Leading the silent protest outside the Ugandan Embassy in Pretoria, DA Youth leader Mbali Ntuli said the lack of response from the South African government on the passing of the anti-homosexuality law passed by President Yoweri Museveni was unacceptable.
“The freedoms we enjoy in our country were hard fought and it is our responsibility to speak against injustices such as these,” said Ntuli.
Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law strengthened existing punishments for anyone caught having gay sex, and outlawed lesbianism.
Following the legislating of the law on Monday, a tabloid in Uganda published a list of the “Top 200 gays” in the country in an effort to “expose” homosexuals. This resulted in hefty criticism from individuals and governments around the world.
The international relations and co-operation department would not comment directly on the situation in Uganda, and said it remained committed to “seek clarification” on developments regarding the situation of gays worldwide.
“Our Constitution makes it impermissible to discriminate on the ground of sexual orientation, therefore eradicating hate crimes and intolerance in regard to this matter remains a key preoccupation of the government,” said departmental spokesperson Clayson Monyela.
The SA Human Rights Commission welcomed government’s announcement to seek information from other countries, but said the law could potentially put the safety of South Africans who work or travel to Uganda at risk.
“The commission believes that our government should make its rejection of Uganda’s draconian law clear and visible, and join those who respect the rights and freedoms of every person to call for the repeal of this and all similar legislation,” commission spokesperson Isaac Mangena said.
DA deputy chief whip Sandy Kalyan was adamant South Africa should provide leadership on the continent and not resort to silent diplomacy.
“Our government should have been first to publically object to the barbaric laws of a state right on our doorstep,” she said.
Jabu Pereira, director of rights watchdog Iranti-Org, said this is not the time for South Africa to be silent. “SA must stop playing the public relations game by being mute when in fact it has taken a bold move to introduce the international conference on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2011,” said Pereira.
Britain, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden condemned the law, stating that aid to Ugandan government programmes would be reconsidered.
US President Barrack Obama has been particularly vocal about the law. On Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said Museveni took Uganda a step backward by signing the Bill into law.
“As President Obama has said, this law is more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda. It reflects poorly on the country’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people and will undermine public health, including efforts to fight HIV/Aids,” said Carney.
The US is Uganda’s largest donor, providing more than $400 million (R4.2 billion) in aid annually.
A total of 38 of Africa’s 54 countries have banned same-sex relationships, according to Amnesty International. Describing the anti-gay law as “draconian and damaging”, the organisation’s deputy director Michelle Kagari said the legislation would institutionalise hatred and discrimination against gays in Uganda.
Most African countries have laws in place declaring homosexuality illegal, according to the International Lesbian and Gay Association.
Having sex with a person of the same gender is punishable by imprisonment of more than 10 years in most African countries. The “offence” is punishable by death in Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Mauritania.
Mangena said government should engage with African countries that seek to outlaw fundamental freedoms and human rights, including gay rights, to urge them desist.