South Africa's queer community joined the rest of the globe this week in celebrating the election of new president Cyril Ramaphosa, who has long been a champion of LGBTQ+ rights in the country and the continent.
Ramaphosa takes office following the resignation of Jacob Zuma, whose stance on LGBTQ+ rights has been less than glowing. In 2006, he reportedly said: "Same-sex marriage is a disgrace to the nation and to God," and his tenure was marked by a number of homophobic sleights.
Perhaps the most insulting of these was Zuma's appointment, from 2010 to 2014, of Jon Qwelane as South African ambassador to Uganda – a country struggling with homophobic bigotry of its own – after Qwelane had been found guilty of hate-speech by the Human Rights Commission for a newspaper column in which he equated same-sex marriage to bestiality.
Here are a few of Ramaphosa's most memorable contributions to the equality of South Africa's queer community:
- As chairperson of the country's Constitutional Assembly, Ramaphosa was an important contributor to the extension of constitutional protection to queer people. Our Constitution was the first to do so in the world, and remains one of the most progressive on earth.
- He was also chairperson of the South African National Aids Council — a hugely important initiative in the fight against HIV/Aids infections in the LGBTQI+ community.
The new President of South Africa,#Ramaphosa— Ben O'Reilly (@ForesterBF) February 16, 2018
"We are all born the way we are. We need to support, embrace and respect each other."
He pledged his support for equality and praised the "beautiful humanity" of LGBT people.
- Ramaphosa may have kept it under wraps during his campaign trail, but he has been vocal on how the country should deal with queer rights and embrace diversity in South Africa. He said this in a recent interview, that now seems to have been removed from the internet:
It is a sad truth that in our nation the LGBTI community are amongst the most vulnerable and marginalised. They suffer discrimination, violence and abuse. We must as a nation do better than what we are now.
We are all born the way we are. We need to support, embrace and respect each other.
When we treat each other with dignity, we are all more dignified. When we treat each other with respect, we are all more respected.
It is upon us all to contribute to the creation of a more just, equal and safe society.
Every South African must hold themselves, our communities, our institutions and our government accountable for upholding our laws and for protecting the rights of all in South Africa.
Ramaphosa will deliver his first official address as president today. All LGBTQI+ eyes are on the president, to see how he plans to advance the cause of equality and acceptance in South Africa.