In response to a question posed by Democratic Alliance (DA) MP Tim Brauteseth during a question-and-answer session held in the National Council of Provinces (NCoP) on Thursday, Deputy President David ‘DD’ Mabuza suggested that South Africans should be “decent and keep our mouths shut” about human rights violations committed against members of the LGBTQI+ community across the African continent.
The DA’s parliamentary leader John Steenhuisen has since released a statement slamming the deputy president for “refusing to denounce the immoral and unjust behaviour of fellow African states towards members of the LGBTQI+ community”.
“It cannot be this government’s stance to keep quiet in the face of an assault on the rights of fellow Africans.
“As a leader on the continent, South Africa ought to be a vocal champion of human rights and a torchbearer for progressive, compassionate politics.
“The deputy president’s conduct in parliament yesterday smacks of cowardice. Our nation and our continent deserve much better,” said Steenhuisen.
Brauteseth asked Mabuza: “How do the South African constitutional imperatives to protect marginalised persons and communities are aligned with the silence on the part of the department of international relations and cooperation on the developments in Uganda, whose parliament is considering an Anti-Homosexuality Bill that intends to impose sentences ranging from seven years in prison to death for either being gay or supporting anyone who is?”
Mabuza answered, going into the Bill of Rights, which he called “a cornerstone of our democracy and individual rights”.
“It enshrines the rights of all people in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.”
He highlighted the section of the Bill which says: “The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.”
But, he added that “notwithstanding our constitutional provisions” it should be noted that our laws “should not be in violation of international law that we are signatories to”.
“Our government upholds the international principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states. South Africa only intervenes in situations where parties in conflict officially request her assistance and or intervention,” Mabuza said, saying this meant government must respect “the sovereignty of the Republic of Uganda, and any other nation”.
“In line with our constitutional provisions, we condemn any form of human rights violations and abuses, especially when perpetrated by any state, including those directed at lesbian, gay and transgender persons, otherwise known as LGBTQ+,” he said.
“We are talking about a matter that is still on the table of the people of Uganda that they are discussing. I am sure we must be decent enough to keep our mouth shut,” Mabuza added.
Brauteseth then took to the podium again, saying: “I’m asking you to take a principled stand and condemn human rights abuses across Africa.”
But Mabuza said doing so is “not as easy as you say”.
“We must respect the sovereignty of other states,” he said.
“You can’t put yourself to be morally above others. Let us not be arrogant.”
Brauteseth, however, brought up a recent Constitutional Court judgment that said that while SA must respect our neighbours’ sovereignty, “it must always strive to ensure that its relations with its neighbours are guided by relations with just, equal, peaceful, human rights orientated and contribute to the democratic order.”
He highlighted that there were 34 African states with anti-gay laws, most of which were based on colonial-era legislation.
He added that heterosexual allies have been imprisoned for up to 10 years in some countries for standing up for LGBTQI+ rights.
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman)