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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gays In Zimbabwe: The Morgan Tsvangirai Storm!!

The weather outside my office is blazing hot, the temperature on my desktop monitor shows it is thirty two degrees Celsius. This sums up the mood among the Zimbabwean folk as well. The temperature within the court of public opinion has risen to an all-time high stoked by the interview which the Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai had with BBC News. The social networks mainly Facebook have been abuzz with even those who profess not to delve into politics jumping into the argument. There was no time to waste, it was a call to arms for many, sides were picked and daggers drawn mostly toward the Prime Minister. My first reaction was shock like everyone else but knowing the media especially the Zimbabwean one, I had to dig deep to the source which is BBC and my find was a one minute video clip, an excerpt of a lengthy interview. Could it be the whole conversation revolved around gays? Not sure but let’s use the transcript of what we have. For the benefit of many who have neither the time nor zeal to look for the source I will quote what Morgan Tsvangirai said and it reads thus:

“it’s a very controversial subject in my part of the world, my attitude is that I hope the new constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation, as long it does not interfere with anybody, who am I to define what individual opinion is going to be as far as their sexual preferences are concerned…there is a strong cultural feeling towards gays, to me it’s a human right, it is something that individuals must be allowed to make a choice”

Alright now this puts things into perspective, what follows is my own analysis of the obtaining situation, trying to separate myself from the emotional baggage around this issue. Key points I noted here are “I hope the new constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation” and “to me it’s a human right”. Morgan Tsvangirai knows that the issue regarding gays and a new constitution is beyond his control but determined by the people
of Zimbabwe after the data collection exercise hence he can only “hope” it will come out in the constitution. Secondly he said according to himself not on behalf of Zimbabwe, “it’s a human right”. Nowhere here does he say I will advocate or promote gay rights; someone might say he inferred to that effect, objection somewhat acceptable. But what hit me the most is when he said “it’s a human right”. For the first time in my life I was confronted with the thought; “what is a human right”? I looked around for a definition and found the following: “The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law” or A right that is believed to belong justifiably to every person”.

With this my mind turned to a process that cannot be separated from rights that is the drafting of a new constitution in Zimbabwe. Chances are at least 90 per cent of respondents would have said we do not want gay rights to be included in the constitution. This is based on my knowledge from interaction with Zimbabweans by word of mouth and on social networks. So no mention of gays in Zimbabwean constitution is expected or else people will revolt. But what people fail to understand is that “gay rights are human rights”. With emphasis to the drawing of a new constitution, most Zimbabweans want to see the their rights and freedom restored, POSA and AIIPPA have made life somewhat unbearable, the current constitution is seen as being either too flawed or not having enough power to prevent citizens being abused by state. At the top of everyone’s mind are the following rights:

·         Right to life

·         Right to protection from inhuman treatment

·         Freedom of conscience

·         Freedom of expression

·         Freedom of assembly & association

·         Freedom of movement

·         Freedom from discrimination

The above are already part of the Declaration of Rights in the current constitution but we all know how politics has raped the constitution and rendered it worthless. Now onto the crux of the matter, the above mentioned rights are human rights and my assumption is gays are humans too. Supposing now a group of GALZ people in Zimbabwe decide to have a get together in Harare Gardens, they will be seen as humans having a get together, fitting into the category of “Freedom of Assembly & Association”. How would we go about preventing them from having this get together? Maybe we can say, “You are gays and we don’t like you” but then they would object and say you are infringing on our freedom from discrimination and freedom to express ourselves. The underlying argument is we are humans before we are gay. So our hands in terms of preventing the gathering will be tied there no doubt. Supposing we decide to circumvent this and enact a law which says, freedom of expression, assembly & association et al shall not include gay people. That will be a great idea but who is a gay person, can we know them by how they look, dress or talk? We would be opening a can of worms; anyone can be accused of looking, talking or dressing like gay. I remember when bootleg jeans were not yet popular in Zimbabwe, each time I wore one people would look astounded some even with a sneer. I like my freedom and not to be limited by opinions so what will happen when I put on a pink shirt and be part of a gathering. I can easily drag the whole group into danger by being labelled gay. Spare a thought for that lady on whom nature made to talk like a man, she might have to pull down her pants to prove her claim to being a woman or those who talk with a husky voice. What of the men with squeaky voices or those who have hips and buttocks that resemble women? So again this law will be hard to implement unless by one consenting to being gay outright but that won’t guarantee successful prosecution either.

Another dimension to look at it would be the legality of such laws. The reason why in Zimbabwe we have laws that are not consistent with the constitution is because of the collapse of the vital arms of the state namely, The Executive, Legislature (Parliament) and Judiciary. ZANUPF government has blurred the gaps over the years. It is expected that making laws to deny gays from enjoying the above freedoms and rights will be a failure at the legal test. If such laws are brought before a competent and independent Supreme Court I would expect them to be thrown out.

So in the end, it will be hard to deprive gays of rights that we as straight people might want to enjoy because the underlying factor is we are all humans defined. The painful part is that gay rights as human rights are attached to issues that are at the core of our need for a new constitution. The constitution will not need to make mention of anything about gay people which will be pleasing to many but it is worth nothing that as soon as we incorporate the freedoms and rights that have been curtailed by ZANUPF rule, gays will also be in jubilation because where we will use the right to gather freely for our political rallies, they will use it for a gay bash and orgies. So this is the time to decide what we want as Zimbabweans, if we want our freedoms and rights with democratic space then we must accept that these will equally apply to and incorporate gay people without making special provision for them because they are humans too. The only option that will work to the best of what many want to see regarding the issue around gays is perhaps to turn Zimbabwe into an Islamic state without a constitution but maybe Sharia Law. I see many gasping here but yes that’s the fact. Let the women be adorned in the Burqa and anyone seen to be gay and proven will face the stones. But this will be an extreme reaction and many would rather choose to live with gays than to be subjected to such a system and I know women will go to war for the miniskirts, make-up and trousers. So gay rights are human rights too. We only need to look beyond the surface because subconsciously we are pushing for gay rights as the excess baggage to inherit in our quest for freedom from oppression.

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