Challenges Remain for LGBT in South Africa

Published: May 1, 2013

CAPE TOWN — A few weeks ago, the first traditional Zulu gay wedding ceremony was held in South Africa.  The country has one of the most liberal legal frameworks regarding gay rights and protections.  Because of this, South Africa has become a land of exile for many African gays persecuted in their home countries.  But even here, challenges remain as anti-gay attacks still happen.

Tiwonge Chimbalanga greets people as she walks proudly in the street of her neighborhood near Cape Town.  Everybody knows her around here.  In 2009, while still living in her native Malawi, Tiwonge, who is a transexual woman, was sentenced to 14 years of prison for having held a traditional engagement ceremony with her then-fiance.  Homosexuality is illegal in Malawi, like in 37 other countries in Africa.

So with the help of Amnesty International and the South African NGO Gender Dynamix, she decided to go into exile in South Africa in 2011, she recalls.

Tiwonge says that when she was in Malawi, she thought of South Africa as being a free place for gays.  So when she got here, the one thing that she expected was freedom.

In South Africa, not only is homosexuality allowed, but lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders (LGBT) also have had the right to marry and adopt children for years.  To this day, it is still the only country in Africa to allow such freedoms.

But everything is not perfect in the rainbow nation.  In fact, attacks against LGBT still happen on a regular basis.  Tiwonge agrees she continues to face challenges.

Tiwonge says about four months after she arrived she was attacked and beaten up, with her money and her passport stolen.  And recently, she was stabbed in the back by some Malawan people.

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