Did you know that South Africa is the first country in the world to prohibit unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation?
Section 9(3) of the Constitution states that “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”.
Before our current Constitution, apartheid South Africa criminalised same-sex relationships, a further testament to the extent of human rights violations perpetrated by that illegitimate government.
Curiously, our government has been conspicuous in its silence on this egregious matter.
Now most of us may be aware of and rightly outraged by the Ugandan parliament passing a bill criminalising lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships in March, with the bill going on to threaten that those in such relationships could face the death penalty.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Death penalty imposed as Uganda passes law making it a crime to identify as LGBTQ
In an interview, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni referred to gay people as “deviants” and told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour: “Homosexuals are not new to Africa. They have been here. We know them. But we have got a different view of them. We think they are deviants. They are people who are deviated from the normal.” A most bizarre and inflammatory assertion.
I have been aware of Uganda’s efforts to pass this bill and the country’s ongoing violence against the LGBTQI+ community for a while now. Curiously, our government has been conspicuous in its silence on this egregious matter.
It bears mentioning that South Africa and Uganda are both members of the African Union, which has affirmed its adherence to United Nations declarations. In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a historic resolution for the “protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity”.
Read more in Daily Maverick: It is vital for South Africa to oppose Uganda’s dangerous anti-gay bill
SA abstained from voting
Interestingly, South Africa abstained from voting on the resolution, which to me raises the question of how committed we are to the principles of non-discrimination and equality among all.
Speaking at the National Conference on the Constitution, Professor Frans Viljoen from the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria highlighted that South Africa “was not always strong in defending the principles of human rights across the continent” and pointed specifically to the issue of sexual orientation, which is contentious in some African countries.
South Africa needs to be consistent in its assertion that everyone has the right not to be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation if we are to hold any sort of moral standing. We cannot afford to be wishy-washy about people’s dignity and lives. To do that would be at odds with the foundation of our country and its Constitution.
It is not possible to hold a neutral position in situations of gross human rights violation. In fact, it is hypocritical. We do not have to be Ugandan or part of the LGBTQI+ community to oppose this bill. Human rights do not belong to South Africans alone; they are inherent to all human beings, and not to the exclusion of Ugandans. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.