Following the Pink Paper’s leading front page article, (Friday, 12th Nov.), GALZ, Gays and Lesbians in Zimbabwe, have written the following letter to remove any doubt about their position on the attempted arrest of President Mugabe on the 30th October and the resultant positive developments.
Note, as just one example, that: “Zimbabwe television (ZTV) is inviting representatives from GALZ to appear as panelists on a discussion programme next Tuesday. The topic is the incident in London and other issues. This is a first and it is a major opportunity for us to be heard. The invitation comes in direct response to the OutRage! incident.”
The Pink Paper
12th November, 1999.
The article “Gays attacked in Zimbabwe after OutRage! stunt” dangerously misrepresents the situation it sparked in Zimbabwe. Gross distortions of this nature, especially by the foreign press, play straight into the hands of our persecutors who delight in painting gays and lesbians as liars and alarmists. It is difficult enough to be lesbian and gay in this country without the foreign press feeding fuel to our enemies.
The GALZ ‘state of emergency’ was called in reponse to a single incident involving attacks on two gay men, not ‘a number of gay men’. It was isolated and not part of ‘a series of attacks,’ as the Pink Paper claims. The statement that “there were other reports of attacks on gay men by the police across Zimbabwe” is a total fabrication and certainly did not emanate from this office. Furthermore, nobody was sexually assaulted.
Our state of emergency meant that those who were in the public eye were asked to stay in phone contact with each other until the temperature cooled down. The emergency was called off when it was understood that this incident did not constitute the start of another gay-bashing campaign.
Violence against lesbians and gay men is increasing in urban areas as a general trend. But the ‘damage’ to the lesbian and gay community in this country stems directly from President Mugabe’s antigay rhetoric which has had a devastating effect on us: the blame for the violence must rest squarely on the shoulders of Mugabe and his lackeys, not on the independent actions of foreign groups.
Human Rights defenders tire of being blamed for violence which they have not committed. The OutRage! incident simply brought into sharp focus the human rights abuses of the Harare regime. Just because it would be dangerous for such style of action to take place in Zimbabwe does not mean that it is not allowable in an open and democratic society. Remember too that GALZ was blamed by the authorities and the state-controlled media for causing the violence during the 1995 and 1996 Zimbabwe International Book Fairs even though it was this organisation that was the victim of threats, and thugs trashed the GALZ stand. People who speak out against direct action and plead for gradual change talk the language of the abuser. Generally, people do not give over social space unless forced or if they see it is in their own self interest to do so.
A black lesbian was beaten up a couple of days ago not as a result of the OutRage! ‘stunt’ but because she had been seen on television giving evidence to the constitutional commission. Gay men are sometimes beaten up outside nightclubs because people here have been taught to hate gays and gangsters have been given licence to taunt and harass us.
The white gay community would have been the least affected by the action of OutRage!. White gay men are not the target of gay bashers; they are targets of blackmailers. GALZ is unaware of the human rights activities of Paranoid ‘Rufus’.
Many Zimbabweans have relished the humiliation of the president in London. They have derived immense satisfaction from seeing the Almighty on high brought low. The President’s cage was seriously rattled and he is still smarting with indignation. His subsequent rantings that it was a plot orchestrated by Gay Gangster Blair and MI5 have been met with appropriate scorn and ridicule.
The OutRage! incident sparked a diplomatic row but only in the sense of helping a smouldering situation burst into flames. It put into perspective the abuse of lesbians and gay men within the context of broader human rights abuses in this country. For too long, our government has dined out on international declarations and covenants to which it is a signatory. The chickens have come home to roost and the Commonwealth and other international bodies are now calling for genuine compliance with human rights treaties and not mere rhetorical compliance. If our political leaders do not make a genuine effort to uphold the liberties of our people, they can only expect local and international pressure to intensify. Torture and genocide are serious matters for the attention of the international community; they are not minor domestic matters.
As I pointed out in my telephone conversation with David Northmore, the London incident has led to a number of positive outcomes. Even as I write, Zimbabwe television (ZTV) is inviting representatives from GALZ to appear as panelists on a discussion programme next Tuesday. The topic is the incident in London and other issues. This is a first and it is a major opportunity for us to be heard. The invitation comes in direct response to the OutRage! incident.
A reporter from the Daily Mail is here at the moment interviewing three black members of GALZ as part of her research for an in-depth article about their lives. All the local newspapers, even the state-controlled media, are now falling over themselves to print our stories. We are being heard for the first time and the old rhetoric of unAfrican, unBiblical is being drowned by a human rights chorus shouting accountability. In the Thursday, 11th November edition of the Financial Gazette, which normally passes over gay issues, there are no less than nine articles, letters and features on issues of gay and general human rights as well as the deteriorating relationship between Britain and Zimbabwe. In total, since Sunday, 31st October, GALZ has collected no less than 58 newspaper articles on the subject of lesbian and gay issues and the diplomatic incident in London. It has also sparked a heated debate – people are talking.
The action of OutRage! has strengthened our credibility within the general human rights movement in Zimbabwe. Tatchell mentioned the torture of the journalists and the genocide in Matabeleland. GALZ’s reaction to these comments have been heard, acknowledged and won us friends.
Publicity is our best secret weapon. The recent limelight comes directly in the wake of the OutRage! action and, for that, we thank Peter Tatchell and his crew.
Programmes Manager, GALZ.