South African president Jacob Zuma has appointed the country’s first openly gay cabinet minister.

Zuma appointed Lynne Brown – who was previously the Premier of the Western Cape province –  as Minister of Public Enterprises, earning her a spot in the cabinet.

It is the highest-profile role for a gay politician in Africa.

Last week, Zakhele Mbhele became the first openly gay black MP to be elected on the continent.

Gay political author Eusebius McKaiser told the Guardian: “It is, sadly, probably newsworthy, I guess, insofar as the social impact of openly gay people in high-profile public leadership positions cannot be discounted in a country like South Africa where levels of homophobia, including violence against black lesbian women, remain rife.

Steven Friedman, the director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy, told the newspaper: “I think it’s worth drawing attention to.

“She’s not a gay rights campaigner – it’s not recognition in that sense – but the fact that under the most socially conservative president since 1994 there is the first openly gay minister in such a position is significant.”

Earlier this month, South Africa announced changes to its blood donation service, so that it no longer specifically bans gay men, and treats everyone the same regardless of sexual orientation.

The new system has won tentative praise from rights campaigners, but other countries including Canada have ruled out such a move.

South Africa became the first and so far only country in Africa to legalise marriage rights for same-sex couples in 2006.