The notoriously homophobic President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, shook hands with and thanked British gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, today, (Tuesday, 28th October, at 12 noon).
Masquerading as a TV cameraman, Tatchell slipped through a Special Branch security net, and got into the VIP area at London’s Westminster Central Hall, where President Mugabe was enjoying a cup of tea after speaking at “Africa at 40”, the International Conference on Independent Africa.
Once inside the VIP area, Tatchell went over to the President and said: “Hello, President Mugabe. In the 1970’s, when I was a young student, I helped raise funds for ZANU’s war of liberation”.
Mugabe smiled and shook Tatchell’s hand, saying: “Thank you. I am very grateful for the help you gave us. What are you doing now?”
Tatchell replied: “I am campaigning for lesbian and gay human rights”.
Mugabe, who was sipping tea, spluttered and said: “Pardon?”. Tatchell repeated that he was campaigning for gay rights.
Mugabe’s smile vanished. With a look of disapproval and an exasperated sigh, he responded: “Oh, the gays”.
Tatchell: “I’m very sad that you say gay people don’t have any rights.”
Mugabe: “We don’t necessarily persecute them — not if they are gay in private. We don’t agree with them organising and making a public issue out of it.”
Tatchell asked: “Why can’t you meet with gay groups?” Mugabe shrugged his shoulders and said, “Maybe”.
At this point Tatchell was surrounded by Special Branch officers who escorted him out of the VIP area. He was warned, but not arrested.
Last week Tatchell, a former Labour politician, wrote to his Labour colleague, the British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, to urge the suspension of British aid to Zimbabwe, in protest at that country’s victimisation of homosexuals.