LGBTI students at UCT are ramping up pressure against homophobic SRC Vice-President Zizipho Pae, who has become a poster child for the anti-gay religious lobby.
The newly formed UCT Queer Revolution (UCTQR) held a press conference at the university on Tuesday to address Pae’s now infamous Facebook comment describing the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the USA as “institutionalising and normalising sin!”
The students noted that the day was particularly significant because it was the eighth anniversary of the 2007 torture, rape and murder of two lesbian women, Sizakele Sigasa (34) and Salome Masooa (23), in Soweto.
“We fear that [Pae’s] status may cause further violence towards the queer community,” said the group in a statement. The students demanded that UCT and the SRC “take immediate action to remove Ms Pae from her position of influence as a student leader.”
They noted that while she had been suspended from the SRC Vacation Committee, she is still the Vice President External for the SRC, pending an investigation.
UCTQR slammed a statement by the university’s Acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor Francis Petersen, about the matter, in which he stated: “UCT upholds the right of each individual to exercise freedom of speech and to voice their own opinions in a responsible manner.
“This right, as well as the right to freedom of religion and the human rights of LGBTQI+ people, are constitutional rights,” he said.
The group called the statement “vague” and “problematic” and criticised Petersen for not labelling Pae’s comments as “irresponsible” nor for acknowledging that freedom of speech has some limitations.
The group also announced that it had lodged formal complaints with the Human Rights Commission, the UCT Ombudsman and the university’s Discrimination and Harassment Office.
Pae, who has refused to address the student body about her statement or apologise for it, has rapidly become the darling of anti-gay religious groups who claim to be defending her right to freedom of religion and expression.
A petition calling for the university to reinstate Pae to her position in the SRC has received almost 2,500 signatures.
Members of UCT Queer Revolution protested against Pae on campus on Tuesday
Pae has also aligned herself with the notoriously homophobic Errol Naidoo, who heads up the anti-gay Family Policy Institute. Describing herself as a soldier in “the battle of the lord,” she appeared on Naidoo’s Watchman on the Wall online programme to defend her anti-gay views.
She complained of “acts of violence” against her after a number of students vandalised her SRC office by taking down her religious posters, putting up signs calling for her to resign and posing for topless pictures in the office.
“Being an SRC member does not, in my view, mean that you have to abandon your Christian convictions and your faith,” Pae told Naidoo.
“Christ in my life comes before all political positions or political thought,” she insisted, confirming that “I definitely won’t be retracting what I said.”
Matthew Clayton, Research, Advocacy and Policy Coordinator, at Cape Town LGBT rights group Triangle Project, said the organisation is concerned that Pae’s comments “are being discussed in an abstract manner around issues like freedom of expression, while the very real pain her bigoted statements caused LGBTI people at UCT and elsewhere is becoming an afterthought.”
He added: “We are also concerned that conservative religious and political groups are using the situation to drive a narrative of persecution of South African people of faith.”
Watch Pae’s appearance on Errol Naidoo’s Watchman on the Wall programme below.