Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Moz lifts gay laws but queer fight goes on

Gay rights activists welcome the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Mozambique but said they still face a long struggle for full equality.

A penal code in force from last Monday erased Portuguese colonial laws dating back to 1886 that condemned anyone “who … engages in vices against nature” to three years’ hard labour. The move was largely symbolic: there have been no known prosecutions for homosexuality since Mozambique gained independence 40 years ago.

“We welcome it,” says Carina Capitine, spokesperson for Lambda, Mozambique’s only gay rights organisation that lobbied for the change. She said she doesn’t think it will bring real change for how LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people live in Mozambique. Lambda’s fought seven years for government recognition, which Capitine calls its next battle. “A lot of people ask about marriage or adoption but we can’t think about that yet. Our registration is key for us.”

Lambda has more than 40 members. It provides counselling, legal and health advice. Registration would mean access to funding and tax exemption status; it would be a step towards acceptance for Mozambique’s LGBT community. The country has a reputation for more relaxed social attitudes than many countries in Africa.

Describing Mozambican society as quite tolerant, Capitine adds: “The LGBT community is not targeted by violent acts as in some African countries. But we face discrimination.”

Public displays of same-sex affection are rare but not unknown. It depends on place and personality, says Capitine. “Some people are more open, some are more shy.”

‘We exist’

The mainstream media tend to ignore the subject but the internet has provided a platform to raise awareness. Leading activist and Mozambican blogger Dercio Tsandzana says it can’t be found in newspapers or local media, but “you can go to Facebook and find Lambda: ‘Look for us, we exist.’”

He added: “We can’t say the government is open-minded. It is one thing to open laws, another to give recognition to an organisation like Lambda. They don’t say ‘we don’t accept’; they don’t say ‘we accept’. This is about more than laws. It’s not easy – we must talk.”

Joaquim Chissano, a former Mozambican president, appealed for a change in attitudes in a letter to African leaders last year. “We can no longer afford to discriminate against people on the basis of age, sex, ethnicity, migrant status, sexual orientation and gender identity, or any other basis – we need to unleash the full potential of everyone,” he wrote.

“As an African who has been around a long time, I understand resistance to these ideas. But I can also step back and see the larger course of human history, especially of the past century, is one of expanding human rights and freedoms.”

Same-sex relations are illegal in 36 of the continent’s 54 countries, according to Amnesty International, and punishable by death in Sudan, Nigeria and Mauritania. Anti-gay statements from political leaders are common in Zambia and Zimbabwe. – © Guardian News & Media 2015

Vote for an informed choice

We’re dropping the paywall this week so that everyone can access all our stories for free, and get the information they need in the run up to the local government elections. For the latest updates and political analysis, sign up to our daily elections newsletter.

If our coverage helps inform your decision, cast your vote for an informed public and join our subscriber community. Right now, a full year’s access is just R510, half the usual cost. Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.

David Smith
David Smith is the Guardian's Washington DC bureau chief. From 2010 to 2015 Smith was the Africa correspondent for The Guardian for which he was based in Johannesburg, South Africa
The Guardian
Guest Author

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Eskom: Light will shine on election

Earlier this week, the ailing utility’s chief operating officer assured the public it would try to avoid load-shedding as voters head to the polls on Monday

Reforming Sasol and Eskom: South Africa’s ‘carbon criminals’

South Africa’s biggest polluters but they say they’re turning the ship around, but concerns remain over the use of gas as a fossil fuel in their proposals

Q&A Sessions: Dr Zolelwa Sifumba on learning to rest and...

Dr Zolelwa Sifumba went from being a frontline healthcare worker to stepping back from clinical work. She speaks to Elna Schütz about her shift into more open spaces

What makes a metro coalition government work?

South Africa’s parties that run prosperous governments will be those that are successful in developing and nurturing coalitions

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…