7 June 2016, Pretoria
My Ministry, of Home Affairs, has just emerged from a very fruitful meeting with representatives of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexed communities. The meeting was held at a very critical time in the life of our beloved Republic when plans are apace to repackage the Department of Home Affairs, into a new, transformed and transformative, modern, digital, secure, custodian of national identity and status.
It is a crucial time when all in our country, in their diverse yet patriotic ways, are commemorating Youth Month ahead of National Youth Day – June 16 – this year observed under the theme,“Youth Moving South Africa Forward.”
It is the 10th Anniversary of the Civil Union Act, (No. 17 of 2006), assented to by the President of the Republic on 30 November 2006. It is important for us therefore to engage with the LGBTI community to look at the last 10 years to see what has been achieved, and what is still to be done.
It is our understanding that the empowerment of young people is necessarily the precondition for the social, cultural, and economic development of the Republic.
Accordingly, it would fly in the face of reality were we to be found segregationist or discriminatory in the manner in which we relate to any section of the youth or nation as a whole on grounds that are by all standards irrational, essentialist, divisive and fatalistic, such as gender or sex-orientation, the madness of which will only be matched by the erstwhile colonial and racist ideologies from which South Africa had emerged after long and bitter struggles.
It was quite clear from the frank and mature nature of discussions, that there is consensus on what it is The Constitution (of 1996) seeks to achieve when it enjoins us together to “recognise the injustices of our past”, “honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land”, and “heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.”
In keeping with the democratic values and ethos underlying the Constitution, huge strides we have made to build a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity, and, needless to say, one that embraces equally the rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexed identities and communities. That is why this meeting was for us very important.
The Civil Union Act of 2006 was enacted “to provide for the solemnisation of civil unions, by way of either a marriage or civil partnership; the legal consequences of civil unions; and to provide for matters incidental thereto”.
South Africa is among the leading nations to have advanced to this level of diversity and inclusivity. We are now broadening our reach to include all persons, and are therefore also taking on board marriages of Muslim communities that had been discriminated against under apartheid on marriage.
It was against this background that I received with concern the issues raised regarding our officials, on how they treated and handled some matters relating to persons either lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersexed; and so the need speedily to meet with the representatives.
Change of transgender markers emerged as one of the main challenges raised, with an appeal for redress. The timeline in receiving documents was also raised as affecting transgender persons. Other challenges were on the implementation of legislation, and the need to look at the Alteration of Sex Description and Sex Status Act, No. 49 of 2003 with the Department of Justice.
Other issues that were raised related to child adoption for same-sex couples, some of the stipulations of the Civil Union Act and challenges facing asylum seekers. It was stated that there are difficulties when people in LGBTI communities try to get married.
Regarding complaints already raised with us, before the meeting, I can confirm that we are attending to 37 cases related to intersexed persons, of which 27 have been finalised and 10 are awaiting opinion from medical practitioners.
There were also some policy issues that required to be explained. These included the position of marriage officers and the choices at their disposal with regard to officiating over a civil union.
The department has 311 marriages officers, but, by law, they cannot be forced to solemnise civil unions. In terms of Section 6 of the Civil Union Act, amarriage officer “may in writing inform the Minister that he or she objects on the ground of conscience, religion and belief to solemnising a civil union between persons of the same sex, whereupon that marriage officer shall not be compelled to solemnise such civil union.” We have directed those with objections to submit them in writing so they could be filed, to prevent abuse of the legislation.
Disagreements may arise over the interpretation of the requirementsfor solemnisation and registration of a civil union and/or over the prohibition of solemnisation of a civil union as prescribed in the Act. This may apply also to the interpretation and administration of the Alteration of Sex Description and Sexual Status Act.
I have directed the department to clarify the requirements and procedures in respect of those areas viewed as problematic in the two pieces of legislation, and to ensure that the Standard Operational Procedures at all offices are the same. Consistency and standardisation in service delivery is crucial. Raising sensitivity and awareness on these critical issues cannot be sufficiently emphasised.
Internally, the department has developed an Anti-Discrimination and Diversity Management Policy whose objective it is to discourage unfair discrimination based on gender, religion, sexual orientation, race, and disability. Sexual orientation embraces issues relating to the LGBTI communities. Our interventions range from staff training to changing attitudes of officials.
We have a Diversity Management Programme that deals with all matters relating to diversity and its management within the department. This we use to raise awareness on matters to do with diversity and LGBTI community. This work the department strengthens through other skills programmes that have been registered with the Public Service Sector Education and Training Authority (PSETA).
Further to entrench diversity and to promote equality, last year the DHA Learning Academy partnered with the African Centre for Migration Studies at Wits on a programme specifically focused on LGBTI communities. This programme was initiated following concerns raised regarding how our officials were handling claims from members of LGBTI communities then fleeing from persecution in their countries, on grounds of homophobia and related forms of discrimination.
On the whole, the issue of diversity and equal treatment for all persons is at the heart of our drive to reimagine Home Affairs, constructing a department of the people that is resolved sharply to improve all clients’ experience, regardless of oppressive notions of difference, identity or power. The Home Affairs of the past used to be about divisive classifications; we are working towards a Home Affairs that is inclusive and promoting unity in diversity.
Today’s meeting therefore created the right platform for us to share with the representatives our approach and critical role we play in the democratic state and why it is so important for us to take this collaborative approach to matters of nationhood, wherein all are united in their diversity.
We reiterated the commitment to living spaces where everyone is and feels safe, where everyone enjoys all rights expected reasonably of any democracy, encompassing the right to enter into relationships and unions of choice. The society that we all want to see cannot be forged by government alone, thus the paramount importance of engagements of this nature. And it is in this spirit that I thank deeply the representatives of the LGBTI communities for this engagement.
On related matters affecting the department, we appealed to the LGBTI communities to help us in taking home affairs services to various communities, impressing for instance upon those who are between the ages of 25 and 40 years old to get their Smart ID Cards and passports, conveniently and with no delay, by applying online, using the eHomeAffairs online application channel.
We remain committed to ensuring all forms of discrimination are dealt with, appropriately, through among others, available disciplinary measures. We will continue to raise awareness among officials so that all officials handle properly all matters affecting LGBTI communities. Working with LGBTI communities, we will intensify efforts to change attitudes to address any hurdles they may arise.
Importantly, we have agreed to set up a DHA/LGBTI Task-Team to deal with all these important issues within a two-week period and provide a status report, making it very clear when they would have wrapped up the work at hand. Through the Task-Team, the LGBTI community will also be able to raise issues with us as they arise, as well as campaigns we can handle jointly. The issue of sensitivity is a process and may take even much longer to attain. It will therefore be ongoing.
I thank you!
RELEASED BY THE DEPARTMENT OF HOME AFFAIRS