Lance Weyer, Mr. Gay South Africa 2011 and a Buffalo City Metro councillor, gives us some perspective on the recent furore over efforts by traditional leaders to erode LGBT equality in South Africa.
A great storm has erupted on social networks relating to a proposal before a parliamentary committee which seeks to have the section of the Constitution that speaks to the right not to be discriminated against based on sexual orientations removed.
Some have claimed that this has already reached Parliament, which in fact it has not – and likely never will. Firstly I need to set everyone’s mind at ease – absolutely nothing is going to happen to sexual orientation rights in South Africa!
It is all politics – dangerous politics, but mere noise and no action.
In order for everyone to be clear on what has happened, I’ll try to explain the process as best I can. In our democracy, anyone has the right to make a proposal to amend the Constitution, and indeed many proposals have been made to the Constitutional Review Committee over the last 17 years.
Few have made it past the committee for further discussion. What makes this proposal of particular significance is that it seeks to amend an aspect of Section 9, in the Bill of Rights.
To understand why this happened, you need to look at the politics of the situation.
Last year, The House of Traditional Leaders, packed with members of The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa, submitted a proposal to the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) of the National Assembly to amend section 9 of the Constitution.
This committee, set up in terms of section 45 of the Constitution, has to review the Constitution annually. The committee is chaired by Patekile Holomisa, who also happens to be the President of The Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (a conflict of interest perhaps?).
“…it is important to have LGBTI people visible so that government realises that we will fight for our rights.”
At this year’s committee sittings, most proposals were again dismissed, but not the proposals to change the property clauses and those concerning the abolition of the prohibition to discriminate against gay men and lesbians. The proposal to amend sexual orientation rights, and one concerning property rights, were then (apparently) referred to parliamentary caucuses for consideration. We have still not established that what has been reported is actually what the CRC decided.
It would not be the first time that CRC decisions were misminuted by its own secretariat. And, if they were misminuted, it would not be the first time that parliamentary matters were misreported. If indeed one or both issues were referred to party caucuses that would not be the first time: the proposal to raise the bar in disqualifying sentenced persons from sitting as MPs has previously been so referred, and precisely nothing happened. Needless to say, the opposition caucus was in favour of making exclusion more stringent but the matter has never resurfaced. (You may deduce from this that referring to caucuses is one way of killing an idea that keeps resurfacing.)
The ruling party ANC Chief Whip of Parliament himself has distanced the party from any debate around this [sexual orientation] matter and affirmed that the Constitution and the Bill of Rights remain the cornerstone of democracy in South Africa.
That such a suggestion has even been made in the first place is concerning, but we must remember that in a democracy everyone is allowed to comment. Traditional leaders are notorious with regards to anti-gay sentiments so this should come as no surprise to anyone who follows the news. In recent months, traditional leaders have been trying to test their political weight, with little success. As Pierre de Vos calls it: “Affirming their own moral inferiority”.
Currently in the review phase is the Traditional Courts Bill, which is certainly unconstitutional in its current form, and could drastically increase the persecution of rural women and LGBTI people if it comes into law unchallenged. (For more on this go here.)
This experience has proved one thing: that the South African LGBTI community has the power and drive to mobilise in numbers should the need arise. I’ve already come across a couple of petitions against this particular proposal. I believe that it is important to have LGBTI people visible so that government realises that we will fight for our rights – and importantly, also the rights of others.
LGBTI people in SA need to be shaken out of their complacency and inertia where it concerns the future; this does show that it is possible in theory to scrap gay rights and we should all be always vigilant. It would be great if this energy could be transferred into fighting causes that effect members of our community that are currently grossly underrepresented, namely the corrective rape of rural and township lesbians and the proposed Traditional Courts Bill.