The first hearing on the Civil Unions Bill took place in Soweto yesterday, but the government says that same-sex unions – in some form – are not negotiable.

The Soweto public participation session is the first of a series that will travel across the provinces and conclude in Parliament. The hearing was attended by various stakeholders including a religious contingent, representatives of traditional healers and LGBT activists.

Fikile Vilakazi – Advocacy Officer for LGBT rights group OUT – who attended the hearing, described the event as something of “a nightmare”. The organisation, along with most LGBT entities, opposes the bill as it creates a separate version of marriage for same-sex couples.

Vilakazi reiterated concerns about the short notice given to the public and interested parties on the participation process; the schedule was only issued this week Monday. “People didn’t know about it and the short notice makes it difficult to mobilize”, she said.

Vilakazi also expressed frustration at Wednesday’s public hearing process itself saying that, “There is a misunderstanding of what the process should be about. It ended up being a debate on religion and on morals. People seemed to lack a feel of what democracy is all about and the role of the constitution.”

At the hearing, the Reverend Ron Steele of the Apostolic Faith Mission in South Africa called for an extension to the Constitutional Court deadline, feeling that more time was needed to debate the issue. This was a move widely supported by representatives of religious groups.

However the South African government has made it clear that the legalisation of some form of same-sex unions was inevitable.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, with regard to the public hearings, the Cabinet said that whilst every individual or group has the right to express their views openly on the matter of same-sex marriages, it wanted to emphasise “the need for everyone to be reminded that there is a Constitutional Court ruling that the current definition of marriage in the Marriage Act was unconstitutional.”

It went on to add that, “Participants in the debate should not conduct themselves in a manner that suggests that they want to defy the decision of the Constitutional Court on this or any other matter.”

Vilakazi called on the LGBT community to attend the hearings in their area: “We would like people to be visible, wear t-shirts, bring out placards and to be open to speaking out and explaining their experiences. We need to show that we are a constituency.”

A hearing held today in Polokwane in Limpopo province was described by Vilakazi as “chaotic”; starting late and with few participants. The next public participation hearing on the bill is set to take place on Tuesday 26 September in Welkom.

To see the full schedule, click here. Contact OUT for details on the hearings and on how you can take part.


Tel: 012 344 5108 (tel)

Fax: 012 344 6501 (fax)

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