South Africa might eliminate gay rights

Relative to its neighbors, South Africa is a haven of LGBT freedom in southern Africa, but that might change.

Patekile Holomisa (Photo courtesy of
Traditional leader Patekile Holomisa (Photo courtesy of

Conservative religious leaders and a council of traditional community leaders have proposed revising the constitution to eliminate a phrase guaranteeing rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

A panel reviewing the constitution responded by asking the country’s political parties to consider the change.

Among African countries, only South Africa allow gays and lesbians to marry and to adopt children.

The proposal for change has some support in the ruling ANC party, but the party is far from endorsing the plan. The Montreal Gazette reported:

ANC lawmaker Patekile Holomisa, who chairs the constitutional review committee and is also a traditional leader, said ANC leaders had imposed equal rights for gays on party members and the country.

“The great majority does not want to give promotion and protection to these things,” he told City Press.

“The last time this issue was discussed was about same-sex marriages. Most of the people in the (parliamentary) caucus were opposed to it, but then Luthuli House (ANC headquarters) and the leadership instructed us to vote for it.

Holomisa has a far different view of homosexuality from that of either pro- or anti-gay partisans in the West.  Instead of believing that homosexuality is an innate characteristic or a learned — and sinful — behavior, Holomisa says it results from ignoring traditional African rituals.

He said it is “a condition that occurred when certain rituals have not been performed. … … [W]hen the rituals are done the person starts to behave like other people in society.” He added, “I don’t know how it works for people in other cultures and those who live in urban areas.”

Jacob Zuma, South Africa president (Photo by Michael Wuertenberg via Wiki Commons)
Jacob Zuma, South Africa president (Photo by Michael Wuertenberg via Wiki Commons)

“Gay rights activists fear the worst,” activist Melanie Nathan wrote in LBGTQ Nation. “LGBTI activists fear that African traditionalists and religious fundamentalists are interfering by seeking a direction to bring South Africa back to draconian pre-apartheid era, where homophobia will be ingratiated rather than the protections the Constitution currently provides.” She added:

The House of Traditional Leaders made a proposal regarding scrapping the sexual orientation section from the bill of rights contained in Chapter 2 of the Constitution.

The Constitution reads: “The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”

She called on South African leaders to nip in the bud any proposal to change the nation’s acceptance of LGBT citizens.

The mere fact of the discussion is further indicative of the pervasive homophobia in those parts of South African society. If Nelson Mandela had his full faculties at this time, he would be seriously disturbed by this move. President Jacob Zuma should show leadership on this critical issue and come out immediately and speak against this in clear and bold terms.

The ANC has not endorsed Holomisa’s remarks. In a press release, the party stated:

“The ANC caucus distances itself from these views and would like it noted that at no stage has it considered debating this issue before parliament.”

“The ANC believes that any law which denies people the right to their sexual expression devalues them in our broader society and as such is an affront to their dignity and a breach of… our constitution.”

The AFP news agency noted, “Despite South Africa’s liberal constitution, homosexuals still face discrimination, harassment and violence, especially in black townships, where lesbians are commonly targeted for ‘corrective rape’ in the belief that sex with a man can change their sexual orientation.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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