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Swapo stuck between Jerry bills and sodomy ruling

Presidency buys time on anti-gay bills
The ruling party must navigate constitutionalism and appeasing a conservative support base ahead of elections.
Jemima Beukes
Swapo remains stuck between respecting the independence of the judiciary and appeasing its rank and file, which has largely taken a hard-line stance against last week’s High Court ruling that declared the criminalisation of sodomy as unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The ruling party, whose government has been sitting on anti-gay bills proposed by its backbencher Jerry Ekandjo, has referred the judgment to its legal department for technical discussions and interrogation before it can pronounce itself publicly on the matter.

On Friday, the High Court concluded that the sodomy law, which was challenged by gay rights activist Friedel Dausab, has a "harmful and prejudicial impact" and that the retention of the law "is thus not reasonably justifiable in a democratic society”.

Swapo, which backed Ekandjo’s anti-gay private member’s bills in parliament, has not officially commented on the ruling.

Party spokesperson Hilma Nicanor yesterday said: “We are aware of the judgment that has been passed. Being in a democratic country, we understand and know that our judiciary is independent. As a party, once it becomes necessary to pronounce or say what our position is, it will be made known. We have not yet sat for that matter”.

Speaking before the party’s central committee meeting, Nicanor added: “We have to look at this statement in that, as a democratic party, we respect our laws. If the party has come to a stage where we have to announce any position, we will do so”.

Ekandjo, who initiated anti-gay bills seeking to outlaw marriage between same-sex couples, yesterday said he too was studying the judgment extensively.

Dilemma

Dausab applied for an order seeking to declare the common law offences of sodomy and unnatural sexual offences, along with the statutory provisions that incorporate these offences, unconstitutional.

Political analyst Rui Tyitende said the Swapo Party faces a dilemma given that the so-called Ekandjo anti-gay bills are gathering dust on President Nangolo Mbumba’s desk.

“I think they are facing a dilemma. Should the president sign those bills, I do not think that - in their current form - they would succeed if there were to be an appeal. Chances are that [Swapo] would not want to ruffle feathers of the members of the LGBTQI community and might decide to let it run its course in the court of public opinion. [Swapo] might only pronounce itself on the matter after the elections,” he said.

Human rights lawyer Norman Tjombe said it may be too early to comment on the party’s position, but urged all political leaders and parties to respect the outcome and to support the implementation of the judgment.

Friday’s ruling underlined that in a democratic society that ensures the constitutional rights to dignity and equality for all citizens, an activity cannot be deemed criminal "just because a segment, maybe a majority, of the citizenry consider it to be unacceptable".

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Namibian Sun 2024-07-17

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