The Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, has once again promised to address the ongoing challenges faced by LGBTI South Africans when dealing with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA).
Gigaba met with Access Chapter 2, an LGBTI human rights organisation, on Friday to discuss matters of concern around services rendered by the department.
Issues discussed included the Civil Union Amendment Bill; refugee and asylum issues; challenges experienced by transgender persons with respect to birth registration, civil registration and identity documents; as well as collaborative efforts on awareness campaigns and effective function of the DHA/LGBTI Task Team.
The Task Team was established by Gigaba in 2016, consisting of department officials and LGBTI groups, to review legislation, clarify areas in law that are not clear, and to standardise operations at Home Affairs. The team, however, became defunct soon after, especially after Gigaba was controversially moved to head up the Finance Ministry in March 2017. (He was reappointed Minister of Home Affairs in February 2018.)
According to a statement, the minister has now “committed to revitalising the task team with a view to fostering closer working relations with the LGBTI sector.” Key participating units from the department will include Communication, Civic Services, Immigration Services as well as Human Resources.
“As government we cannot refuse service to persons on the basis of gender and religion,” said Gigaba. “We are going to engage with stakeholders including the religious sectors to find solution to these matters. This engagement provides a platform for government to be more vocal on LGBTI issues,” he explained.
The minister added: “Our aim should not just be to comply with the law, but to promote an ethos of diversity and inclusion consistent with the Constitution and our national values.”
Steve Letsike, Executive Director of Access Chapter 2, commented after the meeting: “It is crucial for government to improve their services to everyone. We welcome this engagement to focus on accountability and better service to the LGBTI people in South Africa.”
Letsike told Mambaonline that Gigaba had expressed his support at the meeting for the Civil Union Amendment Bill, introduced by COPE MP Deidre Carter. It aims to to remove Section 6 of the Act, which allows Home Affairs marriage officers to refuse to marry same-sex couples on the grounds of their “conscience, religion [or] belief”.
This is a reversal of former Minister of Home Affairs Hlengiwe Mkhize’s position. In 2017, she rejected calls to do away with the discriminatory provision. According to Letsike, Gigaba is also looking at ensuring that all newly recruited marriage officers must agree to marry same-sex couples. Issues around LGBTI refugees and migrants – including the Nomfundo Ngidi and Wendy Kessman case – were also discussed with the minister, and it was agreed that these must be resolved.
Despite previous disappointments with Home Affairs, Letsike is positive that things are set to change at the department. “All the DDGs (Deputy Director Generals)… the DDG that deals with civil service, the DDG that deals with migrant issues.. they were all at the meeting,” she said.
Letsike noted that the minister accepted that there is a sense of urgency in resolving matters. “We have agreed that the Task Team meeting should take place by the end of October,” she said. Letsike added that she was determined “to continue to hold the government accountable.”
Over the years, Home Affairs has been repeatedly accused of discriminating against members of the LGBTI community. This includes around 37% of its marriage officials refusing to marry same-sex couples as well as alleged discrimination against LGBTI migrants and refugees. Transgender South Africans also regularly face delays and rejections when they apply to change their gender marker in their identity documents.
Click here to sign a petition calling for equal services for same-sex couples from Home Affairs.