Bulawayo—Hopes of inclusion of the Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersexual and Queer Plus (LGBTIQ+) community in different aspects of life that include electoral processes and social services delivery are fading fast amid indifference displayed by key stakeholders.
When President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over power in 2017, he made innuendos that seemed to indicate a positive shift in his approach to the LGBTIQ+ population.
His somewhat lukewarm attitude to the community was a significant departure from that of his predecessor Robert Mugabe’s radical position whereby he described homosexuality as “the product of morally degenerated colonial culture” and called LGBTIQ+s as “worse than pigs”.
In 2018 in an interview during an LGBTI-organized multi-stakeholder dialogue meeting on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in Zimbabwean societies, Mnangagwa said the operating environment under President Mugabe was quite restrictive in terms of what people could say or do. “It was quite limiting in that we were also not able to meet with stakeholders that we thought could be important to facilitate dialogue.” said Mnangagwa.
Five years down the line, the ruling party Zanu PF and other political parties which contested in the 2023 harmonised elections have came under fire for failing to respect the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community during the elections.
However, in an investigation published in June this year, it was established that, while the LGBTIQ+ community in Zimbabwe has constantly complained of violations of their rights, a substantial proportion of the abuses were between partners themselves.
Common causes of same sex intimate partner violence were sighted as economic and infidelity among partners in a community with a limited dating pool.
Affected LGBTIQ+ individuals interviewed said their plight was exacerbated by the fact they could not easily report such cases to the police as the law enforcer has a negative attitude towards them.
The investigation further revealed that while some victims of such violence access health care services at private clinics that have been established by non-governmental organizations, there are no health support systems for the LGBTIQ+ at public health institutions where members complain of ill-treatment.
Following the publication of the story, the European Union Election Observer Mission (EUOM) expressed concern over exclusion of the LGBTI+ community in the 2023 harmonised elections
In the report which captured the pitfalls of the elections, the EUOM was unequivocal in pointing out violations of the rights of LGBTIQ+ community in the elections.
The report pointed out that political parties and candidates were silent on people of diverse sexual identities.
“During the campaign, LGBTIQ+ phobic insults circulated and there is no openly LGBTIQ+ candidate or public official”, reads part of the EUOM report.
Sexual Rights Centre (SRC) programmes manager Mojalifa Ndlovu said his organisation was aware of concerns raised in the report and was consulted for its observations on the matter.
“During the build-up to the elections, we were engaged by the EU observers who wanted to check on the preparedness and participation of LGBTIQ+ in the democratic and electoral processes in Zimbabwe,” said Ndlovu.
“We shared our concerns and the EUOM was right by pointing out in its report that there were some incidences of victimization of members of the LGBTIQ+ community especially transgender people.”
He said the incidences were, however not of high violence scale but had to do with issues of gender markers on the national identity cards not matching with the person that was coming to vote.
Gender markers represent an individual’s gender identity, most commonly in the abbreviations F for female and M for male. As part of the voting process in Zimbabwe, one is required to state their age and gender.
Ndlovu cited an election-related incident in which a transgender person was allegedly attacked in Harare.
“We had a case in Harare where a transgender person was attacked during an election engagement. Our rapid response team responded to that case and yes, we agree with the EUOM report that the LGBTIQ+ still feel unsafe to participate in elections in Zimbabwe,” said Ndlovu.
He said his organisation observed an acutely ow turnout of its members at polling stations countrywide. Research carried out by LGBTIQ+ organisations estimate that about 10 percent of Zimbabwe’s population is gay, noting that most gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe have to hide their sexual identity to avoid discrimination, exclusion and violent attacks against them.
The SRC manager appealed to LGBTIQ+ organizations and other stakeholders to continue encouraging and teaching LGBTIQ+ community members their democratic and citizen rights to participate in national elections.
Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) director, Chester Samba, said his organisation was preparing a comprehensive report on the exclusion of the association’s membership.
The ruling party Zanu PF and government were quick to dismiss the EUOM report on violation of the rights of minority groups in the 2023 harmonised elections.
Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi said; “Some of the comments like one saying we were supposed to allow homosexuals to contest suggest that we asked one’s sexuality when you go to the Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) to submit your nomination papers. Notwithstanding that our culture does not allow that and then they come here to say we must recognize minorities,”
Ziyambi described the comments as “an example of uncalled for reportage to try to tarnish the whole process in a manner that we felt we should respond.”
Zanu PF party spokesperson, Christopher Mutsvangwa, issued a stern warning to some foreign observers whom he accused of interfering with the country‘s electoral processes.
The post-election debate of the sidelining of the LGBTID+ communities was swiftly overtaken by a more heated exchange on the more radical SADC observer mission report which bordered on dismissing Zimbabwe’s elections as not credible.
For now, it appears the issue of attending to the plight of LGBTIQ+ community has been relegated to the bottom of the ladder and they may have to wait a bit longer for another opportunity to present their case.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe which guarantees rights such as equality and non-discrimination is silent on specific rights for the LGBTIQ+ community.