A Zimbabwean LGBT rights advocate told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview in D.C. earlier this month he expects his country’s government to once again crack down on gay rights groups ahead of July’s presidential elections.
“I am told President Robert Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, is going to use the issue of homosexuality as one of their campaign tools,” the activist, who asked the Blade not to publish his name because he remains afraid of potential reprisals against him, said. He added his brother and most other Zimbabweans who oppose Mugabe will ultimately vote for him because of his strong opposition to homosexuality. “I strongly believe that they will use this issue to threaten the LGBT people in Zimbabwe. And they will do everything in their power to make sure that LGBT people are punished.”
The activist, who is a member of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, which a group of gay white Zimbabweans founded in 1990 as a support organization, spoke to the Blade ahead of a scheduled March 16 referendum on a new constitution that includes an amendment that specifically bans same-sex marriage.
The State Department last August criticized the Zimbabwean government’s crackdown on LGBT rights activists after police arrested 44 GALZ members inside the group’s office in Harare, the country’s capital. The organization said authorities confiscated computers and pamphlets from the same office a few days earlier.
The activist said he received death threats after the Blade published a story on the State Department’s response to the raid. He fled to neighboring South Africa where he remained for more than a month.
“It was difficult because I was not doing what I was supposed to do when I was home,” he said. “So I went back.”
Mugabe in 1995 described gay men and lesbians who showcased at the annual International Book Festival in Harare as “dogs and pigs.” Former President Canaan Banana three years later received a 10 year prison sentence after his conviction on 11 charges of sodomy, attempted sodomy and indecent assault against his former male employees.
The activist said Zimbabweans had been reluctant to publicly discuss homosexuality until Mugabe’s 1995 speech.
“President Mugabe was the first person in Zimbabwe to castigate the gay people and the lesbians,” he said.
Aside from the State Department, Amnesty International and other international human rights organizations have criticized the Zimbabwean government for cracking down on LGBT advocacy groups.
Peter Tatchell and two other British gay activists in 1999 tried to arrest Mugabe as his car drove through the streets of London during a personal shopping trip. He once again tried to detain the Zimbabwean president inside a Brussels hotel in 2001, but his security guards beat him.
Mugabe routinely criticizes the British government and Prime Minister David Cameron, who has previously suggested the allocation of international aid should hinge upon a country’s LGBT rights record. The activist stressed he has not heard Mugabe “state anything against” President Obama.
He also applauded former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for urging the Zimbabwean government to end its crackdown on GALZ.
“To us that was a very powerful statement coming from this country,” he said, noting he feels Mugabe heeded the warning. “That was the time when our members were arrested. That was the time when our members were being followed to their homes. It just stopped miraculously because soon after that no one was arrested.”
As for GALZ, its mission continues.
The organization’s Harare office reopened to staff last month.
GALZ, which has close to 2,000 members across the country, also continues to host HIV/AIDS workshops in Bulawayo.
“When they raid our offices they think they are going to find pornographic materials,” the activist said. “When they come in there, they find it is a resource center. People are busy working.”