EMELDA MWITWA, Gaborone
DELEGATES to the 11th Civil Society Forum here had an emotive debate over the campaign to press Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states to decriminalise activities of gays and lesbians.
Those campaigning for what they are calling: â€œhuman rights of minoritiesâ€ met fierce opposition from those opposed to activities of lesbians, gays, bisexual transgender and intersex (LGBTI).
The debate was sparked by a feminist activist, Isabella Matambanadzo, of Zimbabwe who, in a presentation dubbed: â€œSecuring Justice for all: The rights of minorities under threatâ€, called for the respect of LGBTIâ€™s human rights.
Ms Matambanadzo, citing the murder of lesbians in South Africa and the risk of imprisonment they face in other countries, said SADC must embrace all persons regardless of sexual orientation.
She said anti-gay laws in the region are archaic and must be repealed.
Ms Matambanadzo provoked a heated debate between proponents and opponents of homosexuality.
Opposed parties were particularly emotionally-charged in their debate, and their contributions were affirmed by clapping of hands from people with like-minds.
However, the moderator of the debate forbade both parties from clapping.
Johannes Chigwanda, a founder member of the Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, said the issue of LGBTI will add no value to the challenges that Africa is facing.
â€œWe have problems of climate change, why are we talking about gays? It wonâ€™t develop our countries, how is it going to help us?â€ he said.
Japhta Radibe accused Ms Matambanadzo of championing a foreign agenda to please foreign powers.
â€œWe should not be bribed by money, we donâ€™t want the sexual orientation thing to be imposed on us as a condition for aid,â€ Mr Radibe said.
On the other hand, acting general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, said that in his clerical work he has come across people with different sexual orientation.
Bishop Mpumlwana called for dialogue between people who hold opposing views on the matter.
A delegate, who identified himself as a member of the Evangelical Church, said no group of people should be sidelined in the enjoyment of human rights.
â€œHuman rights activists must defend rights whenever they are violated,â€ he said.
And speaking in an interview later, executive director of the SADC Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (SADC-CNGO) Boichoko Dithlhake said they believe LGBTI have inalienable rights.
He said LGBTI must be protected from different forms of attacks by society.
Mr Dithlhake said in future, they intend to petition SADC leaders to guarantee the protection of LGBTI.
He said the fact that delegates were able to discuss the matter under one roof without anyone walking out shows that progress has been made in the campaign.
EMELDA MWITWA, Gaborone