Zimbabwean LGBT people across the world have expressed mixed feelings on the country’s Independence Day celebrations as Zimbabwe turned 33 today.
For some LGBT Zimbabweans who fled from the country because of its widespread homophobia, Independence Day was a time for grieving and for remembering what they had lost.
During the day’s celebrations in Harare, President Robert Mugabe, who often spews homophobic diatribes on such occasions, instead hammered away at the importance of maintaining peace as the nation prepares for watershed plebiscite in the months ahead.
“I say go and vote for your choice candidate, I will not force you to vote for me. Munozvisarudzira (“You make your own choices”) … Peace begins with me, peace begins with you, peace begins with all of us,” he said.
LGBT people in Zimbabwe expressed mixed feelings. Some said they were grateful that the nation has come so far since 1980, when Zimbabwe attained independence from the colonial regime, others said the country has not yet achieved uhuru (Swahili for “freedom”) because the Independence day celebrations were so politicized.
“It’s good that the President spoke about peace and condemned political violence though I wish he should speak out against all forms of violence and not just political. At least he did not attack homosexual people today. That means I will have peace in my neighborhood. Usually when he makes homophobic comments, the youths in my area give me a hard time.” — HT in Chitungwiza.
“I feel the peace message is just political rhetoric. For me it’s like an uncle who molests you everyday and then buys you candy. Should everything be okay because he is preaching peace? This peace message should be treated with a pinch of salt. Already as LGBT people we are subjected to all forms of violence, which is often supported by the state.” — ZM in Harare.
“I can’t be myself in public. I feel as if we are still in the struggle fighting to be freed from these chains of hate that bind us. I pray for independence — a day when all Zimbabweans can be free to express and associate without being harassed, intimidated or arrested. Only then can I celebrate.” — KZ in Harare.
‘I don’t know whether I should celebrate or mourn. While I acknowledge that they are gallant people who fought for an independent Zimbabwe, I feel as a nation we can do better, especially by embracing diversity and promoting tolerance not only on a political level but all levels in society.” — DM in Harare.
Some LGBT people in Zimbabwe were happy simply to celebrate the nation’s achievement:
“I celebrate because Zimbabwe has come so far. Slowly but surely we will get recognized. Society’s attitudes can change and laws can be improved. We are quite a peaceful nation compared to a lot of places.” — A lesbian in Harare.
“I am proud to be Zimbabwean. As a nation we have made great strides. For example, we have a new constitution. Today I choose to celebrate those who sacrificed themselves. For us to be able to demand rights, it’s because they took the first steps.” — A gay man from Bulawayo.
Some LGBT Zimbabweans who fled the country to live abroad continued to grieve for what their country has done to them:
“As a Zimbabwean young gay man, I am heart-broken because I know those who fought for freedom did not wish for anyone to be discriminated against. Just like racism, homophobia hurts and is destructive. But 33 years later I [would still be] a prisoner in my homeland only because of who I love.” — CK, living in South Africa.
“It’s not like we enjoy being in foreign countries. We are here because of the death of freedom of expression. As LGBT people we cannot freely be ourselves without being harassed by both society and police. Freedom is a little too late for some of us.” — A Zimbabwean in Australia.
“We still have a long way to go with regards to respecting human rights. If I can’t be myself in my motherland, then I don’t know if I can say I am free.” — A Zimbabwean gay man living in the UK.
The sodomy Law in Zimbabwe criminalises same-sex consensual sexual acts. In March during a referendum the county voted for a draft constitution that also criminalises same-sex marriages.
- LGBT rights group cheers new Zimbabwe constitution (76crimes.com)
- Zimbabwe activists are back in business (76crimes.com)
- Hopes, fears as Zimbabwe marks 33rd birthday (kansascity.com)
- Mugabe Makes Plea for Peaceful Elections in Zimbabwe (voanews.com)