Zimbabwe’s LGBT community is likely to be among those to welcome the possible end of Robert Mugabe’s rule, one characterised by an obsession with homosexuality.
Over the past few days, Southern Africa has been rocked by reports that the Zimbabwe military has placed the president under house arrest.
It appears that a negotiated end to Mugabe’s 37-year hold over the country is now imminent. The apparent coup follows Mugabe’s purge of party officials, including vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in a bid to impose his wife, Grace Mubabe, as the party’s new leader.
During his rule, Mugabe has been a thorn in the side of the LGBT community, vilifying sexual minorities and proclaiming that homosexuality is a Western affliction being imposed on the country, and Africa as a whole.
Under his government, LGBT people have been the victims of arrest, abuse and persecution and have been painted as being unAfrican. Describing opponents as gay has become a common strategy among politicians in Zimbabwe as they vie to succeed the ageing president.
Here are just a few examples of Mugabe’s appalling homophobia over the years:
- Among his most famous comments, Mugabe stated that gay people are “worse than pigs and dogs”, that they “don’t have any human rights at all” and that homosexuality “destroys nations, apart from it being a filthy, filthy disease”.
- In August 1995, he refused to open a human rights-themed International Book Fair in Harare until a stall run by local LGBT rights group, GALZ, was closed down.
- Mugabe has also mocked former US President Obama for his support for same-sex marriage, and said: “If it becomes necessary, I shall travel to Washington, D.C., get down on my knee, and ask his [Obama’s] hand”. He added: “I can’t understand how this people dare to defy Christ’s explicit orders as our Lord prohibited mankind from sodomy.”
- Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also been a target for Mugabe. In 2013, he stated at an election rally: “Tutu should just step down, because he supports gays, something that is evil. We say no to gays.”
- Last year, he used the occasion of his birthday party to lash out at non-existent threats to “force” same-sex marriage onto the country. “Never ever accept that a society can condone marriages of man to man, a woman to woman. The so-called gays; no, they have no place in our society,” he insisted. He said that if international aid is offered on the basis “that we must accept the principle of gay marriages – then let that aid stay where it is.” (No nation or aid agency has ever made marriage equality a condition on which they will provide aid to Zimbabwe.)
- In fact, bashing LGBT people at his birthday parties is not an uncommon occurrence. On his 90th birthday he told the guests that gays and lesbians “misuse” their God-given sex organs. “Use your organs properly. If you use them improperly, they will reject you and say ah, you have misused us.”
On Wednesday, GALZ issued a statement advising that due to the “prevailing political situation in the country” it would be temporarily closing its office and postponing all planned activities “for safety reasons”.
Gay sex and public affection are illegal in Zimbabwe, with penalties of up to three years in jail. Same-sex marriage is also illegal, as entrenched in the country’s Constitution.