SA strikes the right note on Uganda

2014-03-03 10:00

Last week, Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor made a dramatic eleventh-hour intervention to prevent Ugandan gay rights activist Paul Semugoma from being deported to his home country.

Semugoma had just returned from Zimbabwe and the state of his temporary papers was a violation of South Africa’s immigration laws.

The officials who were about to deport him were keeping within the letter of the law. After an outcry from human rights groups, Pandor overruled her officials.

Now if ever a statement was required about South Africa’s stance on Uganda’s official and unofficial homophobia, this was it. This was a clear rebuke of the homophobic law that Uganda President Yoweri Museveni was about to sign.

But Pandor did not stop there. Speaking in Parliament this week, she reminded government’s critics the country was not ambivalent when it comes to gay rights.

She said: “[They’re] built into our Bill of Rights and legislation that has been passed in this country. So our position is absolutely clear and it is not changed by any policy adopted by any country.

“I think it’s not a practice that we comment on the legislation of other countries and governments?…?We have our Civil Marriages Act, we have our Bill of Rights, we have promotion of equality in employment and other areas.”

Her firm action and statement did not stop the public clamour for government to stand on top of Table Mountain with a megaphone and yell insults at Museveni.

There were demands that South Africa should join the international condemnation of the new Ugandan law, which imposes penalties of up to life imprisonment for homosexuals. The demands came after Western countries came out guns blazing, threatening to withdraw aid to Uganda.

The US was first out of the starting blocks, with Secretary of State John Kerry calling Uganda’s legislation “atrocious” and “morally wrong”, and comparing it to Nazism and apartheid.

Now this was rich coming from a country which has intimate ties with Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s greatest abusers of homosexuals.

In Saudi Arabia?–?as in many Middle East countries?–?homosexuals face harsh penalties, including execution.

South Africa’s stance on the matter was correct for several reasons. Firstly, we are already leading by example, having been a pioneer in enshrining gay rights in our Constitution and leapfrogging many mature democracies on legalising same-sex unions.

Secondly, it is proper that a universal review of gay rights be conducted.

It is opportunistic and unhelpful to single out Museveni for criticism when there are much worse offenders among the 80-odd countries where homosexuality is outlawed.

Thirdly, there is the factor of realpolitik. If South Africa had to scream at Uganda from the mountain tops, this country would erode its power in Africa.

By virtue of its size and economic muscle, South Africa has been able to make critical interventions in conflicts and other developments

on the continent. Grandstanding and earning a pat on the back from the West and human rights groups would just be plain silly. It would provide powerful sound bites for a day but, in the short to long term, undermine South Africa’s power.

South Africans need to growup and realise that not every international issue requires megaphone diplomacy. There is a time and a place for loud condemnation and there is also a time and a place for strategic messaging.

This time, Pretoria got it dead right.

I’m very much alive

Mondli Makhanya, described as a roving or editor-at-large, has written an article?–?“SABC rot starts at Luthuli House” (City Press, February 23 2014)?–? wherein a deliberate neglect or removal of the role I played as acting CEO of the public broadcaster was made.

It was an unfortunately glaring omission and a misrepresentation of reality that ignored 20 months of hard work I contributed to that organisation. It is a historical fact that cannot be wished away to eternity.

It was uncharacteristic for a seasoned journalist with so many years of experience to mention the role of the other two acting CEOs appointed after my departure.

Yet he completely disregarded me and pretended that I was never at the helm of that institution between May 2008 and December 2009.

Can someone remind him I am not dead but very much alive, as I do read and write a lot.

-Gab Mampone via email

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