By George Vee Nyathi
LESBIANS, Gays, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) persons in Zimbabwe say they will keep their hopes alive for the relaxation of laws that inhibit the enjoyment of their rights under the country’s constitution.
Since independence, Zimbabwe has failed to recognize the rights of members of the LGBTI community, with successive government administrations seemingly unwilling to loosen their grip on laws that criminalize same-sex marriages and relationships.
Zimbabwe is among a host of other countries in the Southern African region that have refused to recognise same-sex marriages, lesbianism, and those regarded as transgender and bi-sexual.
Other sections of the community have hidden behind the Christianity veil to argue that same-sex marriages in the country should not be allowed- arguing that a Christian country’s value system does not allow the enjoyment of freedoms associated with the LGBTI community.
However, stakeholders in the LGBTI community believe there is still a window of hope that a Damascan moment will certainly visit Zimbabweans in their vast societal structures. This, the community believes, will be epitomized by the opening up of the spaces to allow members of the (LGBTI) community to freely express themselves.
In an interview with CITE, Chester Samba, the director of the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) said the organization and other members of the LGBTI community had put up a lot of effort to try and advocate for the observation and respect for the rights of persons of different sexual orientation in Zimbabwe.
“There have been a number of efforts that we have made as the LGBTI community to try and raise awareness amongst communities so that they are able to integrate LGBTI people into their spaces as communities,” said Samba in an interview.
“One of the main efforts have been to raise our advocacy against hate speech against all minorities, in particular, LGBTI people, where we have tried to encourage society, including political parties, to shun the hate speech they use in referring to those in the LGBTI community.
The late deposed former Zimbabwean president, Robert Mugabe’s administration once referred to gays and lesbians as “worse than pigs and dogs”- a statement that eventually forced most members of the LGBTI community either underground or into exile in neighbouring South Africa.
Added Samba: “We believe that we can work in an environment where policies of the past should not be encouraged. There are a number of efforts that have been put forward to create awareness, train and sensitize stakeholders to advocate for policy change.
“Stakeholders have also been making effort to study the law and see to what extent we can use legal mechanisms to be able to create an enabling environment for our communities.”
Samba disclosed that their efforts have also cascaded down to traditional leaders who, all along, have been known as heavily opposed to the existence of LGBTI people in their jurisdictions.
“We also have tried to encourage cultural gatekeepers to exercise tolerance towards people that are different or people of a different sexual orientation. We have tried to encourage the leaders in these spaces to move away from intolerance and discrimination of our members. Our lobby has also targeted our policymakers and duty bearers that include parliamentarians, the police, traditional leadership, our Chapter 12 institutions, Parliament and other stakeholders to also encourage them to also join in the lobby for policy change that we so desire.
“As stakeholders, we have been arming them with useful information so that they can articulate clearly around issues of LGBTI in their various spaces so as to achieve the goal of realizing a tolerant society when we talk of the LGBTI communities in Zimbabwe,” Samba said.
Some of the challenges that LGBTI community members face, according to Samba, include members’ discrimination in housing and social amenities provision, and unfair dismissal from work.
He added: “We find that most of our members are unable to act in cases of theft or violations of their rights on accounts of threats of exposure of their sexual orientation. We would want to create an environment where if the law is amended and decriminalizes same-sex conduct, we would not see such challenges that members of the LGBTI community encounter.”
The GALZ boss revealed the stakeholders were eager to build on the gains they would have made with successive parliaments given that changes in parliamentarians after the country’s general elections every five years had emerged as a drawback to their efforts to use the August House as a lobbying platform.
“There is a lot of work that we have done to try and expose our parliament to our community to give the parliamentarians information that would help them champion the motivation to try and change the law.
“…We have this challenge that every five years, we are then forced into a situation where you have to engage with a new set of parliamentarians who would have come out of the election for that particular period. We have made tremendous progress in the past but we still have a lot of work ahead of us. As the LGBTI community, we remain hopeful that these efforts will pay off one day,” Samba said.