Gays seeking sexual asylum in South Africa

Alex Duval Smith
Saturday 06 November 1999 00:02

THREE GAY men who face persecution in Uganda and Pakistan are set to make history in South Africa after invoking the country's liberal constitution as grounds for asylum.

Their applications, which are expected to be successful, will mark the first known time a country in the developing world has granted asylum to people facing persecution for their sexuality.

While South Africa's constitution forbids discrimination over sexuality the leaders of other African countries have recently launched diatribes against gays and lesbians.

Steve Kabiku - not his real name - is a 32-year-old doctor who lodged his application for asylum in Johannesburg last month after fleeing Uganda.

"For nearly 30 years homosexuality has carried a penalty of life imprisonment in Uganda. Now they are contemplating making it a capital offence,'' he said.

Last month, the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said homosexuality was against the Bible and ordered police to round up gays and lesbians.

Dr Kabiku said: "A cousin called me in Kampala and told me to take off my jewellery and earrings, anything which might suggest I was gay. I hid at an auntie's house in Kampala.

"I knew that if I stayed in Uganda I would sooner or later be taken off to some prison and no one would be able to get me out. I was very anxious."

Dr Kabiku arranged for a friend in South Africa to send the invitation needed for a three-week visitor's visa. With the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees he he approached the Home Affairs department in Johannesburg.

"I could tell my case was unusual because, at various times, different members of the staff came to have a look at this gay person,'' he said. Dr Kabiku must have a second interview in January. The same procedure will be used to assess the status of two businessmen from Pakistan, a gay couple, whose second interview will take place later this month.

President Museveni's outburst was preceded by comments by President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya, referring to homosexuality as a "scourge''. President Sam Nujoma of Namibia and President Frederick Chiluba of Zambia have made homophobic comments.

t The Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe yesterday lambasted "gay gangsters" who he claims the British government are using to criticise him, writes Chimaima Banda.

He has criticised gay people for being "worse than dogs and pigs'' and Peter Tatchell, the gay campaigner, attempted a "citizen's arrest" when the president visited London on Saturday.

President Mugabe is arguing with Britain over a Zimbabwean land programme. He said: "We are still exchanging blows with the British government. They are using gay gangsters. Each time I pass through London, the gangster regime of Blair `expresses its dismay'."

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