13 September 2016
Ladies and gentlemen, good day, and welcome to the media briefing, on the implications of the intended visit to the Republic of South Africa by Steven Anderson and members and/or associates of his church.
We have engaged on this matter, over weeks, with the leadership of the LGBTI community and other stakeholders, including the South African Human Rights Commission. This has a bearing on the kind of society we seek to build.
We are still to fully ascend to our constitutional heights of tolerance and equality. What is written in our Constitution and laws is not always emulated in our daily lives. So while we praise the Constitution as the supreme law of the country, we sometimes find ourselves contradicting its essence through discrimination and sustaining inequality.
South Africa has to work towards reaching its constitutional values, to build a democratic, united, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous state. It is a constitutional imperative for organs of state and society at large to protect and jealously defend the rights of all people.
We have progressive policies as well as legislative frameworks for protecting our nation against possible human rights’ abuses. We are among pioneering countries advocating social justice and rights. However, South Africa still experiences challenges in this regard. There exists a great void between our progressive laws and how we treat each other as individuals.
Home Affairs has also had instances in the past wherein our own officials had treated LGBTI persons in a manner that is inconsistent with our laws.
It is common cause that LGBTI persons, not only in this country but worldwide, face daily atrocities, for defining their identity; including ridicule, abuse, bullying, homophobia, brutal assault and rape.
Progressive Prudes survey, released last Friday, demonstrates stereotypes beckoning intervention in the interest of the LGBTI. The survey, from Other Foundation and Human Sciences Research Council, measured attitudes towards homosexuality and gender non-conformity in South Africa.
It estimated that over the previous 12 months, around half a million (450 000) South Africans have physically harmed women who dressed and behaved like men in public, and 24 000 have beaten up men who dressed like women.
Approximately 700, 000 South Africans verbally abused (shouted at or teased) gender non-conforming people. Perhaps of most concern is that between 6.2 and 7.4% of South Africans felt that they might use violence against gender non-conforming people in the future. This is about three million South Africans, who think that they might commit acts of violence against gender non-conforming people.
Although incremental, we have also made progress, and the survey confirms many South Africans think the LGBTI must have rights’ protection like other people. They must be part of cultures and traditions of South Africa.
Between 2012 and 2015, there was a tenfold increase in the number of South Africans who strongly agree with allowing same-sex marriages. ‘Moderately religious’ people tend to be the most tolerant. The survey also found support for keeping the current constitutional protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
As Home Affairs, we have established a task-team with LGBTI organisations, to improve the manner in which LGBTI persons receive services at our offices.
This year, South Africa is observing the 10th Anniversary of the Civil Union Act of 2006, which Act provides for solemnisation of civil unions, by way of either a marriage or a civil partnership.
We still have problems, and we must be honest and understand that merely preventing Steven Anderson’s visit will not solve all the problems we face in this country, on the continent and the world regarding discrimination, homophobia and patriarchal notions of power.
Protection of constitutional rights is a pathway to a more humane and just society.
Our Constitution, which is the supreme law of the Republic, guarantees equality. Section 9(2) says: “Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms. To promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination, may be taken.”
Constitutional protections extend to unfairly discriminating, directly or indirectly, against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
The Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act of 2000, which binds the state and all persons, enjoins us to promote equality and eliminate unfair discrimination; to prevent and prohibit hate speech and harassment, particularly on the grounds of race, gender and disability.
The prohibition of hate speech clause (Section 10) says: “No person may publish, propagate, advocate or communicate words based on one or more of the prohibited grounds, against any person, that could reasonably be construed to demonstrate a clear intention to (a) be hurtful; (b) be harmful or to incite harm; (c) [or] promote or propagate hatred.”
This brings me to the principal legislation of my department – the Immigration Act of 2002. It also prohibits admission of foreigners likely to promote hate speech or advocate social violence.
Further, over 60 000 petitions were collected and presented by Gay Radio SA to the department and the South African Human Rights Commission, pleading for the protection of rights of the LGBTI.
The department has further considered carefully the merits of this matter and our obligations as imposed by the Constitution and relevant legislation. We have a duty to prevent harm, and hatred, in all forms, against the LGBTI as against any other person in a democratic state.
Developments since rumours of Anderson’s exploration to the South have painted a scenario of one individual and his like-minded associates bent on callously negating and violating equality, dignity and other rights of LGBTI persons; a scenario of one unwilling to respect our constitutional protections against hatred and discrimination.
Coming to our decision,
Mr Steven Anderson and members and/or associates of his church are prohibited from entering the Republic of South Africa. This prohibition will be implemented in terms of section 29(1)(d) of the Immigration Act. This section affords the department the legal means to prohibit a foreigner who is “a member of or adherent to an association or organisation advocating the practice of racial hatred or social violence.”
I have informed the DG that I have identified Steven Anderson and members and/or associates of his church as undesirable persons. Undesirable persons are barred from travelling to South Africa for periods determined by the department.
Furthermore, I have withdrawn their visa exemption status, enjoyed by all Americans. This is on the basis that I am certain they promote hate speech as well as advocate social violence. Accordingly, Steven Anderson will be advised that he is a prohibited person in South Africa.
These interventions will not be the panacea to our social shortcomings, of prejudice and discrimination. They will however provide us an opportunity to learn, or better yet, unlearn our own bigoted views and hateful beliefs. South Africa has its own mending to do; we do not need more hatred advocated to our people.
This matter points sharply to the need for more advocacy, sensitisation, and awareness-raising on gender identity, sexual orientation and on other discriminatory social hatreds.
Constitutional and legislative guarantees are in place, but must be respected by all, including the rights of LGBTI persons.
We must continue this conversation and ensure it serves to shape and refine our relations as compatriots. The implementation of the Constitution is not exclusively the responsibility of government alone. We must move from our hateful isolations and undertake to expand our moral imaginations.
In the final analysis, a society we would like to see is one premised on our Constitution and the rest of our progressive legislation, a democratic society that is united in its diversity, marked by human relations that are caring and compassionate, and guided by the principles of equality, fairness, equity, social progress, justice, human dignity and freedom.
I thank you!