“It degrades human dignity, it’s unnatural, and there is no question ever of allowing these people [homosexuals] to behave worse than dogs and pigs.”
Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, made this shocking declaration a few years ago and said gays and lesbians should be handed over to the police. Even in these times he is not a lonely voice.
Africa is the continent with the least liberal laws regarding Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights. Over 30 countries criminalise homosexuality, and there are many cases of state-sponsored homophobia.
In most countries where homosexuality is illegal the law establishes penalties that range from a fine to years in prison – life imprisonment in Uganda.
In Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria, the punishment is the death penalty.
In most African countries there is not even anti-discrimination legislation on sexual orientation or gender identity basis specifically, and South Africa is the exception.
Homosexuality on the African continent has often been blamed on colonialism. The notion that homosexuality is not African is widely spread.
“[That] is just a defence tactic and a prejudice driving tool,” says third year LLB student Motlatsi Motseoile, who is gay. He claims people usually base their “lack of knowledge and understanding on tradition and ‘Africanness’”.
Motseoile adds: “You know certain things are not of African origin by whether there is an African term for it, and there is one in Zulu [for homosexuality].”
He says he has read a lot on the subject, and the readings suggest “same-sex sexual relations have been around on the African continent for ages. They just have not been widely recorded… and perhaps not as spread or understood in its current form”.
Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA) archivist Gabriel Khan says: “GALA is the best place to stop on campus if one is interested in both the history and contemporary experience of LGBTI people in South Africa and also Africa.”
The core of the organisation is a unique archive of LGBTI materials. According to Khan, GALA also offers programmes and activities that aim to educate the public, create dialogue and inspire action.
Even though the legal system ensures equality, social acceptance is still a concern in South Africa.