History has been made in South Africa with the election of the first Black, openly gay member of parliament in Africa. Zakhele Mbhele was sworn in to the South African National Assembly on May 22. The 29-year-old Mbhele represents Cape Town and is a member of the Democratic Alliance, the country’s main opposition, reports the London-based Pink News.
"I know what it means as a historical milestone but I’m not walking around thinking of myself as the first openly gay black MP in Africa or singularly defining myself by it," he told [Mamba Online].
"One of the most damaging things about homophobia is its destructive effect on a young LGBT person’s self-esteem. That was certainly one of the issues I grappled with when I was coming to terms with my sexuality in my teen years. Having more openly gay achievers in society can counter that damage by giving young LGBT people role models to inspire them to build their self-confidence and work ambitiously to achieve their dreams."
"[Mbhele] is also the second ever gay MP in an African government, following UK-born Mike Waters' first appointment in South Africa in 1999," adds Gay Star News.
Mbhele's election comes at the same time there has been an escalation in state-sponsored anti-gay terror and extremism across Africa. The presidents of Nigeria and Uganda signed into law extreme anti-gay legislation earlier this year. LGBT rights advocates have been attacked and/or killed in Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and Uganda in recent years.
Same-sex acts are currently illegal in at least 38 of 54 African countries. Four nations—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—boast the death penalty for gays or same-sex activity. South Africa and Seychelles are the only African nations that protect LGBT rights. South Africa is also the only African nation to guarantee marriage equality and gay adoption.
Despite these protections, the reality is quite harsh for many Black LGBT South Africans. Life in the impoverished townships is far less tolerant. Lesbians, gay men and transgender men and women are often targeted by violent attacks. Brutal so-called "corrective rape" and murder are increasing against lesbians in the townships, as well as rape and attacks against gay men and transgender women. South Africa has the world's highest rates of crime and rape. A rape is committed every 17 seconds in South Africa, according to Interpol.
The SA government announced in May 2011 that it would establish a task force to address the escalating incidents of anti-LGBT attacks in its nation. The Ministry of Justice launched an initiative to combat anti-LGBTI and gender-based violence earlier this month. Meanwhile: A gang of brutal robbers and serial killers have targeted gay men around Johannesburg and Cape Town over the past four and a half years. At least nine men have been killed.
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