Deputy President David Mabuza in the NCOP (Screenshot: SABC News)
Speaking on Uganda’s persecution of LGBTIQ people, Deputy President David Mabuza says that South Africa should not interfere or seek to impose its beliefs on others.
On Thursday, Mabuza effectively suggested that LGBTIQ rights are not universal human rights but are dependent on each country’s individual values, religion and culture.
He was asked to condemn human rights violations against LGBTIQ people in Africa during a question and answer session in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
KwaZulu-Natal DA MP Tim Brauteseth submitted a written question to Mabuza challenging the “silence on the part of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation on the developments in Uganda whose parliament is considering an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that intends to impose sentences ranging from seven years in prison to death for either being gay or supporting anyone who is.”
In response, Mabuza said that “In line with our constitutional provisions, we condemn any form of human rights violations and abuses, especially when perpetrated by any state, including those directed at lesbian, gay and transgender persons, otherwise known as LGBQTIA+.”
However, he diluted this statement by insisting that South Africa must not violate international law guaranteeing states’ sovereignty in “making their own laws without interference of other states.”
Brauteseth followed Mabuza’s response by pointing out a recent Constitutional Court judgment that South Africa must always strive to ensure that its relations with its neighbours are “just, equal, peaceful, human rights orientated and contribute to the democratic order.”
Brauteseth also noted that 34 countries in Africa criminalise homosexuality and that, ironically, the majority of this legislation was imposed by colonial powers. “It’s not African, it’s European legislation,” he said.
“I am asking you here and now to take a principled stand and, with pride, condemn the actions of African legislators across Africa who are involved in human rights abuses. I ask you to do that, deputy president,” he said.
Mabuza replied that “it’s not as easy as you say it” and that while his and Brauteseth’s position is “more or less similar… we must mind what we say about other people.”
“I am sure we must be decent enough to keep our mouth shut.”
He argued that these matters should rather be discussed through platforms such as the African Union (AU) where South Africa would seek to persuade others and that “with time I am sure it is going to be on the agenda of the AU.”
But, he continued, “you can’t put yourself to be morally above others. You can’t put your belief to be the belief of the rest of the world. The way we believe in things as South Africans, we must not impose our belief to everyone.”
ANC MP China Dodovu then asked Mabuza: “Is there anything that binds us to interfere in the internal affairs of another country as some members expect us to do?”
Mabuza again reiterated the importance of respecting the sovereignty of other nations and not interfering while Uganda considers the possible implementation of the death penalty for homosexuality.
“Don’t seek to impose what you think is right… because our beliefs and our religions are not the same. If [another] country goes on and puts a law and [that] law, in terms of their constitution is acceptable, [then] that’s it.”
“So we are talking about a matter that is still on the table of the people of Uganda, that they are discussing it. I am sure we must be decent enough to keep our mouth shut,” Mabuza said to laughter and applause from ANC MPs.
EFF MP Mmabatho Mokause backed Brauteseth’s stance in the NCOP and said: “What is happening in Uganda is bad. It should not happen anywhere in the world. The silence of South Africa is questionable.”
Brauteseth, who describes himself as an LGBTIQ ally, told MambaOnline that he brought up the issue in the NCOP because “I have many friends and family who are members of the community and I will always stand for the rights of the community.”
He described the deputy president’s response as a “cop-out” and “disingenuous in the extreme”. He asked: “What if people said that about apartheid? What if all those African countries had said that ‘apartheid is your problem in SA and we won’t give you shelter?'”
He added: “We could impose sanctions; there are things we can do but the ANC won’t do it”.
Last month, Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said he planned to introduce a new version of the country’s previously annulled Anti-Homosexuality Act in parliament that would impose the death penalty. (The Ugandan government has since stated that it has no plans to support such a bill.)
This news was followed by the arrest of 16 LGBTIQ people on homosexuality charges who were then forced to undergo anal exams. Under colonial-era legislation criminalising gay sex in Uganda, the men face life in prison if found guilty.