South Africa must live up to the law and protect gay rights
SOUTH Africa is among 15 of the 53 African countries that do not criminalise homosexuality in any form or shape.
David Kato, a Ugandan gay rights activist, was not so lucky enough to have such a law to protect him.
Uganda has been the epicentre of vitriolic hate campaigns against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) communities.
An anti-homosexuality bill presently before the Ugandan parliament has been roundly condemned across the world.
A number of newspapers published hateful articles, including an article in the extremist newspaper Rolling Stone with the inflammatory headline "Hang them: they are after our kids", with photographs of members of Ugandan LGBTI organisations.
Articles such as these contributed to the escalating death threats Kato and others advocating for LGBTI rights had reported receiving.
Uganda views homosexuality as illegal, with up to 14 years of imprisonment for this "crime" and a bill pending, if passed, could mean the death penalty for certain people engaging in same-sex relations.
Kato was assaulted in his home and died en route to hospital on January 26 this year. Friends blame his death on the publication of his name and photo in the Ugandan tabloid newspaper that calls for the execution of homosexuals.
You may be asking what Kato's death has to do with gay rights in South Africa. Our post-apartheid constitution led the way in outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
South Africa is also the first country in Africa to legalise same-sex marriage.
On paper, South Africa is a welcoming refuge on the African continent for all types of sexual orientation.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. As we see in so many other spheres of society, brilliant laws do not necessarily protect an individual living in areas where prejudice and myths reign supreme.
Gay men and women experience this gap between the existence of laws and the reality of rights most acutely.
While Kato was murdered in Uganda, here at home members of LGBTI communities face the daily threat of violence and discrimination. What has become known as "corrective rape" is particularly disturbing.
The lack of government action to prevent it is, of course, even moredisturbing.
A petition drawn up on January 5 last year by lesbian activists in Cape Town highlighted the plight of black lesbian women, especially in townships and rural areas.
According to research undertaken by Triangle, a leading South African gay rights group, 86percent of black lesbian women in Western Cape say they live in fear of sexual assault.
Some men rape lesbian women to police women's sexuality and bodies and to prove that women are not free to choose their own sexual identities.
Nearly 17 years after we proudly ratified what is considered one of the best and most far-reaching constitutions in the world, which guarantees equality for gay rights, we have to ask ourselves how is it that we as a society allow gay men and lesbian women to suffer from prejudice and bigotry.
Zoliswa Nkonyana was chased, pelted with bricks, and beaten to death with a golf club in 2006 for being a lesbian. Nearly five years later, our courts have still not made a conviction.
How is it that the perpetrators of such acts continue to enjoy such impunity?
How is it that we allow our government to fail to adhere to the terms of our Constitution - both at home and abroad?
We cannot continue to keep silent about these criminal activities. We have to speak out in our own homes and communities.
And we have to demand that our government takes urgent action at home and abroad to live up to its constitutional commitments.
We support the call to have corrective rape classified as hate crime.
As a society we should confront social, cultural and religious prejudices that foment hatred for people with a different sexual orientation and somehow justifies such cruel acts.
Leaders in these spheres of society need to stand up and be counted.
- Botha is government and media relations manager at Sonke Gender Justice Network