Homosexualidad en Zimbabwe: Entrevista a Chesterfield Samba

Posted on octubre 31, 2012

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Por: Juan Antonio Torres
Asistente de Investigación – Estudios Africanos
juan.torres04@est.uexternado.edu.co

En el marco del especial sobre Homosexualidad en África, Juan Antonio Torres, asistente de investigación de Estudios Africanos, realizó una entrevista a Chesterfield Samba, Director de GALZ (Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe), una de las principales organizaciones de lucha por los derechos de las poblaciones LGBT en el sur de África con sede en Harare, Zimbabwe. Mayor información sobre GALZ en su página web: http://www.galz.co.zw/

What is the current legal situation of Homosexuality in Zimbabwe? How does it affect your daily life?

When it comes to homosexuality, Zimbabwean law is both very confused and extremely unfair and sexist. “Sodomy” does not apply to anal sex between men and women, only to two men and, until January 2006, there was no distinction under the law between consensual sodomy and male rape. There are other sexist inconsistencies in the law. In heterosexual rape, the issue of consent is an essential element of the offence and this must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. In sodomy, all that needs to be proved is penetration of the anus, as consent is no defence. It is then often assumed that it was non-consensual (as it was during the Banana trial) without the issue of consent being examined in any detail. One is then effectively found guilty of homosexual rape (even though the offence is not named as such in Zimbabwean law).

Same sex relations are criminalised under Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act (chapter 9:23) Act 23/2004 Zimbabwe section 73 “Sodomy” subsection which states: any male person, who with the consent of another male person, knowingly performs with that other person anal sexual intercourse, or any act involving physical contact other than anal sexual intercourse that would be regarded by a reasonable person to be an indecent act, shall be guilty of sodomy and liable to a fine up to or not exceeding level fourteen or imprisonment for a period not exceeding one year or both. The law is however silent on consenting women. Legal opinion suggests that the law was abrogated by disuse meaning that consenting women are not persecuted under the law.

Laws such as the Access to Information and protection of Privacy Act as well as the Public order and security Act have been used to harass LGBT people. Sexual orientation is not protected in any category in the constitution. Discussion on inclusion of sexual orientation in the bill of rights took place in the first draft constitution of 2000 as well as the current constitutional submissions of the 2010 process. GALZ has acknowledged the protection of heterosexual sexual orientation and discrimination for those who identify as or are thought to be homosexual. Discrimination based on sexual orientation is not prohibited but almost encouraged and sponsored by the state through hate speeches and vilification using state media.

Has your Organisation achieved any kind of improvement for LGBT rights in Zimbabwe?

Currently there are no National programmes targeting MSM (men who have sex with men), WSW (women who have sex with women), MTF (male to female), FTM (female to male) groups and GALZ has been the only group in the country to provide intervention for these communities to a limited extent. Advocacy efforts have been developed to ensure that some intervention is taken up by the Ministry of Health and the Zimbabwe Aids National Council. National Policy went as far as acknowledging the existence of MSM in the Zimbabwe National Aids strategic planning document of 2006-2010 by making reference to a paragraph below although no national programmes were recommended.

GALZ has been invited to participate at national events and at the recent process of reviewing the Zimbabwe National Strategy on HIV and AIDS (2011-2015). The current draft highlights more attention to the need for MSM interventions and other minority groups at National level. It has already been indicated that no national programmes will be carried out in this regard.

What has been the relation between religion and LGBT citizens in Zimbabwe?

A number of religious leaders have spoken out against LGBTI people in Zimbabwe over the years, with the most recent one being that of the excommunicated bishop of the Anglican Church, Nolbert Kunonga. Kunonga and his followers split from the main Anglican Church in 2007 on the grounds that the Church of England condoned homosexuality. They proceeded to form their own independent church forcing the Anglican church of the province of central Africa to excommunicate him. The Anglican diocese led by Bishop Chad Gandiya reaffirms that the issue of homosexuality has never been an issue for conflict as alleged by Kunonga. It does seem that Bishop Kunonga enjoys state support in this issue. Other notable church leaders include Dr. Aspher Madziyire, President of one of the largest Pentecostal groupings in Zimbabwe, the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM). He described homosexuality as an abomination and a threat to society’s moral and spiritual foundation. Other notable religious leaders include Ezekiel Guti of the Pentecostal ZAOGA FIF, Noah Pashapa, and Obediah Msindo who at one point was facing charges of raping his maid. We have also noted religious Pastors being arrested for Sodomy such as a Lutheran church pastor, Chabata Muchineripi, who raped a 15 year old boy. Muchineripi was sentenced to 18 years in jail.

Who has been the most important obstacle in the fight for LGBT rights in Zimbabwe?

There has been an increase in the number of politicians making public statements about LGBT issues in recent months particularly with regards to the on-going constitutional making process. The President as well as the Prime Minister is on record speaking against the inclusion of gay rights in the constitution. The co-chair of the constitution select committee (COPAC) also spoke against inclusion of LGBT rights in the constitution. A number of political leaders, ministers, army generals, police chiefs and members of parliament including the first lady have also spoke out against LGBTI people instigating violence on the LGBTI persons.

Given the level of state sponsored homophobia in the country, Zimbabwe has actively voted against anything to do with sexual orientation at UN Level. An example being the recent amendment to op- 6b of DR III “extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions” Zimbabwe voted against this as well as the UNGA statement of December 08. Zimbabwe continues to align itself with other non – democratic regimes as they remain united against any move to erode the principle on non – interference in sovereign affairs regardless of the seriousness of the documented abuses against her people.

GALZ members occasionally report incidents of harassment by the police and members of the public in public places such as nightclubs, bars and churches alike. In most cases LGBTI people are fearful of pursuing these cases as the police often display reluctance or in most cases often take the side of the accused resulting in LGBTI people suffering embarrassment and humiliation in the hands of those that are supposed to protect them. The national organisation has been raided under the guise of searching for pornographic material and drugs with nothing of that sort being found on the premises. The two employees of GALZ, Ellen Chademana and Ignatius that were arrested in a recent raid of the offices on 21 May 2010 were acquitted of the charges that were levelled against them. The home of the director of the organisation was also raided in the process.

Who has been the most important supporter of your organisation?

A number of organisations have become involved with LGBTI rights such as the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) which provides free legal support to LGBTI people and to GALZ, ZLHR has attended to a number of cases involving LGBTI people facing charges of sodomy and assistance to GALZ staff facing charges of possession of “pornographic” material as well as undermining the authority of the president.

National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, NANGO has been monitoring cases of rights violations aimed at organisations including GALZ. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Students Solidarity Trust, Young women leadership initiative all document violation of rights and Sexual Rights centre actually having programmes for LGBTI people. Funders of some of these groups include DFID, HIVOS, SIDA as well as other Development agencies.

GALZ has worked with a number of HIV/AIDS organisations in addressing HIV amongst the MSM community such as the Zimbabwe National Network of PLHIV (ZNNP+) ZINERELA and Anerela, groupings of religious leaders affected by HIV who have supported Positive LGBTI people with income generating projects, Zimbabwe Aids Network which focuses mainly on influencing policy change in the Health sector.  Safaids, an information dissemination service that also provides capacity support to GALZ in developing materials for the LGBTI community. GALZ has also benefited from support from a number of foreign Aid organisations.

What is the government’s response to the various campaigns in favour of LGBT rights in Zimbabwe?

GALZ has over the years had difficulty in conducting private meetings with its members in public space. It has not been clear to the Police on how they should regulate the GALZ meetings with several intrusions taking place in private meeting places organised by GALZ. GALZ has over the years notified police of its intended meetings and has experienced challenges in getting these approved. In 2007 GALZ was having a meeting in Mutare at the Mountview Hotel; Plain Clothes Police Officers raided the Hotel and searched each and every member in the room together with personal belongings. The Officers ordered GALZ to cancel its meeting forthwith and to return to Harare. GALZ staff was quizzed as to why they organised a meeting in Mutare when the President was in Mutare addressing a rally. This amounted to harassment and intimidation and also a violation of our right to freedom of assembly.

In January 2008 GALZ notified Nyanga Police of its intention to hold a strategic planning Meeting at Troutbeck Hotel. The meeting was to be attended by twenty staff and board members. The result was a call from the police advising us to cancel our meeting or move it to another venue as “Many people didn’t like homosexuals”. The Hotel intervened after we had asked for a refund and eventually the meeting was cleared with two police details sitting through in our discussions and also GALZ having to pay for their teas and lunches. Under POSA (Public Order and Security Act), the Police have the power to ban public gatherings. The Police need to be stripped of this power to prohibit meetings as they have often abused this provision and they have also used it selectively. GALZ has encountered problems in having this permission granted on the basis that the President does not like homosexuals therefore you cannot meet. We would like to state that the personal opinion of Political leaders should not be used to manipulate the Law. The police need training on the provisions of these and other laws as being homosexual is not a criminal offence in Zimbabwe however the Police have taken a partisan approach in parroting the personal opinions of political leaders.

The Censorship Act has also been used to seize materials sent to GALZ from well-wishers such as DVDs and tapes, basic procedural requirements under the enabling legislation concerning seizure, examination, the retention and/or destruction of articles posted of the Association from overseas is unlawful.  Despite written request and varying oral representations made by GALZ, representatives of the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) neglect or refuse to disclose with particularity what specific items it would have seized and wishes to examine or that have been examined and to explain any continued basis for their retention. GALZ has in some cases used the courts to seek relief.  For example, information provided by notices in three instances – and in one instance no notice at all – is manifestly deficient.  The paucity of information makes it impossible for GALZ to make any meaningful representation to ZIMRA or the Censorship Board as provided for in terms of the enabling Act. As a result GALZ loses vital books and entertainament videos for its membership solely because they are addresssed to GALZ without being examined.

Do you think a social change can be achieved in the short term?

While homosexuality remains illegal in Zimbabwe, there can be no doubt that there are men who have sex with other men. They are at risk of HIV infection and passing on the virus to their partners, including female partners. Furthermore, international experience has shown that ignoring this group or adopting punitive approaches will only serve to drive MSM underground and reduce opportunities to dialogue with this group. An assessment of MSM patterns, meeting points and behaviors will therefore be carried out, and adequate public health interventions developed based on the findings.

This small paragraph contains three important pieces of information:

  1. The admission that homosexual men exist in Zimbabwe (although there is no mention of lesbian and bisexual women) is a significant change in the pattern of government thinking as regards the existence of homosexuality as an indigenous behaviour to Africa.
  2. The criminalising of sex between men prejudices efforts to reduce HIV in Zimbabwe; an important statement which will assist GALZ in its work around advocating for the inclusion of sexual orientation in Zimbabwe’s new Constitution.
  3. There is need to conduct research into MSM and develop public health interventions based on the findings indicating for the first time that the National Aids Council (NAC) is willing to acknowledge the place of homosexual activity in its awareness and intervention work.

Is there any additional information you would like to share with our readers?

There are articles written mainly in the private press, highlighting the plight of LGBTI people and the challenges they face as well as research done by academic students in various disciplines. Students mainly rely on GALZ as the only source of LGBTI information relating to Zimbabwe so as part of their research work; they interact with members of GALZ to complete their studies. Dr. Masiiwa Ragies Gunda recently published a book on the Bible and Homosexuality based on his studies. Local authors have also contributed to the discussion with Tendai Huchu producing a novel “The Hairdressers of Harare” and Virginia Phiri producing “Destiny” which also touches on the LGBTI subject.

Journalists have also explored the issue although more negative articles have been generated in the public media; more balanced articles continue to be generated in the private media as well as on internet platforms such as blogs and online news sites. GALZ also advertises its services regularly in the private media such as Newsday, the Financial Gazette, The Independent, The Standard, the Zimbabwean and some community newspapers such as The Tribune, The Worker which is a Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions publication. Legal experts such as Derek Matyszak have contributed a number of articles about LGBTI people and Tazorora TG Musarurwa has also weighed in with Opinion pieces. GALZ has also produced research material, a book examining homosexuality in from pre-colonial Zimbabwe, “Unspoken facts” as well as “Sahwira” a collection of personal stories of the LGBTI community in Zimbabwe.

Entrevista concedida por:
Chesterfield Samba
Director – Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ)
35 Colenbrander Road, Milton Park
Harare, Zimbabwe
E-mail: director@galz.co.zw

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Posted in: Zimbabwe