Gay rights: towards a culture of tolerance

Published: August 22, 2011

 EVERY informed citizen is aware that our Zimbabwean constitutional experts are busy drafting what could potentially become our new Constitution of Zimbabwe, superseding the patently colonial Lancaster House Constitution.

One aspect that our anonymous drafters of the new constitution must be grappling with as they sift through the numerous views gathered by the constitutional outreach programme is the submerged issue of Zimbabwe’s sexual minorities, gays and lesbians.

There is no doubt that ethnic and racial minorities of Zimbabwean will find more accommodation in this envisaged constitution more than these sexual minorities. This is the raison d’etre of this article.

As in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, until recently, there was no sustained, popular debate about homosexuality in Zimbabwe. It seems to me that, historically speaking, the issue of homosexuality was and still is a non-issue for most Africans because of the general assumption that homosexuality never existed in African societies.

Indeed, having grown up in Zimbabwe, I only got to know that there was such a thing as homosexuality when I got to university! And quite immediately, the moment I learnt about homosexuality it was cast as a deviant sexuality that was un/anti-African. And this is the most pervasive attitude that most Africans have towards homosexuality – they see homosexuality not as a bad thing for other foreign or non-African people to embrace, but as a culturally un-African behaviour.

I remember that in the 1990s, when a small group of gay activists openly protested against laws that criminalised homosexuality, literally the majority of the Zimbabwean populace closed ranks in opposition to homosexuality (in a similar fashion to what is happening now in Uganda, Malawi and elsewhere). I regret it now, but when President Robert Mugabe issued his now infamous 1995 aspersion against gays as “worse than pigs and dogs”, I enthusiastically endorsed that sentiment, despite my own revulsion with Mugabe’s dictatorial tendencies.

The argument then was, and has always been, that homosexuality is un-African and that it never existed in any prominent way in African societies. Most Africans today actually argue and believe that Western nations are the ones responsible for past and current attempts to foist or impose the acceptance of homosexuality on African countries and their peoples, a practice many believe to be “western” or “European”. And I also suspect that the obsession has been mostly with male-to-male sexualities because of the general presumption and fear that homosexuality is an attack on African masculinity.

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