. You deserve rest now. You are at peace…

Many freedom fighters of today got the courage and hope from Madiba [the clan name by which South Africans refer to Mandela]. He showed us that it’s not only arms that can bring about change.

I remember when I was 10 years old, when they called assembly to announce his release date. That was my turning point and since then I have been following him, watching his struggle, reading books and watching films. He inspired me so much and today I can proudly say he lives within me and us in our struggle for equality and freedom. RIP.

Desmond Tutu, Anglican archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and long-time activist, wrote in AllAfrica:

The world is a better place for Nelson Mandela. He showed in his own character, and inspired in others, many of God’s attributes: goodness, compassion, a desire for justice, peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. He was not only an amazing gift to humankind, he made South Africans and Africans feel good about being who we are. He made us walk tall. God be praised.

Frank Kamya of the anti-AIDS pro-LGBT rights Youth on Rock Foundation in Uganda said Mandela was “my diva — a man who had equal sympathy for humanity regardless of anything like colour, race, gender or sexual orientation. He inspired a lot of people to stand up for their own rights and the rights of others.”

Earlier this year, LGBT activist Phumi Mtetwa described how important Mandela was in making South Africa a beacon of justice for LGBT people in Africa. Mtetwa, co-founder of South Africa’s National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE) and former executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, recalled how Mandela’s words and example inspired about 70 lesbian, gay and human rights organisations to launch the NCGLE in Johannesburg in 1994.

“This significant moment in the history of gay and lesbian organising in South Africa had its roots in the anti-apartheid struggles, in which many openly gay and lesbian people were active,” he wrote. He added:

A coalition delegation (Simon Nkoli, British actor Sir Ian McKellen and myself) met President Mandela in February 1995, at the ANC’s then headquarters, to acknowledge the organisation’s commitment to equality, and to reiterate the importance of ensuring that it lived up to that commitment and presented the aspirations of many lesbian and gay people, organised as the NCGLE.

Mandela’s presidency was one of constitutional and legal reform. In 1996, when the final Constitution was adopted, we could continue to celebrate the equality clause and the Bill of Rights.

The NCGLE, until it was disbanded in 1999, then the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, and then the LGBTI Joint Working Group and their member organisations, worked on legal reforms such as the recognition of same-sex partnerships and marriage. This latter campaign was successful in 2006, when Parliament passed the Civil Union Bill. That is one instance of widely celebrated processes and results attributable to Mandela’s vision of South Africa as the “rainbow nation”.