Gay Africa News & Reports (All Africa) 1999-2006
Africa is Dying from AIDS (1998 BBC)
New book 2007: Gay Travels in the Muslim World, Edited by Michael Luongo (ch. 10 by GlobalGayz owner Richard Ammon)
See books review: Gay City News
0 AIDS: The Agony of Africa 11/99 (Pulitzer prize-winning 8-part series of reports by Mark Schoof)
November 9, 1999
AIDS: The Agony of Africa (8-Part series)
by Mark Schoofs
Note: Mark Schoofs won the 2000 Pulitzer prize in journalism for this series of reports)
(Links to the other 7 parts follow this article)
Part 1: The Virus Creates a Generation of Orphans
Penhalonga, Zimbabwe—They didn’t call Arthur Chinaka out of the classroom. The principal and Arthur’s uncle Simon waited until the day’s exams were done before breaking the news: Arthur’s father, his body wracked with pneumonia, had finally died of AIDS. They were worried that Arthur would panic, but at 17 years old, he didn’t. He still had two days of tests, so while his father lay in the morgue, Arthur finished his exams. That happened in 1990.
Then in 1992, Arthur’s uncle Edward died of AIDS. In 1994, his uncle Richard died of AIDS. In 1996, his uncle Alex died of AIDS. All of them are buried on the homestead where they grew up and where their parents and Arthur still live, a collection of thatch-roofed huts in the mountains near Mutare, by Zimbabwe’s border with Mozambique. But HIV hasn’t finished with this family. In April, a fourth uncle lay coughing in his hut, and the virus had blinded Arthur’s aunt Eunice, leaving her so thin and weak she couldn’t walk without help. By September both were dead.
The most horrifying part of this story is that it is not unique. In Uganda, a business executive named Tonny, who asked that his last name not be used, lost two brothers and a sister to AIDS, while his wife lost her brother to the virus. In the rural hills of South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province, Bonisile Ngema lost her son and daughter-in-law, so she tries to support her granddaughter and her own aged mother by selling potatoes. Her dead son was the breadwinner for the whole extended family, and now she feels like an orphan.
In the morgue of Zimbabwe’s Parirenyatwa Hospital, head mortician Paul Tabvemhiri opens the door to the large cold room that holds cadavers. But it’s impossible to walk in because so many bodies lie on the floor, wrapped in blankets from their deathbeds or dressed in the clothes they died in. Along the walls, corpses are packed two to a shelf. In a second cold-storage area, the shelves are narrower, so Tabvemhiri faces a grisly choice: He can stack the bodies on top of one another, which squishes the face and makes it hard for relatives to identify the body, or he can leave the cadavers out in the hall, unrefrigerated. He refuses to deform bodies, and so a pair of corpses lie outside on gurneys behind a curtain. The odor of decomposition is faint but clear.
Have they always had to leave bodies in the hall? "No, no, no," says Tabvemhiri, who has worked in the morgue since 1976. "Only in the last five or six years," which is when AIDS deaths here took off. Morgue records show that the number of cadavers has almost tripled since the start of Zimbabwe’s epidemic, and there’s been a change in who is dying: "The young ones," says Tabvemhiri, "are coming in bulk."
The wide crescent of East and Southern Africa that sweeps down from Mount Kenya and around the Cape of Good Hope is the hardest-hit AIDS region in the world. Here, the virus is cutting down more and more of Africa’s most energetic and productive people, adults aged 15 to 49. The slave trade also targeted people in their prime, killing or sending into bondage perhaps 25 million people. But that happened over four centuries. Only 17 years have passed since AIDS was first found in Africa, on the shores of Lake Victoria, yet according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the virus has already killed more than 11 million sub-Saharan Africans. More than 22 million others are infected.
Only 10 percent of the world’s population lives south of the Sahara, but the region is home to two-thirds of the world’s HIV-positive people, and it has suffered more than 80 percent of all AIDS deaths. Last year, the combined wars in Africa killed 200,000 people. AIDS killed 10 times that number. Indeed, more people succumbed to HIV last year than to any other cause of death on this continent, including malaria. And the carnage has only begun.
Unlike ebola or influenza, AIDS is a slow plague, gestating in individuals for five to 10 years before killing them. Across East and Southern Africa, more than 13 percent of adults are infected with HIV, according to UNAIDS. And in three countries, including Zimbabwe, more than a quarter of adults carry the virus. In some districts, the rates are even higher: In one study, a staggering 59 percent of women attending prenatal clinics in rural Beitbridge, Zimbabwe, tested HIV-positive.
Life expectancy in more than a dozen African countries "will soon be 17 years shorter because of AIDS-47 years instead of 64," says Callisto Madavo, the World Bank’s vice president for Africa. HIV "is quite literally robbing Africa of a quarter of our lives." In the West, meanwhile, the HIV death rate has dropped steeply thanks to powerful drug cocktails that keep the disease from progressing. These regimens must be taken for years, probably for life, and they can cost more than $10,000 per patient per year. Yet in many of the hardest-hit African countries, the total per capita health-care budget is less than $10.
Many people-in Africa as well as the West-shrug off this stark disparity, contending that it is also true for other diseases. But it isn’t. Drugs for the world’s major infectious killers-tuberculosis, malaria, and diarrheal diseases- have been subsidized by the international community for years, as have vaccines for childhood illnesses such as polio and measles. But even at discounted prices, the annual cost of putting every African with HIV on triple combination therapy would exceed $150 billion, so the world is letting a leading infectious killer for which treatment exists mow down millions.
That might be more palatable if there were a Marshall Plan for AIDS prevention to slow the virus’s spread. But a recent study by UNAIDS and Harvard shows that in 1997 international donor countries devoted $150 million to AIDS prevention in Africa. That’s less than the cost of the movie Wild Wild West. Meanwhile, the epidemic is seeping into Central and West Africa. More than a tenth of adults in Côte d’Ivoire are infected. Frightening increases have been documented in Yaoundé and Douala, the largest cities in Cameroon. And in Nigeria-the continent’s most populous country-past military dictatorships let the AIDS control program wither, even while the prevalence of HIV has climbed to almost one in every 20 adults.
Quite simply, AIDS is on track to dwarf every catastrophe in Africa’s recorded history. It is stunting development, threatening the economy, and transforming cultural traditions.
=Epidemics are never merely biological. Even as HIV changes African society, it spreads by exploiting current cultural and economic conditions. "The epidemic gets real only in a context," says Elhadj Sy, head of UNAIDS’s East and Southern Africa Team. "In Africa, people wake up in the morning and try to survive-but the way they do that often puts them at risk for infection." For example, men migrate to cities in search of jobs; away from their wives and families for months on end, they seek sexual release with women who, bereft of property and job skills, are selling their bodies to feed themselves and their children. Back home, wives who ask their husbands to wear condoms risk being accused of sleeping around; in African cultures, it’s usually the man who dictates when and how sex happens.
Challenging such cultural and economic forces requires political will, but most African governments have been shockingly derelict. Lacking leadership, ordinary Africans have been slow to confront the disease. Few companies, for example, have comprehensive AIDS programs. And many families still refuse to acknowledge that HIV is killing their relatives, preferring to say that the person died of TB or some other opportunistic illness. Doctors often collude in this denial. "Just the other day," says a high-ranking Zimbabwean physician who spoke on condition of anonymity, "I wrote AIDS on a death certificate and then crossed it out. I thought, ‘I’ll just be stigmatizing this person, because no one else puts AIDS as the cause of death, even when that’s what it is.’ "
Why is AIDS worse in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world? Partly because of denial; partly because the virus almost certainly originated here, giving it more time to spread; but largely because Africa was weakened by 500 years of slavery and colonialism. Indeed, historians lay much of the blame on colonialism for Africa’s many corrupt and autocratic governments, which hoard resources that could fight the epidemic. Africa, conquered and denigrated, was never allowed to incorporate international innovations on its own terms, as, for example, Japan did.
This colonial legacy poisons more than politics. Some observers attribute the spread of HIV to polygamy, a tradition in many African cultures. But job migration, urbanization, and social dislocation have created a caricature of traditional polygamy. Men have many partners not through marriage but through prostitution or sugar-daddy arrangements that lack the social glue of the old polygamy.
Of course, the worst legacy of whites in Africa is poverty, which fuels the epidemic in countless ways.
Having a sexually transmitted disease multiplies the chances of spreading and contracting HIV, but few Africans obtain effective treatment because the clinic is too expensive or too far away. Africa’s wealth was either funneled to the West or restricted to white settlers who barred blacks from full participation in the economy. In apartheid South Africa, blacks were either not educated at all or taught only enough to be servants. Now, as the country suffers one of the world’s most explosive AIDS epidemics, illiteracy hampers prevention. Indeed, AIDS itself is rendering Africa still more vulnerable to any future catastrophe, continuing history’s vicious cycle.
Yet AIDS is not merely a tale of despair. Increasingly, Africans are banding together- usually with meager resources-to care for their sick, raise their orphans, and prevent the virus from claiming more of their loved ones. Their efforts offer hope. For while a crisis of this magnitude can disintegrate society, it can also unify it. "To solve HIV," says Sy, "you must involve yourself: your attitudes and behavior and beliefs. It touches upon the most fundamental social and cultural things-procreation and death."
AIDS is driving a new candor about sex-as well as new efforts to control it, through virginity testing and campaigns that advocate sticking to one partner. And slowly, fitfully, it is also giving women more power. The death toll is scaring women into saying no to sex or insisting on condoms. And as widows proliferate, people are beginning to see the harm in denying them the right to inherit property.
The epidemic is also transforming kinship networks, which have been the heart of most African cultures. Orphans, for example, have always been enfolded into the extended family.
But more than 7 million children in sub-Saharan Africa have lost one or both parents, and the virus is also killing their aunts and uncles, depriving them of foster parents and leaving them to live with often feeble grandparents. In response, communities across Africa are volunteering to help orphans through home visits and, incredibly, by sharing the very little they have. Such volunteerism is both a reclaiming of communal traditions and their adaptation into new forms of civil society.
But even heroic efforts can’t stop the damage that’s already occurred here in the hills where Arthur Chinaka lost his father and uncles. The worst consequence of this epidemic is not the dead, but the living they leave behind.
=Rusina Kasongo lives a couple of hills over from Chinaka. Like a lot of elderly rural folk who never went to school, Kasongo can’t calculate how old she is, but she can count her losses: Two of her sons, one of her daughters, and all their spouses died of AIDS, and her husband died in an accident. Alone, she is rearing 10 orphaned children. "Sometimes the children go out and come home very late," says Kasongo, "and I’m afraid they’ll end up doing the same thing as Tanyaradzwa." That’s the daughter who died of AIDS; she had married twice, the first time in a shotgun wedding. Now, the eldest orphan, 17-year-old Fortunate, already has a child but not a husband.
Few people have conducted more research on AIDS orphans than pediatrician Geoff Foster, who founded the Family AIDS Caring Trust (FACT). It was Foster who documented that more than half of Zimbabwe’s orphans are being cared for by grandparents, usually grandmothers who had nursed their own children to the grave. But even this fragile safety net won’t be there for many of the next generation of orphans. "Perhaps one-third of children in Zimbabwe will have lost a father or mother-or both-to AIDS," says Foster. They are more likely to be poor, he explains, more likely to be deprived of education, more likely to be abused or neglected or stigmatized, more likely to be seething with all the needs that make it more likely that a person will have unsafe sex. "But when they get HIV and die, who cares for their children? Nobody, because they’re orphans, so by definition their kids have no grandparents. It’s just like the virus itself. In the body, HIV gets into the defense system and knocks it out. It does that sociologically, too. It gets into the extended family support system and decimates it."
Foster’s chilling realization is dawning on other people who work in fields far removed from HIV. This year, South African crime researcher Martin Schönteich published a paper that begins by noting, "In a decade’s time every fourth South African will be aged between 15 and 24. It is at this age group where people’s propensity to commit crime is at its highest. At about the same time there will be a boom in South Africa’s orphan population as the Aids epidemic takes its toll." While some causes of crime can be curtailed, Schönteich writes, "Other causes, such as large numbers of juveniles in the general population, and a high proportion of children brought up without adequate parental supervision, are beyond the control of the state." His conclusion: "No amount of state spending on the criminal justice system will be able to counter this harsh reality."
More AIDS and more crime are among the most dramatic consequences of the orphan explosion. But Nengomasha Willard sees damage that is harder to measure. Willard teaches 11-and 12-year-olds at Saint George’s Primary School, located near the Chinakas and the Kasongos. Fifteen of Willard’s 42 pupils have lost one or both of their parents, but he’s particularly worried about one of his students who lost his father and then, at his mother’s funeral, cried inconsolably. "He doesn’t want to participate," says Willard. "He just wants to be alone."
"I see thousands of children sitting in a corner," says Foster. "The impact is internalized-it’s depression, being withdrawn." In Africa, says Foster, the focus on poverty eclipses research into psychological issues, but he has published disturbing evidence of abuse-emotional, physical, and sexual. Meanwhile, the orphan ranks keep swelling. "We’re talking 10 percent who will have lost both parents, maybe 15 percent. Twenty-five percent who will have lost a mother. What does that do to a society, especially an impoverished society?"
= Among his students, Willard has noticed that some of the orphans come to school without shoes or, in Zimbabwe’s cold winter, without a sweater. Sometimes their stepfamilies put them last on the list, but often it’s because grandmothers can’t scrape together enough money.
Among economists, there has been a quiet debate over whether HIV will harm the economy. Some think it won’t. With unemployment rates in sub-Saharan Africa between 30 and 70 percent, they reason that there are plenty of people to replenish labor losses. One scenario is that economic growth might slacken, but population growth will also dwindle, so per capita GNP might hold steady or even rise. Then, says Helen Jackson, executive director of the Southern Africa AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS), Africa might face the grotesque irony of "an improvement in some macroeconomic indicators, but the exact opposite at the level of households and human suffering."
But evidence is mounting that the economy will suffer. Between 20 and 30 percent of workers in South Africa’s gold mining industry-the mainstay of that country’s economy-are estimated to be HIV-positive, and replacing these workers will cut into the industry’s productivity. In Kenya, a new government report predicts that per capita income could sink by 10 percent over the next five years. In Côte d’Ivoire, a teacher dies every school day. Then there are the effects that can’t be quantified. "What does AIDS do for the image of Africa?" asks Tony Barnett, a veteran researcher on the economic impact of AIDS. To lure investors, the continent already has to battle underdevelopment and racism, but now, he says, many people will see Africa as "diseased, sexually diseased. It chimes in with so many stereotypes."
Beneath the corporate economy, millions of Africans subsist by cultivating their own small plot of land. When someone in the family comes down with AIDS, the other members have to spend time caring for that person, which means less time cultivating crops. And when death comes, the family loses a crucial worker. Studies have documented that among rural AIDS-stricken families, food production falls, savings dwindle, and children are more likely to be undernourished. For Kasongo and her 10 orphans, food is a constant problem, but now it has become even harder. On her way back from the fields, carrying a basket of maize on her head, Kasongo tripped and fell. Her knee is swollen, her back is aching, and cultivating the fields is close to impossible. Here, under the radar of macroeconomic indicators, Kasongo’s ordeal shows how AIDS is devastating Africa.
This is the context in which one of Africa’s most agonizing debates is taking place: Should doctors administer drugs to pregnant women that sharply reduce the chances that a baby will be born with HIV? So far, the debate has centered on the cost of the drugs, but a new, inexpensive regimen has pushed thornier arguments to the surface. The "vaccine for babies," as it is sometimes called, does not treat the mother and so does nothing to reduce the chances the baby will become an orphan. That’s why Uganda’s Major Rubaramira Ruranga, a well-known activist who is himself infected with HIV, opposes it. "Many children in our countries die of malnutrition, even with both parents," he argues. "Without parents, it’s almost certain they’ll die." Isn’t it impossible to know the fate of any given child and presumptuous to decide it in advance? "That’s sentimental," he snaps.
Even Foster, who believes "every child has a right to be born without HIV," wonders whether the money is best spent on the "technical fix" of giving drugs to the pregnant women. The medicine is only a part of the cost, for women can infect their children during breast feeding, which raises expensive problems such as providing formula and teaching mothers how to use it safely in places where clean water may not exist. Would all that money, Foster wonders, be better spent alleviating the root causes of why women get infected in the first place? "It’s very difficult to stand up and make such an argument because you get portrayed as a beast," he says. In fact, such arguments testify to how the epidemic is forcing Africans to grapple with impossible choices.
= Weston Tizora is one of thousands of Africans who are trying to give orphans a decent life. Just 25 years old, Tizora started as a gardener at Saint Augustine’s Mission and threw himself into volunteering in the mission’s AIDS program, called Kubatana, a Shona word meaning "together." Next year he will take over the program’s leadership from its founder, British nurse Sarah Hinton. Kubatana’s 37 volunteers care for homebound patients, and they help raise orphans by, for example, bringing food to Rusina Kasongo’s brood.
Just a few steps from Kasongo live Cloud and Joseph Tineti. They’re 14 and 11, respectively, and the oldest person in their home is their 15-year-old brother. They are, in the language of AIDS workers, a child-headed household. Who’s in charge? "No one," Joseph answers-and it shows. Their one-room shack is strewn with dirty clothes, unwashed dishes, broken chairs. On the table, a roiling mass of ants feasts on pumpkin seeds and some kind of dried leaves.
The troubles run deeper. Their father, who had divorced their mother before she died, lives in nearby Mutare. Does he bring food? "Yes," says Joseph, "every week." It’s not true, Tizora maintains. Kubatana members have even talked with the police in their effort to convince the father to take in his children or at least support them. But the police did not act, explains Tizora, because the father is unemployed and struggling to provide for the family of his second wife. Once a month-sometimes not even that often-he brings small amounts of food, so the orphans depend on donations from Kubatana volunteers.
But if little Joseph’s version isn’t true, it’s what an orphaned kid would want: a father who at least brings food, stops by frequently, and acts a little like a dad. And his mother: What does Joseph remember of her? The question is too much, and he starts crying.
Kubatana volunteers are supposed to look after the Tineti orphans, so why is their home so unkempt? There used to be two volunteers in this area, explains Tizora. One has been reassigned to work in the nearby mining village, ravaged by AIDS. The other has been away at her parents’ home for two months, attending to a family funeral and to her own late-stage pregnancy.
And everyone in these villages has their hands full. Standing in a valley, Tizora points to the hillsides around him and says, "There are orphans in that home, and the one over there, and there by the gum trees. And see where there’s that white house? They’re taking care of orphans there, too." By the time he finishes, he has pointed out about half of the homesteads. When the Kubatana program started, in 1992, volunteers identified 20 orphans. Now they have registered 3000. In many parts of Africa, notes Jackson of SAfAIDS, "It has actually become the norm to have orphaned children in the household rather than the exception."
Foster makes some quick calculations: Given the number of volunteers in the Kubatana program, there’s no way they can care for all their orphans. So when a volunteer gets pregnant, has a family emergency, or gets sick, kids like Cloud and Joseph fall through the cracks. Says Foster: "You can’t lose a quarter of your adult population in 10 years without catastrophic consequences."
In his office, Tizora has a wall of photographs showing the original 20 orphans. One is a girl who looks about 12. She lost her parents and then she lost the grandma who was caring for her. At that point, she started refusing to go to school, hiding on the way there. Now, she’s run away and, Tizora says, "we don’t know where she is."
(Note: some of the following links redirect to the Village Voice archive and will not connect; if access is desired, go to the Village voice archive and use their search function. The articles are all there.)
AIDS: The Agony of Africa
Part 2: A Tale of Two Brothers
by Mark Schoofs
November 10 – 16, 1999
AIDS: The Agony of Africa
Part 3: Africa Responds
Bereft of medicine and money, traditional cultures mobilize in a new way.
by Mark Schoofs
November 17 – 23, 1999
AIDS: The Agony of Africa
Part 4: The Virus, Past and Future
There Are Two AIDS Epidemics—and More May Be Coming
by Mark Schoofs
November 24 – 30, 1999
AIDS: The Agony of Africa
Part 5: Death and the Second Sex
by Mark Schoofs
December 1 – 7, 1999
AIDS: The Agony of Africa
Part 6: Ending the Epidemic
African Prostitutes May Play a Crucial Role in Developing an HIV Vaccine
by Mark Schoofs
December 15 – 21, 1999
AIDS: The Agony of Africa
Part 7: South Africa Acts Up
Building a Movement on the Ruins of Apartheid
by Mark Schoofs
December 22 – 28, 1999
AIDS: The Agony of Africa
Part 8: Use What You Have–Treating AIDS Without Money
by Mark Schoofs
December 29, 1999 – January 4, 2000
Breaking the Taboos – Homosexuality in Africa (Homophobic replies to BBC talk show)
Homosexuality is a taboo subject in many parts of Africa – but on Wednesday Africa Live! (TV) tackled it head on.
One e-mail said Mugabe’s attitude to gays was the only thing he agreed with. A caller from Uganda displayed some of the vitriol that exists towards homosexuals. "It’s totally wrong…we should help these people regain themselves, they are sick people, who need treatment," he said. A common theme from callers, and within emails, was that homosexuality is un-African and does not exist on the continent. Hilarius called from the Ghana-Togo border with this comment "Homosexuality shouldn’t be accepted, it’s not the plan of God …it’s completely bad and I don’t think it originates from Africa. "I think it is Satanic and controlled by evil spirits". It can be difficult for gay people to speak out.
Guests with our roving reporters in Ghana and Kenya alluded to having gay friends, but no one at either location was openly homosexual. But evidence of gay practise did emerge. A caller from Sierra Leone talked of how he had numerous approaches from gay men and Kofi in Ghana described the realities of life as a gay man there. "Nobody’s saying we want to have gay pride in the streets. It would be comfortable to be safe and be part of society…I’ve had people call me names, friends have been attacked and even in some cases people have been blackmailed; even if someone else makes a pass at you, you would be doubtful of their intentions."
Kofi – not his real name – would only appear on Africa Live with his name changed and voice disguised. This though was not the case for the gay men who the programme spoke with in South Africa, which has the most progressive gay legislation in the world.
June 28, 2002: The issue of homosexuality has excited deep and often extreme reactions in Africa. In Uganda, for example, the pracitce – referred to as "carnal knowledge of another against the order of nature" – has been outlawed by president Museveni, while Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe claimed homosexuals were "worse than pigs and dogs." But South Africa has the most permissve gay rights legislation in the whole world, and also hosts several successful Gay Pride marches. Meanwhile events such as the Gay Games are well-attended by people from throughout the continent.
The views of readers:
Henry Williams, Sierra Leone
"Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. Human beings believe they are superior to animals like dogs, cats etc. Why do we have to go below them through our behaviors like homosexuality? A homosexual, I believe, is a person who belongs to another planet not ours and therefore should be treated that way may be to be taken to a different planet. They do not belong on this planet Earth. They are strange and foreign beings. Are they from Mars, Jupiter? You tell us!"
Osa Davies, United Kingdom
"Africa and Africans should not respect or entertain homosexuality in any form or fashion. Gay recognition and rights is a Western thing. African culture and tradition does support nor encourage such things… if I may go further here, neither does almight God support such a sinful act."
Gabriel Carrier Walker, Canada
"Of the many things that are stymying progress and development in the continent of Africa, certainly ignorance and disrespect for the lives of others are chief amongst them. I don’t think the African continent can afford itself the luxury of being hateful and intolerant. There is far more at stake than any vapid "principles of moral conduct". Homosexuality is neither an abhoration nor an affront to anything. It is surprising that in a continent such as Africa, a continent that has known the lash of senseless discrimination, some people continue to view the dehumanisation of a particular group of human beings as legitimate or acceptable. Fools."
Abubakar Ibrahim, Accra, Ghana
"Much as society sees everything wrong with homosexuality, there is more to blame on society than the individual(s). For instance when one is about 24 without a girlfriend people with start assuming the person is gay. The bottom line is that sometimes one is just so serious with attaining a goal in life that chasing girls as well as attaining that goal will mean making difficult choices. Obviously, one can’t look into one bottle with two eyes. Like I say everyday, there are two sins in life; to be poor and live poor. Avoid one."
Josie Welty, USA
"South Africa Does homosexuality really not exist in any traditional African societies? Or have the traditional societies simply turned a blind eye to it, therefore, not politicising the issue as Western societies have recently done? This is an important question. Many people seem to think that homosexuality is a Western import to Africa, whereas I suspect it is a part of every society, it’s just a matter of how widespread the awareness and the understanding of it is."
Anonymous Kenyan in the USA
"On a personal level, I think homosexuality is extremely immoral. But it is not up to me to decide what others should do and believe, therefore I do not think anyone should be denied something that does not directly harm another. Homosexuals will not go away just because they have been denied some rights. We were all created with free will – and everyone is accountable for their actions. So I think that all should mind their ps and qs when it comes to personal matters such as these. Bottom line is that everyone of us is human before they are anything else."
John Ernest Tokpah, Liberian in Minnesota, USA
"I personally feel that homosexuality does not have a role in our society, therefore this is no right for homosexual in the first place in Africa to be respected. Homosexuality is a curse and I think God will punish those who are engage this act, just as God reacted to the people of Sodom and Gomorroh in the Bible."
Kemoh Rogers, UK
"I dont know what makes people homosexuals but after talking to a few close friends who are gay, I think that it is not their choice to be gay. Denying them their rights to live the way they have to is total deprivation of their rights to live as human beings. That is exactly what is hapening to gay people in Africa. I think the african society should face up to reality and accept that some men are just homosexuals and nothing else. Democratic governments have a big role to play by making it unlawful to discriminate and chastise gay men and lesbians."
Andrew A. Daramy, USA
"If Africa is willing to throw away its culture and ethics only to the Western culture and principles and be a fool for the second time, then yes, Africa should to respect the right of the homosexuals. But the continient should be ready to face more health problems than ever. To be in the safer side I suggest that African governments should go all out to suppress the practices and the rights of those people until there are enough medical facilities are in place. Othewise do not attempt because there will be no way out poverty and diseases."
April 28, 2003
Christian’s Dilemma Over Homosexual Affairs
by Joyce Mulama,
Nairobi – One of the most hotly debated issues in Africa today is homosexuality. Its exposure on the continent has excited deep and often extreme reactions. Some observers dismiss the habit as a western culture, yet it is spreading through the continent like a wild bush fire. Still, African traditions do not accept it, and one can almost be cursed at the mention of the word, reports Joyce Mulama. A number of African countries have openly condemned homosexuality and anything that goes with it. In Uganda, for example, the practice, which is also referred to as "carnal knowledge of another against the order of nature", has been outlawed.
Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, was once reported to have said that homosexuals were "worse than pigs and dogs." Reports indicate that South Africa has the most permissive gay rights legislation in the world, and also hosts several successful Gay Pride Marches (promotional gay events), which are well attended. Behavioural experts contend that in environments where homosexuality is not acceptable, its tendencies exist but are concealed. "In such areas, homosexuals do it quietly and do not express themselves because of fear," observes Dr Maxwell Okonji, a psychiatrist in Nairobi. He adds that in cultures where the habit is accepted, homosexuals will have voices, mostly through unions.
Opponents of homosexuality say it is unnatural. They note that it is wrong in the context of Christianity. "God didn’t create man and man, he created man and woman; Adam and eve," says 27 year old Selina Babazi, a staunch Christian. She describes homosexuality as obscene, adding, "there is no justification for one to choose that way of life." A 70 year-old village elder in Western Kenya, Waukhila Kasili, exclaims, "I simply do not understand how someone can become a homosexual. These are not normal people." He adds: "True African traditions do not, and will never accept such weird behaviour." Other idealists against homosexuality maintain that it is a western ideology that has been imported into the continent.
But Dr Okonji differs, saying: "This is a universal biological predisposition which gets inhibited in certain cultures, where it is not acceptable." He adds, "how it comes out, it is the society that determines." Rev Dr Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), concurs that homosexuality is known in Africa as it is elsewhere. "It is part of every society," he says, adding, "The only difference is how people react to it, how widespread the awareness of it is." Medical experts grade homosexuality as a sexual deviation. They explain that there is a biological make-up to sexual orientation, and it is dependant on sex hormones. By the time an individual is born, the sexual orientation is already present. "In a few people, something goes on with their sexual orientation such that individuals feel that the biological sex they have is wrong, and that they should have the other sex.
They then develop a psychological orientation despite their genital orientation," notes Okonji. "The individual now starts to be attracted to members of the same sex," explains Okonji, adding that in this attraction, there is a passive and aggressive partner. The aggressive one behaves like the man, while the passive partner plays the role of a woman. However, whether homosexuality is a psychiatric problem or not, remains a controversial issue. Dr Okonji asserts that homosexuality is much more a problem of society than anything else. Nevertheless, there are those who view it as a medical problem, others say it is genetic. Head of Theology and Interfaith Desk at the All Africa Conference of Churches, Rev Arnold Temple, poses: "If truly it is [a medical problem], then why shouldn’t medical experts seek ways of correcting it?"
Realising the complexity of homosexuality, the Church in Africa has been deliberating on how to handle the issue, which analysts term as fragile. Early in the year, Archbishop of the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa (CPSA), Njongonkulu Ndungane, called on Southern Africa’s 10 million Anglicans to address the issue of homosexuality in a manner that would generate mutual understanding and bring people out of their corners of conviction. His call came following a resolution adopted after an Anglican Synod late last year, which noted pastoral needs of the homosexually oriented. It is in this regard that Archbishop Ndungane circulated a discussion document on Human Sexuality to the clergy in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Namibia and Angola, all which fall under his province. "People are hurting as they continue to feel rejected, despised, misunderstood, demonised and ‘unchurched’ because of their orientation and convictions," states part of the eight-paged document.
At the 1998 Anglican Lambeth Conference, a resolution on sexuality failed primarily because of the African vote. It wanted to allow same-sex unions and for the ordination of practising homosexuals. Rev Temple underlines that the subject of homosexuality requires much reflection, and that there are many sides to be looked at, for the Church to come up with one voice. He points out that the Church’s ethical view, traditional and Biblical standpoints are areas that need to be considered. "In Africa, I do not know of any church that has actually taken a position on homosexuality," he says. The 1998 Lambeth Resolution on human sexuality includes clauses like "we commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ." Rev Temple assents, adding that even though homosexuality is abnormal, and not God’s will for humankind, people in that kind of sexual orientation should not be discriminated against.
"I do not think any of God’s children should be discriminated against because of race, tribe, gender or sexual orientation." The CPSA homosexuality discussion document underlines that homosexuals should be welcomed, and sexuality should not infringe on the roles they play in Church. But on the issue of ordination, Rev Temple maintains: "Homosexuality is a sexual perversion and sexual perverts should not be ordained." He, however, adds: "If they are able to overcome the sexual perversion, then they should be ordained." Rev Noko underscores the need for deep theological study on homosexuality, and pastoral care for those practising it. "If someone declares their gay status, we have to emulate how Christ acted when he met ‘outcasts’," he states, referring to the humble nature of Jesus and how he received even those who had been condemned by society.
May 7, 2003
Pink Refugees: African Gays Seek Refuge in South Africa
by Adam Levin, Planet Syndication
Sunday night at the Summit Club in Hillbrow, Johannesburg
Anita, a pint-sized Whitney Houston lookalike in white micro-mini and fuck-off platforms, is belting out a flawless lip-synch of Miss Whitney’s classic, ‘It’s not right, but it’s OK’. Anita’s upturned almond eyes sparkle as the red stage light brushes her high, honeyed cheekbones. She gyrates, bends, touches her toes, and flashes that impossibly broad white smile. Her energy is total. The audience – mostly black, male and heterosexual – chug down their Black Labels and cheer raucously. Little do they realise the title of the song has a certain hidden poignancy.
First up, Anita is not a woman, but a young Nigerian man called Azubike Udogo, known to his friends as Azu. Azu is currently in the process of applying for refugee status in South Africa on the grounds of his sexual orientation. "I can’t go back to Nigeria," he fumes over a glass of Lemon Twist in his Troyeville apartment. "I’ll go somewhere else if I have to. Anywhere. If I go back to Nigeria they’ll kill me or they’ll throw me in jail and that’s it." Just how well founded this claim is, however, is a matter for the adjudicators at South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs. As a signatory of a 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees, South Africa is obliged to grant refugee status to asylum seekers who have been victims of systematic persecution in their home countries. Not only must they offer proof of this persecution; they must show the inability or unwillingness of their governments to offer them protection.
While asylum seekers await judgement, which can take anything up to six years, they live half-lives without ID books or access to bank accounts. Although they are entitled to work, the asylum seeker’s permit must be renewed every three months. Given the transience of this legal status, it is extremely difficult to secure employment or even a lease. But luckily, Azu is a fighter. He has a day job in the call centre of a Randburg attorney’s office, while at night Anita fills the breadbasket. Azu studies French, performs, socialises. Yet, having first presented his case in June 2000, he is, understandably, feeling rather frustrated at this stage. Azu was born 29 years ago in Lagos, the economic capital of Africa’s most populated country. Though he realised he was gay from an early age, he was always too frightened to admit this to anyone.
Not only would his family reject him, thanks to a strict Victorian penal code, homosexuality is still illegal in Nigeria, and two men found having sex are liable for up to 14 years’ imprisonment. Furthermore, it is alleged that in Lagos there are private groups of vigilantes who prey on gay men, humiliating and harassing them. Worse still, in the country’s Northern states – where Islamic or sharia law has recently been implemented – homosexuality is punishable by execution. While at least one gay man has been flogged publicly, last year a young man in Kebbeh province – accused of having sex with a male minor – was sentenced to death by stoning. Even in Lagos, Nigerian society is a long way from liberated when it comes to gay rights.
While historically it was customary for powerful Hausa men to share their wealth with young male lovers as well as their female harems, in Post-Colonial Nigeria it is almost impossible to be an out homosexual. According to the affidavit of Adolph Mabunda, a young, gay Nigerian in Johannesburg, "I am regarded as a public disgrace [in Lagos]. At University, I was often insulted by being called derogatory names like [H]’Omo Detergent’. I was rejected and excluded from the mainstream… I am an enemy to my family because they say I have brought shame on them".
Ironically, the situation is so dire that Lagos Alliance Rights, an underground gay organisation, which cannot be registered, spends much of its resources helping persecuted gay Nigerians to leave the country. Azu worked as a travel agent in Lagos. He drove a decent car and enjoyed a relatively high standard of living. As his family was from River State, where Ken Saro-Wiwa had recently been killed, Azu participated in some peaceful anti-government demonstrations. Secretly he had also begun dressing in drag. Armed with fierce dancing skills and that killer smile, he had won two major titles in the city’s underground drag contests – Miss Lagos and Miss Nigeria. He had also established a secret relationship with a man but this had ended when – under extreme pressure from his family – the man had been persuaded to marry.
It was back in 1996, while walking one evening on the streets of Lagos, that Azu was arrested on suspicion of homosexuality – a charge that carries a seven-year sentence in its own right. The police held Azu in the cells without laying a formal charge. They beat him. Indeed, he still has the mark on his back from where he was whacked with a policeman’s baton. Eventually, after a week behind bars, the charge was changed to "Late Wandering." Azu paid a fine and was released. Around two years later, Azu was visiting what he calls a "Man to Man" bar in Lagos. Though nothing as overt as a gay club, the venue was known to have a partly gay clientele. Late that night, police raided the premises, throwing more thirty patrons into a van and yelling "You are worse than dogs!" Had Azu not had sufficient money to grease the officers’ palms, he would have been imprisoned again.
It was then that he decided to flee the country. "If I couldn’t be who I really was," he recalls. "I didn’t want to live anymore". Azu had read on the Internet about South Africa’s progressive stance on homosexuality. As the only African country with anti-discrimination laws in its constitution and strong gay rights movement, it seemed a likely place of refuge. And so he gave up everything he’d established in Lagos and began the long journey, by road, through Cameroon, Congo, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, arriving eventually in Johannesburg in late 1998.
As he had no idea that sexual orientation was grounds for asylum, Azu applied on political grounds. With an asylum seeker’s permit granted, he began making his life in Johannesburg. He made new friends and got accustomed to the liberty of living openly as a gay man. "Finally, I didn’t have to hide," he says. "I could just be myself and feel safe. It was magic." Azu also began making his name on the drag circuit, belting through Jennifer Holiday and Aretha Franklin at Monte Casino and private parties. At one point, he was flown down to Cape Town to perform at a Camps Bay restaurant.
It was only after two years in the country that Azu heard, via the grapevine, of Abeeda Bhamjee, a young Moslem and Legal Counsellor for Refugees at Wits Law Clinic. "Azu came and told us his story," says Avida. "And we took his case to Home Affairs". Azu is not the first gay African to apply for asylum here. Wendy Isaack, Legal Advisor at the National Coalition for Gay & Lesbian Equality, has processed around ten similar cases in the past few years. They have included nationals from Zambia, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While nine have been successful as asylum seekers, only one has actually been granted refugee status so far.
In October 2001, Azu was summoned for an adjudicators’ hearing at Home Affairs. Four months later, he received a letter of response. His application had been declined. Home Affairs had not accepted his claims of persecution. They also stated that he was able to take legal action against antagonists back home – though the fact that Nigeria’s legal system runs against the liberal tenets of our constitution was ignored. The implication – and one that I, as a gay man, find offensive – was that he should return to Nigeria and simply live in the closet.
Understandably, Home Affairs is in a difficult position. There are more than six hundred million people on this continent. At least half of them live in countries where human rights abuses occur and the modern liberties we have become accustomed to are but a dream. Toss in the needs of our own indigent population and the hordes of economic migrants creeping desperately over our borders and it is clear that the refugee question is one of the major challenges facing this country.
Furthermore, as Bhamjee points out, during the Apartheid years African countries offered residence to exiled South African activists and helped them mobilise against the regime. Surely, given Thabo Mbeki’s grand NEPAD drive, there is room for some reciprocity? In the nine years that have passed since democracy however, South Africa has been less than generous in its stance towards those who are fleeing. We have accepted around 70 000 asylum seekers, of which 18-20 000 have been granted refugee status. While this may sound like a large number, it compares feebly with much poorer countries like Tanzania, which have camps housing up to a million people at a time. In South Africa, we have no refugee camps. Asylum seekers are housed in urban areas and are offered very little support from the government. Furthermore, while refugees are legally entitled to apply for citizenship after five years in a country, according to Abeeda Bhamjee, "to my knowledge, none has been granted."
While Home Affairs protest that a high workload prevents them from processing cases quickly, Bhamjee says the amount of time most asylum seekers wait for judgement is unreasonable. Indeed, there have also been various allegations of bribery at Home Affairs – specifically that asylum seekers are required to pay bribes to renew their permits. When they are granted refugee status however, they do not require renewals, and this alleged under-the-counter income dries up. If this is true, it is in the interests of corrupt Home Affairs officials to prolong the process. In March 2002, Avida Bhamjee launched an internal appeal at Home Affairs. If this fails, Azu could take his case to the High Court at a minimal cost of around R15 000. If that fails, Azu may need to return to Nigeria, where he may be in greater danger after having lodged such a public appeal.
Indeed, other clients of Bhamjee`s have decided against lodging applications based on sexual orientation for fear of rejection from their communities. Whether or not Azu is entitled to refugee status remains a very tricky ethical question. When I discuss his experience of harassment with a black, gay, local friend, he exclaims, "Well, who wasn’t? The guy should go home and fight for gay civil rights in Nigeria. They need him."
For me, however, the ultimate reckoning lies neither in the degree of persecution Azu could suffer back home nor in the unlikeness of his finding protection. For me, the mere fact that Azu cannot be who is in Nigeria is a gross violation of a basic human right to individuality and self-expression and should, alone, be grounds for asylum. It is clear from their correspondence that Home Affairs has little experience in dealing with such cases. The fact that adjudicators asked Azu to "prove" he is gay displays an insensitivity to the complex issues of sexuality. Ultimately, whether or not Azubike Udogo is granted refuge, the onus lies on brave gays and lesbians here and throughout this continent to stand up, roll up their sleeves, toss their fists in the air and state, "It`s not right!"
July 14, 2004
Catholic and Anglican Primates reject gay faithful
by Patrick Wachira and Ben Agina
Catholic Archbishop Ndingi Mwana a’ Nzeki and Anglican Primate Benjamin Nzimbi yesterday spoke with one voice against gays and lesbians. Ndingi told Kenya’s Christians to reject and fight against homosexuality and lesbianism. Nzimbi, who was the first clergyman to voice opposition to gay bishops in the local church, stood firm in his opposition to such relationships. Ndingi said that the emergence of the so-called lifestyles was a big scandal that must be prevented from taking root in the country and continent. Ndingi said that there was need to discuss the matter and find a lasting solution, adding that the issue should not be deferred for any reason.
"We should not say ‘it is not here yet’. The idea is to hit it before it comes!" said he. Ndingi said the youth especially should be at the forefront in fighting against homosexuality and lesbianism. The storm over the proposed marriage by an Anglican priest to a man has by grown leaps and bounds, with purists questioning the sincerity of such marriages and their impact on the family set-up, with all its attendant values. The admission by the priest that he was gay was in itself a development of scandalous proportions and an unprecedented occurrence in the church hierarchy. Said Ndingi yesterday: "We need to act now and not tomorrow. What you can do today, do not wait until tomorrow."
Saying that Africa’s great enemy would be despair, the Primate added that the will to live must supersede all else. "If two people are on the point of death, and one loses the will to live, he will die while the one that will harbour the strong will to live will, indeed, outlive the other," he added. Ndingi said Christians should practice their faith, all the time, argue for it and live according to it. He was speaking at Dagoretti Corner when he officially opened Shalom House after presiding over a graduation ceremony of 24 graduands in peace-building and reconciliation.
The graduands, drawn from Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan and Burundi, were hosted for the course, lasting six months, under the aegis of the Africa Peace Point. Nzimbi maintained his uncompromising stand that the Anglican church will not accept the admission of homosexuals into the fold. Speaking at the All Saints Cathedral after the installation of the Rev Peter Mwangi as the new Provost, Nzimbi said the ACK does not believe in a man-to-man relationship.
The Archbishop said the recent attempted consecration of a gay bishop in the UK frauds the mainstream Anglican teaching on human sexuality. Noting that same sex marriages go against biblical principles, Nzimbi said the Church cannot allow such practices that would endanger the unity of the Anglican communion. But as Nzimbi was giving his stand, the visiting Anglican Church Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, said debate on the issue, which has flared at the Church’s headquarters in England and Kenya, should be allowed to go on.
Jones said the issue of admitting gays into the church was contained in a report prepared by the church’s headquarters in Canterbury but had not been debated. Like Nzimbi, Jones was speaking outside the All Saints Cathedral after attending the installation of Mwangi. He said he was in the country to listen to the views of Kenyans and the ACK in particular on the issue of homosexuality. Jones, who is attending the week-long Evangelical Fellowship of Anglican Communion (Efac) workshop in Limuru, said he hopes that this issue will not break up the Anglican Church.
"We need to pray together so that we remain united. The more united we are the better," said Jones. Last month, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan William said that the gay clergy Rev Jeffrey John’s appointment did not violate Church of England teaching. But days later it was reported that John had planned to seek permission from Queen Elizabeth II to withdraw his acceptance of his appointment as Bishop of Reading in the Diocese of Oxford. The issue of homosexuality has recently flared up elsewhere in the world-wide Anglican Communion; with the election last month of a gay priest, the Rev Canon Gene Robinson, as Bishop of Hampshire in the United States.
August 10, 2003
37 African bishops denounce gay bishops’s appointment
by Marc Lacey, New York Times
Anglican leaders across Africa, where homosexuality is publicly scorned, have denounced the decision of the Episcopal Church in the United States to elect an openly gay bishop and they predict a schism within the global Anglican Communion unless that election is overturned. "It’s wrong and it’s against the Bible," said the Rev. Joseph Mutie Kanuku, bishop of the Machakos diocese, east of Nairobi, Kenya. "How can we go against God’s words?
Two men being joined is contrary to nature and contrary to the Bible. "You in the West may not consider it a sin but we in Africa do. We stand with the Bible. When we are wrong, those in the West should tell us. We are telling them this is wrong." Opposition was just as fierce in Asia, where bishops said they might meet this week to discuss cutting ties with the 2.3 million members of the Episcopal Church in the United States.
"Practising homosexuality is culturally and legally not acceptable here," said Bishop Lim Cheng Ean, leader of the Anglican Church of West Malaysia. Homosexuals in Africa remain closeted in all but South Africa, where there is somewhat more openness. From pulpit and presidential mansion, African leaders regularly condemn homosexuality as a corrupt lifestyle that is being exported by the West. Faith healers regard it as the product of an evil spirit. "I’m not denying that it is here," said Kanuku.
"But it’s not in the open. It’s taboo. It’s against the teachings of the Bible and we know it. Those who do it, do it in shame." Such beliefs are difficult to ignore by a church that finds most of its growth in the developing world. Some of the fiercest opposition has come from the archbishop of the 17.5-million-member Anglican Church of Nigeria, the Most Rev. Peter Akinola. In June, Akinola ordered his church to sever relations with the Vancouver diocese after officials there ratified a liturgy for same-sex marriages and presided at the marriage of a gay couple.
The bishop of the diocese that covers North Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, the Rev. Mouneer Anis, also portrayed the controversy as grave. "The communion now faces a crisis over what holds us together and indeed whether we can remain together if we hold not merely adverse but contradictory views of the Scripture and what it teaches," he said.
An African continent-wide LGBTI forming
An African continent-wide network entity is in it’s very nascent stages. The entity is called The African Muslim Gay Organisation [AMGO]. The four chapters are: Eastern Africa [EA_MGO], Northern Africa NA_MGO], Southern Africa [SA_MGO] and Western Africa [WA_MGO]. All area chapters have not concluded their meetings to date. Once that has been done, a full AMGO meeting will be held – most likely in Nairobi for ease of travel and being a central hub for all chapter organisers. However, Johannesburg is being considered as an option as well.
The purposes of AMGO will be worked through at this plenary meeting. However, for now, chapters are looking at the following as their foci: Advocacy on LBGTI issues for Muslim people amongst the various regional countries and bodies representing regions and the continent [e.g. ECOWAS, AU, SADC]. Input into policies affecting citizens, in particular LBGTI Muslims, for example, recent legislation in Zanzibar. Establishing a Trust Fund for LBGTI individuals struggling in their countries as gay Muslims to establish themselves and who may require some assistance to enter formal education and allied institutions.
A continent wide network of Muslim LBGTI organisations primarily and secondarily, to build synergies with other established and still to be established entities in African countries – muslim and non-muslim. The Southern African Chapter may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Kindly spread this e-message as widely as you are able. If you are, or know of, a Muslim LBGTI individual in other African countries who may contribute or benefit from the work of AMGO, kindly pass this message along.
July 16, 2004
Devastated by AIDS, Africa Sees Life Expectancy Plunge
by Celia Dugger
Africa is getting poorer and hungrier as life expectancy continues its steep decline in the countries hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic, according to a United Nations report released Thursday. It said infants born now in seven nations with high rates of H.I.V. infection could expect to live less than 40 years.
The report, by the United Nations Development Program, also said the sub-Saharan African region as a whole was getting poorer, with the prospect that rising numbers of Africans will subsist on less than $1 a day in the years to come. Last year, the United Nations Development Program projected that it would take Africa more than 140 years to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty. But this year, as even that slight progress is gone, its annual Human Development Report states that "no date can be set because the situation in the region is worsening, not improving."
As Africa struggles with the world’s heaviest AIDS burden, South Asia and East Asia are making rapid progress in reducing poverty and hunger, driven mainly by the advances of China and India, the two most populous countries, the report found.
Africa’s setbacks are a break from recent decades of progress. From 1960 to 2000, for example, life expectancy in developing countries rose to 63 years from 46. Africa was part of that progress until the mid-1990’s, when AIDS began seriously eroding its gains. The bleak statistical portrait of sub-Saharan Africa, drawn from the 2004 Human Development Report, does not spare South Africa, the region’s economic powerhouse, which celebrated a decade of post-apartheid democracy this year. It is a discouraging portrait that the South African government sharply disputed Thursday.
The report’s summary measure of well-being – gauged by life expectancy, literacy, school enrollment rates and per-capita income – shows that South Africans are worse off today than they were when apartheid ended. That finding is largely driven by falling life expectancy because of AIDS, which the United Nations Development Program set at 48.8 years for South Africa in this year’s calculation. Joel Netshitenzhe, a spokesman for the South African government, called the United Nations’ life expectancy estimate "nonsensical."
South Africa’s Medical Research Council, a government-financed independent body, estimated that life expectancy in South African had fallen much less severely, to 55 in 2000 from 57 in 1995. According to the South African government’s assessment of its people’s well-being, based on the higher, national calculations of life expectancy, South Africans are better off than they were a decade ago. "We have interacted with the U.N.D.P. and demonstrated that some of the data they used to come to their conclusions are inaccurate," Mr. Netshitenzhe said.
Fu Haishan, a statistician with the United Nations Development Program, said the Human Development Report relied on statistics from the World Bank and United Nations agencies that specialize in education, hunger and population "to ensure minimum and common standards are used." Mark Malloch Brown, administrator of the program, said in an interview that he had had difficult exchanges with South Africa over the report’s findings. He called the life expectancy data for South Africa "catastrophic," even as he recognized post-apartheid improvements in education, electricity and water provision.
As to what South Africa needs to do, Mr. Malloch Brown said, "Fix the AIDS problem." South Africa’s president, Thabo Mbeki, has been criticized at home and abroad for being slow to aggressively tackle AIDS. More than five million South Africans are infected with H.I.V. And unlike neighboring Botswana, which started an effort to provide drug treatment to people with AIDS in 2001, South Africa’s treatment effort just got under way this year. The South African government spokesman, Mr. Netshitenzhe, defended the government’s AIDS effort, saying it had the continent’s biggest prevention program and expected to be providing drug treatment to 53,000 people by March.
May 11, 2005
AIDS Now Compels Africa to Challenge Widows’ ‘Cleansing’–(Malawi, Zambia, Kenya)
by Saron LaFranieremchnji
Malawi – In the hours after James Mbewe was laid to rest three years ago, in an unmarked grave not far from here, his 23-year-old wife, Fanny, neither mourned him nor accepted visits from sympathizers. Instead, she hid in his sister’s hut, hoping that the rest of her in-laws would not find her.
But they hunted her down, she said, and insisted that if she refused to exorcise her dead husband’s spirit, she would be blamed every time a villager died. So she put her two small children to bed and then forced herself to have sex with James’s cousin.
" I cried, remembering my husband," she said. "When he was finished, I went outside and washed myself because I was very afraid. I was so worried I would contract AIDS and die and leave my children to suffer."
Here and in a number of nearby nations including Zambia and Kenya, a husband’s funeral has long concluded with a final ritual: sex between the widow and one of her husband’s relatives, to break the bond with his spirit and, it is said, save her and the rest of the village from insanity or disease. Widows have long tolerated it, and traditional leaders have endorsed it, as an unchallenged tradition of rural African life.
Now AIDS is changing that. Political and tribal leaders are starting to speak out publicly against so-called sexual cleansing, condemning it as one reason H.I.V. has spread to 25 million sub-Saharan Africans, killing 2.3 million last year alone. They are being prodded by leaders of the region’s fledging women’s rights movement, who contend that lack of control over their sex lives is a major reason 6 in 10 of those infected in sub-Saharan Africa are women.
But change is coming slowly, village by village, hut by hut. In a region where belief in witchcraft is widespread and many women are taught from childhood not to challenge tribal leaders or the prerogatives of men, the fear of flouting tradition often outweighs even the fear of AIDS. " It is very difficult to end something that was done for so long," said Monica Nsofu, a nurse and AIDS organizer in the Monze district in southern Zambia, about 200 miles south of the capital, Lusaka. "We learned this when we were born. People ask, Why should we change?"
In Zambia, where one out of five adults is now infected with the virus, the National AIDS Council reported in 2000 that this practice was very common. Since then, President Levy Mwanawasa has declared that forcing new widows into sex or marriage with their husband’s relatives should be discouraged, and the nation’s tribal chiefs have decided not to enforce either tradition, their spokesman said. Still, a recent survey by Women and Law in Southern Africa found that in at least one-third of the country’s provinces, sexual "cleansing" of widows persists, said Joyce MacMillan, who heads the organization’s Zambian chapter. In some areas, the practice extends to men.
Some Defy the Risk
Even some Zambian volunteers who work to curb the spread of AIDS are reluctant to disavow the tradition. Paulina Bubala, a leader of a group of H.I.V.-positive residents near Monze, counsels schoolchildren on the dangers of AIDS. But in an interview, she said she was ambivalent about whether new widows should purify themselves by having sex with male relatives. Her husband died of what appeared to be AIDS-related symptoms in 1996. Soon after the funeral, both Ms. Bubala and her husband’s second wife covered themselves in mud for three days. Then they each bathed, stripped naked with their dead husband’s nephew and rubbed their bodies against his.
Weeks later, she said, the village headman told them this cleansing ritual would not suffice. Even the stools they sat on would be considered unclean, he warned, unless they had sex with the nephew. " We felt humiliated," Ms. Bubala said, "but there was nothing we could do to resist, because we wanted to be clean in the land of the headman." The nephew died last year. Ms. Bubala said the cause was hunger, not AIDS. Her husband’s second wife now suffers symptoms of AIDS and rarely leaves her hut. Ms. Bubala herself discovered she was infected in 2000.
But even the risk of disease does not dent Ms. Bubala’s belief in the need for the ritual’s protective powers. "There is no way we are going to stop this practice," she said, "because we have seen a lot of men and women who have gone mad" after spouses died. Ms. Nsofu, the nurse and AIDS organizer, argues that it is less important to convince women like Ms. Bubala than the headmen and tribal leaders who are the custodians of tradition and gatekeepers to change. " We are telling them, ‘If you continue this practice, you won’t have any people left in your village,’ " she said. She cites people, like herself, who have refused to be cleansed and yet seem perfectly sane. Sixteen years after her husband died, she argues, "I am still me." Ms. Nsofu said she suggested to tribal leaders that sexual cleansing most likely sprang not from fears about the vengeance of spirits, but from the lust of men who coveted their relatives’ wives. She proposes substituting other rituals to protect against dead spirits, like chanting and jumping back and forth over the grave or over a cow.
Headman Is a Firm Believer
Like their counterparts in Zambia, Malawi’s health authorities have spoken out against forcing widows into sex or marriage. But in the village of Ndanga, about 90 minutes from the nation’s largest city, Blantyre, many remain unconvinced. Evance Joseph Fundi, Ndanga’s 40-year-old headman, is courteous, quiet-spoken and a firm believer in upholding the tradition. While some widows sleep with male relatives, he said, others ask him to summon one of the several appointed village cleansers. In the native language of Chewa, those men are known as fisis or hyenas because they are supposed to operate in stealth and at night. Mr. Fundi said one of them died recently, probably of AIDS. Still, he said with a charming smile, "We can not abandon this because it has been for generations."
Since 1953, Amos Machika Schisoni has served as the principal village cleanser. He is uncertain of his age and it is not easily guessed at. His hair is grizzled but his arms are sinewy and his legs muscled. His hut of mud bricks, set about 50 yards from a graveyard, is even more isolated than most in a village of far-flung huts separated by towering weeds and linked by dirt paths.
What Tradition Dictates
He and the headman like to joke about the sexual demands placed upon a cleanserlike Mr. Schisoni, who already has three wives. He said tradition dictates that he sleep with the widow, then with each of his own wives, and then again with the widow, all in one night. Mr. Schisoni said that the previous headman chose him for his sexual prowess after he had impregnated three wives in quick succession. Now, Mr. Schisoni, said he continues his role out of duty more than pleasure. Uncleansed widows suffer swollen limbs and are not free to remarry, he said. "If we don’t do it, the widow will develop the swelling syndrome, get diarrhea and die and her children will get sick and die," he said, sitting under an awning of drying tobacco leaves. "The women who do this do not die."
His wives support his work, he said, because they like the income: a chicken for each cleansing session. He insisted that he cannot wear a condom because "this will provoke some other unknown spirit." He is equally adamant in refusing an H.I.V. test. "I have never done it and I don’t intend to do it," he said.
To protect himself, he said, he avoids widows who are clearly quite sick . Told that even widows who look perfectly healthy can transmit the virus, Mr. Schisoni shook his head. "I don’t believe this," he said. At the traditional family council after James Mbewe was killed in a truck accident in August 2002, Fanny Mbewe’s mother and brothers objected to a cleanser, saying the risk of AIDS was too great. But Ms. Mbewe’s in-laws insisted, she said. If a villager so much as dreamed of her husband, they told her, the family would be blamed for allowing his spirit to haunt their community on the Malawi-Zambia border.
Her husband’s cousin, to whom she refers only as Loimbani, showed up at her hut at 9 o’clock at night after the burial.
" I was hiding my private parts," she said in an interview in the office of Women’s Voice, a Malawian human rights group. "You want to have a liking for a man to have sex, not to have someone force you. But I had no choice, knowing the whole village was against me." Loimbani, she said, was blasé. "He said: ‘Why are you running away? You know this is our culture. If I want, I could even make you my second wife." He did not. He left her only with the fear that she will die of the virus and that her children, now 8 and 10, will become orphans. She said she is too fearful to take an H.I.V. test. " I wish such things would change," she said.
June 29, 2006
Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights addresses gay issues
About 400 delegates gathered in Nairobi last week for the second Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights reports the South Africa-based The Mercury newspaper. The first meeting was held in Johannesburg in 2004. Seeking to improve policies and programs on sexuality in Africa, the conference drew together many organizations such as the Forum for the Empowerment of Women as well as the Coalition of African Lesbians.
“We are here in Africa. We live in the mainstream, we pay taxes like everybody else, we relate with people in the mainstream. We are a naturally occurring phenomenon in the universe,” said activist Donna Smith, according to The Mercury. Smith represented the Forum for the Empowerment of Women, a lesbian organization out of Johannesburg. In addition to discrimination and societal stigmatization, many countries in Africa still have anti-gay legislation, such as Kenya where homosexuality is punishable by 14 years in jail, The Mercury reported. “A number of rape and assault cases have been reported to police stations. When one reports, the police respond by asking why one is a lesbian,” Fikile Vilakazi said to The Mercury, citing an example from a lesbian who was killed in Cape Town earlier this year.
14 July 2006
‘ Gender DynamiX’ First Transgender Association Established in Africa for Trans Issues
The gender question, "is it a boy or a girl?", immediately follows any birth. A non-profit organisation catering to the needs of transgendered people has been formally established with the intent of addressing this question in the broadest sense. Gender DynamiX is an organisation that works towards a world in which each person has the freedom to express their own gender, whether it corresponds to their born sex or not. Explains Robert Hamblin, Vice-Chairperson of the Management Committee: "Gender DynamiX is an organisation whose time has come; we are here to support transgendered people and to change the way society thinks about men and women"…
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December 17, 2006
African Female Scholars Share Virtual Lifeline
by Gretchen L. Wilson, WeNews correspondent
Female faculty are rare at African universities, but the Internet helps university women exchange ideas and moral support. It provides what some participants call a "virtual feminist university." First in a series on higher education in Africa.
Cape Town, South Africa – When Dr. Sylvia Tamale spoke out a few years ago in favor of gay rights in Uganda–where homosexuality is illegal and regularly prosecuted–the fallout was fierce. Local news media quoted members of the public who said she should be "lynched" and "crucified" for suggesting such a thing. She says politicians, fellow academics, even friends turned against her.
"I felt extremely isolated and lonely," says Tamale, 44, who in 2003 suggested Uganda’s proposed Equal Opportunities Commission prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But Tamale, a law professor at Kampala’s Makerere University, wasn’t entirely stranded. For support she turned on her computer and sent e-mails to an online network called Strengthening Gender and Women’s Studies for Africa’s Transformation, or GWS-Africa.
About 200 academics are subscribed to the list, and members use it daily to announce job postings, report on emerging issues on the ground, profile women’s achievements or, in Tamale’s case, save morale. Tamale reported what she was going through and in response, she received messages of solidarity from feminist academics and activists across Africa who had met through the African Gender Institute (AGI) at South Africa’s University of Cape Town. "Most of the support and encouragement that I received came from sisters at the AGI and the broader GWS-Africa list serve," she says. "The AGI introduced me to a network of feminist scholars around the continent that have served as an invaluable support base in my intellectual and activist work."
Women are more visible on African university campuses than a generation ago, but Tamale says universities remain male-dominated and male-structured. That can be particularly true in sub-Saharan Africa, where 20 million girls are denied any education due to discrimination, poverty and conflict according to a 2005 Save the Children report. While there are no continent-wide figures on women’s representation at universities, post-apartheid South Africa is widely agreed to be a Mecca. But even there, senior women faculty are scarce. At Johannesburg’s venerable University of the Witwatersrand, for instance, women accounted for only 19 percent of associate professors and 17 percent of full professors in recent years, according to Dr. Hilary Geber, a professor there.
In South Africa, female faculty of color are particularly rare. At the University of Cape Town, women account for 35 percent of the school’s overall academic staff of 779. But only 59–or 8 percent–are women of color, according to Nazeema Mohammed, who oversees the school’s transformation from the apartheid system.
But women say representation at universities is just part of the problem. "Obviously, concerns about simply getting the numbers of African women into higher education–as both students and staff–are critical and a first point of advocacy," says Lynne Muthoni Wanyeki, former executive director of the African Women’s Development and Communications Network–known as FEMNET–a collective of African women’s organizations in Nairobi, Kenya. "But the insufficient support for the production, dissemination and use of African feminist knowledge and theory, in all fields, is surprising."
Groups such as the African Gender Institute are using technology as a major tool to overcome those hurdles. Dr. Elaine Salo, a senior lecturer at the African Gender Institute, says online connections to other female thinkers and advocates helps make up for the camaraderie that’s often lacking for women at African universities; it’s a loneliness that may lead many to leave the continent to pursue graduate-level studies. "The Internet and technology play a big role in breaking the isolation," says Salo. "We are doing work here that will result in a generation of scholars who will say: ‘We can do work here that is relevant to our society.’"
Bringing Feminist Scholars Together
Tamale became involved with the African Gender Institute in 2002, when she attended a workshop of African feminist scholars to assess African teaching and research in gender and women’s studies. Later, she took advantage of an institute program that offers visiting academics and activists stints of research and writing for a few months at the Cape Town campus. "Most importantly, what the AGI does is give African women academics the chance to meet each other and to work as though their minds are serious," says Dr. Jane Bennett, head of the African Gender Institute.
The institute was founded in 1996, two years after South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy, to expose African researchers and intellectuals to the importance of gender equity and to support those engaged in that process. Housed in offices at the University of Cape Town, it offers undergraduate and graduate academic programs in gender and women’s studies. Three core teaching faculty also raise up to $1 million a year from international foundations to offer programs for African scholars committed to gender equity.
Through formal instruction, research networks, publications and special projects, the institute regularly reaches hundreds of women across the continent from Ethiopia to Nigeria as well as African scholars in North America and Europe. Academics from French, Portuguese and Arabic-speaking African countries are increasingly collaborating with the group, in which scholars have explored issues ranging from university-based sexual harassment to the lives of urban gay youth in different areas of the world.
As in other advocacy groups for female scholars, technology is critical to the institute’s work. The African Gender Institute’s GWS-Africa project, where Tamale found moral support, aims to be "a completely open-access resource center." On its Web site, women can access papers and presentations, teaching resources and contact information for academic departments and individual scholars. In time, the group wants to post collected works of female African academics in a virtual library.
Female academics in Africa also exchange ideas and information through a number of other Web sites such as FEMNET in Kenya, Zimbabwe’s Women’s Resource Center and Network, Uganda’s African Women’s Economic Policy Network and Cameroon’s Association for Support to Women Entrepreneurs. "There’s actually a virtual African feminist university," says Bennett. "It exists in workshops and in conferences and online. It’s astonishing how under conditions of deprivation you can make this last."
Tamale also began contributing to Feminist Africa, a semi-annual journal the institute has produced since 2002. To ensure as many readers as possible, Feminist Africa is published both as a traditional 150-page academic journal, as well as on a free Web site. It’s one of only two English-language feminist journals on the entire continent, alongside the more eclectic quarterly publication Agenda, published by a group of South African women in Durban.
Feminist Africa "was a great outlet for me to analyze and document my experience," Tamale says. For now Tamale and emerging groups such as Sexual Minorities Uganda continue to challenge the nation’s culture of homophobia. Still, the Equal Opportunity Commission draft bill has not yet been written, and Tamale says there’s "no chance that sexual orientation will feature in the bill when it finally sees the light of day." But Tamale has gone far since the public outcry a few years ago. She became the first female dean of Makerere University’s Faculty of Law in 2004 and, earlier this year, she launched a research project on Gender, Law and Sexuality, which she hopes will someday become a fully fledged research center.
Gretchen L. Wilson is a journalist based in Johannesburg. Her Web site is http://www.gretchenlwilson.com.