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Open Society Foundation Discussion

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba condemns homophobia in Africa

The Most Reverend Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town and Chancellor of the University of the Western Cape (UWC), expressed his unhappiness about the rise of homophobia on the African continent, at an open panel discussion at UWC on Thursday 3 April.

Referring to recent anti-gay laws in Uganda, the Archbishop  said: “As we were preparing to celebrate Human Rights Month, we were saddened to learn about the decision made by Ugandan government to pass a law that essentially makes loving another person of the same gender a criminal offence.”

The open discussion was organised by the Open Society Foundation which aims to build vibrant and tolerant societies, and to give people from all walks of life a chance to voice their opinions.

Hoping to strengthen the rule of law, as well as a respect for human rights, minorities, and a diversity of opinions, the foundation is committed to protecting and improving the lives of people in marginalised communities.

In his speech, Makgoba mentioned that it is wrong of the Ugandan government – or any other government – to discriminate against people because of their sexual orientation. “All humans are created in the image of God, and therefore must be treated with respect and accorded with human dignity. The same way we expected others to speak out against apartheid, we need to speak out when it is our turn to show solidarity with others who are similarly oppressed,” he said.

Representing the organisation People Against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP), Guillain Koko, human rights lawyer from the Democratic Republic of Congo (now assisting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) refugees in Africa)), added that homophobia on the rest of the continent is a problem South Africans must face, given that people come to South Africa because they face homophobic discrimination elsewhere in Africa.

“Some of these people are burned alive, and some run away because of police brutality, as is happening on the continent in countries like Nigeria and Uganda,” he said.

But once here, these refugees face challenges and discrimination as well – challenges including backlogs at Home Affairs, issues with legal documentation, xenophobia and a lack of understanding of the LGBT lifestyle.

Koko said that as an organisation, PASSOP is shocked that the South African government has not sent out a press statement condemning what is happening in other African countries.

“Democracy in Africa started in South Africa, and we don’t expect someone coming from a progressive country to uphold homophobia in Uganda,” he noted. “Homophobia and gender discrimination cannot be fought outside South Africa when the people who are already here cannot be accommodated.”

Koko concluded by saying that homophobia in Africa is a concern for the entire continent, and that South Africans need to examine their own attitudes and develop a healthier way of viewing the world.

“Nobody is born homophobic,” he said. “So let’s train ourselves to learn tolerance and to challenge homophobia, to build a better society.”