Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Is This Really Much Ado About Nothing?

DA Shadow Minister of Home Affairs, Manny de Freitas has reportedly said in a letter to the Press:

"Just like apartheid - you were either for or against - you either believed in LGTBI rights or not. That fight is now over. Pride parades are no longer opportunities for protest and the demanding equal rights for all."


On this point I cannot agree with Mr de Freitas, or the cavalier manner in which he makes light of the situation. 

Mr de Freitas is making out in his letter, somewhat condescendingly, that human rights advocates have been overreacting to the fact that the SA government's Constitutional oversight body has been debating a suggestion made by a Traditional Leaders forum to scrap sexual orientation protections from the Constitution of the country. 

The point of our advocacy on this matter, and on arranging protests around it - has not been centering on the issue of the suggestion or the potential for its realization - but more upon the insult to our dignity posed by the very fact that such a Constitutional watchdog body is actually debating this issue, giving the impression that our rights as human beings are up for grabs to conservatives who like to pick and choose who is deserving of equality or "human enough" to qualify for human rights.

While much of the gist of Mr de Freitas's letter I can agree with, in that no party appears to have come out in open support of this abysmal suggestion - not even the ANC - however, it is worth noting that to date, not one single party has dared to openly condemn the Traditional Leader's forum for making this suggestion, or the Constitutional watchdog group for opening debate on it, or the ruling party for - as the original report in Beeld suggested, instructing all political parties to discuss this matter in their caucuses. 


This fight is FAR from over, Mr de Freitas. 


The constant attacks by conservatives and religious fundamentalists on our freedoms, civil rights - and even on our right to self-identify publicly, and to live openly as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or transsexual people, refute his statement and the casual wave of his hand with which he dismisses our concerns. 

The continued venting of homophobic and transphobic hatred in public places, in the press, and by religious extremists and "traditionalists" and denialists and victim-blamers seeking to extend their influence over the government, contradict it. 

The perpetual attacks on the Pink Community by religious extremist bigots for assembling and holding Pride events in various centers around the country as a show of solidarity, and expression of our freedom and identity as a community, a culture and as human beings, calls it into question.

The continued campaigning of some political parties, perpetually using our rights as bargaining chips in election manifestos, letters to the press and staged protests against our equality, denies it.

The continued failure of the ANC-led government to fulfil its Constitutional mandate to promote human rights protections in all its foreign dealings, as well as its dealings with human rights abusing regimes around the globe in defiance of this mandate - and the blatant acts of sabotage, such as failing to support UN initiatives to decriminalize homosexuality around the world, as well as appointing and protecting a bigot, a racist, a sexist, and a homophobe like Jon Qwelane to the post of High Commissioner to Uganda, exposes its folly.


The failure of Opposition parties to remind and badger the ruling party about its Constitutional mandate and its continued dealings with countries who have poor and even abysmal track records in human rights, particularly the human rights of people like us in those countries, fails it.

The continuous reports of violence and so-called "corrective" or punitive rape and other intimidation and assault committed against lesbians, gays and members of our community across this country - and in the name of "tradition" and "culture", calls it a blatant lie. 

"Perhaps it is time that the LGBTI community find something worth fighting for." He says, as though addressing perceived threats to our Constitutional rights and equality do not fit the bill.

In saying that education is a problem in combating bigotry, he is quite correct - however, without decisive government support in such efforts, great strides in advancing education of rural and traditional communities - and traditional leaders - in matters regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, will make about as much progress as combating the same ignorance which sees superstitious villagers murdering old people, albinos and epileptics when accusing them of being "witches".

Mr de Freitas's patronizing comments which portray our concerns as frivolous or hysterical, demonstrate both an insensitivity to the cause of our very real fears in facing very real threats, based upon past experiences - and also suggest that he is out of touch with our reality.

Failure on our part to rise to every perceived threat against our human rights protections, or to draw necessary attention to these, would be to forsake these rights and to leave them exposed and vulnerable to continued attack from very real opponents who mean very real business.

This we will not do.

I would expect a representative of the main official Opposition party, which promotes the creation of an equal opportunity society in South Africa, to approach such matters with more sensitivity - and frankly, to have made a statement condemning such a move against the Constitution, rather than to pooh-pooh and make light of those who have made an effort to defend it.

Sincerely,
------------------------ 

Christina Engela 


South African Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (SA GLAAD):

Member of the Board, Press & Media Liaison


SA GLAAD on Facebook

SA GLAAD on Twitter: @SA_GLAAD


Original letter below:

Sent: Thursday, May 17, 2012 4:25 PM

Subject: DA: [de Freitas]: Letter: A new cause is needed by the LGBTI community to fight for

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,


A new cause is needed by the LGBTI community to fight for

Over a week ago the social media was aflutter with claims that Parliament wanted to amend our constitution to remove the sexual orientation clause. I was puzzled at the time considering that I have the privilege of being a member of the national Assembly. This was the first that I’d heard about this.

Over the weekend someone tried to convince me that the proposals by the Middle Age Style house of Traditional Leaders was completely formal. He simply wouldn’t accept my more luke-warm attitude to these ludicrous amendments. Even if the proposals by traditional kings (and queens) were taken up, there are enough voices of reason in all parties to oppose them.

It was easy before the birth of our democracy. Just like apartheid - you were either for or against - you either believed in LGTBI rights or not. That fight is now over. Pride parades are no longer opportunities for protest and the demanding equal rights for all.

For a while in the 1990’s the new HIV/AIDS pandemic appeared to replace the gay rights fight of old. That fizzled away as medical advances ensured that infected people can live a pretty normal life.

Perhaps it is time that the LGBTI community find something worth fighting for. Allow me to provide a suggestion.

Very few people; irrespective of which side of the tiara your stand on, have even asked why kings and chiefs of the various royal houses have a problem with gays and their rights? Why are some people who are perfectly logical in all matters excepting for when it comes to matters of homosexuality?

I dare say it is because of a lack of education – this is not formal education I am referring to. I refer to the lack of understanding of what homosexuality is. Why homosexuals exist. That they pose no danger to society or children. No, children do not “learn to become gay” or “suddenly decide” to become gay.

It is everyone’s duty, irrespective of one’s sexual orientation to explain and educate those that we refer to as bigots. Often all it takes is a detailed discussion to start the process of getting a person to change their perception and to get them to start thinking logically

This is our duty – a campaign and concrete action that you and I can do today and in the future.

Sincerely,

Manny de Freitas MP

Member of Parliament
Shadow Minister of Home Affairs
Member of Parliament for Johannesburg South
Democratic Alliance

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pastor Demonstrates The Power Of Hatred And Hypocrisy

Regarding the matter of the Rev Oscar Bougardt, who delivered a letter filled with astonishing hatred and venom this past week to the Pink Community, I believe that his hatred (self-admittedly) demonstrates what is wrong with organized Christian religion today.

The comments in Bougardt's letter are typical of the right wing Christian bigot who doesn't know a thing about human sexuality, or their own holy books, but merely interprets these to suit their own prejudices and phobias. The majority of Christians appear to be indifferent towards the goings-on in the private lives of other people, or choose to live and let live rather than start a full scale war on them, unlike Mr Bougardt.

Nobody forced him to view the website to whose Webmaster he sent his letter, nobody provoked his hatred - but he took it upon himself to act out his hatred in a calculated demonstration of vindictiveness and malice against what is still a persecuted and marginalized minority in our country today.

Gay people in South Africa of all races, religions and cultures, still face remarkable intolerance, discrimination and danger which is still the result of ignorance which is reinforced by societal and institutionalized prejudice - and which is largely fostered and encouraged by people in Bougardt's position - that of a low-level religious leader who doesn't know what he is talking about, but who acts out his personal prejudices in the name of that ignorance and encourages others to follow suit.

Instead of following the wonderful example of people like Arch Bishop Tutu (whom he castigated in his letter), Bougardt chooses to vent his personal opinion that the Christian God hates gay people, or at the very least, supports his own all too obvious personal fear and prejudice of gay people, or hates those who embrace and include all people in the loving embrace of the Christ most Christians believe loves all of God's creations.

In doing so, he alienates not just the gay people he obviously hates and wishes removed not just from his own church, but from society - but also other members of the faith he claims to represent, and embarrasses not only loving and tolerant Christians who try to live as Christ did, but even those who share his views but do not actively participate in campaigns of persecution and intolerance against gay people - which is exactly what his letter appears to incite.

One would expect a man who is so obviously proud of his theological accomplishments, a learned man, to be more aware and sensitive that his words and deeds have consequences, that they may reinforce ideas and prejudices which run strong in some parts of South African culture, and which see many South Africans suffer injury, persecution, loss of dignity and even loss of life, based on the very same sentiments he expressed in his letter, and no doubt echoes from his pulpit.

His letter demonstrates a very clear lack of a basic understanding of the nature of human sexuality, and even of the mechanics of the very religion which he purports to represent - as well as a complete disregard for human rights and the SA Constitution, which grants gay people the very same rights to respect, dignity and protection under the law from precisely the form of discrimination he espouses and encourages.

In his letter he makes wild and unsubstantiated claims against gay people of drug abuse and pedophilia which echo exactly what is being said in the anti-gay propaganda in Uganda, where people live in fear of being murdered by their family members or the government on account of their sexuality - and all in the name of the "Christian" faith.

In this respect he demonstrates a complete disregard for truth, scientific or otherwise, and a propensity for embellishment and blatant thumb-sucking which also echoes the trend prevalent in the United States, where groups recognized and monitored as hate-groups use fraudulent "studies" and pseudo-science to prop up their lunatic claims about gay people in order to win support for their genocidal hatred in the name of freedom of speech and expression and in the guise of democratic liberty.

Most striking to me, he seems to display no single token or sign of Christian love or charity towards the millions of gay, transgender or otherwise non hetero-normative people in the world around him, who daily face the challenges and perils set by those who, like him, choose to act like those who nailed Christ to the cross instead of like the Christ who allowed himself to die for everyone's sake. Nor does he express anything but bitterness and contempt for others of his faith who do, but arbitrarily condemns them to death and destruction while using the name and authority of God as if he wields it like a hammer.

He appears to see no wrong in his attitude, or his words, or his deeds, which show to me no sign whatever of actual "Christianity" - but more likely, indications of what drove people like Adolf Hitler to purge "undesirables" - including gay people, Jews, blacks and others - from the human race.

On a personal level, I find his arrogance, ignorance, cruelty and hypocrisy, staggering.

Indeed, Bougardt is misrepresenting Christianity as a religion of intolerance, prejudice, oppression, violence, bigotry - and very prominently, hatred - and along with his own obvious personal feelings. He is misrepresenting himself as a spokesperson for his God, a sort of prophet if you will, who has intimate knowledge of the workings of God's mind as regards God's views on gay people, and he is involving others in his campaign of hatred, by so brashly and callously declaring "war" on gay people, and encouraging others to do the same in sympathy with his own bigotry and hypocrisy.

I wasn't surprised by this unprovoked outburst. I have become rather used to the intensity of the hate directed against our community by people claiming to be Christians. Nevertheless, it is still shocking to me how someone can hold a position of leadership and guidance in a religious or community group and make such a mockery of their faith and their followers. The ferocity and intensity of the hatred in Bougardt's letter is very much like other so-called Christian pastors who run small fringe groups based on anti-gay hatred and persecution, and who often freely admit hating gay people in the name of God. Well known examples of this are Erroll Naidoo and Peter Hammond, who have in the past made strikingly similar claims.

This is the very first time I have ever been aware of this man. I have dealt with several other outspoken bigots and homophobic religious figures in the past few years, but he is completely new to me. As such, I can only guess what caused him to react in so violently un-Christ-like a manner as to declare "war" on an entire community - many of whom are also Christians, but in my opinion, it is often those who are afraid of people who seem different to themselves, or too much like them, that react so xenophobically.

I feel the best way to move forward, is for loving Christians who embrace the teachings of Christ, to address the problem of growing hate and promulgation of violent victim-blaming evident in their religion. It is time they spoke out against people of this sort, who take it upon themselves to act in their name out of their own personal hatred. People like Bougardt are an embarrassment to their religion, and to a society which claims to cherish human rights and freedom and equality for all, because they encourage the abuse of human rights, and persecution, and tarnish the image of the entire religion. They are part of the vicious circle of ignorance, fear, hate and violence - and somewhere, the circle needs to be broken.

To date, no Christian minister or church group has responded publicly to this incident, but I believe that is because this matter has not made it to public media as yet. Naturally there has been an outcry from Christian clergy who are part of the Pink Community.

SA GLAAD will continue to raise public awareness around the hatefulness, religious based persecution and the untruths and willful ignorance being employed as weapons in what can only be called an unfortunate example of religious extremism and institutionalized tolerance of such hypocrisy and the promotion of the abuse of human rights among clergymen.

We will continue to work for increased tolerance and acceptance of the Pink Community in all societal groupings and cultures and for the respect, dignity and civil rights of all citizens of South Africa.

Christina Engela

Thursday, August 18, 2011

EC Mirror Casts Poor Reflection

EC Mirror Casts Poor Reflection
Some of you know that my city, Port Elizabeth, will be hosting its first ever Pride event this year - an event which I am proud to say I am involved in, be it in my own small way. ECGLA, an organization I am part of, stands behind the Nelson Mandela Bay Pride - which will take place on the 24th of September - with one or two smaller events on the side during the month leading up to the main event.

I have to say that so far I have been pleasantly surprised to note that there have been no negative encounters, nasty letters in the press, and no hate mail specific to the Pride event. In fact, we were even surprised and excited to learn how positive the public appears to be about Pride. Of course, there always has to be one bad apple in the basket, doesn't there?

Today I was forwarded an email reply to a request sent out to newspapers in our area to publicize an event which forms part of the run-up to Pride.

On Wed, Aug 17, 2011 at 11:18 AM, Ec Mirror Admin wrote:

"As far as I understand it, Pride is an organization which promotes and sympathises with the cause of Homosexuals. However, practising homosexuals are acting directly acting against God’s Holy Word as laid down in the Bible. So although we are not judging practising homosexuals, (God is the only judge of all our actions) we wish to try and live in accordance with God’s principles.

Therefore we will not be promoting this kind of function at all.
Please do not send us anything to do with Pride.
The Hope Clinic is a completely different issue, however, and we have tried our best to promote this for you because we feel the Hope Clinic does a huge amount of good work in the community. Congratulations on the Hope Clinic and we wish you all the best.

Thank You
The Publisher
EC Mirror"

After reading this letter, I wrote what I felt to be an appropriate response.

Dear EC Mirror,

Your response to a request for publicity of an event in NMB Pride has reference.

Pride is an event which promotes tolerance, equality and celebrates the human and civil rights of people who have suffered and still suffer daily prejudice and persecution - both in general society, as well as in their family and school and work situations - resulting from a lack of education and human rights values.

The NMB Pride is an event geared towards raising awareness of our existance as a community and our human rights shortcomings, while also building good will between the Pink Community and the rest of the Metro by means of peaceful social interaction while raising funds for local charities and generating tourism income for local businesses.

These goals are made all the more difficult by individuals who eagerly apply prejudice and discrimination without any apparent thought or justifiable reason, and by contradiction, simply encourage animosity - which is counterproductive and hampers nation-building.

Shouldn't the "EC Mirror", as a public newspaper, be concerning itself with publishing news and items of public interest in the Eastern Cape - instead of policing or censoring these? How do personal religious values have any relevance to reporting on events in the real world? Is the EC Mirror a church newsletter, or a real newspaper?

The Pink Community is part of the public too - and as tax-paying and contributing citizens of South Africa and residents of the Eastern Cape, we do not appreciate being discriminated against or having our dignity and equal worth as human beings impugned. Are you aware that unfair discrimination is illegal? Have you ever heard of the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act, No. 4 of 2000?

If this is the attitude of your publication, your publication has been poorly named - because then the "EC Mirror" does not give a true reflection of events in the Eastern Cape, but rather only a cherry-picked, cracked and distorted view excluding the reality that we live here too - and that we might also be interested in being informed of social events in our area which concern us.

By your criticism and refusal to publicize the item forwarded to you, your claim to "not judge" is proven to be a blatant lie - add to that the very fact that your email was unnecessary. Why reply with offensive remarks when you could just have ignored the Pride email - or kept it to a request to not be sent future material about the NMB Pride? Surely that would have sufficed?

By your own words and uncharitability, you mark yourself as a poor example for professional journalism - and in my opinion, your hypocrisy and piety are an embarrassment to people of your faith who do good for others and try to make the world a better place, instead of breaking down those who do.

Your statement regarding Hope Clinic is nothing less than an insult - for you imply that one form of community service by the Pink Community is "good work" while community service which benefits our own community is not - based simply on who we are and who we choose to help, in relation to your prejudice. It is my understanding that you were quite willing to promote our efforts to support Hope Clinic in the past - considering that the Hope Clinic is where it is today primarily because of the efforts of those who helped build and support it, and got it off the ground - who are members of the Pink Community - you demonstrate a very skewed view indeed.

In closing, your remarks demonstrate to me clear opposition to the human rights values enshrined in the SA Constitution, as well as a lack of compassion, ubuntu, common decency and good manners. Consequently, we will no longer consider the services of EC Mirror, as a free community newspaper, sufficient, appropriate or befitting our worthy cause - and therefore we as NMB Pride and ECGLA formally disassociate ourselves from you.

Christina Engela

Eastern Cape Gay & Lesbian Association: Director

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

SA GLAAD Welcomes Qwelane Verdict in Equality Court

On behalf of SA GLAAD, I would like to express relief and satisfaction with the verdict delivered today by the Equality Court in the matter of Mr Qwelane's hate speech trial resulting from his 2008 article "Call me names, but gay is not okay...".

SA GLAAD as a volunteer organization came into being in 2008 as a direct result of Mr Qwelane's statements in his article, and also as a result of the outrage and offense it caused to the Pink Community and to women, and also to all fair-minded South Africans.

It has taken almost three whole years since this issue first broke in 2008, marked by protests, letter, fax and email campaigns, international and local scrutiny, and consistent pressure from local advocacy groups and activists to come to this point. It is indeed gratifying to know that the Equality Court, the SA Human Rights Commission and the structures supporting it have delivered a just outcome to this matter. For this, we give our most grateful thanks to all those concerned.

It would be remiss if we did not give honorable mention to various individuals who stepped forward to assist during this time: Cobus Fourie, Sarel Ras (SA GLAAD), Coenie Kukkuk (GaySpeak), Luiz DeBarros (Mambaonline) and also Louise Reardon (formerly of SA GLAAD), as well as the staff of the SA Human Rights Commission.

We are indeed satisfied with the verdict of the Equality Court in that Mr Qwelane has been found guilty on the charge of hate speech and fined the sum of R100,000.00, and the order that he must make an apology to the Pink Community and to women for his hateful and offensive statements - an apology which in his article he bragged that he never would make.

We sincerely hope that Mr Qwelane will be held to the decision of the Equality Court, to pay his dues, and to make his apology.

We also repeat our call to the South African government to recall Mr Qwelane from his post as High Commissioner to Uganda, on the grounds that we feel it is unfitting that a person found guilty of hate speech against a minority group be allowed to represent our country as a High Commissioner, least of all in a country where the same groups which bore the brunt of his hate speech are violently oppressed and persecuted.

Christina Engela,

Member of the Board: Press & Media Liaison, SA GLAAD

Sunday, May 30, 2010

SA GLAAD Welcomes Release Of Malawi Couple Imprisoned For Their Love


SA GLAAD welcomes the decision of Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, to pardon and release Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, after a Malawian court convicted them of homosexuality under archaic British colonial-era laws, and sentenced them to 14 years hard labor.

We encourage President Mutharika and the people of Malawi to continue their growth towards democracy and the enshrinement of equality and human rights in their Constitution by repealing all laws which contradict the progressive spirit of their Constitution and negatively impact on the value of human life and dignity of minority groups.

We would like to praise and thank all individuals, human rights groups, churches, political and civil bodies who participated in whatever manner, in the global campaign for the release of the Malawian couple - and for speaking out in defense of human rights and equality - in particular UK human rights activist, Peter Tatchell, who led their defense and facilitated humanitarian access to them. We hope they will continue to do so in other states wherever human rights are threatened or otherwise absent.

We call on all governments in Africa and around the world to recognize the importance and necessity of including all people in the fabric of their societies - and to protect all their citizens under just laws which reflect the vision that all people are created equal, and which nurture the freedom, dignity and equality of all individuals and groups - and respect these freedoms, which are key to social advancement and peaceful progress.

We commend and thank the South African President, Jacob Zuma, for speaking out on the matter on Thursday.

We hope that this shining example will light the way for other countries where human rights are trampled underfoot and fear, intimidation, torture, persecution and oppression are the order of the day.

We encourage President Zuma to continue to speak out against the gross abuses of human rights elsewhere in Africa, such as in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Rwanda, DRC and in Uganda - the worst case, where currently a Bill remains undecided, which would provide for the death sentence for being gay, and existing laws also prescribe 14 year jail terms. The freedom of living and loving openly is currently denied to people living in no fewer than 38 African states.

South Africa, as the only country on the Continent where GLBTI people have full legal equality, is a beacon of human rights and equality for the world - and fifteen years after the adoption of our new Constitution, clearly demonstrates that perceived threats and fears of according people the rights and mercies to live and love unhindered by oppressive and conservative laws are wholly unfounded and totally baseless.

We also encourage President Zuma and the South African government to open dialogue with human rights advocacy organizations in Africa, and in South Africa, who have been campaigning against such human rights violations across the continent for years without any recent acknowledgment or engagement from the South African government. We hope that this will be the start of a new age of co-operation and growth in the betterment of human rights in Africa, our continent.

We would also like to express our gratitude and admiration for Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga for, through their suffering, helping to bring about change and betterment and for being an inspiration to millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people around the world. We wish them well for the future!

Friday, May 21, 2010

SA GLAAD Applauds Religious Leaders For Speaking Out Against Human Rights Abuses

SA GLAAD applauds the courage, efforts and initiative of the group of religious leaders who this week signed a memorandum against the role that was played by "religious fundamentalism and the patriarchy" in the increase of homophobic hate in Southern Africa over the last few months.

SA GLAAD has over the past few years been warning of the dangers posed against human rights, equality, democracy and the South African Constitution by patriarchy and religious fundamentalism.

The religious leaders who signed the memorandum included Arch Bishop Rowan Smith of St George's Cathedral, Dr Allan Boesak and his wife Elna, pastors Marius Brand, Ecclesia de Lange, Laurie Gaum, Judith Kotze and Pieter Overholzer, bishop David Russel and Marlow Valentine.

Of special note, this group publicly opposed steps taken in Uganda to punish homosexuality by death, as well as attacks against gay people in Malawi and Kenya and warned against a return to patriarchal cultural traditions in our own country by some leaders, which does not bode well for a more tolerant and respectful future around the issues of human rights facing sexual minorities in Africa.

We would like to applaud these leaders for their progressive stance and for emphasizing the more moderate and progressive position within the Christian faith on the issue, for encouraging and fostering an atmosphere of tolerance, acceptance and welcoming within the Christian community and for encouraging "a greater understanding of God's love and mercy for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation."

We would like to support them in their call, as stated in their memorandum, "for South Africans to emphasize again the freedom that was fought for so hard. All citizens, no matter what their gender, orientation or cultural roots, have a responsibility to the community to be involved in the fight for human rights, freedom and equality for all."

SA GLAAD Condemns Malawi For Anti-Human Rights Verdict

SA GLAAD strongly condemns the verdict and sentence of the Malawian court this week in the much-publicized case against Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, the two Malawians who have been sentenced to 14 years jail for being in a perceived gay relationship.

The law under which the 14-year prison sentence has been handed down is a decaying remnant of Malawi's archaic colonial past, and itself is unconstitutional as it is a discriminatory law that only applies to same-sex relations. Malawi's constitution guarantees equal treatment and non-discrimination to all citizens.

The state of prisons and the care of inmates in Malawi is such that medical care and rations are substandard. The mortality rate in such prisons is very high and this 14-year term can in fact be equated to a death sentence. Before their conviction, this couple had already spent nearly five months behind bars, which were punctuated by reports of serious illness which were relayed from within the prison where these two people were incarcerated, despite not having committed any genuine crime or causing any harm. Descriptions of the sentence by locals include the comments that this is a harsher sentence than those given to hardened criminals in Malawi.

The South African government has an extraordinary responsibility as the only state on the African continent where sexual minorities have civil rights and equality, to support the human rights principles enshrined in our Constitution.

We urge the South African government to enter into dialog with Malawi to urge their government to institute badly needed legal reform, repeal this conviction, release Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga - or alternately to offer asylum to the couple.

We also urge the UN and nations which supply foreign aid to countries which show callous disregard for human rights in this manner, to review their policies regarding funding and aid and to attach conditions to this funding and aid. By funding governments which abuse and disregard human rights, these countries - by their commendable selfless generosity, are unwittingly bankrolling terror against innocent people.

It is our view that if governments are allowed to tell people how they may live in the privacy of their own homes and who they may love or be in a relationship with, they are on a slippery slope to oppression, despotism and aggravated human rights violations.

We condemn the draconian anti-human rights sentiments currently being displayed in Malawi and in other parts of Africa, such as Uganda - and urge the South African government to speak out against these monstrous acts.

Such things do not belong on the law books of countries which strive to grow, develop and improve themselves, and to enshrine the democratic values of human rights, freedom and equality for all.

This court verdict is a brutal condemnation of a whole community which lives in fear and in unhealthy secrecy in Malawi, and which now will be more afraid and more intimidated, and will become even more secretive and even more unhealthy.

If Malawi is serious about its commitment to human rights - and its concern about the global HIV pandemic - it will overturn this verdict, repeal discriminatory anti-human rights laws and partner with community-based groups to create a safe environment where diverse people can harmoniously co-exist.

We applaud all local and international leaders, governments, groups and individuals who have taken a stand and spoken out against this vulgar attack on human rights and encourage all people who value human rights, freedom and equality to do the same.