Civics, Unions and Churches in a stand-off on LGBTI rights
Gugu Madonsela “Donsy Kunene”, Gaborone, Botswana
The 11th Southern Africa Civil Society Forum almost ended in a stand-off on Friday after the organising partners differed on the inclusion of a
recommendation on sexual orientation in the final communique`.
The Forum is hosted by Apex Alliance which is made up of the Fellowship of Christian Council of Southern Africa (FOCCISA), Southern Africa Development Community-Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (SADC-NGO) and the Southern Africa Trade Union Coordination Council (SATUCC).
Earlier this week the Forum held a session on “Securing Justice for all: The Rights of Minorities Under Threat” during which issues affecting Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Southern African was discussed and debated. The session was lively and emotional with some delegates advocating for more recognition of the Forum of issues affecting this community while others argues it was a “non-issue” for them and their constituencies.
The discussion and debate were led by Isabella Matambanadzo, Zimbabwean Feminist activist, who despite the derogative comments, she remained calm and responding to the debate with sang-froid. She challenged the civil society to do an introspection around the issue.
“I want to ask you when we judge others based on their sexual choices and orientation, what does that say about ourselves? When we permit government into our bedrooms and see the things that we do in private, what does that say about the kind of people we become?” she asked.
“I speak not to provoke but I speak not because as we are taught in church we are called to be strong and courageous to not be afraid, to not be discouraged but to face the issues of our society, genuinely and thoughtfully”
The session ended with no clear position on the issue. However tensions heightened among the Apex Alliance Partner the next day when during a discussion on the Communique the drafters included a resolution on LGBTI.
The draft resolution read:
“We remain committed to oppose violence and discrimination against any person particularly on the ground of sexual orientation and resort to engage within our specific sectors, countries and social cultural context on the rights of the Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexed communities within a framework of indivisible human rights tolerance and respect”
But the proposed resolution was vehemently rejected mostly by delegates from the Church groups and trade unions and the entire tone of the debate changed with SADC-CNGO remaining steadfast in its position.
“We are clear of our position that LGBTI rights are human rights and there cannot be any differentiation in these rights. This is the most unfortunate part of the forum community, civics can’t demand accountability from their leaders if they themselves are not accountable”, said the General Secretary Boichoko Dithlake.
He further said disagreement among the Apex partners on the LGBTI issue had provided them with the opportunity to go back and consult their constituencies in order to be able to reaffirm their support of the LGBTI community. In fact, he said the lack of consensus at the Forum could actually be a blessing in disguise as it would assist them in raising awareness and popularising issue facing LGBT community even more.
“I am glad this has happened, it gives us an opportunity to organise ourselves correctly and properly. The matter has not been discussed openly and differently like this before which means we are progressing,’ said Dithlake.
The Civil Society Forum communique is usually handed to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat to be passed onto the Heads of State and Governments to be passed onto the Heads of State and Governments for their consideration.
When the paragraph was read out for members to adopt it, trade union members from SATUCC were the first to reject the proposal, saying it did not represent their position on the LGBTI issues. They asked that all mention of LGBTI be deleted from the communique as they would need to consult with their members before they could put forwards a position on the issue.
The unions were supported by Churches who also insisted on the removal of the words ‘LGBTI’ and ‘sexual orientation’ from the communique.
“We can never commit to this paragraph that is imposed on us. We will have to consult with our affiliates and constituency on the matter. The matter has been discussed before but it has never been our priority. We have many other challenging issues that are the priority of our constituency. We will though put it (LGBTI issue) in our report but I do not promise that the matter will be discussed further.” said Austin Muneku, Executive Secretary of the SATUCC.
This twist of events infuriated the SADC-CGNO, which is also part of the Alliance who staged a walk out to caucus.
Regarding the possibility of a “divorce” with apex partners, Dithlake said they expected consultation to be completed by the end of October and if the unions and churches came back with the same position the SADC-CNGO leadership would have to take a position on whether or not they remained part of the alliance.
The offending paragraph was eventually removed in its entirety from the communique. Shehnilla Mohamed, Africa Co-ordinator of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) said she was extremely disappointed by the decision.
“I am very disappointed by the outcome of the Civil Society Forum on the LGBTI issue. I believe the decision to remove all mention of LGBTI from the communique takes the region a step backwards and threatens the credibility and legitimacy of the groupings that claim to represent SADC citizens.” she said.
Mohamed stressed that LGBTI rights are not special rights but are basic human rights. “I applaud SADC-CNGO for taking the stance that it has on the issue and acknowledging that the issues affecting LGBTI Southern Africans cannot continue to be ignored and especially not by organisations claiming to fight for the rights of people she added.
Southern African LGBTI citizens continue to face discrimination, persecution, violence, stigma and exclusion from participating fully as active citizens. Apart from South Africa, and most recently Mozambique, most SADC countries have criminalised homosexuality.