November 21, 2017 at 3:43 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Zimbabwe LGBT activists celebrate Robert Mugabe’s resignation

Robert Mugabe on Nov. 21, 2017, resigned as the president of Zimbabwe. LGBT rights advocates in the country have celebrated his resignation. (Photo public domain)

Robert Mugabe on Tuesday resigned as the president of Zimbabwe

He submitted his resignation — which took effect immediately — less than a week after the country’s military placed him under house arrest. The military moved against Mugabe after he fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa in an apparent attempt to allow his wife, Grace Mugabe, to succeed him.

Members of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front or ZANU-PF on Sunday voted to remove Robert Mugabe as their party leader. ZANU-PF members also expelled Grace Mugabe from the party.

Robert Mugabe remained defiant in a speech he gave on Zimbabwean television on Sunday, even though ZANU-PF said lawmakers would seek to remove him from office if he didn’t resign by 12 p.m. local time on Monday. The Zimbabwean Parliament on Tuesday began impeachment proceedings against Robert Mugabe before he resigned.

Robert Mugabe, 93, ruled Zimbabwe since the country’s independence from the U.K. in 1980. His government has frequently targeted LGBT activists, opposition leaders and other groups.

Robert Mugabe in 1995 described gays and lesbians as “dogs and pigs.”

He said in a 2013 speech he gave in the city of Masvingo said gay men and lesbians “should rot in jail.”

Robert Mugabe in the same year told supporters in another speech that authorities should arrest gay men and lesbians who don’t conceive children. Robert Mugabe also criticized the Anglican Church for blessing same-sex marriage and then-President Obama over his support of the issue.

Robert Mugabe has described homosexuality as “inhuman.” Robert Mugabe in a 2014 speech that marked Zimbabwe’s independence from the U.K. threatened to expel foreign diplomats who promote LGBT rights in the country.

More than 30 people were injured in 2014 when a group of men attacked an LGBT rights organization’s end-of-the-year party. Zimbabwe is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized.

’We live in hope’

Zimbabwean LGBT rights advocates are among those who celebrated Robert Mugabe’s resignation.

“GALZ receives the news of the resignation of Robert Mugabe with much jubilation,” said GALZ, an LGBT and intersex advocacy group that is based in the Zimbabwean capital of Harare, in a statement. “Since 1995 GALZ has been on the receiving end of the brutality and hate of Robert Mugabe’s aversion to diversity. We are ecstatic that the face of brutality, hate and impunity has resigned.”

Ricky “Ricki” Nathanson of the Trans Research, Education, Advocacy and Training (TREAT) program spoke with the Washington Blade from the city of Bulawayo after Robert Mugabe resigned.

“It is with such relief and joy to hear of the resignation of the ex-president of Zimbabwe, Robert Gabriel Mugabe,” said Nathanson. “When he took over, we thought that it would usher in a new independent country. But that independence was only experienced in certain areas and not across the board.”

“Certainly members of the LGBTI community felt the brunt of his homophobia as evidenced by his outspokenness on them,” added Nathanson. “His ‘pigs and dogs’ speech has gone down in history at his intolerance of this marginalized population.”

Mnangagwa is expected to be Zimbabwe’s interim president until elections take place in 2018.

“We only hope that the new leadership coming in can address his many wrongs,” Nathanson told the Blade, referring to Robert Mugabe. “It’s early days yet, but we live in hope.”

Jeffrey Smith, executive director of Vanguard Africa, a D.C.-based organization that promotes democracy and human rights in Africa, described Robert Mugabe’s resignation to the Blade as a “tremendous opportunity for the people of Zimbabwe to finally, after decades of callous misrule and brutality, to reclaim their country.” Smith also echoed Nathanson’s optimism about Zimbabwe’s future.

“Tough and challenging days surely lie ahead,” Smith told the Blade. “But my experience working in the country and working with activists over the years tells me that Zimbabweans are surely up to the task.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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