By the special correspondent of Erasing 76 Crimes in Zimbabwe
Names have been altered to protect the identity of endangered individuals.
His phone rings. Bright, a young gay man in Zimbabwe, answers it with a smile that is quickly wiped off as he listens attentively to the voice on the other end of the line.
After he pensively ends the conversation, he declares that he is in a state of shock. It is the eve of Zimbabwe’s July 31 elections.
“It was a friend,” Bright says. “He says, with the elections tomorrow, we have been advised to start making our way down south [to South Africa]. Otherwise we will be killed if President Mugabe and Zanu PF [Mugabe’s political party] win the elections.” He asks whether the alert is credible.
It was not. But alarm bells have been ringing ever since Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, known for his anti-gay sentiment, retained power on July 31. After his tirade and threats against gays in the run up to elections, it is little wonder that the grapevine is awash with such tales, causing alarm and despondency amongst that country’s repressed gay community.
Some have decided that the time to leave the country has finally come.
There is little hope of help from the other side. Defeated opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai once was seen as a human rights candidate who would at least protect the dignity of the gay community. He has proved no better than Mugabe, flip-flopping on the issue and throwing his weight behind Mugabe’s homophobia, arguing that homosexuality is un-African.
Tsvangirai is on record saying he despises men who “breathe down the necks of other men.” An apparent jibe at gay men and gay sex in particular.
While he has not gone to the extent of calling for the killing of the gays, there is little hope of help coming from him or his party, which have no clear pronouncements with regards to issues of gay rights.
Mugabe has repeatedly called gays lower than pigs and dogs ever since he first made that statement while addressing the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in 1995. In his latest election campaign, he upped the ante. He said he would have the gays “beheaded,” moving one rung lower, from ridiculing gays and promising them imprisonment down to denying them the right to life. It was a significant policy shift.
There is a genuine fear that people may take him at his word and actually cause physical harm or death to gays in Zimbabwe. Violence has been known to be meted out on gays here, something that the president’s fresh pronouncements seem to condone.
The little remaining hope lies in Zimbabwe being a society afraid of “ngozi,” spirits who avenge their deaths and the spilling of human blood.
So far, there has been a steady flow of people from the gay community into neighbouring South Africa, whose constitution post apartheid safeguards the rights of gay people.
“I have just decided to go back to South Africa, violence or no violence,” says Bright. “I cannot afford to wait for things to actually go bad for me to take action.”
Ishe, another young gay man, relocated to South Africa as soon as Mugabe was announced as the winner. He explained his relocation via an e-mail:
“We effectively have been rendered people without a nationality. I love my country but what good am I to my country dead, maimed or living in a state of perpetual fear and hiding?”
Bright agrees and is making plans to leave.
“They never saw the holocaust coming,” he says. “There may not be any tangible threat but should we see death first [before we] acknowledge that there is danger?”
- Talk of changing Zimbabwe constitution incites LGBT fears (76crimes.com, Aug. 12, 2013)
LGBT people in spotlight as Zimbabwe election nears (76crimes.com, July 22, 2013)
- Zimbabwean President Calls for the Beheading of Gays (leactualiteblog.wordpress.com, July 31, 2013)
- Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe tells sceptics of election win to ‘go hang’ (abc.net.au, Aug. 13, 2013)
Election season in Zimbabwe means gay-bashing time (76crimes.com, July 7, 2013)
Zimbabwe nightmare: ‘In limbo for my type of love’ (76crimes.com, July 8, 2013)
Zimbabwe: Mugabe seeks life in prison for homosexuals (76crimes.com, June 17, 2013)
Attack on LGBT group in Zimbabwe; police to the rescue (76crimes.com, June 6, 2013)
Mixed feelings among LGBTs as Zimbabwe turns 33 (76crimes.com, May 6, 2013)