The only African nation that has legalized marriage equality and included sexual orientation in its constitution is dramatically failing when it comes to protecting international LGBT rights, charge South African-based LGBT and human rights activists. This follows a homophobic statement made by Jerry Matjila, SA's ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva (seen above).
Matjila spoke in opposition to sexual minorities being included among groups who suffer intolerance in the world in a report by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Githu Muigai. Matjila told the Council that including sexual minorities in the document would, “demean the legitimate plight of the victims of racism”, angering South African GLBT advocates and the main South African opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA).
Reacting to Matjila’s comments, DA Shadow Minister of International Relations, Kenneth Mubu, said, “South Africa’s rejection of the inclusion of sexual orientation as a means of discrimination seems like an act of appeasement to certain African countries with poor human rights records, rather than taking the principled position, and setting an example on human rights which other African states could look to.”
Matjila's comments have been roundly criticized across SA media, especially by some of the leading Black commentators.
The comments at the UNHRC are only the latest data point in a high-profile series of actions that some say is a retreat on LGBT rights. More recently, SA's gay activists were troubled by the April 2010 appointment of the controversial and homophobic Jon Qwelane as South Africa's ambassador to Uganda . "[Qwelane's appointment] shows an utter disregard for LGBTI people in South Africa and Uganda," the Civil Society Organisations tell Behind the Mask. "At a time when that country is proposing on the most draconian pieces of anti-gay legislation in the world.”
In 2006 South Africa became only the fifth country to legalize same-sex marriage. Since then it has failed to support an historic 2008 UN declaration calling for the universal decriminalization of homosexuality. (The Bush Administration also refused to support the resolution, but it was later ratified by the Obama Administration.) SA also voted to exclude sexuality from another UN resolution on racism and xenophobia in 2009.