Thursday, December 13, 2018

Church in Swaziland welcoming LGBTIQ people reopens, but no let-up on discrimination in the kingdom

A church in Swaziland / eSwatini that welcomes and supports LGBTIQ people has reopened.

Homosexual acts are illegal in the kingdom and LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer) people face daily discrimination.

The branch of the Ark of Joy International Ministry was relaunched in Coates Valley. The Sunday edition of the Swazi Observer reported the church in Swaziland had closed some years ago after ‘membership tapered off’.

The news of the relaunch was welcomed by the Rock of Hope which campaigns for LGBTI equality in Swaziland. Spokesperson Melusi Simelane said, ‘It is worth noting that many in the religious circles, continue to spew hate speech and show utter disregard for the deeds of the Lord, by being judgmental and expelling some of the LGBTI community from their places of worship. It is for that reason, we welcome the opening of such churches as those that show the love of God, and preach the spirit of oneness and togetherness.’

Meanwhile, Gender Links, an advocacy group based in Johannesburg, South Africa, reported LGBTI people in Swaziland expressed concern about the lack of respect shown to them because of their sexual orientation.

Sifiso Nhlabatsi, writing on the Gender Links website, said LGBTI people had tried to engage churches to sensitize them about their rights but had little success.

Nhlabatsi wrote about a meeting held between pastors and members of the LGBTI community in August 2018. ‘During the meeting which was attended by over 20 pastors and I was also part of, pastors made it clear that they cannot allow gay people to “flaunt” their behaviour in front of congregants. Pastors said what is being done by LGBTI community  is “demonic” and through prayer maybe can be healed.’

Nhlabatsi added, ‘The meeting which started off on a good note ended on a sour note as the two parties had a clash of opinions. Senior Pastors in the country did not even bother to attend the dialogue.’

Swaziland held its first LGBTI Pride parade on 30 June 2018. Swaziland police went on record to state it did not support the march. Separately, Superintendent Khulani Mamba, the official spokesperson for the police and a self-proclaimed prophet, preached from the pulpit, ‘We say no to homosexuality, this country will not tolerate the LGBTI community.’ 

One of the kingdom’s best-known NGO rights activist groups the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA) snubbed the Pride festival saying it was against Biblical teaching. 

Swaziland is a tiny landlocked kingdom with a population of about 1.1 million people, mostly living in rural communities. It is ruled by King Mswati III who is one of the world’s last absolute monarchs who reportedly described homosexuality as being ‘satanic’.

In the run up to the event, the Swazi Observer, a newspaper in effect owned by the King, ran three articles calling LGBTI people ‘a curse’ and ‘evil’ and likening them to child sex molesters and people who had sex with animals.

There is a great deal of prejudice against LGBTI people in Swaziland. In May 2016, Rock of Hope, which organised the Pride event, 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 LGBT[I] are not protected. There is inequality in the access to general health care, gender affirming health care as opposed to sex affirming health care and sexual reproductive health care and rights of these persons. HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care services continue to be hetero-normative in nature only providing for specific care for men born as male and women born as female, thereby leaving out trans men and women as an unprotected population which continues to render the state’s efforts at addressing the spread and incidence of HIV within general society futile.’

The report added, ‘LGBT[I]s 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 LGBT[I]s 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 LGBT[I]s or protecting the right to a non-heterosexual orientation and gender identity and as a result LGBT[I] cannot be open about their orientation or gender identity for fear of rejection and discrimination. For example, the Marriage Act, only recognizes a marriage or a union between a man and a woman. Because of the absence of a law allowing homosexuals to conclude neither marriage nor civil unions, same-sex partners cannot adopt children in Swaziland.’

See also

LGBT Pride film shows what it’s like to live with prejudice and ignorance in Swaziland

LGBTI Pride gets global attention

‘Observer’ steps up LGBTI hate campaign

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