SANDF ‘gen­der neu­tral’ Trans­gen­der trumps bias in South Africa


TRANS­GEN­DER sol­diers in the SANDF are pro­tected un­der the con­sti­tu­tion and, as such, are al­lowed into the de­fence force. This is ac­cord­ing to SANDF spokesper­son Bri­gadier-Gen­eral Mafi Mgob­ozi.

He was re­spond­ing to com­ments made by US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who re­cently tweeted to his more than 49 mil­lion fol­low­ers: “The US gov­ern­ment will not ac­cept or al­low trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als to serve in any ca­pac­ity in the US mil­i­tary.”

In a sec­ond tweet, Trump said: “Our mil­i­tary must be fo­cused on de­ci­sive and over­whelm­ing vic­tory and can­not be bur­dened with the tremen­dous med­i­cal costs and dis­rup­tion that trans­gen­ders in the mil­i­tary would en­tail.”

Trump’s tweets, which were shared more than 46 000 times, caused an up­roar on so­cial me­dia, with many calling his re­marks out­ra­geous.

In the tweets, Trump claims that his de­ci­sion came af­ter con­sul­ta­tions with his gen­er­als and mil­i­tary ex­perts.

But US Sec­re­tary of De­fence James Mat­tis said he was on hol­i­day at the time.

Gen­eral Mark Mil­ley, US Army chief of staff, said he found out about Trump’s com­ments in the news.

Siphiwe Dlamini, head of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Depart­ment of De­fence, rub­bished the no­tion that South Africa would sup­port Trump’s move. “We are not the US. We do not do things that the US does,” he said.

Echo­ing Dlamini’s sen­ti­ment, Mgob­ozi said the SANDF al­lowed trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als to en­list.

“Our con­scrip­tion is free to all. There is no dis­crim­i­na­tion within the de­fence force,” he said. Ac­cord­ing to the De­fence Act of 2002, it is a crim­i­nal of­fence for any SANDF mem­ber or de­fence force em­ployee to hu­mil­i­ate or dis­crim­i­nate against any per­son on the grounds of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

An­thony Wald­hausen, di­rec­tor of the Gay and Les­bian Net­work, said Trump had can­vassed for votes among the LGBTI com­mu­nity dur­ing his elec­tion cam­paign and his lat­est state­ments con­flicted with his pre­vi­ous stance.

“In­di­vid­u­als who want to serve the coun­try should not be dis­crim­i­nated against based on their sex­ual pref­er­ence,” said Wald­hausen.

He said in South Africa, he had not heard of cases where mem­bers of the LGBTI com­mu­nity were dis­crim­i­nated against in the de­fence force.

“If there were cases, then this goes against what our con­sti­tu­tion says.

“The ar­gu­ment of the em­ployer would be null and void as the em­ployee would be able to take the mat­ter up at the Con­sti­tu­tional Court in any case.”

De­nis Nzioka, a gen­der ac­tivist, said Trump’s re­marks were un­fair and dis­crim­i­na­tory.

“For Pres­i­dent Trump to ban trans­gen­der ser­vice­men, this is one of the many ex­am­ples of Trump re­vok­ing and un­fairly us­ing his pow­ers to dis­miss the amaz­ing ef­forts of Pres­i­dent (Barack) Obama.

“Nowhere has it been writ­ten that trans­gen­der ser­vice­men and women are the rea­son for los­ing a war, or mak­ing an army ‘weak’. Trump un­fairly charged that trans­gen­der ser­vice­men and women can­not make good sol­diers, which is far from the truth,” Nzioka said.

He added that there was a fairly big num­ber of trans­gen­der ser­vice­men and women in the US and their fate – with this ban – hung in the bal­ance.

“Th­ese are in­di­vid­u­als who have given their all to pro­tect Amer­i­cans’ lives and main­tain peace – some­thing that Trump has swept over with his Twit­ter-tantrums,” he said.

Nzioka said most coun­tries did not al­low trans­gen­der-iden­ti­fy­ing in­di­vid­u­als to serve.

He said women were seen as “weak” by some in the mil­i­tary and that be­ing “ma­cho” had of­ten been part of mil­i­tary psy­che – and train­ing.

“I think it is time to con­front this. If we do not, we are un­fairly say­ing women, and trans­gen­der per­sons, or any­one not ‘ma­cho’ enough can­not serve or be in the mil­i­tary. I refuse to be on this side of his­tory,” said Nzioka.

Ac­cord­ing to Armed Forces and In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity: Global Trends and Is­sues and How Amer­ica’s Stance on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and the Death Penalty Stacks Up Against

the World, there are 45 coun­tries in the world that bar en­try to trans­gen­der in­di­vid­u­als. In Africa, Botswana, Cameroon, Ghana, Le­sotho, Malawi, Mozam­bique, Namibia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Swazi­land, Tan­za­nia, Uganda, Zam­bia and Zim­babwe refuse en­try to trans­gen­der re­cruits.

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