Last edited: December 17, 2004

Zimbabwe’s Banana Found Guilty

Associated Press, November 26, 1998

By Angus Shaw

HARARE, Zimbabwe—Former President Canaan Banana was convicted Thursday of 11 counts of sodomy and homosexual assault, and prosecutors confirmed he had fled the country.

Banana, a Methodist minister, was requesting political asylum in neighboring Botswana after leaving the country Nov. 17 ahead of the verdict, said Chief Prosecutor Augustine Chikumira. He said the government will seek Banana’s extradition.

The guilty verdict on all counts came after a three-week trial in June. Banana faces an estimated maximum sentence of 22 years in prison at sentencing Dec. 10.

Judge Godfrey Chidyausiku issued an arrest warrant for Banana and ordered his bail revoked. Banana had been free on bail of 20,000 Zimbabwe dollars (dlrs 600), and had surrendered his passport and the deed to his mansion in the exclusive Mount Pleasant suburb of the capital Harare.

The judge urged defense lawyer Chris Andersen to try to persuade Banana to return to Zimbabwe for sentencing.

The case has deeply embarrassed President Robert Mugabe, who insists homosexuality is foreign to African culture and was brought to the continent from the West. He has launched an outspoken campaign against homosexuality, describing same-sex partners as "lower than pigs and dogs."

The stance in southern Africa is not unusual. Government officials of nearby Namibia and Zambia have made similar anti-gay statements. South Africa has bucked the trend and recently decriminalized gay sex.

The offenses attributed to Banana mostly involved bodyguards, a cook and a gardener on his presidential staff. They allegedly occurred when he was president after independence in 1980 until 1987.

Prosecutors alleged Banana used his authority as the nation’s titular president to force the individuals into homosexual acts.

In his court defense in June, Banana said the charges were an attempt to destroy his character and political standing amid rumors he was planning a political comeback.

Banana’s presidency was a ceremonial post after the former British colony of Rhodesia became independent Zimbabwe. He was the constitutional head of Zimbabwe when Mugabe, the nation’s only political ruler, was prime minister.

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