Last edited: January 01, 2005

Ex-President Flees Zimbabwe

High Court finds Canaan Banana guilty of charges of sodomy. He escapes to neighboring Botswana.

Knight Ridder, November 27, 1998

By Neely Tucker, Knight Ridder Newspapers

HARARE, ZIMBABWE — Former Zimbabwean President Canaan Banana has fled the country without his passport to escape his conviction yesterday of 11 counts of sodomy, attempted sodomy and indecent assault by Zimbabwe’s highest court.

In the most sensational trial involving homosexuality in modern African history, High Court Judge Godfrey Chidyausiku confiscated Banana’s bail and issued an arrest warrant for the 63-year-old father of four and renowned Methodist theologian.

"The former president is a fugitive from justice, he has fled the country to escape punishment for his crimes," said chief prosecutor Augustine Chikumira. "We have an extradition treaty with Botswana, he has been charged with contempt of court and we will vigorously pursue his return to this country."

Botswana officials confirmed Banana was in the country but made no further comment. The prosecutor said Banana would seek political asylum. But the Botswana office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said it has not heard from the former president, according to Ndapiwa Fire, the agency’s administrative officer.

"I can’t see the logic in asking for political asylum from a gay sex conviction in Botswana, which is almost as homophobic as Zimbabwe," said Keith Goddard, director of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, a vocal gay-rights support group. "But Banana’s case has always been more about abuse of power and rape than about consensual sex."

Banana’s flight is another dramatic turn in an 18-month soap opera that has riveted the country and drawn attention from gay-rights activists around the world.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, once a close friend of Banana, has stirred international controversy by calling homosexuals "lower than dogs and pigs" and by repeatedly going out of his way to antagonize gays.

In a news conference at the World Economic Forum this year, Mugabe said all Zimbabwean citizens enjoy equal protection under the law, "except for gays, of course."

Banana consistently denied charges that he coerced bodyguards, gardeners and cooks into sexual relations while acting as ceremonial president of the country in 1980-1987.

Those denials were shattered yesterday, when Judge Chidyausiku said in a 75-page judgment that Banana was guilty of all counts of homosexual activity brought against him by 11 men.

"The court finds the accused guilty on all 11 charges," Chidyausiku told a packed courtroom.

Each count of sodomy, whether forced or consensual, can carry up to a 10-year sentence, though far lighter sentences are usually imposed.

Chidyausiku delayed sentencing until Dec. 10 because of Banana’s absence.

Banana’s wife, Janet, told reporters she thought her husband was in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city.

"I haven’t talked to him in weeks and was expecting to see him in court this morning," said Chris Andersen, Banana’s lead attorney.

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