Being a homosexual is not easy anywhere in the world. It’s even more difficult to be who you are when living on the African continent.
Homophobia in Africa has reached dangerous levels with more countries like Uganda and Nigeria passing laws criminalising same-sex relations. Homosexuality is illegal in 38 countries on the African continent, with South Africa being the only country that recognises gay rights and allows same-sex unions.
In 2013, I had the privilege of marrying the love of my life in what was dubbed by the media as the first ‘African traditional gay wedding ceremony’ based on African culture and rituals. But it saddens me that so many people on the African continent cannot freely express who they are. Homophobia is a close cousin to racism in our society.
For hundreds of years in South Africa LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) people - particularly black Africans - have faced many challenges. Tragically, this continues to happen in South Africa despite the laws that seemingly protect members of the LGBTI community. Not many people outside the LGBTI community understand what a queer or homosexual identified person endures during this time in history because it is something very unique and in many regards new. As such, the need for every LGBTI person to stand up and be an activist for not just their rights, but the rights of future generations, is essential.
Personally, for me it is comforting that a political organisation such as the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has taken a position which seeks to champion and fight for the rights of the LGBTI community. On Tuesday, the EFF hosted its first ever ‘Minority Group Seminar’ in Braamfontien, where it included the LGBTI community.
The EFF has highlighted the gender and sexuality question in its founding manifesto which was adopted at the 2013 ‘What is to be done?’ conference which was held in Soweto.
The manifesto states the following:
The EFF is against the oppression of anyone based on their gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation, meaning that we are against patriarchy, sexism, and homophobia in all of its manifestations. We are also against tribalism and religious and cultural intolerance. We oppose any cultural or religious practices that promote the oppression of anyone, especially groups that have been historically oppressed by such practices.
During the seminar the EFF Gauteng Premier Candidate Adv. Dali Mpofu unequivocally re-emphasised EFF’s position in fighting for full realisation of rights for the LGBTI community.
One would imagine that South Africa, being the only African country to recognise same-sex marriage, would make it safer for all, including lesbians. The reality unfortunately is not so. Despite this progressive legislation, ‘corrective rape’ is a growing problem in many townships across South Africa. The lack of police training exacerbates the problem and further disadvantages victims of hate crimes in South Africa when they report the cases at their local police station.
Like many South Africans, LGBTI people are targets of general violence and crime. However, because they are stigmatised for their perceived sexual and/or gender ‘deviance’, LGBTI people are also frequently discriminated against, through criminal acts, because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. But the South African government and justice system is failing the victims of corrective rape, by letting the perpetrators out on ridiculously low bail and taking literally years to bring the court cases to a conclusion. Victims and those who help them see these rapists every day, and are regularly taunted and threatened by them.
The LGBTI person can, if they wish, completely suppress their sexual identity in public and assimilate to heterosexual norms at least in outward appearance. Assimilation at its core is a threat to the freedom of individuality. The problems with assimilation regarding activism are many. The first problem is it denies history. LGBTI persons have been discriminated against for years, if one is to believe the written word. Religious institutions regularly point out LGBTI persons as being sinners, deviants, ill, and in recent years a threat to society and all the institutions of it. There needs to be anti-homophobic education in our society to de-codify this learned behaviour of homophobia and hatred of people who are perceived to be different.
Nelson Mandela stood for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. We can only hope that religious and other political leaders in Africa not only praise Nelson Mandela but also learn from his message of love for all… not hate. This vision is encapsulated in one of Madiba’s famous quotes:
"I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity."
Nelson Mandela non-violently fought for the equality and justice for all. He championed decriminalisation of homosexuality in South Africa. Nelson Mandela, enshrined equality for gay and lesbian people in law in South Africa’s new constitution. Because of him, it’s illegal to discriminate or persecute a person because of their sexuality or gender in South Africa. We hope that the rest of the world follows in his example.
Being a homosexual myself, I made a personal choice to freely express my sexuality and not hide in any closet. The sad reality in South Africa is that a person who expresses their sexuality may find employment difficult to locate, substandard, stagnated regarding promotions, or under-compensated against similar heterosexual peers. It may mean being an outcast, suffering verbal abuse, or for some even rape or death if you are a lesbian living in a township.
With all the negatives that come with being openly gay and being a gay rights activist simply by living your life, it is something we need in order to not just gain further equality in our deeply homophobic society, but to maintain the few rights we have in South Africa.
The EFF has a duty and a moral obligation to develop a full programme that will apply every day of the year, not as it currently stands under the regime. The current regime has displayed a cold and callous disregard for the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in general. The EFF hopes to take the baton from where fearless leaders like Nelson Mandela left off.
Cameron Modisane is an auditor by profession and a political animal by passion. He is also a gay rights activist and a social media junkie. Follow him on Twitter: @Youngster_Cam