on the protection of rights of LGBTI communities & the SA visit by US pastor Anderson

PRETORIA, 5 September 2016

The interactions, this morning, of the Department of Home Affairs with the South African Human Rights Commission and the LGBTI stakeholders, respectively, yielded good results. With the Constitution of the Republic and its entrenched Bill of Rights serving as the glue that holds us together, we were able to find each other on these fundamental issues of protecting the rights of all persons while consciously promoting diversity, national unity, nation-building and social cohesion.

All the parties spoke in one voice on the imperative to uphold, and to be seen to uphold, the democratic values and ethos underpinning the Constitution.

The Ministry and Department of Home Affairs had earlier met with representatives of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexed community in Pretoria, on 7 June this year, after which, recommendations were announced on the comprehensive steps to be taken to address concerns raised on the protection and promotion of the human rights of the LGBTI community in SA.

The department reiterates its commitment toa sustained partnership with the LGBTI stakeholders, understanding that LGBTI rights are human rights.

Inroads were made in attending to the legitimate concerns from the LGBTI stakeholders regarding the manner in which certain DHA officials were handling issues relating to persons either lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersexed.

A DHA/LGBTI Task-team was established, as per resolutions of the June meeting, with four key deliverables adopted as part of the Terms of Reference, namely:

1)      Reviewing relevant legislation to address identified gaps,

2)      Clarifying requirements for registration of same sex marriages

3)      Ensuring uniform application of Standards of Practice at all offices

4)      Improving sensitivity training and awareness-creation among staff

From a transformation perspective, the department has prioritised the enforcement of its Anti-Discrimination and Diversity Management Policy. To raise awareness on sound diversity management, the department will increase the number of officials attending the National Certificate: Home Affairs Services skills programme, that has as one of its elements, improving sensitivity on LGBTI rights. This work is ongoing. In the 2015/16 financial year, four hundred and seven (407) DHA officials countrywide were trained through these Skills Programmes of the National Certificate: Home Affairs Services. This is an increase from 355 officials trained in 2014/15.

A Practice Note was distributed to all staff and front offices for use as a guideline on matters relating to the alteration of sex description and other related civil matters. This should help in clarifying requirements and ensuring uniform application at all offices. This message was reinforced by way of a Ministerial online newsletter, Home Affairs Today, that was sent to all staff urging them to read and internalise the Practice Note on alteration of sex description and related civil matters.

As requested by the LGBTI organisations, a list of offices with Marriage Officers willing to conduct same-sex marriages was finalised, to ensure proper and dignified solemnization of all marriages. In this way, people will know which offices to visit for specific services, particularly since we are dealing with very sensitive issues of people’s identities.

Branch: Civic Affairs will enforce the application of standard operating procedures at all offices. The new marriage process was redesigned in line with three principles,

1)      Proper allocation of duties and responsibilities, for a more streamlined and clear process, and to increase process transparency

2)      Clear accountability assigned in each step of the process, to promote responsibility of each Marriage Officer/Official handling the marriage register

3)      Promotion of responsible behaviour on the part of each involved official.

Already meetings have been scheduled, among other things, to share ideas and content on the awareness campaign to be rolled out in various offices during the latter part of this financial year. But on the whole, we are on course, trusting that the DHA/LGBTI Task-team will take us to the envisaged goal, of fair treatment, equality, and justice for all, irrespective of sex/gender orientation.

On a related matter, we have weighed carefully the options available regarding the visit of the United States’ pastor that has attracted so much attention, and great worry, for good reason. We’ve also considered carefully the letter from the SA Human Rights Commission, and the position of the LGBTI community. This is a highly sensitive matter that had to be tackled with extreme caution.

The SAHRC shared with us its views. Noting the utterances the pastor made elsewhere, the Commission requested guidance on how to proceed, in light of the provisions of the Immigration Act dealing with prohibited or undesirable persons. Sections 29-30 are relevant in this regard. The meeting sought guidance from applicable legislation, and international experience, and the implications thereof for South Africa and how it deals with other persons in a similar position.

Like the LGBTI community, we hold our Constitution and democratic values in high esteem, and will do all in our power to defend them.

We carefully made an assessment, and considered the circumstances around this matter.

As a democratic state, we will not fold our arms in the face of intolerance, hate speech, and human-right violations of any kind. Therefore, we will not tolerate untoward behaviour, whether directed at the LGBTI community, or at any other national group on our soil. There are options to follow, and steps to be taken, in the event this situation arises.

If it is his intention to visit South Africa again, it would be in his best interest to behave in accordance with our laws. We have a precedent regarding a US citizen on which we acted decisively, for the person to leave the country. There will be serious conditions attached to this visit; we will not hesitate to deport or charge him for wrongdoing.

Our interaction does not preclude the parties from exploring other avenues. We will look carefully at the additional information received from the LGBTI representatives and act accordingly.

We remain committed to playing a leading role on issues of identity and nation-building. Therefore I would like to thank all the LGBTI stakeholders and the leadership of the South African Human Rights Commission for working amicably with us, as patriots, in tackling swiftly these matters of national importance. Working together, we can move South Africa forward.

I thank you.