In an interview with Mamba Online, Zakhele Mbhele says that while he is cognizant of his history-making election to South Africa’s parliament, he is not “singularly defining” himself as the first openly gay black MP in Africa.
Still, Mbhele, who was elected on the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) ticket and sworn in May 21, believes it’s important to have visible gay achievers to inspire young LGBT people.
“I love how many prejudices Michael Sam roundhouse kicks in one go: against same-sex, and interracial relationships and gay men in sport,” Mbhele tweeted after the newly drafted, gay NFL athlete, who was selected by the St Louis Rams, enthusiastically bear-hugged and kissed his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, on live television.
Mamba Online editor Luiz DeBarros notes that Mbhele is not the only openly gay MP in the South African parliament — fellow DA MPs Ian Ollis and Mike Waters are both gay — but says that Mbhele’s racial background is significant in the context of the issues that black LGBT youth face.
Mbhele, 29, says addressing LGBT issues, particularly in poor communities, is a priority for him. He also told Mamba Online that he is interested in the issue of policing as it relates to hate crimes, noting existing challenges with authorities’ approach to homophobia, transphobia and victimization.
“Lesbians, and LGBTI people who do not conform to culturally approved models of femininity and masculinity, live in fear of being assaulted, raped and murdered by men,” an Amnesty International report, entitled “Making Love a Crime: Criminalization of Same-Sex Conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa,
Mbhele has also been critical of the previous parliament’s silence over the enactment of anti-gay legislation in Uganda and Nigeria, saying his country should have taken a strong, human-rights stance against the laws.
In 1996, former South African president Nelson Mandela, who died in December, signed off on a new South African constitution that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. In 2006, the country also legalized gay marriage.