Zuma under fire for remarks about 'anti-democratic' same-sex laws

24th January 2024 By: News24Wire

 Zuma under fire for remarks about 'anti-democratic' same-sex laws

Former President Jacob Zuma
Photo by: Reuters

Gender rights groups have warned politicians not to exploit the rights of minority groups for “cheap political gain”.

This follows comments made by former president Jacob Zuma regarding same-sex marriages at a rally of the uMkhonto weSizwe Party in Pietermaritzburg earlier this month.

The Sunday Times reported that Zuma had told the MK Party gathering that he had been approached by a traditional leader who raised concerns about same-sex laws. "When we say things are not right, we are not lying. In South African laws there is a democracy. Those people who enact the laws are in Parliament and they are not the majority. The majority is at home," said Zuma, according to the Sunday Times.

"That is why I was being called by the tribal authority. If we win as a party we would change the repressive laws which are anti-democratic. If this law was brought before the people, do you think it would have passed?"

Zuma's comments have irked gender and civil rights groups. In a statement on Tuesday, OUT LGBT Well-Being expressed its concerns about the remarks made by the "disgraced" leader of the MK Party on "hard-fought rights of same-sex couples to marry in South Africa".

"It is truly troubling that a South African leader who fought against the oppression of the apartheid state is now campaigning to erase the rights of some of its citizens," said executive director of OUT LGBT Well-Being, Dawie Nel.

"If he's been quoted correctly, Jacob Zuma's comments suggest that his understanding of our democracy and Constitution leaves much to be desired. We urge him to stand by the words of his 2006 apology in which he stated that: 'Our Constitution clearly states that nobody should be discriminated against on many grounds including sexual orientation, and I uphold and abide by the Constitution of our land.'

While Zuma later claimed his comments were misinterpreted and apologised, his recent alleged remarks cast doubt on the sincerity of that apology."

The 2006 apology reference relates to when Zuma made comments that same-sex marriages were a "disgrace to the nation and to God". 

He had also said that: "When I was growing up an ungqingili (a gay) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out."

At the time, Zuma was the deputy president of the ANC. He later apologised and claimed that his remarks were misinterpreted.

The law of same-sex marriage was enacted in 2006 following a unanimous judgment by the Constitutional Court that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to get married.

“OUT calls on the uMkhonto weSizwe [Party] and all political parties contesting the 2024 elections to affirm the equal rights and dignity of all South Africans and refrain from exploiting and targeting vulnerable minorities, such as the LGBTQI+ community, for cheap political gain,” reads the statement.

Sonke Gender Justice spokesperson Bafana Khumalo said the organisation was concerned that as the "election circus" starts, there are going to be "ridiculous narratives from leaders who are trying to attract interest in their parties in these elections".

"We are concerned about the statement that was made by former president Jacob Zuma… I think it is worth noting that those laws he is referencing were laws that were taken through the process when he was a politician, whether he was in Parliament or when he was the president of the country."

He said it was "rich" of Zuma to suddenly find fault in the laws that were passed democratically because he wanted to garner votes.

"These are the leaders that we really do not deserve in this country. We are a democratic country that respects everyone, and those are the values that are in our Constitution.

"I do not know how... Zuma proposes that he will change these laws when he is outside Parliament, and he failed to do that when he was in Parliament and was part of the system that affirmed those policies and principles," he said.

He added: “It is sad that they are now wanting to use issues that are affecting those that are on the margins in our society, where we have high levels of violence against sexual diversity in our country simply because people are presenting sexual different orientations.

"It is really problematic, [especially because] we have the Constitutional Court, which is the highest court in the land, that has affirmed these laws."

Instead of taking cheap shots at minority groups, Khumalo said, leaders should focus on how they are going to address the real challenges facing society, such as unemployment, crime, and corruption.

MK Party spokesperson, Nhlamulo Ndlela, told News24 that "president Jacob Zuma did not say that, I was there, he would have never said that".

He asked to be sent the article by the Sunday Times and promised to respond to questions. However, when News24 called him back for comment, his phone was off.

His comment will be added once received.