In an outrageous statement, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has said that South Africa “respects” Uganda’s right to enact its anti-gay legislation and by virtue has rejected any outright condemnation of the law.
Responding to a parliamentary question on whether he intended to clear South Africa’s policy position regarding Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law, Zuma said: “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,” Zuma said through a written response to the National Assembly.
This puts Zuma out of step with the National Assembly which had called on Zuma to, in no uncertain terms, decry the law.
South Africa’s Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko has said she is appalled by Zuma’s comments, adding that the international community didn’t “respect” apartheid in South Africa and that South Africa “should likewise not stand quietly by as our president adopts this shameful approach when other countries violate the human rights of their people. To do so is to send a message to the rest of the world that we are hypocrites.”
However, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised by Zuma’s actions. Zuma’s anti-gay credentials are clear. While in recent years he may have publicly softened on gay rights, he once stated that same-sex marriages are “a disgrace to the nation and to God,” and said that “When I was growing up, an ungqingili [an anti-gay epithet for homosexual] would not have stood in front of me. I would have knocked him out.”
The notion of Uganda’s sovereignty, and the absolute paranoia of being called colonialist, have conspired to dangerously muddy the waters on this issue, so let’s be clear: no nation on Earth has the right to do what Uganda has done to its gay population. We have long held that human agency gives us certain rights from which we cannot — and will not — be divorced. These are not separated off by our geographical place on this lonely globe, nor are they granted at the whim of whomever is in power at the time. These rights are as close to sacred as anything we have. So Uganda cannot claim this is a matter of “internal affairs,” and South Africa should not be giving in to such a disgusting pretense. Uganda is setting the stage to purge itself of its LGBT population, make no mistake, and South Africa’s Zuma would have his nation lend its tacit support to that.
To further illustrate the point, let’s see a few examples of what Zuma would have South Africa respect about Uganda’s “Jail the Gays” bill.
In recent weeks, there have been raids on HIV awareness programs under the pretense that the government believes these groups are “recruiting” people into being gay. We have seen Uganda’s government move to stop the courts from even considering a challenge against Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law, with the government offering the defense that Parliament can essentially do what it wants so long as it is for the “betterment” of society. Tragically, we’ve also seen the anti-gay persecution push several Ugandans to reportedly attempt suicide. This is in addition to the torture and arrests we know to have already happened since the law came into force.
It is, therefore, doubly injurious that Zuma would take this line because international rights groups believe it is only through South Africa and its influence over its cousins that the anti-gay crackdown sweeping North Africa might be stemmed. With anti-gay marches scheduled in nations like Ethiopia, and fresh legislation being proposed to further tighten existing laws criminalizing homosexuality in these countries, LGBTs in North Africa need allies.
Zuma has, essentially, spat in their face.