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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 28, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 43
LGBT rights at the center of controversy in Zimbabwe government
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LGBT rights at the center of controversy in Zimbabwe government

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

When Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told BBC News that LGBT rights should be included in his country's new constitution, he touched off a controversy that may split the fragile coalition governing the African country.

Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe have divided political leadership since 2008, when Mugabe beat Tsvangirai in a presidential election. The elections were marred by widespread violence and vote-rigging, with Tsvangirai charging that Mugabe stole the election.

Other African leaders stepped in to negotiate a power-sharing agreement that has stabilized the country, but tensions have been increasing as Zimbabwe prepares for new elections next year.

Mugabe is openly hostile to LGBT rights, stating that Gays are 'worse than pigs and dogs.' His supporters have reportedly attacked LGBT community centers, kidnapping and torturing outreach workers.

Tsvangirai joined Mugabe in condemning same-sex relations at a political rally last year.

'I don't agree with the idea of a man breathing hard on the neck of another man while humping him,' Tsvangirai said then, according to the website Afrik.com.

But in an interview with BBC News aired on October 4, Tsvangirai said that LGBT rights were a 'human right' that Zimbabweans should respect.

Tsvangirai added that he would defend LGBT rights if he became president in the upcoming elections, and he said that sexual orientation should be included in Zimbabwe's constitution, which is currently in a lengthy and controversial revision process.

'It's a very controversial subject in my part of the world. My attitude is that I hope the constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation, for as long as it does not interfere with anybody,' Tsvangirai said.

'To me, it's a human right.'

According to a statement released by the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Tsvangirai made similar remarks in a September newsletter to his supporters.

'There can be no place in the new Zimbabwe for hate speech or the persecution of any sector of our population based on race, gender, tribe, culture, sexual orientation, or political affiliation,' Tsvangirai wrote.

'All of us are entitled to our own opinions on certain values and beliefs, but in order to move our nation forward and achieve national reconciliation and healing, we have to uphold and foster the fundamental principle of tolerance, including tolerance of people who have chosen to live, believe and vote differently from ourselves.

'For too long, many of you, my fellow Zimbabweans, have not had the freedom of choice. Our new constitution shall be the cornerstone of a new society that embraces this particular freedom of choice and tolerance of both majority and minority views.'

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), Zimabawe's leading LGBT organization, welcomed Tsvangirai's statement and urged him to take positive action to support his statement on the indivisibility of human rights.

'We urge him to have the courage to stand by his laudable respect for human rights in the face of the propaganda and unpopularity that will be generated by the Zimbabwean media around his position.

'True leadership remains steadfast in the pursuit of justice and equality,' they said.

Zimbabwe's Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa denounced Tsvangirai in his own BBC interview on October 24, however.

Tsvangirai made the comments for 'propaganda' purposes, contradicting positions he had previously taken in cabinet meetings, Chinamasa charged.

'We can't smuggle [into the constitution] the views of a prime minister who wants to please a certain audience, basically, I suppose, to mobilize resources for his party.

'I know personally he doesn't believe it. He has said so many times in the cabinet,' Chinamasa said.

Chinamasa added that Zimbabweans had firmly rejected LGBT rights during government-sponsored consultations on the new constitution.

'We all know what people said about Gay rights - it's a total no; an almost 100% no,' he told the BBC's Network Africa program.

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