Gays and Lesbians: Which Way?

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By Wonder Guchu WINDHOEK Two crucial events took place last week – one in Windhoek and the other in Johannesburg – but both with a heavy bearing on the future paths of Namibia and South Africa or even Southern Africa. In Johannesburg on Wednesday last week, Jacob Zuma, the ANC deputy president and the man who is being touted to be the next South African president when Thabo Mbeki retires in 2009, lashed out at homosexuality, describing it as ‘un-African’. Zuma, who has just had corruption charges against him dropped, also hit out at people who are advocating for the legalization of same-sex marriages. “Same sex marriage is a disgrace to the nation and to God. When I was growing up unqingili (homosexuals) could not stand in front of me,” he was quoted as saying. In Windhoek, the Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender People in Namibia group launched an awareness week that started on September 27 and ended yesterday. In a statement issued during a press conference, the organization revealed that they had received funding from Finland and would work with other similar organizations from Zimbabwe and South Africa. Calling itself The Rainbow Project, the organization threw its challenge on the table claiming its share of human rights and opportunities. During the week, a march dubbed “Out and Proud” would be taken in Windhoek City. These two events happening within days, bringing the focus on homosexuality which is still considered a crime in about 80 countries in the world, and in the United States 15 states regarding the practice as an act of ‘sodomy’, ‘sexual misconduct’, ‘unnatural intercourse’ and a ‘crime against nature’. In Africa, presidents Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and former Namibian President Sam Nujoma have openly criticized homosexuality. President Mugabe, who likened homosexuals to dogs, described the act as ‘an abomination, a rottenness of culture, real decadence of culture’ while Nujoma called homosexuality an ‘unnatural act’. Museveni, who directed the Criminal Investigating Division to ‘look for homosexuals, lock them up and charge them’ said the act was ‘provoking and upsetting society’. Nujoma too made the same call when he ordered the police to arrest, imprison and deport lesbians and homosexuals. The country under consideration where homosexuality was being tolerated until now by its leaders was South Africa. Mbeki and Nelson Mandela had taken a discreet stand by not saying anything about it. And that silence was considered as acceptance. During its 1997 50th National Conference, the African National Congress voted in support of homosexuals by tasking all representatives in all levels of government to establish equality for lesbians and gays at their workplaces and family. When the high court last year gave the state 12 months to come up with a law that would recognize same-sex marriages, the ANC also supported the move and reaffirmed its position that citizens should not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and that the constitution, legal system and institutions of the state have a responsibility to uphold the basic human rights. Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his biography, Rubble-Rouser for Peace, written by John Allen, openly supports homosexuality and says that he was ‘ashamed of being a Catholic’ after the debate on whether to appoint gay priests or not. “He found it little short of outrageous that the church leaders should be obsessed with issues of sexuality in the face of the challenge of Aids and global poverty,” the book quotes him. A number of African leaders and elsewhere in the world have opted to keep quiet and pretend as if there is no thing such as homosexuality, and gays and lesbians have taken this opportunity to push for recognition and be allowed to marry legally. When homosexuals crept out of their closets, the debate was on whether the practice was African or imported. The majority of African leaders believe the practice is not part of African culture. President Nujoma’s call to deport Namibian homosexuals confirms this thinking. So does President Mugabe’s labelling homosexuals as a sign of real cultural decadence. In Zimbabwe, despite President Mugabe’s vehement attacks, the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe organization have an office in one of Harare’s affluent suburbs and has since 1995 forced its way into exhibiting at the Zimbabwe International Book fair even if they knew that the public would destroy their stand and chase them away. This too is the situation here in Namibia where after President Nujoma’s stinging remarks and threats, the gay grouping seems to be growing stronger each day. Even President Museveni has not won the ‘war’ against homosexuals whose rallying cry is equality as enshrined in the constitution. At least, the Bill of Rights as enshrined in these countries’ constitutions does not give the leaders and the public the power to do anything against homosexuals. While South Africa has managed to come clean with the homosexuals issue by giving freedom and accepting gays and lesbians, most countries have not done the same. When President Nujoma hit out at homosexuals saying necessary steps must be taken to combat all influences that are influencing us and our children in a negative way and that homosexuals must be condemned and rejected in the Namibian society, legal experts including the Society of Advocates were quick to say that there is no law in Namibia that makes homosexuality a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment or deportation. They said doing so would contradict the country’s constitution. Considering that Zuma’s counterparts who have hit out at homosexuality have not been able to do anything about it, his voice is small and lonely especially after the ANC youth league’s declaration that what he said were his own sentiments and said that Zuma cannot change the system. Well Zuma might have added his small voice to the grumblings against homosexuality but in Namibia and indeed elsewhere, homosexuals are celebrating and ready to take him head-on. The question is – what now?

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