Zambian politicians claim that Christian values are the basis for 15-year prison sentences imposed on a gay couple who were spotted having sex in a private hotel room. But in truth the origin of Zambia’s harsh anti-gay law was a 16th-Century ploy by England’s rapacious King Henry VIII, who in 1553 made gay sex a crime rather than a sin as part of his plan to seize property of prosperous monasteries.
The Rev. Kapya Kaoma made that clear in a commentary published after last year’s conviction of Japhet Chataba and Stephen Sambo for the crime of “carnal knowledge against nature” (gay sex).
Kaoma, a Zambian native, is currently an Episcopal priest and human rights researcher in the United States. His commentary, originally published in the Lusaka Times, is reprinted below on the occasion of the two men’s sentencing.
The men’s 15-year sentences have come in for strong criticism from U.S. Ambassador Daniel Foote, who said he was horrified by them. Foote’s criticism provoked strong rebuttals from Zambian officials, most recently Chief Cooma of the Tonga people, who called for Foote to be expelled from the country. Kaoma this week welcomed Foote’s criticism of Zambia’s homophobic and “morally bankrupt” regime.
King Henry VIII’s Ghost Applauds Magistrate Mumba’s Shameful Ruling on a Gay Couple
Zambian native District magistrate Ackson Mumba’s shameful conviction and committal to the High Court of Japhet Chataba and Stephen Sambo for the crime of “carnal knowledge against nature” (whatever it means) in Kapiri – as reported by Lusaka Times on August 4, 2018 was applauded by the ghost of the 16th century English King, Henry VIII. The couple now risks spending up to 15 years in prison for engaging in alleged same-gender sex.
As a human rights advocate, I believe consenting adults’ private sexual lives are not the business of the State, the church or the hotel/lodge owner. That the arrest took place in the room of the lodge after the owner called the police is in itself suggestive. For the lodge owner to call the police on the couple after checking into the room is a clear violation of the couple’s fundamental rights to privacy. If lodge and hotel staff peer into rooms after we check-in, then we are entering a very chancy era in our nation. Sadly, the learned Magistrate did not see the immorality and illegality of the lodge owner’s actions—setting a bad precedent for future blackmails of guests by the hotel/lodge staff.
In his ruling, Magistrate Mumba did not explain how the couple’s alleged sexual crime affected other people. Rather he cited Section 155 (a) of the Penal Code, and Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia and Statutory Instrument number 15 of 2015 Constitution. What he did not say is the origin of these laws—they are priced gifts of British colonialism. The law of “carnal knowledge” maybe coated with “Zambia,” but it originates from King Henry VIII, who decreed homosexuality a felony as opposed to a sin.
Religion has always differentiated between a sin and a crime. Many evangelicals view drinking beers, divorce and smoking as sinful, but these acts are not crimes. Despite the health risks associated with smoking and drinking, we do not arrest smokers or those who drink based on our evangelical religious convictions. In fact, if we locked up all drunkards, Magistrate Mumba, President Lungu, politicians and countless religious leaders are likely to rot in jail.
We may have religious reasons to object to homosexuality—but we are a secular nation with secular laws. Unless our nation is a theocracy—a state governed by religious dogma, it is within our democratic rights to choose what we do with our private lives as long as our choices do not harm other individuals. Japhet and Steven are adults, and what they do in private is none of the State’s, the lodge owner’s or my business. I am still to be convinced as to how one’s homosexuality affects my rights.
Let us face it—prostitution is a crime in Zambia. Yet each passing night and day, in Zambia’s hotels and lodges, men buy sex from the streets. Are we suggesting arresting men who have solicited sex in hotel/lodge rooms based on the staff’s positions on prostitution? We are trading on perilous waters—something Magistrate Mumba’s ruling sanctions.
We must all understand the injustice of this shameful ruling. Stephen and Japhet are breadwinners for many other people—their imprisonment will surely ruin their lives, and affect countless family members. Is it not time we accepted that some people are gay and that no law will stop them from falling in love with people of the same gender? We can force gays into the shadows and lock them up, but the truth is – as long as our mothers continue to give birth, new gays will be born. It is on us to promote love and not injustice—as learned magistrate Mumba does. Our courts should be sentencing corrupt government officials to jail rather than gay persons.
I can only pray that the High Court will dismiss this shameful ruling! [Editor’s note: It didn’t.]
— Rev. Kapya Kaoma
- U.S. envoy to Zambia: Act like Jesus, not like bigots, if you’re a Christian nation (December 2019, 76crimes.com)
- Zambia blasts U.S. envoy who protested 15-year sentence for gay couple (December 2019, 76crimes.com)
- Zambia: 15-year prison sentences ‘shocked the world’(November 2019, 76crimes.com)
- Zambian judge sentences men to 15 years for gay sex (November 2019, 76crimes.com)
- Zambian court convicts two men for gay sex (August 2018, 76crimes.com.)
- Zambia rejects call to repeal law against homosexual sex (April 2018, 76crimes.com)
- Taking aim at anti-LGBT laws dating back to Henry VIII (
- Zambia’s growing intolerance towards LGBTI persons (January 2014, 76crimes.com)
- Zambia: Police raid suspected gays without warrants (December 2013, 76crimes.com)
- Justice minister wants no justice for Zambian gays (April 2013, 76crimes.com)