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GAYS and lesbians in KwaZulu-Natal want King Goodwill Zwelithini to apologise for his reported slur against them and retract his alleged condemnation of same-sex relationships.
During a speech commemorating the Battle of Isandlwana near Dundee at the weekend, the monarch was reported to have spoken out against same-sex relationships.
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His comments were widely understood by those present to mean that the monarch believed that homosexuality was not part of Zulu culture and that it was “rotten”.
A recorded extract of the speech includes the audience laughing, as the monarch talks about people being banished in the olden days from society.
“If you are one of the people I am talking about, people who have sex with people of their own sex, a man who sexually harasses another man, a woman who sexually harasses another woman, you are rotten,” he was reported as saying.
The perception that his comments were homophobic, was fuelled by President Jacob Zuma’s reaction in his speech at the same ceremony.
“The new challenge we face as a nation is to build a nation that does not divide people according to their race, gender and sexual orientation,” the president said, in what some view as rejoinder to the king’s sentiments.
But in a joint statement yesterday, Zulu royal family spokesperson Prince Mbonisi Zulu and Premier Zweli Mkhize’s spokesperson Ndabezinhle Sibiya, denied that the monarch had condemned same-sex relationships in his speech.
They said the main focus of the speech was on the creation of a compassionate society with men protecting vulnerable members of society especially the elderly, women and children.
“At no stage did His Majesty condemn gay relations or same sex relations ...”
The king had actually been speaking in the context of rampant sexual abuse, they said.
The statement included a passage of what the king apparently had said.
“During the good olden days our forefathers dedicated their lives for the good of the nation.
“Men would go for months in the battles to fight the enemies without their wives, but did not harass each other sexually and there were no cases of rape of women.
“Nowadays you even have men who rape other men. This is a clear sign of moral decay. We condemned those involved — no matter who you are.”
After listening to an extract of the monarch’s speech, Professor Adrian Koopman, head of the Zulu department at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN)) said: “My impression and summary of the extract is that I see this as the king saying that ‘unnatural behaviour’ between people of the same sex is generally considered offensive in Zulu culture.
“Speaking in very general terms, there are enough clues here to know that he is talking about homosexual behaviour, stressing the point that it is unnatural and un-Zulu.”
The same extract was played to several other Zulu speakers yesterday, who were also of the opinion that the king was condemning same-sex relationships.
Challenged as to why he had asked journalists, including those from The Witness, on Sunday not to angle their story about the monarch’s condemnation of same sex relationships, Sibiya said that this was not the case.
He had only begged them not to say the king had spoken out against gays, “as there was no mention of izitabane [gays] during the king’s speech”.
“Upon hearing certain journalists saying that His Majesty had said “izitabane” I stated that this was untrue.
“I believed that it was a total misinterpretation of the king’s message,” said Sibiya.
Reacting to the reports yesterday, Nonhlanhla Mkhize of the KZN Gay Centre said the organisation was “disturbed and hurt” by the king’s reported comments, but preferred to engage the Royal family on the matter, rather than take it to the Equality Court or to the SA Human Rights Commission.
The monarch’s comments could be dangerous to gays and lesbians “because of the stature of the king as a leader and father”.
“We are looking for a retraction … If apologising will be too much for the king to do, perhaps an explanation as to where his hatred for gays and lesbians stems from will be appreciated,” Mkhize said.
The SAHRC said it would be writing to the king to establish whether he had in fact made such statements and if he had to immediately retract them.
“In the context of the growing levels of hate crimes against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersexed (LGBTI), the commission finds such utterances to be inflammatory.
“If it is indeed accurate that His Majesty, the Zulu king, made the utterances as reported, they constitute hate speech, are dehumanising and are a violation of the constitutional right of LGBTI people to equality and freedom …
“The king should use his powerful position not to dehumanise and discriminate certain people on the basis of their sexual orientation but to uphold the Constitution and promote tolerance and diversity,” the commission said.Related: ‘The king does not owe anyone an apology’