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SANDF ‘gender neutral’

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Transgender trumps bias in South Africa

People protest US President Donald Trump's announcement that he plans to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals from serving in any capacity in the US military, in Times Square, in New York. Picture: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

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 46000 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.