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Mixed reaction to Zuma apology

Sumayya Ismail, Sapa-AFP

A statement issued by Jacob Zuma on Thursday saw him "apologise unreservedly for the pain and anger" his recent statements about gays and lesbians may have caused. But some in the gay community feel that his was a "false apology". "It's one of those spin pieces designed to smooth ruffled feathers," Donna Smith, CEO of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, said.

A statement issued by Jacob Zuma on Thursday saw the African National Congress (ANC) deputy president “apologise unreservedly for the pain and anger” his recent statements about gays and lesbians may have caused.

But some in the gay community feel that his was a “false apology”.

“It’s one of those spin pieces designed to smooth ruffled feathers,” Donna Smith, chief executive officer of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a black lesbian organisation in Johannesburg, told the Mail & Guardian Online.

In his statement, Zuma said his words over the weekend were interpreted in various ways and may have hurt and angered the gay community, but that they “were made in the context of the traditional way of raising children”.

“I said the communal upbringing of children in the past was able to assist parents to notice children with a different social orientation,” Zuma said.

“I, however, did not intend to have this interpreted as a condemnation of gays and lesbians.”

Smith feels, however, that the statement falls short of a genuine apology, with Zuma “not apologising for the statements themselves but for feelings they may have caused”.

“It’s not about interpretation, [his words were] a clear advocation of discrimination,” Smith said “Unless he’s denying that he said homosexuals shouldn’t marry ... and homosexuals can’t stand in front of him.”

Zuma’s statement said the “Constitution clearly states that nobody should be discriminated against on many grounds, including sexual orientation, and I uphold and abide by the Constitution of our land.

“Our lesbian and gay compatriots are protected by the Constitution and I respect their rights in my capacity as an individual citizen and as a member and one of the leaders of the ANC.”

Zuma also acknowledged the contribution of many gay and lesbian people to South Africa’s struggle for freedom, saying that they continue to add to the success of a non-racial, non-discriminatory country.

Thuli Madi, director of Behind the Mask and a member of the Joint Working Group (JWG), which represents the gay community, said: “If he [Zuma] meant the apology from the bottom of his heart, I’m sure the gay community will invite him to learn more about our sexual orientation.”

Madi told the M&G Online that Zuma’s previous comments were evidence that he was ill-informed in matters concerning the gay community. “He would not have said such a thing if he knew more,” she said.

Smith said that Zuma’s statement was made in a completely different forum under which he made his first comments over the weekend. “He should make the apology in a similar forum, in KwaZulu-Natal, around a group of his supporters,” she said.

Smith added that Zuma’s initial statements suggested that homosexuals should be treated as “lesser” than heterosexuals.

“[Despite the apology] I am still very concerned about such a high-placed ruling party member saying those things,” she told M&G Online.

Earning wrath

Zuma’s weekend comments about gays earned him the wrath of gay and lesbian groups on Tuesday.

Speaking at Heritage Day celebrations in KwaDukuza on Sunday, Zuma said: “When I was growing up an ungqingili [a gay] would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out.”

The Sowetan quoted Zuma as saying that same-sex marriages were “a disgrace to the nation and to God”.

The JWG said in a statement released on Tuesday that while Zuma was entitled to his personal opinion, his public statement at KwaDukuza during Heritage Day celebrations “was a form of hate speech”.

He told the thousands of people that attended the festivities he was speaking in his personal capacity “as a man”.

“It would seem Jacob Zuma still has a lot to learn about leadership. A true leader leads with intellect and wisdom—not popularity or favour. How can a narrow-minded person like this be expected to lead our nation?” the statement read.

The statement questioned whether a “homophobic” Zuma had forgotten South Africa’s past of “state institutionalised discrimination, stigmatisation and segregation”.

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