Deputy Minister John Jeffery
The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development has spoken at the launch of a new international LGBTI rights body, but South Africa, puzzlingly, failed to actually sign up.
Minister John Jeffery made the address at the launch on 13 July of the Equal Rights Coalition, which was part of the Global LGBTI Human Rights Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay.
In his speech, Jeffery highlighted the legal advances made in South Africa on LGBTI equality since the end of Apartheid.
Jeffery admitted, however, that challenges remain in South Africa and that progress is generally slow on the rest of the continent.
“The myth pervading many institutions within African society that homosexuality is “un-African” has contributed towards the hostility LGBTI persons face. As a result, LGBTI persons living in many parts of Africa continue to face victimization, discrimination, and the violation of their rights.”
He concluded by saying that, “We welcome the establishment of the Equal Rights Coalition to share information between our States on how best to advance the human rights of, and support inclusive development for, LGBTI persons, and to consider measures needed to protect and advance these rights, working in close engagement with all relevant stakeholders.”
What is unclear is why South Africa – the only African country to attend – did not join the 30 other nations (most from Europe and North America) as a signatory to the coalition.
This lack of commitment follows the country shocking human rights groups when it chose to abstain in last month’s vote to appoint an Independent Expert on LGBTI equality at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva.
There are concerns that while South Africa is willing to say all the right things, it’s wary of taking actions that will alienate countries that see LGBTI rights as a Western imposition on their values and culture.
Monica Tabengwa, Acting Director of Pan African ILGA, who attended the conference in Uruguay, told Mambaonline that she sees a definite link between the UNHRC abstention and the reluctance in signing on to the coalition.
“Given what has happened since we started with the advocacy for an Independent Expert, I find it logical that they had to be consistent on how they act, otherwise they really would lose all credibility. So I couldn’t see them doing otherwise. They are basically sitting on the fence at the moment,” she said.
“South Africa has not been able to consolidate what is going on between their foreign policy and their domestic policy, which is basically the problem here. When it’s international, it seems the dynamics are different. It’s like South Africa panders to different callings and not their own Constitution,” Tabengwa added.
Mambaonline has contacted the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development for comment on why South Africa did not join the coalition.
Update: Deputy Minister John Jeffery has denied that not signing onto the coalition reflects a lack of commitment to LGBTI equality on the part of South Africa. Read his explanation here.