Homophobia Heightens in Swaziland

For Immediate release
Friday 01 January 2010

Fikile Vilakazi
Coalition of African Lesbians
Tel: +27 83 947 5052

Monica Mbaru
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission [IGLHRC]
Tel: +27 72 928 4706

On the 29th of December 2009 a lesbian woman and human rights activist, Thuli Rudd, also known as Thulani, was arrested on her way back home in Swaziland at the border from South Africa. She was charged with the murder of her partner, the late Pitseng Vilakati whose body had been found on Tuesday the 22nd of December 2009. Since August 2009 when Rudd went public with her engagement to the late Pitseng Vilakati, they have been in the spotlight with many people in Swaziland condemning their relationship. They have been under extraordinary pressure and both women demonstrated incredible courage in the face of this pressure.

Whilst in South Africa, Thulani had met with activists and discussed the endless violations of her and her partner’s human right to dignity, freedom and equality throughout 2009. There had been major media coverage of their relationship with numerous distortions and misrepresentations as well as a massive public reaction which was largely hostile, insulting and deeply disrespectful.

Monica Mbaru of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in Africa expressed concern that Thulani is being tried and convicted by the media and the public before the investigation has been completed and that a strong possibility of this being a hate crime by homophobic persons may be ignored in the haste to prove Thulani guilty and further feed into the already high levels of homophobia.

Fikile Vilakazi of the Coalition of African Lesbians, a pan African network of over 20 member organizations of lesbian women and transgender people in 13 countries across Africa expressed concern about the levels of homophobia in Swaziland and elsewhere on the continent and appealed to all fair-minded and freedom loving people in Swaziland to continue to resist and challenge all forms of discrimination, including that based on homophobia in this country.

The Coalition of African Lesbians also extend its condolences to the family of the late Pitseng Vilakati. We remember Pitseng Vilakati as a powerful activist for human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people as well as of people living with HIV and AIDS. She was a leader and showed enormous courage in a context of the hostility and discrimination against people in same sex relationships in Swaziland. She took great personal risk and stood up for her right to express her sexuality in a complex political and social context.
Dawn Cavanagh, an activist on the Board of the Coalition of African Lesbians applauded all those who wrote and called in to the media throughout the publicity around the relationship between the two women and their later engagement.

She called for sustained courage in speaking out for the rights of all, including those in same sex relations, to choose with whom to have intimate relationships.

Fikile Vilakazi urged the public not to allow the current crises to silence their voices which have been about justice and to ensure that we all collectively allow the law to take its course in a just and fair way.

Vilakazi strongly condemned the sustained and vitriolic verbal attacks on the persons of Thuli Rudd and the late Pitseng Vilakati. She stated that this constituted emotional abuse and a violation of their rights and the rights of all LGBT people in Swaziland.

LGBT activists in Swaziland have consistently declared that same sex relations are a reality in Swaziland, as they are worldwide. The movement to open up society and to enable those who are attracted to members of the same sex is strong and vibrant. It is a fact that same sex relations have been in African societies for centuries. This expression of our sexuality is not going to end as a result of discrimination and violation by our states and societal leaders and the public. We need to engage in a national dialogue about this fact and negotiate how the dignity of those most affected by homophobia can be respected whatever our personal views and beliefs about same sex relations may be.

The Coalition of African Lesbians and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission strongly condemns the murder of the late Pitseng Vilakati and all other acts of violence against women in Swaziland.

We call on the state to ensure a prompt, full and thorough investigation to bring the murderer or murderers to book. We call on the state in its prosecution of Thulani Rudd to exercise fairness and to ensure that the homophobia that exist, even within the criminal justice system, and the violations of the rights of LGBT people are not allowed to permeate and colour the state’s case. Thulani has the constitutional right to innocence until proved guilty following thorough investigation and a fair trial.

The Coalition of African Lesbians and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission will ensure that Thulani Rudd has access to her constitutional rights and that this case is carefully monitored and documented to ensure that justice is done, both for Thulani and for the late Pitseng Vilakati.

The Coalition of African Lesbians is a network of organizations committed to African lesbian equality and visibility. We work to transform Africa into a place where all lesbians enjoy the full range of human rights, secure in the knowledge that we are recognized as full citizens, with rich and diverse cultures, and a significant and respected presence in all spheres of life, through personal and organizational growth. Our work is shaped by an African radical feminist understanding, informed by research, and strengthened by the claiming of social and economic power.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is an international human rights organization that fights and defends the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people internationally.