News from Africa: Gay Marriage, Somalia, AIDS

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A look at stories making news in Africa: South Africa is paving the way to recognizing gay marriage; there are rising conflicts in Somalia; and the late journalist Ed Bradley made many contributions to Africa's war on AIDS.

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

In this week's Africa Update, more conflict in Somalia. Plus, the late journalist Ed Bradley. He's left thousands in his will to help fight AIDS in Africa. And earlier today, South Africa voted to recognize gay marriage. NPR's special Africa correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault told me that not everyone in the country is happy with that move.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, there's been opposition, and this is likely to continue because this opposition is based in tradition. Religious groups have argued that this is going to infuriate the gods, that it goes against the tradition of male-female relationships.

There's a long-standing African taboo all over the continent against homosexuality, and a lot of the religious leaders have argued that it's going to lead to the disintegration of the family and abnormal sexual behavior like sodomy. But the ruling ANC gave overwhelming support to the bill.

CHIDEYA: Maybe you can give us a little more context on South Africa's constitution and why this - it makes sense in terms of how the country, post-Apartheid, has legally structured itself.

HUNTER-GAULT: South Africa's young constitution is one of the most liberal in the world. And officials have talked about how this new, young democracy, still only 11 years old, has sought to distinguish itself from its unjust and painful past. And also that, you know, the traditional concepts of Africa, African tradition, has to evolve, has to change with the times. And the lead person on this has been South Africa's minister of Home Affairs, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Ngakula, and she has said that, you know, South African society has to roll with the times.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, want to move ahead to a more somber topic of Somalia. That's a nation you're very familiar with, and you have been there many times. Now it looks as if there's even more strife coming between the government and the Islamists controlling the city of Mogadishu. Tell us about that.

HUNTER-GAULT: Yeah, absolutely. I've been going to Somalia since 1991, when the dictator who ruled the country for many years was overthrown. And since that time, we have a failed state in the horn of Africa, which, as you know, is right on the edge of the continent. And now, because of the problems with the Islamists who are trying to impose Islamic rule in the country against the elected government, the possibility now of a war that will engulf the entire horn of Africa - which includes Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea - that possibility looms very large.

CHIDEYA: Well, how effective is this government, the Somali government? Because they seem to be, from what I understand, in some ways exiled by their own country.

HUNTER-GAULT: Well, they're in the country now. They're in Baidoa, which is one of the towns; but they can't get to Mogadishu, which was the capital, because these Islamists have taken over. So the Islamists have gained some support because they have tried to rein in the weapons that keep the country in this fragile and violent state. But at the same time, the big fear is that the Islamists will impose the kind of Taliban-like government you had in Afghanistan which puts women back in the home, makes them wear the veil, makes them, you know, covered, and all of the conservative things that many would be opposed to in Somalia.

CHIDEYA: Finally, I want to turn to what might be considered a small silver lining out of the tragedy, the death of Ed Bradley. You spoke very movingly at his memorial, and he will be missed by so many. But he's also given some of his money that he left in his will to an Africa-related organization. Can you tell us about that?

HUNTER-GAULT: Yes, I mean we all mourn the loss of Ed, who leaves a powerful legacy as a journalist and as a friend, as I guess my best friend. But I think his legacy will live, and it will partly through the kinds of gifts he's given to people like Priscilla Higham, who is a good personal friend.

And she started something called African Solutions to African Problems, ASAP, virtually by herself but with the help of seed money from people like Ed Bradley and Jimmy Buffet. And she has now leveraged that money to create a really successful program that is helping South African women who have been volunteering their time in the rural areas where they've had no real support from anywhere.

She now has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help those volunteers mitigate the impact of HIV and AIDS on orphans and vulnerable children, particularly in the rural areas. Bradley left quite a large sum of money with the public. It's over $150,000, I think, for this work to be carried on. So his legacy will live both in America and Africa - especially South Africa - and probably, we hope, all over the world.

CHIDEYA: Well, Charlayne, that's a great place to leave it. Thank you so much.

HUNTER-GAULT: Thank you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Charlayne Hunter-Gault is NPR's special Africa correspondent.

(Soundbite of music)

CHIDEYA: Well that's our show for today and thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES.

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