South Africa's traditional leaders want gay rights constitution clause changed

Two delegates greet one another at an international conference on sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights in Africa, on November 15, 2010 in Cape Town, South Africa. The conference is charged to analyse the challenges faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex communities in Africa.
Rodger Bosch

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Traditional leaders in South Africa have appealed to lawmakers to remove a clause in the country's constitution that protects gays and lesbians against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The National House of Traditional Leaders, the official body of tribal chiefs under South Africa's government, has asked parliament to debate removing the clause, in response to an annual invitation for suggestions for constitutional amendments, City Press reported.

The traditional leaders argued that sexual orientation should be removed from section 9 of South Africa's constitution, which currently states:

“The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, color, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”

The caucus of the ruling African National Congress party will now debate whether the matter should be discussed in Parliament, according to City Press.

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South Africa is one of the few countries in the world to extend equal rights to gays and lesbians.

Homosexual acts are illegal in most African countries, but in South Africa, same-sex marriage is allowed and gay rights are protected in the country's progressive post-apartheid constitution.

But gays and lesbians in South Africa's townships continue to face discrimination and brutal violence.

In a high-profile incident last year, Noxolo Nogwaza, a lesbian activist based in KwaThema township near Johannesburg, was gang-raped and then stabbed and stoned to death, in what the New York-based group Human Rights Watch described as part of an "epidemic" of hate crimes against gays and lesbians in South Africa.

Earlier this year, Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini was accused of homophobia and fueling violence against gays and lesbians in South Africa after calling gay people "rotten" during a speech in KwaZulu-Natal province.

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According to South Africa's Times newspaper, the Zulu monarch said:

"Traditionally, there were no people who engaged in same sex-relationships. There was nothing like that and if you do it, you must know that you are rotten. I don't care how you feel about it. If you do it, you must know that it is wrong and you are rotten. Same sex is not acceptable."

The Zulu Royal Household later denied that Zwelithini condemned gay relationships, blaming a "reckless translation" of the king's speech.

South African President Jacob Zuma, who shared the stage with Zwelithini at the event in KwaZulu-Natal, indirectly responded to the king's remarks.

"Today, we are faced with different challenges — challenges of reconciliation and of building a nation that does not discriminate against other people because of their color or sexual orientation," Zuma said.

Zuma caused a similar controversy after a speech in 2006 in which he said same-sex marriages were a "disgrace to the nation and to God," and that he would have beaten up gays when growing up. He later retracted his comments and apologized.

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