On Gay Rights, South Africa Offers a Model for the Rest of the Continent
But Cape Town’s gay village doesn’t, wouldn’t, and couldn’t exist in any other country on this continent, the majority of which outlaw homosexuality. Some have seen a recent increase in penalties for homosexual acts. In these places gay people and other sexual minorities are forced into lives of secrecy and fear. Coming out is an act of bravery and defiance: Far more than social awkwardness is at stake.
Homosexuality is illegal in 36 out of 55 African countries and carries the death penalty in four. The presidents of Nigeria and Uganda recently passed new laws strengthening existing anti-gay legislation. A parliamentary caucus in Kenya is demanding anti-gay laws be applied rigorously and one MP recently said homosexuality is “as serious as terrorism.”
South Africa runs contrary to these currents. The country’s 1996 constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation and gender. Pierre de Vos, a law professor at the University of Cape Town, says South Africa is different “because of the way in which it became a democracy.
“Equality was very important to some of those deeply involved in the struggle against apartheid and they successfully put the argument that the struggle is against the denial of dignity and against all discrimination,” said de Vos. “Part of the struggle was about human rights.”