Open Letter to Minister Naledi Pandor: “You Cannot Stand Idle”


Naledi Pandor, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations, has been urged to take a consistent stance on international human rights by speaking out against anti-LGBTIQ+ laws on the African continent. (Photo: US State Department)

OUT LGBT Well-being and several other LGBTIQ+ groups have issued an open letter to Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of South Africa, on the worsening plight of LGBTIQ+ people on the African continent.

Honourable Minister Pandor,

We preface this letter by quoting your statement in your opening remarks at the South Africa-Ghana Ministerial Bi-National Commission (BNC) on 11 March 2024, in which you stated in connection to the devastating conflict in Gaza: “We believe the world cannot stand idle while oppression harms the Oppressed.”

Indeed, you and the South African government have taken a resolute stance on the international stage by condemning grave human rights abuses against the Palestinian People. This has been demonstrated not only through public statements across various platforms but also by lodging a landmark case in the International Court of Justice, accusing Israel of genocide.

As a nation that has experienced the horrors of apartheid and emerged with a progressive, human rights-based Constitution, South Africa is widely regarded as a champion of inclusion, diversity, and equality. However, while we confront injustices in the Middle East, we have regrettably failed to denounce other grave human rights violations closer to home.

In May of 2023, the Parliament and President of Uganda enacted a heinous law (regrettably upheld by the Constitutional Court of Uganda this week) that further criminalises the country’s already oppressed LGBTIQ+ citizens. This legislation places them at risk of imprisonment for life and even the death penalty solely because of their private and consensual loving relationships. Its numerous provisions violate this group’s most fundamental human rights, including the rights to life, free association, free expression, dignity, and privacy.

Despite repeated calls from civil society, you and the South African government have refused to publicly and unequivocally condemn this grave injustice.

More recently, on 28 February 2024, the Parliament of Ghana overwhelmingly passed the abhorrent Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill, which seeks to criminalise and jail people simply for identifying as lesbian, gay, transgender, transsexual, queer, pansexual, non-binary, or as an ally. Any attempt to assert the rights of the LGBTIQ+ people would be a jailable offence, as is renting accommodation to members of this community. The Bill now awaits the signature of President Nana Akufo-Addo.

This surge of heightened homophobia and transphobia is spreading across our continent, and yet South Africa remains complicit through our silence. Shamefully, Africa remains the world’s region with the most countries criminalising LGBTIQ+ people.

Living in the very real fear of being exposed and targeted by health workers, police, or their own communities, LGBTIQ+ Africans may avoid seeking health care and other services, putting themselves at risk and hampering the fight against HIV on the continent. In several nations, LGBTIQ+ individuals are even subjected by authorities to forced, degrading, and invasive medical anal examinations, described as acts of torture by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. The impact of criminalisation and stigma permeates every aspect of LGBTIQ+ lives.

Minister, we refer again to your assertion at the South Africa-Ghana Ministerial BNC last month: “We believe the world cannot stand idle while oppression harms the Oppressed.” We note the irony of this statement in the context of that high level engagement with Ghana, in which to our knowledge, neither you nor President Cyril Ramaphosa publicly addressed that country’s anti-LGBTIQ+ Bill and instead celebrated “the deep fraternal bonds between our two countries.”

While we do not seek to draw comparisons between the appalling humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the plight of LGBTIQ+ Africans, it cannot be that any group, population, or nation’s people are deemed more worthy of freedom, equality, and the right to live and love than any other.

If we aspire to be taken seriously as a nation in matters of human rights and avoid accusations of selective morality, political posturing, and hypocrisy, we must be consistent in publicly affirming, championing, and supporting the rights of all people.

Therefore, we urge you and the South African government to take decisive steps to condemn anti-LGBTIQ+ legislation, policies, and human rights violations in Uganda, Ghana and elsewhere on the continent.

We can no longer stand idle in the wake of the mounting daily state-sanctioned suffering, fear, humiliation, and oppression experienced by our LGBTIQ+ African siblings. This is a norm that we cannot accept in silence from fellow Africans, no matter the strategic and fraternal bonds between our nations.

Yours in human rights,
OUT LGBT Well-being

This letter is endorsed by the following organisations and individuals:

  • Action For Social Justice International
  • Advocate Thando Gumede
  • African Queer Migrants Voices
  • Beyond the Margins
  • Common Diversity
  • Dialogues for Change
  • Inclusive and Affirming Ministries
  • LGBT+ Heath Division of Desmond Tutu Health Foundation
  • Pachedu LGBTI Collective
  • Rainbow Refuge Africa
  • Safeplace International
  • Same Love Toti
  • Shemah Koleinu
  • Social Health Empowerment
  • Trans Guardian Alliance
  • Uthingo Network

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