Before and after: The LGBTIQ billboard was vandalised just days after it was put up in Zimbabwe
Excitement at the historic placement of a billboard affirming LGBTIQ equality in the Zimbabwe city of Bulawayo has been marred by vandalism.
Local LGBTIQ rights group GALZ this past week placed groundbreaking billboards in the country’s two largest cities, Bulawayo and the capital, Harare; an unthinkable move just two years ago.
The aim was to mark Pride Month in the region and to increase public awareness of the importance of LGBTIQ human rights.
The billboards were put up in high visibility areas with the message: “Munhu Munhu/Umuntu Ngumuntu [a person is a person]: Dignity, Rights and Respect for all Zimbabweans.”
The large signs, which feature a person’s open hands holding a rainbow ribbon, also include the organisation’s website www.galz.org.
The billboards are a bold initiative in a country where same-sex relationships remain illegal and LGBTIQ people’s right to free expression has historically been suppressed.
The organisation was, nevertheless, still shocked that, just days after it was erected, the billboard in Bulawayo was completely defaced with black paint and the number, “2023”.
In a statement, GALZ noted that the signs represent “strong advances in the battle for freedom of expression in Zimbabwe”. It also expressed its “utter contempt [for] any persons resorting to primitive acts of violence when putting across their point of view”.
The organisation said that the vandalism “is a stark reminder of the culture of hate, intolerance and impunity which still affects sections of Zimbabwean society.”
The defiant group added that the act “only reaffirms our belief that the message has been received and it further emboldens our quest to keep pushing boundaries and expressing ourselves…”
Chester Samba, Director of GALZ, told MambaOnline that the number scrawled on the billboard likely represents the year in which the next general elections will take place although he remains unclear as to what this is meant to signify.
Galz called on the police to deal with those guilty of the vandalism, and all other acts of violence, according to the laws of the land “without fear or favour”.
Under the late President Robert Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years until he was ousted in 2017, the country was internationally infamous for its anti-LGBTIQ policies and abuses.
Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution expressly bans same-sex marriage but does provide for the protection of civil liberties and other human rights. Nevertheless, 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.