Last edited: February 14, 2005

Zimbabwe’s Banana’s Appeal Fails

PlanetOut, May 30, 2000

SUMMARY: Will the country’s first post-colonial President show up to serve his time now that his conviction for sexually assaulting nine men has been upheld?

Zimbabwe’s first post-colonial President Canaan Banana lost an appeal of his 1999 conviction and sentence for eleven counts of sexual harassment and sexual assaults against nine men; the country’s Supreme Court rejected the appeal on May 29 by a 3 - 2 vote. One basis for his appeal was that the sex charges violate privacy rights under Zimbabwe’s constitution, and the question of whether to strike down the nation’s sodomy law divided the justices, with the majority convinced the law should stand in recognition of prevailing social attitudes.

Banana’s was hardly a test case for consensual acts, however, since most of the incidents occurred during his 1980 - 1987 tenure as President against lower level staff serving under him. Chief Justice Anthony Gubbay described Banana’s use of "his immense superiority of status to beat down the resistance of a young and inexperienced complainant," chief victim former bodyguard Jefta Dube, as "a horrifying tale"; other victims feared arrest or even execution for rejecting the President’s advances. "The offenses committed were disturbing and serious," the court said. Before the story of Banana’s assaults against Dube broke during the latter’s trial for murder in early 1997, Banana was a respected African international statesman, an ordained minister and head of the religion department at the University of Zimbabwe, as well as for more than three decades a ZANU-PF party compatriot of notoriously homophobic current President Robert Mugabe. Banana, 64, a married father of four, has flatly denied all the charges throughout, claiming a conspiracy to silence him.

Dube had lodged complaints with his superiors about Banana’s advances and begged for a transfer out of the State House, but because of the President’s power it was more than three years before he was allowed to leave. In the most serious of Dube’s allegations, Banana had drugged Dube’s drink in order to rape him anally while he was unconscious. Dube fell into alcoholism and drug abuse and his marriage broke up. Dube later shot dead a fellow police constable who teased him for being "Banana’s wife."

In an unusual move, the government-controlled media were allowed to report the judge’s findings at the end of Dube’s trial in February 1997, where the judge read at length from Dube’s testimony before sentencing him to ten years in prison. That judge ordered prosecutors to investigate the allegations against Banana, and reportedly more victims flocked to police stations representing every area of Banana’s life, including his youth soccer team. All but one of the cases chosen for prosecution dated back to Banana’s ceremonial Presidency, when Mugabe already held the reins of power in the role of Prime Minister. (When the Presidency was redefined as a powerful executive, Mugabe took it over in 1987.) Banana’s trial was reported with a level of tabloid salaciousness that Zimbabwe had never seen before.

Banana was given a rather unusual sentence in December 1998 in which he was required to serve only one year in jail if he paid reparations to Dube of Z$250,000 (US$6,600); nine more years were suspended. That sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court. There is some doubt as to whether Banana will present himself to authorities as required; he previously broke house arrest to secretly visit several other southern African countries in search of political support. He also suffers from health problems which have required him to leave the country for treatment on several occasions since his arrest.

Banana could still be pardoned by Mugabe, who has never publicly commented on the case.

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