south_african_defence_force_colonel_rejected_gay_recruitsA colonel in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) has been accused of ending the military careers of recruits because they were gay or lesbian.

Cape Town based LGBT rights group Triangle Project and the SA National Defence Union (SANDU) have revealed that they have been gathering evidence on alleged discriminatory homophobia by Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Feni, who heads up the South African Infantry Battalion in the Western Cape.

It’s been alleged that he told army volunteers that if they were gay or lesbian they should leave as they would not be allowed to progress beyond their initial training to continue with a career in the military.

Tim Flack, Western Cape organiser for SANDU, stated that he has evidence under oath that Feni “had told gay and lesbian members that he would never recommend them for service because of their sexual orientation”.

Without a commanding officer’s recommendation volunteers are unable to secure a long-term contract. At least five former female soldiers claim that they were forced out of the SANDF by Feni.

“We also have evidence by senior officers describing how gay soldiers are humiliated during selection because of their sexual orientation. And that this particular OC (Officer in Command) has gone so far as to ask a lesbian soldier if she is willing to relinquish her sexual orientation so he can give her a contract,” said Flack.

Triangle Project’s advocacy coordinator, Ingrid Lynch, told Mambaonline that the organisation had been contacted by SANDU after it received a complaint from a recruit. More complaints from other recruits followed soon after.

She confirmed that the organisations were taking the allegations against Feni further. “There is widespread homophobia in the SANDF. This is not an isolated incident at all but the investigation is focused on this particular colonel,” she said.

What was especially damning, Lynch noted, was that efforts by the recruits to use internal SANDF processes to address their complaints failed. “They were silenced, really,” she commented.

“In addition to it being unconstitutional, the SANDF have clear internal policies that explicitly state that the SANDF cannot question a member on their sexual orientation and cannot discriminate against them. So, how is it that someone gets away with it?” Lynch asked.

Flack agreed that homophobia in the SANDF is often swept under the carpet but said that the union is intent on rooting out discriminatory practices against LGBTI persons. “We are planning not only to charge the relevant OC of the unit in question criminally, but we will also submit a complaint to the South African Human Rights Commission to ensure that the message is clear that there is no place for homophobia in the SANDF.”

Lynch also called for a broader investigation on homophobia within the SANDF. “Their history is fraught with human rights abuses under apartheid, where people were subjected to unethical psychiatric procedures, in an attempt to change their sexual orientation, that were damaging to them. The SANDF have that kind of history that they need to move beyond.”

The Times reported that Defence force spokesman Brigadier-General Xolani Mabanga was not willing to comment on the allegations until he had received more information from the army. Lieutenant-Colonel Martin Feni also refused to respond.

During the 70s and 80s, the infamous Dr. Aubrey Levin, dubbed “Dr. Shock”, oversaw a controversial apartheid-era military programme that attempted to change the sexual orientation of gay soldiers in the infamous Ward 22 at the Voortrekkerhoogte military hospital in Pretoria.

Levin is alleged to have used electric shock therapy, hormone treatment, chemical castration and “sex change” surgery to “cure” homosexual conscripts.


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