August 4, 2000
Military Mutilation: Another Victim Steps Forward
by Paul Kirk
Johannesburg – For more than 30 years the South African military and state medical systems have been performing sex change operations on the quiet. This revelation came out this week when the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality was approached by one of the oldest victims of the state’s secret programme to change gay men into women and vice versa. The South African Defence Force had performed gender reassignment surgeries sex change operations on a number of conscripts who were incurable homosexuals. The victim who surfaced this week was born a female, but had gender reassignment surgery performed 27 years ago at Johannesburg General hospital as a state patient. At the time the victim was 20 years old.
This operation, like a number of others, was not completed. Surgeons performed a hysterectomy and a double mastectomy, and had only to create a penis when they halted the operation for no apparent reason. National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality representative Carrie Shelver told the Mail & Guardian that a lawsuit was definitely planned. The coalition did not want to reveal too much detail so as not to damage its plans to take legal action in order to have the operation finished.
The victim has for 27 years been attempting to have the surgery completed without success. Said Shelver: "What is a real eye-opener is that the operation was started 27 years ago. The victim has told us that in Jo’burg General there was a special ward set aside for state gender reassignment patients. At all times there were a minimum of four patients in the ward and all were having the same surgery. We are not sure whether the patients were from the military or not. The victim told us they were not encouraged to talk.
Shelver said that, after the surgery, all the victim’s documents, including his ID book, were altered to show he was born a man. Said Shelver: "It is odd that home affairs could change the documents back then to reflect the outcome of the surgery, but we often have to fight to have them perform the same procedure now".
August 4, 2000
Tukkies Was Warned Of Levin’s Experiments
by Paul Kirk
Johannesburg – A Mail & Guardian investigation into the medical abuse of conscripts by the former South African Defence Force (SADF) hasuncovered that both the University of Pretoria and the SADF were warned of the bizarre experiments being conducted under the care of Dr Aubrey Levin but did nothing to stop the abuse.
The medical files of some of his alleged victims have also apparently disappeared, making it impossible for them to seek medical help to repair the damage done to them by the military. When the Medical Research Council (MRC) conducted a study on the controversial aversion therapy project headed by Levin one of the few medical professionals the MRC got to speak out about their colleague was Trudie Grobler, who was quoted in its report.
Grobler was deeply disturbed after she saw Levin supervising aversion therapy on a suspected lesbian. Had Grobler’s complaints been taken seriously many lives would not have been wrecked by psychological terror inflicted by Levin. During the session that terrified Grobler, so much electrical current was passed through the patient’s body that her shoes flew off her feet. Grobler immediately complained about Levin to both the University of Pretoria where she had studied and the SADF. At the root of her complaint was the brutality with which patients were treated.
She as well as a small number of other trouble makers were kept out of certain sections of Levin’s ward by armed orderlies. Even so she was still aware of the serious abuses of human rights being made against troopies. Among the abuses were gender reassignment procedures carried out without proper psychological counselling. No action was ever taken against Levin by either institution.
Levin, who loved to be addressed as die kolonel joined the South African army with that rank straight from medical school a rank that some suggest was given to him largely because of his close links to the National Party. Indeed his links with the NP almost predate his obsession with treating homosexuals. While at university he attempted to start the South African Students Association, a movement of students loyal to the NP. His father, a boxing promoter, had been the first-ever Jewish member of the NP in the 1950s. His uncle was the first Jewish MP for the party.
Levin’s fascination with homosexuality is first documented in a letter penned by him to the secretary of Parliament in February 1968. In this letter, held by the Gay and Lesbian Archives at Wits University, he explains he is a medical practitioner and is still in training as a psychiatrist. The letter seeks to have Parliament invite him to give evidence on possible changes to the laws against homosexuality in force at the time.
Said Levin: I have in the course of my work treated many homosexuals and lesbians and enjoyed some measure of success in therapy. He then goes on to list the sterling service he has done for the NP including serving as the vice-chairman of the Houghton divisional committee of the National Party of the Transvaal, and a former chairman of the Point Branch of the National Party. Throughout Levin’s career in dealing with homosexuals he practiced aversion therapy despite the fact that a year before he wrote his letter to Parliament the therapy had been discredited throughout Europe. Only a year after Levin joined the army homosexuality was no longer classified as a disorder by any medical textbook in existence. After leaving the military to work at the University of the Orange Free State, Levin still had access to national servicemen who were referred to him by 3 Military Hospital at Tempe. Tempe had no psychiatric ward of its own.
Soon after leaving Bloemfontein, Levin moved to Fort England, a psychiatric hospital near Rhodes University. Here, sources within the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality have confirmed, Levin attempted to continue his aversion therapy project on Rhodes students, forcing students to come out in front of their parents on whose behalf he would offer to cure their children. At Fort England Levin soon developed a reputation for prescribing huge doses of drugs with a heavy bias toward prescribing Valium.
Research conducted on behalf of the MRC uncovered allegations that patients at that hospital frequently reported being undressed and sexually molested while heavily drugged. When the M&G attempted to obtain a copy of the letter of complaint against Levin, Major Louis Kirstein, a representative for the Department of Defence, told the M&G that this would take some time to find as records dating back to that period are not kept on computers.
Said Kirstein: The other problem is that after a period of time records are shredded. Attempts to obtain comment from the University of Pretoria had not been successful at the time of going to press. Attempts to obtain the medical records of one of the victims failed as his file appears to have vanished. Mikki van Zyl, one of the researchers who studied the aversion therapy programme, confirmed that despite numerous attempts by the victim himself, Jean Erasmus was never able to obtain his medical file. He was also never told what medicines he was being given while in the army. The medicines left him impotent.
What hope is there of helping someone when you have no idea what was done to them, said Van Zyl. Erasmus apparently committed suicide. Asked to comment on the complete lack of action by the SADF and Pretoria University, Carrie Shelver, a representative of the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, said: If you put the issue in context you have a junior intern a female one at that making a complaint about a very senior and very powerful male doctor who was a leading light in the ruling party at the time. It is hardly surprising that nobody took her seriously. And that is a great tragedy.
Victims of aversion therapy, chemical castration or other abuse by the medical profession can contact the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality for counselling or advice on Tel: (011) 487 3810.
(no date or author found)
Sub-saharan Africa has, except for South-Africa, no developed gay culture with bars, journals and movements. Although homosexuality is not absent, it is highly invisible and its presence is in general denied. Sub-saharan Africa has a strong, well developed and rich heterosexual culture that gives space to the sexual expressions of women, but gay sex is marginalized.
There are however gay spaces in the major African cities, and black Africans have adopted gay identities
(Le Pape & Vidal 1984; Isaacs & McKendrick 1992; Gevisser & Cameron 1995; Miller 1992).
South-Africa has seen an enormous political swing from white conservative politics defending apartheid to a government dominated by black progressive parties. In the old days, homosexuality was tabooized and criminalized, but under the new constitution, homosexuals are specifically protected against discrimination. Gay culture is part and parcel of the turmoil of South-African society, with a burgeoning gay movement, subculture and literature. Political developments are promising, but at the same time old habits and prejudices die hard even among progressive people. There is also a wide range of religious and ethnic groups that each have their own, often restrictive positions on sexual morality.
1. Spaces. There exists in Capetown since long gay space, especially for cruising but since some time also with bars, disco’s and sauna’s. These spaces are however mostly for white or "coloured" people. Black gay men often meet in private homes. Since the abolishment of "apartheid", some mixing has occurred. Capetown is quickly developing into a major gay tourist resort.
2. Language. Because of strict sexual morals and strong discrimination, a very covert gay subculture with a rich vocabulary has developed that has become a mixture of the several languages of South Africa. The "Afrikaners" make use of a terminology with many English words, and the English do the reverse. The Afrikaner gay slang is very different from the Dutch, probably because of the long separation of both languages and the lack of written
material in this regard.
3. Identity and Community. The white people have because of their money the easiest access to the gay subculture while "coloured" people have more possibilities to participate in it as they face less strict discrimination. The conservative protestant churches of South Africa are quite intolerant of sexual variations and make it difficult for their adherents to come out. For other groups, the situation is quite diverse. The ANC leadership, particularly Winnie Mandela, was involved in the homophobic "Stompie"-incident, but the new government has made homosexual orientation a constitutional right. Muslim groups may be again quite homophobic, but many rent boys however come from this constituency. Among miners, and also among women that have been left alone by men who work elsewhere, homosexual relations seem to have been quite common, but have not produced gay identities. Between the different ethnic groups, sexual relations are established quite often but they have to face the racism that is not extinct in the new South Africa.
4. Gender. Both in Afrikaans and English many words for gay men have a definitely feminine meaning like "moffie". Effeminacy seems to be a particularly strong trend among some black groups pointing to a strict gender dichotomy among them. In the context of Capetown, it will be very interesting to compare the diverse definitions of effeminacy among the different ethnic groups as most groups tend to relate homosexuality and femininity.
5. Age. Whereas in the black community, sexual initiation seems to take place at an early age, it is in the white community the reverse. Young black boys seem to be available for sex for older, often black but sometimes white men. The different sexual initiation practices among the diverse groups will be an import- ant research topic.
6. Sexual practices. Sexual behavior seems to be very dichotomized in the sense that a couple has often a division of active and passive. Seen the racial tensions, male and female roles might be very politicized. For black or "coloured" men, being active with a white gay man might be a revenge for racial oppression while the reverse might be felt by many people as a continuation of white repression and therefor be very controversial. At the same time, financial arrangements can blur all these distinctions again. Another interesting question is if the racial polarization has also made colour into an important fetish and produced a high level of interrracial sex.
Onderzoeksopzet, methode en literatuur: zie de hoofdtekst
November 2, 2000
Gay judge fights for human rights in South Africa
by S. Predrag
Edwin Cameron, one of South Africa’s most respected judges who has gone public with his homosexuality, will not apologize for his strong criticism of President Thabo Mbeki who has been "flirting" with dissident AIDS scientists. "I was aware of what I was doing, and feel that I spoke within principled boundaries," Judge Cameron said. He explained that he had felt morally obliged to speak out against everyone, including Mbeki, who claims that HIV does not cause AIDS. Recently, during an interview for one of the vacancies on the South African Supreme Court of Appeals, Cameron told the Judicial Services Commission, "I am not sitting in an armchair when it comes to the question of AIDS." This high court judge, who openly admits that he is gay, last year disclosed that he is also HIV-positive.
"As a gay man living with AIDS, I will bring diversity to the court," Cameron said when asked by the commission about the contribution he would make if he was appointed to the appeals court post. Cameron also emphasized that he was in good health and able to perform his job duties. "I have been on medication for three years which kept the virus at bay. … If I didn’t have the medication, I would have been dead by now." The LGBT community believes that Cameron’s appointment as an appeals court judge would enhance the constitutional and practical protection of human rights in South Africa.
Cameron, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in law and a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Stellenbosch – both cum laude – and subsequently earned two more degrees at Oxford, is a well-known human rights activist and constitutional expert. Instead of turning his diplomas and exceptional knowledge into a money-spinning machine, South Africa’s first openly gay judge spent most of his time criticizing the former apartheid regime and defending human rights activists, freedom fighters, and conscientious objectors who did not want to join the white minority regime’s army.
Cameron is not only respected for defending human rights activists; he also is a staunch supporter of gay and lesbian rights and especially the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. For years now, he has played an important role in the fight for the legal protection of gays and lesbians, leading the crusade against the discrimination facing South Africa’s homosexual population. Cameron could have easily invoked his right to privacy, but he publicly disclosed that he was living with AIDS to highlight, as he put it, "the suffering of the millions of people in South Africa who are AIDS infected or HIV-positive." He explained that his decision was motivated by a personal wish "to deal (with this problem) frontally."
He added that he was able to speak about his health problem because he has a secure job, access to medical care, and because he is surrounded by his loved ones, including friends and colleagues who care about him. For the multitude of people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa, that is often not the case. "It is only by creating conditions in which people can speak out without fear that we can begin to end the silence surrounding South Africans living with AIDS and HIV," was the message this brave judge wanted to convey to the population at large.
"I am humbled by what Edwin has done, it must take a lot of courage. I admire him, and I believe that we, as gay people, should stop being ashamed of our sexuality. Let’s start respecting each other as humans, instead of always looking for the bad in each other. Edwin, I take inspiration from you …"
"This is what democracy is all about, to give everyone a little space to live as he or she chooses. Keep up the struggle, judge!" These are just a couple of the messages sent to Cameron after he made his disclosure. His well-wishers wanted to encourage the judge to continue with his struggle for the rights of HIV/AIDS sufferers and the protection of gay and lesbian rights in South Africa. For many years before his appointment to court, Cameron was a pioneer in calling for human rights, equality, dignity and privacy for all people, including people with HIV and AIDS. The judge lived up to many people’s expectations when he addressed the 13th International Conference on AIDS in Durban in July and received worldwide news coverage.
Cameron openly criticized Mbeki for his "intractably puzzling" statements and his "flirtation" with AIDS dissidents which had shocked almost everyone involved in fighting the pandemic. Cameron also attacked the government’s decision not to provide the drug AZT to HIV-positive pregnant women, which results in about 5,000 HIV-positive babies being born every month.
18 March 2001
Faiths unite to fight gay invasion of Cape Town
by Karen Mac Gregor in Durban
A campaign aimed at attracting homosexual tourists to Cape Town billed as an international holiday destination for gays has sparked a backlash among religious groups. Thousands of Christians will gather at Newlands rugby ground in South Africa’s gay capital on Wednesday, Human Rights Day, to pray for a sin-free city and an end to this official promotion of a town already ranked fifth in the world as a venue for gay travellers. Cape Town is indeed gay-friendly. The publicly funded authority Cape Town Tourism backs the promotion of the Mother City (so-called because it was the first South African city created by settlers) as a pink city par excellence.
There is a thriving 100,000-strong gay community here, not to mention the gay nudist beach, the Waterkant gay village, many gay bars, clubs, steam baths and guest houses, and the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. "Cape Town is a queer city but it’s straight-friendly," said Andre Vorster, director of the Mother City Queer Project, an annual costume extravaganza which last year attracted 8,000 people, many foreigners. "Certainly we don’t mind straights visiting and spending money."
But the city’s large Christian and Muslim communities are worried. "We absolutely respect people’s right to be homosexual but object to Cape Town being sold on the basis of sexual preference, and to ‘pink map’ brochures with full-frontal nudity and bizarre sexual practices," said Errol Naidoo, spokesman for His People Christian Church, and for the Newlands gathering. "We’d prefer Cape Town to remain renowned for more traditional features, like Table Mountain, beaches, scenic beauty and the Winelands."
At a recent meeting to plan the Newlands event, many of 600 Christian leaders reported growing disquiet among congregations about the gay campaign. "Cape Town’s Muslim, Jewish and Hindu communities feel the same," said Mr Naidoo. "Gays are a minority, Christians are a more than 60 per cent majority. Rather than spend public money selling the city as gay friendly we want it promoted as family friendly."
The Muslim Judicial Council, representing many of the city’s 600,000 Muslims, supports Mr Naidoo in what turned out to be a rather acrimonious war of words in the local papers over the gay tourism campaign. But complaints are unlikely to force a back down by Cape Town Tourism, which, for this cause, has invoked constitutional clauses outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference. "We understand why religious communities are objecting. We have no problem with the fact that religions outlaw homosexuality, and they have every right to see officials and write letters. But we will project our right to promote Cape Town as gay friendly," said Cape Town Tourism’s manager, Sheryl Ozinsky. She said it would be stupid not to target the "pink pound" – a potential contributor to the economy.
It has been estimated that 24,000 gays visited the city in 1999. And, in 2010, Cape Town is hoping to host the gay Olympic games. Recently, too, the city hosted a conference of the International Gay and Lesbian Travelers’ Association, whose work is likely to generate a new wave of gay tourism. There is no doubt the gay tourism market is lucrative; in the US it is worth R331bn (£30bn) a year. "Gay tourists spend more than straights, they travel more and stay longer, the main reason being that they don’t have children," Mr Vorster pointed out.
He added that the Queer Project generated R50m (£4.4 m) in the local economy, and, with Cape Town Tourism, was working to build the parade into something like Sydney’s huge Mardi Gras gay festival. Business has come out on Cape Town Tourism’s side. Mike Thomson, president of the Cape Town chamber of business, says he believes gay tourism is big business, vital to the city’s future, and that the debate about it is "ridiculous".
September 27, 2001
Drag queens to march on church
by Neels Jackson
Pretoria – The Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GLA) is planning a mass visit by a hundred cross dressers to one of the Afrikaans churches, should these churches not agree to enter into a public debate with the GLA. The national executive council of the GLA on Thursday unanimously passed a motion wherein the Dutch Reformed Church, Apostolic Faith Mission and Afrikaans Protestant Church were labelled as sects because of their "homophobic statements". The three churches will now feature on the GLA’s homophobic pink list.
At the recent GLA congress, the organisation decided to draw up a list of "all homophobic institutions, whether they be churches, individuals or business concerns". The list will be circulated with a request that all South Africans boycott these institutions. According to the GLA, they will be challenging the leaders of "the three sects" on Monday to enter into a public debate on national television or radio. Should the "sects" not take up the gauntlet, the GLA will have to take drastic steps.
"The proposed action will be peaceful, but will be dramatic enough to focus attention on the sects’ homophobic actions and statements," says the GLA. A mass visit to a Sunday service by a hundred transvestites, dressed in their finery, will be first on the agenda. Homophobic statements by the three churches and the fact that gays are branded as sinners "has turned up the heat and the Afrikaans gay community has reached boiling point – and therefore this motion, " states the GLA. Their message to the "sectarian churches": "Stop playing unholy and sanctimonious games before the gates of heaven!"
September 29, 2001
Johannesburg, South Africa – A South African court ruled in favor of making it easier for gay couples to adopt children together, and declared that a lesbian judge could share the same worker benefits with her domestic partner as married judges do. Judge Frans Kgomo of the Pretoria High Court on Friday accepted the petition by a lesbian judge and her life partner that sections of a guardianship act be altered to include same-sex life partners, the South African Press Association reported. The lesbian judge, Anna-Marie de Vos, also of the Pretoria High Court, had been deemed the sole adoptive parent of two children in 1995, although both she and her partner sought legal custody.
The couple argued that it was in the best interests of the children that their experience of family life be reflected in the law. In his decision, Kgomo said he had no evidence to show that same-sex life partners are less capable of raising children.
In a second ruling, Kgomo said that sections of a compensation act for judges should be declared unconstitutional because they prevent same-sex partners from sharing benefits enjoyed by their married counterparts. Altering the act would entitle the partners of gay judges to such benefits as sharing in medical insurance packages and compensation in the case of death. Kgomo ordered that the legislation and regulations pertaining to both cases be amended to include same-sex life partners. Both rulings await approval by the Constitutional Court, South Africa’s highest legal body.
The ruling represented another step in unraveling old apartheid laws that forbade sexual relationships between members of the same sex. In 1998, the Constitutional Court struck down laws that criminalized sex between men. Sex between women was never officially banned, but was symbolically stigmatized by the old laws. The broadening of homosexual rights has turned South Africa into a beacon for gay rights in a region where governments are often homophobic.
September 28, 2001
by Lorna Ferguson
‘Viva the Pride Heritage that was initiated by Comrade Simon Nkoli! Viva!
Viva the Pride Parade that recognises lesbian women’s rights as human rights! Forward with democracy! Izwe Lethu! Forward to the African renaissance! Amandla! Remember: Wathinta’bafazi, wathinthi’mbokodo."
Rousing calls to activism come easily to black lesbian activist and intellectual Nomfundo Luphondwana. She uttered this triumphant cry before 10 000 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) individuals, their families and friends who were all about to set off on the Pride march through the centre of Johannesburg in 1999.
Her sense of elation was obvious after publicly announcing that President Thabo Mbeki had formally recognised the LGBT community by officially inviting them to take part in the Heritage Day festivities in 1999. "There is still much to do," she said this week. "We have to sustain that recognition and respect. Respect and dignity are values that can heal us all as Africans. "I passionately believe in the African renaissance and everything that the concept evokes.
But, democracy, freedom and a human rights culture in South Africa – as elsewhere in the world – have never just been handed over on a platter. Apartheid was systematically destroyed by the efforts of activists, but our new culture of human rights and lesbian and gay equality needs to be built by each one of us."
Asked how she marries her African cultural belief systems with her sexual orientation, Luphondwana (30) replies: "Culture is as dynamic and challenging in Africa as it is anywhere in the world. Our problem at the moment, as black Africans, is that we’re taught to think of culture as being cast in stone. "It’s simply not true that homosexuality is un-African. Why should it be? Part of our pre-colonial history included a knowledge and acceptance of people who had same sex relationships.
"Perhaps part of the difficulty is the adoption or imposition of words like ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’. But the present term, isiTabane, is without doubt unacceptable. What was the African word? We don’t know. Which is why it’s important to research our history and redefine African-ness collectively. "Pride – the term the LGBT community uses to build confidence, raise visibility and create a forum for the struggle for our Constitutional rights – is simply a microcosm
of our society.
And if you doubt me, just take a look at who’s marching tomorrow. There are unionists, professionals, the unemployed, families and friends; the whole gamut of our social order. "The flip side of my optimism, though, has come from my experiences with homophobics. Not only have they given rise to alienating feelings of rejection but have provoked real fear in me. And it’s not a matter of location either. I’ve experienced it in affluent Sandton or deepest Soweto.
"If I encounter the problem with white boys, I detect an element of misogyny, but with black boys there’s always
an insinuation that the solution to ending my ‘phase’ of lesbianism lies in a sexual experience with them. And, with the rape statistics as high as they are in South Africa, this is frightening. "I’m convinced that the key is an
emphasis on dignity. We have to fight all forms of injustice and discrimination and build a new human rights culture based primarily on respect for the dignity of all, no matter the colour, class or creed.
Donna Smith, (41) chairwoman of Pride concurs. "The homophobic response in Jamaica, where I was born, is not very different. Like here, there is a strong Christian background with an essential black African heritage, and there’s always a lot of talk about this not being a black thing. "Deep in my soul I subscribe to the belief that all people are divine and I recognise and respect this sacred divinity in everyone around me. Consequently, I know that my sexual orientation is intricately bound up with what I’m put on this earth to accomplish. In other words, my sexuality is here to serve a purpose and the Christianity that some espouse to condemn me is the very Christianity where I find validation.
"When I launched the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (JaFlag) three years ago, I approached my mother, who, I guess, had always known I was lesbian and said: ‘I know you’re not happy but I’ve taken a decision to represent the community that I belong to. You’ll be hearing me on the radio and reading about me in the press but I’d like you to hear it from me. Don’t worry about my soul.’ "I never used the word, lesbian. She just knew from the tangential discussion which road I’m following and understood that I’m being what and who I am. She wishes that it doesn’t have to be that way, but that’s the way it is.
"For me personally the future holds a lot of work in the LGBT community. I’ve just come back from a workshop in Durban which focussed on training to build support groups for people living with HIV-Aids, skills and capacity
building and spiritual and emotional support. I’m a facilitator, counsellor and mediator by profession and my life’s focus is on recognising and developing the potential of our humanness, both here and in Jamaica.
Zanaele Muholi (29) is a computer web-page builder specialising in women’s issues for the Behind the Mask, a website for gay and lesbian affairs in Southern Africa. She described herself as coming from a very "Zulu-kind of family where they really believe in culture". "Many Zulus, or those who aggressively espouse what is projected as Zulu culture, accuse those of us in same-sex relationships of being possessed by demons and in need of treatment by a sangoma. There’s a lack of understanding generally around these issues because most people don’t know how we feel and pigeonhole us as just going through a phase or, naively, as being frustrated by members of the opposite sex.
"My work entails a great deal of explaining because most people are very curious. My heterosexual friends come and ask for information and I consciously build a situation of mutual respect because I’ve learned to explain and make them feel comfortable with my explanations. "This essentially is the basis of capacity building, which leads to understanding and builds a sense of being proud of who you are. It’s certainly helped me understand why I’m involved in this aspect of education.
"But, I’m well aware of my own need to be well informed, just as a politician has to be. To sustain a community in any struggle for human rights one has to know the issues. "My role is to help counter discrimination, give support
so that women know that they’re not alone and to create a space where people can solve their problems. Essentially, I try and find the niche which helps make life easier, whether it’s in open discussion about one’s own sexual orientation, handling lesbian issues with members of the family without giving offence, career opportunity or simply how to meet other women to end a life of loneliness.
"So, we’re all involved in Pride in one way or another if we believe in building a mature human rights society, which is why there’s an open invitation to all South Africans to join us on the parade tomorrow," Muholi says.
November 25, 2001
South Africa: AIDS Engulfs a Rural Community
By Rachel L. Swarns
Hlabisa, South Africa – The dusty road rolls past the builders hauling bricks from the Easi-Build Hardware store, past the women braiding hair at Ruby’s Beauty Salon, past the butchers grinding beef at Isipho Supermarket, deep into the heart of rural South Africa.
Change has come slowly to this remote community in Zululand. But there are water pumps in the green hills. Black tar smooths stretches of the mostly gravel road. Electric lights glimmer in mud huts. At Gwegwede Primary School, giddy adolescents dream aloud in a country that no longer stifles black ambition.
"Me, I’m going to be a doctor," says Patience Ntshangase, 12, her brown eyes flashing. "An engineer!" cries Bongumenzi Zwane, also 12.
President Thabo Mbeki has declared the 21st century to be Africa’s century and says his country will help fuel the renaissance. Most Western leaders agree that if any country can make good on this continent’s elusive promise, it will be South Africa, with its stable government, sizable economy and commitment to uplifting its people. But Fanini Manqele, the principal at Gwegwede, no longer dreams such dreams. Two of his teachers, both young and promising, are dead.
Three more are ailing. In 1994, when blacks in this country voted for the first time, about 10 percent of adults in Hlabisa (pronounced shla-BEE-sa) were infected with H.I.V., the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS. Today, the figure stands at about 35 percent, one of the highest rates in a nation that has more people infected with H.I.V. than any other country. Blinded by shame and denial, distracted by the enormous challenge of redressing racial inequities, black leaders have mostly closed their eyes to AIDS. Seven years after apartheid’s demise, this community’s young and productive people are dying, like many others across Africa. Not since the Black Death ravaged Europe in the 14th century has a continent confronted such a deadly disease.
The broad outlines of South Africa’s epidemic are widely known: This nation of 44 million people has 4.7 million infected with H.I.V. What is less frequently explored is how ordinary communities are coping with a plague that is killing their citizens, threatening their culture and shattering their dreams. President Mbeki has compounded the crisis by refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of the problem. He has stirred international furor by questioning whether H.I.V. causes AIDS and by challenging infection rates reported by his own government. He has been reluctant to subsidize AIDS treatment, citing the risk of side effects.
In October, Mr. Mbeki suggested that whites, and unwitting black allies, were deliberately overplaying the AIDS epidemic to undermine a black continent on the rise and to perpetuate stereotypes of Africans as "promiscuous carriers of germs." Earlier this year, he ignited a firestorm by questioning whether AIDS is indeed the nation’s biggest killer, as the government’s leading medical institute contends. Casting doubt on that assertion, he cited six-year-old data from the World Health Organization that listed H.I.V. as 12th among 29 leading causes of death here.
His advisers say the world’s largest drug companies are exaggerating the epidemic to expand markets for AIDS drugs. The companies deny those charges, but Mr. Mbeki has vowed to investigate the accuracy of H.I.V. statistics "that are regularly peddled as a true representation of what is happening in our country." His skepticism is unfathomable to many scientists and health officials, who say the statistics he cites are old.
Some critics suspect that Mr. Mbeki wants to avoid diverting scarce resources toward costly AIDS drugs, an expense so enormous that it might swallow the government’s entire budget for drugs. Others believe that he cannot bear to admit that the nation’s black government stood by while its supporters were dying. Mr. Mbeki, who is praised by Western leaders for his conservative economic policies and his vision for Africa, declined a request for an interview through his spokesman, Bheki Khumalo. In the past he has complained that his comments were misunderstood and he is reluctant to discuss the matter in public.
The Plague Marks a Town
Here in Hlabisa, in the desperately crowded clinics and hospital wards, the scale of the epidemic is clear enough. This district of 250,000 people sits amid the hills of KwaZulu Natal Province, which has the highest adult rate of H.I.V. infection of any province in South Africa, according to the government. It is one of the few communities in South Africa in which government researchers have kept statistics on H.I.V. infection rates for nearly a decade. Its story offers a rare and intimate look at one community ravaged by the plague.
The virus is invisible, people here say, but its fingerprints are everywhere. It marks the faces of young widows who trudge the road in somber capes and skirts, traditional mourning garb. It inspires the medicine makers who brew slivers of tree bark and bundles of dried leaves into elixirs sold in used Coca-Cola bottles.
"Two spoons in the morning, two spoons in the afternoon," advises Elliott Mpungose, a herbalist who charges $1.25 a bottle.
It swamps the morgue where chilled bodies are often stacked one on top of another. The virus also haunts the sandy courtyard of the Gwegwede School, where hundreds of students run with abandon, the boys in black ties and the girls in pleated skirts, their legs flying, their books swinging, oblivious to the health threat.
In 1994, the school had 21 teachers. Today it has 18. (One teacher left and was not replaced.) When the three sick ones die, says Mr. Manqele, the principal, they will make do with 15. "We thought we were going to have changes and transformation, but we are dying in great numbers," the principal said as he awaited the death certificate for one of the teachers who died recently.
The Medical Research Council, the South African equivalent of the National Institutes of Health, believes that AIDS is now the leading cause of death in South Africa.
But even as scientists, doctors and church ministers ring the alarm bells, government officials continue to dither. "We cannot afford any more blunders," Dr. Malegapuru Makgoba, president of the Medical Research Council and the government’s leading scientist, warned in a speech earlier this year. "If, as Africans, we do not heed these examples and implications, history may judge us to have collaborated in the greatest genocide of all time." In Hlabisa, the culture of denial has already taken its toll.
In the last decade, the number of patients admitted each year to the public hospital here has nearly doubled. Inadequate financing, a shortage of health professionals and inept management have left the hospital desperate for doctors and nurses. Yet many local high schools still fail to offer AIDS education programs, even though statistics show that at least a quarter of young women under 20 here are infected. When government researchers surveyed 20 local schools, they found that more than a third lacked such programs.
Even with some AIDS education efforts, there is scant evidence to suggest that many people are changing their behavior. In a survey now under way here, only 26 percent of the 1,040 adults interviewed so far have reported ever using a condom, the Medical Research Council says. The result reflected an improvement in a community where condoms are widely viewed as unmanly. In 1995, only 14 percent said they had ever used a condom.
Doctors and scientists here and abroad have condemned Mr. Mbeki for questioning the link between H.I.V. and AIDS last year, saying he left many South Africans to wonder whether they truly needed to use condoms or to change their behavior. Stung by the criticism, Mr. Mbeki decided last year to stop discussing AIDS publicly. He also agreed to allow AIDS drugs to be distributed to pregnant women in public clinics for the first time, in a pilot program intended to reduce the risk of transmitting H.I.V. to newborns.
Mr. Mbeki, of course, did not create the problems he now faces. There is no doubt that the all-white apartheid government helped create the conditions that have fueled the spread of the disease by shattering stable families and forcing men to leave their families for work in faraway mines. Suspicions about condoms also date back to the apartheid days, when the white government hired scientists in the 1980’s to develop drugs to make blacks infertile.
But Dr. Makgoba, of the Medical Research Council, says black officials are also to blame for poorly carrying out AIDS policies since 1996, and for dabbling in discredited theories. In 1994, when Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president, about 8 percent of adults in South Africa were infected with H.I.V. Today, the figure stands at 25 percent. More than half of this country’s 15-year-olds will die of AIDS-related diseases, government officials say.
The Origins of the Epidemic
Hlabisa is one of the many impoverished villages of the Zulu people, the warrior nation that routed British troops in 1879 before finally being conquered. Today, villagers keep their traditions even though most are jobless and more than 60 percent rely on rivers and rain for drinking water. The tiny professional class is made up of teachers, nurses, clerics and shopkeepers. Others work in faraway mines and factories, while farmers graze cattle and grow corn. They revere their king and respect the mayor and four local chiefs, who govern the community’s day-to-day affairs.
South Africa’s first AIDS cases emerged in the early 1980’s, chiefly among gay white men who presumably contracted the virus through homosexual contacts in the United States and Europe. The black population’s exposure was limited then by segregation and tight border controls with some neighboring countries where H.I.V. was spreading faster. But in the early 1990’s, the white government eased border restrictions. In a few years, the epidemic exploded among blacks, who make up about 78 percent of the population.
The virus found fertile ground in communities like Hlabisa, whose ragged road carries workers through the district and through a game reserve where elephants, zebras and giraffes still graze, to the town of Mtubatuba and onward to the coastal cities of Richards Bay, Durban and beyond.
Today, researchers estimate that 60 percent of Hlabisa’s men are migrant workers who often spend weeks or months away from home and often have multiple partners: wives in the village and girlfriends or another wife in the cities. The subservient position of women, who have little power to negotiate in their sexual relationships, and a tradition of polygamy and multiple partners, particularly in rural South Africa, have also fueled the disease.
The apartheid government, which knew an epidemic was brewing, took no systematic action to stop it. After Mr. Mandela took power, the warnings were met with shock, denial and disbelief. Doctors at Hlabisa Hospital were among the first to ring alarm bells here, producing annual statistics on H.I.V. infection rates starting in 1992. But many traditional leaders and politicians continue to assume that the disease primarily afflicts whites and foreigners.
Even today, professional men in Hlabisa boast over beers about extramarital affairs and the pleasures of unprotected sex. Some church leaders burn condoms and assail people with the virus as sinners. Prominent community members wither and die in silence because the disease is considered so shameful. Hospital counselors and nonprofit groups regularly distribute condoms and offer awareness programs, but there is little evidence that their safe-sex messages are taking hold.
One recent morning, eight young women, all volunteer AIDS educators for Vusimpilo, a local nonprofit agency, gathered to practice the speeches they planned to present at community festivals and local schools. Use condoms, they said. Abstain from sex. Keep to one sexual partner. But when asked whether they used those strategies themselves, not a single educator raised her hand. The women, in their 20’s and early 30’s, confessed that they felt educated, aware — and powerless.
"For us Zulus, it has been a tradition for men to have extra women," Gugu Chakwe said helplessly. "We do ask them to stop, but it’s up to them to change. If he doesn’t want to use condoms, I can’t do anything. If I say no, he might go and take another lady."
Nomusa Manqele, who trains the young women, admitted that she, too, felt powerless. "A lady asked me, `What can I do if the boyfriend doesn’t want to use condoms?’ " she said. "I told her, `You can leave him.’ "She said, `I can’t leave. I need money from this boyfriend to support my children.’ "
"I felt ashamed." Ms. Manqele said. "I am an AIDS educator, but there was no hope I could offer her." There is some hope. Hlabisa Hospital and local clinics have begun to offer an antibiotic to prevent opportunistic infections in people infected with H.I.V. The drug is best known as Bactrim, a trademark of Roche Pharmaceuticals. By the end of the year, the Africa Center, a nonprofit medical research group based in nearby Mtubatuba, will distribute the nevirapine to pregnant mothers who test positive. One tablet taken during labor — along with a single dose for the newborn — can reduce the risk of mother-child transmission by as much as half.
Of the 50,000 people in Hlabisa believed to be infected with H.I.V., fewer than two dozen have access to life-saving drugs that have made the disease manageable in the West, doctors say. In the mud huts here, they are dying one by one.
Optimism Can Break the Heart
In one hut, hidden deep in the swaying grass, Nokulunga Ntshangase, 23, a lovely girl with a withered body, insists that she will survive H.I.V. "I am getting married," she says. But Ms. Ntshangase’s father hangs his head when he looks at his daughter, whose enormous brown eyes float in her wasted face. He knows there will be no wedding.
"If she’s better," he says sadly, "if she’s able to wash, clean and cook, then she will get married." The Rev. Zebulon Mthethwa, a retired Anglican priest, knows all about such stories. He dedicated his life to this community and to fighting apartheid. When democracy came, he thought he would retire and watch Hlabisa prosper. But Holy Name Church has called him back from retirement. With so many people dying, they need extra priests to sing all the souls to the other side.
"One of my nephews, I closed his eyes," Father Mthethwa said. "I closed his mouth. I knew it was the same thing. "People are afraid of talking about it," Father Mthethwa said. "They are afraid to say, `Here is the danger that is coming.’ But we must now become bold. We cannot just keep quiet. Because the truth is, we are simply vanishing."
November 28, 2001
A Lonely Crusade Warning Africans of AIDS
by Donald G. McNeil Jr.
Mtubatuba, South Africa – As early as 1990, when AIDS was almost unknown in South Africa, there was one man in the Hlabisa Health District who saw the rising dust of the epidemic over the horizon and tried to stop it. Instead, he found himself cast as a a voice crying in the wilderness. At one point, he was quite literally that – a white, Zulu-speaking great- grandson of a Danish missionary, tramping through a drought-stricken landscape with a spear and a club, beset by hyenas and thieves, in a stunt to get the attention of the Zulu king.
Dr. Neil E. Jorgensen, now 42, still lives on his family’s sugar cane plantation in Mtubatuba, the formerly all-white "sugar town" in the Hlabisa Health District, and has a busy clinic with two entrances, used to separate the races during the apartheid era. Today, another separation prevails: patients with medical insurance come in the front and wait on couches; those without enter from the back and sit on benches that overflow into the parking lot, but they get a visit plus generic drugs for $7, an X-ray for $4, a blood count for $3. Dr. Jorgensen delivers babies and sets bones. His cell phone rings all night when he is on call.
In 1987 he did an internship in Canada, where he heard about a mysterious disease that was decimating gay men in the West. European specialists said this was the same illness that was ravaging central Africa. But in isolated, segregated South Africa, virtually nothing was known about either. Two years later, in a hospital in Durban, the nearest big city to Mtubatuba, Dr. Jorgensen treated his first AIDS baby. "One of my profs said, `It’s over-rated, it will never take off,’ " he recalled. "I said, `No way, buddy. This is serious.’ "
By 1990 he was back in Mtubatuba working part time at the clinic attached to the sugar mill, the largest local employer.
Curious about what the situation there might be, he pulled the files on 600 workers. What he found appalled him. "About 40 percent had had a sexually transmitted disease treated just in that year," he said. "It was like a macho thing for a man to have another scar on his penis. I called all those guys in and checked their armpits; if they had swollen glands" – a sign the body was trying to fight infection – "I tested them for H.I.V."
The laboratory in Durban "went nuts," he said. When only a handful of clinics were surveying pregnant women for the disease and the estimate for the surrounding KwaZulu/Natal Province was below 2 percent, he calculated that 6 percent of the sugar workers were H.I.V. positive. What happened next is Mtubatuba legend. Locals say that Dr. Jorgensen called a shift of workers for a lecture about condoms and fidelity to one woman. One worker stood up and shouted at him that white men had no business telling Zulu men how to sleep with their wives and girlfriends, and that condoms were a white plot to keep blacks from multiplying.
The next two shifts boycotted the speech, local officials say. Now, a huge percentage of those men are dead or dying. In fact, Dr. Jorgensen said, what really happened was more complicated, and in some ways, funnier and sadder. He made many speeches, and men often hung around outside the door, "afraid that coming inside would associate them with the disease."
A videotape of a 1991 talk shows the doctor, speaking the Zulu he learned as child, leading his own "game show," enticing men to come down front by awarding them bottles of beer. By pretending to stab them with a Zulu spear, Dr. Jorgensen uses four men to illustrate what percentage will be dead in 10 years if their behavior does not change. To loud laughter, the videotape shows him getting a man to don a cowboy hat and dark glasses to pantomime a Saturday night stud, and pulling a condom over a beer bottle to demonstrate its use. "It was like `Wheel of Fortune,’ except I couldn’t offer a million bucks," he recalled. "I could offer a beer."
He spoke as he surreptitiously smoked a cigarette in his parking lot, out of view of his patients, a living example of how hard it is to change behavior on a doctor’s advice. Because he knew few men would accept sex advice from female nurses, Dr. Jorgensen trained a male janitor, Skhumbuzo Khumalo, as an AIDS counselor.
Mr. Khumalo, now 43, said the men’s first reaction was to laugh, or to deny the disease existed, or to say that rumors about it were a white plot. With his own money, Dr. Jorgensen hired four more educators and sent them out to sugar cane-cutting crews and minibus-taxi stands where workers gathered. With Mr. Khumalo, the doctor visited bars, tribal leaders and herbal healers. He met lots of skepticism. White farmers and mill officials were "interested, but apathetic." He found no financing. His bank account ran down to $200. "I was desperate," he said. "I thought, `If there’s a guy who can help me, it’s the Zulu king.’ "
With a friend, he set out on a 150-mile hike to Nongoma, where King Goodwill Zwelithini has a residence. For publicity, Dr. Jorgensen carried a Zulu spear and a fighting club. But everything went wrong. He was harassed by hyenas and caught hepatitis. Hired teenage porters stole his camera, and he broke a rib in the fistfight to recover it, arriving three hours late. Mr. Khumalo, the counselor, who had gone ahead, said the king was obviously upset to hear about the disease but was also distracted because KwaZulu/Natal in 1991 was a political battleground, where thousands were dying in fighting each year.
The men at the mill are still disappointed that the king has never visited, despite their offer to kill a black bull in his honor. The king does, however, talk about AIDS every year at the Reed Ceremony, when 2,000 virgins dance and present him with thatching reeds. By 1992, Dr. Jorgensen said, he was discouraged, still sick from the hepatitis and so depressed that when a condom distributing agency visited, he was too tired to help them. He went back to his practice and has concentrated his efforts at the mill where venereal disease rates have dropped from "10 a month to one a month," he said.
Now, Mr. Khumalo said, men at the mill have different attitudes. The six dispensers of free condoms need constant refilling. At the last annual H.I.V. screening, more than 80 percent of the workers were tested, a remarkable level of compliance. "They changed when they saw others becoming sick and dying," Mr. Khumalo said.
Now the work force is 28 percent H.I.V. positive – a figure Dr. Jorgensen is proud of. Anywhere else, 28 percent would be a horror story; the level in North America, for example, is 0.6 percent. But in rural KwaZulu/Natal, the overall figure is at least 36 percent. To one crusading doctor, the mill’s 28 percent feels like victory.
September 11, 2002
African gays can adopt children
South Africa’s Constitutional Court has ruled that gay couples have the right to adopt children. The highest court in the country said on Tuesday that people in "permanent, same-sex partnerships" could provide children with a stable home and the support and affection necessary. Under South Africa’s constitution, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is illegal, but provisions of the Child Care Act banned gay couples from adopting children.
This makes South Africa the first African country to let same-sex couples legally adopt children, reports the French news agency, AFP. The case to have the relevant sections of the Child Care Act declared unconstitutional was brought by two lesbian judges, Ann-Marie de Vos and Suzanne du Toit. Ecstatic The laws had already been declared unconstitutional by the Pretoria High Court, but now the Constitutional Court has confirmed the ruling and established that "the rights to equality and dignity were infringed by specific sections of the unamended Child Care Act", according to the Mail and Guardian Online.
Ann-Marie de Vos said she was "ecstatic" about the judgement and was relieved that the case was now over. She and Suzanne du Toit have been in a permanent partnership since 1989, the Mail and Guardian said, and they will now be able to officially adopt Ms de Vos’s two children. "I needed to know that if something happened to me, Suzanne would be able to take care of the children," she said. Both women are judges in the South Africa judicial system. Cultural difference South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution enshrines gay and lesbian rights through statutes on equality which ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, as well as race and gender.
November 15, 2002
Capetown ‘queerest city on earth’
Cape Town is poised to take over from Sydney, Australia as the "queerest city in the world", according to Mother City Queer Projects (MCQP) organiser Andre Vorster. Only five cities in the world could probably claim the title of "Queer Capital" – Amsterdam, San Francisco, Miami, Sydney, and "most recently, little sister Cape Town", he told a Cape Town Press Club lunch on Friday.
Resplendent in a lavish black and white "wedding cake" outfit complete with matching veiled top hat and elbow-length gloves, he said naturally other big cities, such as London, Paris, Rome and New York, also attracted queer tourists, but did not qualify as "queer capitals". Amsterdam, San Francisco, Miami, and Sydney had all had their turn as the premier gay tourist destination, with the annual Sydney Mardi Gras the most recent. "But, oops, big sister Sydney has peaked – the Mardi Gras is tired. And little sister Cape Town is waiting in the wings to fill her shoes. Let’s help her, because we will all benefit," Vorster said. ‘The Wedding The ninth annual MCQP, which brings in an estimated R50m a year, takes place from December 6 to 16, with the gala costume party at the Castle of Good Hope on December 14. This year’s theme is "The Wedding".
About 1 500 foreign visitors are expected to attend the party, along with about 4 000 local people. Vorster has set a target for the project to bring R500m pink rands into Cape Town by 2007. Sydney’s annual Mardi Gras festival is worth about AUS$ 500m (about R3bn). Festival The 10-day festival will include events, such as "The Village People", "Camp Day at The Bay", and "Queers by Candlelight". Side events, such as handbag throwing contests and stiletto heel races are also planned. Vorster said the MCQP had three clear aims. To showcase the diversity of Cape Town’s "queer tribes", to raise the city’s international profile, and to celebrate the progressive values of guaranteed equality and non-discrimination in the Constitution.