Op-ed | SA’s LGBTQ voters distrustful of political elites

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A new report looks at why political parties should consider the needs of South Africa’s LGBTQ voters

LGBTQ South Africans are losing confidence in the ability of the country’s political leadership to provide a safe and secure environment for the vulnerable community.

This became especially clear after a spike in violent attacks targeting members of the LGBTQ community in 2021. Four people suspected of murdering queer man, Sam Junior Mbatha, appeared in the Ga-Rankuwa Magistrates Court on 2 September. Evidence gathered by the police, including statements from the accused, indicate that Mbatha was murdered and placed in the boot of his car, which was subsequently set alight. Mbatha is one of 18 LGBTIQ+ individuals murdered in South Africa since 12 February this year.

The attacks included corrective rape, stabbings, torture, and even being burnt to death. The brutality of the killings suggests that these murders were most likely hate crimes. The spike in attacks in 2021 however, will most certainly be just the tip of the iceberg.

Figures from the 2016 Out LGBT Well-being study showed that only 13% of LGBTQ victims of discrimination actually reported incidents to the police. Furthermore, of all those who reported a crime to the police, only 21% indicated that the police were “very helpful”. A further 28% said that the police were at least “somewhat helpful”, while a majority (51%) stated that the police were “not helpful” at all.

Yet, the government has made no concerted effort to come up with a strategy to deal with this sudden spike in attacks. Institutions established to deal with hate crimes committed against LGBTQ people, such as the Rapid Response Team, the National Task Team (NTT) as well as the Provincial Task Team (PTT), have proven to be inadequate. A meeting between LGBTQ civil society groups and the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Ronald Lamola, revealed that all of these institutions suffer from delays, are inadequately funded and are sparsely attended by SAPS.

As a result of these government failures, LGBTQ South Africans express high levels of distrust in political parties and leaders. This is evident from key findings from a report by the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) published this week.

The report, titled The SA Pink Vote, examines the political affiliations and orientations of the South African LGBTQ community, and attempts to understand what issues they want their political parties of choice to prioritise. The report includes a series of questions and mini-polls that were sent out to stakeholders within the community to gain a better understanding of the South African LGBTQ electorate as a whole.

A majority of respondents indicated that they did not trust or believe political parties when they promised to create a better world for LGBTQ people. One respondent to this report’s polls commented that the show of solidarity with the LGBTQ community by the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) was hypocritical. The respondent stated that  “a majority of parties, including the ruling party, have in the last 10 years done very little to speak to, address the issues of, or actively support the protection of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans and queer South Africans. Recent shows of solidarity by the ANCWL are tinged with cynicism, as they have been deafeningly quiet when our lesbian sisters were brutally attacked and murdered in the past years. Jessie-come-lately isn’t good enough!” Another respondent commented that “actions speak louder than words”.

“LGBTQ voters tend to be more politically engaged than other demographic groups…”

Four out of 10 respondents said the country had a “good” track record when it comes to protecting LGBTQ rights while another four out of ten believed that South Africa’s performance was just mediocre. Only a fraction rated the country’s track record as excellent. One respondent noted that even though South Africa has one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, LGBTQ+ people of colour still face great dangers, especially those living in informal settlements and areas with poor education.

Government has not only failed to ensure that South Africa is a safe place for queer people, but our political leaders clearly just pay lip service to the LGBTQ community during times such as Pride Month. One step in the right direction would be for the government to properly equip the Rapid Response Team, NTT and the PTT. Education has also proved to be a useful tool in changing attitudes and beliefs regarding sexual orientation and increasing tolerance and acceptance. Government should therefore invest more in educational campaigns to make the public aware about sexual orientation and gender identity, and to remove stigmas and discriminatory beliefs that often lead to violence against the LGBTQ community.

Another important issue is that political parties should not assume that all members of a party are equally aware of the human rights of LGBTQ persons. Political parties need to ensure that government services are inclusive and need to take action where the values of the Constitution are ignored by officials.

The extent of violence and discrimination that this community still experiences may point to indifference by the political elites to LGBTQ people and the issues they face. The perception may exist that the LGBTQ population is tiny, and therefore will not have a significant impact on political parties’ electoral performance.

Underestimating the power of the Pink Vote, which refers to the voting preferences of LGBTQ people, could prove costly to many of South Africa’s major political parties, however.

Research by the IRR has shown that LGBTQ voters tend to be more politically engaged than other demographic groups and that this voting bloc may be larger than expected. Pro-LGBTQ parties in South Africa should therefore do more to engage with this vulnerable group in order to create a safe and more equal environment for queer people.

Doing so will also benefit political parties handsomely at the polls. LGBTQ people are eager to show their support to anyone or any organisation that will champion their rights. It is time for political parties and elites to recognise that they have failed South Africa’s LGBTQ population and that a lot more needs to be done to stop the onslaught on queer people such as Sam Junior Mbatha.

Gerbrandt van Heerden is a senior analyst at the Centre for Risk Analysis, a research unit at the liberal think tank, the Institute of Race Relations, and is the author of the report, The SA Pink Vote.

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