/ 22 July 2010

Battle for ‘everyday’ rights of gays, lesbians in Zim

Zimbabwe human rights group Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz) have denied that they are advocating for same-sex marriage in a new constitution.

“While there may be individuals in Zimbabwe who would welcome the legalisation of same-sex marriages, for us the priority is for the everyday human rights of gays and lesbians to be protected,” Galz director Chesterfield Samba told the Mail & Guardian this week.

Samba cited discrimination in the workplace, at hospitals and clinics, as well as when leasing accommodation as examples of everyday human rights abuses against gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe, and said that “we really need to take care of these rights first”.

Homosexuality is not explicitly outlawed in Zimbabwe but sodomy is punishable by up to a year in prison, according to Section 73 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.

Teams from the parliamentary select committee on the constitution (Copac) have been criss-crossing Zimbabwe since June 21, canvassing citizens’ views on a proposed new constitution, known as the Kariba Draft.

Samba told the M&G that Galz made no mention of same-sex marriage in their submission to Copac.

But during a constitutional outreach programme in the country’s eastern Marange district last weekend, President Robert Mugabe is quoted as saying: “We will not listen to those advocating for [gay] rights in the new constitution,” adding that, “at some point, I realised that I was reprimanding blameless dogs and pigs, which are aware that marriage is for procreation.”

Mugabe first referred to gays as “worse than dogs and pigs” in August 1995, after encountering a Galz book stall at the Harare International Book Fair.

While Mugabe’s views are well-documented, Samba said that he was “disappointed” by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s “regrettable statements” about gay rights.

At a Women’s Day celebration held in Chitungwiza in March this year, Tsvangirai concurred with Mugabe, saying that he was opposed to the inclusion of gay rights in the Constitution.

A few days after the Chitungwiza rally, an official in Tsvangirai’s office told reporters the prime minister had only been expressing his personal views.

But Samba said that the issue of gay rights was not even included among the constitutional discussion topics, despite lobbying by Galz.

This week the MDC published its proposed list of constitutional principles, which makes no mention of gay rights.

Attempts to contact MDC spokespersons Nelson Chamisa and Tendai Biti on their cellphones this week were unsuccessful.

But national constitutional assembly (NCA) coordinator, Munjodzi Mutandiri, said the issue of gay rights is being used by both Zanu-PF and the MDC to gain political mileage ahead of a constitutional referendum: “The politicians know that Zimbabweans are not comfortable about homosexuality, and they use this for political ends.”

“The MDC will have thought, ‘What are the political ramifications for us if we are seen to be publicly endorsing the rights of gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe?’

“We have now reduced an issue that is about human rights to an issue which is about politics,” Mutandiri added.

Samba was even more downbeat: “We’ve done what we can with our submission [to Copac] and must now wait and see what happens. But we are sure that our call won’t be included in the final document.”

A date for a constitutional referendum has not been set.