Gays appreciate ‘new’ govt soft hand, but…

Samba Chesterfield, Director of Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe, prepares to hoist their offical flag alongside the Zimbabwean flag during belated comemoration of International Day against Xenophobia and Transphobia in Harare, Saturday, May, 19, 2012.Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has often called on for the Gays and Lesbians to be punished for their behaviour which he said was worse than pigs and dogs.The Gay Community officially erected a rainbow flag alongside the Zimbabwean flag at their premises calling it a symbol of hope for the Future(AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

The harassment of the gay and lesbian community in Zimbabwe has declined under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, but the Gays and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ) remains wary of the lack of concessions to their demands.

The association formed in 1990 was often subjected to raids and arrests of its members by police under the rule of former leader, Robert Mugabe. He once described gays and lesbians as “worse than pigs and dogs.”

Chesterfield Samba, the director of the GALZ said there were two statues in the law, used to target members of our community, but nowadays few people rarely get arrested under those provisions.

“We have seen arrests on petty crimes such as disorderly conduct, public nuisance. These are the cases we normally react to. It is not illegal to be homosexual in Zimbabwe. But the previous statements of the former president Mugabe may have contributed to that assumption.”

Samba blames the ousted leader, Mugabe and the opposition, Movement for Democratic Change led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai for the difficulties faced by the gay and lesbian community.

“Public emotion was whipped up by Mugabe statement. His statements were taken as law, and state machinery was set on us. It made it difficult. The time under the unity government saw us getting raided for the first time since the 1990s. Tsvangirai was not consistent on policy; he would offer support on the international stage, but change posts home. It made us vulnerable… It is different under President Mnangagwa.”

Earlier this year, in Davos, Switzerland on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum, Mnangagwa said it was illegal to engage in homosexual activities in Zimbabwe.

“I am a constitutionalist. The current provision in the constitution forbids same sex marriage” Mnangagwa said at the time. He urged those who support gay rights to canvass for support and lead a campaign to change the constitution.”

It is a position that Samba agrees with.

“We are not asking for same sex marriages. We are asking for an enforcement of the current rights to be recognised…Marriage is not on our agenda at the moment. It’s not up to the majority to choose for minorities. It is not the duty of the oppressed to defend their rights but those in power to ensure that minorities are protected,” said Samba.

But despite the persecution, members of the gay community still attempt to lead normal lives; mix and mingle and host parties in Harare.

“We meet monthly at a friend’s place in Mount Pleasant, It’s a chance for us to express ourselves and be comfortable in our own skin,” a 17-year-old gay young man, told Khuluma Afrika.

Violence however from the communities that they live in remains a concern for gays and lesbians.

An 18 year-old gay man who asked not to be identified said he was arrested at Londoners, a night club in Harare’s western suburbs, for kissing his boyfriend.

“The cops saved us. It was fellow revellers that attacked us,” he said. They paid a bribe and the police let them go.

Samba said condemnation by society was a big challenge faced by its members.

“You continually hear that gay is bad, arrest them, they are inhumane. That is the narrative society has. We are mindful that our community has little knowledge when it comes to LGBTI issues. If we could advertise on state media and reach the rural communities, we would educate and inform people. It would help” he said.

In the five months that President Mnangagwa has been in power, Samba is pleased that the GALZ offices have not been raided and the hate rhetoric has died down.