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Ugandan Gay Activist Free To Live, Work in South Africa

Paul Semugoma is free and can live and work in South Africa. This followed a dramatic day of court action and negotiations between lawyers representing Semugoma and the Department of Home Affairs.

On Wednesday, Home Affairs attempted to put Semugoma on a plane to deport him, despite the South Gauteng court, earlier in the day, ordering the Minister of Home Affairs to release him. On the advice of his lawyers Semugoma refused to board the plane but he was detained overnight at an immigration facility at O.R. Tambo airport. Home Affairs' actions were criticised widely by activists who accused the department of being in contempt of court.

Semugoma, who is a medical doctor, gay and Ugandan, would have faced eventual return to Uganda. A bill is expected to be signed into law soon by President Yoweri Museveni that provides for people who have same-sex relations to be imprisoned for life. According to a statement published by several activist organisations yesterday, Semugoma is on a wanted list in Uganda for his involvement in gay rights activism. He was arrested on Monday at Johannesburg's airport after returning from a meeting in Zimbabwe.

Semugoma's lawyers returned to court on Thursday at about 11am asking for Wednesday's court order to be implemented while Home Affairs appealed it. Ms Ayanda Khumalo, a lawyer with Webber Wentzel, has been representing Semugoma. She told GroundUp that a contempt of court application was also brought against Home Affairs. The department's lawyers asked for proceedings to be postponed while they familiarised themselves with the case, but Semugoma's lawyers opposed this. Negotiations followed and by this afternoon Home Affairs agreed to release Semugoma. In addition the department agreed to issue him with an exceptional skills permit which will allow him to live and work in South Africa for the next three years.

Semugoma, who has been volunteering with HIV organisations that provide services to men who have sex with men, was elated when GroundUp spoke to him this evening. He said, "Thanks to all the South African activists who came out in support and did what they could. From my end that helped more than anything. I come from Uganda where democracy is very weak. It was very good to see that the [South African] government has to follow its own laws here."

Semugoma has been living in South Africa for a few years with his life partner, Brian Kanyemba. According to activists, his special skills visa application had been pending since March 2012 and his application had been lost twice by the Department of Home Affairs.

A statement published this afternoon by the Treatment Action Campaign, Anova Health Institute and SECTION27 said: "The events of the past three days expose serious problems with the manner in which foreign nationals are treated in South Africa. Whereas Dr Semugoma had the support of the medical and activist community, many other foreign nationals have no such support networks. Additionally, we were reminded of the worrying silence of the South African government in relation to anti-gay legislation in other African countries and more specifically the recent developments in Uganda."

(From All Africa)

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