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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The timing of the arrests of Zimbabwe's LGBTI activists

Source: African Activist

Zimbabwe is writing a new constitution and now moves into the outreach phase where people throughout the country offer their views about what needs to be included in the new constitution. This is the time to discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights but the lead advocacy organisation, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), has been raided by police and two employees are preparing their defense instead of advocating for LGBTI rights.

First, the constitutional outreach program has reignited hope in Zimbabwe, the People's Daily Online reports.

The outreach program, which is meant to gather people's views on the new constitution, is expected to last about two months and people in the country are cherishing this once in a lifetime opportunity to define and shape their future and that of future generations.

Riddled by false starts since July last year owing to squabbles over the composition of the outreach teams, talking points to shape the hearings, donor funding and other issues, the utmost assurance was given on Wednesday when President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara appeared together and jointly launched the outreach program.

A total of 70 outreach teams will be deployed countrywide on Monday next week for at least 65 days to gather views of the public on the new constitution which will replace the negotiated 1979 Lancaster House constitution.
The constitutional outreach process will include the discussion of LGBTI rights.
People are also expected to discuss the various human rights and freedoms they want enshrined in the new constitution, including the contentious gay rights.
Second, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-M) has stated that the issue of LGBTI rights needs to be decided by the people, the News Day reports.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-M) led by deputy prime minister Arthur Mutambara on Friday says it has no policy on gays in Zimbabwe and that it was up to the people to decide whether homosexuality should be included in the constitution.

MDC-M deputy national spokesperson, Nhlanhla Dube said his party would be guided by the people’s wishes in the constitutional-making process and would not give them instructions on how to write the supreme law.

“As a party we are guided by the people,” Dube said.

“It is them who should decide whether homosexuality issues should be included on the constitution or not.” Dube agreed however that Zimbabwean culture did not condone homosexuality. Recently, President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai castigated homosexuality when commemorating Women’s Day in Chitungwiza.
This is a very different approach from President Robert Mugabe (Zanu-PF) and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T)'s determination to leave LGBTI rights out of the new constitution. Zimbabwe's Constitution Select Committee (Copac)'s chairman, responding to Mugabe and Tsvangirai, had refused the discussion of LGBTI rights in the new constitution.

Third, with the constitutional outreach programs underway, the timing of the arrests of LGBTI activists in Zimbabwe is suspicious. Right now they are focused on their defense, not on advocating for LGBTI rights in the new constitution. In addition, the state can use these arrests to create a negative story about LGBTI people at the very time Zimbabwe considers the new constitution.

Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) had organised a Sexual Orientation Indaba on February 26 to advocate for the inclusion of sexual orientation in Zimbabwe's new constitution. The also responded to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC-T)'s determination to leave LGBTI rights out of the new constitution.

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