“Thou shall practice homosexuality, thou shall rot in jail.” — Clause 2(2) of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
For about four years Uganda’s ruling political class has held an axe above the head of that country’s LGBT community, and has only just mustered the courage to pass a law that bans homosexual acts. This anti-gay legislation punishes homosexual acts with life imprisonment for repeat offenders, while also making the promotion of homosexuality illegal (Putin, anyone?). The instigation of heterosexual apartheid in Uganda cannot be condoned, and now is the time for the world to stand up against the backward elite in Uganda.
Mimicking the hypocritical sexual moralism of the National Party prior to democracy in South Africa, Uganda’s Parliament also passed an Anti-Lap Dancing Bill and has an Anti-Pornography Bill on the agenda. Following the vote for the Anti-Gay Bill, Uganda’s Parliament passed a motion thanking the speaker of the house for this “gift”. That country’s Parliament passed the bill without quorum and squashed attempts to reduce the sentencing period for the offences outlawed in the legislation. The Bill even makes provision for the payment of compensation to “victims” of homosexuality.
This legislation is bold, and it stands up against the threats of developmental aid being cut by Western donor nations. Despite its reference to outdated heteronormative values, this legislation is not laughable; it is a dangerous attempt to structure society and punish deviation from the norm. The legislation forces gay and lesbian Ugandans further into the shadows, while invading their dignity by denying them the right to engage in (normal) activities which form a part of their experience as human beings.
The suppression of homosexuality is an attack on the intrinsic value and worth of the individuals which are affected by this legislation. The legalisation of oppression reduces the victims of homophobia to second-class citizens; members of the community not worth protecting, serving nor listening to. All of that is obvious to the liberal outsider. But it must also be noted that this law stands in stark contrast to the communal values which have been evident throughout African history. This Bill is not only about oppression of the LGBT community, it is about the suppression of African jurisprudence and worldview in law-making.
Although Ubuntu is mostly relevant to the South African context, its central tenets — community, humaneness and the recognition of an innate humanity — present an affront to the moralism and suppression of gay voices and life found in Uganda’s anti-gay law. And when you examine the influence of American evangelical churches (often described as re-colonisation) on Ugandan politics and civil society, it becomes clear that this legislation is the promotion of a narrow brand of Western conservatism, not African values.
It is because Uganda’s legislation of hatred is so alien to the values South Africa has embraced in a post-apartheid context that we as citizens must pressurise our government and political parties to criticise Uganda. South Africa can finally take its place as an African moral leader by denouncing the legislation, and pressuring our economic interests in Uganda to take a bold stand for equality. South African commercial entities like Standard Bank, MTN, Sanlam, Eskom, Massmart, Shoprite, and Woolworths have an established footprint in Uganda. There is ample space for South Africans to gain access to the Ugandan discourse, and to demand dignity. This may seem bold, maybe even an attempt to impinge on Uganda’s sovereignty, but surely the human dignity of Africa’s gays and lesbians outweighs diplomatic niceties.
In the shadow of Nelson Mandela’s funeral, South Africans can demand an Africa where all have access to equality, freedom and dignity. Sovereignty was never a concern for our country’s freedom fighters because they fought oppressive laws, and so we too can make a small difference through protest against hateful laws passed elsewhere and speaking up for the voiceless in other countries. Uganda’s lawmakers regarded this legislation as a Christmas gift to their people; let’s give them a real gift this festive season — freedom.