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Nelson Mandela: LGBTI hero and a challenge for our African leaders

As the world mourns Nelson Mandela an African LGBTI activist lays down a challenge to all leaders for the future of gay and trans rights
A portrait of the icon Nelson Mandela: He was also a hero for gay and trans Africans.
Photo by Thierry Ehrmann.

We are deeply saddened by the death of one of the greatest human rights activist in history: Nelson Mandela. He once said: ‘No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion … if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.’

Our deep sympathy and prayers are with his family.

Even though one of the greatest men has died we promise to uphold his legacy of Love, justice, reconciliation, equality, non-violence, forgiveness, tolerance, determination, unselfishness, togetherness, endurance, charitable among others.

Nelson Mandela has inspired many of us but most of us have been beneficiaries of his struggle.

We pay tribute to all those who have been part of the struggle, and those who are still struggling to achieve their freedom and equality especially the LGBTI persons in Africa and those whose rights are abused.

Today most African leaders are mourning the death of the greatest man of our time. Nelson Mandela non-violently fought for the equality and justice for all.

He championed decriminalization of homosexuality in South Africa against all odds. Nelson Mandela, under the ANC, enshrined equality for LGBTI people in law.

Thanks to him the constitution states: ‘Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law. Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights freedoms.’

It goes on to specifically list ‘sexual orientation’ as an area where discrimination is banned by both the state and individuals and where legislation has to prevent that discrimination.

Mandela believed in fairness and equality for all, even though some members of the public had a different view. He didn’t take the easy route and follow the crowd. Instead he was always determined to achieve for the marginalized.

The issue of homosexuality in Africa has always been hard to understand and tolerate for most Africans but Mandela long knew the fight against discrimination will not be complete without LGBTI rights. He aspired for a nation where all individuals can be tolerated, accepted and treated equally. The challenge Mandela has left us is to continue fighting, non-violently, for equality of LGBTI people in Africa.

However even though it’s illegal to discriminate or persecute a person because of their sexuality or gender in South Africa, we very well know some extreme members of the public are still carrying out or inciting homophobic hate crimes. Therefore we argue those in power currently to continue with Mandela’s work of tolerance and fairness by changing the attitudes of those who are taking their time to accept equality of LGBTI persons in Africa.

As an activist today I take inspiration from the work of Nelson Mandela, his struggle became our struggle. If Mandela could achieve what most people thought as the impossible thing to happen in South Africa. I believe equality and fairness for LGBTI people in Africa can be achieved.

He taught us to believe and have hope, he knew and believed the world belongs to all of us no matter our sexuality. As Africans fighting for our rights as LGBTI, we know we can achieve our goals even though it may not happen in our life time. But we are happy and honored to be part of this growing movement that the late Nelson Mandela has been part of.

Mandela initiated and campaigned for the Rainbow nation of South Africa our task today is to campaign for a Rainbow Africa.

He anticipated a better world for LGBTI persons, and his struggle for that world was not a popular one but he changed the hearts of many people.

We challenge all political leaders, religious leaders, cultural leaders and others in Africa to not only praise Nelson Mandela but to learn from his message of love for all not hate.

He stood for and with the oppressed.

The entire African LGBTI community has lost a hero, but we will never forget him. Rest in peace Nelson Mandela.

Edwin Sesange is director of the African LGBTI Out and Proud Diamond Group.

Read more tributes to Nelson Mandela from South African LGBTI human rights campaigners here.

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