LGBT rights in Zimbabwe

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LGBT rights in Zimbabwe
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Male illegal since 1891 (as Rhodesia)
Female always legal[1]
Torture, Arrest, Harassment
Gender identity/expression No
Family rights

LGBT rights in Zimbabwe are dominated by the fact that male same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Zimbabwe. Since 1995, the government has carried out campaigns against both homosexual men and women.

Law regarding same-sex sexual activity[edit]

Common law prohibitions include sodomy, defined as the "unlawful and intentional sexual relations per anum between two human males" as well as unnatural offences, defined as the unlawful and intentional commission of an unnatural sexual act by one person with another person. Section 11 of The Censorship and Entertainments Control Act, which provides that no person shall import, print, publish, distribute, or keep for sale any publication which is undesirable (defined as "indecent or obscene or is offensive or harmful to public morals or is likely to be contrary to public health."[2] has been used to harass LGBT people and activists.

Laws passed in 2006 criminalize any actions perceived as homosexual. The Zimbabwean government has made it a criminal offense for two people of the same sex to hold hands, hug, or kiss. The "sexual deviancy" law is one of 15 additions to Zimbabwe's Criminal Code quietly passed in Parliament. The sections involving gays and lesbians are part of an overhaul of the country's sodomy laws. Before then, laws against sodomy were limited to sexual activity, and the revised law now states that sodomy is any "act involving contact between two males that would be regarded by a reasonable person as an indecent act."[3]

2002 asylum attempt[edit]

In 1998, William Kimumwe, facing sodomy charges, fled Zimbabwe for Kenya. In 2002, he arrived in the United States seeking asylum, which was denied by an immigration judge. In 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in the state of Missouri upheld the immigration judge's decision. A two-judge majority believed Kimumwe's experiences in Zimbabwe were the result of his actions, not his sexual orientation.[4][5]

History of homosexuality in Zimbabwe[edit]

Writing in the 19th century about the area of today's southwestern Zimbabwe, David Livingstone asserted that the monopolization of women by elderly chiefs was essentially responsible for the "immorality" practised by younger men.[6] Smith and Dale mention one Ila-speaking man who dressed as a woman, did women’s work, lived and slept among, but not with, women. The Ila label "mwaami" they translated as "prophet." They also mentioned that pederasty was not rare, "but was considered dangerous because of the risk that the boy will become pregnant.[7]

Epprecht’s review of 250 court cases from 1892 to 1923 found cases from the beginnings of the records. The five 1892 cases all involved black Africans. A defense offered was that "sodomy" was part of local "custom." In one case a chief was summoned to testify about customary penalties and reported that the penalty was a fine of one cow, which was less than the penalty for adultery. Over the entire period, Epprecht found the balance of black and white defendants proportional to that in the population. He notes, however, only what came to the attention of the courts - most consensual relations in private did not necessarily provoke notice. Some cases were brought by partners who had been dropped or who had not received promised compensation from their former sexual partner. And although the norm was for the younger male to lie supine and not show any enjoyment, let alone expect any sexual mutuality, Epprecht found a case in which a pair of black males had stopped their sexual relationship out of fear of pregnancy, but one wanted to resume taking turns penetrating each other.[8]

Mugabe administration[edit]

Robert Mugabe, at an African Union summit in 2008

Robert Mugabe, leader of Zimbabwe since 1980, has actively carried out actions against LGBT people and spoken out in public against homosexuality.

Mugabe received worldwide criticism for comments he made on 1 August 1995 after coming across a stall set up by the Association of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) at the country's annual International Book Fair in Harare. GALZ, founded in 1989 to facilitate communication within the gay community,[9][10] had not received much attention from the government beforehand. Mugabe's comments after seeing the stall at the book fair were:

Two weeks later during Zimbabwe's annual independence celebrations Mugabe proclaimed:

Since then, President Mugabe has increased the political repression of homosexuals under Zimbabwe's sodomy laws. Mugabe has blamed gays for many of Zimbabwe's problems and views homosexuality as an "un-African" and immoral culture brought by colonists and practiced by only "a few whites" in his country.[12] During his 82nd birthday celebrations, Mugabe told supporters to "leave whites to do that."[13] Mugabe has instructed journalists, most of whom work for state-owned institutions, to report unfavorably about gay relationships. Some critics believe that Mugabe is using gays as a scapegoat to deflect attention from Zimbabwe's economic problems.[14]

GALZ has been the target of infiltration by government spies and extortion attempts by both strangers and casual acquaintances. Homosexuals have been repeatedly bribed, detained, killed, beaten and sometimes raped by the authorities.[15] The Central Intelligence Organisation has reportedly been used to beat and arrest homosexuals.[16]

In 1996, former President Canaan Banana was arrested based on accusations made during the murder trial of his former bodyguard, Jefta Dube, and found guilty of eleven charges of sodomy, attempted sodomy and indecent assault in 1998. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, defrocked, and served 6 months in an open prison.

In 1999, British gay rights activists, led by Peter Tatchell, attempted a citizen's arrest of Mugabe for the crime of torture.[17] In 2001, Tatchell again tried to arrest the president in Brussels but was beaten unconscious by Mugabe's security guards.[18][19]

Living conditions[edit]

Homosexuality is highly taboo in the socially conservative country and Mugabe's anti-gay stance resonates with many Zimbabweans.[20] Gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe are threatened by violence and suicide attempts are common among the gay community.[21] A few nightclubs in urban areas such as Harare and Bulawayo are tolerant of gay customers.[22] Gay prostitution is known to be solicited in some Harare clubs.[23][24]


HIV and AIDS has plagued the population of Zimbabwe, and many cannot afford antiretroviral drugs. At present, GALZ is one of the few lobby groups in Zimbabwe with an active AIDS treatment plan. The association intends to have all its registered members take an HIV test. It also distributes posters warning people about the ways in which gays are vulnerable to AIDS.[25]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No
Equal age of consent No
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (Incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No (Constitutional ban since 2013)
Step-child adoption by same-sex couples No
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays and lesbians allowed to serve openly in the military Emblem-question.svg
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Where is it illegal to be gay?
  2. ^ Gay Zimbabwe – Gay Times
  3. ^
  4. ^ Gay Dating, Personals, News, Local Events and Information
  5. ^ [1] Archived 1 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ David Livingstone, The Last Journals of David Livingstone, in Central Africa, From 1865 to His Death, 1866-1873 Continued by a Narrative of His Last Moments and Sufferings
  7. ^ Will Roscoe and Stephen O. Murray(Author, Editor, Boy-wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities, 2001
  8. ^ Will Roscoe and Stephen O. Murray(Author, Editor, Boy-wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities, 2001
  9. ^ Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe
  10. ^ Kubatana – Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ)
  11. ^ Kai Wright
  12. ^ BBC News | Africa | Zimbabwe gay rights face dim future
  13. ^ Kelvin Ncube: I'm gay
  14. ^ Center for Global Development : Opinions: Dateline Zimbabwe: Who's to Blame? [The Globalist]
  15. ^ BBC NEWS | Africa | Zimbabwean drag queen reveals all
  16. ^ State-Sponsored Homophobia in Southern Africa (Human Rights Watch, 14-5-2003)
  17. ^ BBC News | UK | Gay activist freed after Mugabe row
  18. ^ BBC News | UK | Tatchell defends Mugabe 'arrest'
  19. ^ Linton, Leyla (6 March 2001). "Tatchell beaten unconscious as he tries to 'arrest' his old adversary". The Independent. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  20. ^ Basildon Peta (8 August 2006). "Gay, lesbian stand at Zim book fair trashed". Retrieved 14 November 2007. 
  21. ^ Kai Wright
  22. ^ Kai Wright
  23. ^ Zimbabwe: Gay Prostitution Hits Streets of Harare (Page 1 of 1)
  24. ^ "Zimbabwe's gays go out". Retrieved 14 November 2007. 
  25. ^ New Blow for Gay Rights in Zimbabwe

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]