Last December, South Africa was praised for breaking ranks with other African countries and changing its own stance to vote for the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly decision in favour of restoring reference to “sexual orientation” in a high-profile resolution condemning extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of what the UN referred to as vulnerable groups.
We were part of 93 countries that incensed mainly African and Muslim states that sought to have the reference to sexual orientation removed from the original text that explicitly referred to killings committed against minorities on the basis of racial, national, ethnic, religious or linguistic reasons, and killings of refugees, indigenous people and other groups.
It was a high point for our international diplomacy position, which is oftentimes confusing because it tends to be swayed more by realpolitik and is not always true to the values we claim to hold.
The past few weeks must make our gay compatriots, especially lesbians, and refugees wonder whether South Africa was committed to the declaration it voted in favour of or whether it was just a public relations stunt.
The East Rand township of KwaThema has become a veritable graveyard for lesbian women and a happy hunting ground for homophobes who operate with impunity, which makes our vote at that historical juncture a hollow experience.
One of the latest victims of this crime of hate and extreme prejudice is Noxolo Nogwaza, who was murdered after being subjected to a “corrective rape” for no other reason than that she was lesbian.
It is heartening to hear that the state has set up a task team to investigate hate crimes against gay people.
No intervention aimed at saving lives should be deemed too late if other potential victims are still alive. We have to ask though why it has taken the state so long to react to what has been a present danger.
The same sense of impunity applies to those who have arrogated to themselves the power to decide which foreign nationals may work, trade or live in South Africa.
There are enough warning signs that we might soon witness xenophobic attacks against foreign traders in Soweto and parts of the East Rand.
The state is eerily quiet in warning those plotting evil or reassuring the potential victim that it will deal harshly with
We hope the state does not have to wait until another foreign trader is murdered before it sets up a task force similar to the one probing lesbian murders.
The South African government must not let the excitement of elections cause it to abandon its responsibilities to its citizens and commitments to international diplomacy.