Protesters march in Johannesburg
(Photo: Natasha Quinn)

Gays and lesbians took part in four protests across South Africa this weekend, demanding that traditional leaders keep their hands off the Constitution’s sexual orientation protection.

Johannesburg saw the biggest event, with over 1000 people marching on Saturday from Wits University to Constitution Hill, the home of South Africa’s Constitutional Court.

Among the protesters were openly lesbian singer Melanie Lowe and actor Bruce Little. Organisations including FEW, the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project and OUT also took part.

Participants chanted, danced and held up signs and banners that read “Hands off our rights”, “Human rights include gay rights” and “Dear Contralesa: Discrimination, not homosexuality, is un-African.”

At Constitution Hill, activists made impassioned speeches calling for LGBTI rights to remain entrenched in the Constitution.

Photographer Natasha Quinn told Mambaonline that the event was an emotional one for her. “The atmosphere was electric. At one point I started to cry. It was very empowering to hear what the speakers were saying,” she said.

In Cape Town, a group of LGBTI people gathered near the SABC offices in Sea Point on Saturday before moving to Parliament and joining another group of protestors.

“It was a nice mix of people from different backgrounds in the LGBTI communities,” organiser Eugene Brockman, from SA Gay Flag, told Mambaonline. “It was a good show of solidarity.”

Among the 300 or so people taking part were representatives from groups such as Inner Circle, Passop and Cape Town Leathermen.

Well known television and radio presenter Soli Philander handed over a memorandum to MK Mansura, the Secretary of the National Assembly. The memorandum demanded the following four actions be taken before the 24th of May 2012:

• “The immediate refutation of the proposal to remove protections against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation within the Bill of Rights, Chapter 2, Section 9 within the South African Constitution as currently accepted by the Constitutional Review Committee.

• “Disciplinary review against Mr. Phathekile Holomisa and any others on the Constitutional Review Committee for their actions leading to the acceptance of the fore-mentioned proposal to the Constitutional Review Committee.

• “A public apology for violating the LGBTI and general South African citizen’s trust in the constitution.

• “An assurance to the LGBTI and broader South African community that no review, discussion of sexual orientation protections within the Bill of Rights or any proposal asking for such actions will be allowed in the future.”

According to Brockman, Mansura accepted the memorandum and said that it will be given to the Speaker of the National Assembly who will bring it before Parliament.

A protester in Cape Town
(Photo: Henry Bantjez)

On Sunday, a spirited group of LGBTI people protested outside the Durban City Hall. They held signs that proclaimed: “Protect gay rights,” “Being gay is African” and “I was born gay. Were you born hateful?”

The Eastern Cape also saw a protest on Sunday by the LGBTI community. Port Elizabeth protestors – including Lance Weyer, Mr. Gay South Africa 2011 – showed their disapproval of the proposed constitutional amendment at the City Hall and handed a petition to the mayor’s office.

Brockman said that the organisers of the national protests intend to “keep tabs on progress and if our demands are actioned.” He noted that they are also concerned about the pending Traditional Courts Bill.

“It’s good to see that people are realising that although we have rights we must be vigilant to maintain our rights. They are realising that there are others out there who would not like us to have civil liberties,” he added.

The weekend protests were in reaction to the recent proposal by the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) and the House of Traditional Leaders to remove the term “sexual orientation” from the discrimination clause in the Constitution.

Although the proposal is unlikely to be taken forward by Parliament, the LGBTI community is outraged that ANC MP Phathekile Holomisa – who is both the head of the Constitutional Review Committee and President of Contralesa – accepted the proposal and passed it on to political parties for discussion.

View our image galleries of the protests here: Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth.

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