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What’s next for LGBTQ rights in South Africa after the country’s elections?

African National Congress lost parliamentary majority on May 29

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Pretoria and Cape Town are the first cities in Africa to install Pride crosswalks. Activists are wondering what the outcome of South Africa's May 29 elections will mean for LGBTQ rights. (Photo courtesy of Bruce Walker/Pretoria Pride)

More than 50 independent candidates and political parties participated in South Africa’s national and provincial elections that took place on May 29. The Electoral Commission of South Africa declared the results on June 2.

No independent candidate or political party managed to secure the outright parliamentary majority of more than 50 percent of the votes, which prompts the creation of a coalition government. None of the 18 political parties that managed to win at least one seat in the National Assembly wholly represented the LGBTQ community.

Although South Africa is the only African country that constitutionally recognizes the rights of the LGBTQ community, some of the political parties that managed to secure seats in the National Assembly had signaled they would reserve these gains.

Former President Jacob Zuma, who leads the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, during a January debate said the thought of dating within the same gender was unpalatable and un-African. The MK is now the country’s third largest political party after it won 14.58 percent of the vote, making it a pivotal player in the formation of a coalition government.

Dawie Nel, the executive director of OUT LGBT Well-being, said undermining the constitution is “a dangerous, misguided, and populist strategy to avoid acknowledging the failures of governance and the lack of implementation of constitutional values that are meant to improve the lives of South Africans.”

“South Africa’s constitution is celebrated as one of the most significant achievements of our transition to democracy, ensuring that all citizens are treated with dignity and respect, and that their rights are protected in all aspects of life,” said Nell. 

There now seems to be an impasse on who becomes the government’s next leader because of some of the demands that political parties made before they entered into any negotiations.

Bruce Walker of Pretoria Pride said the best possible outcome for the preservation of LGBTQ rights in South Africa would be if the former governing political party, the African National Congress (ANC), which garnered the most support with 40.18 percent of the vote, partners with the Democratic Alliance (DA), which finished second with 21.81 percent of the votes, to form a coalition government.

“I think it will be a good outcome for the community if the DA has some power in a coalition government,” said Walker.

Rise Mzansi, which managed to secure 0.42 percent of the votes with two seats in the National Assembly, said it will continue protecting the rights of the LGBTQ community.

“Rise Mzansi reaffirms its commitment in protecting LGBTQ+ rights in South Africa, as outlined in Section 9 of our constitution,” said the party.

Zubenathi Daca, program coordinator for student employability and entrepreneurship development in Nelson Mandela University’s Department of Student Governance and Development said the fight for LGBTQ rights in South Africa will continue.

“The battle has not yet been won,” said Daca. “Queer people are still being killed and homophobic remarks are still being made towards us daily, and we need people who have found the confidence to voice out their dissatisfactions against how they are treated and also speak out for the voiceless.” 

“This society is ours just as it is everyone else’s,” added Daca. “We are in corporate spaces, leadership positions, and political spaces to show that we belong here, and that we are here to stay.” 

The constitution says National Assembly members should be sworn in within two weeks of the elections. They will then meet for the first time and elect a new speaker, deputy speaker and president.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo who will preside over the entire process, on Monday said the National Assembly will meet for the first time since the elections on Friday.

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Africa

Congolese justice minister orders prosecutor general to arrest LGBTQ allies

Constant Mutamba issued directive on June 15, implementation unclear

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Congolese Justice Minister Constant Mutamba (Photo courtesy of Mutamba's X account)

Congolese Justice Minister Constant Mutamba has instructed his country’s prosecutor general to arrest LGBTQ allies.

The newly appointed justice minister in a June 15 communique said the prosecutor general should initiate legal proceedings against people who advocate for the LGBTQ community in Congo.

Although same-sex marriages are constitutionally prohibited, there is currently no law that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations. The communique has raised a lot of eyebrows from social and LGBTQ activists who are asking on what grounds Mutamba issued the communique.

“He could have started by initiating a bill in this direction, but in the current Congolese legislation he is missing the point,” said Jean Claude Katende, a Congolese human rights activist who is the president of the African Association of Human Rights. “If he wants to repress homosexuals, he must initiate a law which must make this behavior an offense and have it punished. He will be arrested for complicity in arbitrary arrests. The constitution is clear, no one can be prosecuted for an act which does not constitute an offense.” 

Khelver Hermano, a Congolese social commentator, said the law should not be interpreted based on one person’s emotions. 

“LGBT marriage is already not applied in the DRC but the minister wants to incarcerate those who do it informally without a legal basis,” said Hermano. “The law is not interpreted according to our will.” 

“Does the penal code in the DRC recognize polygamy? Why don’t we arrest all these known polygamists?” asked Hermano. “Just as polygamists are not prosecuted, we cannot do so against LGBT people.” 

Many Congolese people, however, have welcomed the communique, arguing same-sex relations are un-African and unorthodox.

Article 172 of the country’s penal code states a person “who commits a moral crime by exciting, facilitating or promoting to satisfy the passions of others, debauchery or the corruption of persons of either sex under or apparently under the age of 21 years shall be punishable by a prison term of three months to five years or a fine.” Article 176 says a person “who engages in activities against public decency shall be punishable by a prison term of eight days to three years and/or a fine.”

Although not entirely applicable, the prosecutor general can use these two penal code articles to initiate the arrests — the country in recent years has seen some arrests of LGBTQ people.

The June 15 communique is not the first time Mutamba has come out against the LGBTQ community. 

Mutamba earlier this year introduced a bill that would criminalize acts of homosexuality. The proposal received widespread support, particularly on social media where many Congolese people described it as a turning point for the country and for the continent at large.

Although parliament has not formally debated the bill, activists are concerned it will pass without many major objections because most MPs have previously said they do not support the LGBTQ community. It remains unclear how the prosecutor general will executive Mutamba’s communique.

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Prominent South African activist elected to country’s parliament

Steve Letsike founded Access Chapter 2

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Steve Letsike (Photo courtesy of Steve Letsike)

A prominent South African LGBTQ activist has won a seat in the country’s parliament.

Steve Letsike, a lesbian woman who founded Access Chapter 2, a South African advocacy group, is a member of the African National Congress. She is also part of the ANC’s National Executive Committee that determines the party’s direction.

Letsike won a seat in the South African National Assembly in national and provincial elections that took place on May 29.

The ANC lost its parliamentary majority that it had had since Nelson Mandela in 1994 won the South African presidency in the country’s first post-apartheid elections. MPs earlier this month re-elected President Cyril Ramaphosa after the ANC invited the Democratic Alliance and other parties to form a Government of National Unity.

Letsike in a statement to the Washington Blade described her election as “a milestone for the people of South Africa, and also affirmative of our party’s posture that is inclusive and intention to transformation agenda.”

“I am not in parliament for myself but the people that trusted the ANC to send individuals that will put people first,” said Letsike. “In that cohort that includes the LGBTI people like myself. Rooted in the teaching of a just society, that seeks equality and believes in the rule of law. That demand on developmental agenda from a queer lens and clear priorities of the people is important.” 

“I am delighted by this task, trust and hope for our people,” she added.

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Namibian High Court strikes down Apartheid-era sodomy laws

Gay activist challenged statutes in 2020

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(Bigstock photo)

The Namibian High Court on Friday ruled laws that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country are unconstitutional.

Friedel Dausab, a gay activist, in 2020 challenged the Apartheid-era statute.

The Washington Blade previously reported Dausab said the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977, which listed “sodomy” as a Schedule 1 offense, and a second law that criminalized “unnatural” sexual acts, promote stigma and exclusion of LGBTQ Namibians. Equal Namibia, a Namibian LGBTQ advocacy group, on its X account praised the ruling.

“Welcome to a new Namibia. A born-free Namibia,” it said.

Dausab, who challenged the laws with the assistance of Human Dignity Trust, a British NGO, told Reuters he is “just happy.”

“It’s a great day for Namibia,” he said. “It won’t be a crime to love anymore.”

Namibia is the latest country in which consensual same-sex sexual relations have been decriminalized in recent years.

The Namibian Supreme Court in May 2023 ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere. The landmark decision sparked criticism among leading politicians and religious officials.

Activists say their rhetoric has contributed to increased harassment of LGBTQ Namibians and hate speech against them.

Amnesty International in a press release notes MPs last June passed two bills that “seek to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminate against trans people and criminalize any support, celebration or promotion of same-sex unions with up to six years in jail and hefty fines.” Khanyo Farise, the group’s deputy regional director for East and Southern Africa, said the organization in recent weeks has “observed alarming rhetoric threatening LGBTI persons in Namibia.”

“Whatever the outcome of the High Court decision on June 21, violence and discrimination against LGBTI people has no place in Namibian society,” said Farise. “Authorities should take decisive action to prevent human rights violations against LGBTI persons and hold perpetrators accountable.”

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