Talk of changing Zimbabwe constitution incites LGBT fears

Patrick Chinamasa (Photo courtesy of News24.com)
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa (Photo courtesy of News24.com)

The Zimbabwean LGBT community has been plunged into fearful uncertainty by news that President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF party intends to make changes to the new Zimbabwean constitution.

In March, the new constitution won overwhelming support in a referendum. It had taken four years to build, owing to haggling and political bickering between Zanu PF and its main rival, the MDC T party.

But last week Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who is a member of Mugabe’s politburo, reportedly said the document will need a “cleaning up.”

The ruling party will make minor changes to the Constitution, having won the two-thirds legislative majority it needs to do so, Chinamasa said, as reported in the South African business publication MoneyWeb. Citizenship laws won’t be altered but security reform will be halted, he said.

The idea of the constitution being amended has once again provoked fear and uncertainty amongst LGBT people, who are concerned that Zanu PF may tighten laws on homosexuality. Mugabe’s recent spate of  homophobic diatribes and threats to “behead” homosexuals and stiffen laws against homosexuality has  exacerbated the situation. The new constitution already criminalises same-sex marriage [Section 78 (3)].

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

LGBT people are not sanguine about the prospects of Zanu PF leaving the constitution untouched, considering that during the constitutional reform process  the party in its list of proposed  amendments  wanted clause 4.35 that covers Marriage Rights to include two new sections (4) and (5) to read as follows: “(4) Same-sex marriages are prohibited; and ‘‘(5) Homosexuality, gays and lesbian practices are prohibited.’’

LGBT people now worry that the second part may be added back by the homophobic Zanu PF party, which promised to make laws stiffer in its party manifesto during the recent election campaign.  Here’s what Zimbabwean LGBT people had to say about the issue:

”If Zanu PF wants to be seen to keep its promises and they are going to amend the constitution, there is a possibility they will not leave the issue of  homosexuality as is. They will probably add the clause that was initially rejected.”  PM, LGBT activist.

”If you look at the many things Zanu PF promised to fix, they will probably start with those that do not require any monetary costs.I f they start amending the constitution, it would be surprising if they didn’t add something to the topic of same-sex relationships. … Not many people will be concerned, really — if anything they will be happy — and Zanu PF appears as the messiah once again.” CG, human rights activist, Harare.

”It’s scary to even imagine what may happen. We just hope this is just talk. If laws are harsh, it also fuels violence against us at all levels, from police to families.” TT, lesbian, Harare.

”We are experiencing threats of violence. If laws should be made stiffer, that’s terrible.” GK, gay man, Harare.

”Zanu PF is a populist party. Many people condemn homosexuality and the party  knows it. Let’s wait and see how it goes. We cannot speculate, but right now it seems inevitable that the issue of homosexuality is political and will be used to get support as usual.” LGBT rights activist, Bulawayo.

”Zanu PF used the issue during campaigns. Now they are about fulfilling the electorate’s wishes. They will start with  targeting minority group like us in order to get majority support. Human rights defenders should make noise. This is how oppression of everyone starts.” LB, lesbian, Harare.

The National Statistical Report, which surveyed the views of the people during the constitutional reform process, showed that  76 percent of Zimbabweans want homosexuality outlawed.

Current Zimbabwean law provides for sentences of up to one year for homosexual activity.

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]

4 Comments

Leave a Reply

    Leave a Reply

    Cameroon: Final adieu to humorous activist, now murdered

    Jamaica: Why keep talking about murdered LGBT teen?