SA's first gay minister: why it matters

2014-06-06 14:21

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma's appointment of the openly gay minister Lynne Brown to his Cabinet has sparked debate across the globe. News24 looks at why her sexuality matters.

Though openly gay, Brown is not a gay rights activist and has never used her political position to campaign for gay rights. She does however have a rich history in supporting women's rights - which pre-dates her ANC membership by almost a decade.

Indeed, Brown, 52, has been "out" and in the public eye for many years. So how will her latest appointment change the reality of lesbian women at home or abroad?

What it tells the world

South Africa has previously led the continent on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, with a post-apartheid constitution explicitly affirming equality and non-discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender.

But our record has been tainted more recently, by the government's failure to condemn Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill which includes life imprisonment in some cases.

World leaders lined up in protest, with US President Barack Obama calling it "odious". Meanwhile, Zuma's government issued a statement saying South Africa "takes note of the recent developments" affecting homosexual people and would "be seeking clarification".

A weak response, it did little to budge the world's view that Africa, beset by phobias, lags the rest of the world on gay rights. Indeed, of Africa's 55 states, 38 criminalise homosexuality.

But Zuma's appointment of Brown to his Cabinet - whether or not it had anything to do with her sexuality - has sent a positive message to the world, according to experts.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) in New York said despite a "regrettable" silence on LBGT affairs abroad, Brown's appointment showed a "willingness to lead by example at home".

HRW's Graeme Reid, director of the LGBT Rights Programme, said that in an ideal world we would "hardly notice" Brown's sexuality, but he argued, it "is significant in contrast to state-sponsored homophobia in many parts of the world".

It tells the international community that a person can reach that level of achievement in South Africa, regardless of their sexuality.

Marianne Møllmann, director of programmes at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), also based in New York, said: "Symbolically, it gives us something clear to say: Africa is not a monolith."

Closer to home, the appointment proves that South Africa can still play a leading role for the continent. The Coalition for the Advancement of Lesbian Business in Africa (CALiBA) said that the appointment sends "the right message to other African countries and their governments".

What it says about Zuma

Zuma meanwhile is known for his conservative, traditional views. He has long harboured reactionary, homophobic opinions - perhaps most famously commenting in 2006 that same-sex marriages were "a disgrace to the nation and to God".

For Professor Daryl Glaser, head of political studies at Wits University, there is "no evidence that he has changed his personal thinking".

But it's important to note that while Zuma's privately held views might be reactionary, he is "relatively quick to give way to publically sensitive issues", said Glaser.

A recent example is the Traditional Court's Bill, which aimed to centralise power to senior traditional leaders. Zuma eventually backed down in the face of widespread opposition from women's rights groups and other organisations.

"Zuma is not a particularly ideological man," said Glaser. "He doesn't want to make his views an issue”.

Zuma's appointment of Brown can be seen then as testament to South Africa's degree of acceptance rather than exclusion.

Certainly, excluding people from their potential to work penalises not only them, but the country too.

"Exclusion has a cost," Møllmann said, adding: "Countries lose a huge part of economic power then they discriminate."

Preliminary analysis by the World Bank for example, has found that the cost of homophobia in India could reach 1.7% of gross domestic product (GDP).

What it means for the LGBT community

For CALiBA, Zuma's promotion of Brown shows that the South African government has recognised a person for her contribution to the nation regardless of her sexuality.

On this basis, said CALiBA’s executive, it "can be seen as a positive signal to the whole African LGBT community".

Every group needs their role models and representatives, and by being openly gay and successful Brown is showing young lesbians in South Africa that being gay does not have to define your life - or ruin it.

Will Brown go beyond being a role model to become an activist? It is perfectly valid for the LBGT community to hope so, said Møllmann.

"She has an opportunity, she is not in danger - I can see that," she said.

Yet activism is often motivated when someone is personally affected - when someone feels that they have been discriminated against.

It is a deeply personal thing, said Møllmann, adding: "I don't think we can demand that of someone."

Role models aside, her appointment may have little immediate impact on the LBGT community however. For Sheena Magenya, media and communications advisor at the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), portraying Brown's appointment as a win for the LBGT community is "a bit careless".

Though her views are personal and not the official line from CAL, Magenya said: "If Minister Brown’s appointment immediately came with legislation that swiftly guaranteed justice for slain, maimed, raped and abused women, lesbians, trans-women, girls and children - then yes, her appointment would be celebrated as a win for the community of poor, queer South Africans to whom this is a daily reality."

What we must do now then is watch what Brown does, said CALiBA. The group said: "We need to watch now all the actions that will be set by Lynne and the conservative government of President Zuma."

It said it expects significant steps from the government, especially in rural areas, to allow lesbian women to live and work according to the protection of the South African constitution.

  • T-Mak Makatu - 2014-06-06 14:29

    Lazy to read

      Grootrot van Zyl - 2014-06-06 14:35

      Dont send her to Zim or Uganda, if you want her back. No pun intended.

      Linds Ron-House - 2014-06-06 15:03

      Remember Mbeki blocked, at least 2 times, the appointment of the openly gay Justice Edwin Cameron into the ConCourt. Immediately after Mbeki's removal from office, Zuma's team (through President Kgalema Motlante) wasted no time and appointed Justice Cameron. He was the first openly gay Justice of the ConCourt. So I guess Glaser is correct, Zuma does not necessarily use his personal views when making decisions.

      KevanFoxcroft - 2014-06-06 17:41

      Is this just not filling another "quota" ?

      Johannes Smid - 2014-06-06 20:27

      This is a non-issue to the person in question, Zuma, and the rest of SA. Seems only the media has an interest.

      Man Zanilla - 2014-12-18 14:13

      With such a beautiful smile she can be nothing else.... O toothless one.

  • Lindokuhle Mhlongo - 2014-06-06 14:30

    Lord have mercy!

      Magatikele Magatikele - 2014-06-07 17:15


      Keith Oosthuizen - 2014-06-09 12:54

      Yes, may your "lord" have mercy. Clearly a different Lord to Tutu's and free-thinking followers' who acknowledge LGBTi people are just another of God's creation, like you and I.

  • alta.steyn.3 - 2014-06-06 14:38

    Zuma, take a break.

      Chase Cameron - 2014-06-06 20:41

      Why don't you crawl under the rock you came from?

  • daniellibica - 2014-06-06 14:42

    Ambassador to Uganda would be better for her!

      Nkalanga Muzi - 2014-06-06 14:47

      Lol they will crucify her

      Linds Ron-House - 2014-06-06 14:57

      Ambassadors usually enjoy immunity from prosecution in the host countries. If an ambassador acts in a way that is unacceptable to the host country, then they will be expelled. If they commit a crime they can also be sent home to be prosecuted there.

      Keith Oosthuizen - 2014-06-09 12:56

      They're so brainwashed in Uganda that they might start worshiping her and the LGBTI community at last. Remember JC's crucifixion?

  • Bruce Mawillis - 2014-06-06 14:49

    This article highlights why we have always said homosexual agenda in Africa is driven by westerners. I am sure in Africa we have more pressing issues that need that our addressing. When we are dead and long gone we also want our children's children to remember us through our good work of developing our rather than this nonsense of sleeping with other man.

      Mannie777 - 2014-06-06 15:51

      Kinda sounds like YOU the one having an issue with this non-issue, so why make an issue about it? And please don't keep screaming at the "West" while wearing your Nike shoes or typing on your ipod....that does not make sense at all.

      Keith Oosthuizen - 2014-06-09 12:58

      Bruce, you spit in the face of our gay African ancestors as well as the faces of two great African Sons (Madiba and Tutu) who are vehemently opposed to your bigoted views.

  • Charl Charl - 2014-06-06 15:15

    I feel sorry for that lady stay away from zuma .

  • TakaOyi - 2014-06-06 15:32

    welcome to sa

  • Carina Welman - 2014-06-06 15:33

    So are you francois Marx

      Francois Marx - 2014-06-06 15:35

      Tut-tut Carina, I am right.

  • Carina Welman - 2014-06-06 15:35

    Viva LGBT viva!!!! Those of you who arevso quick to condemn people who make you uncomfortable, go take a long look in the mirror at yourselves before judging others

      Francois Marx - 2014-06-06 15:43

      ''uncomfortable''.... You cant fool us! Terrible spinning! Use the words '' lustful, perverted, immoral, wanton, warped, hedonistic or sodomistic''. I dare you to face the truth!

      Method - 2014-06-06 18:55

      You're an idiot, Francois...massive homophobic idiot.

      Kim Mann - 2014-06-06 18:59

      @Francois why is it so important to you who other people sleep with - does it mess with your fantasies - do you ever fantasise about anal sex with a woman?

      Keith Oosthuizen - 2014-06-09 13:03

      Bigotry is learned, being gay is the way some people are created. Homophobic straights had better hope they don't produce gay off-spring.

  • Siphesihle Maphisa - 2014-06-06 15:38

    I don't know how can a sin be given rights. Read Romans 1:26-27. I didn't write this but its there & if you obey God you can't overlook certain things in his book of life to ease your conscience. You can attack & curse me but I'm not of this world,no one can curse who has been blessed by Him!

      Michael de Villiers - 2014-06-06 15:40

      Well because this is a constitutional democracy, not a theoracracy. You're more than welcome to go to any other country where they treat your holy book as law, just be sure to give up bacon, polyester cotton blends, tattoos and shaving.

      Siphesihle Maphisa - 2014-06-06 16:59

      As a christian I've a spiritual duty to help those who haven't seen Jesus to see Him. I'm a proudly South African & I'm in the war against the devil not those used by the devil.

      Kim Mann - 2014-06-06 19:04

      @siphesihle you need to go and study both biology and theology. The bible says you may not judge and human deformities are a given including genital and chromosome deformities. For starters, go do some research on intersexed, hermaphrodite, ambiguous genitalia. Ignorance is no justification to judge others.

      Keith Oosthuizen - 2014-06-09 13:06

      Even Tutu would say God (perhaps not yours) loves those whom He created differently (all of us differently in different ways) in His image ...

  • joe.irwin.50 - 2014-06-06 15:39

    You need serious help. Seriously.

  • Theo Duke - 2014-06-06 15:41

    Keep up the good work JZ.

  • PeterJJhb - 2014-06-06 15:43


  • Jacky Kutullo Bosega - 2014-06-06 15:44

    wise move by the president, if he continues with this good governing-conduct(provided that he personally behaves good) then south Africans might actually forgive and forget.

      Tersia Louw - 2014-06-06 15:57

      No, Jacky; he's behaved WAY too badly to be forgiven or forgotten.

  • Antonio Pina - 2014-06-06 15:49

    Don't sing praises so quickly - under ANC's rule, Brown's appointment does not necessarily means she is competent or "good for the economy", as some suggest on the article. Regardless of her sexual preferences, it means she is loyal do the ANC and, first and foremost, to Zuma himself.

  • Pixie86 - 2014-06-06 15:50

    good for her. I don't see why anyone's sexuality should be an issue and ye hypocrites quoting the bible- you only refer to it when it's convenient for you. how many of you have broken the 10 commandments. dodgy homophobes who have no life and worry about other people's personal decisions. and yes I'm a straight christian.

      Siphesihle Maphisa - 2014-06-06 16:49

      I don't think you are a christian(no offence). You say we religious ppl quote the bible where it suits us. Can you quote where it suits you too? Where the bible endorses homosexuality?

      Pixie86 - 2014-06-06 17:05

      ag, you completely missed the point. then again you are narrow minded. you're comfortable with what you were told is 'normal'. bet you had sex before marriage. how holy are you then?

      Kim Mann - 2014-06-06 19:08

      .... and because you are a Christian you automatically have the right to judge other people based on a birth defect!!

  • Jaco Le Roux - 2014-06-06 15:53

    Well said

  • Nicholas Smith - 2014-06-06 15:58

    as long as she gets the job done right, i don't care who she has fun with

  • Grant Wykerd - 2014-06-06 16:00

    What you talking!? You mean BooZanc will continue to do right from here on out, not building more Nkandla's and the like? WHAT YOU SMOKING, CAN I HAVE SOME?

  • Brolloks En Bittergal - 2014-06-06 16:05

    I am soooooooooo exited Yawn.

  • Grant Wykerd - 2014-06-06 16:10

    @Jacky, I'm with Tersia Louw on this one... I.e. my previous posting was aimed at you Jacky Kutullo Bosenga

  • StephenWilliams - 2014-06-06 16:16

    If human equality is something that existed, and was something that the government and society as a whole believed in, then it shouldn't even be newsworthy that a gay person was promoted to a position of authority.

  • Chol Mabeo - 2014-06-06 16:30

    Phew! Some of the things that the economy will make you stomach. Like it or not we have got to look the other way.

  • iain.tarr.1 - 2014-06-06 16:46

    Who the fahak cares? Leave your sexual orientation at the door, along with your all your other baggage. Focus on the goal not the sympathy vote.

  • Daveu - 2014-06-06 16:46

    Well we have thieves so what the difference. Sick

  • John Bartlett - 2014-06-06 16:47

    Jirre but your statement is stupid, kobus hugo.

      Keith Oosthuizen - 2014-06-09 13:13

      Hey John. Not only are the likes of kobus hugo sick; their prognosis is dire. They refuse treatment for bigotry and hatred.

  • BK Debongs Khambule - 2014-06-06 17:00

    Zuma this,Zuma that y?Never heard anyone saying congra Zuma especially the elite.Zuma is our president,the oppositio will always complain but its their right.Never saw or heard a dog barks to a car that has stopped bt when moving you can hear it barking ,So Mr President u rock,uyayitjkutja,keep up the good work

      dan.butler.7967 - 2014-06-06 18:18

      Not MY president!

  • Kabeya Clement Mulamba - 2014-06-06 17:02

    As a christian, I am not surprised by her appointment. It just confirms the word of God. This gives me an opportunity to continue believing that the end will be tough. God will judge this world.

  • Mlungu Diable Blanc - 2014-06-06 17:18

    ANC policies are anti-revolutionary,sellout , morally and ethically suicidal for a spiritually bankrupt society, by legalizing homosexuality,abortion and prostitution the ANC has confirmed of being a western lap dog

  • Koonradie Steyn - 2014-06-06 17:19

    Not suprised,the confused government is made up by confused individualls.

  • Toni-Leigh Luzzi - 2014-06-06 17:53

    I don't care if she is gay or not, black, white or brown as long as she does her job as a minister & does it well

  • Lindokuhle Mhlongo - 2014-06-06 17:53

    may be first known. u never know, if u know what i mean.

  • Desiree Rowe - 2014-06-06 19:29

    Whoop te doo - she is still just another politician.

  • Witsie Studdy - 2014-06-06 20:13

    I like this line "Exclusion has a cost," Møllmann said, adding: "Countries lose a huge part of economic power then they discriminate." Preliminary analysis by the World Bank for example, has found that the cost of homophobia in India could reach 1.7% of gross domestic product (GDP)"

  • Johan Kotze - 2014-06-06 20:15

    When irrational principles and fool baiting excites society, normality is cast aside and insanity prevails!

  • Louw Coetzee - 2014-06-07 01:17

    It means Gays can also be bought..

  • Victor Fedrick - 2014-06-07 05:52

    Our lives begins to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

  • Phillipus Johannes Petrus Kleynhans - 2014-06-07 09:09

    Whats happening to our religion and what the Bible says

  • Mohamed Ameerodien - 2014-06-07 09:19

    Last I remembered we were taught God created Adam and Eve. Not Adam and Steve.

      Wessel Braun Oosthuizen - 2014-06-07 15:08

      wow, did you come up with that one all by yourself?

      Danzo Realionair Makgitla - 2014-06-07 17:35

      Ur ryt u were taught......u dnt knw da full story.u were nt ur nt sure....

  • Marina Oosthuizen - 2014-06-07 09:40

    No matter what ones color, sex or sexuality. It you can do the job why can you not be appointed, or is it because Jacob Zuma appointed her that it is an issue now??? If she can do the job leave the sexuality out of this!!!

  • Adriaan Meyer - 2014-06-07 12:24

    Who gives you the right to judge people.

      Dumeza Nkala - 2014-06-08 01:10

      The Holy Bible! Ofcourse!

  • Barend Appel - 2014-06-07 13:38


  • Kudzai Chando - 2014-06-07 14:54

    Let he who has no sin throw the first stone.

  • anele.mveku - 2014-06-07 15:35

    Is the appointment about her sexuality or compability?. ..

  • Mandilakhe Madi - 2014-06-07 16:44

    there's yet hope 4 S.A cos dat is da least of our concerns wen scrutinising the new cabinet. other African countries can perhaps learn to prioritize and stop their obsession of wanting to defy the West by dis is unAfrican dis dat unCultural yet being guilty of inhumane acts such as corruption, genocide, power trips.......

  • Michel Konings - 2014-06-07 17:26

    It is her private life when it doesn't affect you keep your opinion private.

  • Thembisile Motloung - 2014-06-07 17:57

    Ok that's not a sin. I also thought that Mduduzi Manana is guy too. How TRUE is that?

  • Harry Underwood - 2014-06-07 20:40

    Question: When did Lynne Brown come out as LGBT?

  • K'Luza Rasky - 2014-06-08 07:55

    soon we going to have a gay president

      Keith Oosthuizen - 2014-06-09 13:21

      That would be FABulous!

  • Anselmo Coelho - 2014-06-08 08:44

    We are all children of a sick world.....nothing new .....Zuma had a shower than he became president....