King Goodwill Zwelithini
Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini has been accused of hampering HIV prevention efforts among sexual minorities through his recent alleged homophobic comments.
On Wednesday, the Anova Health Institute’s Health4Men project expressed its “deep concern” about Zwelithini’s comments, made while speaking at an event commemorating the 133rd anniversary of the Battle of Isandwana.
He was reported to have stated that homosexuality did not exist in the past, and that it is “wrong”, “rotten” and “not acceptable”.
Health4Men said that the king’s comment are “particularly troubling considering that widespread stigma and prejudice towards homosexual behaviour is prevalent within the wider community and, disconcertingly, within the public health sector”.
It added that “His irresponsible utterances therefore have a direct impact on the burden of HIV among men who practice same-sex behaviour.
“In the context of South Africa’s HIV epidemic, and wide-spread homophobia and prejudice throughout Africa, such statements by prominent public figures prevent countless men from accessing life-saving treatment.”
The organisation further commented that in addition to the king’s remarks being unconstitutional they also fly in the face of progressive new guidelines for sexual minorities outlined in the new National Strategic Plan for on HIV, STIs and TB.
“By further marginalising and alienating men who have sex with men and other sexual minorities, the Zulu king’s comments have the potential to jeopardise the advances made by organisations like Health4Men in addressing HIV among highly marginalised and high-risk populations,” said the organisation.
It called on the king to assume responsibility for the harm done by his statements by issuing a public retraction and apology, declaring his support for the National Strategic Plan and initiatives to curb HIV within vulnerable sectors of the population, and to state his support for the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.
King’s Zwelithini’s household has insisted that his comments were misrepresented and that “at no stage did his majesty condemn gay relations or same sex relations”.
Health4Men has established the continent’s first clinics – in Woodstock, Soweto, Khayelitsha and Johannesburg – specifically providing sexual health services and support to men who have sex with men, with special emphasis on HIV prevention and free treatment.