South African Government Launches Historic Program to Attack Homophobia

By Melanie Nathan, April 29, 2014.

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Rally outside Cape Town Parliament before we went in to ask the Minister of Justice for a Task Team

Back in 2011, when South Africa was exposed internationally for horrific amount of rapes and murders perpetrated on the lesbian community in so called “corrective” or “Curative” rape attacks, Minister Jeff Radebe was taken to task, and now some years later the climate may be set for change.

This week at Constitution Hill, the location of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, the South African Government  launched a special program for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) to combat hate crimes and homophobia in South Africa.

Mamba Online reports that the event was led by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Jeff Radebe, along with his Deputy, John Jeffery. It also included representatives from Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster departments, members of provincial and local government, ambassadors of various countries, a representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and representatives from LGBTI civil society organisations

Here is an excerpt from their report

The programme aims to address the upsurge in hate crimes against members of the LGBTI community that have shocked the country in recent years and represents the first visible results of work by the National Task Team on Gender and Sexual Orientation-Based Violence against LGBTI Persons.

The task team was first announced in 2011 but was beset by numerous problems in getting off the ground. It’s only been in the last year that both government, primarily through the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ&CD), and LGBTI rights groups have succeeded in creating a functional entity.

The event saw the launch of five elements that form part of the LGBTI programme.

1) A television public service announcement (PSA). It depicts a lesbian couple who fall victim to a hate crime. They are urged to report the incident and celebrate the attacker’s conviction in court. The PSA asserts that LGBTI people are entitled to live their lives free of prejudice and violence and urges victims to contact the authorities to report any incidents. Mambaonline was informed that the advert, which is still being finalised, will be screened on SABC channels and will soon be available online.

2) The Terms of Reference for the Task Team. For the first time, the team has outlined what its aims are, how it will achieve these and who the involved parties and stakeholders are. The terms of reference provide the basis on which the task team will do its work.

3) The Terms of Reference for a Rapid Response Team to monitor and fast track pending and reported LGBTI related cases in the criminal justice system. This explains the processes involved in ensuring that LGBTI hate crimes are reported and are swiftly dealt with by the police and the courts – including the responsibilities of the departments of Health, Social Development and Correctional Services and the SAPS and National Prosecuting Authority.

4) A National Intervention Strategy for the LGBTI sector. This includes more details on the work that will be undertaken by the task team. The strategy’s focus is on a) LGBTI hate crime prevention programmes b) improving the response by the criminal justice system to LGBTI hate crimes and c) strengthening public service institutions dealing with LGBTI issues, including discrimination and hate crimes.

5) A pamphlet on frequently asked questions about sexual orientation and gender identity for individuals, families and communities. The pamphlet tackles questions such as: Can LGBTI persons be cured; Are gay men more likely to sexually abuse children; and, Are LGBTi persons un-African? The pamphlet also includes contact details of organisations that provide support and advice for LGBTI people.

Addressing the diverse audience, Minster Radebe said that “The equality clause in our Constitution remains one of the most progressive constitutional provisions in the world. We say this with pride because South Africa was the first country in the world to legally prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.”

He acknowledged that despite this, “we have sadly witnessed acts of discrimination and violent attacks being perpetrated against LGBTI persons” but he insisted that discrimination that contravenes “human rights and fundamental freedoms will simply not be tolerated.”

Speaking earlier, Deputy Minister Jeffery said that “we are aware of the gap between constitutional rights and the reality of their implementation.” He added that “being gay is not a choice, but being homophobic is.”

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I am extremely proud to note that the Task Team has enabled this point where actual action is being taken to change the milieu in South Africa.

Back in 2011 I was a key speaker at the Ministerial meeting at Cape Town Parliament that gave rise to the Task Team.   As one of the main speakers at the meeting with Ndumie Funda, it is incredible to see this amazing result, that there will finally be a program in place to address this issue.  For years the Task team has been working hard to bring about some action,  fielding off controversies along the way.

Since that time, I have been writing about the issue and speaking on tours in South Africa – about the failure of South Africans to live its awesome constitution and the hope that Government will rise to its task. This is long due and hopefully the difficulties ahead will not serve to stray off mission.

I have always noted specifically that South Africa ought to take a strong leadership role on LGBTI issues, to be the country of its Constitution, where sexual orientation and gender identity equality is firmly entrenched, and this leadership should be exerted in South Africa, in Africa and the Globe as a whole.

I remain disappointed that the South African Government has yet to come out forcefully against the recently enacted Anti-Homosexuality laws in Uganda and Nigeria.

With days to the election, I have no doubt that the timing of this announcement has some political motivation as the LGBTI community is a fair sized voting block for the ANC. At the same time it is greatly applauded.

nathan@privatecourts.com

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