The House of Chiefs in South Africa, also known as the National House of Traditional Leaders, have asked for the parliament to delete a clause in the constitution that guarantees equal rights for gay and trans people, a local news publication reports.

Members of the House of Chiefs advise the government on traditional customs and laws among ethnic and social groups such as the Zulu or the Xhosa.

A weekly newspaper, the City Press, reported yesterday that senior members of the House made the request in reply to the annual invitation to submit suggestions to the parliament’s constitutional review committee. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) has said it would consider the proposal, the article reported.

South Africa, being the only African country that grants gay and trans people the same rights in front of the law as heterosexuals, also forbids discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. However, the country is still plagued by hate crimes and homophobic violence, with lesbians often targeted for so-called “corrective rapes” in the belief that this could change their sexual orientation.

Patekile Holomisa, an ANC lawmaker, who is a traditional leader and the chair of the constitutional review committee, said to the City Press: ”The great majority does not want to give promotion and protection to these things… The last time this issue was discussed was about same-sex marriages. Most of the people in the (parliamentary) caucus were opposed to it, but then Luthuli House [i.e., ANC headquarters] and the leadership instructed us to vote for it.”

In a comment that worried gay rights activists, he said that homosexuality was “a condition that occurred when certain rituals have not been performed,” and that the ruling party will lose votes if it ignores traditional values.

The ANC however has been quick to distance itself from these comments. The Office of ANC Chief Whip, Mathole Motshekga, has released a statement that it noted “with great concern” Mr Holomisa’s remarks, and that the Chief Whip would meet with the latter to discuss them.

“The ANC caucus distances itself from these views and would like it noted that at no stage has it considered debating this issue before Parliament,” Mr Motshekga has said.

The headquarters of the ANC released another statement saying: ”The ANC caucus distances itself from these views and would like it noted that at no stage has it considered debating this issue before parliament.”

The statement added: “The ANC believes that any law which denies people the right to their sexual expression devalues them in our broader society and as such is an affront to their dignity and a breach of… our constitution.”