Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
Allow me to introduce to you my colleagues Minister of Correctional Services Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngakula, Minister of Social Development Ms Bathabile Dlamini, Deputy Minister of Police Ms Maggie Sotyu and also Ms Funeka Soldaat from Free Gender who leads many initiatives on LGBTI in South Africa.
We thank the Netherlands delegation for convening this very important panel which we pleased to co-host.
South Africa’s democratic dispensation is primarily founded on the core values of human dignity, equality and the right to non-discrimination. Today’s dialogue symbolizes a shared devotion by my government to ensuring that the principle of universality and non-discrimination apply to all human beings. We believe that a dialogue is an extremely powerful tool when dealing with complex subject mattes our history of struggle for liberation has taught us the importance of dialogue and the need to engage and listen to one another.
Section 9 (3) of South Africa’s Constitution expressly prohibits unfair discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
The constitution indicates that the state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
The legislative framework of South Africa has progressively demonstrated the dedicated commitment of government to the constitutional protection guaranteed to the same-sex persons.
In 1998, the country took a stance and legislated against discrimination on sexual orientation in a work environment.
In 1999, same-sex couples began to receive legislative recognition as de facto couples. In the same year, the Domestic Violence Act 116 of 1998 came in, and endorsed the right to legal protection of the same sex persons by classifying the same sex relationship as a ‘domestic relationship’.
In the year 2000, the country legislated against discrimination in the provision of goods and services, and this liberated homosexuals against social perceptions that restricted them from working in environments that exposed them to children.
In 2002, we saw yet another progressive step in the South African legislative framework when both joint and step adoption by same-sex couples was authorised.
In 2006, the determined commitment of South Africa to ensuring that homosexuality enjoys equal protection of the law reached its climax, when South Africa became the fifth country internationally and the first nation on the African continent to grant official recognition to same-sex marriages.
This was not the end. In 2008, gay men and lesbians began to serve openly in the military to stamp the historical discrimination on sexual orientation that existed in this work environment.
Due to the increasing legislative recognition and protection afforded to the LGBTI persons, lesbian women began to increasingly disclose their sexual identity, but unfortunately did so in a society that is still strongly homophobic. Growing debates about homosexuality in media and society also had a positive effect on the visibility of lesbian women. Yet, despite the guiding and prescriptive legislation in this area, the debates about the historical, cultural, religious and social legitimacy of homosexuality are still marked by controversy.
Paradoxically, the Constitution grants gender equality and gender equity. Yet there still exists a wide gulf between theory and practise.
Allow me in the interest of transparency and best practice to contextualise the 2006 legislative break through. This is the work that was led and piloted by my colleague, Minister Mapisa Nqakula, than Minister of Home Affairs.
The Department of Home Affair, Parliament and the Presidency on 1 December 2006 met the deadline set by the Constitutional Court in 2005 for the country’s Marriage Act to be amended, or for new legislation to be passed to allow gays and lesbians to enter into legal marriages.
Parliament and the Presidency took action as a result of an application by Marié Fourie and Cecelia Bonthuys a lesbian couple who were not allowed to marry, the court ruled at the time, that the existing legal definition of marriage was in conflict with the country’s Constitution because it denied gays and lesbians the rights granted to heterosexuals. The constitutional court gave Parliament a year to remedy the situation.
On 14 November 2006 Parliament passed the Civil Union Bill into law by a vote of 230 to 41. The ruling African National Congress ordered a three-line whip, the strictest disciplinary command the party can give its MPs, to compel them to be both present in the chamber and to vote in favour of the party line supporting the Bill, this is an indication of the seriousness with which the 3 arms of the South African state seek always to ensure adherence to judiciary decisions being independent while respecting and recognizing the separate powers vested in each arm.
Parties opposed to the new law included the African Christian Democratic Party, the ID and Freedom Front Plus, while the Democratic Alliance allowed its MPs to vote according to conscience.
While it is still impossible for same-sex couples to marry under the existing Marriage Act, today any South African citizen is allowed to marry under the new law – including gays and lesbians. Whether heterosexual or homosexual, they now have the option of calling their partnership either a civil union or a marriage.
Among other benefits, the new law allows married same-sex couples to make decisions on each other’s behalf and inherit if a partner dies without a will.
You may be aware that Noxolo Nogwaza was a lesbian activist who was killed after what was allegedly the so-called “corrective rape”, a term we wish to do away with as it assumes that being a lesbian is incorrect. Raping of lesbians is an increasingly common crime in which men rape lesbians to supposedly “turn” them straight or “cure” them of their sexual orientation. This is an indication of how men continue to be a victim of their own socialization that perpetuates patriarchal attitudes.
The loss of any life to crime is truly unwarranted, Nogwaza was an active member of the Ekurhuleni Pride Organising Committee, which has organised pride marches for Kwa-Thema and nearby townships in Gauteng province since 2009. Clearly she was an active member of her community and an active citizen of South Africa. We are aware that members of her community and other lesbians have faced harassment and attacks because of their visibility.
Lesbians have despite these crimes and ongoing harassment boldly stood their group and have also sort to even educate the public through of the messages that have been quite clear as they say: “Love me or hate me I will continue to be a lesbian,” and “Raping me won’t change me.”
The sad reality of the South African situation is that Nogwaza’s death came three years after that of another activist, international footballer Eudy Simelane, also in Kwa-Thema. Both were “out” as lesbians in the community, both were apparently tortured and sexually assaulted before being killed.
The department for women children and people with disabilities has received approval from cabinet to establish a National Council Against Gender Based Violence which will be ably chaired by the Deputy President of South Africa, Mr Kgalema Mothlante. We therefore commit that the task team currently working on the terms of reference for the full establishment of the council will engage with gays and lesbians to ensure that they are adequately represented so we can combat this scourge together.
There have been Premiers campaigns in Gauteng led by premier Nomvula Mokoyana, Deputy Minister of Police Maggie Sotyu has also started educational and awareness campaigns for police, communities and religious organization. She has frequent meetings with gay and lesbian associations to discuss the concerns and challenges they face.
In March 2011 government agreed to set up a national working group to address the so called “corrective rape” to meet the demands and indeed the plea made by numerous South Africans in support of the lesbian and gay community.
On the international sphere, during the 17th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2011 South Africa championed and led a Resolution on sexual orientation and gender identity, which called for the high commissioner on human rights to convene a panel discussion on violence against LGBTI persons. The session was the first initiative of this level to pass in the UN on LGBTI.
In response to petitions and the numerous acts of violence against the lesbian and gay community, the Minister of Justice has in addition to the national working group began work on a national strategic framework to address the protection of gays and lesbians holistically. We trust that with the National Council against Gender Based Violence, the Justice Department’s National Strategy and the Deputy Minister of Police’s ongoing engagement with LGBTI person we will make significant inroads towards proactive interventions in building a socially transformed, tolerant, inclusive and a socially cohesive South Africa.
I thank you
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