JOHANNESBURG - South Africa's immigration minister denied a visa Tuesday to a U.S. church leader known for his anti-gay views, citing South Africa’s strong legal protections of equality and non-discrimination.
More than 60,000 South Africans appealed for Arizona-based Steven Anderson to be turned away from his planned "soul-winning marathon" scheduled for later this month in southern Africa.
Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba made it clear that Anderson is not welcome to try to win South African souls with his strong anti-gay views.
“Steven Anderson and members and/or associates of his church are prohibited from entering the Republic of South Africa,” Gigaba said Tuesday in a nationally televised announcement. “Furthermore, I have withdrawn their visa exemption status enjoyed by all Americans. This on the basis that I am certain they promote hate speech as well as advocate social violence. Accordingly, Steven Anderson will be advised that he is a prohibited person in South Africa.”
Anderson, who has no formal theological training, started the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe in 2005. He describes his church as an “old-fashioned, independent, fundamental, King James Bible only, soul-winning Baptist church.”
Anderson has quoted the Bible to justify a genocide against gays and lesbians. He has repeatedly insulted Islam and the Quran. He publicly rejoiced after a June mass shooting at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, saying he thought the 53 victims deserved death.
He also called South Africa’s Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu — a renowned anti-apartheid leader and a Nobel Peace laureate — a “pervert” who “goes around in a pink dress.”
Anderson says South Africa’s religious freedom laws should allow him to visit the country and spread his views. Anderson also denied that he planned to focus on his anti-gay views in South Africa, saying he would instead talk about evangelism and scripture.
In a Facebook message posted Tuesday, Anderson said he still plans to visit Botswana later this month, but it is unclear how he will get to the southern African nation without being able to go through South Africa or Britain, which he says has also banned him.
Rights groups have applauded the travel restrictions. Dewa Mavhinga, a senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, says he hopes South Africa’s government will set an example.
His rights group says too many African nations have fallen sway to homophobia in recent years. South Africa remains the only African nation with strong legal protections for people of all sexual orientations and identities.
“The position, actually, taken by Minister Gigaba is exemplary in that is going against that trend where we have seen a backlash not only from these fundamentalist pastors but also from senior government officials, such as in Zimbabwe for example,” he said. “But what we see now is that in terms of constitutional rights, the right to nondiscrimination should be sufficient to protect the LBGTI community.”
Anderson has called Gigaba a “vile, wicked sinner," but for now, Gigaba has the last word.
Gigaba says the door to South Africa is not permanently closed and that If Anderson wants to come in he can — but first, Gigaba says, the church leader must renounce his views and repent.