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Noel Mutasa: Is it time to tolerate homosexuality?

By Noel Mutasa

This week I break silence on an emotional topic whose time I believe has come for public and open debate. Homosexuality. Gays and Lesbians.

FILE - Chesterfield Samba, Director of Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe, prepares to hoist their official flag alongside the Zimbabwean flag during an event in Harare, Zimbabwe, May, 19, 2012. (Picture by AP)
FILE – Chesterfield Samba, Director of Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe, prepares to hoist their official flag alongside the Zimbabwean flag during an event in Harare, Zimbabwe, May, 19, 2012. (Picture by AP)

Recent events at St John’s College in Harare captured the significant attention of social media, but, as happens with time, it quietened down and life resumed for all, the debate forgotten, until another high profile occurrence. 

Is this not a debate the nation keeps postponing, a debate that the nation ought to confront maturely, sensitively and rationally? As a nation, don’t we need to develop the ability of mature public discourse on matters that affect us at national policy level? 

I have already said this topic is emotional, and all I ask of the readers is, to at least, hear me out without pre-judgment.

Let me start by referring to what is happening in Tanzania under John Pombe Magufuli, the continentally revered president of austerity measures. 

According to Brennan (2017), Magufuli has not only closed down democratic space, but has clamped down on the LGBT community, arresting and prosecuting people suspected of homosexuality and subjecting them to forced anal examinations, a form of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that can amount to torture. But can he finish them?

Contested history claims homosexuality was official in China (and Russia) in the 1800s with emperors entitled to both homosexual and heterosexual partners, then it was banned for most of the 20th century and legalised again in 1999. 

In 2001, China removed homosexuality from the list of official mental illnesses. 

Traditional Chinese terms for homosexuality translate to “the passion of the cut sleeve” or “the divided peach”.  

The Middle East and the African Muslim world is divided between tolerance and outright denial, but homosexuality is recorded there from as early as the seventh century. Islam acknowledges homosexuality in biblical times, and refers directly to the story of Lot.

Closer to home, South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique now protect LGBT members against prejudice, discrimination, harassment and violence. In the rest of Africa, intolerance remains very high although several countries are progressively de-criminalising homosexuality. 

In Zimbabwe, our 2013 constitution turned out silent on homosexuality, but bans same sex marriages. 

The current political leaders are clearly more tolerant with President Emmerson Mnangagwa saying it is up to the LGBT community to canvass for their rights and not for him to campaign for them. 

Zanu PF officially engaged with the LGBT community in June 2018 and the LGBT subsequently hailed the outcome of the July 2018 election. 

A new ministry of Health manual adopted in July this year provides guidance on provisioning care for “sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender and non-gender conforming people…”

But, is homosexuality foreign to African culture? Was it imported through imperialism? Or we only differ on tolerance with the progressive world? 

There are pre-colonial rock paintings in Zimbabwe that depict homosexuality. 

When the settler regime banned homosexuality in 1891, the five cases brought to court in 1892 all involved black Africans whose defence of sodomy was that it was part of local custom. 

A chief summoned to provide counsel on customary penalties reported that the fine was one cow, far less than the penalty for adultery.  

Scientists are unsure and theorise on what determines an individual’s sexual orientation and conclude that it is a natural but complex interplay of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences and not a matter of choice. 

Homosexual behaviour has also been documented in non-human animal species, and includes sexual activity, courtship, and parenting (Bagemihl, 1999). If you have ever herded cattle, or taken herds of cattle to dip tanks, think back, you probably did see a bull trying to ride another bull! 

It is not the purpose of this discussion to explore causes of homosexuality. But let us pause for a second and consider other old practices considered abominable, but now accepted as natural, and even as glorious blessings. 

Remember twins were considered a bad omen and were killed at birth. Deformed deliveries were prematurely terminated. 

And, left-handed children were physically abused to force them to use the right hand. Yet those that voluntarily or, as science argues, involuntarily elect left-handed sexual relationships must be persecuted. 

Bullfrogs are a delicacy for some and anathema to others, if you are not that way inclined, you don’t eat. 

Transgender, bisexual, and intersex among other conditions, result more from nature than choice. 

Sports enthusiasts still ponder the correct gender for South Africa’s Caster Semenya but the truth is that she is what God created her to be, a woman with no womb or ovaries, with an intersex hyperandrogenism condition and happily married to Violet Raseboya. 

Let us compare this to the rise in polyandry in rural Zimbabwe, where women are marrying and living with multiple husbands under one roof.

While internationally we have proud and prominent gays and lesbians such as Sir Elton John, Ellen DeGeneres, Martina Navratilova, Tim Cook the CEO of Apple, Jodie Foster, Anderson Cooper at CNN, and many others, let us remember that we have our local share of profiled homosexuality. 

A whole former president (Canaan Banana) is an award winning example, as is the disgraced former ZBC chief executive, Alum Mpofu. 

There are also untested allegations by Temba Mliswa against his high profile political colleagues. 

Can we genuinely believe that these were not known to the appointing authorities at the time of appointing, that Mugabe never knew of Banana’s condition prior to presidency, or that all the rigorous vetting and background checks of the intelligence underworld missed it on Mpofu, and on those fingered by Mliswa? I doubt that very much. 

Despite my political tangent to Mugabe, I continued to share his distaste of homosexuality.

But, over the years I have accepted that perhaps I was judgmental and reflexively bigoted than a fair minded objective thinker. 

I have since softened my position to that of tolerance and coexistence, as long as my back is to the wall. 

I have come to accept that this condition is in many cases not an acquired taste but purely hormonal and natural.

No African parent wishes homosexuality on their progeny, which is why I fully understand the apprehension of the many St Johns parents, but again, no parent worthy of that title would forsake their child who openly confesses to it. 

In the same way that we care for our children born with physical and mental disabilities, autism, or develop anxiety and depression, and other complexities, we need to embrace those endowed with minority sex orientations.

It is for that reason that I wish our nation would join other progressive nations of the world and move forward in this debate to a minimum of tolerance and protection, as we prepare ourselves for recognition and legalisation. 

It is a matter that I believe we have no option in, but to attune. It is with us to stay. 

To the LGBT community, I ask that they promote cordial transition through encouraging their members to conduct their affairs in private, respecting that (for now), the prevalent viewpoint remains against homosexuality. 

Bestiality, on the rise in Zimbabwe, and recognised in Exodus 22 verse 19 and in Leviticus 18 verse 23, and federally legal in America, cannot be better!! Daily News

* Mutasa writes in his own personal capacity as a political observer and commentator. He can be contacted on mnhmutasa@gmail.com.