A host of organisations have called on the leadership of the ANC to reassure homosexuals their rights will not be infringed upon.
Recently, there have been many reports about the submission made to the constitutional review committee by the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) seeking removal of sexual orientation as a listed ground in the equality clause of our post-apartheid Constitution.
Rather than rejecting the submission, the constitutional review committee – chaired by chief Patekile Holomisa, who is also the chairperson of the NHTL – referred the matter to parliamentary party caucuses, a possible first step in moving the requested constitutional amendment. There have also been reports in which Holomisa has implied antagonism on the part of traditional leaders to civil unions for people who are homosexual.
A statement was issued by the office of the ANC chief whip, Mathole Motshekga, seeking to pour oil on the troubled waters. The statement denies that the ANC parliamentary caucus, at least, will accede to any submission that the Constitution be amended to strip people who are lesbian and gay of their hard-won constitutional protection. It also indicated that Motshekga would meet with Holomisa, an ANC MP, to make this clear.
Subsequently on SAFM AMlive, Xolani Gwala conducted an interview with the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa), which exacerbated concerns despite the statement issued by the office of the ANC chief whip. It was suggested that people who are lesbian and gay foster declining population figures in South Africa because they are not actively engaged in sexual reproduction, and thus stop people from having babies.
Whomever put forward this argument would seem to be blithely ignorant of Statistics South Africa’s population statistics, which shows an impressive increase in the population of our country over time, but the point is evidently not the question of fact but rather the prejudices which informed the statements.
It was suggested that lesbian and gay persons do not make appropriate adoptive parents of children, and that adoptions by same-sex couples should be discouraged. Holomisa also claimed that, traditionally, people who were homosexual were subjected to certain rituals which transformed them from socially and culturally unacceptable “sexual deviants” into “normal”, socially and culturally acceptable heterosexuals.
All of this is redolent of deep-seated prejudice which has no place in a modern society committed to equity, egalitarianism, and tolerance for difference.
Our post-apartheid Constitution is at pains to seek to eliminate unfair discrimination of all kinds, including apartheid’s egregious discrimination against people who were lesbian and gay. Our Constitution and derivative legislation celebrates tolerance of difference, ours being a rainbow nation, and makes this a hallmark of our post-apartheid South Africa. Mutual tolerance is deliberately cast broadly. In stark contrast to the past, to take but one example, polygamous marriage is now recognised, as are civil unions contracted between same-sex couples, and this is as should be.
In view of the alarming reports and statements which have been forthcoming, we deserve and require better reassurance than a meeting in Parliament behind closed doors. Constitutional provisions protection from discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, rights to reproductive health and to gender equality, are fundamental to the vision of a truly democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa which drove the struggle against apartheid and gave us our exemplary post-apartheid Constitution.
Now, more than ever before, there is a need for leadership on these issues and we call upon comrades within the ANC to speak out and reassure commitments in this regard. Political education to address homophobic tendencies within the ANC and related bodies would also not be amiss. Similarly support for groups addressing apparent hate crimes and abuse towards those within the LGBTI community needs to be provided by government. We would expect the ANC to implement disciplinary measures against any member who contradicts these constitutional provisions and uses hate speech.
Intersex South Africa, SHARISA, Triangle, Women’s Legal Centre, WISH Associates, Transgender and Intersex Africa, Gender Health and Justice (UCT), Centre for the Study of AIDS (UP), Gender DynamiX, SHE, NACOSA, SWEAT, FEW, African Gender Institute (UCT), OIA, Mother Tongue, Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme, OUT, Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, African Men for Sexual Health and Rights [AMSHeR], Women’s Health Research Unit of the School of Public Health, (UCT), Sonke Gender Justice, MatCH, Amanitare.