Gay pride parades, same-sex marriages and the famously gay-friendly city of Cape Town puts South Africa way ahead of countries such as nearby Malawi, where a gay couple was thrown in jail this month for trying to marry.
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"We still have hate crimes perpetrated against gay and lesbian people in our communities. The legalisation of same-sex unions [in South Africa] did not make our life any easier," said Mahlatjie, who feels gays are still "under siege" in the country.
In Nigeria, northern Muslim states have the death penalty for homosexuality, while anti-gay incidents have flared in Senegal, where the bodies of homosexual men have been exhumed and tossed out of Muslim cemeteries.
Scott Long, Human Rights Watch's director for gay rights issues, says that anti-gay sentiment in Africa rose steeply about 15 years ago when the Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe, started "manipulating the issue for political gain".
Mugabe, who has called gays "worse than dogs and pigs", latched on to the issue to "distract attention from economic and political crises and shore up political support," Long said.
"It was very successful in bringing together different groups," said Long, adding that this trend had spread across the continent to countries such as Nigeria, where the issue has proved a rare unifier among the Muslim north and Christian south.
Mahlatjie says that even in liberal South Africa, legal protection has not made way for social acceptance.
"It is difficult everywhere. We have white South Africans disowned by families because they are gay. We have black lesbian women raped and battered by people in their neighbourhood in a bid to 'cure' them."
South Africa's post-apartheid constitution ensures equal rights for homosexuals, but the government was forced by the courts into recognising same-sex marriage with a 2006 law, after months of protests by the gay community and thousands of its opponents.
While South Africa now has a prominent homosexual judge on its constitutional court, President Jacob Zuma was forced to apologise in 2006 for saying that same-sex marriages were "a disgrace to the nation and to God".
South Africa was "not necessarily more advanced than the rest of Africa," said Dawie Nel, director of the gay rights group OUT. He said it's "still a very homophobic society"