January 7, 2008
Gay Nobel Nominee Weds Partner
by 365Gay.com Newscenter Staff
Cape Town, South Africa – One of the world’s most visible HIV/AIDS activists has married his longtime partner at a ceremony near Cape Town. Zackie Achmat exchanged vows with Dalli Weyers as about 300 guests looked on at the Imperial Yacht Club in Lakeside. Same-sex marriage became legal in South Africa in 2005. The ceremony was performed by a judge and former British High Commissioner Ann Grant was master of ceremonies. Wedding invitations bore the slogan "safe sex, antiretroviral drugs and rock ‘n’ roll".
Achmat, the head of the Treatment Action Campaign, has long been a thorn in the side of the South African government which disputes the value of anti-retroviral drugs. He is credited with single handedly forcing the government to finally approved a five-year plan to distribute free AIDS treatment drugs to all who need them In 2003 he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Last year attorneys for an organization that claims antiretrovirals are more dangerous than HIV itself and that the most effective way of treating the disease is with natural and tribal medicines tried to have Achmat charged with genocide at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. In a 59-page criminal complaint the Treatment Information Group alleged that Achmat played a "direct criminal role in the deaths of thousands of South Africans from poisoning from so-called antiretroviral drugs".
Born in Johannesburg, Achmat was raised in a Muslim community in Cape Town. He started his political life at 14, as one of the leaders of the 1976 anti-apartheid school boycotts. Between 1976 and 1980 he was arrested and detained by the security policy, and tried and imprisoned various times during those years. As a result he never completed high school. After his release in 1980 he turned to underground work, revealing a flair for strategizing and tactical application as well as political education. He then built a series of agencies providing educational support to disadvantaged youth.
To help support himself he turned to hustling. When he was diagnosed HIV-positive, Achmat threw himself into the gay rights movement founding the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and then starting the AIDS activist group Treatment Action Campaign. Expensive antiretrovirals were available to only a handful of South Africans who could afford the high price. Millions of others were condemned to death by a government that refused to distribute the medication to the poor. In December 1999, Achmat refused treatment until the drugs were made available to all South Africans who needed them. His campaign drew international attention to the country’s growing crisis.
In 2003 the South African government announced it was abandoning the claim that HIV did not cause AIDS and would make antiretrovirals available to all who need them. Nelson Mandela has called him a national hero: an ordinary man whose extraordinary resolve could help save thousands of African lives, at the cost of his own. Achmat and Weyers met in 2005. Weyers was doing his master’s in political science at Rhodes University in and was involved in an HIV/AIDS support group. Achmat had been invited to speak to the organization.
27th February 2008
African lesbian conference demands equal rights
by PinkNews.co.uk 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 9, 2008
Rift Over AIDS Treatment Lingers in South Africa
by Celia W. Dugger
Kwangwanase, South Africa — Colin Pfaff, a slight doctor imbued with Christian zeal, had reached a moral crossroads. Dr. Pfaff knew that giving H.I.V.-positive women and their newborns two anti-AIDS drugs instead of one would reduce the odds that mothers would pass the virus to their babies. For months, he and doctors from other hospitals pleaded with provincial health authorities for permission to use the approach, in a province where a staggering 4 in 10 pregnant women were infected. “We cannot sit in silence any longer,” they wrote last May.
But South Africa had not yet adopted the two-drug strategy, as recommended by the World Health Organization, and the doctors’ request was rebuffed. So, Dr. Pfaff made his choice. He raised the money on his own. Then a week after the national health department said in January that it would begin requiring the use of both drugs, health authorities here in KwaZulu-Natal Province charged Dr. Pfaff with misconduct for raising money from a British charity and carrying out the very same preventive treatment “without permission.” Dr. Pfaff’s case has stirred a furious reaction from rural doctors and advocates on AIDS issues, raising questions not only about a doctor’s duties in the public health system, but also about why it took so long for South Africa, a country with more H.I.V.-positive people than any other in the world, to act. The evidence that two drugs together — AZT plus nevirapine — work better than one has been accumulating since a clinical trial in Thailand was published in 2004 in The New England Journal of Medicine.
Even here in South Africa, the approach has worked. The Western Cape Province has deeply reduced mother-to-baby H.I.V. infection rates since 2004 — to less than 5 percent from 22 percent — by using both drugs. AIDS advocates are celebrating the government’s new policy. Still, they contend that South Africa, the region’s economic powerhouse, should have put it into practice long ago, but lacked the political will. Sibani Mngadi, a spokesman for South Africa’s Health Department, disagreed, saying the government took the time needed to review the data and consult various players after the W.H.O. issued its recommendation in 2006. “There were a number of issues to be debated,” he said.
For years, the country’s political leaders have faced harsh international criticism for their resistance to providing antiretroviral medicines. Only after a 2002 court order did the government begin providing nevirapine to prevent women from infecting their babies. In years past, President Thabo Mbeki defended the country’s consultation of dissident scientists who denied that H.I.V. causes AIDS, while Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has promoted indigenous remedies, including diets of garlic, beetroot and African potatoes. Rural doctors in this district say babies were needlessly infected as a result of the government’s slow pace.
“You can’t uninfect them once they’re infected, can you?” said Dr. Victor Fredlund, who has been at the hospital in Mseleni for 27 years. In this remote, northeastern corner of the country, with its heart-stoppingly big skies and lush coast, doctors see grieving mothers carry babies with AIDS — feverish, vomiting and miserable — back to the hospitals where they were born. In the doctors’ letter to the provincial authorities in May, Dr. Pfaff, acting medical manager at Manguzi Hospital here, said they thought it was unethical to withhold a treatment used so successfully elsewhere. “We know better options are available and that we have the capacity to deliver them,” he wrote.
In an e-mail message, Dr. Sandile Buthelezi, a provincial health official, acknowledged that the mother-to-baby transmission rate in KwaZulu-Natal, where only nevirapine was used, was 23 percent, while it was less than 5 percent in the Western Cape. But he also wrote that nevirapine was still the nationally approved regimen and that the cost of adding AZT was not yet factored into the budget. “I am wary of us undermining national just because of what other provinces are doing,” he wrote. After Dr. Pfaff was charged with misconduct for using the two-drug regimen at Manguzi, advocacy groups took up his cause, as did the political opposition, which seemed only to further rile provincial officials. “We will not allow anyone to pull vulturistic theatrics to mystify this matter for their own political gain,” the provincial health department said in a Feb. 11 press release.
Peggy Nkonyeni, the African National Congress politician who is the health minister here, visited Manguzi Hospital after the charges were filed. Her spokesman, Desmond Motha, said she told the staff that antiretroviral medicines were not a cure for AIDS, “that the medicine they receive is indeed toxic and that’s why people need to be counseled.” The Treatment Action Campaign, the country’s most influential AIDS advocacy group, met last month with Mrs. Nkonyeni. Its spokesman, Nathan Geffen, said they were horrified to notice that the minister’s desk had on it only a notepad and a book, “End Aids! Break the Chains of Pharmaceutical Colonialism,” by Dr. Matthias Rath, whose ideas have been denounced by many medical groups and experts.
On his Web site, Dr. Rath contends that antiretroviral drugs attack and destroy the immune system and accuses multinational companies of using poor countries as a marketplace for their “toxic and often deadly drugs.” Mrs. Nkonyeni’s spokesman said a member of the Treatment Action Campaign disrespectfully told his boss “she should put the book in the dust bin.” “It’s her right to read the book,” Mr. Motha said angrily As protests mounted, the Pfaff case became an embarrassment to the governing A.N.C., which in December ousted Mr. Mbeki as its president. The party’s new leaders seem to be seeking to reduce the acrimony between the party and AIDS advocacy groups. It has already reached out to the treatment campaign.
“That’s a huge move forward,” said Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, who was fired by Mr. Mbeki in August as deputy health minister but was often credited with pushing for scientifically based action against AIDS. Mr. Geffen said that he hoped that the Pfaff case was “the last kick of a dying horse” and that the A.N.C.’s new leaders would take a fresh approach to AIDS. So it was perhaps not surprising that days after meeting with members of the treatment campaign, the provincial health department confirmed that Mrs. Nkonyeni had decided to withdraw the misconduct charges against Dr. Pfaff. Her spokesman, Mr. Motha, said Mrs. Nkonyeni managed a program to provide drugs to people with AIDS and would carry out the new guidelines to give both nevirapine and AZT to pregnant women.
Those new rules will be important to Phiwili Ntuli, who is now five months pregnant and working in a sweltering phone shop for $80 a month to support her 19-month-old, H.I.V.-positive son, Mpumelele. Ms. Ntuli was given nevirapine only when she went into labor in Manguzi Hospital in July 2006. The drug did not work. Her affectionate son, who is still unable to stand or walk on his own, endured months of sickness before he began taking antiretroviral medicines he will probably need for the rest of his life. Ms. Ntuli said she was never told that a second drug might have prevented her son’s infection. “Using just one drug makes them guilty,” she said of South Africa’s leaders. “They’re not thinking of the people.”
21 April 2008
New website highlights gay African heroes
London – A new website highlighting African heroes and achievers has included three prominent gay Africans.
Simon Nkoli, the South African gay rights and anti-apartheid activist http://www.africansuccess.org/visuFiche.php?id=425&lang=en
Zachie Achmat, the HIV treatment campaigner in South Africa http://www.africansuccess.org/visuFiche.php?id=424&lang=en
Edwin Cameron, the openly gay and HIV-positive South African Supreme Court judge http://www.africansuccess.org/visuFiche.php?id=455&lang=en
The website’s founders want to add more African lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) biographies to the site, and are asking people to submit entries to the website: http://www.africansuccess.org
“Gay Africans make up a part of the landscape of the continent and any member of the gay community who has achieved something of merit deserves a place on our site. We welcome the submission of their biographies,” said the website’s creator, Kadija Traoré Bush, who is of is Malian and Beninoise heritage.
The new website is being supported by gay human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell of OutRage!: “The organisers are keen to end the frequent invisibility of famous Africans who are gay. They are committed to challenging homophobic attitudes in Africa and in the African Diaspora,” said Mr Tatchell. “The first three LGBT entries are all South Africans. There are many other heroic LGBT campaigners in Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Mozambique, Kenya and elsewhere. I hope that people who know these courageous, inspiring individuals will add their biographies to the AfricanSuccess website in the coming weeks and months. This is, in part, a user-generated website, a bit like Wikipedia. It depends on public contributions to expand its data base,” said Mr Tatchell.
The website organisers are keen to debunk the often negative public image of Africa. “Africansuccess.org is a new web site that wants to get people to look at Africa in a different and positive way,” according to Kadija Traoré Bush. " We want to inspire the young, give hope and ambition to Africans everywhere, and to change the way the world sees Africa. Our aim is to create a website that will inspire a continent. If we can show the world where Africans are successful, we can change the way in which we are perceived. It is an interactive community website, which encourages the people who visit the website to add the names and biographies of people that they know and consider worthy of being included. The site is free access and it is free to add names, biographies and other historical information. We are still building the site, and we welcome contributions to add to our growing number of entries. We hope that people from all countries and all walks of life are going to put up the biographies of people they feel proud of, so we can offer role models for today’s children and tomorrow’s leaders,” said Kadija Traoré Bush.
“Too much of the news we hear about Africa is negative,” added human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. “It’s mostly about famine, civil war, HIV, corruption, homophobia and dictatorship. The latest horror stories of violence from Darfur, Zimbabwe and the Congo grab the headlines, as do the arrest and jailing of LGBT people. But the extraordinary success stories of people in Africa rarely make the news. This website is a welcome correction to the media bias that too often projects Africa as a story of non-stop bigotry, failure, suffering and tyranny. I congratulate and salute Kadija and the rest of the website team,” said Mr Tatchell.
April 23, 2008
‘Township Lesbians too Scared to Picket Murder Trial of Lesbian Friend’
by Natasha Joseph (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Human rights groups say that lesbians in Khayelitsha are too frightened to picket and protest outside the trial of nine men who stand accused of beating 19-year-old Zoliswa Nkonyana to death more than two years ago. The brutal attack on Nkonyana was apparently motivated by the fact that she was living openly as a lesbian. On February 3, 2006, a mob of 20 men beat her to death in Khayelitsha’s E section. Nine of her alleged attackers appeared in the Khayelitsha magistrate’s court on Monday, but the case was postponed because one accused’s lawyer was not present in court, said the Western Cape Alliance for Campaign 07-07-07. The campaign was launched provincially in February, and consists of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) organisations, as well as groups dealing with HIV/Aids and gender issues.
Campaign spokesperson Marlow Valentine said black lesbians who lived in Khayelitsha were "too scared" to protest outside the court during the men’s trial. "They’re too afraid to be visible at court," said Valentine. Last year Human Rights Watch called on President Thabo Mbeki to do more to protect all women, including lesbians, after the brutal murders of three lesbians in the space of a year.
The bodies of Sizakele Sigasa and Salome Masooa were found in Soweto on July 8 last year. Sigasa was an open lesbian and an activist for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and people living with HIV/Aids, said Human Rights Watch. She had been shot six times in the head and neck. Masooa had been shot once in the head. The body of Thokozane Qwabe was found in a field in Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, on July 22. She had multiple head wounds and was naked.
In a statement issued earlier this week, Campaign 07-07-07 – named for the date on which Sigasa and Masooa were murdered – said it was seeking a "rigorous, speedy and successful" conclusion to the trial of Nkonyana’s alleged killers. The campaign also called on police to convene a meeting with Khayelitsha’s LGBTI community to "hear concerns" relating to the investigation of hate crimes, victimisation of gay men and lesbians, and homophobia. It also called on police to create a system of recording hate crimes and collecting statistics related to hate crimes.
Keegan Lakay, of the Commission for Gender Equality, said the organisation was "frustrated" by the delays in bringing Nkonyana’s alleged killers to trial. Lakay said the organisation was considering applying to become an amicus curiae – a friend of the court – so that it could provide input if the prosecutor requested it. The case has been postponed to May 19.
April 26, 2008
Prince Harry to tackle Aids in southern Africa
London – Prince Harry is a soldier in the true sense of the word, for he certainly knows how to plan for a fight. However, this time the young British royal will be tackling a different kind of battle – that of Aids in southern Africa. Fresh from the frontline in Afghanistan, Harry will be making a 12,000-mile round trip for a three-month mercy mission to the troubled kingdom of Lesotho, that too by putting a part of his holiday at stake. By this move, Harry will be merging two of his pasions- the Army and Sentebale, the Aids orphan charity he set up in memory of his mother Princess Diana.
"This adventure represents the next step for the young officer Harry. It had been unclear what he planned to do next after returning from Afghanistan," The Sun quoted a pal, as saying. The pal added: "But he is now expected to arrange and plan a period of training for his troops. Harry being Harry, he decided to do something totally different and came up with the idea of taking them to Lesotho. He knows better than anyone how much good a team of soldiers could do there in a relatively short space of time."
And sources claim that the 23-year-old is "extremely excited" about his mission, which shows his genuine interest for Lesotho. Harry founded the Sentebale charity, two years back, after he made a pledge to do his bit to help Lesotho kids orphaned by Aids. In fact, he is so much concerned for Lesotho kids that he even declared he would rather give up his career in the Army than neglect his charity. However, the final details of Harry’s mission are still not confirmed. He founded the charity to fund work with Aids orphans and dedicated it to the memory of his mother. He named it Sentebale which means "forget me not" in the local language.
May 7th, 2008
‘Corrective Rape’ of Lesbians In South African Schools Shows Sickness of ‘Ex-Gay’ Movement
by Wayne Besen
“Corrective Rape” at schools in the Western Cape is a growing concern, say non-governmental organizations, some of who have noted an “alarming” level of cases. Earlier this year, the report by the Human Rights Commission on school violence mentioned the growing crime, where heterosexual male pupils rape lesbian pupils, believing that this will make them heterosexual. A recent study by the Triangle Project and the University of South Africa found that schools were still “unsafe places for many lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered (LGBT) learners”.
“The level of cases coming to the fore is alarming … It’s like (heterosexual boys think) if you want to be lesbian, this is your punishment.” He said in some communities, boys thought if girls ignored their come-ons, they could force themselves on them. “Heterosexual boys also perceive lesbian women as being competition, so they think: ‘I need to change you’,” he said.
Of course, these extreme cases do not represent the so-called “ex-gay” movement in general. Certainly, Exodus and even NARTH, I beleive, would oppose such torture. However, the notion that GLBT people must be “changed” no matter what the psychological or physical toll is in step with the West’s ‘ex-gay’ movement. The very existence of these organizations creates a sour climate where GLBT lives are demeaned and homosexual relationships are viewed as inferior. In such a hostile environment, some people will take desperate measures (exorcisms) or partake in dangerous experiments (shock therapy) to fix the “problem.”
The lesson the world must learn – from North America to South Africa – is that GLBT people should be left alone to live in peace, exactly as they were created. It is time to end the sickening abuse in all of its injurious forms that occur in the name of “corrective” or “ex-gay” therapy.
Film: Proteus (2003)
Synopsis: A recreation of the decade-long love affair in the 18th century in a Cape Town penal colony on Robben Island. The two lovers were a Dutch sailor imprisoned there for sodomy and a young Khoi herder. The Khoi were part of the Hottentot tribal group and as such were the untouchables of that time. The two were placed on trial and this love affair and the legal battles are the grist of Greyson and Lewis’ film based partly on court transcripts from the time. In South Africa, during the 1700s, sodomy was a crime deemed worse than murder, and the fact that these two young men had indulged in it was also complicated by the fact that this was an interracial love affair.
Review: "A handsome, classy gem of a movie, imaginatively shot on a very low budget… be prepared for gorgeous scenery…and completely believable performances by a first-rate, though unknown, cast…. A mixed bag of a love story that actually works, thanks to a refreshing lack of camp…. Definitely not your average "gay movie", and certainly not to everyone’s taste, "Proteus" is challenging yet generous toward those who are willing for something a little different. Stick with this one."
Run time: 100 mins
Mandela Celebrates His 90th Birthday
by Alan Cowell
There was a time, not all that long ago, when he was the invisible man whose name was a battle cry, his appearance known to most people only from an out-of-date photograph, a hidden hero on a prison island off the coast of Africa. But as he celebrated his 90th birthday on Friday, Nelson Mandela was anything but invisible, a figure of reverence whose nine decades have already been observed at a huge rock concert in London’s Hyde Park, a gala dinner for his children’s charity in the august, chandeliered Long Room at Lord’s Cricket Ground (also in London) and a host of other tributes. The actual day of his birth was supposed to be celebrated with a quiet affair in his ancestral village of Qunu in the southeast of South Africa — with a mere 500 of his closest friends in attendance, and a wry self-deprecation.
“We are honored that you wish to celebrate the birthday of a retired old man, who no longer has power or influence,” he said in a public radio message, according to news reports. Friday was also the 10th anniversary of his marriage to Graça Machel, the widow of Samora Machel, a revolutionary leader and former president of Mozambique. Mr. Mandela divorced Winnie Mandela in 1996. Part of Mr. Mandela has always seemed to be public property, owned initially by foes of apartheid rule in South Africa and now a kind of universal talisman of integrity and dignity — a name to bring a flush of moral ardor to the most jaded celebrity visages. Where his name once resonated around the segregated black townships of apartheid South Africa, chanted by the rebellious youths who challenged white rule, it now seems to head a list of encounters with notables sought by rock stars and politicians.
In his presence, even the most battle-scarred and cynical of politicians seem to feel they are wafted to the high ground wrought by Mr. Mandela’s 27 years in prison. His stature and charisma have given him entree from the White House in Washington to 10 Downing Street in London. Remarkably, it has been 18 years since Mr. Mandela was released from jail, 14 years since he triumphed in his country’s first democratic elections, 8 since he left office and 4 since he formally withdrew from public life. But, contrary to his disclaimer of power and influence in his birthday message, he is still seen as a guarantor of his country’s remarkable transition from a segregated society to one that is majority-ruled.
F. W. de Klerk, the last white president of South Africa, who negotiated the transition with Mr. Mandela and shared a Nobel Peace Prize with him in 1993, hailed Mr. Mandela’s role in molding “our widely diverse communities into an emerging multicultural nation.” Mr. Mandela has lent his name to the struggle against H.I.V. and AIDS. The rock concert in Hyde Park was devoted to the effort to combat the epidemic that has been the scourge of Africa. He also entered the bitter dispute over the electoral, social and economic crises of Zimbabwe, saying that there had been a “tragic failure of leadership” in the country. As Mr. Mandela ages, there are fears among some South Africans that, as The Mail and Guardian, a South African newspaper, put it, his legacy is under threat from his successor, Thabo Mbeki.
Mr. Mbeki’s critics have accused him of being far more divisive than Mr. Mandela and of overseeing a centralization of the power of the ruling party, African National Congress. “Mandela is 90,” The Mail and Guardian said in its online edition on Friday. “But the sweet celebration of a life of leadership, service and generosity is mixed with the sour taste of a legacy being polluted in front of the old man’s tired eyes.” It is thus with a certain wistfulness that some South Africans contemplate a post-Mandela era.
“Mandela can’t come to our rescue any more,” the newspaper said. “But his example can.”
July 28, 2008
South African named as new UN human rights chief
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
The new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be South African judge Navanethem Pillay. She has been nominated despite initial American resistance over her support for abortion rights. The UN General Assembly is to meet today to confirm Ms Pillay’s appointment to the high profile role. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced her nomination on Thursday. In an interview with Reuters, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, congratulated Ms Pillay on her new job. "We need a strong voice, we need a credible voice to speak on the issue of human rights issues, one of the key missions of the United Nations and we look forward to working with her," he said.
He denied the US had formally opposed her nomination. In 1967 Ms Pillay became the first woman to start a law practice in Natal Province, South Africa, and the first black woman to serve in the country’s High Court. As a lawyer she defended many opponents of apartheid. She was elected by the United Nations General Assembly to be a judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, where she served for eight years, including four years as president. She has written on and practised in international criminal law, international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and more particularly on crimes of sexual violence in conflicts.
In a valedictory speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour challenged the continued oppression of women and sexual minorities. "A failure to understand or accommodate diversity has inevitably led to an erosion of the rights of minorities and vulnerable people within a country, and those of individuals who move across borders, including refugees or migrants," she told the 47-member council. "Fears and mutual suspicions, engendered by the security environment that has prevailed in the past few years, have exposed minorities to additional risks and abuse. "The perpetuation of prejudices continue to deny equal rights and dignity to millions worldwide on the basis of nothing more innocuous than their sexual identity or orientation, or their ancestry, in the case of caste discrimination."
During her time as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights many Muslim and African countries expressed their displeasure at Mrs Arbour’s insistence that gay and lesbian people and women have human rights equal to those of men. She highlighted the treatment of sexual minorities through her work. Mrs Arbour said the new state reporting system, known as the Universal Periodic Review, could provide a vehicle for scrutiny of the implementation of rights and norms beyond anything ever attempted by the Commission on Human Rights, the ineffective body that was replaced by the Human Rights Council in June 2006.
The UPR, which began functioning in April, has examined the human rights record of 32 states so far, and will take four years to complete its first round of all the UN’s 192 member states. It illustrates deep divisions on the issue of gay rights. As part of the second stage of the UPR Tonga was advised to decriminalise sexual activity between consenting adults, recommended by the Netherlands, Canada and the Czech Republic. However Bangladesh, a Muslim country, told Tonga it should retain a ban on gay sex.
Pakistan has expressed the view that sexual orientation falls outside "universally recognised human rights." Last year Mrs Arbour declared her support for the Yogyakarta Principles.
Named after the Indonesian city where they were adopted, the principles were introduced by 29 international human rights experts at a UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva in March 2007. They refer to the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity and address issues such as rape and gender-based violence, extra-judicial executions, torture and medical abuses, repressions of free speech and discrimination in the public service.
Nearly half of RSA boys raped; 2 in 5 RSA boys raped:says study
by Wilma van Zuydam
An astonishing 44 percent of South African school-aged boys have been forced to have sex. And even more
shocking: most of the perpetrators were women. These findings were made by Prof Neil Andersson and Ari Ho-Foster from the Centre for Tropical Disease Research (CIET) in Johannesburg and published in the ‘International Journal for Equity in Health’. "We are very concerned at the findings and statistics of this research," comments Ricki Fransman, Senior Manager for Childline Western Cape. "This research once again highlights the reality that boys are as vulnerable to sexual abuse and rape as girls are."
Study results show that 14 percent of 10-year-old boys were forced to have sex in the last year (prior to when the survey was carried out). And the results were not much better for older boys: between the ages of 11 and 19, an average of 11.1 percent of boys were reported to have been sexually assaulted during the previous year. "There was a marked association between schoolboys who had been beaten and those forced to have sex in the last year," said Andersson and Ho-Foster in their report.
"We believe the statistics to be realistic," Fransman said when asked whether the statistics may be exaggerated. "It does tie in closely with international trends where it is indicated that one in five boys are sexually assaulted by the time they reach young adulthood."
According to the report, perpetrators were most frequently an adult not from their own family, followed closely in frequency by other schoolchildren.
Contrary to expectations, the study results show that most of the sexual assaults on boys were carried out by females (41 percent), compared to 32 percent of male perpetrators. The remaining 27 percent of the abused boys had been forced to have sex by both females and males. Another alarming finding is that 28 percent of the study participants reported to have been sexually abused by a fellow learner, while 11 percent of participants admitted to having forced sex on someone else. One in five boys also reported that they had been sexually assaulted by a teacher, while 20 percent of schoolboys said they had been asked to have sex by a teacher. "There was also an important association between victim age and sex of the perpetrator, " reads Andersson and Ho-Foster’s report. "Younger victims (aged 10 to 14) were more likely to report a male perpetrator than those aged 15 to 19 years."
"Boys don’t cry"
"Perpetrators prey on vulnerable children," comments Fransman. "The crime also seems to be assisted by the myth that boys are not victims of sexual abuse or rape, and this discourages young men from making disclosures. "Unfortunately young men are often still getting the message from their families, friends or communities that they should not cry or express their emotional distress at negative, traumatic experiences that they may have." Where the crimes take place Andersson and Ho-Foster found that there were "notable differences between provinces, with Limpopo (the least economically developed and most rural province) suffering the highest rates of this type of abuse (16.1 percent) and the Western Cape the lowest." Mpumalanga was in second place with 11.9 percent, followed by the Northwest Province (10.6 percent), the Freestate (10.3 percent) and the Northern Cape (10 percent).
More behavioural differences between urban and rural areas:
– Rural schoolboys were more likely to have been forced to have sex in the last year (prior to the study) than their urban or metro counterparts.
– In urban areas the association between beating and forced sex was slightly stronger than in rural areas.
– Rural boys were significantly more sexually abused at school by a fellow student and/or teacher than urban boys.
– Male abuse of schoolboys was much more common in rural areas while female perpetration was more an urban phenomenon.
– Boys admitting to having forced sex on someone else were marginally more common in poorly resourced schools.
"It [the study] dispels the myth that it is only girls that are sexually abused or raped," said Fransman. "It is also an indication that more needs to be done in the way of education and empowering children, caregivers and communities, as well as professionals who work with children, around the issue of sexual abuse and rape."
South Africa already has one of the highest rape rates in the world, and other studies have shown that people who sexually abuse children were often the target of such violence when young, the authors said. Another problem is that the prevalence of rape is hampering efforts to combat Aids in a country at the epicenter of the global pandemic. "There is increasing recognition of links between sexual abuse and high-risk attitudes to sexual violence and HIV risk," the researchers wrote. "Sexually abused children are also more likely to engage in HIV high-risk behaviour."
About the study
The study set out to find out how common male sexual abuse is in South Africa, and to identify some of the relationships between male child rape and behaviours of schoolboys. They compiled the report from information gathered during a 2002 study among 269 705 learners from 1 191 schools countrywide – 126 696 boys between the ages of 10 and 19 took part in the study. This type of study based entirely on the response of participants has limitations because there are no ways to verify whether people exaggerate or withhold information, the researchers acknowledged.
Even so, the researchers say they constructed their anonymous survey to cut down on these pitfalls and the findings may actually underestimate the sexual violence. Anderson and Ho-Foster concludes that "this study uncovers endemic sexual abuse of male children that was hitherto only poorly documented."
26 August 2008
Gay refugees meet hostility in ‘liberal’ SA
by Kenichi Serino
SA IS one of only seven countries in the world that grants refugee status on the basis of sexual orientation. But people seeking that relief are battling as much as other refugees in the country. In Uganda, homosexual acts are punishable with life imprisonment; in Mozambique with three years’ imprisonment, and with seven years in Botswana. In SA, the constitution outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexuality and the country is the only one on the continent that permits same-sex marriage. Unsurprisingly, many African gay people are coming to SA not only to enjoy freedom from sexual persecution, but also to apply for refugee status based on that persecution.
“It’s a healthier atmosphere,” says Cary Johnson, senior specialist for Africa with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Council. They can build lives here.” Gays and lesbians are entitled to apply for refugee status as they are classified as being part of a “social group”. But the process of applying for asylum, like for so many other refugee applicants, can be long and difficult. Lawyer Abeda Bahmjee represented Azu Ubongu, from Nigeria, who in 2002 was one of the earliest applicants for asylum in SA on the basis of sexual persecution .
“It was very rare,” she says. “In my experience they (sexual refugees) are more willing to put forward a political case, though it is more weak.” To successfully apply, refugees must have evidence of persecution they would face in their home countries or proof of their activism. Ubongu had been arrested more than once in Nigeria. Homosexuality is illegal under civil law and carries a jail sentence. In northern Nigeria, where Islamic law holds sway, the penalties are more severe.
But Ubongu had never actually been charged with breaking the law. According to Bhamjee, this was only because of bribes paid to Nigerian officials. Ubongu was denied asylum in SA, but the decision was changed after a legal challenge. “I think what is interesting about the decision is the way (they) construe the right to be gay,” says Bhamjee. “They basically say that it is a private right and that if gay people express themselves privately it is sufficient. It’s a very narrow view.”
The fear of potential homophobia from individual home affairs department officials is also a factor in dissuading refugees from making their applications. “The problem is when you get in front of a h ome a ffairs official,” says Johnson. “Does he hate queers? Does she fear lesbians? Their application could go to the bottom of the pile.” Gay refugees also face obstacles in their own communities . When they first arrive in SA, they often depend on networks established in SA by people of their own countries, who often bring their homophobia with them.
Liezel Theron, of Gender DyamiX, represented a transgender person, Morgan, in her bid to get asylum status. Morgan’s problems started in the queue at h ome a ffairs, with other refugee applicants. “When they found out she’s transgender, they pushed her out of the queue,” says Theron. Morgan was also evicted from her home. “Today, she doesn’t mix with other African refugees,” says Theron. Johnson says the possibility of being ostraci sed is enough to keep many gay and lesbian refugees in the closet, and stops them from applying for asylum status on the basis of their sexuality.
Their isolation from refugee networks means that finding a home and a job is difficult. Corrine Bachile left her home in the Democratic Republic of Congo in November last year. “I love my country, but it’s not easy to live there when you have made a different choice and when you are dreaming of a new sun,” Bachile says, “In my country people look at you like a witch. They will tell you to pray to God because you have some bad spirit or trouble in your mind.”
Bachile is unable to associate with Congolese people in SA. “They treat me like in my home country. Just today I met a lady from my country who asked me why I was a lesbian. Why am I not trying to date white men?” Bachile has given up applying for refugee status and plans to move to Europe. Morgan’s asylum application is being processed. Theron says home affairs officials took Morgan more seriously after she had representation, and she recently had her status renewed.
Not all applicants are that lucky. Daisy Dube, a drag queen who emigrated from Zimbabwe in 2001, was murdered in SA. “She came here because she thought it was better for gays and lesbians,” says her mother, Ntsikikeleo Dube. As a transgender person, she wasn’t able to live “as she was” in Zimbabwe. From an early age she dressed up in women’s clothing and wore make-up. She settled in Yeoville where she lived with other drag queens and worked as a hairdresser.
Last June, she was shot dead outside a nightclub. According to witnesses, her murderers shouted: “Shoot lezitabane (shoot the lesbians)!”
26 September 2008
South Africa: New health minister has work cut out for her
Johannesburg (PlusNews) – South Africa’s newly appointed health minister, Barbara Hogan, has inherited an unenviable to-do list from outgoing minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, but AIDS activists are optimistic that she is up to the job. Hogan has no background in health, but has been a member of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) since 1977 and a member of parliament since 1994. She is known for being outspoken on sensitive issues, including HIV and AIDS.
According to Zackie Achmat, a prominent AIDS activist and former chairperson of AIDS lobby group, the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Hogan was one of the few members of parliament to speak out against "AIDS denialism" – the controversial view that HIV is not the cause of AIDS, allegedly held by former President Thabo Mbeki. "She was removed as Finance Portfolio Chairperson by Mbeki, in part for her stand on HIV/AIDS," Achmat said in a statement. "She has a reputation for being hard-working, competent and principled."
Hogan’s deputy, Dr Molefi Seflaro, is a medical doctor with qualifications in tropical medicine, public health and health service management. The TAC clashed with Mbeki and Tshabalala-Msimang on numerous occasions during their nine-year tenure, most notably during a Constitutional Court battle that eventually compelled the health department to provide antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to HIV-positive pregnant women to prevent mother-to-child transmission. Claiming that over two million South Africans died of AIDS during Mbeki’s presidency, Achmat said that "at least 300,000 deaths could have been avoided had the President merely met the most basic constitutional requirements".
Many challenges ahead
Among many challenges now facing Hogan, according to Lesley Odendal, a researcher at the TAC, is to address the bottlenecks hindering the scale-up of South Africa’s public sector ARV treatment programme. "Although we do have a large number of people on treatment now, we still have about half a million people who need ARVs," she told IRIN/PlusNews. "We still have a long way to go." She identified tuberculosis (TB), the leading cause of natural death in South Africa and a common opportunistic infection in people living with HIV, as one of Hogan’s most urgent priorities. "We need to address infection control measures in hospitals and communities," said Odendal. "We need a multi-sectoral approach, but the department of health needs to provide leadership."
Dr Warren Parker, executive director of the Centre for AIDS Development Research and Evaluation (CADRE), a non-profit organisation, urged the new health minister to prioritise HIV prevention strategies beyond condom promotion and distribution. "The focus on condoms hasn’t worked," he told IRIN/PlusNews. "It’s so apparent that people don’t understand the real risks of HIV infection. The campaigns haven’t focused on the specifics enough." Parker recommended campaigns addressing the HIV risks of concurrent sexual partnerships and early sexual debut among teenagers.
Both Parker and Odendal agreed on the urgent need for the health department to scale up prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission (PMTCT) services. The strategy of using dual ARV therapy to reduce infections from mother to child was approved by the health department in January but has yet to replace less effective mono-therapy in many parts of the country, Odendal noted.
Hopes for new leadership style
"The sad thing has been so many lives lost as a product of poor strategic emphasis, including very directly through many thousands of babies becoming infected," said Parker. "The leadership orientation of the previous ministry and presidency has been to defer issues rather than leading on them, and it has cost lives." Parker added that many of the shortcomings in the current government response to HIV/AIDS could be "turned around" with more effective leadership.
While acknowledging that more than leadership was needed to address South Africa’s AIDS epidemic, the largest in the world, Odendal agreed that with a widely lauded National Strategic Framework already in place, there was plenty of room for hoping that Hogan’s appointment could mark the beginning of a more positive chapter in the country’s AIDS fight.
October 2, 2008
S.Africa health minister vows to make AIDS priority
by Rebecca Harrison
Pretoria (Reuters) – South Africa’s new health minister Barbara Hogan vowed on Thursday to make AIDS a top priority, after years of controversy over her predecessor’s unconventional support for treatments like beetroot and garlic. Hogan replaced Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, who was removed from her post when President Kgalema Motlanthe formed a new cabinet last week after Thabo Mbeki resigned as head of state.
Africa’s biggest economy faces one of the world’s heaviest HIV caseloads, but AIDS activists have accused the government of dragging its feet while the disease ravages millions. Hogan said awareness about HIV and AIDS was improving among young South Africans, but "persistent and consistent work and political leadership" was needed to get the message across about prevention and treatment. "We regard HIV/AIDS as one of the most serious health challenges facing this country," Hogan told a news conference in Pretoria.
In South Africa an estimated 500,000 people are infected each year. About 1,000 die of AIDS-related illnesses every day. Dubbed Dr Beetroot for her promotion of beetroot, garlic and other foods as frontline treatments for HIV/AIDS, Tshabalala-Msimang was accused by scientists and grassroots activists of being in denial about the disease.
Hogan, whose appointment was welcomed by AIDS activists, said she would press for more funds to roll out life-prolonging anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to as many people as possible. Mbeki drew sharp criticism shortly after coming to power in 1999, when he questioned accepted AIDS science and failed to make ARVs widely available. Hogan said there was no need for a fundamental shift in policy, as a programme was launched last year aiming to give 80 percent of HIV-positive people access to ARVs by 2011.
She stopped short of directly criticising her predecessor, who also accused big drug companies of exploiting Africans, but promised to take a less confrontational approach and to avoid "political games". Her voice trembling with emotion, Hogan told journalists about an HIV-positive young man who guards cars outside her apartment in Cape Town and who came close to death before ARVs rapidly improved his health.
"I think we underestimate the heroism of people who live with HIV," Hogan said, adding she was grateful for the chance to help them. She said she also aimed to tackle high rates of tuberculosis and improve the quality of health services. Some patients wait months for treatment in dilapidated clinics and hospitals. Jailed in the early 1980s for involvement with the then-banned African National Congress, Hogan was released in 1990 and worked on restructuring the party. She later served as head of parliament’s finance committee. (Editing by Andrew Roche)
October 06, 2008
Johannesburg Sexpo Raises Awareness About Sexuality
by Mongezi Mhlongo (BTM reporter)
South Africa – The annual raunchy Sexpo ended yesterday following a successful four day exhibition at Gallagher Estate that was aimed at highlighting lifestyle and sexuality. Colorful dildos, of all shapes and sizes, cutting edge workshops, erotic adult shops and sex materials set the mood and ambience of what the second annual Sexpo was about. In its second year running the emphasis of Sexpo 2008 was to create attentive awareness on sexuality, also tackling everyday health issues by means of providing comprehensive information.
According to Cathy Hill, sales manager at Sexpo, “the main focus was education and bringing awareness, we want to tell the public that there are sexuality and lifestyle products that can enhance their lives”, she said. She further highlighted that people have limited perceived ideas about sex and Sexpo tries to change such mindsets. “Sex is not about what everybody thinks it is and basically the Sexpo showcases that, by covering all elements with regards to sexuality.”
President of the Southern African Sexual Health Association (SASHA) and exhibitor at Sexpo, Dr. Ezio Braldi added “Its important to get to the public, Sexpo is a vehicle to exhibit and inform the public about sexual health.” This year’s Sexpo exhibitor stalls included lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) organisations to provide information relating to lgbti people. Cathy Hill of Sexpo added “Having LGBTI organisations allows people to be open-minded and creates a platform that is inclusive, not confined promoting diversity, allowing other LGBTI people freedom to ask about issues facing them.”
Out LGBT-Well Being, an LGBTI organisation which is dedicated to building healthy empowered LGBTI communities was also exhibiting. Lizette Stassen, office manager at Out Well Being and exhibitor at Sexpo said their presence at the Sexpo was to “concentrate on safe sex and provide face to face counseling at the Sexpo.” The Sexpo concept is a franchise bought from the original Australian Sexpo which began in Melbourne, Australia in 1996. The South African Sexpo is held in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban running for four days in each city every year.
October 13, 2008
South Africa U-turns on HIV/AIDS treatment
Cape Town, South Africa (AP) – South Africa’s new health minister broke dramatically on Monday from a decade of discredited government policies on AIDS, declaring that the disease was unquestionably caused by HIV and must be treated with conventional medicine. Health Minister Barbara Hogan’s pronouncement marked the official end to 10 years of denying a link between HIV and AIDS by former President Thabo Mbeki and his health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Activists also accused Tshabalala-Msimang of spreading confusion about AIDS by saying she did not trust antiretroviral medicines and preferred nutritional remedies such as garlic, beetroot, lemon, olive oil and the African potato.
"We know that HIV causes AIDS," Hogan said in a speech Monday. It was her highest-profile public appearance since she became health minister two weeks ago after Mbeki was turned out of office by his party. "I want to emphasize that we will scale up mother-to-child prevention programs," she said, referring to treatments using anti-retroviral medicine to keep HIV-positive pregnant woman from passing on the disease. Hogan said government policies over the past 10 years had failed and said South Africa needed to do much more to improve access to anti-AIDS medicines.
She vowed to step up the battle against AIDS, which now accounts for half of all public hospital admissions. She was applauded and praised at the opening ceremony of an international AIDS vaccine conference by international scientists and public health officials who were frequently spurned by former health minister. "A breath of fresh air," said Alan Bernstein, executive director of the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise.
Tshabalala-Msimang’s views earned her the nicknames "Dr. Garlic" and "Dr. Beetroot" and made her a favorite target for cartoonists. South Africa now has the world’s highest number of people with HIV, counting some 5.4 million people as infected with the virus that causes AIDS, activists say. Malegapuru Makgoba, vice chancellor and principal of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said that for the first time in years, South African academics are free to "state that HIV causes AIDS without getting threats."
"It is a liberating experience," Makgoba said at the conference, winning applause. "You don’t know how long we suffered in bondage." Hogan told the conference that countries such as South Africa — where life expectancy has fallen to 52 years — desperately need scientists to come up with a vaccine against HIV. "I’m told that it could take anything from 15 years to a century to get an effective vaccine and that it’s at least 25 years since the scientific community started looking for an HIV vaccine. I challenge you to look harder and faster," Hogan said.
More than 6,500 new HIV infections occur daily worldwide, and about 1,000 of these in South Africa.
21 September 2004
Police Relent On No Drag Order At Gay Pride Parade
by Mark Levy, 365Gay.com
Johannesburg, South Africa – Under intense pressure Johannesburg police reversed course Monday on an order banning drag queens at gay Pride celebrations. Last week Metro police said anyone appearing in drag at this Saturday’s parade would be arrested. Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said that the decision had been based on a statute in the Regulation of Gatherings Act, which states, "No person shall at any gathering or demonstration wear a disguise or mask or any other apparel or item which obscures his facial features and prevents his identification".
The announcement was immediately denounced by LGBT civil rights groups as homophobic, a charge Minnaar disputed saying the law was being enforced to provide consistency. It had been enacted to prevent anti-apartheid groups from using disguises to mask their identities. "Drag parades are not marches or protests, but are just parades, which have been going on for 14 years. The act has been in place for 11 years but they never arrested us before," said Evert Knoesen, the director of the Lesbian and Gay Equity Project which organizes the parade.
Knoesen and other GLBT community leaders met with police today. Following the meeting Chief Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said: "People will be able to wear masks, but the mask must be of such a nature that the wearer is identifiable."
November 26, 2008
Study Cites Toll of AIDS Policy in South Africa
by Celia W. Dugger
Johannesburg — A new study by Harvard researchers estimates that the South African government would have prevented the premature deaths of 365,000 people earlier this decade if it had provided antiretroviral drugs to AIDS patients and widely administered drugs to help prevent pregnant women from infecting their babies. The Harvard study concluded that the policies grew out of President Thabo Mbeki’s denial of the well-established scientific consensus about the viral cause of AIDS and the essential role of antiretroviral drugs in treating it. Coming in the wake of Mr. Mbeki’s ouster in September after a power struggle in his party, the African National Congress, the report has reignited questions about why Mr. Mbeki, a man of great acumen, was so influenced by AIDS denialists. And it has again caused soul-searching about why his colleagues in the party did not act earlier to challenge his resistance to broadly accepted methods of treating and preventing AIDS.
Reckoning with a legacy of such policies, Mr. Mbeki’s’s successor, Kgalema Motlanthe, acted on the first day of his presidency two months ago to remove the health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, a polarizing figure who had proposed garlic, lemon juice and beetroot as AIDS remedies. He replaced her with Barbara Hogan, who has brought South Africa — the most powerful country in a region at the epicenter of the world’s AIDS pandemic — back into the mainstream. “I feel ashamed that we have to own up to what Harvard is saying,” Ms. Hogan, an A.N.C. stalwart who was imprisoned for a decade during the anti-apartheid struggle, said in a recent interview. “The era of denialism is over completely in South Africa.”
For years, the South African government did not provide antiretroviral medicines, even as Botswana and Namibia, neighboring countries with epidemics of similar scale, took action, the Harvard study reported. The Harvard researchers quantified the human cost of that inaction by comparing the number of people who got antiretrovirals in South Africa from 2000 to 2005 with the number the government could have reached had it put in place a workable treatment and prevention program. They estimated that by 2005, South Africa could have been helping half those in need but had reached only 23 percent. By comparison, Botswana was already providing treatment to 85 percent of those in need, and Namibia to 71 percent.
The 330,000 South Africans who died for lack of treatment and the 35,000 babies who perished because they were infected with H.I.V. together lost at least 3.8 million years of life, the study concluded. Epidemiologists and biostatisticians who reviewed the study for The New York Times said the researchers had based their estimates on conservative assumptions and used a sound methodology. “They have truly used conservative estimates for their calculations, and I would consider their numbers quite reasonable,” James Chin, a professor of epidemiology at the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said in an e-mail message.
The report was posted online last month and will be published on Monday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes. Max Essex, the virologist who has led the Harvard School of Public Health’s AIDS research program for the past 20 years and who oversaw the study, called South Africa’s response to AIDS under Mr. Mbeki “a case of bad, or even evil, public health.” Mr. Mbeki has maintained a silence on his AIDS legacy since his forced resignation. His spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said Mr. Mbeki would not discuss his thinking on H.I.V. and AIDS, explaining that policy decisions were made collectively by the cabinet and so questions should be addressed to the government.
The new government is now trying to hasten the expansion of antiretroviral treatments. The task is urgent. South Africa today is home to 5.7 million people who are H.I.V.-positive — more than any other nation, almost one in five adults. More than 900 people a day die here as a result of AIDS, the United Nations estimates. Since the party forced Mr. Mbeki from office and some of his loyalists split off to start a new party, rivalries have flared and stories about what happened inside the A.N.C. have begun to tumble out, offering unsettling glimpses of how South Africa’s AIDS policies went so wrong. From the first year of his presidency in 1999, Mr. Mbeki became consumed with the thinking of a small group of dissident scientists who argued that H.I.V. was not the cause of AIDS, his biographers say.
As president he wielded enormous power, and those who disagreed with him said they feared they would be sidelined if they spoke out. Even Nelson Mandela, the revered former president, was not immune from opprobrium. In a column in The Sunday Times of Johannesburg on Oct. 19, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, a senior party member now running the party’s 2009 election campaign, recounted how Mr. Mandela, known affectionately as Madiba, was humiliated during a 2002 A.N.C. meeting after he made a rare appearance to question the party’s stance on AIDS. Mr. Ramatlhodi described speakers competing to show greater loyalty to Mr. Mbeki by verbally attacking Mr. Mandela as Mr. Mbeki looked on silently. “After his vicious mauling, Madiba looked twice his age, old and ashen,” Mr. Ramatlhodi wrote.
Mr. Ramatlhodi himself acknowledged in a recent interview that in 2001 he sent a 22-page letter, drafted by Mr. Mbeki’s office, to another of Mr. Mbeki’s most credible critics, Prof. Malegapuru Makgoba, an immunologist who was one of South Africa’s leading scientists. The letter accused Professor Makgoba of defending Western science and its racist ideas about Africans at the expense of Mr. Mbeki. In 2000 Mr. Mbeki had provided Professor Makgoba with two bound volumes containing 1,500 pages of documents written by AIDS denialists. After reading them, Professor Makgoba said in an interview that he wrote back to warn Mr. Mbeki that if he adopted the denialists’ ideas, South Africa would “become the laughingstock, if not the pariah, of the world again.” But Mr. Mbeki indicated last year to one of his biographers, Mark Gevisser, that his views on AIDS were essentially unchanged, pointing the writer to a document that, he said, was drafted by A.N.C. leaders and accurately reflected his position.
The document’s authors conceded that H.I.V. might be one cause of AIDS but contended that there were many others, like other diseases and malnutrition. The document maintained that antiretrovirals were toxic. And it suggested that powerful vested interests — drug companies, governments, scientists — pushed the consensus view of AIDS in a quest for money and power, while peddling centuries-old white racist beliefs that depicted Africans as sexually rapacious.
“Yes, we are sex crazy!” the document’s authors bitterly exclaimed. “Yes, we are diseased! Yes, we spread the deadly H.I. virus through our uncontrolled heterosexual sex!” In 2002, after a prolonged outcry over Mr. Mbeki’s comments about AIDS and the government’s policies, Mr. Mbeki agreed to requests from within his party to withdraw from the public debate. That same year, the Constitutional Court ruled that the government had to provide antiretroviral drugs to prevent the infection of newborns. And in 2003, the cabinet announced plans to go forward with an antiretroviral treatment program.
“We did an enormous amount of good in the early days in South Africa, not because of the Health Ministry, but in spite of the Health Ministry,” said Randall L. Tobias, who was appointed by President Bush in 2003 to lead the United States’ $15 billion global AIDS undertaking. In the same years, former President Clinton and his foundation were also deeply involved in helping South Africa get a treatment program going. Mr. Clinton attended Mr. Mandela’s 85th birthday celebration in Johannesburg in 2003. During the dinner, he and Mr. Mbeki slipped away to talk about AIDS, Mr. Clinton recalled in a recent interview.
Mr. Clinton said he told Mr. Mbeki how antiretroviral treatment had reduced the AIDS mortality rate in the United States and reminded him, “I’m your friend and I haven’t joined in the public condemnation.” That evening, when Mr. Clinton offered to send in a team of experts to help the country put together a national treatment plan, Mr. Mbeki took him up on it. The Clinton Foundation helped devise a plan and mobilized 20 people to travel to South Africa in 2004 to help carry it out. But the South African government never invited them, Mr. Clinton said. So the foundation, which had projects all over Africa, was to have none in South Africa. Changes since Mr. Mbeki’s fall from power have prompted many to hope for forceful South African political leadership on AIDS. Mr. Mbeki’s rival and successor as head of the party, Jacob Zuma, who is expected to become president after next year’s election, himself made a famously questionable remark about AIDS.
In his 2006 rape trial, in which he was acquitted of sexually assaulting a family friend, he testified that he sought to reduce his chances of being infected with H.I.V. by taking a shower after sex. Nonetheless, he seems to have more conventional views on the pandemic. “Who would have thought Jacob Zuma would be better than Mbeki, but he is,” said Richard C. Holbrooke, the former ambassador to the United Nations in the Clinton administration who heads a coalition of businesses fighting AIDS. “The tragedy of Thabo Mbeki is that he’s a smart man who could have been an international statesman on this issue. To this day, you wonder what got into him.”
For South Africans who watched the dying and were powerless to stop it, the grief is still raw. Zackie Achmat, the country’s most prominent advocate for people with AIDS, became sick during the almost five years he refused to take antiretrovirals until they were made widely available. He cast Mr. Mbeki as the leading man in this African tragedy. “He is like Macbeth,” Mr. Achmat said. “It’s easier to walk through the blood than to turn back and admit you made a mistake.”
December 10, 2008
South Africans still not OK with same-sex relationships
by Staff Writer, PinkNews.co.uk
82% of the adult population of South Africa think that sex between two men or two women could be considered ‘always wrong,’ according to the latest South African Social Attitudes Survey. Just 8% thought it was never wrong. "Gay and lesbian identities continue to be characterised as ‘un-African’," according to the report into the survey from the Human Sciences Research Council. Figures for the last five years show a consistent 80% opposition to gay people.
"The assertion of ‘un-Africanness’ conceals a moral and cultural view that African societies are somehow unique and therefore immune to what is perceived to be a Western and European import. The systematic accusations by several African leaders over the years have fuelled these perceptions and South Africans are likewise divided in their tolerance of same-sex issues. As the incidences of hate crimes against black lesbians and gay-bashing attest, the victory of constitutional equality clearly has not guaranteed the end to social discrimination."
South Africa is the only African nation to have legalised same-sex marriage and the state’s Constitution provides protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
"Prejudiced views on same-sex relations appear closely related to education, with more highly educated people being more tolerant," according to the report. "Those who matriculated or possess a tertiary qualification demonstrate more liberal views, especially compared to citizens that either have no formal schooling or only a primary level education. However, even among tertiary educated adults, 76% on average over the period consider homosexuality to be always wrong, with the lowest reported figure for this group being 72% in 2003. Noteworthy are the signs of improvement since 2005 among those with either a grade 8 to 11 education or having matriculated.
"This development will need to be monitored to determine whether the trend persists. In the four years between 2003 and 2006, 16 to 24 year olds were significantly less likely to voice their disapproval than middle aged and older groups. While there are both upward and downward swings within age groups over this interval, there are indications that attitudes began softening after 2005, especially among those older than 24 years. For 16 to 24 year olds, the level of disapproval has remained at a relatively constant level, except for a short-lived improvement in 2006. Between 2006 and 2007, there appears to have been a convergence in attitude among the three groups younger than 50 years, to the extent that they no longer differ significantly."
Report authors Benjamin Roberts, a Research Specialist in the Child, Youth, Family and Social Development research programme and Professor Vasu Reddy, a Chief Research Specialist in the Gender and Development Unit, concluded: "Despite guaranteed constitutional freedoms, the results suggest that South African society is still largely prejudiced rather than accepting of same-sex relations. Ironically the negative attitudes confirm that despite policy shifts and legal reform within a Bill of Rights culture, cultural prejudice remains strong. This also indicates that while a rights-based model governs citizenship claims in the country, attitudinal changes do not necessarily correlate with rights.
"Additionally, the results suggest that the negative attitude and reluctance to ‘accept’ homosexuality could also be linked to levels of education and awareness of people, rural-urban divide, age, culture, and religion. Tolerance and positive attitudes may have something to do with the recognition of difference, equality and dignity which are values that arise out of a slow process of negotiation. Understandably apartheid had a strong psychological basis to indoctrination, and perhaps acceptance of ‘homosexuality’ has less to do with a legal framework, and more to do with consciousness-raising and openness to differences in South African society. Finally, it would seem that rights do not necessarily result in justice. This tension seems to exist if we consider, for example, recent hate crimes of lesbians in Cape Town, Ladysmith and Soweto.
"Perhaps the empirical data suggests that much work remains at the level of public education around diversity (which will include understanding same-sex issues). This task may not be the responsibility of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered organisations, but rather the responsibility of all South Africans, perhaps to be included in life orientation curricula schooling."
South Africa has been rocked by the murders of several prominent lesbian activists. Football midfielder Eudy Simelane was gang-raped and murdered in April. She had played for the national women’s squad, nicknamed Banyana Banyana. Ms Simelane was returning home from a night out with friends in Kwatema, near Johannesburg, when she was reportedly targeted by a gang of youths. Her body, which showed signs of repeated stabbings and rape, was found on open ground nearby.
In February human rights groups and gay activists launched the 07-07-07 Campaign. On 7th July last year two lesbian women, 34 year old Sizakele Sigasa and 23 year old Salome Masooa, were raped, tortured and killed in Meadowlands, Soweto. Their hands were tied up using their underwear and their tied ankles using their shoelaces. Both had been shot several times. On February 4th 2006 lesbian Zoliswa Nonkonyane was murdered by a mob of 20 men.
None of these cases have been solved.
Gay rights group Triangle Project claimed police ignore reports from gay and lesbians that they had been assaulted or raped because of their sexual orientation and some health workers had refused to help lesbians who had been raped. "Thirteen years into our democracy and our progressive constitution, which includes the protection of the human rights of LGBTI persons, we find ourselves still marching for freedom," the group said in a statement launching the 07-07-07 Campaign. Our black sisters in townships and rural communities are continued targets of corrective rape; verbal, sexual and physical abuse; plagued by violence and trapped by the collective oppressions of sexism, homophobia, hetero-normative values and patriarchal structures. Black lesbians and effeminate men are humiliated and publicly shamed resulting in their brutal and violent deaths which are ignored by local authorities and national leadership."
In response to these criticisms South Africa’s Police Inspectorate has promised "decisive action" against officers who ridicule gay people or ignore homophobic hate crimes.
December 15, 2008
Coping with being gay and godly
As long as churches condemn homosexuality, there will be those who claim they can ‘cure’ this sexual orientation, writes Robert McKay In 2006 the Rainbow Nation celebrated another milestone. South Africa became one of the most progressive countries in the world when it legalised gay marriage. From then , as far as the constitution was concerned, gay men and women were equal to their heterosexual countrymen. But a survey published as late as last month shows that this spirit of inclusivity hasn’t filtered down into the hearts of ordinary South Africans.
According to the annual SA Social Attitudes Survey, by the Human Sciences Research Council, as many as 80percent of South Africans remain opposed to gay and lesbian relationships. That this same fraction of people identify themselves as Christian is no coincidence. Much of the prejudice towards homosexuality is rooted in religion. When the Civil Union Bill was passed, African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Meshoe even warned of “provoking God’s anger”. But, if religion has historically been part of the problem for gay men and women, it now also promises a solution in the form of the “ex-gay” movement — a loose collection of Christians who claim to “cure” homosexuality. The movement began in the US and remains largely American, but several ministries have opened in South Africa. One such organisation is Living Waters, the local branch of a US-based ministry headed by Craig Roome.
Roome says the counselling programme offered by Living Waters is designed for all people who are struggling with relationship issues, and only part of that work includes “helping [gay] people to journey out of that lifestyle” — about 20 percent of the people who enroll for the six-month course are “from gay backgrounds” and the five or six support groups Living Waters runs each year draw 500 to 600 people. Roome takes great pains to point out that the ministry is not anti-gay.
“We certainly don’t lobby against gay rights,” he insists. “It’s not about hate. That’s not what Christianity is about. We simply provide a service to people who are not satisfied with their lives.” In this regard, Groome echoes the thinking of many ex-gay ministries that try to reframe the issue as one of self-determination and empowerment: the right to choose. Roome repeatedly compares homosexuality with addiction, a symptom he says, of a “broken identity”.
Treatment is two-pronged — addressing the issue on a psychological level through the programme’s lecturing component, and on a spiritual level through group prayer. Roome is convinced that people can change — he is a product of the programme himself and now regards himself as heterosexual (he dislikes the term “ex-gay”). “My own life is testimony of that. There are hundreds and thousands of people around the world in Living Waters who are testament.” And, he says, suppressing his homosexual desires hasn’t made him miserable. “I’m very much content with how I view myself. I no longer live in a place of yearning to be something I can’t be.”
In the US media, the ex-gay story has centered on the debate between ex-gay proponents who say “Change is possible” and gay activists who say “No, it isn’t”. But recently, said Peter Toscano, founder of the US website-cum-support group Beyond Ex-Gay.com, a new voice has emerged: ex-gay survivors, former clients of ex-gay therapists and ministers, who haven’t been “cured” and feel cheated or, worse, feel damaged by the “de-gaying process”. Many South Africans are among those voices.
Clive Vanderwagen grew up in a conservative Christian home in Benoni and from an early age he knew he was different. “I was very aware that the Bible I believed in was telling me that a part of what was emerging in my life was wrong.” Vanderwagen’s childhood was immersed in the church so, when his homosexuality persisted into adulthood, it was only natural that he turn to them for help, he said. This led him to Trailblazers, the South African branch of a US ministry led by a gay man who married and has a daughter. “I do believe in a god who heals,” he explained, “and that’s the god they offered.”
During his time with the ministry, Vanderwagen was encouraged to date women, which he did, and get in touch with his masculinity by, for instance, watching sport on TV and learning how to “cross my legs like a man”. He spent seven years trying to overcome his sexuality but ultimately the ministry had the opposite effect — he finally learned how to be comfortable in his own skin.
Adrian Lovel-Hall tells a similar story. Born of devout Christian parents in Zimbabwe, and then growing up in South Africa, prayer was a daily ritual and God was ever present in his home. When he lost both parents in tragic circumstances, he sought refuge with the church, but was shunned when he came out. He then joined Living Waters in 2001. “Living Waters was supposed to ‘heal’ me from homosexuality,” he wrote for http://www.beyond exgay.com, “but I found I was becoming a healed homosexual. Living Waters helped me forgive others and be who I was — gay.”
Writing on behalf of the Psychological Society of SA, Dr Juan Nel notes that, since 1990, reparative therapy has been strongly discouraged by the American Psychological Association because it “can do more harm than good”. Though Clive and Adrian deny any damage has been done, they say not everyone might be as lucky. Even Roome admits the treatment is not for everyone and can be “painful”. But, bizarrely, neither Clive nor Adrian would dissuade someone from pursuing this kind of therapy. Their faith in God is unchanged and they harbour no ill will towards the ministries’ leaders — “they’re just gay men and women who want to be straight too”, said Clive. “The church is people with flawed beliefs; that doesn’t affect my relationship with God.”
And therein lies the problem. Neither of the two men considered conventional therapies because, as Clive puts it, “there’s no God in it”. For them, the ex-gay movement represented a way of combining their sexuality and the one thing that gave their lives meaning — their unwavering belief in God.
December 31, 2008
South Africa / President Kgalema Motlanthe appoints justice Edwin Cameron as Judge of the Constitutional Court
Pretoria, South Africa/African Press Organization (APO)/ — In terms of section 174 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, President Kgalema Motlanthe has appointed Justice Edwin Cameron as a Judge of the Constitutional Court. The appointment was made after consultation with the Chief Justice and the Leaders of parties represented in the National Assembly. The appointment is with effect from 01 January 2009, on an existing vacancy.
For more information contact Thabo Masebe on 082 410 808