PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa has received rare praise from the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community for abandoning his predecessor Robert Mugabe’s politics of discrimination, hatred and intolerance.
By NQOBANI NDLOVU
Mugabe was a fervent critic of homosexuals, and was known for making homophobic statements over the years. He often described homosexuals as worse than pigs and dogs, with the LGBTI community also having its programmes disrupted by state security.
In a first, authorities allowed the LGBTI community and sex workers to exhibit at this year’s premier trade showcase, the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF), held in Bulawayo in April. Under Mugabe, this was unthinkable as they were often denied permission.
The LGBTI and sex workers exhibiting at the 2018 ZITF got support from organisations such as Women Against All Forms of Discrimination, Zimbabwe Aids Network, Sexual Rights Centre and the National Aids Council, among others.
“The operating environment under President Mugabe was quite restrictive in terms of what people could say or do. It was quite limiting in that we were also not able to meet with stakeholders that we thought could be important to facilitate dialogue.
“We think that the space was not conducive for people to meet and have conversations maybe as a result of the restrictive laws like Public Order and Security Act and AIPPA [Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act] and also that the general environment did not allow conversations to take place,” Chesterfield Sambo, the Gays and Lesbian Association of Zimbabwe director, told The Standard on Friday.
He was speaking in an interview during an LGBTI-organised multi-stakeholder dialogue meeting on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in Zimbabwean societies. It was held under the theme “creating understandings for diverse and inclusive societies”.
“But post-Mugabe we see that the current president, Mnangagwa, has tried to speak to issues towards creating spaces where people enjoy their freedoms, particularly that of expression and assembly. We note that people are now able to demonstrate and to meet freely without too many restrictions to express their views without fear to worry about what happens after you express yourself,” Sambo added.
“Post-Mugabe, we are now able to identify spaces that we think are now conducive for us to be present to create awareness of our issues. A platform like the ZITF, I think, is open to civic society to be able to come through to exhibit and reach out to communities although we have not explored that route yet.”
During Mugabe’s tenure, the LGBTI faced rights violations such as physical assault, hate speech, intimidation, torture and raids from both state and non-state actors.
In 2001, Mugabe’s bodyguards assaulted a gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, after he tried to effect a citizen arrest on Mugabe over human rights abuses during an official visit to Brussels in Belgium. In 2013, Mugabe criticised South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu for supporting LGBTI rights saying: “Never, never, never will we support homosexuality in Zimbabwe.”
The Constitution guarantees rights such as equality and non-discrimination but is silent on specific rights for the LGBTI community. Zimbabwe criminalises same-sex relations.