Naledi Pandor

Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor

The South African government has confirmed that it won’t condemn Uganda’s anti-gay law and sees no problem with having homophobe Jon Qwelane as its representative in Kampala.

Speaking to journalists yesterday, Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor said: “Countries pass many bills and we don’t really comment on them, so I don’t know why you need a special comment by the government on this.”

She added, however, that “the position of South Africa on sexual orientation and the rights to equality are very clear, both in the bill of rights and the legislation that has been passed in this country. Our position is very clear and it’s not changed by any policy adopted by any country.”

Her comments are in line with a Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) statement yesterday, saying that it noted “recent developments regarding the situation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersex persons (LGBTI) worldwide” but failing to actually mention Uganda or condemn the draconian law.

The stance is in stark contrast to countries such as the US, UK and others in Europe that have openly slammed the law and are reviewing financial aid or diplomatic relations with Uganda.

To add insult to injury, DIRCO Spokesperson Clayson Monyela told Eyewitness News that the personal unconstitutional and bigoted views of South Africa’s High Commissioner to Uganda, Jon Qwelane, were of no concern.

President Jacob Zuma appointed Qwelane to the position despite the disgraced former journalist being found guilty of hate speech in 2011 for a 2008 homophobic article. The ruling was overturned on a technically but Qwelane is again being prosecuted over the matter. He has refused to apologise and stands by his views that gays and lesbians should not have constitutional protection or be allowed to marry (equivalent to bestiality, he suggested).

“This is a country position and we’ve got many diplomats,” Monyela said. “Obviously in Uganda our ambassador is Jon Qwelane, but he works with a team. So when we do this sort of work, it’s not necessarily limited to one individual.”

South Africa’s efforts at “quiet diplomacy” are just not good enough, said six national LGBTI NGOs who today condemned the passing of the Ugandan law. They insisted that South Africa is obligated to speak out.

The groups – OUT, Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action, Forum for the Empowerment of Women, Durban Lesbian and Gay Community and Health Centre, Pietermaritzburg Gay and Lesbian Network and Triangle Project – demanded that the government:

• “as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), engage in “constructive dialogue and consultation for the enhancement of understanding and the promotion of all human rights” (HRC Resolution 119/33). This includes the rights of LGBTI persons and the South African government should urgently convene regional forums on addressing discrimination against LGBTI people

• “enter into bi-national dialogue with the Ugandan government on the need for legal protection and social programmes to address discrimination against LGBTI people. The government must be public about its efforts to conduct such dialogues

• “call on the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to condemn the adoption of the Bill, as it violates numerous rights under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, including the right to association and freedom of expression.”

“Based on the South African Constitution, the South African government needs to speak out and take a leadership role in addressing homophobia on the continent,” said Dawie Nel, Director of OUT. “It has national and international obligations to do so. We can’t allow governments, possibly for their own cheap political gains, to endanger the human rights of LGBTI people or anyone else for that matter.”

Nel said that the groups would make contact with the South African government “to ensure that needed actions are undertaken.”

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