Zimbabwean LGBT activists have slammed a Bulawayo-based anti-gay political organisation that is calling on the country to ban local groups that help LGBT people.
The pressure group argues that LGBT advocacy organisations are un-African and in violation of the Zimbabwean constitution.
The organization, based in Zimbabwe’s second-largest city, calls itself Africa Against Western Influence and Interference (AAWII).
The state-controlled newspaper the Herald reported on May 2 that AAWII was formed two years ago with the aim of investigating and understanding the involvement of western countries in African affairs. Its focus is reportedly on organisations funded by and working with Western countries.
In the Herald article, Makhosini Khumalo, the organisation’s chief executive officer, said his group worries about the future of the country “in the wake of gay and lesbian groups mushrooming in the country,” which he said were “poisoning” Zimbabwean cultural values. In fact, only a few LGBT rights groups exist in Zimbabwe, and their goal is simply to defend the rights of persecuted sexual minorities.
Khumalo claimed that his group has members throughout the country.
In response to the article about AAWII, LGBT advocates said the organization’s calls were inciting violence against a minority group of Zimbabwean citizens at a time when the country overall abounds with messages of peace from all political leaders. One human rights defender said:
“It’s election time and desperate people will use any propaganda to make a name for themselves by bringing up an emotive issue which is likely to stir trouble for a defenceless group of people. If anything is ‘poisoning’ people, it’s this hate speech. When people hear such messages, violence escalates — from families to uniformed forces.”
A gay activist from Bulawayo said:
“This man and his briefcase organization are a joke that should be frowned upon by any person in their right mind. Even the name of his so-called group is in English. If he is so much interested in being African, why not give his group an African name?”
An LGBT activist from Harare said:
“It is sad that anyone who thinks of trampling on other people’s rights targets LGBT organization. The country is experiencing so many problems right now. People in Bulawayo go for days without water or electricity and someone has the nerve to mobilise against a group of citizens whose lives do not harm his. Some priorities are just absurd.”
A lesbian woman from Harare commented:
“We cannot have some power-hungry people coming from the bushes to dictate what is or what is not UnAfrican. This group says they are investigating those receiving money from the West to pollute culture, yet that same culture is dynamic and even the government is also getting funds from the West. This cheap homophobic rhetoric is synonymous with election period. I am not surprised.”
The leader of a new initiative for LGBT people in Zimbabwe, which has created spaces for LGBT people to meet, to feel they belong and to advocate for their rights. said:
“We are citizens of this country and also deserve freedom to associate.
“Such is the influence of religious extremist groups that they are throwing spanners in the advancement of human rights. As we are set to commemorate the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) [on May 17], it is important that such organizations realize the dangers of hate language. It is retrogressive, violent and destructive.”
Freedom of association, freedom of assembly
The Zimbabwean constitution (COPAC Draft), which was overwhelmingly approved in March and is set to come into effect soon, provides for the freedoms of association and assembly in three sections, even though it prohibits same-sex marriage.
In 4.9, it provides for freedom of association. In 4.10 it protects the freedom of assembly. In 4.18, it expands on these two freedoms under the heading of Political Rights. In particular, 4.18 (2) says: “Subject to this constitution, every citizen of Zimbabwe has the right – (b) to campaign peacefully for a political party or cause.”
However, some question whether those rights will be limited in practice, just as they have been under the previous Lancaster constitution. Limits on freedoms of association and assembly have been applied when they are deemed “reasonable and necessary and justifiable in an open, just and democratic society.”
Laws such as the Public Order Security Act (POSA), the Private Voluntary Organisations Act (PVO Act), the Censorship Entertainment and Control Act (CECA) continue to be used to clamp down on and criminalise the operations of organisations working in support of LGBT rights.
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