President Robert Mugabe
Zimbabwe’s gay and lesbian community is on tenterhooks in anticipation of President Robert Mugabe’s pre-election threat to see gays “rot in jail”.
Ahead of the elections, Mugabe went on the warpath against the LGBT community in an effort to appeal to conservative voters and to define his party as anti-colonial and anti-West.
In June, the president threatened that if he won the elections he would review and tighten current sentences imposed on gay people so that they will “rot in jail”.
“We want a nation guided by strong values, we cannot give up our values for money,” he said.
In July, he promised to “deal with” gay people, insisting that “gay rights are not human rights”. In that same speech he threatened to “chop off their heads” if same sex couples were not able to conceive children.
His efforts appear to have paid off. Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party went on to win the elections by a landslide, although the opposition MDC and some Western governments are claiming that the elections were rigged.
The results were a huge blow to the country’s LGBT community and could allow Zanu-PF to change the recently adopted constitution, which, while banning gay marriage, provides some protection of civil liberties.
Chesterfield Samba, Director of Gays and Lesbian of Zimbabwe told Mambaonline that he “still has to come to terms with the result, just like everyone else,” adding that the “country feels a bit dejected on the outcome”.
What remains to be seen now is if Mugabe will keep his promises and target gays and lesbians or whether this was all campaign rhetoric.
“It is very difficult to predict the President’s next move, just like we have seen in the election result itself,” said Samba.
“A lot of promises are made by politicians and indeed, ‘hell for gays’ was one of the pledges. We wait to see which of all the pledges that were made, will be fulfilled,” he said.
Samba went on to admit that “there is some genuine sense of uneasiness on the part of the community given the electoral outcome and linking that to the pledges that were made by the President”.
Nevertheless, Samba insisted that “we are a community and a country that lives on hope. The LGBT community remains hopeful that change will come. Our current leaders will not be with us forever.”
He pledged that GALZ, which has been on the receiving end of intimidation, raids and unwarranted arrests of its members in the past, will continue to operate, adding that, “the result and the threats are not a deterrent to GALZ’s operations”.
Samba urged the country’s LGBT community not to lose hope. “Bombarded as we are by the onslaught by the President, we need to rally together as a community to fend off this onslaught,” he said.
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.