AFRICA has its first ever openly-gay black MP with the swearing in of Zakhele Mbhele to the South African Parliament in Cape Town.
It’s another inclusive step for the so-called rainbow nation that is already ahead of Australia in marriage equality and accepting blood donations from gay men.
“I know what it means as a historical milestone but I’m not walking around thinking of myself as the first openly-gay black MP in Africa or singularly defining myself by it,” he told South African LGBTI publication Mamba Online.
Nevertheless, Mbhele has a strong background in gay rights, serving as the head of the LGBTI student group at Johannesburg’s prestigious University of the Witswaterand and serving on the board of the city’s pride festival.
Most recently, he worked in the office of opposition leader and Western Cape Premier, Helen Zille.
Mbhele said homophobia crushed self-esteem and he hoped his elevation to political office would inspire other young people.
“Having more openly gay achievers in society can counter that damage by giving young LGBT people role models to inspire them to build their self-confidence and work ambitiously to achieve their dreams,” he said.
The new MP said he was keen on working with the police on hate crimes, particularly in the country’s poorer communities.
While South Africa has been making strides with LGBTI rights at home, Mbhele criticised the African National Congress-led government’s reaction to anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria: “South Africa should have taken a strongly pro-human rights position that expressed disapproval of such laws.”