Tutu leads fight to halt anti-gay terror sweeping Africa

Battle has been joined against the criminalisation of homosexuality in Africa. Last week, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and more than 60 civil society and human rights groups called on Uganda to reject proposed punishments for gay sex that range from life imprisonment to the death penalty.

Activists in Malawi were steeled by pressure from Human Rights Watch for the dropping of a case against the first gay couple to seek marriage in the conservative country. Steve Monjeza (26) and 20-year-old Tiwonge Chimbalanga will stand trial this week after holding a traditional ceremony last December.

Human Rights Watch said: “The case is an affront to essential principles of non-discrimination and equality.
It singles out two people as criminals simply because they love each other.”

The case has focused attention on a homophobic backlash sweeping Africa, partly because gay men and lesbians are becoming more assertive about their rights, partly because of intolerance fanned by interventions from evangelical churches in America.

‘Men who want to breathe into other men’s ears’
Last month the challenge was put in context when the Zimbabwean prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, often lionised by Western liberals, backed President Robert Mugabe’s position that gay rights could have no place in the national constitution.

Tsvangirai was widely quoted as saying: “The president has spoken about gay rights, about some men who want to breathe into other men’s ears. I don’t agree with that. Why would you look for men when our women make up 52% of our population? Men are much fewer than women.”

The Movement for Democratic Change, has made commitments that the state should not interfere in the private lives of its citizens, but Tsvangirai’s remark probably owed something to realpolitik: support for gay rights could be a huge vote-loser in a heavily Christian society where homosexual activity is outlawed.

Gay sex is illegal in 36 countries in Africa. In Kenya recently, police raided a gay wedding and arrested guests. South Africa is often regarded as a beacon of hope because it was the first country on the continent to legalise same-sex marriage. Yet campaigners say the fight against bigotry is far from over, pointing to incidents of murder and so-called “corrective rape” against lesbians. Last year, Lulu Xingwana, the arts and culture minister, walked out of an exhibition because it featured photographs of nude lesbian couples that she found “immoral” and “against nation-building”.

Import from the West
A favourite claim among critics of homosexuality is that it is an import from the decadent West and alien to African culture. But this has been challenged by historical evidence of homosexual people and practices being accepted in traditional societies before the arrival of European settlers.

In a recent column in the Guardian, Blessing-Miles Tendi cited the Azande people in the north-east of what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it was acceptable for kings, princes and soldiers to take young male lovers.

In fact, argue campaigners such as Peter Tatchell, is it not homosexuality but rather the laws against it that were imposed Africa by the West. Many African states are using the very laws introduced by European colonialists more than a century ago to persecute gay men and lesbians today. - guardian.co.uk