Swaziland’s most prominent gay rights advocate is back in the news.
The Times Sunday reports that Mangosuthu Simanga Dlamini, the president of Gays and Lesbians Association of Swaziland (Galeswa) was present by invitation at the state opening of parliament earlier this month (February 2009).
Both Mangosuthu and the newspaper are silent on who it was who invited him to the opening officiated by King Mswati III.
His statement was seen as such a threat to the stability of Swaziland that Barnabas Dlamini, the then Prime Minister, (and also the present illegally-appointed Prime Minister of Swaziland) called homosexuality ‘abnormality and sickness’ and declared that the government would not accept homosexuals unless society did so first.
A former Prime Minister Prince Bhekimpi, who is also a chief, said, ‘Homosexuality is regarded as Satanic in Swaziland. Therefore, I am forced to evict all gays and lesbians in my area.’
Mangosuthu, who was 21 years old at the time, responded by challenging Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini to a televised debate on homosexuality. Barnabas being a bully and a coward chickened out and refused to appear.
After declaring his homosexuality, Mangosuthu was sacked from his job at a security firm and was believed to have moved to South Africa, where, unlike in Swaziland, equality of gays and lesbians is enshrined in the country’s constitution. The Times Sunday reported (15 February 2009) that Mangosuthu was now back in the country and instrumental in developmental projects in the Lubombo region – his home area.
Gays and lesbians continue to be oppressed in Swaziland and from time to time the Swazi media collude in this oppression. I have written before here and here about the way the newspapers use hate speech to demonise homosexuals and how journalists peddle their ignorance on the subject.
Swaziland’s so-called leaders continue to harass homosexuals. Only this month Sigwe MP Sivumelwano Nxumalo, told a church meeting that Christians must fight tooth and nail to ensure that country is protected against ungodly practices like gay marriages. Nxumalo is so dripping in hatred that ‘he further urged all Swazi folk to fight against all non-Christian religions’.
Despite this open hostility, gays and lesbians continue to meet and to advocate for their rights. Galeswa relaunched in 2006 with the aim of encouraging more people to openly declare their sexuality.
A spokesperson for the organisation said, ‘As gay people, we want everyone to understand that gays are not made, but are born.’ Galeswa said even though the Swaziland Constitution did not guarantee gays and lesbians equality, at the same time people cannot be arrested for living gay lives.
In 2005, Swaziland’s first gay club opened in Mbabane. It was described by one attorney as offering ‘limitless’ opportunities for blackmail, financial and political.
The nation’s foremost traditional leader, Jim Gama, the ‘traditional’ prime minister, was said to be ‘apoplectic’ when alerted by the Swazi media about the gay bar. One Swazi newspaper said the bar would lead to a ‘Gays invasion!’
We shouldn’t be surprised by this attitude to homosexuality in Swaziland, this is after all a kingdom where Swazis subjugate their women, flog their children and wave their Bibles in the face of anyone who is different from them and where the absence of freedom of expression helps to keep people in ignorance.
But Swaziland’s gays and lesbians, although repressed, are resilient – to find out how, click here.