LGBT rights in Zimbabwe

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LGBT rights in Zimbabwe
Location Zimbabwe AU Africa.svg
Same-sex sexual intercourse legal status Male illegal since 1891 (as Rhodesia)
Female always legal[1]
Torture, Arrest, Harassment[citation needed]
Gender identity/expression No

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Zimbabwe face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. 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]

According to Marc Epprecht, homosexuality grew among African men during the colonial era. Even though it was still extremely controversial, arranges of pederasty (called ngotshana) began to show up in certain cities and labor camps in as early as 1907. Other homosexual, male relations during early colonial times included love affairs, prostitution, rape, and sexual brutality. [6]

Marc Epprecht states that many Zimbabweans believed that homosexuality was un-African, caused by a disease introduced by white settlers from Europe.[6]

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" practiced by younger men.[7] 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.[8]

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]

Religious leaders[edit]

The Anglican Bishop of Harare, Peter Hatendi, was a vocal opponent of gay rights while leader of the Church in the 1980s and 90s, arguing that homosexuality is a sin and practising homosexuals could never be accepted into the church.[9] His successor as bishop, Nolbert Kunonga, accused Archbishop Rowan Williams of "heresy", and suggested he was "coming to lobby for homosexuality".[10]

Mugabe administration[edit]

Robert Mugabe, at an African Union summit in 2008

Robert Mugabe, leader of Zimbabwe from 1980 to 2017, 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,[11][12] 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.[14] During his 82nd birthday celebrations, Mugabe told supporters to "leave whites to do that".[15] 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.[16]

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.[17] The Central Intelligence Organisation has reportedly been used to beat and arrest homosexuals.[18]

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.[19] In 2001, Tatchell again tried to arrest the president in Brussels but was beaten unconscious by Mugabe's security guards.[20][21]

Living conditions[edit]

Homosexuality is highly taboo in the socially conservative country and Mugabe's anti-gay stance resonates with many Zimbabweans.[22] Gays and lesbians in Zimbabwe are threatened by violence and suicide attempts are common among the gay community.[23] A few nightclubs in urban areas such as Harare and Bulawayo are tolerant of gay customers.[24] Gay prostitution is known to be solicited in some Harare clubs.[25][26]


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.[27]

Activism and Advocacy Groups[edit]

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe is a prominent LGBTI rights group that was formed in 1990.[28] After Zimbabwean independence was gained on April 18th, 1980, there was a flourishing gay scene in urban areas. Many believed that a group with more serious aims for the LGBTI community must be established, and meetings began taking place in the late 1980s, with GALZ being officially established in September 1990.[29] One of the main goals of GALZ is to assist people with HIV/AIDS. Initially being separated from the cause of the HIV/AIDS community of Zimbabwe, GALZ is now one of the largest proponents for rights of those afflicted and their health. [30]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No/Yes (Illegal for Male since 1891) (Female, always legal)
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 No
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?". 10 February 2014 – via 
  2. ^ Gay Zimbabwe – Archived 29 September 2006 at the Wayback Machine. Gay Times
  3. ^ "The Backlot - Corner of Hollywood and Gay - NewNowNext". LOGO News. 
  4. ^ "Gay Dating, Personals, News, Local Events and Information". [permanent dead link]
  5. ^ NCLR January-February 2006 E-Newsletter Archived 1 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ a b Epprecht, Marc (1998-12-01). "The 'unsaying' of indigenous homosexualities in Zimbabwe: mapping a blindspot in an African masculinity". Journal of Southern African Studies. 24 (4): 631–651. doi:10.1080/03057079808708594. ISSN 0305-7070. 
  7. ^ 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
  8. ^ a b Will Roscoe and Stephen O. Murray(Author, Editor, Boy-wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities, 2001
  9. ^ "Homosexual and hated in Zimbabwe". BBC. 
  10. ^ Thornycroft, Peta (30 September 2011). "Rowan Williams is 'lobbying for homosexuality', claims Mugabe-backed bishop" – via 
  11. ^ "Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe". 
  12. ^ "Kubatana – Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ)". Archived from the original on 12 April 2006. 
  13. ^ Kai Wright Archived 6 May 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ "BBC News - Africa - Zimbabwe gay rights face dim future". 
  15. ^ "Kelvin Ncube: I'm gay". Archived from the original on 29 June 2006. 
  16. ^ "Opinions: Dateline Zimbabwe: Who's to Blame?". Center for Global Development. Archived from the original on 22 August 2006. 
  17. ^ "Zimbabwean drag queen reveals all". 10 August 2006 – via 
  18. ^ "State-Sponsored Homophobia in Southern Africa (Human Rights Watch, 14-5-2003)". 
  19. ^ "BBC News - UK - Gay activist freed after Mugabe row". 
  20. ^ "Tatchell defends Mugabe 'arrest'". 6 March 2001 – via 
  21. ^ Linton, Leyla (6 March 2001). "Tatchell beaten unconscious as he tries to 'arrest' his old adversary". The Independent. London. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  22. ^ Basildon Peta (8 August 2006). "Gay, lesbian stand at Zim book fair trashed". Retrieved 14 November 2007. 
  23. ^ Kai Wright
  24. ^ Kai Wright
  25. ^ Chigonga, Brenna (14 April 2007). "Zimbabwe: Gay Prostitution Hits Streets of Harare" – via AllAfrica. 
  26. ^ "Zimbabwe's gays go out". Retrieved 14 November 2007. 
  27. ^ "New Blow for Gay Rights in Zimbabwe". Institute for War and Peace Reporting. 
  28. ^ "Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe | Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum". Retrieved 2017-11-16. 
  29. ^ "FAQ". Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe. Retrieved 2017-11-16. 
  30. ^ "HIV/AIDS". Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe. Retrieved 2017-11-16. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]