By Linda Daniels

Gay and lesbian groups are reluctant to accept ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma's apology for his homophobic comments at a Heritage Day celebration last week.

In a statement released on Thursday Zuma apologised unreservedly "for the pain and anger that my remarks may have caused".

Zuma reportedly told an audience during Heritage Day celebrations in Kwadukuza in KwaZulu-Natal that when he was growing up "an ungqingili (gay person) would not have stood in front of me. I would knock him out".

On Thursday Zuma said in a statement that he did not intend his comments to be interpreted as a condemnation of gays and lesbians.

"I also respect, acknowledge and applaud the sterling contribution of many gay and lesbian compatriots in the struggle that brought about our freedom and the role they continue to play in the building of a successful non-racial, non-discriminatory South Africa," the statement read.

Zuma becomes the latest South African politician to apologise for homophobic slurs.

Earlier this year, then PAC president Dr Motsoko Pheko also apologised, after he said that the PAC did not care if it failed to get votes from gays and lesbians.

In 2001 Durban Unicity mayor Obed Mlaba apologised after he was quoted saying: "Cape Town can stay with its moffies and its gays".

Earlier this month, Zulu monarch King Goodwill Zwelithini also lashed out at homosexuals, accusing them of confusing children and tarnishing the image of the Zulu nation.

Addressing more than 20 000 maidens and guests during the annual Reed Dance Festival held at his Enyokeni Royal Palace in Nongoma, Zwelithini said homosexuality was a threat to the Zulu nation's rich moral teachings.

Thursday one of the country's oldest gay and lesbian support and advocacy groups, the Triangle Project, said it did not accept Zuma's apology, and said his statements had caused considerable hurt to many people, both heterosexual and homosexual.

Jewish OutLook chairperson Dr David Bilchitz said Zuma's apology was vague about the treatment of gays and lesbians.

Referring to the Civil Union Bill which aims to give effect to same-sex marriages in line with last year's constitutional hearing, Bilchitz said: "We shouldn't be treated any different in the law … (there should be) marriage which includes gays and lesbians."

Bilchitz called on Zuma to endorse full marriage rights for gays and lesbians instead of what he believed was the watered down version in the bill.

The Director of the Gay and Lesbian Centre in Durban Nonhlanhla Mkhize acknowledged Zuma's apology but expressed reservations about its sincerity.

She said that while one should accept the apology, "it doesn't feel like an apology".

Meanwhile, the South African Human Rights Commission's Jody Kollapen said he welcomed Zuma's apology.