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LGBTQ+ people omitted from South Africa Census

Advocacy groups have urged the government to change course

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Flag of South Africa (Photo Credit: Government pf South Africa)

PRETORIA, South Africa — Advocacy groups are up in arms with Statistics South Africa (StatsSA) over the exclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the ongoing national Census which will end on Feb. 28.

Although South Africa is deemed to be among the most liberal countries when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights on the African continent and globally, this time, it seems as if the government made a costly error by including only male and female boxes on the questionnaire.

Reacting to the exclusion of LGBTQ+ people on the 2022 national Census questionnaire, Nolwazi Tusini, communications and media manager at Iranti, a Johannesburg-based media advocacy organization that advocates for the rights of LGBTQ+ people, said the data will be used to make conclusions about gender in ways that completely exclude Transgender and non-binary people.

(Image public domain)

“According to StatsSA, the Census 2022 questionnaire includes a question relating to sex which provides only two options, male or female, and this refers to a biological make-up of the person or the sex that is assigned at birth. This effectually means that Transgender and intersex persons will not be counted in the upcoming Census,” said Tusini. “The Census solely relies on counting a society that is cisgender and excludes a significant part of South Africa’s population.”

“Furthermore, history has taught us that the data captured from the responses to the question on sex is often used to make conclusions about gender in ways that completely exclude transgender and non-binary persons,” added Tusini. “For example, using this data to tell us about the number of cisgender women and cisgender men residing in South Africa and their employment status.”

The current questionnaire also does not include questions relating to sexual orientation and will therefore, not yield any data relating to lesbian, gay and bisexual people in South Africa. This is contrary to South Africa’s Constitution, which recognizes South Africans by their diverse sexual orientations.

“By StatsSA’s own admission, the current structure of the Census 2022 does not actively enumerate LGBTQIA+ persons. This effectively renders LGBTQIA+ persons invisible and is not in line with the South African Constitution which enshrines the rights to equality and self-determination,” said Tusini. “This urges a greater conversation around legal gender recognition in this country, where it permeates and how it’s understood and then accepted across government departments.”

Iranti Executive Director Jabu Pereira said StatsSA was encouraging the state to erase the existence of the LGBTQ+ community,

“We regard this Census as unconstitutional because its very design is premised on exclusion and if a census excludes a significant population such as the LGBTQIA+ community, then by its very nature it encourages the state to erase our very existence,” said Pereira.

Bruce Walker of Pretoria LGBTQIA+ Gay Pride concurred with Pereira, saying the omission of the LGBTQ community in the ongoing Census was a move aimed at “erasing their existence.” Walker said their organization has already launched campaigns against the count.

“Considering the news of the exclusion of the LGBTQIA+ identities in the Census we felt it necessary to voice our outrage on this. We feel this is a direct attack on the community,” said Walker.

“There are a few points that we feel should be addressed before this Census is held,” added Walker. “Why are there only two options relating to sex? Male or female. Why is there no intersex or Transgender here? Why are people who do not identify with either excluded? Why are there no questions about sexual orientation? This is a missed opportunity for the government to better understand the LGBTQIA+ community.”

Pretoria LGBTQIA+ Gay Pride’s directed the following questions to StatsSA:

– Why have you excluded a large portion of South Africa in this Census? Do you feel that the LGBTQIA+ community is not part of the population?

– If you think the LGBTQIA+ is not part of the community then why should we participate in the Census? Is this not against our constitutional rights? Why did you not engage with LGBTQIA+ organizations when compiling the questions? Is this not the first step to excluding the LGBTQIA+ rights in the constitution? Is the government now going to stop LGBTQIA+ rights in the workplace?

– Will the LGBTQIA+ community rights that we have fought for now be revoked? Will gay marriage now be revoked? What would the people say if you had only black or white under race?

– We as a Pride organization are outraged at this and we are extremely disappointed at the silence from political parties. We are putting out petitions out in the community and online. Why must we wait 10 years for the next Census? If we do not get a satisfactory response from Census 22 and the government then we will be asking our community not to participate in this Census at all. After all they do not think we are part of the population.

“An attack on one party of the LGBTQIA+ community is an attack on the whole community,” said Walker.

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Africa

Homophobic attacks persist in South Africa

Mpho Falithenjwa died by suicide after he was bullied for being gay

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Mpho Falithenjwa, 14, died by suicide earlier this month after he was bullied because he was gay. (Photo courtesy of Mpho Falithenjwa's Facebook page)

JOHANNESBURG — Despite having a constitution that explicitly protects LGBTQ+ and intersex South Africans, homophobic attacks remain pervasive in the country.

Mpho Falithenjwa, 14, died by suicide earlier this month after he was bullied because he was gay, according to his sister who spoke with MambaOnline, a local LGBTQ+ and intersex publication. South Africa’s LGBTQ+ and intersex community is wondering how an incident like this can be averted from happening again.

“We believe that the untimely passing of Mpho was mainly because of societal pressure, because of how society made it impossible for Mpho to come out without fear or prejudice, so what happened to Mpho really saddens us as activists it saddens us as Access Chapter 2 but over and above it saddens us as a country that 26 years after officially signing this Constitution as a country, we still have to grapple with issues of addressing the victimization of homophobia and transphobia subjected to the 2SLGBTQIA+ community and it happened a time when we are reflecting and commemorating international Pride,” said Mpho Buntse of Access Chapter 2, a South African LGBTQ+ and intersex rights organization. 

“Moreso, it brings eyes into the country to question the credibility of our Constitution because it cannot be that we have a Constitution that embraces the 2SLGBTQIA+ community yet it still makes it difficult for people to live without prejudice so this was conversion practice in the making because of the pressure that Mpho was given by society to conform to what society believes Mpho is as compared to what Mpho believes he is,” added Buntse. “What happened to self-affirmation? Generally as a country I think we really need to take a stance, a very strong stance in fighting and confronting issues of transphobia and homophobia from a place of policy more than anything.” 

Ruth Maseko of the Triangle Project called for more stringent measures to be taken against any form of bullying.

“There are many forms of bullying, verbally, physically and emotionally, it is abusive and should never be tolerated. Nobody should stand by no matter who you are, what your position is or what your age is and watch another person being bullied,” said Maseko. “Moreover, a deep concern for us is that the ages of perpetrators of hate crimes have been young. What are we passing on to our young people? What messages are we giving them, that makes it okay to start calling people names and excluding people because of who they are?”  

Falithenjwa’s death by suicide is the latest case to send shockwaves across South Africa.

A court in Pretoria in April sentenced two men to life in prison for raping a 19-year-old lesbian in 2020.

Human Rights Watch statistics indicate at least 20 LGBTQ+ and intersex people were reported killed in South Africa between February and October 2021. The international NGO indicates many of them were either beaten or stabbed to death because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“We cannot keep losing young lives just based on who they are and how they identify. It’s hard when you are young and feel that you are not accepted and then bullied, and nobody does anything to stop bullying wherever it happens,” said Maseko. “That person then turns that hate inwards and ends their own life before their life has even really begun. Why? Just because of who that person is? Words have the ability to cause this outcome and it is devastating that a young person feels like they can no longer go on because of someone else’s words.”

Maseko added it is “not acceptable and should not be tolerated.” 

“Our children should be learning in their homes that it is never okay to do this to others. Children should not engage in prejudice,” said Maseko. “If they have learnt it, because none of us are born with prejudice, they have the ability to unlearn it. In schools, where it is evident that someone is the target of bullying on any grounds, immediate action should be taken.”

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Mauritius activists await sodomy law ruling

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in country

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PORT LOUIS, Mauritius — Section 250 of Mauritius’ Criminal Code criminalizes sodomy with up to five years in prison. That may soon change after four young LGBTQ+ people challenged the law in the country’s Supreme Court.

The four plaintiffs who come from Hindu, Christian and Muslim backgrounds and are members of the Young Queer Alliance, a Mauritian LGBTQ+ rights group, brought their case in 2019. Three of them are the first public officers to come out as gay, while the fourth plaintiff is an artist.

The Young Queer Alliance in a statement notes two of the plaintiffs have been in a committed relationship for seven years. They and the other two plaintiffs argue Section 250(1) does not have a place in a modern and democratic Mauritius.

“2SLGBTQIA+ people should benefit from the same protection afforded to other citizens such as protection from discrimination and should enjoy the same freedom of expression and right to privacy as them,” says the Young Queer Alliance. “Section 250 is contrary to the values of democracy and treats 2SLGBTQIA+ people as second-class citizens. There is no justifiable reason why section 250(1) should be maintained in our criminal code when it concerns two consenting adults.”

The Young Queer Alliance notes the plaintiffs have requested the Supreme Court to declare that “sexual orientation forms part of and is implied in the definition of sex as enacted under Sections 3, 3 (a) and 16 of the Constitution of Mauritius, a declaration that Section 250 of the Criminal Code Act is unconstitutional and alternatively, a declaration that Section 250 of the Criminal Code does not apply to consensual acts of sodomy performed by consensual adults.”

Jean Daniel Wong of Collectif Arc-en-Ciel, an NGO that focuses on human rights issues in Mauritius, told the Washington Blade the case is a historic moment for the country.

“This was a truly historic moment for our nation, which has always placed equality and non-discrimination at the heart of the very fabric of our society,” said Wong. “Section 250 stands in stark contrast to the ideals of our Constitution. 2SLGBTQIA+ rights are human rights. Who we are and who we love should never be reasons for discrimination or abuse. It is time for our country to provide us with the same legal protections and equality before the law as all citizens of Mauritius.”

The Supreme Court last considered the case on June 1.

If it repeals Section 250(1); Mauritius will join South Africa, Angola, Botswana and other African countries that have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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Southern Africa LGBTQ development conference sees hundreds attend

Many of those in attendance acknowledged the harsh realities facing community members that include gender-based violence

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Members of the Namibia Diverse Women's Association attended the Other Foundation's biennial convention in Cape Town, South Africa (Photo courtesy of Namibia Diverse Women's Association)

CAPETOWN, South Africa – A number of LGBTQ rights groups from across southern Africa participated in a recent conference in Cape Town, South Africa, that focused on how to advance equality in the region against the backdrop of the pandemic.

More than 300 people participated in the conference, titled Kopano, which means “gathering” in Sesotho, the Other Foundation, an NGO that advances equality and freedom in Southern Africa, organized. The themes were rollbacks, resilience, reinvention, reinventing relationships and renewal of connections.

Many of those in attendance acknowledged the harsh realities facing community members that include gender-based violence and other barriers to making a living.

The Namibia Diverse Women’s Association sent 10 representatives to the conference that ended last week.

“Our diversity in representation manifested the comprehension of our national diversity,” it said. “Kopano continues to empower and critically challenge our ways of working.”

“Delegates raised issues such as the importance of collaboration and inclusion in advocacy work in the 2LGBTQIA+ sector,” said Gender DynamiX. “Discussants flagged concerns about businesses and organizations from other sectors engaging in work for their own financial benefit, rather than addressing the underlying problems affecting community members. The current funding system is problematic, as it seeks to profit with the lives of 2LGBTQIA+ people and makes it difficult for smaller organization to get funding.” 

Gender DynamiX noted its members “suggested an online toolkit for both business and organizations, setting out how partnerships can help support and sustain the cause without exploiting beneficiaries in the process.”

“Nevertheless, 2SLGBTQIA+ people should also be empowered during these business collaborations, and 2SLGBTQIA+ people in workspaces should use their power to push for the representation and values based on inclusion and equity,” said the group. ” 2SLGBTQIA+ organizations also need to hold themselves accountable. Toxic work environments, internal power-plays, overworking, hierarchal flow of work and lack of compensation undermine the wellbeing of 2SLGBTIA+ activists in organizations.”

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana (LEGABIBO) also welcomed the conference, and even took note of their visit to Robben Island where former South African President Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in prison.

“We had such an eventful day on Africa Day at the Robben Island Museum,” said LEGABIBO. “This visit was a reminder of how Black people have always had to be resilient in the face of adversity, something that black 2SLGBTQIA+ communities can relate with.”

Kopano organizers also thanked those who attended and paid tribute to activists, especially South African advocate Phumi Mtetwa.

“Thank you all, for making Kopano 2022 a great moment to reconnect and renew our movement,” they said. “As Kopano 2022 came to a close, the southern African 2SLGBTQIA+ activist community gathered in Cape Town paid tribute to our living legend, Phumi Mtetwa. There are a few activists about whom this is truer than Phumi. Her entire being sings, vibrates, reverberates with unbridled love for humanity. Never flinching from dissenting or being critical or questioning but always moved by a great love of justice, fairness, and equality, accompanied by huge doses of laughter and a welcoming smile. She represents for many of us, a bridge over troubled waters and always will. Fearlessly but humbly leading from the front, the side and the rear.”

“To know Phumi is to taste, smell and to touch the society so many of us are struggling for,” added the organizers. “From her work in the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE) in South Africa, the Equality Project, and in various international organizations and in her personal relations Phumi tirelessly and relentlessly tries to bring everyone on board, sometimes at great cost and sacrifice to herself and her interests. Self-sacrifice is not what she is known to shy away from, giving, sharing and genuinely caring for her comrades, friends and family is what Phumi excels at. Organizing is in her DNA, so she is never satisfied to stop at merely strategic thinking which she has shown herself to be very capable of. We honor you, Phumi Mtetwa, for all that you have done to advance our organizing freedom and wellbeing in southern Africa as 2SLGBTQIA+ people.”

Jholerina Timbo, co-chair of the Transgender Movement of Namibia, was also honored.

Timbo founded Wings to Transcend Namibia in 2015 and was involved in the creation of the Southern African Trans Forum, the International Trans Forum and the African Trans Network. Timbo has also worked with PEPFAR-funded programs and is currently a senior advisor for groups on how they can expand their health programs to better reflect human rights needs.

“She believes that inclusive societies are the key to success for southern Africa,” said the Other Foundation. “If any country needs to show that they care about their people, it should start with the minority. We honor you, Jholerina Timbo, for all that you have done to advance our organizing freedom, and wellbeing in southern Africa as 2SLGBTQIA+ people.”

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa correspondent.

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