Thursday, April 26, 2018


In an unprecedented and unexpected move in Swaziland, one of King Mswati III’s newspapers has published a supplement that offered support for LGBTI people.

Swaziland, which is ruled by King Mswati III as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, is fiercely traditional. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people are discriminated against in all walks of life and their relationships and acts are outlawed.

The Sunday Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by King Mswati, devoted much of its SCENE supplement, aimed at young adults, to the topic last week (22 April 2018).

Nokwanda Sibandze, who edited the supplement wrote, ‘SCENE set out, as usual, to find people who are proud and open about being gay or even being lesbians. And to our misfortune, most of them could not speak out on the issue as they had their reservations on why they are not comfortable enough to share their story with the rest of the country. 

‘I would honestly say this was one of the hardest and saddest issues I had to do as people in the LGBT[I] community shared why they were not comfortable to share their story. 

‘Some said they have been bullied just because of their sexual orientation while others simply said they are not accepted by their family members so they would not be able to be part of the issue.’

Sibandze added, ‘Some were brave enough to share their story and pictures as well. Melusi Simelane, who is an activist for the rights of people in the LGBT[I] community, shared his story and views on the issue. Melusi is also a world traveller who attends meetings and global seminars that speak on rights of LGBT[I] people in the world. He is the communications officer at Rock of Hope and continually strives and fights for the rights of his peers in the country.

‘We also talked to Luyanda Mndzebele a young man who is proudly gay. He says it is not fair that they have to be accepted when everyone else is said to be living right. 

‘We also discuss same sex parenting. As many same sex couples wish and also look forward to having their own children in the future.’

The supplement is unusual because generally LGBTI people are vilified in Swaziland and subjected to abuse in their daily lives and from police and medical workers. 

Pitty Dludlu, a member of the LGBTI community, told the annual Joshua Mzizi Memorial Lecture held in Ezulwini in December 2017 they faced a number of issues that included access to health care without the stigma and prejudice.

The Observer on Saturday reported at the time, ‘Dludlu further decried the service they are subjected to in the hands of the police and health care workers as the worse abusers of the LGBTI community. The abusive situation is worse at the bus terminal station to the LGBTI community. 

‘Other challenges are that they are denied scholarship due to their sexual orientation. Dludlu further pointed that “qualified transgender community are unemployed as they are told point blank that there is no need to proceed with an interview once they see their sexual orientation and told embarrassingly that they don’t hire such people”’. 

In a review of human rights in Swaziland for 2017, just published, the US State Department noted, ‘While colonial-era legislation against sodomy remains on the books, no penalties are specified, and there were no arrests. The government asserted that same-sex relationships and acts were illegal but did not prosecute any cases during the year. 

‘Societal discrimination against LGBTI persons was prevalent, and LGBTI persons generally concealed their sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTI persons who were open regarding their sexual orientation and relationships faced censure and exclusion from the chiefdom-based patronage system, which could result in eviction from one’s home. 

‘Chiefs, pastors, and government officials criticized same-sex sexual conduct as neither morally Swazi nor Christian. LGBTI advocacy organizations had trouble registering with the government. One such organization, House of Pride, was under the umbrella of another organization that dealt with HIV/AIDS. It was difficult to determine the extent of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity because victims were not likely to come forward, and most LGBTI persons were not open regarding their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

‘On July 23, a third-year University of Swaziland student committed suicide, reportedly because he found himself isolated after his family rejected him due to his sexual orientation.’

There is a long history of discrimination against LGBTI people in Swaziland. In May 2016, Rock of Hope, which campaigns for LGBTI equality in Swaziland, reported to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review on Swaziland that laws, social stigma and prejudice prevented LGBTI organisations from operating freely.

The report, presented jointly with three South African-based organisations, stated, in Swaziland sexual health rights of LGBTI were not protected and there was inequality in the access to health care.

The report added, ‘LGBTIs are discriminated and condemned openly by society. This is manifest in negative statements uttered by influential people in society e.g., religious, traditional and political leaders. Traditionalists and conservative Christians view LGBTIs as against Swazi tradition and religion. There have been several incidents where traditionalists and religious leaders have issued negative statements about lesbians. 
‘Human rights abuses and violations against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex population continue to go undocumented, unreported, unprosecuted and not addressed.’

It added, ‘There is no legislation recognizing LGBTIs or protecting the right to a non-heterosexual orientation and gender identity and as a result LGBTI cannot be open about their orientation or gender identity for fear of rejection and discrimination.’

HOOP (House of Our Pride), a support group for LGBTI people, reported to the United Nation in 2011, ‘It is a common scene for LGBTI to be verbally insulted by by-passers in public places. [There is] defamatory name calling and people yelling out to see a LGBTI person’s reproductive part are some of the issues facing LGBTI in Swaziland.’

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