Standing in support for the LGBTIQ+ community - South Africa

Standing in support for the LGBTIQ+ community

News item | 24-05-2024 | 10:39

Friday the 17 May 2024 marked the International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). Therefore, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in South Africa was closely involved in multiple events for this important day. The events both celebrated the LGBTIQ+ community and commemorated those who have been attacked and abused for their gender identities or sexual orientation.

Leading up to IDAHOBIT, the Embassy of the Netherlands in South Africa and the delegation of the European Union painted their adjacent driveways in the rainbow colours. The driveways were festively launched on the afternoon of 16 May  with a reception at the European delegation’s offices in Pretoria. The Embassy of the Netherlands and EU delegation also used this moment to raise the LGBTIQ+ flag high on our respective poles, which would remain there throughout the following day. Thami Dish from the Thami Dish foundation, a queer activist and pioneer of LGBTIQ+ rights, spoke to those attending the rainbow driveway launch. He reiterated that the symbolism of the rainbow driveways is an important message of international allyship and solidarity.

On IDAHOBIT itself, the Embassy of the Netherlands and the Embassy of Ireland contributed to an event executed by Just Detention International – South Africa. Just Detention International is a health and human rights non-profit organisation that addresses sexual abuse in all forms of detention. In detention, no one is more at risk of sexual abuse than minorities such as members of the LGBTIQ+ community. This informed the key focus of this IDAHOBIT event. 

Speaking at the event, Ambassador of the Netherlands to South Africa, Joanne Doornewaard, said ‘‘An important part of support is speaking out. Not just today on IDAHOBIT, but every day we must speak out and be allies. As our own Madiba powerfully stated: ‘For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.’ In that light, I would like to speak out and say that the Netherlands is an ally. I am an ally.’’


She added, moreover, that South Africa has had great activists who fought not only for LGBTIQ+ persons but also against apartheid, for people of colour, people with HIV, people with disabilities and other forms of oppression. We as the Netherlands, can learn from these intersectional South African activists. 


A month prior to the main event on IDAHOBIT, JDI-SA facilitated a three-day art and human sexuality workshop. The workshop had 17 participants and involved using art as a tool for healing and cultivating creativity. Some of the workshop participants have been through the South African detention system and suffered multiple forms of abuse related to their respective gender identities and sexual orientations. The artistic elements of the workshops provided participants with a safe space to process the traumas they faced in detention, aiming to contribute to their healing.  This workshop aimed to empower members of the LGBTIQ+ community by raising awareness and providing information on sexual orientation and gender identity. 


The artworks created during this workshop were displayed at the IDAHOBIT event. Where the art exhibition contributed to the artistic and healing elements of the event, there was also an opportunity to discuss the serious issues the LGBTIQ+ community faces in detention during a panel discussion. This dialogue included a wide range of participants and sought to serve as a call for action to address sexual abuse amongst the most vulnerable, including LGBTIQ+ people. Discussants included Sannah Seloane, Vusi Skosana and Odwa Mbane,  each of them members of the LGBTIQ+ community who are survivors of sexual abuse in detention, Nomvula Siloane from the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), Jay Matlou who is Head of Programmes at the Thami Dish Foundation, and retired judge Edwin Cameron, who served as a Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and spent most of his life fighting for queer rights in the country. 

The discussants had a moving and yet fruitful discussion on the issues faced by the LGBTIQ+ community in detention and answered questions from the public. They concluded that issues such as overcrowding of prisons, criminalization of drugs, and criminalization of sex work amongst others, remain key issues that the country must address in order to better protect queer people against sexual abuse in detention. 

In closing, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in South Africa has sent out a crucial message of real and symbolic allyship by painting their rainbow driveway in the rainbow colours. The Netherlands will continue to support organisations such as JDI-SA that fight for the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community, not only on IDAHOBIT, but on every day of the year.