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CCR Public Dialogues: Homosexuality in Africa

24 October 2014

Recently, if i could’s programme assistant, Mbongeni Ngwenya attended one of the monthly public dialogues hosted by Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town.

For more than a decade, Creative Consulting & Development Works has served as an incubator for emerging development practitioners by providing them with interesting and valuable internship placements in research, monitoring and evaluation, communications and project management.  if i could… offers internships that focus on the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual (LGBTQIA) sector and also hosts gender advocacy related internships.

Recently, if i could’s programme assistant, Mbongeni Ngwenya attended one of the monthly public dialogues hosted by Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town. The theme was Homosexuality in Africa and debating the topic were Mr Thomas Ndayiragije Senior Programme Officer for Africa International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), Ms Zanele Muholi Photojournalist and Gay Rights Activist and Mr Zakhele Mbhele Member of Parliament of South Africa.

Ndayiragije as the chair opened the debate and noted how countries in Africa in the past year or so have seen a wave of anti-gay laws and he was unable to explain the increased number of anti-gay bills that many African countries were seen to be enacting. He did however conclude that the rejection of homosexuality has become an “African common cause”. South Africa compared to other African countries is a place of freedom, where homosexuality is not illegal nor “immoral” according to the law.

On that note, Mbhele a member of parliament took to the floor. He had recently done an interview with an Australian magazine and was asked how long Africa had experienced homosexuality and how it was accepted. There is a common perception that homosexuality came with the white missionaries when they first colonised Africa and Mbhele argued that homosexuality was known and accepted with exceptions in the past. He mentioned two ways in which it was recognised: during puberty and in traditional healers and their spirits. It was uncommon for boys and girls to be in the same sex relationships and after initiation and passage to man/womanhood they were expected to assume their roles (man to woman and woman to man). It was common for men with a calling to be traditional healers to receive “male spirits” as their guides. These spirits would then want to marry a man and this was allowed under such circumstances. Mbhele continued to say that laws and statutes against homosexuality are a Western import.

Muholi, a photographer and activist for LGBTQIA rights was the last to express her thoughts on the topic. She felt the subject of Africa was too broad to be tackled, especially in one evening. She shared her experience of visiting a family who had lost their daughter – who was killed for being lesbian. She expressed that she could not theorise on the topic of homosexuality, but she could help to create visual awareness of it. She is dedicated to documenting everything about the LGBTQIA community in South Africa, which includes every aspect, the happier and sad parts.

The panel (from left): Ms Zanele Muholi Photojournalist and Gay Rights Activist, Mr Thomas Ndayiragije Senior Programme Officer for Africa International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and Mr Zakhele Mbhele Member of Parliament of South Africa.

A common idea raised by an audience participant was that businesses become involved in gender and homosexual issues, adding that businesses should invest in causes that promote LGBTQIA rights. Even though this is a good idea, it is rarely implemented for fear of losing customers or future business because of association with the LGBTQIA community. Real change is imagined and desired, but there is religion and culture standing in the way of such progress and attainment of the desired state. What will it take to get there? LGBTQIA people are murdered every day, or arrested and imprisoned in many African countries at present… What will it take? It’s a question that hangs in the air. It all begins with the person then the family.

if i could’s programme assistant, Mbongeni Ngwenya attended one of the monthly public dialogues hosted by Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR) at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town.

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