LGBTQIA+ Rights in eSwatini Under Spotlight

The LGBTQIA+ community in eSwatini is celebrating its annual pride this September.

The celebrations kick off with the second LGBTQIA+ Conference to be held at Mantenga Lodge & Restaurant from 15 September. The program consists of: a conversation with United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, a discussion with regional activists led by the Southern Africa Litigation Centre, deliberations on socio political and economic participation of LGBTQIA+ people with local trade unions, as well as a focus on trans rights led by Trans Swati.

The theme for eSwatini Pride celebrations is “RE-IMAGINING THE FUTURE; An Incremental Approach Towards LGBTI Protection.” September is also when the Kingdom commemorarates its independence from colonial rule.

“51 years on, the Stonewall Inn Riots are celebrated with such joy for everything we are and all we have achieved. It is equally important to draw attention to the violence, discrimination, prejudice, stigma, human rights infringements and violations of LGBTIQ people in eSwatini as we celebrate our milestones. This is why eSwatini Pride Month is in September,” said Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM).

ESGM are a human rights community-based advocacy organisation with the goal to advance the protection of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and intersex persons in the kingdom of eSwatini (formerly Swaziland). The organisation further works on “reducing harm that affects the well being of Swazis based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression”.

“[Pride] is meant to shine light to the century long ‘common law offence of sodomy’ and ‘unnatural offenses’ that criminalised same sex intimacy between consenting male adults.

“While we note and celebrate the milestones of the movement, and as we celebrate independence from British Protectorate (somewhat short of colonisation), we must remind the policy makers, the government of today that we the LGBTIQIA+ community are still shackled by the common law offence of sodomy. This common law, though not applied in recent history, is used to deny LGBTI citizens their human rights and services. The refusal to register ESGM as an organisation, is one example of the impacts of such a law.”

Homosexuality is illegal in Eswatini, though this law is in practice unenforced. LGBTQIA+ people in Eswatini regularly face societal discrimination and harassment. As such, most choose to remain in the closet or move to neighboring South Africa, where same-sex marriage is legal. Additionally, LGBT+ people face a very high rate of HIV/AIDS infections. eSwatini has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world, with reportedly 27% of the Swati population being infected).

Eswatini Sexual and Gender Minorities (ESGM) was founded as one of the few advocacy groups lobbying for basic legal recognition and protection for LGBTQIA+ people in this African kingdom. LGBTQIA+ people face extreme levels of discrimination and harassment, in part due to the stigma of HIV/AIDS. The conservative kingdom is ruled by King Mswati III who has previously described homosexuality as “satanic”.

But the organization itself is now fighting to exist after it was prohibited from registering on the country’s registrar of companies in September last year.

According to All Africa, the registrar argued that ESGM’s purpose was unlawful because same-sex sexual acts were illegal in the kingdom. The right to equality did not apply to LGBT+ people, the registrar said because sexual orientation and sex are not mentioned explicitly in the eSwatini constitution.

eSwatini sexual and gender minorities founder and executive director Melusi Simelane recently laid a formal complaint against the National Disaster Management Agency’s chief executive officer Russell Dlamini after the latter made disparaging comments and equating homosexuality with polygamy.

Simelane wrote a formal complaint to the deputy prime minister Themba Masuku against Dlaminis statements which he said were derogatory and offensive.  According to Simelane, following a post he shared on social media requesting people to sign a petition advocating that government should decriminalize same-sex marriage intimacy, he alleged that Dlamini expressed hateful and offensive remarks using derogatory language meant to undermine, demean, and belittle people with a different sexual orientation to his.

He said Dlamini first responded by comparing homosexuality to polygamy, stating that Africa’s had been forced to accept homosexuality and reject polygamy. Dlamini said notwithstanding the inaccuracy in his statement, Dlamini seemed to have been interested in spewing hate and further defiling the tradition of polygamy.

“He denigrated both polygamy and homosexuality by presuming that homosexuality is below a certain standard that he himself has decided on. I believe his intention was to embarrass us and further show  us off, as an undeserving group of citizens by using polygamy to start the abrasive attack on LGBTI citizens, who are not empowered to stand up to him,” he claimed.

The group has now taken the fight to the country’s highest court as it challenges the registrar’s decision, arguing that the registrar’s refusal violated ESGM members’ rights to dignity, to associate and express themselves freely, to be treated equally and not to be discriminated against. They claim the registrar misrepresented the law and that his refusal to register ESGM violated its members’ constitutional rights.

Visit www.eswatiniminorities.org for more information.

Images: © Mathias Wasik / mathiaswasik.com

 

Leon Jamarie

Leon Jamarie

Leon Jamarie (he/him) is the digital editor for EXIT. He has a passion for social media, grammar and typos, and the upliftment and empowerment of BIPOC queer voices. When not chasing that illusive perfect selfie, you can find him at home with a good book and large bottle (yes bottle) of Sauvignon Blanc.

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