South Africa steps up protection for gays, lesbians

30 April 2014

South Africa has launched a programme aimed at countering discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the country.

Speaking at the launch of the programme in Johannesburg on Tuesday, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said South Africa’s courts would respond harshly to perpetrators of violence against the LGBTI community.

He said there had already been a number of successes in the prosecution of perpetrators of such violence, adding that South Africa had also legislated against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the workplace.

“Our Constitution lays the basis for the construction of a democratic, non-racial, non- sexist, united and prosperous society based on justice, equality, the rule of law and the inalienable human rights of all,” the minister said.

South Africa is the only African country in which discrimination based on sexual orientation is constitutionally outlawed, as well as the only country in Africa to legally recognise marriage between people of the same sex.

The LGBTI programme will include the training and sensitising of both government officials and the general public on the rights of LGBTI people. Radebe said work had started on an audit of training materials available for this purpose.

The launch of the programme follows the establishment in 2011 of a national task team to develop a strategy for tackling sexual orientation-based violence, including so-called “corrective rape”, against LGBTI persons. The action plan developed by the task team includes the monitoring of pending and unresolved criminal cases involving LGBTI victims.

The task team is made up of government and civil society representatives, as well as members of the South African Human Rights Commission and the Foundation for Human Rights.

Also speaking at Tuesday’s launch, SA Human Rights Commission chairperson Lawrence Mushwana commended the Justice Department for speeding up the process of ensuring that the rights of LGBTI persons were protected.

“Gender issues are still a sensitive issue,” Mushwana said. “We need to ensure that perpetrators of violence against LGBTI persons are prosecuted.”

LGBTI activist Nonhlanhla Mkhize thanked the government for launching the programme. Referring to the country’s 20 Years of Freedom celebrations – South Africa celebrated its Freedom Day on Sunday – she said: “We were freed to be who we want to be.”