Politicians Accused of Failing Gay Community
Namibian, May 20, 2003
By Lindsay Dentlinger
Namibia’s gay community says despite the country’s
leaders having vowed to defend and protect all citizens, homosexuals are being
failed by the system.
In effect, only one piece of Namibian legislation
pronounces itself specifically on sexuality—the Labour Act.
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW), in conjunction with
the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, launched a report
in Windhoek entitled ‘More Than a Name: State-Sponsored Homophobia and its
Consequences in Southern Africa’.
HRW investigates human rights abuses in about 70
The report details research carried out between 1998 and
2002 on discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people
in Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Zambia.
In particular it focuses on the spread of so-called
In this light, Namibian politicians follow hot on the
heels of their Zimbabwean counterparts in discriminating against gay citizens.
Widney Brown, Deputy Program Director for HRW, conducted
a substantial proportion of the research documented in the report, and says
homophobia has become a very “politicised” topic in the region.
In Namibia, the President and a number of politicians
have in the past publicly vilified the gay community, interestingly enough, at
totally unrelated occasions.
Brown, however, commended civil society in Namibia for
speaking out against this kind of defamation, unlike in Zimbabwe, where she
says, they are too scared to do so.
While South Africa is noted as the only country in the
region whose constitution has an equality clause, the research found that
prejudice against the gay community is still rife.
The Rainbow Project (TRP) and Sister Namibia, both
advocates of the rights of homosexuals locally, say politicians are too scared
to stand up for gay rights, for fear of pressure they will receive from their
The two groups are most disappointed to note that same
sex relationships have been omitted from the recently passed Domestic Violence
Informal research by the TRP indicates that both verbal
and physical attacks on male and female homosexuals are daily occurrences
which go largely unreported out of fear of further discrimination by health
officials and the Police.
The TRP’s co-ordinator, Ian Swartz, says it is really
disheartening to note that President Sam Nujoma, whom he has always considered
one of his heroes, is among the perpetrators when it comes to discrimination.
In 1998, Home Affairs Minister Jerry Ekandjo went as far
as to tell the National Assembly that he planned to introduce new legislation
against homosexual acts saying that so-called gay rights can never qualify as
No such legislation was ever introduced.
However, two years later the Minister returned to the
subject, urging newly graduated Police officers to “eliminate gays and
lesbians “from the face of Namibia”.
Following President Nujoma’s 1996 call to “reject and
condemn homosexuals in our society”, Swapo swung strongly behind its leader,
effectively making homophobia a political platform in Namibia.
The President has repeated his threats regularly since
On the other hand, advocates for gay rights note that
ironically politicians have in recent years become gay rights activists, by
putting the issue on the front burner.
The country’s gay rights activists have however vowed
not to back down and to face the discrimination head-on by lobbying for
inclusion in Namibian laws.
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