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Transformative leaders wanted

Nomthandazo Mankazana, Governance Programme Officer at Gender Links, writes a feature for The New Age on the acceptance of LGBTI people in Africa.

Avatar of Alessia Valenza

7th February 2012 09:28

Alessia Valenza

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 people 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 in KZN.

On Sunday January 21, King Goodwill Zwelithini addressed crowds at the 133rd commemoration of the Battle of Isandlwana.

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”.

The king continued: “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.”

His office has since denied this statement, and said 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 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 Africa 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, when he was Deputy President, 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 gay marriages were 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.

The South African constitution is known the world over for being progressive. 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 ten lesbians are raped or gang raped every week in Cape Town. Conservative men are on a mission to “cure” lesbian women. 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 is still 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 EPOC (Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee) and their mutilated bodies were found three years ago in Kwa-Thema with evidence of stoning, stab wounds and rape found at the crime scene. Their killers remain at large.

Zoliswa Nkonyana’s case dragged on 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 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 is one step towards demanding transformative leadership. The Ministry has since set up a national task team to tackle hate crimes against LGBTIs.

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 by King Zwelithini indicate 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.

Nomthandazo Mankazana is governance programme officer at Gender Links