January 20, 2003
8 Killed at S. Africa Gay Massage Parlor
Cape Town, South Africa (AP) – An execution-style attack early Monday morning at a Cape Town house used as a gay massage parlor killed eight men and badly wounded two, police said. Many of those killed had been tied up and shot at close range, Capt. Etienne Terblanche, a police spokesman said. Their throats were also slit. Six men died at the scene and two more died later in the hospital. Two other wounded men, who also had been shot in the head, were in the hospital in very serious condition, Terblanche said. "When we arrived, the injured were crawling around on the floor," Terblanche was quoted as telling the South African Press Association.
There was "an incredible amount of blood about." The rooms of the house, which had been rented out, had been turned into private massage rooms and were decorated with graphic pornographic images. Leonard Ramatlakane, safety and security minister of the Western Cape province, said it looked like "organized crime was behind this." A police task force had been formed to investigate, he said. Neighbors called police after hearing gunshots at the house about 4 a.m. They also saw one of the injured men, with wounds on his head and neck, running out of the house to a nearby gas station, according to SAPA.
The Lesbian and Gay Equality Project said the attack could have been a hate crime and called on police to work diligently to find the killers. "We have been very concerned about threats issued by various fringe groups in society over recent months that indicated an intention to perpetrate acts of violence against lesbian and gay people," the organization’s director, Evert Knoesen, said in a statement. Neighbors said there had been an altercation at the house involving drug dealers, but police said they could not confirm that. "At this stage we are investigating all possibilities," Terblanche said.
January 28, 2003
GLA to meet cops over ‘gay’ murder
The Lesbian and Gay Equality Project will meet senior police officers in Pretoria to discuss several issues around the murder of nine men at a gay massage parlour in Sea Point, Cape Town, last week. Equality Project spokesman Evert Knoesen said the meeting had been organised so that his organisation could be informed of the progress of the police investigation into the slaying. Up to now police have kept mum on probe, saying only that detectives were working hard to apprehend those behind the killings. Ten men were shot in the head and most of them had their throats slit when they were attacked in a house in Graham Road, home of the massage parlour, Sizzlers, early on January 20. One man in his early 20s survived the ordeal. He is being treated in Groote Schuur Hospital where his condition was described as stable.
The police are still searching for four men seen leaving the crime scene in a BMW shortly after the massacre. Knoesen said the Equality Project would ask the police in Pretoria whether leads that had been passed on to detectives were being followed up. The group also wanted to know what proactive measures, if any, had been put in place to prevent a similar attack. They also wanted to know what progress has been made in investigations into other incidents, such as the bomb blast at the gay Blah Bar in Somerset Road in Green Point in November 1999. Knoesen, meanwhile, criticised the Gay and Lesbian Alliance, for its remarks that a memorial service for the massacre victims at a Sea Point church had become "political window dressing" for the ANC.
GLA media director David Baxter said in a statement that what was supposed to be a respectful memorial service for family and friends, became "political window dressing" for the ANC. Baxter said GLA president James Duval Uys and first vice president Joe Chauke attended the memorial service in their private capacity but left in protest when ANC officials in election T-shirts took the stage.
Knoesen confirmed that Uys did leave early. Knoesen said several gay organisations had distanced themselves from the GLA. The GLA had no proven track record of representing the interests of the lesbian and gay community. The GLA also did not have any record of activism for democracy in South Africa. The leadership of the GLA had not contributed to the campaigns for partnership rights in the workplace and in society. The group further disassociated themselves from any statements and actions by the GLA and "we place into absolute dispute that the GLA is the political voice of ‘lesbigay’ in South Africa", Knoesen said. The ANC has also criticised the GLA, Sea Point ANC spokesperson Clayton Wakeford said the ANC had become involved in the memorial service because "large numbers of our members in Sea Point are gay and lesbian".
Wakeford said the call for the memorial service came from the ANC’s domestic worker constituency. Wakeford said only one person in an ANC T-shirt delivered a reading and he had not spoken as an ANC member but in his private capacity. He questioned the motives of the GLA and said it had plastered its pamphlets all over the Graham Road house. "We don’t know who they (the GLA) are. We are never able to contact them. They are running a media-driven campaign," Wakeford said. – Sapa
Africa’s Rainbow Nation
by Amy L. Kovac Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 28, No. 2, June 2002,
London "Homosexuals must be condemned and rejected in our society," once declared Namibia’s President Sam Nujoma. In the same vein, Zimbabwe’s head of state Robert Mugabe has likened homosexuals to dogs and pigs. With neighbors like these, how did South Africa become one of the most gay-friendly nations in the world?
The unique history of South African gay liberation is the subject of a recent article in the quarterly Journal of Southern African Studies. Sheila Croucher, a political scientist from Miami University in Ohio, argues that the emergence of a gay and lesbian movement in South Africa is "both a consequence of, and potential contributor to, the country’s democratic transition." Before the 1980s, Croucher explains, a gay-rights movement barely existed in South Africa.
The lone outburst occurred in 1968, when gay men and lesbians rallied successfully against a government effort to criminalize homosexuality. However, mass political action did not result, mainly because this particular movement – known as Law Reform – was too narrow in focus and failed to link its goals to a broader opposition to apartheid. South Africa’s first national gay organization, the Gay Association of South Africa (GASA), came onto the scene in 1982. Primarily a social organization, as most of the country’s gay subculture was at the time, GASA was also predominantly white, middle class, and male. The group, whose mission was to provide a "non-militant non-political answer to gay needs," refrained from debating the country’s political structure and refused to aid one of its black members on trial for his role in the antiapartheid struggle.
In 1987, the Brussels-based International Lesbian and Gay Association expelled GASA on the grounds that it only represented white homosexuals. Croucher asserts that this expulsion destroyed the group, but gay activist and South African author Mark Gevisser maintains that GASA began falling apart due to internal problems in 1986, when membership dwindled and the organization suffered financial troubles. Croucher’s narrative omits a key development that helped propel the movement forward: In 1985, the government again contemplated outlawing homosexuality; as in 1968, the gay community swung into action. But this time, the idea of a larger struggle took root, with help from a speech by human rights advocate Edwin Cameron, who linked gay rights with broader notions of freedom.
The government’s efforts later fizzled as authorities were forced to confront antiapartheid resistance. But Cameron’s speech and leadership helped transform gay rights into a legitimate political issue rather than merely a private concern. In the late 1980s, new groups sprang up that included black and white members, displaying what Croucher terms "impeccable anti-apartheid credentials." These groups were the first to meld gay rights issues formally to the antiapartheid struggle and the larger fight for human rights.
They allied with the United Democratic Front, an umbrella organization aligned with the underground African National Congress (ANC), which opposed the apartheid government. By 1990, the government lifted the ban on the ANC and began to dismantle the apartheid system. Under the leadership of ANC President Nelson Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk, political organizations from around the country came together in 1991 to write an interim constitution. Activists from the gay movement now had the ear of ANC leaders, and in 1992, the ANC recognized gay rights and agreed to include a prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation in its proposed Bill of Rights.
Other political parties followed the ANC’s lead. The interim constitution, which came into effect in 1994 when the country had its first all-race democratic elections, was the first in the world to include such a prohibition. And the Constitutional Assembly, charged with drafting the final constitution, retained the sexual orientation clause, which the new parliament approved on May 8, 1996. Since then, gay activists have continued lobbying for equal rights, mainly in the courts and in parliament. Croucher maintains that the gay movement, primarily through the Lesbian & Gay Equality Project, an umbrella group formed in 1994, has played a key role in South African civil society, staking out independent positions and showing its willingness to challenge the ANC and other political parties.
Gay activists have also supported the work of other nongovernmental organizations by lobbying for gender equality and fair labor laws. By using the country’s new democratic institutions and laws to challenge the government, argues Croucher, the gay movement has helped to solidify democratic rule in South Africa. But its work is not done. Though South Africa’s highest court overturned laws prohibiting gay adoption in September of last year, the Pretoria High Court later dismissed an application by a lesbian couple who sought legal recognition for their relationship. The court, however, made no finding on same-sex marriages in general, leaving open the possibility for new cases to be filed in the future.
Amy L. Kovac is the assistant managing editor of Foreign Policy magazine.
February 11, 2003
Lesbians: Both are Biological parents by Law
by Philip de Bruin, Johannesburg
The stage is set for South Africa to become the first country in the world where two women – a lesbian couple – will both be recognised under the law as the biological parents of twins – without a legal father. In a surprise move, the ministers of justice and internal affairs in the Constitutional Court withdrew their opposition to the legal recognition of two women as biological parents of the children. Initially, both ministers strongly objected such an order. This unique situation developed when the two women from Durban – only known as J and B under an order of the Durban High Court – both contributed biologically to the conception of their twins.
An egg cell was removed from J, fertilised outside her body with sperm from an anonymous donor and then planted into B’s uterus. B later gave birth to twins. When the children’s births were registered, J gave B as the biological mother and scratched out the reference to "biological father" and replaced it with "parent".
The department of internal affairs refused to accept this registration. However, the Durban High Court ordered that the registration had to be accepted. Because the terms of the Act on Marriages and Births were found to be unconstitutional, the Constitutional Court must ratify the Durban court’s ruling. Arguments will be heard on February 27. The ministers vehemently opposed the registration of two lesbian women as the two biological parents of the twins in Durban and it was expected that the same would happen in the Constitutional Court.
However, legal representatives of the ministers handed in court documents on Tuesday in which they stated that J and B’s application had merit and therefore the ministers no longer opposed the Durban court ruling. In the documents, they referred to several court cases where gay rights were acknowledged as well as to the Law Commission’s draft legislation on children. The documents stated that it was clear it would amount to discrimination against J and B if they were not both recognised as biological parents. The ministers requested that the implementation of the court order be postponed for a year to allow parliament the opportunity to change the legislation.
May 7, 2003
‘Pink Refugees’ in South Africa seek refuge from persecution at home
by Adam Levin, Planet Syndication
Sunday night at the Summit Club in Hillbrow. Anita, a pint-sized Whitney Houston lookalike in white micro-mini and fuck-off platforms, is belting out a flawless lip-synch of Miss Whitney’s classic, ‘It’s not right, but it’s OK’. Anita’s upturned almond eyes sparkle as the red stage light brushes her high, honeyed cheekbones. She gyrates, bends, touches her toes, and flashes that impossibly broad white smile. Her energy is total. The audience – mostly black, male and heterosexual – chug down their Black Labels and cheer raucously. Little do they realise the title of the song has a certain hidden poignancy.
First up, Anita is not a woman, but a young Nigerian man called Azubike Udogo, known to his friends as Azu. Azu is currently in the process of applying for refugee status in South Africa on the grounds of his sexual orientation. "I can’t go back to Nigeria," he fumes over a glass of Lemon Twist in his Troyeville apartment. "I’ll go somewhere else if I have to. Anywhere. If I go back to Nigeria they’ll kill me or they’ll throw me in jail and that’s it."
Just how well founded this claim is, however, is a matter for the adjudicators at South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs. As a signatory of a 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees, South Africa is obliged to grant refugee status to asylum seekers who have been victims of systematic persecution in their home countries. Not only must they offer proof of this persecution; they must show the inability or unwillingness of their governments to offer them protection. While asylum seekers await judgement, which can take anything up to six years, they live half-lives without ID books or access to bank accounts. Although they are entitled to work, the asylum seeker’s permit must be renewed every three months.
Given the transience of this legal status, it is extremely difficult to secure employment or even a lease. But luckily, Azu is a fighter. He has a day job in the call centre of a Randburg attorney’s office, while at night Anita fills the breadbasket. Azu studies French, performs, socialises. Yet, having first presented his case in June 2000, he is, understandably, feeling rather frustrated at this stage. Azu was born 29 years ago in Lagos, the economic capital of Africa’s most populated country. Though he realised he was gay from an early age, he was always too frightened to admit this to anyone.
Not only would his family reject him, thanks to a strict Victorian penal code, homosexuality is still illegal in Nigeria, and two men found having sex are liable for up to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Furthermore, it is alleged that in Lagos there are private groups of vigilantes who prey on gay men, humiliating and harassing them. Worse still, in the country’s Northern states – where Islamic or sharia law has recently been implemented – homosexuality is punishable by execution. While at least one gay man has been flogged publicly, last year a young man in Kebbeh province – accused of having sex with a male minor – was sentenced to death by stoning. Even in Lagos, Nigerian society is a long way from liberated when it comes to gay rights.
While historically it was customary for powerful Hausa men to share their wealth with young male lovers as well as their female harems, in Post-Colonial Nigeria it is almost impossible to be an out homosexual. According to the affidavit of Adolph Mabunda, a young, gay Nigerian in Johannesburg, "I am regarded as a public disgrace [in Lagos]. At University, I was often insulted by being called derogatory names like [H]’Omo Detergent’. I was rejected and excluded from the mainstream… I am an enemy to my family because they say I have brought shame on them". Ironically, the situation is so dire that Alliance Rights, an underground gay organisation, which cannot be registered, spends much of its resources helping persecuted gay Nigerians to leave the country. Azu worked as a travel agent in Lagos. He drove a decent car and enjoyed a relatively high standard of living. As his family was from River State, where Ken Saro-Wiwa had recently been killed, Azu participated in some peaceful anti-government demonstrations.
Secretly he had also begun dressing in drag. Armed with fierce dancing skills and that killer smile, he had won two major titles in the city’s underground drag contests – Miss Lagos and Miss Nigeria. He had also established a secret relationship with a man but this had ended when – under extreme pressure from his family – the man had been persuaded to marry. It was back in 1996, while walking one evening on the streets of Lagos, that Azu was arrested on suspicion of homosexuality – a charge that carries a seven-year sentence in its own right. The police held Azu in the cells without laying a formal charge. They beat him. Indeed, he still has the mark on his back from where he was whacked with a policeman’s baton. Eventually, after a week behind bars, the charge was changed to "Late Wandering." Azu paid a fine and was released.
Around two years later, Azu was visiting what he calls a "Man to Man" bar in Lagos. Though nothing as overt as a gay club, the venue was known to have a partly gay clientele. Late that night, police raided the premises, throwing more thirty patrons into a van and yelling "You are worse than dogs!" Had Azu not had sufficient money on grease the officers’ palms, he would have been imprisoned again. It was then that he decided to flee the country. "If I couldn’t be who I really was," he recalls. "I didn’t want to live anymore".
Azu had read on the Internet about South Africa’s progressive stance on homosexuality. As the only African country with anti-discrimination laws in its constitution and strong gay rights movement, it seemed a likely place of refuge. And so he gave up everything he’d established in Lagos and began the long journey, by road, through Cameroon, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, arriving eventually in Johannesburg in late 1998. As he had no idea that sexual orientation was grounds for asylum, Azu applied on political grounds. With an asylum seeker’s permit granted, he began making his life in Johannesburg. He made new friends and got accustomed to the liberty of living openly as a gay man.
"Finally, I didn’t have to hide," he says. "I could just be myself and feel safe. It was magic." Azu also began making his name on the drag circuit, belting through Jennifer Holiday and Aretha Franklin at Monte Casino and private parties. At one point, he was flown down to Cape Town to perform at a Camps Bay restaurant.
It was only after two years in the country that Azu heard, via the grapevine, of Abeeda Bhamjee, a young Moslem and Legal Counsellor for Refugees at Wits Law Clinic. "Azu came and told us his story," says Avida. "And we took his case to Home Affairs".
Azu is not the first gay African to apply for asylum here. Wendy Isaack, Legal Advisor at the National Coalition for Gay & Lesbian Equality, has processed around ten similar cases in the past few years. They have included nationals from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While nine have been successful as asylum seekers, only one has actually been granted refugee status so far.
In October 2001, Azu was summoned for an adjudicators’ hearing at Home Affairs. Four months later, he received a letter of response. His application had been declined. Home Affairs had not accepted his claims of persecution. They also stated that he was able to take legal action against antagonists back home – though the fact that Nigeria’s legal system runs against the liberal tenets of our constitution was ignored. The implication – and one that I, as a gay man, find offensive – was that he should return to Nigeria and simply live in the closet. Understandably, Home Affairs is in a difficult position.
There are more than six hundred million people on this continent. At least half of them live in countries where human rights abuses occur and the modern liberties we have become accustomed to are but a dream. Toss in the needs of our own indigent population and the hordes of economic migrants creeping desperately over our borders and it is clear that the refugee question is one of the major challenges facing this country.
Furthermore, as Bhamjee points out, during the Apartheid years African countries offered residence to exiled South African activists and helped them mobilise against the regime. Surely, given Thabo Mbeki’s grand NEPAD drive, there is room for some reciprocity? In the nine years that have passed since democracy however, South Africa has been less than generous in its stance towards those who are fleeing. We have accepted around 70 000 asylum seekers, of which 18-20 000 have been granted refugee status.
While this may sound like a large number, it compares feebly with much poorer countries like Tanzania, which have camps housing up to a million people at a time. In South Africa, we have no refugee camps. Asylum seekers are housed in urban areas and are offered very little support from the government. Furthermore, while refugees are legally entitled to apply for citizenship after five years in a country, according to Abeeda Bhamjee, "to my knowledge, none has been granted."
While Home Affairs protest that a high workload prevents them from processing cases quickly, Bhamjee says the amount of time most asylum seekers wait for judgement is unreasonable. Indeed, there have also been various allegations of bribery at Home Affairs – specifically that asylum seekers are required to pay bribes to renew their permits. When they are granted refugee status however, they do not require renewals, and this alleged under-the-counter income dries up. If this is true, it is in the interests of corrupt Home Affairs officials to prolong the process. In March 2002, Avida Bhamjee launched an internal appeal at Home Affairs.
If this fails, Azu could take his case to the High Court at a minimal cost of around R15 000. If that fails, Azu may need to return to Nigeria, where he may be in greater danger after having lodged such a public appeal. Indeed, other clients of Bhamjee`s have decided against lodging applications based on sexual orientation for fear of rejection from their communities. Whether or not Azu is entitled to refugee status remains a very tricky ethical question.
When I discuss his experience of harassment with a black, gay, local friend, he exclaims, "Well, who wasn’t? The guy should go home and fight for gay civil rights in Nigeria. They need him." For me, however, the ultimate reckoning lies neither in the degree of persecution Azu could suffer back home nor in the unlikeness of his finding protection. For me, the mere fact that Azu cannot be who is in Nigeria is a gross violation of a basic human right to individuality and self-expression and should, alone, be grounds for asylum. It is clear from their correspondence that Home Affairs has little experience in dealing with such cases. The fact that adjudicators asked Azu to "prove" he is gay displays an insensitivity to the complex issues of sexuality. Ultimately, whether or not Azubike Udogo is granted refuge, the onus lies on brave gays and lesbians here and throughout this continent to stand up, roll up their sleeves, toss their fists in the air and state, "It`s not right!"
May 25, 2003
Gay cops carve out a new beat in South Africa
Homosexuality is no longer considered a crime Sarah Duguid, Chronicle Foreign Service Johannesburg
When Sias Strydom arrived at his wedding in Klerksdorp, the first thing he saw was a group of giggling police officers hiding behind a wall. They were there to see whether Strydom, who joined the police force a year before, was wearing a white dress. To their disappointment, Strydom and his sweetheart both got married in dark suits, crisp white shirts and silk ties. Strydom and Brent Browning are South Africa’s first gay, married police officers. During the apartheid regime, homosexuality was considered a serious crime. But in 1996, South Africa became the most progressive country in the world, on paper at least, when a clause was written into the constitution banning discrimination against gays, lesbians, transsexuals and bisexuals. Two years later, the law against sodomy, used to prosecute gays, was struck down by the court. Gays in the country’s big cities have relished the change, and Cape Town now sells itself as a "pink" destination.
But outside the major cities, South Africa is finding the transition more difficult. Klerksdorp, southwest of Johannesburg, is no exception. The city of 500,000 people, known for its high-security prison, seems like the last place two young gay men could find an accepting home. But they are determined to stay. "We don’t want to move. My husband is from Klerksdorp, and we like it here, " says Browning. They met their first day at the police academy, and within a year, Browning proposed. The state still doesn’t recognize gay marriages, so they drafted an iron-tight prenuptial contract to legalize their relationship: It states that if either partner commits adultery, he must leave the house immediately and continue paying his share of all household bills, even though he would no longer live there. "Everyone thinks a gay man is a slut, but I am more committed to my marriage than half the population in the world," says Browning.
Once they graduated from the police academy college, they had "a hell of a battle" to persuade the service to post them to the same town, Browning says. Without a marriage certificate, they couldn’t apply for a joint posting, but after months of wrangling, they not only ended up at the same station but also on the same beat. Strydom and Browning are part of the new generation of gay men in South Africa. They weren’t sexually active at the height of apartheid and didn’t feel its cruelty firsthand. As the enforcing arm of apartheid, the police frequently raided underground gay clubs and would burst into the homes of couples suspected of being gay in an attempt to find them in bed together – enough evidence to drag them down to the station and press charges. Within the police force, there was a rule of terror.
Psychological testing was used to filter out homosexuals, and officers suspected of being gay were investigated and fired – a policy that led to a number of suicides. As late as 1993, the same year the ruling African National Congress (ANC) announced its support of gay marriage, Police Commissioner General Johan Van de Merwe publicly stated that there were no gays in the South African police force. Four months later, he unwittingly brought one of the force’s most active gay voices to prominence. Van de Merwe named Inspector Dennis Adriao "policeman of the year," an honor that earned him a trip to Britain. After a visit to a London club named Heaven, the young inspector realized he was gay. Two years later, Adriao became the first officer to come out, and he established a lesbian and gay network for police officers that now has 1,000 members.
But Adriao says "there is still a lot of intolerance" against gays and lesbians in South Africa. Within the black community, homosexuality is still stigmatized, and many gays complain that the police ignore attacks or rapes against gay men and women because they believe the rapes were intended to "cure" them. Last month, an openly gay woman in a village in Eastern Cape province was brutally attacked, gang-raped and stoned to death by seven men because of her sexuality.
An HIV-positive lesbian in Soweto who has been the victim of several rapes says: "The constitution is written, but it is not practiced." Although gays have won equal rights for same-sex partners under the state health and pension plans, gay rights groups have been careful not to p ush for state-recognized gay marriage to avoid provoking religious groups and the right-wing lobby. And even the ANC, despite its professed support of gay rights, has opposed virtually every precedent-setting legal case brought by the gay lobby, even defending the constitutionality of the sodomy laws. "The problem in South Africa is that, despite the constitution, political leaders have done absolutely nothing to make that right real," said Paula Ettelbrick, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in San Francisco.
In the meantime, Strydom and Browning are fighting for gay rights one day at a time. Browning decided to be open about his sexuality only after meeting Strydom – a decision that led all his childhood friends from Klerksdorp to break off contact with him. At the station, there have been sporadic confrontations. An infuriated policewoman once pulled off Strydom’s engagement ring, and he has been bullied by at least one supervisor. But the two gay officers are slowly winning the respect of their comrades.
For the past five months, they have had the highest arrest rate at their station, a success they attribute to their ability to "read" one another. "When we get a serious complaint, say for an armed robbery, as we get out of the vehicle we know exactly what the other one is doing," says Strydom. One senior officer said gay police officers often work better than straight ones. Browning agrees: "Straight policemen just want to hang around and look at women," he says. "We work at work and play at home. There’s no intimacy and soppy stuff when we’re in our uniforms."
June 25, 2003
Persecution of black lesbians documented
by Jillian Green, Health and Science Reporter
Black lesbian women living in townships have often been raped to force them to behave like "proper" women.
For years they have been ostracised, are considered "non-African" and as having a "white man’s disease", and as a result have lived under a veil of secrecy and pretence. But now the victimisation and abuse these women face at the hands of homophobics in their communities has finally been documented. Two researchers from Rand Afrikaans University, Helena Hewat and Marlene Arndt, spent a year with 16 women from townships around Johannesburg documenting their experiences.
Their findings, contained in a research paper titled The Experiences of Stress and Trauma: Black Lesbians in South Africa, are shocking. The paper was presented at the fourth conference of the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society currently being held at the University of the Witwatersrand. The aim of the paper was to make this "invisible subculture visible" so that black lesbians might have access to support structures.
"In the black culture it (lesbianism) is an illness," one of the respondents told the researchers. Another said: "You are a sinner, you are supposed to be with men." Hewat said: "These women appear to be under constant stress because they are not accepted in their own culture." She added: "It is evident that they live in constant fear of being victims of hate crimes and other forms of homophobic prejudice." Many of those interviewed had been raped, and they believed this was because of their sexual orientation. All had experienced verbal abuse and some form of victimisation. "He did not understand, so he raped me." "They are going to show you that there is nothing wrong with a prick." "The men want to fix us." These were just some of the responses the researchers received from their respondents.
July 6, 2003
The personal is political: small revolution in South African attitudes towards homosexuality
In the latest of his fortnightly online columns, David Beresford recalls a small revolution in South African attitudes towards homosexuality
The row over the appointment of a homosexual as Bishop of Reading reminds me of two friends who are now living in Brazil, having – with some help from the Dutch authorities – effectively turned traditional attitudes towards homosexuality upside down in South Africa. Hans Glaubitz, a Dutch diplomat, was appointed to Pretoria in 1997. At the time it must have been seen by some like an act of deliberate provocation by the Dutch government. Hans and his partner, Raul Garcia Lao, were not only gay, but of mixed race (under apartheid Hans would have been considered white and Raul black). To top it all Raul was from communist Cuba, with whom a bitterly anti-communist South Africa had been at war only a few years earlier.
But the country’s new, ANC government proved equal to the challenge and the next edition of the Directory of Diplomatic Missions duly carried Raul’s name under "partner" and he was issued with diplomatic ID. Taking up residence in Pretoria’s poshist suburb, Waterkloof, Raul caused much bafflement wandering around the suburb in shorts, as opposed to the blue overalls, or pink dresses which tended to be the uniforms of gardeners and domestic servants. There were some hiccups, but nothing serious. They did have some difficulty when they tried to join the local tennis club, membership of which seemed to be largely made up of elderly retirees.
The chairman was much relieved when Hans said Raul would need some lessons. "Oh, but we do not take beginners," he said happily. "Yes, I can see that," commented Hans casting a sardonic eye over the predominately octogenarian crowd which had gathered about them. Although South Africa had abandoned apartheid some time before their arrival, the attitudes still lingered. When Raul – a dancer with an athletes’ body – went to a beach which had been "whites only", he found there was a need for other bathers to have an explanation for his presence. "Hey, aren’t you the one who won the 1500m steeple chase in the Atlanta Olympics," two surfers demanded of him ? "No, you’re wrong, I’m just relaxing," said Raul. "OK, guy. We accept you like to be incognito, but you don’t fool us," said the surfers, knowingly.
It was in Cuba, Hans’s first posting abroad, that the couple met and Hans realised he was gay. He came out to South Africa as Dutch cultural attache after a stint in Poland and 18 months as Charge d’Affaires in Sarajevo. Now consul general in Sao Paulo, Hans and Raul find Brazil is a country where anything goes, where sexual orientation is concerned. More than one million are estimated to have attended Sao Paulo’s annual Gay Pride a couple of weeks ago. Hans and Raul are not married – they have a contract of cohabitation which they find sufficient for practical purposes.
They have no complaints about their treatment by the Dutch government, receiving tickets to fly home twice a year – for annual leave and to attend the Heads of Mission conference together – in the same way as straight couples. The Dutch civil service pension fund has long recognised gay couples. Perhaps the most telling test of Hans and Raul, and of Holland, came recently when the Dutch Royal family, led by Queen Beatrix, descended on Sao Paulo as part of a state visit to Brazil. Raul suddenly found himself having to play the part of the official hostess, looking after the crown prince, Prince Willem-Alexander, and his new wife, Princess Maxima. When he first arrived in Sao Paulo Hans’s deputy threw a reception to meet prominent members of the Dutch community living there. Hans decided to grab the proverbial bull by the horns. "Maybe you’re accustomed to see as the Head of your diplomatic mission here a decent couple who are man and wife. Well, you’d better quickly adapt to the fact that for the next four years you’ll have to do with a decent couple who are man and man, because that’s what you have got." It was a lesson about priorities.
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A new report by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission details harassment of sexual minorities in Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It is available at hrw.org/reports/ 2003/safrica/
June 13, 2003
Gays to get govt pension
by Sonja Carstens Pretoria
Gay couples and permanent partners are entitled to pensions from the government employee pension fund after changes to regulations which discriminated against them. Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, minister of the public service and administration, said during her budget debate in parliament that the term "spouse pension" has been changed in the regulations after an agreements was reached with public service trade unions.
The Constitutional Court earlier found these regulations to be unconstitutional and discriminatory. The new regulations are applicable only to a single partner, which means that the fund does not cater for traditional marriages where more than one spouse may be involved.
7 August 2003
Gay ‘widow’ wants thousands
by Philip de Bruin, Johannesburg
The Appeal Court will decide later this month on a unique case that a gay man from Pretoria instituted against the Road Accidents Fund (RAF). The case started when Albert Clark of Pretoria was killed in a motorcycle accident on September 1, 1999. At that stage, he had been "married" to Antonie du Plessis for nearly 12 years. Du Plessis was declared medically unfit to work in 1994 and Clark financially supported him. After Clark’s death, Du Plessis sued the RAF for thousands of rands, arguing that he was entitled to claim for the loss of the financial support from his "spouse" like any other heterosexual widow, since Clark died because of the negligence of a motorist.
The Pretoria High Court turned down his claim and Du Plessis appealed the decision. Court documents refer to a Constitutional Court ruling that found that people in gay "marriages" were entitled to the same rights and privileges as heterosexual partners. "The time has come that a dependent in a gay ‘marriage’ must have the same protection and recognition under the law (as heterosexual people are entitled to)," Advocate J Mullins said. Mullins, Du Plessis’s legal adviser, added: "To ignore Du Plessis’s rights as a dependent of Clark, will be an infringement of his (and other married gays) constitutional right to equality and humanity," court documents state.
September 16, 2003
‘Gays ignored in Aids awareness campaigns’
by Jo-Anne Smetherham
Gay activists have lashed out at the health department and non-governmental organisations for ignoring homosexuals in campaigns to prevent the spread of HIV and Aids. Between 12 and 30 percent of homosexual men have HIV and Aids, the Triangle Project, a NGO working with gay people, estimates. But gay sex is not addressed by the loveLife campaign, programmes at schools or by information provided at clinics.
Rowan Smith, dean of St George’s Cathedral and one of Cape Town’s most prominent gay men, said the lack of education put gay men at greater risk of contracting HIV. "Young people are struggling with their sexuality, and there’s nothing to address the sexuality of gay people," he said. Glenn de Swardt of the Triangle Project said: "Condoms are widely available, but gay men need lubrication too. "Some who can’t afford lubrication are using butter, cooking oil or handcream. That’s a disaster. It dissolves the latex." In Cape Flats townships many homosexual men did not respond to information about gay sex because the word gay seemed effeminate and they identified with a macho image.
They would only respond to safe sex messages that talked of "men who had sex with men", Smith said. These messages did not exist. De Swardt said that gay men had observed homophobic attitudes in many doctors, nurses, counsellors at state sector clinics, and counsellors working for non-government organisations. Large numbers of gay people chose not to go to clinics as a result. "Gay people are scared to go to clinics on the Cape Flats because they say nurses will talk about them. People have been coming to us for testing and counselling from Clanwilliam, Malmesbury and other towns, because they don’t dare go in their own towns."
Many lesbians have sex with men because they are forced to, for financial security or because they are sex workers, said De Swardt. This put them at greater risk of contracting HIV and Aids than if they engaged in sexual activities with women only. National health department spokesperson Henry Mchunu said that the ABC campaign – standing for "Abstain, Be faithful, Condomise" – applied to gay men too. The government had said people should take responsibility for their own sexual behaviour and this also applied to gay people. "There is a constant learning curve for the government and the general public," he said, when questioned further. "Maybe the fact that this issue has been raised will stimulate us to take further steps."
November 5, 2003
SA film lifts veil on gay sex
A South African documentary has given a glimpse into the lives of five African men who have homosexual sex – for traditional, cultural and economic reasons. The film, entitled Four Rent Boys And A Sangoma, looks at the many different reasons behind some South African men’s decision to have sex with other men. Produced and directed by film-maker Catherine Muller, it is an investigation into black male sexuality beyond the label of "gay or homosexual."
"These guys will have sex for mobile phones, food, cars and just to have a better way of life," Ms Muller told the BBC’s Focus On Africa magazine. "The phenomenon of the black township rent boys having sex for money is very new."
She said this is a sign that poverty has become the leading reason why these men would sleep with other men. Of the four rent boys one, Keke, dresses like a woman and takes on the personality of an effeminate woman.
But the film also looks at the life of Fihlo, a Sangoma – a traditional healer – from Orange Farm, a township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Filho says in the film that he receives sex from men as a spiritual exchange of energy. "A man’s semen gives me power," he reveals. "If I am meant to sleep with men then that is my destiny." Fihlo believes it is his duty as a traditional healer to have sex with men, and says the ancestors prefer him to be submissive like a woman by being penetrated.
Ms Muller said that the Sangoma points to the fact that there are deep precedents for the practice of men having sex with other men that have real and rich complex meanings in African culture. She added that her work shows that the term "gay" does not cover the complexities of same-sex practices which have "always existed." "That label is a westernised concept but a same-sex practice is across the board," she said. The documentary was released as part of the fifth Encounters South African International Documentary Festival that will be shown in some parts of Europe.
18 November 2003
‘Corrective lesbian rape makes you an African woman’
by Yolanda Mufweba
Lesbians are being raped, assaulted and victimised "every day" in the townships, in an attempt to force a change in their sexual orientation. Since January this year, 33 black lesbians have come forward with their stories of rape, assault, sexual assault and verbal abuse to organisations fighting hate crimes in Johannesburg townships. Zanele Muholi, a reporter for the lesbian and gay publication Behind the Mask, has documented 12 rapes, four attempted rapes, six verbal abuse cases, three assaults with a deadly weapon, and two abductions.
"Since we started on this project (The Rose has Thorns) we’ve realised that this kind of thing happens every day, everywhere. As we are speaking, there are two people waiting for me to take their details," she said. The age group of the victims ranges from 16 to 35 years, and two of the rape survivors are teenagers. Muholi added that 24 of the 33 women who were subjected to hate crimes were "butch" women who had been victimised in townships including Sharpeville, Tembisa, White City, Kagiso, Pimville, Alexandra and Kwa Thema among others.
"Eight of the perpetrators were friends and neighbours, two – family, seven – familiar to the survivors, two – ex-boyfriends, seven – strangers, and five – attacked by gang members," she said. Kekeletso Khena fled from Soweto after being raped three times before she turned 19. It’s a practice called "corrective rape", where men try to "turn you into a real African woman". "I was raped because I was a butch child. I was 13 years old the first time it happened.
My mother walked into the room soon afterwards and said to me ‘this is what happens to girls like you’. "It didn’t occur to me then what she meant, but looking back now, that’s not the kind of thing you expect from a mother," she said. Khena had boyfriends but she never became sexually intimate with them. "I was raped by my ex-boyfriend because I refused him sex. The last time I was raped, I was 18 years old, it was a family friend who said to me that I had to be taught how to be a black woman. My family reacted differently this time. There was a lot more sensitivity and support because they knew the perpetrator," she said. Khena left Soweto and hardly goes back to the township. "I hate going back to Soweto, people stare at you as if you are an abomination. The minute I walk into the township, this alarm bell goes off in my head. I feel even worse when I look at my mother and you can see in her eyes she’s thinking ‘this is my child’. I left the township because I refuse to feel threatened on a daily basis," she said. Years later, she and her mother have come to terms with her daughter’s behaviour.
"Most black families know, but they don’t talk about it," she said. Denne (as she likes to be called) from Alexandra, is 30 years old and has had to defend herself physically since her days at school. "I have been in many fights. It’s very rough here in Alex. Everyone has a problem – calling me faggot. But you earn respect if you discipline them. If you’re a lesbian in Alex, you don’t go out after dark, you must be able to fight or else you get raped or beaten up," she said. She has also left home, but still stays in Alexandra with her daughter. "I was just tired of fighting with my parents, my family. They don’t understand, so I left," she said. Yusoof Abdullah, veteran co-founder of the Pride March, agreed that at township level many gay women were still facing heavy prejudice from communities.
"We rarely hear of people being beaten up on campus anymore. But in townships, gay women are not accepted. The mentality is still that all they need is a penis to set them straight," he said. Just last month, a lesbian was stabbed outside her home in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. The stabbing pierced her lung and she had to have five stitches. Media reports also stated that she had been stabbed 11 times in a previous attack. She has subsequently died and will be buried this weekend.
The Forum for the Empowerment of Women and Behind the Mask have, since 2001, tackled hate crimes happening in townships around Johannesburg through workshops and empowerment programmes. The Rose has Thorns campaign is trying to raise awareness of hate crimes directed at lesbians. Khena, who has joined the campaign as manager, said the most common form of hate crimes was "corrective rape". "It’s the most disturbing. It boils down to the fact that you as a woman have a role to be a wife, mother and subordinate to your husband. If you are lesbian you are not fulfiling those roles," she said.
"There are many issues that lesbians have to deal with besides being marginalised as women. There is intolerance at all levels – the media, health officials, education, the police, family. That is why there is such a high rate of suicide and drug abuse," she said. Pamphlets issued by the organisation advise lesbians on the best ways to prevent themselves from being seriously injured during these attacks. "We hand these out at workshops and we run self-defence classes every week. We also have training workshops in computer courses for those out of work," she said.
"The organisation has hosted workshops for communities to discuss issues faced by lesbians and how the community can assist in fighting prejudice. "We need to get rid of the belief that it is unnatural and that it is a white thing, or un-African," she said. The head of the police Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit, Superintendent Andre Neethling, said the victims needed to trust police with information. "We get reports on rape cases but the motive behind the attacks is not given. If it’s a case of gay-bashing we would be able to successfully link cases and do profiles for arrests. We need to work together to put an end to this," he said.
19 November 2003
In Johannesburg, the gays go to church
by Jerome Cartillier, Johannesburg
The church may not be full, but the mainly male congregation is enthusiastic as a gay pastor leads a service in the heart of Johannesburg for the city’s gays, lesbians and transsexuals. South Africa, with a post-apartheid constitution that bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, stands out on a homophobic continent. In neighbouring Namibia, President Sam Nujoma called on police in March to arrest, deport and imprison gays and lesbians, and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe once called gays and lesbians "worse than pigs or dogs".
"We all come from other churches: Baptist, Anglican, Roman Catholic," says pastor Paul Mokgethi, 35, who recounts that he has been campaigning for homosexual rights since he was 16. "We try to combine everything together so that everybody should feel welcome." Said Busi Kheswa, 32, who describes herself as "a lesbian born, bred and buttered" in the Johannesburg township of Soweto: "(the church) provides a spiritual home for me. It’s a place where I can be myself and talk about my relationship freely. I feel I am very much lucky."
The Hope and Unity Community, founded in 1997, is a member of the Metropolitan Community of Churches (MCC) established 35 years ago in Los Angeles. The MCC, which claims a worldwide membership of 40,000, defines itself as "a worldwide fellowship of Christian churches with a special outreach to the world’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities". Of six affiliates in Africa, five are in South Africa. At the beginning of November, when most African churches condemned the consecration as bishop of an openly gay Episcopalian in the United States, some with virulence, South Africa’s Anglicans bucked the tide.
The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, said nothing should prevent Gene Robinson’s becoming a bishop, and that the issue of gay clergy was "on the agenda of the worldwide church and was not going to go away". Joe Mdhlela, a Roman Catholic priest who is spokesman for the South African Council of Churches, said: "The South African constitution has been very helpful, it is a model that should be followed by others."
But he stressed that attitudes had evolved only among a minority of South Africans. "One would hope that we should reverse the whole picture," he said. Anthony Manion, of GALA, the Gay and Lesbian Archives of South Africa, said: "The constitution did not come out of nowhere… gay and lesbian people started organising themselves in the late 1960s.
The constitution has made a huge difference. What it means is that we can start addressing other problems like violence that lesbians face in the black community." Homosexuals in South Africa were persecuted in the 1970s and 1980s under the apartheid regime, succeeding in making their voices heard only as it neared its end. During the 1990s, they instituted numerous lawsuits, resulting in a significant evolution of the law, and in March this year a South African court recognised two lesbian partners as parents of twins.
The first Gay Pride parade in Africa was held in Johannesburg in 1990, and GALA has established a gay tour of Johannesburg, but Cape Town nevertheless counts as South Africa’s premier gay city, with gay tourists encouraged. It has become one of the world’s great "queer" cities, it’s gay inhabitants say. "Cape Town has all the things that bring gay people together, like music, nightclub life and beautiful scenery, and the people are tolerant and accepting," said Andre Vorster, the organiser of the Mother City Queer Project, a popular gay costume party held annually in Cape Town. "If Amsterdam is like the grandmother of gay cities, then San Francisco and Sydney are the elder daughters and Cape Town is the little sister," he said. – AFP
1 December 2003
The Miss Gay South Africa pageant goes on despite bomb scare
by Mbongeni Zondi
The Miss Gay South Africa pageant went on despite numerous bomb threats resulting in a police search, which found nothing, in Pietermaritzburg’s Kismet Hotel at the weekend. The pageant was preceded by a picket line outside the hotel by Christians for Truth but that did not stop crowds of gay, lesbian and straight people from packing the venue and partying till the early hours of the morning.
Unconfirmed reports were that two people had been arrested for the bomb threats, but by late on Sunday police Captain Joshua Gwala could not confirm the information. He said the police had received a complaint of a bomb threat at about 10pm and proceeded to the hotel where the Bomb Disposal Unit conducted a search but found nothing. One of the organisers, Anthony Waldhausen, said they decided to proceed with the show despite the threats because they did now want to cause a panic for the patrons and competitors.
At one stage the doors had to be closed as the venue was packed, with little space available to move inside. Colourfully dressed men and women, some styled like Mel Gibson’s character in the movie Braveheart, sashayed through the hotel as the mood was definitely pink. Monique Perez was crowned Miss Gay South Africa, beating 22 other "girls" though some were not so girlie, and Ace Wessels was named Mr Gay South Africa ahead of five other contestants. Then it was time to party into the early hours of Sunday morning.
2 December 2003
Achmat nominated for Nobel Peace Prize
Cape Town – The Aids pressure group Treatment Action Campaign, and its chair Zackie Achmat, have been nominated for the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination from US-based Quaker organisation the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) says Achmat and the TAC have made "a significant contribution to the global struggle against Aids". The AFSC, along with its British equivalent, won the prize in 1947 on behalf of all Quakers, which qualifies it to make nominations. "Deeply honoured by the nomination" TAC said it and Achmat were deeply honoured by the nomination.
"The gains made by the TAC have been due to the efforts of thousands of people," said Achmat, who is HIV-positive. "It is the organisation as a whole that must be commended for the achievements thus far." The AFSC said in a statement released on Tuesday it was making the nomination in the belief that the global Aids epidemic constituted a grave threat to peace and security. "Through mass mobilisation, civil disobedience, legal action, extraordinary personal sacrifice, and visionary leadership, Zackie Achmat and the TAC have helped to galvanise a global movement to provide hope and gain access to treatment for those with HIV/Aids," it said.
Reduction in price of drugs The efforts of Achmat and TAC had led to dramatic reductions in the price of anti-retrovirals and other essential drugs through voluntary price cuts by pharmaceutical manufacturers and the acceptance of generics. TAC had also contributed to an overhaul of global trading rules to give precedence to the protection of public health over the protection of intellectual property rights. The 40-year-old Achmat, a founder of the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, has been a key figure in TAC’s successful campaigns for the rollout of antiretroviral drugs for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, and more recently, for treatment of people with HIV/Aids.
27 December 2003
Straight ‘izitabane’ rights activist stabbed.
Aspirant lawyer Celokuhle Myeni, 28, has been left with a scar for standing up for human rights.
by Xoxile Bhengu
Although "straight", Myeni has worked as campaigns co-ordinator for more than a year for the Lesbian and Gay Community Centre in KwaMashu. This week he was stabbed and assaulted for his work with the gay community, and further humiliated by having his jeans and shoes stripped off and taken away. "We were just sitting and having drinks when this guy I know from the neighbourhood came over to us and asked that we give him one too.
"When we refused he became verbally abusive, I tried to reason with him and that is when he suddenly pulled his knife on me." Myeni alleges that the man repeatedly told him he deserved to be hurt, as he worked with "izitabane", a derogatory word used in isiZulu for gay people. The scuffle was stopped by the man’s brother and Myeni fled for home minus his pants and shoes and called the police. The following day his belongings were returned by the man, who said he was drunk and did not remember anything. Myeni said: "This is the first time that I have been attacked for my work, which surprised me as a lot of people in KwaMashu know I work with the centre."
Myeni said the gay community had contributed a lot to change in South African society and counted Aids Activist Zackie Achmat as one of his role models. "The role of gay people is invaluable in bringing about change in society, and if people worked with us they would realise that," said Myeni. Director of the Gay and Lesbian Centre, Professor Ronald Louw, said minority groups like the gay community should receive support from the government. "The degree of intolerance and homophobia in our country is a cause for concern, and they cannot be ignored especially when people are harmed.
"It takes a long time to educate people, but political leaders must make a clear stand to ensure that human rights are not broken. "I hope that the police will handle the matter positively with support, and ensure that his case is handled properly." An assault case has been opened and the KwaMashu police are investigating.
February 4, 2004
Homosexual prisoner abuse investigated
The "humiliating abuse" meted out to gay, lesbian and transsexual prisoners in South African prisons will form the subject of the Jali Commission’s hearings in Pretoria over the next few months. A gay ex-prisoner, Louis Karp – who told the commission he "felt like a woman," always wore makeup and perfume and preferred to be addressed as Louise – was the first of a series of witnesses to tell a harrowing tale of sexual abuse and humiliation, which he said had changed his life.
The Gay and Lesbian Equality Project will in March make representations to the commission focusing on the treatment of gays, lesbians and transsexuals in South Africa’s jails. The commission heard that there presently appeared not to be any policy about how such prisoners should be treated.
Karp spent a year and eight months in jail while awaiting trial on a charge of car theft and was eventually released after being given a suspended sentence. He told the court one of the warders had "sold" him to a gang of four men in prison, who systematically sodomised him over a period of two months. He was also forced to give oral sex to the warder, was regularly humiliated, insulted, threatened and abused and was put in solitary confinement with shackles on his legs 23 hours per day after he laid a charge against the prisoner who raped him in his cell in November 2002. No steps were ever taken against the prisoner and Karp was in fact placed back in a cell with his rapist after the incident. Charges laid with the police and prison authorities against warders and his rapist were also never investigated or brought before a court, Karp said. No counselling or treatment was ever offered to him and he was also not tested for HIV immediately after reporting the rape.
Karp, who was at times in tears, testified that he was robbed on his very first night in the police cells. Things became much worse at Pretoria’s Local Prison, where gangs ruled everything and one had to pay gangsters for anything from a bed to a blanket that was not lice-infested. Alcohol and drugs and prescription medication – apparently brought in by prison staff – were readily available at a price and prisoners who "snitched" on fellow prisoners were "tried" and punished in gang hearings. He had once witnessed an older prisoner’s genitals being cut with a blade, he said.
Other methods of punishment meted out by prisoners included what was called an "HIV puncture", where someone would be raped by a gang of prisoners who were open about their HIV status. Karp testified about several sessions in solitary confinement – once for 30 days because he had escaped from prison by simply walking out of the front door, another because warders said he was planning another escape and on a third occasion after he complained about being raped. He never received any disciplinary hearings.
The meagre diet in jail, he said, had affected him to such an extent that he developed sores all over his body, was treated for the contagious skin disease scabies, his vision was impaired and he lost 23kg while in jail. One of his worst experiences in jail was in May 2001 when a warder sold him to four gangsters. "One of the prisoners called me to a store room, where the warder and three other prisoners were waiting. The warder and one of them talked to each other in a black language that I could not understand and I saw the prisoner giving the warder a bundle of money. "The warder told me I’ll be relocated from my bed to their beds. He said, ‘just help these people and things will be easier for you. Just respect their wishes and if there’s any problem don’t contact the other warders but come to me’. I didn’t protest. I was under the warder’s power. The four men regularly raped me over a period of about two months. The warder regularly brought them dagga, food and alcohol, usually during the night." "I didn’t report the rapes to the authorities because I was told that I would be damaged beyond repair," Karp testified. The hearings continue today. – Sapa
1 March 2004
South Africa criticised over HIV projects for gay men
by Ben Townley, Gay.com UK
South Africa is failing to protect its gay men from HIV adequately enough, according to research presented at an historic conference. Attendees of the African Congress on Sexual Health and Rights heard that the South African government is currently focusing purely on heterosexual people, and is failing to provide education or resources to gay men.
Health workers say it is increasingly up to them to ensure gay men are aware of the risks that could result in HIV. One group told BBC Online that the situation is fast reaching a level where gay men do not believe HIV affects them, because they fail to associate themselves with the government messages targeted at heterosexuals. This is the reverse of the situation across developed countries, where HIV is still considered a disease that affects gay men more than straight people, despite a sharp increase in heterosexual cases.
Of those that do know of the risks, most are failing to look after themselves properly, Toni Kruger of advocacy group Out said. "A lot of gay men are either absolutely terrified or in total denial." The conference is the first of its kind on the continent, and hopes to urge governments across Africa that sexual equality could be key in fighting the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
July 16, 2004
Devastated by AIDS, Africa Sees Life Expectancy Plunge
by Celia Dugger
Africa is getting poorer and hungrier as life expectancy continues its steep decline in the countries hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic, according to a United Nations report released Thursday. It said infants born now in seven nations with high rates of H.I.V. infection could expect to live less than 40 years.
The report, by the United Nations Development Program, also said the sub-Saharan African region as a whole was getting poorer, with the prospect that rising numbers of Africans will subsist on less than $1 a day in the years to come. Last year, the United Nations Development Program projected that it would take Africa more than 140 years to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty. But this year, as even that slight progress is gone, its annual Human Development Report states that "no date can be set because the situation in the region is worsening, not improving."
As Africa struggles with the world’s heaviest AIDS burden, South Asia and East Asia are making rapid progress in reducing poverty and hunger, driven mainly by the advances of China and India, the two most populous countries, the report found.
Africa’s setbacks are a break from recent decades of progress. From 1960 to 2000, for example, life expectancy in developing countries rose to 63 years from 46. Africa was part of that progress until the mid-1990’s, when AIDS began seriously eroding its gains. The bleak statistical portrait of sub-Saharan Africa, drawn from the 2004 Human Development Report, does not spare South Africa, the region’s economic powerhouse, which celebrated a decade of post-apartheid democracy this year. It is a discouraging portrait that the South African government sharply disputed Thursday.
The report’s summary measure of well-being – gauged by life expectancy, literacy, school enrollment rates and per-capita income – shows that South Africans are worse off today than they were when apartheid ended. That finding is largely driven by falling life expectancy because of AIDS, which the United Nations Development Program set at 48.8 years for South Africa in this year’s calculation. Joel Netshitenzhe, a spokesman for the South African government, called the United Nations’ life expectancy estimate "nonsensical."
South Africa’s Medical Research Council, a government-financed independent body, estimated that life expectancy in South African had fallen much less severely, to 55 in 2000 from 57 in 1995. According to the South African government’s assessment of its people’s well-being, based on the higher, national calculations of life expectancy, South Africans are better off than they were a decade ago. "We have interacted with the U.N.D.P. and demonstrated that some of the data they used to come to their conclusions are inaccurate," Mr. Netshitenzhe said.
Fu Haishan, a statistician with the United Nations Development Program, said the Human Development Report relied on statistics from the World Bank and United Nations agencies that specialize in education, hunger and population "to ensure minimum and common standards are used." Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the program, said in an interview that he had had difficult exchanges with South Africa over the report’s findings. He called the life expectancy data for South Africa "catastrophic," even as he recognized post-apartheid improvements in education, electricity and water provision.
As to what South Africa needs to do, Mr. Malloch Brown said, "Fix the AIDS problem." South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, has been criticized at home and abroad for being slow to aggressively tackle AIDS. More than five million South Africans are infected with H.I.V. And unlike neighboring Botswana, which started an effort to provide drug treatment to people with AIDS in 2001, South Africa’s treatment effort just got under way this year. The South African government spokesman, Mr. Netshitenzhe, defended the government’s AIDS effort, saying it had the continent’s biggest prevention program and expected to be providing drug treatment to 53,000 people by March.
September 21, 2004
South Africa Drag Queens Threatened With Arrest by Conservative Gays
by Mark Levy (Johannesburg, South Africa)
A rightwing gay organization Tuesday admitted it was behind pressure on Johannesburg police to arrest anyone in drag at this Saturday’s gay Pride parade.
Last week the Johannesburg Metro police warned Pride organizers that they would arrest drag queens under a law 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". Monday, after a meeting between police and Pride parade organizers police officials said that drag would be permitted.
But, Tuesday, the conservative Gay and Lesbian Alliance said it would make sure drag queens are arrested for contravening the apartheid-era act. "We are the ones who brought the Regulation of Gatherings Act to the attention of the police – it is like they didn’t study it well," David Baxter, spokesperson for the conservative Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GLA). Baxter said that the GLA would immediately lay charges when the first drag queens hit the streets, and make sure they were arrested.
"We are totally against such parades because they are unlawful and harm the image of lesbians and gays. They incorrectly imply that being gay and lesbian means jumping into the clothing of the opposite sex," he said. But, Metro police spokesperson Superintendent Wayne Minnaar said he doubted any charges or arrests would be made for wearing drag. "The GLA cannot dictate terms for us – we use our discretion … We don’t want to interfere with what they will be wearing as long as the procession is decent."
November 30, 2004
Major South Africa ruling helps gay unions
by Eric Johnston, PlanetOut Network
The South Africa Supreme Court of Appeal ruled 4-1 on Tuesday in favor of ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage rights. The court’s decision only affected common-law marriage, and did not legalize same-sex marriage outright, but it was hailed as a major step forward by gay activists. "It’s not possible for people of the same sex to be currently married due to the limitations in the current marriage formula and other regulations in the Marriage Act," said Evert Knoesen of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project. "We have to go ahead with legal action to fix up those somewhat more minor legal problems, and we foresee that within the next 12 months or so, same-sex couples will indeed be married. The principle has been won," he told South African radio.
The ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought by a lesbian couple. Lawyers for Marie Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys argued the country’s Marriage Act was unconstitutional because it discriminated against gays by excluding them from marriage. South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution, considered one of the most liberal in the world, includes a clause making discrimination based on sexual identity illegal. A key U.S. proponent of same-sex marriage agreed that South Africa appears headed in the direction of legalizing same-sex marriage. "The decision could, in theory, be appealed to the Constitutional Court, which would have the final say, but they are likely to rule in our favor as well," Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, said via e-mail to the PlanetOut Network.
If that happens, South Africa would join Belgium, the Netherlands, nearly all of Canada and the United States as the only countries where same-sex couples can legally marry. In the U.S., same-sex couples are allowed to marry in the state of Massachusetts only. Anti-gay groups in South Africa promised to fight the ruling. Philip Rosenthal, director of ChristianView Network, called the ruling "judicial tyranny," and said South Africans should resist the court’s decision. South Africa’s constitution currently allows gay couples to adopt, but not to marry. The Honorable Edwin Cameron authored Tuesday’s historic court ruling. Cameron is an openly gay, HIV-positive judge on the court, according to Wolfson.
November 22, 2004
South Africa gets a gay radio program
South Africa’s first national gay radio program launched Nov. 10, reported Marketingweb.co.za. The Tuesday Night Show airs on Radio 2000 from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. "The aim … is to present intellectual, stimulating and contemporary radio programming and content that would not only appeal to the greater gay and lesbian community, but also to a significant straight audience," said executive producer Maciek Mazur. Unfortunately, Mazur said, advertisers seem to be taking a "wait and see attitude" to the show. He expects that to change once they hear the program.
November 30 2004
Some movement in South Africa: Same-sex marriage gets the nod
A lesbian couple’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal to have their marriage legally recognised and registered has succeeded.
Bloemfontein – A lesbian couple’s appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal to have their marriage legally recognised and registered succeeded on Tuesday. The court, in a majority decision, declared that under the Constitution the common law concept of marriage was to be developed to embrace same-sex partners. The appeal brought by Marie Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys in essence challenged the definition of marriage under South African common law.
According to common law, marriage was the union of one man and one woman. This made it impossible for same-sex couples to be married to each other. On Tuesday, Judge of Appeal Edwin Cameron said in his judgment that the definition of marriage should read: "Marriage is the union of two persons to the exclusion of all others for life."
The court also declared that the intended marriage between Fourie and Bonthuys was capable of lawful recognition as a legally valid marriage, provided the formalities in the Marriage Act of 1961 were complied with.
‘Happy with the decision’
The couple challenged a Pretoria High Court decision, in favour of the department of home affairs, which dismissed an application to have their marriage in October 2002 legally recognised. They also wanted the department to register their marriage under the Marriage Act and Identification Act. In a consenting judgment, Judge of Appeal I G Farlam agreed that the common law needed to be developed. However, he felt that the court’s decision be suspended for a period to allow parliament to deal with the matter in such a way as to bring an end to the "unjustifiable breach of the appellants’ rights to equality and human dignity".
Evert Knoesen of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Project, who appeared as amicus curiae in the appeal, said on Tuesday the organisation was happy with the decision. He said in principle, same-sex marriages could now be recognised but various statutory stumbling blocks, which regulated marriage, still had to be sorted out.
Knoesen said his organisation, in conjunction with various other parties, had already filed an application in the Johannesburg High Court challenging the statutory regulations. The case would be heard early next year.
20 December 2004
Cape Town amasses gay appeal
by Benita van Eyssen
With yet another well attended gay event under its belt, Cape Town is optimistic that it can continue to build on its reputation as a key international "gay friendly" tour destination. About 10 000 locals and foreigners took part in the city’s annual gay costume party at the weekend, billed this year as "Africa’s biggest queer tribal gathering" by Mother City Queer Project (MCQP) organisers.
Homosexual men and women in outfits designed to match the theme ‘Jungle Fever’ danced well into the night in the streets to celebrate.
There were lesbian GI Janes in camouflage gear, abundant Afro hairstyles, young urban, executive cross-dressers and township queens and a large number of spectators. The event marked a celebration of summer in the city and the rising feeling of freedom that 10 years of democracy has brought to the country’s gay community. It left organisers satisfied that gay events in the city were an attraction not only for local gays, but for international visitors, many of whom had bought package deals designed for gay visitors.
‘Pink tourism’ a major money-spinner
Last year, the MCQP raked in around R50-million (about $8.3-million) for local tourism with the event and spinoffs from activities in the shadow of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. More service providers in Cape Town appear to be following on the heels of tour companies that have set out to lure gay travellers to South Africa in recent years. Local plastic surgeons, estate agents, jewellers, information technology and law firms are trying to lure gay business and particularly those who spend "pink" foreign currency.
" People come in specifically for the Cape Town summer. This time of the year, one in five people at a gay party will be foreign," said Russel Southey of Cape Town Pride. Cape Town has come to offer an "alternative to the traditional European gay tour destinations" of Ibiza in Spain or the south of France, he says.
" There are two types of gay tours. There’s the gay tour operator who gets people to Cape Town having targeted the gay community in the United Kingdom or Amsterdam. Then there’s the tour operator who offers a deal that includes a specific gay event – not the usual sites in Cape Town," he said. All year-round gay events are not in short supply in Cape Town where a large number of clubs, bars, cafés, restaurants, bathhouses and beaches are listed as gay facilities.
SA celebrates gay culture
In October, the city held its 7th annual ‘Sex and Kultuur’ festival, a showcase of gay art, erotica and entertainment. In other parts of the country, large crowds of gays also bring out feather boas for events such as Johannesburg’s annual Gay Pride March or the Pink Loerie Mardi Gras in the southern town of Knysna. Like the MCQP costume party, Cape Town Pride 2005 that takes place over ten days in February and includes a parade, a golf festival and the world’s first, gay horseracing day at the city’s Kenilworth Racecourse, a major event on the gay calendar.
The MCQP event coincided this week with the publication of Cape Town’s ‘Pink Map’, a guide for gays to the city and its surrounding areas. Most of the sites listed are interspersed with the city’s heterosexual entertainment venues. Public opposition to the public activities of gays in Cape Town and other parts of the country is minimal. South Africa’s post apartheid constitution outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Recently, the gay community celebrated a supreme court ruling that the common-law definition of marriage excludes homosexuals and lesbians as a first step on the path to same sex marriage.