President Jacob Zuma

South African President Jacob Zuma has finally spoken out about the jailing of two gay men in Malawi on charges of homosexuality.

Answering questions in Parliament on Thursday, Zuma was asked by a Democratic Alliance (DA) MP why he had not taken action on the issue.

Zuma denied that the government had not expressed its concerns about homophobia in Africa.

“We have condemned the action to arrest people in terms of our constitution of this country,” stated Zuma, but, but added that this not been done publicly.

“We need to persuade, we need to make people understand, we need to move with them. We have never adopted a confrontational stance on matters,” he said.

The South African government has been widely criticised for its perceived silence on the oppression of LGBT people on the African continent and for appointing an openly homophobic high commissioner to Uganda, which is considering draconian anti-gay legislation.

In 2006, Zuma – who was then the ANC deputy president – apologised for public remarks he made about gays: “When I was growing up an ungqingili (a gay) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out,” he was quoted as saying at the time.

He later apologised unreservedly, saying that the comment was taken out of context and that he “did not intend to have this interpreted as a condemnation of gays and lesbians”.

He added: “I also respect, acknowledge and applaud the sterling contribution of many gay and lesbian compatriots in the struggle that brought about our freedom, and the role they continue to play in the building of a successful non-racial, non-discriminatory South Africa.”

Earlier this month, Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga were sentenced to 14 years in prison with hard labour after they were arrested last December for getting engaged in a public ceremony.

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