By James Lovette-Black
In a country long plagued by violence, corruption, and an authoritarian government, Zimbabwe’s President Mugabe is known as one of the worst anti-gay autocrats in Africa. Mugabe has repeatedly located blame for the country’s ills on lesbians and gay men, cultivating widespread bigotry and violence. His virulent homophobia has given rise to the rape of lesbian and gay male Zimbabweans, under the guise of “correcting” them into heterosexuality.
The US State Department’s 2009 Human Rights Report for Zimbabwe identified chronic, politically sanctioned anti-gay discrimination, violence, and torture at the hands of Mugabe’s minions, including rape of lesbians and gay men forced into heterosexual acts, with some raped by family members, ostensibly to “cure” them. The NGO, AIDS Free World, reported in December 2009 that the 70 women it surveyed reported being raped on average five times and possibly higher, as the women often became unconscious during the brutal sexual assaults.
Mugabe has created an atmosphere of terror through brutality and sexual assault, commonly using rape to intimidate and control anyone he deems to be undesirable or uncooperative. In a homophobic worldview such as Mugabe’s, it follows that lesbians and gay men would be seen as less than desirable and in need of a cure. Such detestable acts are clear violations of human rights as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
Other voices in Zimbabwe, notably the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, have urged leaders to resist hate speech and to include protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation in the Constitution. However, Mugabe has pledged to block any effort to include gay rights.
Meanwhile, gay and lesbian Zimbabweans are finding life and identity threatened and endangered by a homophobe who uses thought police tactics to maintain power and control through the sexual abuse of lesbians, gay men, and others.