Excellent news from South Africa. President Jacob Zuma has appointed the country's first openly gay or lesbian cabinet minister.
Lynne Brown becomes the public enterprises minister in a cabinet that also includes South Africa's first Black minister of finance. The move is also thought "to be a first in Africa and a symbolic step on a continent enduring a homophobic backlash," reports The Guardian.
Brown, 52, who is coloured (of mixed race ancestry), was born in Cape Town and was premier of Western Cape until the African National Congress (ANC) lost control of the province to the opposition Democratic Alliance in 2009. According to a 2008 profile of her by the South African Press Association, she began her career as a teacher and gained a certificate in gender planning methodology at University College London. [...]
Steven Friedman, director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, said: "She's not a gay rights campaigner – it's not recognition in that sense – but the fact that under the most socially conservative president since 1994 there is the first openly gay minister in such a position is significant."
South Africa was the first African country to legalise gay marriage but Zuma, a traditional Zulu polygamist, has been criticised for culturally fundamentalist remarks and failing to condemn anti-gay crackdowns in Nigeria and Uganda.
This has been a significant month for LGBT rights in South Africa. The first Black, openly gay member of parliament in Africa was elected earlier this month. 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 party.
These developments come 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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