From 19 to 21 February 2018 at Auckland Lodge, Johannesburg, South Africa the Global Interfaith Network (GIN-SSOGIE) gathered rights defenders, scholars, researchers, and religious leaders from diverse family backgrounds and traditions, including African traditional religions, Islam and Christianity, for its first dialogue on Family and Traditional Values.
The gathering sought to reclaim and affirm the diversity of natural families in Africa, which also include the families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people and to promote and defend these families locally, regionally and internationally.
Recognizing that a whole range of families, including LGBTIQ families, have been excluded from the definition of ‘natural family’ by the extreme religious right.
Recognizing the life-threatening impact of this discrimination and exclusion on our human communities and especially the most vulnerable people including children, single mothers, widows and LGBTIQ people.
Acknowledging the rich diversity of family experiences in sub-Saharan Africa, today and historically.
Re-affirming the universality and indivisibility of Human Rights, as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACPHR).
Building on the aspirations set out in the Maputo Protocol (2003) on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the Angola Resolution 275 on Protection against Violence and Violations against Persons on the basis of their real or imputed Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity (2014) of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, and Agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU):
We, the participants in the inaugural seminar on Family and Traditional Values of the Global Interfaith Network hereby declare:
Protecting our families
1. That the definition of the “natural family” as being limited to the nuclear family, which is promoted by the extreme religious right and the proponents of so-called cultural and traditional values, does not reflect the diversity of family life in contemporary Africa.
2. That family has always evolved and today manifests itself in many forms such as the nuclear family, single parent (mother/father/caregiver) family, cross-generational (grandparents-grandchildren) family, same-sex (parents) family, childless family, and child-headed family. All these models of family can and must find their place in the African family and policy-making processes.
3. That these diverse forms of extended family into which members are born, married, formally or informally adopted, or invited, is the true, natural African family.
4. That extended families are communal, characterised by interdependence, and are constituted by mutual love, care and accountability, especially for their most vulnerable members.
5. That we recognise that the family has always been more than biology, both historically and in our sacred texts.
6. That all our sacred texts present the family as a unit that provides social, psychological, economic and emotional support and security to all its members, as well as a place of belonging, which is in line with the African understanding of family.
7. That the African family is grounded in the concept of ubuntu – “I am because we are”; “I relate therefore I am” – which does not imply the domination of the one by the many but entails the achievement of balance between the one and the many. Therefore, we affirm Article 18 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.
8. That it indeed takes a village to raise a child and therefore the communal nature of family, within the diversity of family systems and parental models, promotes the child’s own understanding of being in community.
9. That the natural African family was attacked and undermined by colonialism, Christianization and Wahabization, and now is under attack from the extreme religious right; and these are, in fact, the forces from which the institution of the family requires protection.
Celebrating our sexuality, reclaiming our culture
10. That our sacred texts affirm the goodness and intrinsic value of all of creation. All human beings without exception are created in the image and likeness of God. The diversity inherent in all of creation is also expressed in humanity as evident in our unique DNA, gifts and fingerprints. Diversity also extends to sexuality and this is found in our sacred texts. In the Bible there is, for example, mention of eunuchs; while in the Hadith, the Prophet refused to kill a mukhannath (female-presenting man) because, he argued, “I have been prohibited from killing people who pray”.
11. That in the African context human sexuality has generally been conceived as a divine life-affirming gift which holistically embraces diverse human relationships and sexual expressions that lead to sexual pleasure and renewal as well as, in some cases, procreation.
12. That the claim that sexual diversity is “un-African” is refuted by well-researched traditional practices in some communities such as women having female husbands and men having male wives; and sangomas who are inhabited by an opposite sex ancestor and therefore exhibit characteristics of that sex, including their choice of intimate partner.
13. That in African traditions, sexual difference has never been a reason for exclusion from family and community life. On the contrary, those with sexual differences were generally historically revered and considered to have special powers.
14. That punishing people for sexual difference by denying them the right to full participation in society is a colonial notion being advanced by the extreme religious right and those they have co-opted, and is distinctly un-African.
15. That, as African people of all sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions, we (re-)claim our cultures and the right to practice them according to our own traditions.
16. That claims of national sovereignty to justify non-compliance with international human rights standards are deeply suspect because:
they are often a smokescreen for misguided and dictatorial nationalisms, whereby the dominant political and/or religious group/s seek to advance their agendas at the expense of minority groups, who are then made scapegoats for all of a country’s ills, particularly in times of crisis;
they play into the agenda of the extreme religious right which uses them to question the legitimacy of international human rights bodies like the United Nations Human Rights Council, and undermine international conventions on human rights.
17. That no nation can be truly sovereign unless all its people are full and free citizens, with equal opportunity to self-actualise, and thus able to make their fair contribution to nation-building, so that the nation can benefit from the whole spectrum of gifts, talents, skills and abilities of all its citizens.
Reclaiming our faith
18. That we understand freedom of religion to be the freedom to have and practise a religion, as well as the freedom not to have or practise a religion.
19. That using the doctrines of any one religion as the basis of law and policy is a clear violation of the right of people not to practise a particular religion.
20. That religious freedom/freedom of consciousness is a fundamental human right that applies to all people, including LGBTIQ people, and we claim the right to practise our faith in a way that affirms life, both for us and for others.
21. That we believe “do no harm” to be a core life-affirming principle, and any religion that does not promote love, understanding and compassion is lacking and not useful.
22. That, in the practice of our respective faiths, we should be guided by the spirit of Ubuntu and unconditional love.
Developed and affirmed by the following signatories:
Ms Belinda Crawford, UJAMAA Centre, UKZN
Rev Phumzile Mabizela, Inerela
Dr Yvette Abrahams, independent researcher
Monica Tabengwa, Pan Africa ILGA
Davis MacIyalla, Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa
Dr Fulata Moyo, WCC
Jan Bjarne Sodal, FRI
Rev Patricia Ackerman, International Fellowship of Reconciliation
Rev Teboho Klaas, The Other Foundation / A.M.E. Church
Rev Judith Kotzé, Co-Chair, GIN-SSOGIE Board
Rev Dr Kapya Kaoma, Political Research Associates
Cole Parke, Political Research Associates
Dr Nontando Hadebe, Chairperson – Southern Africa Circle of Concerned African Women theologians
Nozipho Dlodlo, UKZN
Motsau Motsau, independent activist
Rev Michele Boonzaaier, Inclusive and Affirming Ministries
Rev Jide Macaulay, House of Rainbow
Rev Nokuthula Dhladhla, House of Prayer and Worship
Dr Masiiwa Gunda, independent researcher
Gershom Kapalula, ZANERELA
Dr Imam Ludovic Mohamed Zahed, CALEM
Donna Smith, Coalition of African Lesbians
Ishmael Bahati Omumbwa, PEMA Kenya
We invite all individuals and organisations who wish to do so, including advocates, activists, political, social and religious leaders, to join in our efforts and indicate their support for the Johannesburg Declaration, so that they shall be added to the list of affirming signatories.