LGBT people in spotlight as Zimbabwe election nears

As Zimbabwe prepares for watershed elections on July 31, homosexuality has once again taken centre stage.

While the President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party has taken a stance against homosexuality, vociferously describing it as an evil, the MDC party of challenger and prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai has remained mum on the issue, a development that has aroused mixed feelings amongst LGBT people.

Zanu PF

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In their pre-election 108-page manifesto full of emotive language, Zanu PF brags that they managed to block the evils of homosexuality by criminalising same-sex marriage in section (78)(3) the new Zimbabwean constitution:

“The Party was vigilant throughout the constitution-making exercise to guard against treachery and to protect the process from being hijacked by foreign or regime change interests. More importantly, and specifically, Zanu PF ensured that the New Constitution enshrines the following provisions that not only guarantee that Zimbabwe will never be a colony again but which also protect the values and dignity of the people against such evils as homosexuality.” (Zanu PF Election Manifesto 2013, page 67)

The manifesto further argues that everyone must join Team Zanu PF as a way of defending and winning goals.

“Team Zanu PF has something for everyone. 
Zanu PF understands that for the people’s goals to be won and defended, everybody must be part of the great team that liberated Zimbabwe and brought freedom and democracy that everyone enjoys today; the team that enabled Zimbabwe to take back its land; the team that has protected and enshrined Zimbabwe’s gains of the liberation struggle and defended Zimbabwe’s traditional and religious values against such evils as homosexuality in the New Constitution; and the team that is the home of the youths who are taking the baton to defend Zimbabwe’s natural resources.” (Zanu PF Election Manifesto, Page 104)

ZANU PF’s hyprocrisy is exposed in their use of invidious language which incites violence on opposition party supporters as well as LGBT people, yet they have the temerity to talk about tolerance; “peace begins with me, peace begins with you”; non-violence, freedom and democracy.

“The fact that Zimbabwe has come of age is particularly borne out by the wide and deep extent to which tolerance of each other’s lawful and patriotic views, differences and affiliations has become a cherished national goal.  Zanu PF is proud to champion this goal as Zimbabwe’s only liberation movement that heroically fought for and brought the freedom and democracy that Zimbabweans who value tolerance enjoy today,” reads the manifesto.

In the document, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are put forward as threats to the nation, owing to their “nefarious activities.” This also makes NGOs, especially those working on human rights issues, a target of harassment, arrests and raids.

MDC

Morgan Tsvangirai (Photo by Harry Wad via Wikimedia Commons)
Morgan Tsvangirai (Photo by Harry Wad via Wikimedia Commons)

Although the MDC in its 36-page manifesto promises to transform Zimbabwe into a “modern, healthy, happy, functional, integrated, democratic and prosperous society that takes pride in leaving no one behind” (Page 7), the party’s document is rather woolly on their stance on sexual minorities:

“The MDC will work for people. All the people regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnic affiliation or political party.” (Page 2)

The party’s manifesto contains flowery language and sugar-coated promises that each individual will live free from fear of his or her government:

“We will stop the culture of impunity and in its place promote accountability we will fully embrace constitutionalism as the cardinal principle that will define our government and its relationship with other people,” the manifesto reads.

Responses

GALZ website
GALZ website

Meanwhile these developments have drawn the ire of LGBT individuals and organisations.

In a statement, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) raised concern over the effects of hate language and state-sponsored homophobia:

“The LGBTI community faces an inundation of vitriol from Zanu Pf through its leadership, trying to win over a despondent electorate. GALZ therefore realises that hate speech targeting the gay community will be intensified during this election campaign period.

“The violent homophobic language used by politicians from both major political parties exacerbates the general stigma against gays and lesbians in the community. Political leaders must immediately cease making statements that in any way vilify, dehumanise, abuse, or slander LGBTI individuals,” reads the GALZ statement.

The organisation stressed that:

“State authorities have an obligation to address violence, both to investigate and punish those who attack others, but also to prevent abuse in the first place. The Zimbabwe Republic Police routinely turns a blind eye to the abuse and violence of LGBTI individuals, thus contributing to the overwhelming sense of impunity.”

“This talk about constitutionalism is just talk show on the part of MDC T. If they are not an all-inclusive party how dare they talk about democracy? Whatever happened to protection of minority from or by the majority?”

“LGBT people are citizens of Zimbabwe who should be respected and protected. ZANU PF’s actions are not surprising, they are and will always be a violent party no amount of printed paper can fool any one,” said PM, the leader of a new LGBT initiative in Zimbabwe.

Commenting on the developments, LGBT people had this to say:

“It’s disturbing that the MDC manifesto is not all-inclusive, yet they claim to be a better than ZANU PF. Their list of vulnerable groups does not include sexual minorities.” (TM from Chitungwiza)

“The devil you know, like ZANU PF, you plan for it You just don’t vote for them — simple. MDC is being strategic in order to get votes. I feel they let us down on the constitution.” (KM from Harare)

“MDC-T uses homosexuality to their convenience. Their leader once said it on BBC that they embrace diversity and do not discriminate against LGBT people, and when he was in Chitungwiza he was gay-bashing. That’s why they won’t come out in the open about the issue. It can always work to their advantage, depending on the environment.” (CM, an LGBT activist from Bulawayo)

“ZANU PF is perpetuating violence against us. Many LGBT people now live in fear. At every rally, Mugabe is condemning homosexuality and we are ridiculed. I think it’s better that the MDC keeps quiet because, if they support us then ZANU PF can use it against them. The fact that MDC-T is talking about redress for all victims of state-sponsored violence means LGBT also fit in there.” (TT from Harare)

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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