Friday, December 20, 2013


Is there the slightest glimmer of hope that attitudes to gays and lesbians in Swaziland might be changing?

Lindiwe Dlamini, the Director of Guidance and Counselling at the Swazi Ministry of Education and Training, has called on school teachers to give support to gays and lesbians in schools and the wider community.

Dlamini told a meeting, organised by the Swaziland National Teachers Association (SNAT) as part of the Gender Links’ 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence campaign, that gay and lesbian pupils and school staff were afraid to declare their status because they feared prejudice.

The meeting in Matsapha was attended by about 300 teachers from all over the kingdom.

Dlamini said teachers and school administrators must be supportive to gays and lesbians because they are afraid to declare their status as they feared that their colleagues or headmasters were lacking confidentiality.

‘So many children who are gays and lesbians fall into cracks because their teachers are ignoring them,’ the Times of Swaziland, a newspaper independent of King Mswati, the kingdom’s absolute monarch, reported her saying.

‘Teachers must have the culture of tolerance in their hearts,’ she said.

Homosexuality is illegal in Swaziland and gays and lesbians are often shunned by their communities. In August 2013, local media in Swaziland reported that two men suspected of being gay were banished by community police from Mvutshini.

Rather than tackle the issue of prejudice and discrimination against gays and lesbians in Swaziland, governments deny there are gays and lesbians in the kingdom. In November 2011, Chief Mgwagwa Gamedze, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, said Swaziland would not give human rights to gay people, because they did not exist in the kingdom.   

Gamedze was responding to criticism of Swaziland by a United Nations working group on human rights that said the kingdom should enact equality laws for LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex) people. Discrimination against this group of people in Swaziland is rife and extends to workplaces, the churches and on to the streets. 

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.’

The Times of Swaziland, part of a group of newspapers with a long history of publishing homophobic articles, in an apparent change of attitude, welcomed Lindiwe Dlamini’s comments on gays and lesbians in schools.

In an editorial comment, the Times said Dlamini, ‘is simply saying that we should not judge others for the way they live their lives but should instead provide emotional support when their lives get complicated, as all our lives do at some point. The simple truth is that a portion of our society is sexually attracted to members of the same sex; these people establish relationships and suffer heartache and confusion over love just like anybody else.

‘The only difference is that they can’t talk about it without being judged or, sometimes, physically attacked. Our Constitution does not address the right to sexual orientation explicitly – but it does address the right of people to live the way they want to as long as they do not deprive other people of their rights. Gay lifestyles fall squarely into this category.’

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