Africa elects its first openly gay black MP

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Zakhele Mbhele has become the first openly gay black MP to be elected in the continent of Africa.

On Wednesday, Mr Mbhele, 29, was officially sworn in as a Member of South Africa’s Parliament.

He represents Democratic Alliance, the country’s main opposition.

South Africa, the only African nation to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation in its constitution, has previously had several gay parliamentarians, but up until now, none of them have been black.

In an exclusive interview with Mamba, Mr Mbhele said he was aware of this significance of his election.

“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 Mamba Editor Luiz DeBarros.

The MP hopes his victory can inspire young LGBT South Africans.

“One of the most damaging things about homophobia is its destructive effect on a young LGBT person’s self-esteem. That was certainly one of the issues I grappled with when I was coming to terms with my sexuality in my teen years,” he explained.

“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.”

South Africa became the first and so far only country in Africa to legalise marriage rights for same-sex couples in 2006. 

Despite its progressive legal measures against discrimination, homophobia and transphobia violence remains high, particular in rural townships.

Mr Mbhele said he would like to have responsibilities for policing in order to address the issue.

“That’s why, for example, I’d like to work in the police portfolio because I’d like the opportunity to raise the issue of hate crimes as they relate to policing and highlight problems that still exist around homophobia, transphobia and secondary victimisation in the police service.”

The MP also believes the South African Government should have publicly condemned Nigeria and Uganda for earlier this year passing tougher anti-gay laws.

“South Africa should have taken a strongly pro-human rights position that expressed disapproval of such laws,” he said.