Govt 'still respects rights'

2010-03-08 14:12

Cape Town - When it comes to the respecting the rights of individuals, the government has shown a measure of sensitivity, says constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos.

Although there have been a few hiccups, including last week's furore over the Minister of Arts and Culture, Lulu Xingwana's views on artworks depicting women in intimate poses, the University of Cape Town professor told News24 it is still "too early" to panic.

Most viewed Xingwana's comments that the art was "immoral" and went against the country's goals of "nation-building" as homophobic.


She later defended herself, saying she had walked out of the Innovative Women Exhibition because of the "pornographic" nature of the art and that at the time she did not know about the sexual orientation of the artists or models.

"Further, as a public representative and as a South African, I uphold the laws of our country and the Constitution. I have fought for liberation and women’s rights for the most part of my life," she said in a statement.

An unconvinced De Vos said not only were Xingwana's earlier comments an indictment on lesbian women, but also went against the principles of her party.

"Our ministers have been relatively good at keeping their views to themselves," De Vos told News24, recalling debate over civil unions almost four years ago.

"I recall there was robust debate over it within the ANC, but because it was required by the Constitution, it was accepted," he said.

He acknowledged that it would be difficult for any person to agree with everything in the Constitution as it was an "aspirational" document, and that everyone was entitled to their opinion.

Human rights central to ANC

He warned however that when people in public office vocalise opinions which are contrary to the Constitution, they bring the integrity of the Constitution into question.

De Vos said although respect for human rights had always been central to the ANC, incidents like that of President Jacob Zuma making anti-gay comments at Heritage Day celebrations in KwaZulu-Natal in 2006 were worrying.

Zuma was taken to task by various organisations and parties and apologised after being quoted in the media as saying: "When I was growing up an ungqingili (a gay man) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out."

"Of course people worry that this could become a trend, but it is too early to say whether we're in trouble or not," De Vos said.