Activists in KwaZulu-Natal have demanded that the Zulu king apologise for his alleged anti-gay remarks, while traditional leaders have backed the monarch.

On Tuesday, the Gay & Lesbian Network (GLN) in Pietermaritzburg said that it was “outraged” by King Goodwill Zwelithini’s comments last weekend and accused him of previously making anti-gay statements.

“Back in 2005 at a Reed Dance festival King Zwelithini said that ‘homosexuality was un-Zulu and accused them of confusing children and tarnishing the image of the Zulu Nation,'” said GLN.

It also dismissed claims by the Zulu Royal Household that the media had not translated the king’s speech correctly and said that the household was “covering up what was really said about gays and lesbians” and was “trying to save face”.

GLN noted that its recent research found high levels of homophobia in schools and among the general public in Pietermaritzburg. It warned that anti-gay comments by leaders contribute to negative stereotyping and homophobia in communities.

The organisation said its Zulu staff, volunteers and supporters are fearful that Zwelithini’s comments may lead to them being harassed and attacked by community members who revere the king.

“I am saddened by these comments that show that our leaders are not being responsible [and that] their actions will contribute towards hatred and violence towards gays and lesbians,” said Anthony Waldhausen, director of GLN.

“These comments are dehumanising and are a violation of the Constitution and constitute hate speech. We call on King Zwelithini to retract his comments and to apologise to the LGBTI community.”

Meanwhile, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) slammed calls for the king to apologise, saying that “the king does not owe anyone an apology.”

“We condemn the gays and lesbian group [for questioning] His Majesty iMbube to apologise to them,” said Contralesa. “This shows how disrespectful they are and worse to the point of that they would approach the king on twisted facts. They are just seeking fame out [of] our king.”

KwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize has also stepped into the fray and has backed the king’s position that his comments were misinterpreted.

Zwelithini was quoted by the media at a public event on Sunday as saying that homosexuality did not exist in the past, and that it is “wrong”, “rotten” and “not acceptable”.

The South African Human Rights Commission said that it will investigate the incident.

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