Jacob Zuma draws fire for anti-gay speech

Troy Espera | September 28, 2006

Jacob Zuma
CAPE TOWN — Human rights activists have slammed former South African deputy president Jacob Zuma for condemning same-sex marriages while allegedly delivering a �hate speech� during a public hearing.

Reuters reports that Zuma, who is perceived as a leading contender for the country's presidency, reportedly described same-sex marriages as "a disgrace to the nation and to God" at a public meeting to celebrate Heritage Day in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, on South Africa's east coast, earlier this week.

South Africa�s Citizen reports that Zuma said: �When I was growing up an ungqingili (a gay) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out.�

The Sowetan quoted Zuma as saying that same-sex marriages were �a disgrace to the nation and to God�.

His remarks were made while the South African parliament was conducting public hearings on the Civil Union Bill that would legalize same-sex marriages, in conformance with a Constitutional Court ruling of more than a year ago ordering parliament to change the law to allow homosexual couples the same status, benefits and responsibilities as heterosexual couples Reuters reports.

Donna Smith, of the Forum for the Empowerment of Women (FEW), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) providing a support network for black lesbians, told Reuters that Zuma's comments bordered on "hate speech ... I wonder how many African lesbians were raped between the time he had made that remark and today. We cannot support such a man for the country's presidency at a time when Africa is looking towards South Africa for leadership, and as a voice for the underprivileged and oppressed communities in the continent."

As gays and lesbians become increasingly visible in South Africa, which has one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, they have become targets of homophobia, according to rights activists. Most South Africans are conservative, with ideas opposed to the constitution, which stipulates equal rights and opportunities for all, irrespective of sexual orientation.

The Joint Working Group (JWG), representing the gay community, also said in a statement yesterday that while Zuma was entitled to his personal opinion, his public statement at KwaDukuza �was a form of hate speech�. He told the thousands of people that attended the festivities he was speaking in his personal capacity �as a man�.

�It would seem Jacob Zuma still has a lot to learn about leadership. A true leader leads with intellect and wisdom, not popularity or favour. How can a narrow-minded person like this be expected to lead our nation?� the JWG statement read.

African National Congress insiders said Zuma could be playing to the many dissenting voices on the proposed legislation within the party, including the chair of the parliamentary home affairs committee, which is deliberating the bill. A scornful chairman Patrick Chauke was quoted in the Business Day, a local daily newspaper, as commenting on the bill: "you won't find things like this anywhere else in Africa".

However, ANC members have been told to toe the line – should parliament fail to approve the bill, the Marriage Act of 1961 will automatically be changed to allow the partners of same-sex unions the required rights, in accordance with the Constitutional Court order. – Issued by Gay Link Content

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