Siya Khumalo: Minister Ntshavheni shows how fashionable it is to throw platitudes at the LGBTI+ community around Pride Month


When Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni was on Newzroom Afrika the other week, she argued that US intelligence is reckless.

She reminded viewers that ahead of Joburg Pride last year, the US Embassy issued a possible terrorist attack alert “not considering that the continent of Africa still has challenges of homophobia” or that “when you threaten or intimidate a Gay Pride March, you’re not only undermining the sovereignty of South Africa but you’re also threatening the protection of the LGBTI+ community.”

There’s a conversation to be had about the intersection of national sovereignty and LGBTI+ rights, and I wonder if the minister’s having that conversation with President Vladimir Putin in Russia, where she’s been attending some sort of high-level security meeting. So, do gay rights and national sovereignty only matter when the US government is seen threatening them, or are those just words?

LGBTI+ people are canaries in a mineshaft. Our well-being is one of the strongest barometers of democracy and human rights anywhere. With South Africa increasingly pulled into the tussle between BRICS and NATO countries, the ruling party is under pressure to decide whether its version of economic inclusiveness is aligned with what’s perceived to be decadent, unAfrican western colonialists and hegemonies (who are pro-LGBTI+ and, it is said, seek to ‘undermine African masculinity’), or with the Eastern forces, whose position on LGBTI+ issues mirrors that of most post-colonial African countries. The version of masculinity represented by the latter group is seen as a counter to the West’s attempts to ‘feminise’ and colonise Africa.

LGBTI+ people should be explicitly included in B-BBEE legislation.

Democratic centralism is the decision-making practice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the Chinese Communist Party. Its intention is to ensure party ‘unity’ but its effect here is that different factions of the governing party take turns at the looting trough.

This means it is very, very important for the governing party to develop policy that funnels money from the public purse through to private businesses back to its own coffers through procurement transactions. The cadres who are positioned to benefit from those transactions reflect and enhance the personality not of the decadent, unAfrican Western colonialists and hegemonies (who are pro-LGBTI+ and, it is said, seek to ‘undermine African masculinity’), but of the nations to which all this looting will ultimately hand the country to. The state becomes a means to an end, not an environment where inclusive economic practices ensure the sustainability of democracy.

This is why LGBTI+ people should be explicitly included in B-BBEE legislation, which would reward those private sector companies that practise inclusivity. It would also bring much-needed resources to underfunded organisations; it would incentivise queer visibility. It would correct the trend that’s developed over the years where, as B-BBEE legislation was developed and abused, the emphasis of the affirmative action language around it shifted from diversity, inclusivity and Constitutionality to ‘radical economic transformation’ (code for straight black male ownership of companies and access to contracts).

This shift in emphasis has changed the look and feel of gender-based violence in the country. There was a time when we called it domestic violence. It happened in private homes; its perpetrators were, for example, migrant labourers who were in denial about their HIV status (see Anant Singh’s Yesterday). Today, we call it gender-based violence because it happens in luxury resorts between blessers/tenderpreneurs and slay queens. Why? Because the benefits of transformation will only reach black women through straight black male gatekeepers. And when the chickens come home to roost — through the value extraction of rent-seeking seen in collapsed infrastructure and high unemployment, among other things — it’s the LGBTI+ community and foreign nationals that’ll be used as scapegoats. This is what we do in Africa, Asia (sometimes) and Brazil (sometimes), isn’t it?

We’re fighting for more than just token mentions at State of the Nation Addresses.

The LGBTI+ activist sector should consider lobbying on economic redress and representation through, for example, two bonus points on the B-BBEE scorecard, empowering LGBTI+ organisations, businesses, entrepreneurs and individuals to attract corporate funding for the fight to maintain our rights, advance democracy and strengthen the rule of law. The Constitution that gave us the right to exist is at stake. We’re in a fight for democracy. We can wait until it’s all gone, quick as Roe v.s. Wade in the US, or we can right-size our fight for economic inclusion in global geopolitics — the stuff of nuclear and biological warfare, as well as rogue AI — and understand that we’re fighting for more than just token mentions at State of the Nation Addresses.

We may not follow the two bonus points approach, but whatever we choose to do we must get the oxygen and resources it’ll take to fight for private (as opposed to state) ownership of property as well as self-determination over our bodies. Lose the private property battle, and it’s very difficult to argue for your rights over the most private property you have: your body. The other extreme must also be guarded against: fail to regulate privatisation by building in specificity in redress and inclusive policy instruments (the specificity that names LGBTI+ people, and disabled people, and so on and so forth) and you’ll have a private sector so powerful and unaccountable that it, too, will buy out your political leaders.

This Pride and IDAHOBIT, the #LGBTI+ community should ask for more than token gestures of solidarity; we should lobby for legislation to incentivise funding our role in strengthening human rights, democracy and the rule of law — all preconditions for sustainable investment.


Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex and is the author of You Have To Be Gay To Know God. He is a Mr Gay South Africa runner-up, a Mr Gay World Top 10 finalist as well as a 2022 Mandela-Washington Fellow. Follow him at @SiyaTheWriter.

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