The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) News show ‘Special Assignment’ has broadcast a world-first documentary about the plight of LGBT refugees in that country.
Nobody knows how many LGBT people have fled the rest of Africa for sanctuary in South Africa, but it may well host the largest number in the world.
Until this year, the refugees had no dedicated support, but in May, the group PASSOP (People Against Suffering Oppression and Poverty) started a Gay Refugee Program.
In the film, my friend Jed ‘Junior’ Mayema describes the horror he fled in the Congo, where his mother thought he was possessed by a mermaid and tried to kill him by injecting him with gasoline.
Roy from Uganda describes how blackmailers tried to cut his arms off with a ‘panga’ (machete).
And from Zimbabwe, Tatenda describes how ignorant people thought the intersex woman actually a gay man and therefore ‘unbiblical’.
Africa is a very hostile place for gays and lesbians. In at least 32 African countries, you can be sent to jail or a labor camp for having gay sex. In three of these countries, you can be condemned to death.
South Africa, with its liberal constitution (sexual orientation is in it, a world first) and vigorous NGO sector, is a shining exception. So gays and lesbians from across the continent are making their way there to escape persecution from the state, the community and even their own families — and they have the right to claim asylum.
What they face when they arrive is one of the world’s biggest refugee crises. For the past few years South Africa has had the biggest number of asylum seekers in the world. Xenophobic riots have twice swept the country and those LGBT people arriving face not only that but extensive discrimination as gay people as well.
It can take years to get a hearing and, the documentary shows, they often face homophobic reactions from officials they deal with.
Photo credit: screen grab