Zimbabwe: Gays living openly despite homophobia

Zimbabwe: Gays living openly despite homophobia

Date: December 5, 2019
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By Jeffrey Moyo

Chitungwiza ,5 December- Just two years ago, they used to be met with violence and resentment. Now, 27-year old Lucy Mthombeni and her 19-year old lover, Trish Musoko- a lesbian couple, move freely about in Chitungwiza, a dormitory town 25 kilometers south-west of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital.

Before the ouster of Zimbabwe’s former longtime strongman now late Robert Mugabe, just two years ago, for gay couples like Lucy and Mthombeni, it used to draw loud scorn and at most violence from the public to be seen hanging around as a same sex couple.

Whether or not the animosity against Zimbabwe’s gays and lesbians is fading away, it remains to be seen, for many like Lucy and her lover are not so sure although at many spots now in towns like Chitungwiza, sexual minorities like her (Lucy) now blend easily in their numbers with others.

Lucy, who is a member of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, an anti-homophobic advocacy group has even become a chairperson of a local association of the sexual minorities in her town, where she has claimed members of the public seem to be no longer bothered by them (the sexual minorities).

“We have parties here in various spots around Chitungwiza as sexual minorities and I can tell you we have not been harassed so far by either police or homophobic members of the public; they just look unperturbed by us; I don’t know why, but in the past we would be met with violence or immediate arrest,” said Lucy.

Amidst the booming numbers of people who are openly gay and lesbian in the country’s high density areas, Zimbabwe’s sociologists like Happton Garwe have weighed in, saying the existence of the country’s sexual minorities is fast becoming common.

“Gays and lesbians in our urban communities are now common features and even as people loathe them, the more they (gays) have appeared in public, the more acceptable they are becoming and people are just adjusting to living with them even as they don’t like them and you would find that each person is minding his or her own business and that has helped to at list emancipate the gays a bit,” said Garwe.

Based on latest statistics from GALZ, across Zimbabwe’s towns and cities, the organisation has a membership of approximately 17000.

To GALZ, this is a sharp increase of the sexual minority population in the country’s urban areas compared to about 8000 around 2015.

Laurence Phiri, a 24-year old gay man who chairs the Male Sex Workers’ organisation in Zimbabwe, a lobby group with 300 members that helps economically disadvantaged gay men noted that as gays and lesbians increase in numbers in the Southern African nation’s urban areas, Laurence said ‘I believe they (gays and lesbians) have always been there and now they are slowly liberating themselves of course with the great information they are getting from LGBTI organisations’.

But diehard supporters of Zimbabwe’s governing Zanu-PF party- the Zimbabwe Africa Union Patriotic Front like Taurai Kundishaya based in Harare, blame economic sanctions imposed on their country by European nations for the increasing numbers of the country’s sexual minorities.

“People are suffering here because of sanctions and the majority of those that are suffering are young people, learned young people who have no jobs because industries shut down owing to sanctions, and so sanctions are leading many young people into homosexual relations because rich people are the ones who lure the poor young people with money into such unions,” said Kandishaya.

Kandishaya is also the National Coordinator of the Zimbabwe Citizens Forum, a civil society organisation with links to the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front party (Zanu-PF).

But Sylvester Nyamatendedza, who is the GALZ Services and Policy Advocacy Officer, said ‘the recent increase of sexual minorities is not a new phenomenon as those that have been oppressed and hidden due to a toxicity of the environment are simply coming out within the public and social spaces they may deem safe and open to interact.’

According to GALZ’s Nyamatendedza, in Zimbabwe currently, ‘there are fewer violations against  Lesbian, Gays, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) persons in public or by state, less hate speech nor homophobic rhetoric from government quarters as well as the public and media.’

Nyamatendedza also said ‘the LGBTI movement has grown in numbers and the emerging of other organizations working on LGBTIQ issues has been noted in the past few years which then means more visibility hence LGBTI can now access services and information in various ways and platforms.’

To many like Nyamutendedza, a boom in the numbers of sexual minorities here came after President Mnangagwa seized the reins of power from the late Robert Mugabe two years ago.

“The opening of the space for dialogue and interaction in the past year has seen even the elderly, parents, relatives, friends and grandparents being open to engage within safe spaces and have a better understanding of their children and grandchildren who are LGBTI,” Nyamutendedza said.

Although Mnangagwa’s government has not publicly shown its resentment of gays and lesbians here, during Mugabe’s reign, violence against the sexual minorities was rife, with the late President calling gays ‘worse than pigs and dogs’. In 2015, he (Mugabe) stood up before the UN General Assembly, declaring “we (Zimbabweans) are not gays”.When Mnangagwa came to power he preached about his government’s plans to uphold human rights.

So to many sexual minorities like Phiri, President Mnangagwa seems to be embracing them, this shown by government’s lack of concern about what gays do in their privacy- now even in public as many like Phiri now claim.

“There have been no arrests of gays and lesbians so far under Mnangagwa. I don’t know; maybe he will change and turn on us at a later stage,” said Phiri.

Neither denying nor condoning gays and lesbians, Zimbabwe’s President Mnangagwa was asked during an interview at the last World Economic Forum in Davos whether his country might change its stance on sexual minorities- and he said ‘in our Constitution it (same sex marriages) is banned – and it is my duty to obey my constitution; those people who want it are the people who should canvass for it.’

On meeting Mnangagwa just before the 2018 elections, GALZ went on record in the media here applauding Mnangagwa for “understanding” them better than his predecessor Mugabe.

Then, GALZ director, Chester Samba told the media that President Mnangagwa was “a reasonable man” after the group met with his ruling Zanu-PF delegation ahead of the country’s elections in July last year.

Jeffrey Moyo is a journalist from Zimbabwe. This story is part of the GL 16 Days SRHR News Service.

3 thoughts on “Zimbabwe: Gays living openly despite homophobia”

Ivy Mahonde says:

To an extent they are now able to mingle without unnecessary attention as I once saw a young colored guy all dolled up in make up but in the company of other boys. I was impressed because during Mugabe’s reign that would never happen. Generally lesbians are more comfortable than gays.

I am doing my PhD and my thesis is ‘An investigation of the history of sexual freedom in Zimbabwe’. Just chatting to individuals it becomes apparent that the majority of Zimbabweans do not understand that LGBTQIA are born like that. They strongly believe it is a choice.

Kvng Kruzh says:

It’s quite sad that a government of a developing nation like Zimbabwe would have such a downward mindset about lgbtq people in 2023. At least the public seems unbothered much by how these people are living their lives

Kvng Kruzh says:

People are moving with yikes… technology and more tv time is teaching people a different perception about sexuality. Kudos to the likes of Tyler Perry for making sure every show if his has enormous and major lessons about sexuality

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