Since Nelson Mandela’s successful human rights campaign in the 1990s, South Africa has maintained its laws supporting racial and sexual equality. However, since Mandela’s death on December 5, 2013, gay South Africans have expressed their fear of a potential backlash in the coming years.
Despite being the first and (so far) only African country with LGBT rights, including marriage equality, traditional leaders asked Parliament in May last year to remove a clause in the constitution that guarantees equal rights to gays and lesbians.
In a video profile, the New York Times interviewed a South African biracial gay couple to ask about what Mandela’s death means for them and the LGBT community.
In the video, the couple refer to current inequality in Uganda as an example to say that there is a “possibility” that current equal rights could change. They also explain that despite legal equality, social acceptance is not necessarily as prominent as expected, specifically with the addition of racial discrimination, and geographical location.
Reportedly, the predominantly black population in the townships face far more LGBT discrimination than the white gay couples in cities, and many gay men and women have been murdered due to their sexual orientation.
On April 28, 2008, for example, the body of lesbian rights activist and national soccer star Eudy Simelaine was found in a ditch in Kwa Thema, a township near Johannesburg. She had been beaten, gang-raped and stabbed twenty-five times in the face, chest, legs, and feet. Then in April 2011, a similar murder occurred; Noxolo Nogwaza was found in an alley with her head bashed in and her eyeballs removed from her eye sockets.
Sexual violence against lesbians has become a regular occurrence; in so-called “corrective rape,” perpetrators tell their victims they are attempting to cure them of their “unnatural” sexual orientation.
In addition to social discrimination, current President Jacob Zuma and his appointed Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, a conservative Christian, have both spoken out against marriage equality, meaning there is a chance of legislation that could remove some of the LGBT community’s rights.
Mogoeng Mogoeng has also been criticized for his views on rape. He has previously thrown out or drastically reduced jail sentences for men convicted of marital rape, assault of their girlfriends and men convicted of raping children.
At a commission hearing in September 2011, in response to criticism that he was anti-gay, he said, “My church’s opposition to homosexuality is not something peculiar to it, nor does the church have as its core value the attitude that homosexuality should not be practiced or is a deviant behaviour. It is based purely on the biblical injunction that a man should marry a woman and that there shall be a husband and a wife.”
According to rights activists, it appears that the more visible the LGBT community has become in South Africa, the more they have become victims of homophobia.
On December 14, the Huffington Post reported that France’s First Lady Valerie Trierweiler met with South African gay rights groups to assess the current situation. Activists hope that Trierweiler, who spearheaded France’s same-sex marriage legislation in May 2013, will place pressure on South African officials to maintain liberal laws in the country.