Thabo Mbeki’s pro-gay statement boosts gay rights defenders in Uganda

Former South African president, Thabo Mbeki has criticized Uganda’s anti homosexuality bill, saying sex between consenting adults “is really not the matter of law.”

Kampala’s Daily Monitor newspaper reported on Monday that the visiting former head of state’s comments will come as “a boost to the crusaders of gay rights in Uganda.”

Fittingly, Mbeki’s comments come a few days to the first anniversary of the murder of Ugandan gay rights activist, David Kato. Kato was murdered on January 26, 2011.

Former president Mbeki is in Kampala as a guest of the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR). He made the comments during a three-hour public question and answer session last Thursday evening during a debate on post-cold war Africa and why the continent is reliant on external interventions in dealing with local issues.

Former president Mbeki’s comment on gay rights followed a question by law don and human rights crusader Sylvia Tamale, who asked what the ex-leader would say to Bahati about the plight of a lesbian woman seeking recognition of her divergent sexual orientation.

“I would say to the MP; sexual preferences are a private matter,” said Mbeki. “I don’t think it is a matter for the state to intervene.” Mbeki said he was certain that Bahati would disagree with his stand and argue that African culture does not permit same sex relations, a reason at the heart of the continent’s wide spread antipathy towards homosexuals.

Mbeki said apartheid South Africa prohibited sexual relations “across the colour line” aided by the now repealed Apartheid era Immorality Act, which handed the police legal ground to raid “people’s bedrooms” before dragging them to court for prosecution.

“I mean what would you want? It doesn’t make sense at all. That is what I would say to the MP. What two consenting adults do is really not a matter for the law,” he said.

However, Bahati defended his bill, adding that it was brought to curb a several issues including inducement, recruitment and funding homosexuality. “His excellency [Mr Mbeki] needs to read the Bill and understand the spirit in which it was brought and the context in which we are talking about,” Bahati said.

The Daily Monitor reports that the Ugandan legislator, David Bahati’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, first tabled in the previous parliament, is currently collecting dust on the shelves of the current parliament, following international uproar against the bill which contains a clause that calls for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality, including the spreading of HIV/Aids.”

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said last year that although the bill had been presented by a private legislator, it had become a foreign policy issue for the Ugandan government.

There was more friction between the international community and the Ugandan government on the homosexual issue last week when Uganda’s ambassador to the United States, Perez Kamunanwire’s keynote speech to the United Negro College Fund’s sponsored Martin Luther King Day event was cancelled because of Uganda’s institutionalized homophobia and the anti homosexuality bill. Ambassador Kamunanwire responded to the cancellation of the event saying the United Negro College Fund president and CEO, Michael L. Lomax, was “blindsided and startled.”

In addition, Kamunanwire claimed in a letter that the Ugandan Parliament was not planning to reconsider the bill.

The ambassador, a former college professor who has taught at US universities, said in his letter that he had been invited to speak on education-related issues at the event.

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