Gay in Zimbabwe: “Chop off their heads!”

President Robert Mugabe’s controversial victory translates to another five years of fearful living for the country’s gay community, according to lobbyists.

“The past period was a torrid time. Gays were a target of politicians, particularly Mugabe and, by extension, the police. This was a strategy to win votes,” says a Zimbabwean artist now based in South Africa.

“For my family’s sake I would rather stay anonymous because my mother has not come to terms with who I am and it’s the same for the community she lives in,” he says.

“Chop off their heads”
Homosexuality is a very sensitive issue in Zimbabwe. No political party has ever come out in support of gays. But Mugabe’s party, Zanu PF, is very clear on the subject: they do not want gays in the country because they “disturb the African moral fabric”.

During Mugabe’s election rallies, the 89-year-old leader said that homosexuals were “worse than pigs, goats and birds”.

“If you take men and lock them in a house for five years and tell them to come up with two children and they fail to do that, then we will chop off their heads,” Mugabe cryptically told party supporters.

“Un-African” narratives
The foremost gay rights group in Zimbabwe, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) fears for the welfare of its members.

“To contextualise the current environment for LGBTI people in Zimbabwe, we need to understand the narrative of ‘sovereignty’ which President Mugabe and his protagonists present – that they are the only authentic defenders against Western intrusions. Zanu PF has successfully deployed populist homophobia within this narrative and weaves notions of the ‘un-African’ nature and ‘abhorrence’ of homosexuality into the discourse of sovereignty.

“Thus while claiming that demands for human rights and good governance are a façade for a ‘regime change agenda’ of Western nations and interfere with Zimbabwe’s sovereignty, homophobia in Zimbabwe conveniently interlocks with this discourse,” says GALZ in a statement.

Blind eyes
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police routinely turns a blind eye to the abuse and violence of LGBTI individuals, thus contributing to the overwhelming sense of impunity,” GALZ adds.

However, the fight for gay rights continues. Leading gay activist Peter Tatchell through the Peter Tatchell Foundation and the African LGBT Out & Proud Diamond Group offered solidarity against gay persecutions in Africa.

“These witch-hunts and repressive laws defy the guarantees of equality and non-discrimination for all citizens, which are enshrined in the constitutions of many African countries and of the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights,” says Tatchell.

Although Mugabe defiantly vows never to give in, the president is feeling the pressure.

Relief in sight?
The biggest threat to Mugabe’s legitimacy and staying power is the economy. Zimbabwe has high levels of literacy but still faces a high unemployment rate. Over half of the population lives in poverty.

During one of his rallies, Mugabe said that he had refused relief aid from the US. “Obama, this man born of an African father and a white mother, told us that the US can only provide financial aid if we as a country accepted homosexuality,” Mugabe stated.

While living in a very negative climate, some gays still believe a breakthrough will occur in Zimbabwe in the near future.

“In Malawi and South Africa gays are not criminalised and that, at least, is a sign of hope,” says the South Africa-based artist.

by RNW Correspondent, Harare
Source – Radio Netherlands