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Pretoria - DA Youth protesters outside the Uganda High Commission were nearly arrested on Thursday for staging an illegal protest against the east African country’s anti-homosexuality legislation.
On Monday, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the controversial bill into law, criminalising same-sex relationships both in and outside Uganda.
Dozens of protesters, holding “Love Uganda, hate homophobia” posters in the rainbow colours of the gay flag, gathered outside the high commission in Arcadia in silent protest at both the anti-gay legislation and the South African government’s failure to condemn the law publicly.
However, members of the SAPS diplomatic policing branch declared the protest illegal and told the protesters to come back when they had been granted permission by the City of Tshwane. One officer threatened to have the protesters arrested if they did not disperse.
“We arranged to have 15 people here, which does not require an application for permission, but more people felt close to the cause and came out,” said DA Youth leader Mbali Ntuli. The group split into smaller groups of 15 in an attempt to satisfy the police, who called for a police van and more SAPS members to be dispatched to the area.
“We want the government to condemn the law and offer gay Ugandans asylum in South Africa. The lack of response from the South African government is absolutely unacceptable,” Ntuli said.
Staffers did not come out to meet the protesters.
On Tuesday, Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor said South Africa wasn’t obliged to comment on or react to Uganda’s anti-gay legislation.
HIV/Aids researcher Howard Armistead was part of the group gathered at the high commission. “What about the killing of gay people in Uganda? Every person should publicly denounce the law because gay people have rights like everyone else.” Armistead, who has been living with HIV for 30 years, urged other political parties and human rights activists to arrange a “bigger and bolder” protest in future.
The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act, known as the “kill the gays bill”, provides for Ugandan nationals engaging in same-sex relationships outside the country to be extradited for punishment in their home country.
The act includes penalties for individuals, companies, media organisations or NGOs that know of gay people or support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTI) rights.
Homosexuality is illegal in 37 African countries. “We cannot simply stand by and watch as the freedoms of our fellow African brothers and sisters are encroached upon,” Ntuli said.
This week the UN called on Uganda to repeal the law, warning it could fuel prejudice and encourage harassment and violence against LGBTI people.
“We are here in solidarity with every lesbian who is raped because she is a lesbian. If the government chooses to be quiet, we cannot remain quiet,” a protester said.
The protesters dispersed after about 45 minutes.