After overt pressure by the Zimbabwean Ministry Of Information, Posts and Telecommunications, the state funded Zimbabwean International Book Fair (ZIBF) formerly barred that country's only gay and lesbian group from participating in this year's fair.
The last minute decision by the ZIBF to exclude Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) was formally communicated to the group in a letter dated 28 July 1995. ZIBF's decision in turn was motivated by a strongly worded communications to the book fair from the government's Director of Information, Bornwell Chakaodza, in which the Zimbabwean government expressed its "shock and dismay" that GALZ's initial application for participation had been accepted. The letter went on to discretely warn that "continued cooperation with [the] Government" was contingent on their willingness to bar GALZ, a not so subtle threat that can only be termed blackmail.
The ZIBF is one of the largest events of its kind in Africa. The fair drew exhibitors from 120 countries. Ironically, the theme of this years five day event was human rights and justice. While decrying official blackmailing of the ZIBF, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission nonetheless also laments the book fair's decision to enforce their government's anti-gay stance.
Mugabe's speech at the opening at the book fair was a virulent attack on lesbians and gays, rare because of its intensity and that it came form a head of state. Among his many pronouncements, "We do not believe that they [lesbians and gays] have any rights at all." Government agents also made sure to remove posters protesting GALZ's exclusion from the fair.
Despite the resignation of four of the 18 trustees of the ZIBF, and high level protests from human rights organizations, foreign governments and well known African authors, the Mugabe government and ZIBF continue to stand by its decision. Recent statements by Mugabe indicate that he is sticking to his position that activism in support of lesbian and gay emancipation will not be tolerated by his government.
Mugabe's government has a history of harassing lesbians and gays. In the past he has called homosexuality " a white problem" and government officials have threatened to arrest gays and lesbians.
Urgent letters are needed making the following points:
- Zimbabwe's own Declaration of Rights guarantees "freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference." Bans that keep groups from publicly displaying literature and material is as blatant a violation of those rights as one can imagine.
- Belief that homosexual practices are foreign to Africa is erroneous. Abundant evidence suggests the Zande, Malagasy, Swahili and other cultures all accepted or venerated same sex relationships.
- Remarks such as those made by President Mugabe, especially when emanating from a head of state, not only legitimate but encourage precisely the sorts of rights violations to which lesbian, gays and bisexuals are subject to around the world.
- H.E. Robert Mugabe
President of the Republic of Zimbabwe
- Private Bag 7700
- Ministry Of Information, Posts and Telecommunications
- P.O. Box CY 1276
- Thrish Mbanga
Zimbabwe International Book Fair
- 78 Kaguvi Street
P.O. Box CY1179
Mugabe's statements and the subsequent international outcry has sparked an African regional debate over homosexuality and human rights. Activists in South Africa have asked for copies of letters sent to Zimbabwe so as to stem off any potential back peddling in their own government's commitment to equal protection for lesbians and gays.
If possible, please also send copies of your letters to:
- Mr. Aziz Pahad
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
- Private Bag X152
- President Nelson Mandela
- Private Bag X83
Published on August 1, 1995 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization