The president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, said on April 8 that his country “respects” Uganda’s right to criminalize homosexuality.
It’s another sign that South Africa will not join the dozens of other nations condemning Uganda’s anti-gay laws—even though South Africa has the most progressive LGBT rights laws in the country, including discrimination protections and marriage equality.
According to the Independent Online, when asked if he intended to clarify South Africa’s official stance on Uganda’s controversial laws, Zuma replied in a statement to the National Assembly, “South Africa respects the sovereign rights of other countries to adopt their own legislation.
“In this regard, through diplomatic channels South Africa engages with Uganda on areas of mutual concern bearing in mind Uganda’s sovereignty.”
In contrast, the passage of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexual Bill has been strongly criticized by South Africa’s Human Rights Commission. In February 2013, spokesman Isaac Mangena told the Independent Online, “The commission believes that our government should make its rejection of Uganda’s draconian law clear and visible… [South Africa should] join those who respect the rights and freedoms of every person to call for the repeal of this and all similar legislation and to follow good human rights practices in line with its commitments under international and regional laws.”
President Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid and human rights activist who served as the country’s president from 1994 to 1999, championed LGBT rights as an integral part of South Africa’s civil rights movement, enabling it to become the first country on the continent to legalize marriage equality in 2005. In 2011, the nation also introduced a resolution in support of LGBT rights to the United Nations Human Rights Council. However, since his death in December 2013, the community has feared that their rights will be revoked without Mandela’s influence.
According to Gay Star News, Zuma has described same-sex marriages as a “disgrace to the nation and to God,” and once stated that when he was growing up, if a person he knew to be gay had stood in front of him, “I would knock him out.”