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South Africa’s lip service to human rights

JOBURG- Are we selfish for celebrating Human Rights Day?

Human Rights Day on 21 March celebrates South Africa’s extraordinary Constitution.

From a time when voices were stifled to post-apartheid politics, this country has walked a long road to freedom.

The day is linked to 21 March 1960, when violence erupted in Sharpeville after a group of South Africans banded together to protest the vile pass laws that severely restricted the freedom of black people.

On that day, 69 people died at the hands of militant police, with 180 others wounded – many of whom were shot in the back.

Under the ANC’s democratic rule, Human Rights Day was implemented not only as remembrance, but also as a reminder of the country’s open society.

However, while South Africa enjoys seemingly boundless freedom in a constitutional sense, the country is not stepping up to fight human rights violations in the rest of the world – and even in its backyard.


Enter the ‘anti-gay bill’ passed by the parliament of Uganda, and signed into law on 24 February this year.

The bill, declares gay men and woman as sub-human. Homosexuals face life sentences in prison, or death due to their sexual orientation.

Pre-bill Uganda was held up as a ‘typical’ African country by the rest of the world.

An example would be the Tony Award-winning musical The Book of Mormon dealing with two Mormon missionaries travelling to war-torn Uganda, plagued with Aids and terrorists. Though bordering on Americanised poverty porn, the musical ended up being a lighthearted take on unity and how the human spirit can overcome challenges.

However, in the real world, things are less rosy and, for gays and lesbians, the country is seen as a terrifying place to be.

Uganda remains one of the world’s poorest countries, while gays and lesbians are ostracised and left to fend for themselves in a place where they are not welcome.

It’s debatable whether it’s poverty or religion – or a combination of both – that is responsible for this surge of homophobia in the country, but the East African nation has no lack when it comes to rebellion.

In northern Uganda, pseudo-cult the Lord’s Resistance Army is responsible for countless deaths. The army aims to have a theocratic state, where laws are upheld by the Ten Commandments.

From abducting children, supporting child soldiers, to violations against women by cutting off their lips, the movement will no doubt go all-out to purge the country of its ‘gay devils’.


Pieter-Dirk Uys, under persona Bambi Kellerman in his latest play, shared his frustration with South Africa, and it’s unwillingness to call out Uganda about its ongoing human rights violations.

He said leaders in South Africa, as well as the media, had a responsibility to report on the torn African nation, and to show how an open society can succeed. Although, even the latter needs to be questioned, as black lesbians are being raped in South African townships, as we speak.

The ANC should be taking flack for their role in spurring on homophobia. Minister of International Relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, rejected a parliamentary motion condemning the Anti-Homosexuality Bill signed into law by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni earlier this year.

The DA was one of the few parties committing to the issue, when Sandy Kalyan, DA Deputy Chief Whip, tried to re-submit the motion early February. But nothing has been done about it yet.

How can we celebrate Human Rights Day, when there is no commitment to ensure the same freedom in other countries – and even our own?

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