Last edited: February 13, 2005

Politicians Accused of Failing Gay Community

The Namibian, May 20, 2003
Windhoek, Namibia

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 countries worldwide.

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 “state-sponsored homophobia”.

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 colleagues.

The two groups are most disappointed to note that same sex relationships have been omitted from the recently passed Domestic Violence Bill.

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 human rights.

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 then.

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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