Deputy Minister of Justice Andries Nel

The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Andries Nel, has called on the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to investigate the Bloemfontein arts training centre that bans gay students from attending and claims to be able to “cure” them.

In a letter to the SAHRC, Nel asked that it investigate whether the Christian-based Creare Training Centre is acting in violation of Section 9 of the Constitution and the provisions of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, by unfairly discriminating against people on the basis of their sexual orientation.

The centre’s 2013 prospectus states that gay students who refuse to “change” will not be allowed to continue to study. It goes on to say that the centre will “offer ministry to help people that want to change their sexual orientation.”

Contradicting the prospectus, the centre’s founder, Pastor Cornelis van Heyningen, has denied that the academy bars gay students from enrolling, although he told the Sunday Times that “if you want to change, then this place is for you where you can change. It’s like rehabilitation for drugs”.

In a statement issued on Friday, the Department of Justice rejected the centre’s claim that it can convert gay people into heterosexuals.

“The notion that a person’s sexual orientation can be changed at will, or by compulsion, feeds the very same homophobic attitudes that encourage the criminal and abhorrent practice of so-called, ‘corrective rape’”, said the department’s spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga.

It is believed that this is the first-ever such statement on the issue of so-called reparative therapy by the government.

Mhaga went on to say: “We trust the SA Human Rights Commission will be able to use its extensive powers to investigate this matter and to take the necessary and appropriate action” against the Creare Training Centre.

The Department of Justice also revealed that it is finalising a National Action Plan to Combat Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance as well as a Policy Framework on Hate Crimes “that will lay the basis for legislation criminalising hate speech and related crimes”.

Despite being criticised for not taking sufficient action against corrective rape and other LGBT-targeted hate crime attacks, the department has been one of the more vocal government entities in condemning homophobia.

In his budget speech in May last year, the Minister of Justice, Jeff Radebe, promised to take “strong measures to deal with (violence against) LGBTI persons with a view to eliminating sexual offences perpetrated on the basis of sexual orientation” which, he said, “must be rooted out from the social fibre of our communities”.

He also urged South Africans to mark the International Day Against Homophobia “to embrace the tolerance that would enable the diverse society that our Constitution dictates”.

In October, Deputy Minister Nel appeared at Joburg Pride and spoke on stage in support of the LGBT community.

However, the formation in September 2011 of a task team by the department to deal with discrimination and violence against LGBTI people has been described as little more than a public relations exercise. It has thus far spectacularly failed to deliver any results almost a year and half later.

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