Delegates attending the Lesotho Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (LCN) annual general conference last Friday clashed over the association’s decision to help an organisation advocating for the rights of homosexuals. Matters came to a head after the annual report which was tabled before the delegates revealed that the council had given technical assistance to Matrix Support Group, an organisation for lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersexual people.
The report said the LCN had been brought in as a technical partner when Matrix Support Group received some funds from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). LCN, the report said, was helping the group manage and account for funds.
That revelation sparked angry responses from delegates who accused the organisation of assisting “ungodly acts”. Angry delegates demanded that the LCN stops associating with the Matrix Support Group. Thabo Thelingoane, the secretary-general of the Construction and Allied Workers Union (CAWULE), was the most vocal of the delegates. A livid Thelingoane demanded that the council stop assisting programmes involving homosexuals. “Basotho are a Christian nation, and Christian principles do not allow them to promote homosexuality,” Thelingoane said. “We are a Christian society which is not supposed to intermingle with Satan’s people,” He added that he was not happy to be part of an organisation that “assists Satan’s people to further their ungodly behaviour”.
Thelingoane later told the Lesotho Times that he is Catholic. When LCN president Lira Theko tried to call him to order, telling him that Lesotho was not constitutionally a Christian state, Thelingoane stubbornly insisted that “homosexuality is ungodly”. And even when officials threatened to eject him from the conference hall, Thelingoane remained adamant. “Expel me if you want, but I still say CAWULE does not agree to homosexuality because homosexuals are Satan’s people,” he said. It is however not clear whether Thelingoane was expressing his own views on homosexuality or the official position of the labour union that he leads. Theko said the heated debate by the delegates did not surprise him. “I was not taken aback because it (homosexualiy) is a debate we are used to,” Theko said. He said Thelingoane “often behaves like this when there is a debate”.
Mantsi Mantsi of the Lesotho Ex-mineworkers Association, an organisation which claims to represent people who used to work in the South African mines, also raised concern about the LCN’s involvement with Matrix Support Group. LCN’s funds manager, Sekonyela Mapetja, told the Lesotho Times in an interview the LCN was helping the support group manage the grant it received from the UNDP but the council did not have any other interaction with the group. “It is a support group helping sexual minority groups, and it does not have capacity to account for the funds,” Mapetja said. “It is not a member of the LCN, but we assist it like we do to all other small groups that need assistance from us.”
LCN public relations officer, Tankiso Sephoso, said the council had not taken an official position on the controversial issue of homosexuality. Sephoso said the LCN was still in talks on how to deal with homosexual groups. “The LCN has not taken a position on the issue of homosexual groups,” Sephoso said. “The matter is still being discussed.” Sephoso said the LCN understood that everybody had fundamental human rights that include the right to choose one’s sexual orientation.
A programme co-ordinator at Matrix Support Group who spoke to this paper but refused to be named for fear of retribution said the LCN had become their partner because they did not have papers to qualify for funding from the UNDP. She said the group’s role was to hold workshops for members and sensitise them about their sexuality and offer them counselling services and support. “Most of our members feel like lost sheep because churches turn their backs on them,” she said.
“Parents ignore their sexuality or take them to be rebels while others have hopes that their children will one day change, which does not happen. "Some are married people whose spouses do not know that they are gay or lesbian.”
The Christian world is deeply divided over the issue of homosexuality. The Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) this week said it “The CCL leaves that to be pronounced by individual churches,” said CCL spokesperson Potjo Potjo.
“The council does not have an (official) position on the matter because it has never been put on the table for discussion.”
But the head of the Methodist Church of Lesotho, the Reverend Daniel Rantle, said his church’s position was that homosexuality is ungodly. “It is not permissible in the Christian church,” Rantle said. “It was because of such acts that God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as clearly described in the Bible’s book of Genesis,” he said. “The Apostle Paul condemned the practice in the Christian era and said they (homosexuals) will not enter the kingdom of God.” He said homosexuals should be given a chance to study the word of God for them to change. “Studying the Bible can change them.”
Rantle however said the CCL had not discussed its position on the issue “because it would divide the council. It is the issue that will touch some churches’ doctrines and dealing with it directly as the council will surely bring division in the council,” he said. “It is a well-known fact around the globe that some churches have gone to an extent of blessing same-sex marriages and have ordained priests who practise sodomy.” The Anglican Church has condoned same-sex marriages.
In England where the Anglican Church originated some priests are reported to be blessing same-sex marriages, and some of the priests are allegedly gays, according to a recent BBC report.
South Africa is the only African country whose constitution clearly allows same-sex marriages. But the practice is generally shunned across Africa. A local lawyer, Thabo Lerotholi, told the Lesotho Times there is no specific statute prohibiting homosexuality or same sex marriages in Lesotho. Lerotholi said the practice is barred by the common law which defines marriage as a union between a male and a female. “Unlike in South Africa the common law does not define marriage as a union between two persons,” Lerotholi said. “As far as I am aware, no law specifically forbids homosexuality except the common law.” Lerotholi said Lesotho is not by constitution a Christian state; and, therefore, nobody is by law bound to abide by the Christian principles.
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