South Africa investigates 'gay slur' King Zwelithini

South African President Jacob Zuma (L) applauds Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini (R) on 8 May 2010 after officially opening the Central Terminal building of Durban's new King Shaka International Airport and Dube Trade Port, north of Durban.
Image caption South Africa's President Zuma (l) was at the event where the Zulu king (r) allegedly made the remarks

South Africa's Human Rights Commission is investigating reports that Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini called gay people "rotten" during a speech.

The rights group says it has obtained transcripts to look into the matter.

The royal household has denied that the king made any homophobic comments - and has blamed "reckless translation".

South Africa's Times paper has stood by its translation but has since carried an editorial saying he may have referring to same-sex sexual abusers.

"Suspicious as I am of the king's intentions in uttering these words, we should be careful about the inferences we draw and translations we make," Times columnist S'Thembiso Msomi said.

South Africa's constitution specifically forbids discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation - but homophobia is widespread and gay people complain they are often attacked.

The BBC's Pumza Fihlani in Johannesburg says that as the leader of South Africa's largest ethnic group, King Zwelithini is the most influential of the country's many traditional rulers.

HRC spokesperson Vincent Moaga says the traditional king is respected by millions of South Africans - and they need "an accurate reflection of what he said".

The HRC says it will be writing to the king and will demand an immediate retraction if he admits to making homophobic remarks.

"If it is indeed accurate that His Majesty, the Zulu king, made the utterances as reported, they constitute hate speech... and are inflammatory," Mr Moaga said.

King Goodwill Zwelithini allegedly made the anti-gay remarks in rural eastern South Africa during a ceremony at the weekend to mark the Battle of Isandlwana - a famous 19th Century Zulu victory over British troops.

"Traditionally, there were no people who engaged in same-sex relationships," The Times originally quoted the king as saying.

"There was nothing like that and if you do it, you must know that you are rotten," King Goodwill said, according to the newspaper, adding: "I don't care how you feel about it ... same sex is not acceptable."

But the king's office says the newspaper reports were badly translated and the king's meaning misconstrued.

"At no stage did His Majesty condemn gay relations or same relations," spokesperson Prince Mbonisi Zulu told the Sapa news agency.

The king was referring to cases of male rape as a sign of moral decay, the spokesman said.

President Jacob Zuma - the first Zulu leader of modern South Africa - was also at the weekend ceremony and used the occasion to call on South Africans to end discrimination against gay people.

Last year's brutal murder of 24-year-old gay activist Noxolo Nogwaza highlighted South Africa's growing homophobia, correspondents say.

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