Perversion Is a Right
Africa News Service, January 7,
WINDHOEKThere is one right that most southern Africans refuse to
accommodate: The right to sexual preference. The norm is a man to a woman. The man to man
or woman to woman is perversion. Those in authority say it is
unAfrican and evangelists religiously believe it works contrary to Gods
intentions and therefore sinful.
Heated debate on homosexuality was kicked up by President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. He
spared no word in his hatred for homosexuals at an International Book Fair in Harare in
"If we accept homosexuality as a right, as is being argued by the association of
sodomists and sexual perverts, what moral fibre shall our society ever have to deny
organised drug addicts or even those given to bestiality, the rights they might claim and
allege they possess under the rubrics of individual freedom and human
rights, including the freedom of the press to write... on them?"
Whether it is in Zambia, Botswana or South Africa, persons claiming the right to sexual
preference are treated with contempt, hatred and often come under relentless attack by
those in authority and mere persons on the streets. Homophobics believe it is a western
concept to allow a man to marry a man or a woman to marry a woman. Such concept has no
place among Africans.
And yet, going back in childhood when herding cattle, young boys who had reached
puberty age engaged in what they term in Malawi and Zambia"matanyula"a form of sex between boys. Namibia has its own word for homosexual"eshenge". This word has negative connotations emanating from the hatred of
homosexuals amidst their ancient communities dating back to 300 years ago.
But where is this homophobia coming from? And who is to blame? Defenders of this right
blame such perception on authorities but more so the media for its negative reporting of
When Mugabe made his stand felt to the bones, not even Zimbabwean journalists could
stand by their ethics. "Phamberi na Mugabe (forward with Mugabe)," shouted
senior journalists who strongly opposed to the recognition of the right to sexual
preference. "Never, never in my professional career as a journalist, shall I write
anything on gays and lesbians," rattled another.
And across the continent, Baffour Ankomah, one of the London-based New Africa Magazine
editors, wrote: "We all love human rights, but gay and lesbianism is one human right
Africa doesnt want! And please let nobody force this typically Western depravity on
us. We have enough beautiful women roaming the streets in Africa for us to think about
reading gay books..."referring to the Gays and Lesbian Association of
In Namibia, then deputy minister of lands and resettlement, Hadino Hishongwa had this
for homosexuals: "Homosexuality is like cancer and AIDS and everything should be done
to stop its spread in Namibia..." President Sam Nujoma is also on record of saying
homosexuality is unAfrican.
With all these moving statements, perverts in Africaespecially in
Zimbabweare overtly and constantly persecuted, have their homes raided, beaten
while police watch idly. Even calls to respect their right to life go unheeded. But is
homosexuality a crime? Edwin Sakala of the Zimbabwe Catholic Church replied when asked in
1995 that it was not. "The police are infringing homosexuals rights when they
invade their homes..." Sakala advised, but in vain.
The onslaught raged on even after the courts in Zimbabwe declared homosexuality a form
of expression deserving protection in the same fashion as any other right known to human
When the Zambias Lesbians, Gays, Bi-sexuals and Transgender Association (LEGATRA)
sought to register as an entity, government ministers took the front row to block its
registration. Former president of Zambia Kenneth Kaunda and his successor Frederick
Chiluba have joined the onslaught.
Liz Frank for Sister Namibia magazine holds back no words, and says the
media is to blame for most of these attacks. At a media conference recently she outlined
the medias role in creating this perception against gays. Lizs selected
examples of reports demonstrate how the media construct and deconstruct a stereotyped
masculinities and femininities.
"Constructing the genders as polar opposites with men supposedly strong,
independent, rational and women weak, dependent and emotional creates a justification for
the gender hierarchy through which men exercise power and control over women," says
She further observes that gender boundaries are strictly policed by labeling girls and
boys, women and men who do not conform to the expectations of femininity and masculinity
as deviant. "For example, soft boys and men are called moffies, tough girls and women
are sneered at as bitches or lesbians in a constant effort to bring them into line,"
The above example reveals the power of language mostly used by the media to whip up
homophobia by labeling someone as a moffie, in constructing or giving meaning
to genders and sexuality. Besides language, pictures or images also play a powerful role
in the social construction of femininities and masculinities. "Both language and
images," points out Frank, "are the tools of the media."
But isnt perversion a right? Max Chivasa, a Zimbabwean editor for
Technology Today, refuses and vows: "... If human rights are about supporting
immorality, then I am inclined not to participate in championing such cause." And yet
he admits that homosexuality is "a behaviour known in all societies..." Chivasa
said this following Mugabes salvo on homosexuals.
Such attacks coming from journalists who are expected to take a middle course line in
their reporting, not only endanger the right to free expression they help widen the
marginalisation of the minority such as homosexuals and the weak such as women. That is a
painful reality, says one observer.
Other observers ask: Why do we have persons claiming this right only now? The general
consensus among critics is that homosexuality is cherished because of money and poverty.
It is normally the poor being exploited, they say. However, others rightly point out that
it has until now not been possible for most who would otherwise come open about their
sexual preference largely because of fear of being persecuted.