Ambassador Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko
The South African ambassador who led the abstention in last week’s LGBTI resolution vote at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has been unable to clearly explain the decision in a frustrating radio interview.
Nozipho Mxakato-Diseko, South Africa’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, appeared on Redi Tlhabi’s 702 show on Thursday in a bid to justify the country’s controversial stance. In a series of long and rambling statements, she managed to say very little of coherent substance.
She argued that South Africa could not vote for the resolution because the “manner in which things were done [at the UNHRC] were divisive and arrogant”.
Mxakato-Diseko said that this approach meant that South Africa was not “able to carry everybody, which is really important for us.”
“We as South Africa try to carry as many African countries as we can,” she said, in order to make sure that decisions that are taken “lead to real results with the intended consequences”.
Mxakato-Diseko’s convoluted comments led to a confused Tlhabi saying that she still didn’t understand what the issue really was.
“You need to give people time to understand where you are taking them,” said the ambassador, who also claimed that countries were being bullied in the council.
Steve Letsike, Director of the NGO Access Chapter 2, accused Mxakato-Diseko of contradicting herself and insisted that “in everything we do on the international platform we [must] have the vested interest of South Africans, we [must] have the vested interest of the values of our country, which are all enshrined in our Constitution”.
Letsike also claimed that South Africa had originally intended to vote “no” on the resolution “because of solidarity” with other African countries, and only abstained because of pressure from civil society groups.
She further pointed out that South Africa “could have addressed the issue around bullying and treatment of other countries [at the UNHRC] in a different space, not at the cost of LGBTI issues”.
As the discussion became more heated, the ambassador responded that, “We were not going to vote no,” and then accused civil society groups of “being in disagreement” over the resolution.
“There’s not one NGO in LGBTI in South Africa and I’d like to be sure that I represent all of them,” she said.
Letsike, in turn, pointed out that even if there were disagreements, “You had a mandate; the mandate is the Constitution which prohibits discrimination”.
Steve Letsike, Director of Access Chapter 2
She continued: “Unfortunately you are not consistent ambassador; unfortunately at the costs of lives… The mandate of the ambassador is to represent the Constitution, even if you have to be bold…”
The discussion concluded with the ambassador shouting over Letsike’s comments.
The resolution, approved by 23 countries and rejected by 18, with 6 abstentions, will mandate the appointment of an Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It was widely supported by most local LGBTI groups in South Africa and by more than 600 organisations around the world, many of them from the Global South.
You can listen to the debate between Letsike and Ambassador Mxakato-Diseko here.