South African Minister apologises to LGBTI community over hate crimes

Maggie Sotyu, South African Deputy Minister of Police

South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Police Maggie Sotyu, last week offered an unconditional apology to all those who have been brutalised, attacked, discriminated against, and raped because of their sexual orientation.

“Homophobia and hate crimes are unacceptable, and we are saying as ANC-led (African National Congress, South Africa’s ruling party) Government, enough is enough. We will and cannot tolerate that, some section of our citizens continue to suffer in painful silence whist their own Constitution protect them to live the lifestyle they choose, lawfully,” said Sotyu in her key-note speech read at the first ever lesbian conference in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

The successful debut conference was organized by Free Gender, a lesbian-women’s rights organisation based in the township.

The conference was held last week on August 5 and 6, and came about as a result of the plight faced by black lesbians in townships. The aim of the meeting was raising awareness and empowerment of black lesbians.

Funeka Soldaat, founder of Free Gender said that the point of the conference was, “To open conversation among ourselves as lesbians and also with the civil society around issues of homophobia, hate crimes and how they link to gender based violence.

“These conferences are important for the visibility of lesbians in our communities engaged in positive things.”

Speaking about the scourge of hate crimes in South African Sotyu said, “Hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation must be countered just like hate crimes on the basis of race and religion, because our progressive Constitution does just that, it counteracts any sort of human rights abuse. Just like we bravely stood against the tyranny of apartheid, we must indeed together stand up to intolerance, discrimination and violence against diversity.”

Research conducted by the South African LGBTI organisation, the Triangle Project found that 86 per cent of black lesbian women in Western Cape say they live in fear of sexual assault. Reports also state that more than 30 lesbians have been killed in corrective rape cases in South Africa since 1998, yet only one case has resulted in a conviction.

Sotyu also lauded Free Gender for what she termed a “ground breaking approach”, and for heeding the call for communities to start working together with the Government.

The deputy minister said, “South Africa as a nation still needs to continue affirming the character of our society as one founded and based on tolerance and mutual respect. Therefore, the dialogue that we seek is the one that must affirm people with different sexual orientation as part of our communities. The Constitution is non-ambiguous on this issue, and sends a clear provision which allows all adults to choose relationships while enjoying equal protection by the Law.”

Meanwhile, the national task team set up by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to combat violent hate crimes against LGBTI South Africans, formally began its work on Wednesday last week.

The task team includes six people representing the judiciary, police and department of social development and six representatives from the LGBTI community. Free Gender also part of the task team.

Free Gender is a black lesbian organisation based in Khayelitsha a township in Cape Town. The organisation was founded in 2008.

The group’s objectives are to raise awareness in relation to LBTI women rights within the community by providing space to bridge the gap between parents and LBTI women, and to work towards a non discriminatory community which is accepting and towards homosexuality by opposing all forms of violence and hate speech.

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