On Friday 5th August, at around 3 p.m., a group of unidentified, smartly dressed, men approached the GALZ stand at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair and stated that Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ)--this year's Felipa de Souza Award winner for advocating for the human rights and sexual rights of all persons whose gender or sexual identities or expressions do not conform to social or cultural norms or HIV status given by the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission--was not allowed to be at the Fair. According to Keith Goddard, the Executive Director of GALZ, the men left and then entered the Book Fair offices where they issued threats against Book Fair staff. They returned to the GALZ stand and started packing away GALZ literature. GALZ members tried to attract the attention of police officers and security guards patrolling the gardens but all of them refused to intervene. The GALZ staff, seeing that they would receive no assistance, and not wishing any violence to take place packed up their belongings and withdrew.
Ten years ago, GALZ was illegally prevented by government from attending the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, despite the fact that the theme that year was ‘Human rights and Justice’. In 1996, and in the Supreme Court, GALZ won its right to participate. Owing to previous threats of violence, from 1997 until 2002, the association exhibited on the Book Fair’s own Human Rights Stand. In 2003, however, it applied for a stand in its own right and was awarded one. There were no problems that year and GALZ spoke peacefully to interested members of the public. At the 2004 fair, a small incident occurred earlier in the week but GALZ staff soon returned to their stand and there was no further interference.
This year, GALZ occupied its stand undisturbed from Tuesday afternoon until Friday afternoon. As usual, it proved popular and many of those passing by congratulated the GALZ members staffing the stand for their determination to express their right to be present. Many, too, expressed an interest in the literature and the services that GALZ has to offer. The children, all looking for something free, were given information relating to HIV/AIDS. Some asked intelligent questions. A couple of people expressed reservations about gay and lesbian people but did so peacefully and in a non-threatening manner. They went away better educated.
The incident points once more to the fact that the law is not respected or upheld in Zimbabwe. Like any other group perceived to be a threat to the interests of the state, GALZ is being denied access to public space. The police do not perform their civic duty by providing protection to perceived enemies of the state and so those who threaten and intimidate remain exempted from punishment. Although the Acting Director of the Book Fair, Moreblessings Mpofu, expressed sympathy with GALZ over the incident, the fact remains that the Book Fair still has a responsibility to protect all exhibitors.
GALZ has vowed to return to the Book Fair in 2006.
For more information, contact Cary Alan Johnson, IGLHRC’s Senior Specialist for Africa at 212.216.1849.
Published on August 5, 2005 | OutRight Action International an LGBT human rights organization