South Africas Unnatural Offences Act Struck Down
International Gay and
Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), May 1998
On May 8, 1998, South Africa struck down as unconstitutional the common law
crimes of sodomy, unnatural sexual offences and section 20A of the Sexual
Offences Act, which criminalized any act calculated to stimulate sexual
passion or to give sexual gratification between "two men at a
It was an historic decision, handed down on the second anniversary of the
promulgation of the 1996 Constitution.
Delivering his judgment, Judge Jonathan Heher of the Johannesburg High
Court stated that "constitutionally [the people of South Africa have]
reached a stage of maturity in which recognition of the dignity and innate
worth of every member of society is not a matter of reluctant concession but
is one of easy acceptance."
The National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (NCGLE) responded
jubilantly to this long awaited judgment, calling it a "sombre indictment
of [South Africas] intolerant colonial past during which these common law
offences carried the ultimate penalty of death," and declaring the
decision to be "[one] of which every South African, irrespective of their
sexual orientation, can be proud."
It was in November 1997, that the Coalition and the statutory South African
Human Rights Commission applied to the High Court to have these common law
"crimes" declared unconstitutional. The African National Congress
(ANC) immediately welcomed the judgment, stating that it "represents a
significant milestone in the alignment of South Africas laws with the basic
human rights contained in the Constitutions Bill of Rights."
Mary Sigaji, Africa Specialist at the International Gay and Lesbian Human
Rights Commission (IGLHRC) warmly welcomed this landmark decision, stating
that, "we have a lot to learn in the United States about sound
jurisprudence based on the inherent equality of all people. The United States
should heed the call from South Africa and repeal the sodomy laws in those
remaining states which still maintain them."
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