Gay Mozambique News & Reports

 Also see:
Behind the Mask
LGBT African website
Gay Mapuro (personal ads)
LGBT Mozambique Organization: LAMBDA

Book: Hungochani: The History Of A Dissident Sexuality In Southern Africa By Marc Epprecht
Novel by Guilherme de Melo ‘A Sombra dos Dias’  (‘In Shadow Two Days’; homosexuality in colonial Mozambique)

1 A First in Mozambique 7/06

2 First National Seminar On Gay Rights 10/06

3 Movement for Gay Rights to Be Announced Soon in Mozambique 10/06

4 Mozambique discovers its gay minority 11/06

5 Archbishop claims condoms are infected with HIV 9/07

6 African lesbian conference demands equal rights 2/08

7 Two Lesbian Rwandan Human Rights Activists Released on Bail 3/08

8 Africa: Prevention efforts and infection patterns mismatched 5/09

9 Mozambicans seek constitutional amendment to enshrine gay rights 3/11

10 Mozambique LGBT group still unregistered 3/11

11 Refugee deaths highlight risks to LGBTs trying for South African sanctuary 6/11

12 Open Society Hosts Meeting Of LGBT Activists From So. Africa 8/11

07 July 2006 –

A First in Mozambique

There is promising news from the nation of Mozambique in Southern Africa. For the first time ever, a prominent newpaper has published an article that argues for gay rights. Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique reports some gay men in the capitol city of Maputo will petition parliament to approve same-sex marriage.

Last Thursday, Emilio Manhique, the well-known Rádio Moçambique journalist, took up the issue on his popular talk show "Diario de Mozambique." Apparently, many of the listeners were shocked that subject was even broached. "For them, homosexuality was so taboo," the report says. "That it should not even be discussed in Mozambican society."

Manhique has resumed the topic in his weekly newspaper column, strongly arguing that real issue is not gay marriage but "are we or are we not capable of accepting that homosexuals have a right to be different." The journalist says that "nobody asked to be born homosexual" and compared the struggle for gay rights to Mozambique’s horrific colonial rule under the Portuguese: "Less than 40 years ago in this country we were humiliated and despised because of the colour of our skins", recalls Manhique. "We were considered second class citizens."

Timely that these words are being spoken a half a world away in Mozambique, after this week’s marriage equality setbacks in Albany and Georgia.

Gay Rights Raised in Mozambican Paper (All Africa)

12 October 2006 – Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique (Maputo)

First National Seminar On Gay Rights

Maputo – The chairperson of the Mozambican Human Rights League (LDH), Alice Mabota, on Thursday urged the country’s gay and lesbian citizen to organise and fight for their rights. She was speaking at the first ever seminar on gay rights in the country, organised by the LDH, with the sponsorship of the Dutch NGO Hivos. "Citizens win their rights, they’re not a gift from the state", said Mabota. "If gays and lesbians struggle for their rights, the LDH will support them". She added that the LDH is not campaigning on such specific issues as the legalisation of gay marriage: it would be gay people themselves who should raise such a demand, if they wanted to marry.

Gay activist Danilo de Sousa noted that few Mozambican gays are open about their sexuality – but that the number is growing. "Many lead a semi-open (or semi-closed) life, while the majority keep their sexual orientation completely clandestine, or even deny it", he said. "One often finds homosexuals married to members of the opposite sex, merely to please their family and society", he added. "But they’re unhappy and often lead a double life". Sousa was optimistic – for there are signs that young Mozambicans are more tolerant towards gays than the older generations, "and younger homosexuals are now posing openly the possibility of living their sexual orientation regardless of the wishes of their families".

"Amongst those who come into regular contacts with homosexuals, at home, or at work, or socially, there is a great level of acceptance, which shows that mutual knowledge is the main factor for overcoming intolerance, stigmatisation and discrimination", he said. Mozambique, Sousa declared, has gay people "in all parts of the country, of all social strata, of all religions, of all ethnic groups, of all academic levels, and of both sexes".

Homosexuality was not something exclusive to any particular part of the world, said Sousa. He found it ironic that stigmatisation of gays had been introduced into Africa "by a culture that did come from outside the continent – Christianity. Those who argue today that homosexuality is anti-African do so on the basis of a culture that was forced on Africans by colonialism and by force of arms". In the Mozambican case, it was the Portuguese "who came to teach us that homosexuality was a sin and an abomination".

Yet to date, gay rights have not been on the agenda of any Mozambican political party – or indeed, prior to this seminar, on the agenda of human rights groups. "The homosexual community itself must bear part of the blame for this situation", said Silva. Rather than risk provoking "a conservative backlash", many gays preferred to go on living "in an undefined, clandestine situation". In some quarters, Silva added, gay rights were dismissed as irrelevant, because Mozambican society had more pressing issues to deal with, such as the fight against hunger. "Strangely such questions are not raised when it comes to the rights of other minorities, such as the disabled, HIV-positive people, or religious groups, who are given huge attention on the various national political agendas", he said.

Today, stressed Silva, the development of democracy is increasingly measured "by the extension of freedoms and legal protection for all minorities. The progress in gay rights in various countries does not reflect cultural factors – it reflects democratic advances. Only thus can one explain the cultural diversity of the countries that are in the vanguard of gay rights". Silva suggested that Mozambican gays should concentrate on removing any clause from the country’s laws that might be used to criminalise gays, and to introduce measures that ban discrimination on the base of sexual orientation, just as discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion or ethnic group is already outlawed. He did not call for gay marriage, but suggested "gradual recognition of the rights of gay partners living in de facto unions".

"Mozambique is a nation of many colours, a people of many rhythms, a country of many riches", Silva concluded. "We are part of this diversity and these riches. As citizens we ask only that you respect our rights, and give us the freedom that feeds the joy we feel in our hearts when we declare that we are, above all, Mozambican citizens".

It is sometimes claimed that homosexuality is banned under Mozambican law. Custodio Duma pointed out that this is inaccurate. Homosexuality, as such, is not mentioned in the country’s penal code, although the vague phrase "practices against nature" does appear. Article in the code which some have interpreted as criminalising gays are in fact aimed at "vadios", a Portuguese word best translated as "vagrants". Duma also cited a recent survey on attitudes towards gays, in which 700 people, aged between 18 and 56, were interviewed in four Mozambican cities (Maputo, Beira, Nampula and Quelimane).

Only 16 per cent of this sample considered homosexuality a disease. Virtually everybody (96 per cent) said they knew gay people, and no less than 80 per cent said they had gay friends. A leader of the Brazilian gay movement, Luiz Mott, Professor of Anthropology at the Federal University of Bahia, argued that, while many African countries regard homosexuality as a crime and three (Nigeria, Mauritania and Sudan) even execute gays, the history of homosexuality on the continent long predates colonialism. Works of art displaying gay sexual practices, ranging from San rock paintings in the Kalahari, to Ashanti metal sculptures from Ghana, show that there were pre-colonial African societies that accepted homosexuality.

Mott attacked the intolerance of religious leaders, particularly the declaration by the head of the Roman Catholic Church Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered".

"This Pope is going to hell", Mott predicted.

October 13, 2006 –
Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique

Movement for Gay Rights to Be Announced Soon in Mozambique

Maputo – At the end, on Friday night, of the first ever Mozambican seminar on gay rights, organised by the Human Rights League (LDH), gay activist Danilo de Sousa told AIM that the movement will probably be launched within the next couple of weeks. But as yet it has no name.

There is a dispute between those who want to affirm their gay identity (which would lead to a name such as "Mozambican Gay and Lesbian Movement"), and those who prefer to advance more cautiously, with a name such as "Organisation against Sexual Discrimination".

Recommendations coming out of the two day seminar include a call to include information on sexuality in the school syllabus, and to have books on the subject available in bookshops and libraries (though, from some quarters, there were calls that the images in such books should not be too "shocking").

The seminar also criticised "censorship" of gay issues in the media – although it was generally recognised that television coverage of the first day of the seminar had been positive. However, an attempt to debate gay rights on a phone-in programme on Radio Mozambique, while accepted by the programme presenter was overruled higher up the editorial chain of command.

The seminar participants called for dialogue on gay rights issues with media editors and with the journalists’ union (SNJ). They suggested that a clause against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation should be included in the press law or in a future code of ethics for journalists. (However, the most logical place to put such a clause is in the Constitution, alongside bans against discrimination on grounds of race, sex, ethnic group or religion.)

Closing the meeting, the chairperson of the LDH, Alice Mabota, admitted that it had been difficult for her to take up the issue. As late as 2004 she had been refusing to involve the league in the demand for gay rights. Now, however, she was committed. "The role of the League is to promote human rights, and the so the doors of the LDH are open to promote your rights when they are denied", she said.

She urged Mozambican gays to advance in forming their association. Like any othe civil society association, if a group of gays and lesbians wants to have legal recognition, it must register with the Ministry of Justice. Mabota promised to assist in registration. "If the Ministry of Justice says it’s unconstitutional, then we’ll ask them to show us where such associations are banned in the constitution", she said. The standard attack on gay rights is the claim that homosexuality is "against African culture". Mabota noted that the League had been obliged to deal with supposed "cultural" issues before.

"When we raised the question of domestic violence, we were told to drop the issue because it was part of African culture", she recalled. "We were told that men display their love for their wives by beating them". The defenders of battered women paid no attention to such arguments, "and now everybody rejects domestic violence", Mabota said. "So in some years we will overcome discrimination against homosexuals too"

02 November 2006 –

Mozambique Discovers Its Gay Citizens

The mere fact that gay people exist in Mozambique has turned out to be a surprise for the country’s people and politicans. In contrast to other African nations, the country is proving to be pro-gay. Gay and lesbian organisations seeking equal rights are being established, and politicians do not rule out future legal pro-gay reforms. Like most capital cities, Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, is the place where the largest number of gay people live. This, according to the homosexual group’s leaders, is because here, people are generally most open towards the issue.

This month, as a first step, the group is to publish an "informative and educational" journal to enlighten Mozambicans. Danilo da Silva, one of the members of the emerging organisation, told the Mozambican independent weekly ‘Savana’ that the group still is in a phase of organising members, which includes sympathisers, parents and friends. "Our intention is not to fight for the legalisation of same-sex marriages, but for recognition of our rights by the Mozambican society," he said.

In Mr Silva’s view, it is a fact that homosexuals exist in different layers of Mozambican society, although society at large disapproves of homosexual behaviour. This, he believes, is due to conflicts with religious beliefs, masculinity values, reproduction and continuity of family, among others factors.

But Mr Silva also holds that Mozambican society is not rejecting so much the sexual orientation of a person as such, but rather the expression of this sexuality, such as sexual act or affection and the establishment of homosexual relationships. Due to pressure from society, he says, most gays live a semi-open or semi-closeted life, keeping their sexual orientation secret. "We have a different sexual orientation – not due to choice, but due to nature," he explains. "Some of us choose to reveal this sexual orientation by leading a life that differs nothing from other members of society, meaning to love, living one’s love out freely, be happy and, in many cases, establish a stable, loving and healthy family."

Therefore, he says, "we only ask them to respect our rights and to give us freedom to feed on the joy our souls long for." A recent and still unpublished study on homosexuality conducted in several provinces by the Mozambican Human Rights League (LDH) is documenting to what degree citizens have knowledge of homosexuals in Mozambique. LDH interviewed around 800 persons in Maputo, Beira, Quelimane and Nampula, most of them from higher social classes. The study revealed that the expected taboo of homosexuality in Mozambique has vanished. Among the questioned – in the age group between 18 and 56 – 80 percent confirmed having at least one homosexual friend. Even 96 percent said they personally knew at least one homosexual person, the LDH survey revealed.

Yet, discrimination is widespread. A 25 year-old member of the new group, recently graduated in law and wanting to stay anonymous, told ‘Savana’ he had experienced discrimination based on his sexual orientation. He holds that Mozambican society still does not act peacefully towards homosexuality, leading to discrimination in the family, at school and at work. Nevertheless, the source says he is happy and grateful for the support he had been given by his parents, friends and colleagues, which, he however says, had not been easy to achieve. "I was even taken to a psychologist, which did not have any meaning as I cannot escape realities.

But this helped make my parents accept me for who I am." Another youngster of 28 years, father of a daughter, also wanted to speak anonymously about discrimination. He had been married to a woman, following social pressure. Sustaining one year, he found he was not fit to live with a women, sought a divorce and found himself a new partner that fitted into his reality. Now, forces are uniting to fight this discrimination.

The Mozambican Human Rights League (LDH) recently arranged an open debate on homosexuality in Maputo, with the principal aim of creating a national dialogue around the sexual minority and about the civil rights of homosexual citizens. According to LDH law expert Custódio Duma, homosexuality is not mentioned in Mozambican law books – which only penalise "practices against nature". To prove this, LDH was planning to present three test cases before the courts, where gays had lost their employment due to their sexual orientation. Mr Duma points out that LDH is not into promoting homosexuality, but to "defend the rights of homosexuals."

Even Mozambican politicians avoid the "un-African" brand mark of homosexuality expressed by colleagues in Zimbabwe and Uganda. Contacted by ‘Savana’, MP Francisco Muchanga of the ruling Frelimo party would not rule out softened legislation. But before any outspoken legalisation of homosexuality, more profound studies of the matter should be carried out, he said. "Mozambican society is composed by different layers – farmers, religious congregations, the urban young – and for that reason it is necessary that the dialogue over the issue goes on, as long as homosexuality still is not identified as part of Mozambican traditions and culture," said Mr Muchanga.

Compared to most Southern and East African nations, homosexuality is still treated light-handedly in Mozambique
. In Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya, homosexuality is illegalised and authorities have gone after gay communities. Namibian authorities have threatened the same, although homosexuality is not mentioned in the penal code. Only South Africa – with its cultural influence over Mozambique – is different. Here gays have constitutional rights and can marry and adopt children.

28th September 2007 – PinkNews

Archbishop claims condoms are infected with HIV

by Joe Roberts
The head of the Roman Catholic Church in Mozambique has claimed that some European-made condoms and anti-retroviral drugs are deliberately infected with HIV. The Archbishop of Maputo, Francisco Chimoio, made his remarks at celebrations to mark 33 years of Mozambique’s independence. Talking to a BBC reporter, the Archbishop Chimoio said: "Condoms are not sure because I know that there are two countries in Europe, they are making condoms with the virus on purpose."

Refusing to name the countries, he added: "They want to finish with the African people. This is the programme. They want to colonise until up to now. If we are not careful we will finish in one century’s time." Instead, he suggested traditional Catholic values of marriage, fidelity and sexual abstinence would halt the spread of the disease.

An estimated 19.2 percent of Mozambique’s 19 million inhabitants are HIV positive and around 500 people are infected every day. AIDS campaigners called the Archbishops comments ‘nonsense’ and defended the use of contraception. "We’ve been using condoms for years now, and we still find them safe," well-known activist Marcella Mahanjane told the BBC.

"People must use condoms as it’s a safe way of having sex without catching AIDS," added Gabe Judas, who runs Tchivirika (Hard Work), a theatre group that promotes HIV/Aids awareness. The Catholic Church is well-respected in Mozambique for its prominent role in sponsoring the 1992 peace treaty which ended 16 years of civil war. 17.5 percent of Mozambicans are Roman Catholic.

27th February 2008 – PinkNews

African lesbian conference demands equal rights

by staff writer
Lesbians from across Africa have held a conference in Mozambique to highlight the homophobia and prejudice they face across the continent. Most nations in Africa criminalise same-sex relationships and in some countries gay people can be put to death. The Coalition of African Lesbians conference was attended by more than 100 delegates.

Women from 14 African countries gathered in Namibia’s capital Windhoek in August 2004 to develop the Coalition of African Lesbians. Lesbian organisations and a number of individual women from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria, Liberia, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia are members of the organisation. "Our main goal is that lesbian and homosexuality can no longer be seen as a criminal offence," the group’s director and conference spokeswoman Fikile Vilakazi told Reuters. "You should not be arrested and charged for how you use your own body."

The coalition lobbies for political, legal social, sexual, cultural and economic rights of African lesbians by engaging strategically with African and international structures and allies and to eradicate stigma and discrimination against lesbians. South Africa, one of the few countries on the continent where gay men and lesbians are allowed to marry and legally protected from discrimination, has been rocked by several murders of prominent lesbian activists.

Sizakele Sigasa, 34, an activist for HIV/AIDS and LGBT rights, and Salome Masooa, 24, were discovered dead at field in Soweto, Johannesburg, on July 8th. They had both been shot and, it is suspected, raped. On 22nd July Thokozane Qwabe, 23, was found in a field in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal with multiple head wounds. She was naked and it is thought she was also raped.

March 12, 2008 – Behind the Mask

Two Lesbian Rwandan Human Rights Activists Released on Bail–
on their way to Mozambique to attend conference

by Abeli Zahabu (BTM French Reporter)
Two Rwandan human rights activists were released on bail early this week and are subjected to report to a Kigali prosecutor every Thursday following their arrest two weeks ago. The two women are in addition confined within Kigali’s boundaries as one of the conditions of their bail. Nyirahabimana Salma and Umutoni Fatoumata were arrested at Kanombe International Airport in Kigali on their way to Maputo in Mozambique to attend a 3rd Leadership Institute conference organised by Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) two weeks ago.

According to immigration officers at the Kigali airport, the human rights activists were arrested because of forged documents and were not in possession of valid visas to get into Mozambique. However, according to LAMBDA, an organisation operating which co-hosted the conference, the human rights activists were in possession of invitation letters that could have allowed them to obtain visas at the entry point in Maputo. The release came after the prosecutor in Kigali admitted that he didn’t have sufficient evidence and needed more time to prepare the evidence.

Few days ago, original documents were submitted by the Mozambican immigration services to assert that Fotoumata and Salma were not in possession of forged documents, and they were supposed to obtain their visas at the entry point in Maputo. “ The original invitation letters that were sent from Maputo helped a lot to speed up the case, and we are really grateful for the support we got from LAMBDA, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, as well as from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex community”, said a joyful Ruzindana, Project Coordinator at Horizon Community Association (HOCA).

The release of the two activists was met with joy and a sense of relief at HOCA though “the girls are still very terrified”, Ruzindana added. Asked if the organisation is planning any action, Ruzindana said they are waiting for instructions from the lawyer about way forward.

27 May 2009 – Plus News

AFRICA: Prevention efforts and infection patterns mismatched

Johannesburg (PlusNews) – In at least five African countries, scarce resources are being spent on national HIV prevention campaigns that do not reach the people most at risk of infection, new research has found. Between 2007 and 2008, UNAIDS and the World Bank partnered with the national AIDS authorities of Kenya, Lesotho, Swaziland, Uganda and Mozambique to find out how and where most HIV infections were occurring in each country, and whether existing prevention efforts and expenditure matched these findings. The recently released reports reveal that few prevention programmes are based on existing evidence of what drives HIV/AIDS epidemics in the five countries surveyed.

In Lesotho, where nearly one in four are living with HIV, an analysis of national prevalence and behavioural data found that most new infections were occurring because people had more than one partner at a time, both before and during marriage. But Lesotho has no prevention strategies to address the problem of concurrent partnerships, or target couples who are married or in long-term relationships.

An evaluation of Mozambique’s prevention response found that an estimated 19 percent of new HIV infections resulted from sex work, 3 percent from injecting drug use, and 5 percent from men who have sex with men (MSM), yet there are very few programmes targeting sex workers, and none aimed at drug users and MSM. The research also found that spending on HIV prevention was often simply too low: Lesotho spent just 13 percent of its national AIDS budget on prevention, whereas Uganda spent 34 percent, despite having an HIV infection rate of only 5.4 percent.

Debrework Zewdie, director of the World Bank’s Global HIV/AIDS Unit, noted that the current global economic downturn made it more important than ever to get the most impact out of investments in HIV prevention. "These syntheses use the growing amounts of data and information available to better understand each country’s epidemic and response, and identify how prevention might be more effective." The reports made recommendations on how the countries could move towards more evidence-based prevention strategies to make more efficient use of limited resources.

Lesotho was advised to revise the content of its prevention messages to address multiple concurrent partnerships and integrate partner reduction into all future policies. One of the recommendations to Mozambique was that condom promotion programmes be focused on high-risk groups such as sex workers. The five-country project also aimed to build capacity to enable these nations to undertake similar studies in future, as part of their ongoing efforts to evaluate and plan HIV responses.

2 March 2011 – PinkNews

Mozambicans seek constitutional amendment to enshrine gay rights

by Stephen Gray
An LGBT association in Mozambique has welcomed clarification of the law by the country’s justice minister at the UN, but has expressed concern that the constitution and penal code are still ambiguous on gay rights.
The Republic of Mozambique has strong equality credentials compared with some African neighbours, but campaigners are pursuing absolute clarification of its stance on homosexuality.

LAMBDA, an organisation which is not currently recognised by the state, welcomed a statement by Benvinda Levi at the UN in which she said that homosexuality was not illegal in Mozambique. But they expressed concern over Article 71 of the Penal Code, which orders “security measures” against those who habitually commit “vices against nature”.

“Security measures”, defined in the Code, include hard labour, internment in an asylum, and debarment from professional activities. The term “vices against nature”, which was a 1954 inclusion, is not defined, and the campaign group is concerned that without explicit protection of homosexuality, a court could rely on this clause. While the Mozambican Constitution enshrines “the principle of universality and equality”, it does not specifically mention sexual orientation. It states that all “enjoy the same rights and are subject to the same duties, regardless of colour, race, sex, ethnic origin, place of birth, religion, level of education, social position, marital status of their parents, profession or political option”.

LAMBDA is campaigning for the words “sexual orientation” to be added to the list to prevent discrimination in future. It is currently illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the workplace in Mozambique, but not in other areas of life. The republic has made many advances in the issue of gay rights aided by its media, with the state-owned news agency covering campaigns against discrimination last year. Government representatives subsequently promised to look at the situation. A piece in the independent newspaper Savanna also discussed the issues facing a group of gay men last year without condemnation.

Mozambique shares a border with South Africa, which legalised gay marriage in 2006.

March 10, 2011 – Pride Source

Mozambique LGBT group still unregistered

by Rex Wockner
Mozambique’s only LGBT group, Lambda, said March 1 that it has been waiting three years for the government to complete its official registration. The group, also known as the Mozambican Association for the Defense of Sexual Minorities, submitted its documents to the registry office in January 2008. The registrar responded that the group’s existence "offends current morality," and forwarded the forms to the Justice Ministry for review.

In early 2009, Justice Minister Benvinda Levi suggested a rewrite of one article of the group’s statutes, which the group agreed to. In early 2010, Lambda met with the deputy justice minister. He said there was no legal impediment to registration and suggested the group submit a recounting of facts and law to the ministry, which it did. Nothing has happened since then, which Lambda says amounts to a violation of its constitutional right to freedom of association.

16 May 2011 – LGBT Asylum News

In Mozambique, refugee deaths highlight risks to those including LGBT trying for South African sanctuary

by Paul Canning
The deaths by suffocation in a closed container truck in February of eight Ethiopians travelling through Mozambique has highlighted the little-publicized dangers that asylum-seekers trying to reach South Africa face. Also in February 50 Somali migrants and a Tanzanian captain died after a ship sank off the coast of northern Mozambique.
South Africa hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees, including, it is believed, thousands of LGBT Africans fleeing repressive societies and regimes. South Africa grants refugee status on the basis of sexual orientation. 1.5 – 3 million Zimbabweans now live in South Africa. It has the most asylum seekers in the world, 222,000 applications in 2009, with a backlog of 400,000.

The South African refugee support group People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP) announced a new programme 6 May "in light of the increasing number of ‘sexual refugees’." It will provide support and advocacy in partnership with LGBTI rights organisations. "The asylum application process is fraught with problems and many LGBTI people are turned away unjustly," PASSOP say. "Moreover, those who are granted status still often face discrimination and harassment in their new communities in South Africa. When xenophobia is compounded with homophobia, it leaves many gay and transgender people in conditions not unlike those in the countries they fled in the first place."

In May 2008 a series of xenophobic riots left 41 African refugees dead and 21 South African citizens. More attacks followed a year later. There were allegations that the pogroms were promoted by local politicians, though both the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) have spoken out against xenophobia. *Sipho Mvelase a gay man who is a South African citizen told SABC last year that the riots cost him his two year relationship since his ex partner, originally from Zimbabwe, left him fearing for his life. He told me that he does not trust any South African and that he feels really unsafe around me. He was even reluctant to be seen with me in public since I am noticeably gay, fearing that he will suffer attacks both for being a foreigner and for being a homosexual. Having seen the images in the media of foreign people being burnt to death, he left me for good.”

The eight asylum-seekers who died in the closed container truck were among a group of 26 young Ethiopian men who were trying to reach South Africa from the Maratane refugee camp in northern Mozambique. The truck driver reportedly only realized that the eight had suffocated when he made a stop at Mocuba, seven hours after leaving the camp. Three others in the group had to be hospitalized. The truck driver was arrested. The dangers for people fleeing the Horn of Africa and crossing the Gulf of Aden or the Red Sea to Yemen are well documented. But the risks for those heading southwards through East Africa or via Indian Ocean routes are equally substantial, according to Sanda Kimbimbi, of UNHCR in Pretoria.

In January, UNHCR received reports that eight Somali and three Ethiopian asylum-seekers had drowned off the coast of Mozambique. In May, last year, nine Somalis also drowned off Mozambique in the search for safety. The dangers were highlighted in a report published in April by UNHCR and Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Centre and entitled: ‘In Harms Way: The Irregular Movement of Migrants to Southern Africa from the Horn and Great Lakes Regions.’ Mozambique’s Maratane camp is a stopping point for many on the journey southwards. Almost 11,000 Somali and Ethiopian asylum-seekers arrived at the camp in the year up to January. Of these 6,660 were Somalis, while the remaining 4,325 were from Ethiopia. UNHCR estimates that 2,500 Ethiopians headed towards South Africa from the Maratane camp last year.

Most refugees to South Africa arrive by bus after journeys that last weeks from countries such as Congo, Uganda, Burundi, Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, and Tanzania, when they get close to the border, those without legal papers walk through the bush and swim across rivers to avoid being sent back. Once there, as well increasing xenophobia, they face increasing legal sanctions. A judge in March criticised the Department of Home Affairs’ practice of arresting and detaining asylum seekers without verifying their status or allowing access to the refugee system. And a new immigration law could lead to genuine asylum seekers being rendered illegal and facing up to four years in jail.

Asylum seekers currently have 14 days after entering the country to go to a refugee reception centre and make a formal application for asylum. The new law reduces this period to five days. Zimbabweans fleeing political violence are labeled undocumented "economic migrants" and many human rights monitors are convinced the South African government is committed to expelling as many Zimbabweans as possible, as soon as possible. At the beginning of this year the scale of undocumented Zimbabwean migrant applications for regularisation forced the government to delay mass repatriations.

HT: International Detention Coalition, adapted from article by Tina Ghelli for UNHCR

August 19th, 2011 – Behind The Mask

Open Society Hosts Meeting Of LGBT Activists From Southern Africa

The Open Society Initiatives for Southern Africa (OSISA) has just concluded a three day meeting in Johannesburg for LGBT activists from 13 regional countries. During the meeting participants were asked to form three groups (Lesbians /Bisexual women/WSW, Gay/Bisexual/ MSM and Transgender /FTM/MTF/Non conforming) to identify the problems faced by each group regarding HIV/Aids. Most of the groups shared the same sentiments such as legal framework, laws and policies that hinder the LGBT community from accessing services. They also discussed access to justice, access to education, social empowerment, socio-cultural issues and hate crimes.

“It was open and fair enough to cover HIV related issues facing LGBT communities regionally and I strongly believe that all the ideas together will bring change in African countries” said TP Mothopeng from Lesotho’s Matrix Support Group. During the meeting activists also shared their experiences on sexual orientation, gender identity and HIV/Aids, examined country specific context for LGBT and HIV issues, developed an advocacy agenda and strategy and then elected 10 people who will now represent the LGBT group at the next joint workshop which will take place in October where the three key groups will be represented.

Ian Swartz, OSISA programme coordinator for LGBTI special initiatives said in his opening remarks “The goal of the meeting is to build the capacity of the three key groups (LGBTI activists, women living with HIV, and sex workers) in 13 countries to develop a regional advocacy and lobbying strategy to address HIV and Aids.” For many years the HIV within LGBT sector has been led by gay men and it is only recently that the WSW were brought on board. As a result of these changes this meeting was totally different and the Trans community found they scored more nominations than the other identities to be on the working group.

In October 2010 UNIFEM [now UN Women] issued a call for proposals to work with three marginalized communities [namely sex workers, women living with HIV and LGBT communities] to develop regional advocacy strategies on HIV and Aids. The HIV and Aids programme, in partnership with the Women’s Rights programme and the Special Initiative on LGBT rights submitted a proposal and were awarded the contract.