BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
Not so many years ago, the Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Intersex, (LGBTI) community suffered verbal attacks from the late former President Robert Mugabe who vowed that their rights will not be considered.
The late statesman was not sincere in his description of the LGBTI, and at some point tagged them as ‘worse than pigs’.
Mugabe’s sentiments attracted widespread criticisms from human rights activists and other nations who value the existence of same sex people.
Today, Mugabe who ruled the country for nearly four decades is gone.
A new dispensation, ushered through a military coup has come, but it seems as if the ‘new government’ is not ready to embrace the LGBT.
Thomas Maramba (34) (not real name), a gay, is bitter.
He thought his rights and that of his colleagues will be considered and their lives change for the better.
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“I have my own reservations with this new dispensation as far as issues around the LGBTI are concerned. During Mugabe’s era, we were constantly attacked and reminded that we are not human beings. For now, the attacks have gone down with the current leadership,” he said.
Maramba, however, bemoaned that Zimbabwe is still shunning the LGBTI and that the community is still suffering and being harassed.
“Our community is, however, still being shunned and our rights not being recognised. We are still facing massive discrimination in every aspect of life. It is like we are not human beings. We live in fear due to harassments with some still against our choices. There is need for the government to fully embrace and grant us our rights so that we live normally,” said Maramba.
Zimbabwe’s neighbours South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique, have embraced the existence of gays and lesbians.
According to the country’s 2013 Constitution, same-sex marriage is banned hence members of this community lack legal protections from discrimination, violence and harassment.
According to Wikipedia, in a survey conducted in 2018, 50% of gay men in Zimbabwe had been physically assaulted and 64% had been disowned by their families while 27% of lesbians also reported disownment.
Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) Executive Director Chesterfield Samba added that nothing much has changed in the new dispensation except state sanctioned homophobia which he said has been reduced.
“There have not been any changes to laws as these remain unchanged. What has significantly reduced is the state sanctioned homophobia which during Mugabe’s era was characterised by harassments, threats, arrests and hate speech. We always say that citizens take a cue from the attitudes of the state. Hence, what we see now is an absence of the state’s fixation on LGBTI issues which impacted negatively on the community,” he said.
In a statement to mark 41 years of Independence issued in April this year, GALZ said they can only be free if the leadership move in to ensure that their rights are upheld.
“We call on the leadership to implement progressive measures in the application of rights and freedoms already enshrined in the Constitution such as those pertaining to privacy, human dignity, non-discrimination, right to assemble and health access, which proactively encourage a culture of meaningful human rights protection in this country including interventions in the legal, health, education and medical spheres. Only then can we truly be free. We encourage the President to strive to create an environment of tolerance and respect among Zimbabweans and that all citizens are treated with dignity and respect,” reads the statement.
In 2018, before the elections, a Zanu PF delegation, led by the then political commissar Victor Matemadanda met some members of the LGBTI , bringing hope to many as the new dispensation then seemed to have been warming up to same-sex marriages.
It, however, turned out that the ruling party was working on securing votes rather addressing their concerns.
“Decriminalisation of same sex conduct is a process. Work is being done to create awareness in communities, empowering LGBTI people to demand their rights and exercise them too,” added Samba.
A Harare-based human rights activist who refused to be named weighed in saying it is high time the new dispensation distinct itself and move towards legalising same sex marriages.
“Firstly, the new dispensation ushered in new hope to the LGBTI society through meeting them and vowing to address their concerns. It has been long since the authorities have mentioned their plight and try to come up with ways of embracing them. Secondly, other African countries, who some are even our neighbours have legalised same sex marriages. It is now a trend,” said the expert.
For now, Maramba will have to leave with his bitterness as authorities are taking long to recognise that LGBTIs do really exist and that they will fight for their rights like other societies.