LGBTs worry as Zimbabwe moves to restrict rights

Zimbabwean LGBTI people are between a rock and a hard place. (Photo by Miles Rutendo Tanhira)
Zimbabwean LGBTI people are between a rock and a hard place. (Photo by Miles Rutendo Tanhira)

The long-awaited Zimbabwean draft Constitution outlaws same-sex marriage, which has aroused concern in the community of Zimbabwean lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people.

In interviews, LGBTI people said they fear that such homophobic legislation would fuel hatred and violence against them.

“I don’t have aspirations of getting married, but I fear that such laws have an impact on us as LGBTI people. Now we will have elections and we become a target for violence,” one gay man said.

“People will take the issue of same-sex marriage to mean that homosexuality is a punishable sin. People know that I am gay in Chitungwiza, where I live, and they now feel like they have armor against me because of what the Constitution says,” he said.

The inclusion of same-sex marriage in the draft of the Constitution was no surprise, because the Zanu PF party during a stakeholders’ conference about the Constitution proposed amendments to ban same-sex marriage and outlaw homosexuality.
It was also obvious the MDC-T party would sacrifice the LGBTI cause, which does not have the advantage of large numbers.

GALZ Director Chesterfield Samba, director of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe
Chesterfield Samba, director of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe

That ZANU PF proposal “ultimately found its way into the Constitution, obviously through negotiation and arm twisting,” Chesterfield Samba, director of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, said in online comments.

A national referendum on the proposed Constitution is planned for March or April.  The draft has received the backing of legislators from both the MDC-T and ZANU PF parties.

Section 4.78 of the draft would prohibit same¬sex marriages, forced marriages, and marriages of people under the age of 18.

The draft’s non-discrimination clause, unlike that of neighboring South Africa, would not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Samba said about the non-discrimination clause:

By denying this right to some groups, the Constitution is contributing to the stigma and discrimination faced by people who are attracted to members of the same sex in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has come too far in its constitutional reform process to debase this process by showing an outright desire to harm a politically unpopular group without any legitimate government interest.

Zimbabwean gay men and lesbians in Harare, Chitungwiza, Bulawayo and Mabvuku made these comments:

  • “I do not agree with this clause, but what can I do? Zimbabweans are homophobic anyway. I hope the winds of change will come soon. Maybe future generations will be able to enjoy their full rights. As for us, we just have to keep fighting.”
  • “This is a major blow not to only to the LGBTI community but to human rights. It is my fear that the state authorities are going to use this clause to victimise us even further, because the supreme Law of the Land criminalises our rights.”
  • “What if that clause is used to tighten homophobic laws such as the sodomy law? This is my main worry. Our families and societies will reject us if they feel threatened.”
  • “It only goes to show that our relationships are not taken seriously. Anyway, I will not need a piece of paper to prove my love to my partner. Those who love me and support me will always respect my marriage, which I define in my own way.”

Interviewees’ names have been withheld for their safety.

Some advocates for LGBTI people have proposed a campaign to include sexual orientation on the non-discrimination clause.  Seeking acceptance for same-sex marriage would be jumping the gun, they say.

“Look at South Africa,” one man said. “The level of violence there shows that [same-sex] marriage will not solve the issue. Let’s ensure our families and communities support us first. With their aid, nothing is impossible. They can influence the tide.”

Neither the ZANU PF nor the MDC-T party has discussed why they wanted the anti-LGBTI clauses in the Constitution, but both have discussed the Constitution’s interaction with  anti-LGBTI provisions in existing Zimbabwean laws.

Paul Mangwana, ZANU PF co-chair of the Constitution Parliamentary Committee
Paul Mangwana, ZANU PF co-chair of the Constitution Parliamentary Committee

In recent media reports, Paul Mangwana, co-chair of the Constitution Parliamentary Committee (Copac) from ZANU PF, said, “The constitution cannot provide more information as there will be other legal instruments to enforce it such as the Sexual offences Act. It’s clear that sexual relationships between people of the same sex are prohibited.”

Similiarly, his MDC-T counterpart, Copac Co-chair Douglas Mwonzora, said that homosexuality is already a criminal offence.

Douglas Mwonzora,
Douglas Mwonzora, MDC-T co-chair of the Constitution Parliamentary Committee

“The Constitution cannot prescribe a crime, but the issue of homosexuality can be covered under the criminal law of sodomy,” he said. “Same-sex marriages are prohibited and homosexuality is a crime under the country’s criminal laws.”

Meanwhile the draft Constitution has come under scrutiny from National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), which argues that the draft is a compromise document that does not reflect the will of the people. With only a few months remaining before the referendum, it remains to be seen whether Zimbabweans will rally behind the draft or reject it.

Either way, LGBTI people don’t expect any relief, even if the draft Constitution is rejected.  They feel they are between a rock and a hard place.

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