The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has slammed “the homophobic and dangerous rhetoric” that’s being spread about the monkeypox outbreak “in the strongest terms”.
The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) confirmed on Wednesday that a 30-year-old man living in Gauteng is the first case of the disease identified in South Africa.
Many, however, condemned some of the NICD’s messaging linking the international outbreak to men who have sex with men (MSM). Critics said that the clumsy phrasing and lack of context provided to the public could further fuel homophobia in South Africa.
Indeed, homophobes on social media quickly took these statements as a justification to blame and shame the LGBTQI community “for spreading” the disease.
In a statement, the EFF said the announcement of South Africa’s first case had “been clouded by dangerous, hurtful and discriminatory commentary, attributing the spread of the disease to the sexual relations between men.”
The party argued that this “harmful and baseless messaging” was reminiscent of the early says of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and is “not based on any scientific or logical argument”.
It noted that monkeypox can be contracted by anyone and said that “any attempt to blame homosexual men for the spread of monkeypox is pseudo-science which is rooted in hate.”
“We must all desist from targeting vulnerable communities and creating stigma,” insisted the party. “We must desist from returning to the dark periods where diseases are attributed to the LGBTQI community, as a means of reinforcing bigotry, hatred and discrimination.”
Meanwhile, LGBTQI+ group Access Chapter 2 (AC2) joined OUT LGBT Well-being in warning that the monkeypox outbreak could lead to LGBTQI+ stigma.
AC2 specifically targeted the statements made by Professor Koleka Mlisana from the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) linking the outbreak to MSM at a press conference last week.
The organisation called her comments “malicious, misleading and unconstitutional” and said they “could potentially reverse our efforts in the protection of the human rights of the LGBTIQ.”
AC2 pointed out that “sexual intercourse is an activity that even heterosexual affirming individuals engage in. If then we are going to target groups, let us target all those who engage in sexual intercourse and not crucify the queer community…”
The group called on the NHLS to retract its statements and for the Minister of Health to speak out and “take the NHLS to task as soon as possible.”
In a social media statement on Thursday, the NICD, which is a division of the NHLS, appeared to address the controversy.
It rejected “any form of prejudice and any hateful and discriminatory comments towards any individuals/groups on our social media platforms.”
The NICD said “the information shared about monkeypox was to provide epidemiological context for the current multi-national outbreak. It was by no means to profile any members of society.”
It added: “We would like to stress that any persons, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, can acquire monkeypox if they have had close contact with someone infected with the virus.”