Featured Neighboring Country
Monday, 12 April 2010 14:24 Administrator
Sample ImageMind-blowing is about the only way one can appropriately describe the changes that have occurred in South Africa since the early 1990's - especially so for the Gay community. Who would have dreamt, back in the dark despair of apartheid life in South Africa in the 1980's, that we would one day live in a society which constitutionally safeguards Gay rights!!? (South Africa is the only country in the world in whose Constitution the rights of the Gay and Lesbian is guaranteed - - the state may not unfairly discriminate ... against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, sexual orientation)
Under the conservative, paranoid apartheid government, homosexuality was a definite no-no. Sodomy laws on the statute books saw many men charged and imprisoned for partaking in homosexual acts. Gay bars and clubs did exist in major cities, but these were often targeted by the police and raided fairly frequently, usually under the pretext of selling liquor after hours, or thumb-suck complaints about noise levels. It was even illegal to be dressed in clothing usually associated with the opposite sex! One took a big chance dressing up for a fancy dress party!
Even the famous nudist beach of Sandy Bay near Cape Town was regularly raided by the police and any nudists, gay or straight, who could not outrun the police, were charged for public indecency and fined. Gay rights? You might as well have been proposing voting rights for blacks! With the arrival of democracy in 1994, all that changed - radically! Many people are curious as to what it was that caused the securing of Gay and Lesbian rights, especially given the fact that there were so many other major issues to be dealt with, so many other wrongs to be righted.
The answer probably lies in the fact that during the struggle against apartheid, a significant number of the people in important positions and think-tanks of the liberation movement were Gay and Lesbian. Therefore, over time, a tolerance and understanding of Gay and Lesbian issues was built up. People realised that discrimination and oppression are unacceptable in any form.
One of the most important Gay figures in the political history of South Africa was Cecil Abrahams, a wealthy Johannesburg socialite who sympathized strongly with the liberation movements (African National Congress). Nelson Mandela was, in fact, disguised as Abrahams’ chauffeur when he was arrested in 1963! This story has been well portrayed in the movie: The Man Who Drove With Mandela.Of course, having constitutional protection is one thing, getting all the discriminatory laws (let alone attitudes!) changed is entirely another matter.
The National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality was formed in 1994 specifically to fight for the constitutional rights of the Gay community, and successfully lobbied for the retention of sexual orientation as one of the grounds for non-discrimination in South Africa’s new Constitution. A coalition of 74 Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual organisations throughout the country, the Coalition continues the fight for equality, challenging laws on the Statute books which are in contravention of the Constitution and ensuring their removal. Examples of recent victories are the overturning of the Sodomy Laws (which made same-sex acts illegal) and a major victory in gaining residence rights for same-sex relationships involving foreign partners. South Africa in general, and Cape Town in particular, has fast become one of the most popular travel destinations for Gay and Lesbian travellers. SPARTACUS magazine - in many ways the gay traveler’s Bible - has recently nominated Cape Town as number 5 on their list of hot gay international destinations!
Most of the gay life in Cape Town is located in the Gay Quarter known as De Waterkant, situated on the slopes of Signal Hill near the city centre and the Waterfront. The area is historic, arty, cosmopolitan - and increasingly the place to be in Cape Town. An annual event which has placed South Africa at the leading edge of Queer entertainment and culture is the Out In Africa Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Started in 1994, the Festival has become a firm favourite with the discerning movie-goer, and ranks as one of the best Festivals internationally, with many international guests introducing films and attending local workshops. Each year in December, Cape Town’s Mother City Queer Party has become South Africa's party-of-the-year - and ranks as one of the top circuit parties in the world. Each year sees a different theme - 1998 was “Safari Camp” ; 2000 was "Heavenly Bodies"; 2002 "Farm Fresh"; and 2003 "Kitsch Kitchen!" - and thousands party way into the night, dressed up to the nines in theme costumes.
It has been a heady time for the Gay and Lesbian community of South Africa. From despair and discrimination to guaranteed freedom.
We are, indeed, the Rainbow Nation.