There is hope for a more LGBTI-positive approach from traditional leaders in South Africa.
On Wednesday, Sam Kandlhela, a representative from the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL) spoke on gay and lesbian issues at a meeting of the National Task Team on Violence Against LGBTI Persons in Pretoria.
The event saw civil society groups and government gather for a two day workshop to renew their efforts against LGBTI hate crimes.
According to Ingrid Lynch from Triangle Project, Kandlhela delivered a presentation “on forging a partnership with the National Task Team”.
Lynch told Mambaonline: “Mr Kandlhela candidly stated that the NHTL supports LGBTI rights. He also stated that while not all traditional leaders are fully on board yet, his impression is that they are starting to acknowledge and accept LGBTI persons as part of their communities.”
She revealed that it was proposed at the meeting that the House join the Task Team.
“That’s really important because I think we are all very aware that culture and religion for that matter are often used to motivate harmful view of LGBTI people – and that it’s not African,” said Lynch.
“We need for leaders like Mr Kandlhela to make these statements loudly and repeatedly so that the incorrect construction of same-sex sexuality as inconsistent with cultural values can be smashed.”
Traditional leaders have been among the most vocal critics of homosexuality and the acceptance of same-sex relationships in South Africa.
In 2006, the Congress of Traditional Leaders (Contralesa) opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriage, claiming that “same-sex marriage is against nature, culture (all types of culture), religion and common sense, let alone decency”.
Last year, Contralesa called for the removal of sexual orientation protection from the Constitution.
The Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini, has also been accused of making anti-gay statements, including proclaiming that homosexuality is “un-Zulu”.
In his closing remarks at the Pretoria workshop on Thursday, Deputy Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Andries Nel, explained that while the NHTL is a government body Contralesa is not.
“Nevertheless, government will continue engaging Contralesa, particularly on issues of commonality and differences,” he commented.
“In as much as there have been unfortunate statements made by some traditional leaders in the past about LGBTI communities, government is working closely with traditional leaders, particularly through the National House and Provincial Houses to ensure non-discrimination of people based on sexual orientation,” Nel said.
He also revealed that there is ongoing training of traditional leaders on LGBTI sensitisation in several provinces. “Further training programmes have been planned for the current financial year. It is also envisaged that all members of the National House of Traditional Leaders will be engaged on LGBTI issues,” he said.