The past week has been something of a rollercoaster ride for Southern Africa’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. First, it faced the prospect of the American anti-gay pastor Steven Anderson entering the country on a “soul-winning” drive. Then it celebrated when the minister of home affairs announced he would deny Anderson entry to South Africa.
Alongside this victory, however, came the finding that only 28.6% of the department of home affairs’s marriage officers are willing to officiate at same-sex marriages. And the pastor refused entry to South Africa is now heading for Botswana, where LGBTI groups are campaigning to keep him out.
At the time of going to print, Botswana’s activists had secured a little more than 2 000 signatures in an online petition – a marked difference from the more than 60 000 in South Africa that made home affairs sit up and listen. But the matter needs attention if, as one gay activist says, there are already many in Botswana eager for Anderson to arrive and help “pray the gay away”.
Citizens are well within their rights to demand protection from hate speech. The government of South Africa, and presumably that of Botswana, would not allow an American neo-Nazi to come to the country to rally people around the banner of white supremacy, so why should it allow hate speech about LGBTI people?
In a positive move, home affairs has committed itself to addressing the issue of marriage officers refusing to marry same-sex couples. It’s about time. After all, the Civil Unions Act giving LGBTI people full marriage rights was passed in 2006.
It’s also a hopeful development that one of Anderson’s biggest supporters in South Africa, Matthew Dean, closed down his hate-spewing website, Dean Ministries.
A September 14 post by him read: “I’ve decided to call it a day; to shake the dust from my feet. I’ve been trying to reach people for five years now but, given the recent events, I just cannot continue anymore.”
How good to have a hatemonger throw up his hands and give up the struggle to spread prejudice among the people of South Africa.