GALZ Director Chesterfield Samba
Usually homophobic police came to the rescue of Zimbabwe gay rights group GALZ after five men broke into its office, locked up staff and attempted to steal various items.
According to the organisation’s director, Chesterfield Samba, at around 11am on Thursday, five unidentified men wielding hammers violently forced their way into the Harare office, disrupting a meeting that was underway.
He said that one of the men, disguised as a mentally challenged person, threatened the security personnel controlling the gate to the office with a hammer as a visitor was driving into the premises.
The men rounded up staff and board members and locked them in the guard room while they ransacked the offices, collecting personal property, including cellphones, laptops and bags.
The police were called and responded quickly to the situation. They arrested the men who are now in custody at Harare Central Police Station.
Samba commended the “swift reaction” and “the conduct of the Zimbabwe Republic Police” in a statement. He said that the staff members present during the attack were unharmed, although a cellphone and some cash belonging to a board member is still missing.
Samba added that “GALZ is not taking this incident as a random act of attempted robbery but that of deliberate attack by the youth militia, acting on the orders of someone superior”.
“The men were constantly making communication with an individual addressed as ‘Machacha’ of an unknown ‘security wing’ over the phone,” he alleged.
The incident was unusual in that police have in the past been the ones intimidating staff and ransacking the GALZ office.
Most recently, police raided the premises twice in August last year and arrested GALZ members, charging the group’s co-chairperson with running an “unregistered” organisation.
In 2010, two employees were arrested and charged with the possession of pornographic material during a raid on the GALZ offices. They were ultimately acquitted by the courts.
Police have also raided Samba’s home in the past.
Under current laws, gay sex and members of the same sex holding hands, hugging or kissing are illegal in Zimbabwe, with penalties of up to three years in jail. These laws may be in conflict with the country’s newly adopted Constitution, but this has yet to be tested in court.