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Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Making change

In the BBC news today "The Nigerian president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has praised Anglican bishops from Africa for what he called their principled stand against homosexuality". And this reminds me that, in fact, South Aftica was the first country in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. (Does that mean in the eyes of the Nigerian president that South Africa has not taken a principled stand?)

Once upon a time I was an active anti-apartheid activist. Most of my work was with SWAPO in Namibia and some with FRELIMO in Mozambique but we worked in conjunction with the ANC movement in London. That meant lots of meetings and protests. It also meant socialising and having visiting delegates to stay - where we would discuss, dance and, yes, drink the night away. This issue of gay rights, of "there are no gays in Africa", often came up in the conversations. In the beginning Party members and funding organisations were incredulous - how could gay issues be related to discrimination against Black people? But we - straight, gay, bisexual activists - were persistant - at night over beers and at meetings.

Slowly we saw the tide change, with Peter Tatchell - a controversial human right's activist - recalling the process from his perspective at this time, and Shuaib Rahim writing about it in the New Internationalist six years after discrimination was outlawed. For myself, I'll never forget how it felt to see and hear one of the South African delegates, a man who might once have said something similar to the current Nigerian President, describe so coherently to his comrades the connection between the struggle against apartheid and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Sometimes when big change looks so far away - I remind myself of the conversations I've had, the meetings I've been to - and the dancing I've done, that might have changed the world!!


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