GALZ Director, Chester Samba
GALZ, Zimbabwe’s LGBTI group, says that compared to previous years the country’s recent elections showed a welcome lack of anti-gay rhetoric from politicians.
The general elections to elect the president and members of both houses of parliament were held on 30 July.
The official results were narrowly in favour of the ruling Zanu-PF but they remain contested by the opposition. Six people were killed in riots against the outcome after the army opened fire on demonstrators.
Despite the controversy and deaths, Chester Samba, Director of GALZ, told Daily News that the elections were a “historic win” for the LGBTI community following years of anti-LGBTI sentiment typically surging during election campaigns.
“We witnessed a reduction in homophobic hate speech and reduction in the politicisation of LGBTI individuals as campaign tools…” he said.
Samba explained that in the past, during homophobic former President Robert Mugabe’s rule, political parties had “used LGBTI identities as ammunition to fuel campaign rallies and strategies.”
He noted that, “campaign rallies, mainly by Mugabe, were filled with hate speech towards LGBTI people”, and said that complaints to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission had been ignored.
Samba also claimed that GALZ had recorded “an increase in the number of LGBTI people that voted” in the latest elections. He did reveal, however, that there had been some incidents in which transgender people faced difficulties while voting where queues were based on gender.
Ahead of the poll, GALZ met with Zanu-PF to discuss how politicians had often used LGBTI issues “as a convenient diversionary subject for political leaders facing rampant unemployment, political unrest, and spiraling economic challenges.” Samba believes that this meeting helped in “fostering an enabling environment” for LGBTI people to take part.
Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution bans same-sex marriage but does otherwise provide protections of civil liberties and human rights, at least in theory. Laws criminalising homosexuality, with penalties of up to three years in jail, remain on the statute books and have yet to be challenged in court as unconstitutional.