I am fortunate to live in Melbourne, Australia. Whilst we don’t yet have gay marriage in Australia, we have many of the same rights that straight people enjoy. Whilst there is still some prejudice in Australia clearly evidenced by the high rate of gay teen suicide, I was particularly moved when a gay friend from Africa shared his personal story with me as it demonstrated that until every gay man in the world is free to just be a person then advocates like myself must keep speaking out.
Themba Archie Zwane did not ask me to change his name. He wants his story to be heard. He is 33 years old now. He told me that he had to flee Zimbabwe and seek refuge in South Africa to avoid prison and persecution. Themba has gay friends back in Zimbabwe who are spending time in what would be considered inhumane prison conditions by Western standards.
Themba wishes he could return home to his family and friends where he can live freely as a gay man. Themba said and I quote “being gay in Zimbabwe is worse than murder”. I asked him “why do you think that is so?” He replied “Africa is 200 years behind the rest of the world, it is African culture”. I replied “so it’s not a religious thing then?” Themba said “no not that I don’t think.”
I then wondered if it is just African culture then why is it a right in South Africa’s constitution not to be discriminated against for various things including sexuality. Themba thought South Africa is unique because it has been influenced by the West. He said even now you have gay investors from the West influencing South Africa. Themba was shocked when I told him that in the West it was a hard struggle to achieve the rights we have today.
Themba said to me “I was born this way. I have feelings for other men. My first contact with a man was at age 14 kissing a guy at boarding school. I knew I was gay from when I was a young boy. I was forced to be with a woman. I had a child. I love my child. I’m away from my family and friends just because of how I was born, because of who I am. I am gay and I am proud. I have been in exile since 2003. I hope the United Nations can do something. Why should I go to prison for 20 years for being gay.”
We all know that life in Africa is no oasis. It is poverty stricken and disease is rife in many places. All that is compounded if you are an African gay, particularly an African gay man living anywhere in Africa other than South Africa, and even then gay bashings still occur there. At least in the West there was already democracy. The gay community had an opportunity to use a their combined voice to challenge injustices through the democratic process. Africa faces the triple whammy of poverty, lack of democracy and a lack of human rights generally compared to the West.
I was reading some published articles in addition to my journalistic research and noted that recently a 21-year-old South African man named David Olyn was tied up with wire, beaten and then burned to death by a suspect who has now been arrested. In Cameroon, gay activist Eric Ohena Lembembe was tortured and beaten to death last year, and dozens more activists have been charged in recent months. Roger Mbede was imprisoned in 2011 for sending a text message to another man that said, “I’m very much in love with you.” International pressure helped bring about his release, but Mbede, 34, developed a hernia during his time in jail, and died from it this year.
In neighbouring Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, a law quietly signed into law mandates 14 years in prison for having a same-sex relationship and bans pro-gay meetings. A mob in Abuja, spurred on by a newspaper that regularly publish the names and addresses of suspected gays, recently yanked 14 men from their beds, beat them, and hauled them to local police — who continued the beatings.
An estimated 37 African countries have anti-gay laws. These laws are enforced. Reports say that two Ugandan men, Maurice Okello, 22, and Anthony Oluku, 18, were recently arrested under Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law. Ghana’s Former Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mike Ocquaye, recently said that “We consider this [homosexuality] an abomination … Indeed the family is under satanic attack and we should take great care to protect it.”
So often the west ignores the problems of Africans. I suspect that many gay black Africans fortunate enough to have the opportunity to move to a western country probably think it’s not their problem anymore either, but every time we ignore the suffering and mistreatment of someone anywhere in the world we degrade our own humanity.
If we are to influence the leaders in Africa then read this article, show it to all your friends and then retweet or otherwise share it to everyone you know.
I agree with Themba that it is probably Western leaders that can bring about change in Africa through the UN, so I would say don’t even bother writing to a more than likely bigoted politicians in Africa. Gay Aftricans don’t want to get jailed for speaking out so this is a problem that needs to gain momentum externally. I just those unfortunate enough to have been affected by this vile homophobia know that there are people outside of Africa that do care.
Zimbabwe Facts (source)
- Location: Zimbabwe lies in Southern Africa, between South Africa and Zambia, (click here for a map).
- Area: Zimbabwe covers 390,580 sq km, slightly larger than Montana, US, about the same size as Japan and slightly larger than Germany.
- Capital City: Harare
- Population: Around 13 million people live in Zimbabwe.
- Language: English (official), Shona, Sindebele (the language of the Ndebele, sometimes called Ndebele) and numerous but minor tribal dialects.
- Religion: Syncretic (part Christian, part indigenous beliefs) 50%, Christian 25%, indigenous beliefs 24%, Muslim and other 1%.
Did you know?
- Zimbabwe was formerly known as Southern Rhodesia, Rhodesia and Zimbabwe Rhodesia. The country’s present name Zimbabwe was derived from the 11th century city, The Great Zimbabwe. The name Zimbabwe has been derived from “Dzimba dza mabwe”, which means “great houses of stone”, in the Shona language.
- Magnificent Victoria Falls that forms the world’s largest curtain of falling water is on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The local name for the Victoria Falls is ‘Mosi-oa-Tunya’ (the smoke that thunders).
- Lake Kariba on the Zambia-Zimbabwe border forms the world’s largest reservoir by volume.
- Zimbabwe’s population growth rate (4.4%) is the second highest in the world.
- The stone-carved Zimbabwe Bird is the national emblem of Zimbabwe. The famous bird carvings stood on walls and monoliths of the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe.
- “Unity, Freedom, Work” is the motto of Zimbabwe.