Last edited: February 14, 2005

Mugabe Urges Zimbabwe Press To Campaign Against Gays

Scripps Howard News Service, June 27, 1998

By Andrew Meldrum
London Observer Service

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Zimbabwe is facing an unprecedented anti-homosexual campaign in the state media as former President Canaan Banana stands trial for allegedly raping two men.

For three weeks the public has avidly read the daily front-page stories of the lurid, titillating testimony of alleged seductions and rapes carried out by Banana against bodyguards, soccer players and cooks.

The complainants told of Banana's ploy of teaching other men ballroom dancing in order to press himself against them. They described Banana as panting and highly aroused.

One man, Jefta Dube, charges that Banana drugged him and then sodomized him. Others say Banana tried to seduce them but they managed to fend off his advances. One bodyguard says he punched the president and another says he pushed the president into a swimming pool.

Banana, a Methodist minister who is married with four children, is facing two counts of sodomy, two of attempted sodomy and six of sexual assault. Banana denies all charges. All the charges stem from incidents in the early 1980s when Banana was president.

Taking the stand this week and holding a Bible throughout his testimony, Banana has denied all the charges.

"It is unbelievable," says Harare sales clerk Mabel Dondo of the courtroom testimony. "Some people did not even know of such things, and now we hear it happened in State House. But many people are asking, why did the other top officials cover up for Mr. Banana all these years? They knew about it but did nothing. People ask why."

Indeed, there are several pieces of written evidence which prove that the complainants reported Banana's actions to their superiors in the army, the air force and the police, but no action was taken.

As if the barrage of Banana stories was not enough, the Sunday Mail newspaper has run a series of anti-gay articles. The stories charged that Zimbabwe's main gay rights organization, the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), operates a brothel for foreign tourists. GALZ has demanded a public retraction from the newspaper or it will sue for defamation.

The media campaign follows a call from President Robert Mugabe urging journalists to attack the country's homosexual community.

In addition, Zimbabwe's police appear to have stepped anti-gay actions. GALZ operations manager Keith Goddard has been charged with raping a man. Goddard and his lawyer describe the charges as far-fetched and say they're part of a concerted anti-gay campaign by Mugabe's government.

Goddard had reported to the police that a man was attempting to blackmail him, and the police then charged Goddard with raping that man at gunpoint. The frail Goddard, who weighs less than 100 pounds, is unlikely to have been able to overpower a six-foot tall man. But he's not afraid to stand up against the state.

"This is an international emergency for us," said Goddard. "Alongside the Banana trial we are seeing a salacious, slanderous campaign against gays in the state media. We are witnessing police harassment of gays. And there is a move to evict our organization, GALZ, from its offices. We are under attack from many sides, but we will not be bullied."

Despite the anti-gay campaign, there's little evidence that public opinion has been whipped up into an anti-gay hysteria. The average Zimbabwean expresses tolerance, as well as a certain amount of bewilderment, about homosexuality.

"People have learned about many things in the Banana trial," says Mrs. Dondo. "But we have also seen that those at the top will cover up for their own. How can they make hateful statements against gays now when they covered up for Mr. Banana for so many years?"

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