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South Africa Swears In First Openly Gay, Black Member Of Parliament

South Africa's parliament made history this week, swearing in the country, and the continent's first openly gay, black member. Zakhele Mbhele (below, right), at only 29 years of age, has a rich history of gay-related activism under his belt, leading his university's LGBT group and serving on the Joburg Pride board. More importantly, though, he hopes to bestow this specific insight to the South African parliament and create an even safer, more equal environment for LGBT individuals and communities.

ZakhelembheleMamba Online reports:

[Mbhele] admitted that the impact of his achievement as a gay man hasn’t been at the front of his mind. “I know what it means as a historical milestone but I’m not walking around thinking of myself as the first openly gay black MP in Africa or singularly defining myself by it.”

Mbhele said, however, that he hopes that his new high profile position will inspire LGBT youth to believe in themselves and to have confidence in their ability to realise their goals.

“One of the most damaging things about homophobia is its destructive effect on a young LGBT person’s self-esteem. That was certainly one of the issues I grappled with when I was coming to terms with my sexuality in my teen years,” he explained.

“Having more openly gay achievers in society can counter that damage by giving young LGBT people role models to inspire them to build their self-confidence and work ambitiously to achieve their dreams.”

Mbhele does not plan to rely on his visibility alone to encourage meaningful structural changes in society, though. LGBT-related issues, including anti-gay and transphobic hate crimes, will remain at the forefront of his efforts. The new MP expressed:

“Many people are blind to structural issues relating to patriarchy, heteronormativity and economic disadvantage because of their social position and I would like to bring a voice that highlights those hidden dimensions.”

...[Mbhele] believes that Parliament should play a stronger role in assisting the country’s LGBT community by continuing to amend and pass laws that make equality more substantive, (and holding government accountable to upholding those laws), as well as serving as a debate platform to challenge prejudices against LGBT people in South Africa and in other African countries.

He expressed particular disappointment in South Africa's silence regarding the passage of anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria. Perhaps Mbhele's historic election, and hopefully subsequent progress, will spread a favorable image and positively impact the African LGBT community beyond the borders of South Africa. 

For now, congratulations from Towleroad to Zakhele Mbhele on this fantastic achievement!

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Comments

  1. The AU (and its predecessor) has a long history of ignoring member states internal issues unless requested. No matter how corrupt and repressive you are as long as you're willing to co-operate on trade and regional and international issues its all fine pretty much all the time.
    Most of Africa has a selective memory of pre-colonial times anyway when it comes to same sex relationships. South Africa won't rock the boat by criticizing another African state especially since doing so might result in a loss of influence.
    Ugly, but that's how politics work

    Posted by: IEatCereal | May 24, 2014 10:50:50 AM


  2. Congrats Zak on your well-deserved seat in parliament. However South Africa's silent diplomacy w.r.t internal affairs of totalitarian African countries is much more far-reaching than our disappointments on how they could have handled this issue. Fact still stands that Uganda lending diplomatic support, refuge and education opportunities (under the brutal regime of Idi Amin)to South Africa's liberation movement, can not be disputed or overlooked. See young Zac in politics the lines between good and evil is very fine and not all clear cut. Now that you are in the hot seat of Southern African politics it would be a good time to realize, that historic alliances deep-rooted in cultural history far outweighs our personal sentiment.

    Posted by: Cinna Bunny | May 24, 2014 11:20:56 AM


  3. Yeah we were at Wit together, (not that I knew him well) it's certainly an accomplishment but we've had openly gay government officials before of every race, this is just the first openly gay, black member of Parliament. He's also one of the few black MPs for the DA, so it's also significant for that reason as well.

    The only problem I find with him (as I did back then) is that he portrays the situation of LGBT people in South Africa as dire. Like every country, once you move out of the cities, people typically grow less tolerant, that is not a South African anomaly. The cities are very accepting, open places for LGBT South Africans and with the full protection of laws and Chapter Nine Institutions, we are hardly in any danger (not to mention we all the rights other LGBT citizens around the world are campaigning for currently, and have had since 2006 with the final implementation of the new Marriage act). In the rural areas, like most of South Africa, things become dire for everyone. Cut off from municipal services and high paying jobs, these regions are very, very poor compared to the westernized urban areas of the Western Cape or Gauteng. LGBT South Africans are not alone in their suffering in these rural areas, crime rates are high and the police have an incredible amount of distance to cover with very few officers. LGBT citizens of South Africa are not alone in their suffering in rural areas and trying to focus on improving their quality of life is a grave injustice compared to the millions of poor south Africans that suffer from poverty, aids, and other symptoms of an ineffective, corrupt government.

    Posted by: Vera | May 24, 2014 1:02:55 PM


  4. Yeah we were at Wit together, (not that I knew him well) it's certainly an accomplishment but we've had openly gay government officials before of every race, this is just the first openly gay, black member of Parliament. He's also one of the few black MPs for the DA, so it's also significant for that reason as well.

    The only problem I find with him (as I did back then) is that he portrays the situation of LGBT people in South Africa as dire. Like every country, once you move out of the cities, people typically grow less tolerant, that is not a South African anomaly. The cities are very accepting, open places for LGBT South Africans and with the full protection of laws and Chapter Nine Institutions, we are hardly in any danger (not to mention we all the rights other LGBT citizens around the world are campaigning for currently, and have had since 2006 with the final implementation of the new Marriage act). In the rural areas, like most of South Africa, things become dire for everyone. Cut off from municipal services and high paying jobs, these regions are very, very poor compared to the westernized urban areas of the Western Cape or Gauteng. LGBT South Africans are not alone in their suffering in these rural areas, crime rates are high and the police have an incredible amount of distance to cover with very few officers. LGBT citizens of South Africa are not alone in their suffering in rural areas and trying to focus on improving their quality of life is a grave injustice compared to the millions of poor south Africans that suffer from poverty, aids, and other symptoms of an ineffective, corrupt government.

    Posted by: Vera | May 24, 2014 1:03:55 PM


  5. So, Vera, are you saying that corrective rape is no more a problem in South Africa than in most other countries?

    Posted by: FYoung | May 24, 2014 9:03:55 PM


  6. Rape is a problem in South Africa period, limiting the problem to lesbian women ignores the greater issue.

    Posted by: Vera | May 25, 2014 1:46:48 AM


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