2014 has started and I can’t help but feel like the air has been violently removed from my bubble. During the past few weeks, Africa has become a less tolerant place for its LGTBIQQA citizens.
First, the Ugandan parliament passed a bill that proposes lengthy sentences for both same-sex loving people and their supporters just before Christmas. It was audaciously called an early Christmas present to the people from the parliament. The good news is that Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni, has since refused to sign the bill into law. His reasons, according to this article
, don’t exactly inspire hope for the future of LGTBIQQA citizens of Uganda.
The second and similar problematic thing is the unannounced but expected signing of the Same-sex Marriage Prohibition Act by Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan early in January. The act was adopted and passed by the legislative branches of government in 2011 and 2013. Consensual sex between adults of the same sex was already criminalised in Nigeria, with punishments as severe as death in some northern states where sharia law. What this new law does is to even criminalize groups that advocate for gay rights in Nigeria.
While all this has been happening, a transsexual friend of mine who lives as a woman was arrested for using a female toilet in Bulawayo. The case was thrown out by the judge. Also in Bulawayo, a GALZ sponsored Christmas party was raided by the police and several prominent figures within ZANU PF’s Youth League were outed to the party structures. No charges have been filed but they still live in fear.
Meanwhile, South Africa, seen by many as a beacon of hope when it comes to gay rights in Africa, has remained silent. International condemnation has been loud and quick. Petitions from all over the world are littering the internet. And still South Africa remains silent. There are serious discussions about reform of the United Nations Security Council to include a permant seat for an African country. The top two contenders are South Africa and Nigeria and that saddens me. We cannot allow African countries that don’t respect or protect African LGBTI rights the privilege of representing the continent on the Security Council. The time has come for us to speak out and stand up for our rights!
It’s been ten days since Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela passed away. Like the rest of the world, I’ve mourned the passing of a great and inspirational leader and human being. I’ve cried and sung and danced with those mourning him across South Africa. But I’ve also taken the time to examine what his legacy means for me as a young black gay African man.
In his autobiography “A Long Walk to Freedom,” Nelson Mandela wrote about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and how it drove him to continue in the struggle against Apartheid. Of particular value to him and his defining philosophy was the first article which declares: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” The South African Bill of Rights proudly guarantees and promotes that equality. South Africa became the first and, to date, only Afican country that explicitly protects the LGBTI community from discrimination when a new constitution was signed into law by Mr. Mandela in 1996 leading to the eventual decriminalisation of sodomy in 1998 and the legalisation of gay marriage in 2006.
However, having said all this, it cannot be forgotten that Mr. Mandela was a man of his time. He was educated at a conservative Jesuit mission school, he spent many years in prison where homosexuality is used as a tool for abuse and control, he never once vocalised support for the LGBTI community and most shockingly he never spoke out against the horrific practice of what has come to be known as “corrective rape.” It’s a complicated and difficult reality to reconcile with the image of Mr. Mandela as the heroic saintly champion of equality. Moreover, he never used his status as a elder statesman in Africa to challenge his fellow leaders to respect and protect the rights of their own LGBTI communities.
I am not trying to speak ill of the dead or minimise the enormous impact Mr. Mandela has had in South Africa, in Africa and across the world. But I believe it is important to fully examine his life so we can learn from and be fully inspired by his legacy. I am moved daily by his message of love, hope, forgiveness, tolerance, reconciliation and justice. I can only pray and wish that when my time has come, I would have lived a life only one tenth as inspirational as Mr. Mandela’s. I’d like to finish off by quoting Mr. Mandela himself:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion … if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”
I am an African, not because I was born in Africa, but because Africa is born in me – Kwame Nkrumah
What does it mean to be African? Is there really a definition for African? Africa is such a diverse continent with over 50 countries and over 2000 languages. This incredible diversity makes it very difficult and perhaps mischievous to define an African. However there’s a sense of unity as you travel across the continent derived from the concept of Ubuntu or Hunhuism. Ubuntu is an ethical philosophy that affirms the humanity of everyone, but most especially the “other”, the outsider, the visitor. My humanity is measured by how I treat others. This concept, that is almost universal across the continent, is what gives rise to sayings like “everyone’s child” and “it takes a village”. There’s an inherent warmth that Africans have for everyone, family, neighbours and strangers alike. I love how no matter where my travels have taken me on the continent, I can walk into almost any home and be received warmly with a glass of water and an offer of food. Until they realise I’m gay.
LGTBIQ Africans seem to be the only exception to Ubuntu. We are not accepted or received with warmth and respect. In fact leaders of every shape and form take it upon themselves to demean and dehumanise us with harmful and, oftentimes, violent rhetoric. We are called un-African, a perversion of African culture and a manifestation of Western society. We are called “worse than pigs and dogs”. We are called “the biggest threat to humanity”. We are threatened with beheading, arrest, deportation, land dispossession and a myriad of other crimes. Where is Ubuntu in all of this? How is my humanity being affirmed by all of this? How can I be expected to respect and honour my culture when it is used against me?
There are Africans who are challenging this attitude; LGTBIQ Africans who are using Ubuntu and their cultures to stand up and be counted as African. But they are too few. I wish I could say I was one of them. I wish I could courageously and selflessly be out there fighting for inclusion and respect. I’m too afraid I guess. But step by step, I’m allowing myself to come out and be counted. This blog is part of that journey for me.
It’s the election season here in Zimbabwe, and for us men and women of the same-gender-loving persuasion that means undue and unjust harassment and political scapegoating. Usually, it’s just a few articles in the government mouthpiece the Herald and its sister publications. However this time round the homophobic and violent rhetoric has been stepped up. First the GALZ (Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe) 44 were arrested, detained without charge for nearly 48 hours and tortured in August last year. And then there was the bizarre incident in June where the GALZ offices were invaded by thugs wielding hammers and other weapons. This time the Zimbabwe Republic Police, renowned for unexpected and random raids on GALZ, came to the rescue and promptly arrested the thugs. No word yet on what has happened to the thugs. And then this article comes out in the Herald’s Features section last week, where the author uses the article to coin the new word “gayism” and paint Harare’s eccentric artistic scene as a gay recruitment centre.
All these attacks and many more have happened in the full view of the private media and other civic society groups, and yet very few of them step up to defend GALZ and its membership. But if we look at what else has happened in Zimbabwe since August 2012, we see a steady stream of other NGOs and civic society groups being raided, their members being arrested and their activities being disrupted. The list includes groups like WOZA, ZPP, ZimRights, ZCTU, NANGO and people like Beatrice Mtetwa. At a time like this, I always remember the wise words of the late German anti-Nazi theologian and Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller:
In Germany, they came first for the Communists,And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist…When they locked up the social democrats,I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
…then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew…When they came for me,
There was no one left to speak out.
Zimbabweans, we need to do more to speak out against injustice whenever and wherever we see it. We cannot continue to be a society that sits idly by while others are being dragged over the coals for holding and expressing an opinion. We cannot continue to be a society that turns a blind eye towards unnecessary hatred and a deaf ear to violent rhetoric. We need to become a society where everybody’s rights are upheld, especially the rights of those you most disagree with. That is the equal and just society we all say we want to be a part of. Then why are we so scared to stand up and fight for it. The time is now!
It’s May 17, and that means IDAHOBIT. For those of you that need a translation today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. May 17 was chosen because in 1990, homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organisation’s International Classification of Disease. IDAHOBIT, more than Pride, is a global event whose main aim is to raise awareness about the endemic heterosexism and homophobia of society. Living in Zimbabwe as a black, gay, man, I am aware everyday of how entrenched homophobia and heterosexism can cause immense heartache and pain in many people’s lives. The hatred is media and government sponsored. There is very little space given for gay-friendly voices. And anytime anyone expresses a comment that is remotely anti-hate, they are accused of being gay. That is the society I live in. But as Daniel Radcliffe put it “you don’t have to be gay to be a supporter, you just have to be human”. I can’t believe I’m quoting Harry Potter!
This hatred sometimes becomes internalised leading to self-loathing and in the extreme cases suicide. I have a friend who killed himself a few months ago. His suicide took us all by surprise. I’m not saying that there weren’t any other underlying issues that lead to him taking his life, but the prevailing cloud of hate that we live under surely didn’t do much to help the situation.
I have nothing really to celebrate today. All I can do is stand up proud and be counted as member of amazing global family. All I can do is shout out loud that this is who I am; I am not sick, I don’t need to be saved and my existence does not and should not threaten you or your families. People let’s stop the hate. Love and let love…
Happy Gay Day! Today remember to make a homosexual smile or let a homosexual make you smile!
Recently, I was filling in a form and ticking all the different boxes the Big Man uses to define who I am – male, black, in a relationship, Christian. The one box that wasn’t there and I would love to tick would be gay, but alas, living in Zimbabwe means this isn’t a label I can own. You see labels aren’t just about what other say about you; they help you feel like you belong to a group. The LGBTI(Q) (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Inter-sex, Queer and Questioning) community is one of the most invisible in this wonderful land of ours. Our invisibility means we are always excluded from all processes of national and health and personal development. Our relationships aren’t uplifted and supported by the community at large. Our lives, concerns and problems aren’t afforded the same space in public discourse as those of our straight counterparts. When we do make the national discourse, it is always negative stories about sodomy or same-sex marriage. But even in those stories the terms gay or homosexual or LGBTI(Q) never appear. Names and labels are important. They allow individuals to feel part of a community; they allow the general community to engage with and identify the named other. Getting these labels to be part of the national conversation is the first step in ensuring that the LGTBI(Q) community is treated with the respect and dignity all individuals and groups deserve.
Right now Zimbabwe is in the midst of a constitutional reform process. One of things we as a community was hoping for was recognition of the rights of LGBTIQ (for those that need a translation – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, inter-sex, queer and questioning) individuals. Unfortunately, it seems as though that is highly unlikely. I was surprisingly fine with that until recently when the local newspapers have been awash with stories about how the drafters are trying to “smuggle” in LGTBIQ rights. Politicians are using this issue to try to seem “in touch” with the concerns of the people. But Mr. Politician, most Zimbabweans don’t care or want to know about who I sleep with. There are bigger issues at hand in our country; the power cuts, the high cost of living, the high unemployment rate, the dismal state of government run institutions especially hospitals and schools, the rapidly deteriorating road networks… I could go on and on. Rather than focus on that, they want deflect and redirect the real issues at hand. These politicians are doing nothing but maliciously reciting hate speech that could endanger the lives of people. And I say shame on you Ignatius Chombo, Jonathan Moyo, Sithokozile Mathuthu, Angeline Masukuand others like them. Focus on the stuff that counts. Don’t scapegoat innocent people when you are the ones who have connived to plunge the country into its sorry state currently. Fix your messes and leave us out of it! We only wish we were that powerful to affect the course of our country’s history like that. But the one good thing about all this is that at least the politicians are acknowledging our existence, and isn’t that one of the steps towards total acceptance.
What does it mean to be young, black, gay and Zimbabwean in Zimbabwe today? That’s a question this blog was supposed to be exploring. Instead, in the few posts I’ve made, I’ve chosen to dwell on my own personal issues – the micro rather than the macro. But then again, for people to fully grasp our issues it is important to tell individual stories. And since my journey is the most readily available to me, that’s the one I will tell. I just don’t want anybody to feel that my journey is typical to all young, black, gay Zimbos. It’s my journey, my life, and how I live it is a reflection of me and not the whole community.
My first post! Wow!
I guess I should start with the why. Well, like many
bloggers people, I think my life is important and unique enough that other people would want to read it. I’m gay and Zimbabwean and living within the borders of this amazing country. I have traveled the world and lived in other countries (more on that later) but as Dorothy said “there’s no place like home.” And so I’m back in Zimbabwe trying to eke out a life for myself.
Contrary to popular opinion, Zimbabwe is not a violent country. Don’t get me wrong, there are human rights abuses that include torture and arbitrary arrest, but on the whole life here is peaceful. You won’t hear of or see gay bashings. Correction, I’ve never heard of or seen gay bashings. That doesn’t mean that life isn’t difficult and lived mostly on down low. It is a way of life here. My family and friends have known for years that I was I gay and I have a boyfriend (more on him later). We go out together, but you’ll never catch us in public displays of affection. There are certain bars and clubs that have become gay hangouts but you wouldn’t catch them advertising as such.
That is the background from which my confessions and musings shall spring. They may come as fast bursts or slow trickles, but hopefully they will show the world what it is like to be gay and living in Zimbabwe.