On Friday 21 May, members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, led by Chief Superintendent Peter Magwenzi and Detective Inspector Chibvuma, appeared at the Harare offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) with a warrant to search for drugs and pornography. They confiscated office equipment and materials from the GALZ resource center, and arrested two GALZ staff members, Ellen Chadehama and Ignatious Muhambi, alleging that they were in possession of “indecent material.”
On Monday 24 May, when the two were to have appeared in court, the police added additional charges of “undermining the presidency,” based on a plaque they had found hung up at the GALZ offices from former San Francisco Mayor Willie Lewis Brown Jr, in which the African-American denounces President Robert Mugabe’s homophobia.
On Tuesday 25 May, the High Court refused to entertain an urgent application demanding the release of the two GALZ staff members.
On Wednesday 26 May around 6am, police raided the home of GALZ director Chesterfield Samba. Samba was in South Africa for scheduled meetings, but his brother’s wife and young son were at home. Police confiscated Samba’s birth certificate, passport, magazines, business cards and other materials.
The arrested pair were to appear in court the afternoon of Wednesday 26 May. However, by the time the arrived at court it was too late for their case to be heard. They are currently expected to appear in court at 8:30am on Thursday 27 May. The charges of “undermining the presidency” have been dropped, and the pair will only face charges of being in possession of “indecent material.”
The arrests have been condemned by a variety of Zimbabwean organisations including Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Sexual Rights Centre, National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (NANGO) and Kubatana.net.
Zimbabwe is currently undergoing a process to draft a new Constitution. Some Zimbabweans have been advocating for a clause in the new Constitution’s Bill of Rights that protect sexual orientation from discrimination in the ways that gender, race and religion are protected. Many Zimbabweans are opposed to such a measure. The Sunday Mail of 23 May quotes Zanu PF Member of Parliament and co-chair of the Constitutional Parliamentary Committee (COPAC) as saying that the Constitutional outreach process would not involve any discussion of homosexuality.
In recent months, other individuals and organisations, including lawyer Jonathan Samkange, Nhimbe Trust, Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) and Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (ZINASU), have been harassed by Zimbabwe’s inclusive government for a variety of reasons.
It is useful at this time to remember recent remarks by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:
Hate has no place in the house of God. No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity – or because of their sexual orientation. In my country of South Africa, we struggled for years against the evil system of apartheid that divided human beings, children of the same God, by racial classification and then denied them fundamental human rights. We knew this was wrong. Thankfully, the world supported us in our struggle for freedom and dignity. It is time to stand up for another wrong. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are part of so many families. They are part of the human family. They are part of God’s family. Show me where Christ said “Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones.” Gay people, too, are made in my God’s image. I would never worship a homophobic God.