Namibia: African NGOs Respond to Statement by Namibian Deputy Minister on Gays and Lesbians "Betraying the fight for freedom"

Statement from Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) Relating to: Recent homophobic comments made by Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration, Theopolina Mushelenga

Recent comments by Namibia’s Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration, Ms Theopolina Mushelenga, claiming that lesbians and gay men betrayed the fight for Namibian freedom, are responsible for the HIV/AIDS pandemic and are an insult to African culture, are outlandish, highly irresponsible and blatantly untrue.

It is Ms Mushelenga who is doing the insulting, not gay and lesbian people who, generally speaking, have stood up for the pursuit of freedom, democracy and good governance in southern Africa.

To blame lesbian and gay people for the spread of HIV in Africa is reckless and foolish. It is well known that transmission of HIV in southern Africa is largely through heterosexual sex but, that said, all of us, and especially those like Ms Mushelenga who are in positions of authority, should avoid pointing the finger at anyone, especially vulnerable minorities. The Deputy Minister should concentrate her energies on more practical and humane approaches to HIV/AIDS interventions.

It should be noted that the gay and lesbian community in southern Africa has played a significant role in HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns and in the fight for access to affordable treatment for all those on the African continent living with the virus. We do not warrant being abused and set aside in this way.

The Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) demands that Ms Mushelenga publicly retract her comments and set the record straight.

Fadzai Muparutsa
Programme Manager for Gender
Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ)

Press Release from Sister Namibia:
Homophobic attack includes HIV-positive people

Sister Namibia strongly condemns the hate speech against sexual minorities made by Home Affairs Deputy Minister Theopolina Mushelenga. In her address at a Heroes Day Commemoration Rally at Omaalala Village, Ms Mushelenga reportedly accused gay and lesbian people of being responsible for the HIV/Aids pandemic.

Despite high hopes that the Pohamba era would herald a time of inclusiveness and tolerance for diversity in our country, verbal violence against gay and lesbian people from government officials continues unabated. To make matters worse, HIV-positive people are being included in this discrimination.

Mushelenga’s address, made by one of our highest government representatives, is that it will serve to heighten the misconceptions about the spread of the HIV virus, which all Namibians, especially government officials, should be doing everything in their power to rectify. The only way to successfully address the HIV/Aids crisis is for all of us to work together to educate the nation about the facts of the disease. This should be the highest priority.

Instead, government officials continue to make homophobic statements which invariably lead not only to incitement and discrimination against gay and lesbian people, but also against HIV-positive people, many of whom will as a result not seek health-care services and access to antiretroviral drugs for fear of being labelled ‘homosexual’.

We condemn in the strongest terms Ms Mushelenga’s speech, made at a time in Namibia’s history when the nation is in the grip of major corruption. Just as we must stamp out corruption for the good of all our people, so must we rid ourselves of misconceptions regarding HIV/Aids.

It is unacceptable in this time and place for a government official to scapegoat sexual minorities in the name of HIV/Aids, which only the truly ignorant consider to be a ‘gay disease’. It is common knowledge that the primary mode of HIV transmission in Namibia, as in most of Africa, is through unprotected heterosexual sex. This is the message the government should be spreading. At the same time sexual minorities should not be ignored, but should be explicitly included in prevention campaigns.

We call on government officials, churches, political parties, NGO and business representatives, and on the office of the ombudsman, to speak out strongly and take forceful action against any verbal violence or abusive treatment of homosexual people and instead work towards the elimination of discriminatory laws and abusive practices which violate the basic human rights to equality, dignity, privacy and health for all, and which seriously undermine the enormous amount of hard work presently being done in Namibia around HIV/Aids education, prevention and treatment.

Furthermore, we call on those responsible for drafting Namibia’s policy on HIV/Aids to include measures to ensure the basic human rights of people infected with and affected by HIV/Aids in this country, regardless of their sexual orientation.

trp's response to anti-sexual minorities statement by SWAPO MP Theopolina Mushelenga

September 8, 2005: The rainbow project (trp) is Namibia's only NGO that specifically fights to uphold the rights of LGBT people living in Namibia.

The rainbow project (trp) considers the recent anti-homosexual statements made by the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration, Theopolina Mushelenga, as a direct attack against the civil rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lgbt) people of Namibia.

On August 26, during a public commemoration for Heroes' Day, Mushelenga addressed the Omaalala village community in the Ongwediva constituency on the issue of lgbt rights.

According to NBC's national radio news report, aired Sept 05, Mushelenga supports former president Sam Nujoma's anti-homosexual position by rejecting the rights of gays and lesbians. Like Nujoma, she claims that homosexuality is contradictory to African culture.

Most disturbingly, Mushelenga is quoted by Die Republikein, as saying, that gays and lesbians betrayed the fight for freedom and are responsible for the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
She continued by casting judgment on people defending the rights of gays and lesbians and warned young Namibians not to allow "these prophets to mislead them if they wish to become future responsible leaders."

The rainbow project (trp) firmly opposes such statements and regards them as not only blatantly incorrect but deeply irresponsible. Her statements can only intensify the social stigma and prejudice that lgbt people already experience.

When trp approached Canadian researcher Dr. Robert Lorway for his reaction to Mushelenga's remarks, he responded by saying:

"I am taken aback by the misinformed statements made by the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration. Working as a medical anthropologist with trp and other Namibian civil society organisations on HIV/AIDS prevention since 2001, I am deeply troubled by the implications of Mushelenga's statements for the health and well being of not only lgbt Namibians but also the broader Namibian society.

The many brave lgbt people who participated in my research endured assaults, harassment and discrimination as a direct consequence of the former President's anti-homosexual rhetoric. Lesbian women were threatened with rape, young gay males were physically beaten by SSF officers, lgbt people were chased out of churches, and youth were thrown out of their homes simply because of their sexual identity.

Because of the homophobic climate generated by Nujoma and other SWAPO leaders, the sexual health needs of the lgbt community have been excluded from wider public health discussions of HIV/AIDS.

Mushelenga apparently wants to continue a political course that clearly oppresses Namibian sexual minorities. I therefore pose the following question to the Honorable Deputy Minister: Do you feel that openly attacking an already vulnerable and marginalised community and further endangering their lives exemplifies responsible leadership?"

The rainbow project (trp) is well aware of the strategy of using "homosexuality" as a political scapegoat to divert attention away from the real problems threatening the integrity of Namibian society. At this precise moment wide spread corruption and the disappearance of hundreds of millions of hard earned Namibia dollars are a major concern for the Namibian society and the centre of many contentious debates and media reports.

The rainbow project (trp) demands that the Honorable Deputy Minister resigns for her reckless and irresponsible utterances that endanger the lives of Namibian citizens.

Furthermore, trp calls upon the Honorable President Hifikepunye Pohamba to hold Mushelenga fully accountable by enforcing her resignation in order to demonstrate that his government has progressed beyond this kind of hate mongering.

A nation that builds itself by excluding some of its citizens ends up being a nation at war with itself.