The South African Human Rights Commission said on Monday that it would be writing to King Goodwill Zwelithini following reports that he made homophobic comments at a function attended by President Jacob Zuma.
“The commission will be writing to the king to ascertain whether he did in fact make such statements and if he did, to immediately retract them,” spokesperson Vincent Moaga said in a statement.
The Zulu Royal Household has criticised what it called a “reckless translation” of Zwelithini’s speech.
“At no stage did His Majesty condemn gay relations or same sex relations,” Prince Mbonisi Zulu said.
“The main focus of his speech was on the creation of a compassionate society with men protecting the vulnerable members of society, especially the elderly, women, and children.”
Zwelithini reportedly told guests at the 133rd commemoration of the January 22 1879 Battle of Isandlwana at Nquthu, KwaZulu-Natal, on Sunday that “traditionally, there were no people who engaged in same sex-relationships”.
“There was nothing like that and if you do it, you must know that you are rotten. I don’t care how you feel about it. If you do it, you must know that it is wrong and you are rotten. Same sex is not acceptable,” he was quoted as saying.
Zulu said the king had said that in the past men would go for months in battles to fight the enemy without their wives, and that they did not harass each other sexually.
“He said nowadays you even have men who rape other men. The king said this was a clear sign of moral decay and he said he condemned those involved, no matter who they were.”
Moaga said that in the context of growing levels of hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex [LGBTI] people, the commission found the utterances attributed to Zwelithini to be “inflammatory”.
“If it is indeed accurate that His Majesty, the Zulu King, made the utterances as reported, they constitute hate speech, are dehumanising and are a violation of the constitutional right of LGBTI people to equality and freedom.
Moaga said section nine of the Constitution provided that “everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law”.
Upholding the Constitution
It further provided that equality included the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms, including sexual orientation.
“The king should use his powerful position not to dehumanise and discriminate [against] certain people on the basis of their sexual orientation but to uphold the Constitution and promote tolerance and diversity,” said Moaga.
“The commission is also concerned that the king made his utterances in the presence of President Jacob Zuma.
“The president is entrusted with the defence of South Africa’s Constitution and cannot remain silent in the face of such attacks. The commission will also be raising this matter with the president,” said Moaga.
The commission planned to obtain transcripts of Zwelithini’s recorded speech to begin its work, he said.
Zuma was himself criticised in 2006 for homophobic statements he made at a Heritage Day celebration. — Sapa