Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 19th 2013 Contents B10
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A flag of the South African gay community sits next to a portrait of former South African President Nelson
Mandela and other mementos in the Sandton area of Johannesburg, South Africa. Mandela became a hero to
the global gay-rights movement for helping make South Africa a pioneer in outlawing anti-gay discrimination.
Yet activists say the laws have neither quelled violence against gays and lesbians in Mandela's homeland nor
induced nations elsewhere in Africa to abandon their harsh statutes against homosexuality. AP PHOTO
Africa s gays are looking for
their own Nelson Mandela---
someone who will rescue
them from violence and a raft of laws
that criminalise gay sex.
In other words, precisely what Man-
dela could not do, despite his efforts.
Among his many achievements,
Mandela became a hero to the global
gay-rights movement for helping make
South Africa a pioneer in outlawing
anti-gay discrimination. Yet activists
say the laws have neither quelled vio-
lence against gays and lesbians in Man-
dela s homeland nor induced nations
elsewhere in Africa to abandon their
harsh statutes against homosexuality.
intolerance of gay sex and gay-rights
activism is pervasive across the con-
tinent. According to human rights
groups, more than two-thirds of African
countries outlaw consensual same-sex
acts, and discrimination against gays,
lesbians and transgender people is com-
On paper, at least, South Africa is a
dramatic exception. In 1996, during
Mandela s presidency after the fall of
apartheid, the country became the first
in the world with an explicit constitu-
tional ban on discrimination based on
sexual orientation. Under court rulings
citing the constitution, South Africa in
2006 became the first country on the
continent---and only the fifth in the
world---to legalise same-sex marriage.
Kevin Cathcart, executive director
of the US gay-rights group Lambda
Legal, noted that the United States still
lags behind South Africa on both
accounts---with no federal ban on anti-
gay discrimination and with laws
against same-sex marriage on the books
in 34 of the 50 states.
Cathcart was among many gay-rights
leaders worldwide eulogising Mandela.
"Every one of us who continues the
fight for equality and civil rights in our
own communities labors in the shadows
of this man," Cathcart said.
Along with the praise, some activists
said Mandela s legacy included a notable
flaw---his reluctance to tackle the epi-
demic of HIV and Aids that was spread-
ing through South Africa during his
"HIV was killing more South Africans
than the vile system of apartheid ever
did, claiming 600 lives a day," said
British gay-rights activist Peter Tatchell.
"Mandela bowed to public sensitiv-
ities and taboos," Tatchell said. "He
refused calls to lead a public education
and prevention campaign. His govern-
ment failed to make anti-HIV drugs
widely available. Earlier and stronger
action would have saved tens of thou-
After leaving politics, however, Man-
dela did engage in the fight against
Aids, motivated in part by the
death of his son, Makgatho, from the
AIDS remains a severe problem in
South Africa, as does anti-gay violence.
One particular scourge, according to
activists, is so-called "corrective rape"
of lesbians perpetrated on the premise
the victim can be converted away from
"Violence is used as punishment for
breaking gender rules," said Tumi
Thandeka Mkhuma, a lesbian activist
from Johannesburg who joined other
gay-rights advocates from Africa for a
series of events last week in New York
organised by the International Gay and
Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
Another South African in the group,
Melanie Judge of Cape Town, remarked
on the "deep contradictions" between
her country s landmark laws and the
persistent violence and bias.
"We can have all the laws and policies
in the world, but one needs the political
will to make them real," Judge said,
placing the onus on national politicians
and local civic leaders.
Elsewhere in the region, according
to the visiting activists, anti-gay vio-
lence is compounded by long-standing
laws criminalising gay sex and by the
tendency of some politicians to
demonise gays as a way of distracting
the public from economic woes.
"The homophobia that is in Africa
will take time to go away," said Gift
Trapence of Malawi in a video made
for the human rights commission. "We
are not asking for gay marriage. We are
just asking for the basic fundamental
human rights ... to be protected from
hate speeches, to be protected from the
In Cameroon, two men were sen-
tenced to prison in July for gay sex, less
than two weeks after a prominent gay
rights activist, Eric Ohena Lembembe,
was tortured and killed in an attack.
Lembembe was the most prominent
African gay-rights campaigner to be
killed since 2011, when the victims
included South African lesbian activist
Noxolo Nogwaza and Uganda s David
Uganda has been under scrutiny by
international gay-rights groups since
2009, when a lawmaker proposed a
bill that would mandate the death
penalty for some gay acts.
Friedel Dausab, an activist from
Namibia on the delegation visiting New
York, said his country s anti-sodomy
law deters gays from seeking health
services, worsening the HIV and Aids
"The prevalence rate in jails is very
high," he said. "Yet officials refuse to
give out condoms in the jails---they say
they don t want to abet a crime."
An activist visiting from Zambia,
Juliet Mphande, said laws in her country
criminalising gay sex carry lengthy
prison terms. Anti-gay sentiment is so
intense, she said, that sometimes young
gays and lesbians are turned into police
by their own families. (AP)
Mandela a hero
to gays, yet bias
rampant in Africa
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