Ugandans in South Africa unhappy with anti-gay law

A Ugandan lesbian shares her experience. Photo by Tariro Washinyira.

Tariro Washinyira

4 March 2014

Uganda’s brutal new anti-gay law puts Dembe Ainebyona (not her real name) in a difficult situation because she may never see her country of birth again.

When she was two months old, her mother became sick with typhoid and was taken to hospital. She never saw her mother again. Then her father passed away when she was two years old. She was raised by her grandmother.

In 2009 she was brutalised by Mukono District soldiers for dating another girl.

The 31-year-old Dembe says, “Where I come from, the community does not even want to see people of the same sex walking together. My girlfriend used to come and sleep over at my place. This got us in trouble. One night, the red ballet soldiers came to my place. They struck me with batons, kicked and trampled on me. That is how I got these scars on my forehead, mouth and knee. It was a horrific experience…. I bled a lot”.

She moved to another province and rented a room at a lodge, but her girlfriend followed. The soldiers came and viciously attacked them. They then moved to Jinji District. In Jinji a mob attacked them; they were dragged from the house and beaten nearly to death. Ainebyona ran away. She assumes her girlfriend also managed to escape. Until today she does not know what happened to her girlfriend. She said she is too scared to search for her on social media.

Ainebyona said, “The pain I went through is too much, but seeing and listening to other people with more horrifying stories than mine has helped me to heal. A truck driver who ferried me to Namanga raped me. I had no choice; all I wanted was to escape Uganda.”

She came through the Malaba border in Uganda, Namanga Town in Kenya, and the Tunduma border between Tanzania and Zambia. She stayed for a few weeks in Tunduma doing odd jobs to get money for transport and food to cross over to South Africa.

In January 2009, she went to apply for an asylum document at Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (CTRRO) in Nyanga. She did not know that it is legal to be a lesbian in South Africa, so she did not disclose that she is a lesbian. She also did not tell them that she had almost been killed in Uganda for being a lesbian. She gave wrong information and her asylum was rejected.

Her asylum request has been on appeal since 2009 and she is booked for appeal appointment with the CTRRO in June 2014. An advocate from Legal Resource Centre (LRC) will represent her.

Ainebyona believes that Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, signed the anti-gay law to please the majority of Ugandans so that they will vote for him in 2016. Ugandans think gay life is a foreign concept imported from the West, even though there is evidence that homosexuality has been practiced in numerous African cultures.

She also shared that her other ex-girlfriend in Uganda is now married with two children. She thinks that her ex-girlfriend, who is bisexual, was getting too much pressure from her parents about why she was not getting married when she finished university. For her own safety, she should be on the Museveni side and act straight, Ainebyona says.

Another Ugandan who refused to be named said, “I am not gay and I do not support LGBTI rights. I feel Museveni should have approached this with an open mind because the signing of the anti-gay law on 24 February 2014 has already started to affect Uganda economically. The Ugandan Shilling exchange rate fell the most against the dollar.”

Although he says that he does not support LBGTI rights, he also said, “We need gays and lesbians to help build Uganda. We cannot stand alone. We need their skills and revenue. [Forcing them to run] away from their country of birth because of persecution will not help us as a society.”