Sunday Times E-Edition

Couple take on Namibian same-sex laws and win

After long legal battle, a South African man and his ‘teddy bear’ will have their marriage recognised


“I’ve been on pause ... and now my life can finally move.” This is how South Africa-born Daniel Digashu describes the past week, in which he and his Namibian husband Johann Potgieter won a nearly seven-year fight to get their same-sex marriage recognised in Namibia.

“I was numb when we got the news because I just couldn’t believe we won and that this chapter of my life is finally over. I cried a lot,” Digashu told the Sunday Times after the couple’s victory in the Namibian supreme court on Tuesday.

It ruled the government must recognise the unions of same-sex couples who married in countries where it is legal. The Namibian government refused to give non-Namibian spouses residency rights, prompting two couples Potgieter and Digashu and German Anita Seiler-Lilles and Namibian Annette Seiler to take legal action.

The court concluded: “The approach of the [interior] ministry to exclude spouses ... in a validly concluded same-sex marriage ... infringes their interrelated rights to dignity and equality.”

Digashu said he felt utter relief when he heard the judgment. “I’m happy for the younger generation because there’s a little bit of hope now for them.”

Same-sex marriage remains illegal in Namibia, but gay rights activists believe this ruling shows the country is moving towards recognising diversity.

Potgieter, 49, owns a telecommunication business in Namibia, which was part of the reason the couple chose to relocate permanently to the country in 2017, with their adopted son Lucas.

“Lucas was born in 2008 and is my aunt’s biological son. His mother died when he was about six years old and on her deathbed I promised her I would look after him,” said Digashu.

Having frequently visited his husband’s homeland and with the help of Potgieter’s family, Digashu and Lucas settled into their new lives in Namibia quickly, but that peace did not last long for Digashu, who could not obtain a work visa or immigrant status.

“From the time we arrived, I lived on a visitor’s visa, going in and out of Namibia every time it lapsed. I would then have to reapply so I could go back. It was hectic.

“I’m not surprised no-one attempted to go to the courts before us; it is such a taxing exercise ... mentally, emotionally and financially.

“It was hard because essentially I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t hustle. I couldn’t study. I couldn’t sell anything because I was on a visitor’s visa and almost everything I did felt like a crime.

“I feel like I have been on pause since I set foot in this country. That for me was the hardest. It made me realise how much of what we have at home we take for granted because here I was unable to chase my dreams. That was emotionally heavy for me, to know that I can’t do anything for myself because the law says I may not.”

The Southern African Litigation Centre is one of the organisations that helped them.

“When we started, we felt so alone. But slowly, as the media caught on to our story, people and activists started supporting us. We definitely took one for the team and while the movement was not where it is now, since we started our fight we have seen it grow.”

Growing up in the rural village of Bakenberg in Limpopo, the 32-year-old said he knew he was gay from a young age. When he brought Potgieter to the village, the only reaction he was concerned about was that of his grandmother, Raesibe Margaret Digashu, who raised him.

He met Potgieter, who was living in Cape Town, on social media.

“When someone supports you in your ambitions and dreams, and just loves you without question, that’s when you know. But it was when I introduced my family to him and there was no drama —‘I don’t like your family’ and stuff like that — that everything just fell into place for me. That’s what made me realise he is the one for me.”

Digashu said Bakenberg was abuzz when a white man arrived on a motorbike in 2012, but when his grandmother said: “I’m just happy that you are happy,” he did not care about anyone else’s opinion.

The couple married in August 2015 in a “joyous and intimate” occasion in a “nice little hall” in Randburg, Johannesburg.

“I called home and told them: ‘I am getting married.’ I remember my poor grandmother was worried. She asked: ‘Are you going to be OK when people start talking? Are you going to be able to handle this?’ But she was happy because I was happy.”

Gushing over his hubby, Digashu described him as a loving “teddy bear”.

“He’s got the softest heart, this husband of mine. He’s such a protector. I think that’s what actually made me fall in love with him. He will protect you to the grave. He is the most loving and generous person I know.”

Where to from here? Digashu can finally just be. He can raise his son and contribute to his community. More than that, he’s determined to help his community start necessary conversations to bring about positive change in Namibia regarding laws that affect the LGBTQI+ the community.

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