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Thursday, 22 September 2011

In Zambia, has a campaign of gay slurs failed?

By Paul Canning

Opposition politician Michael Sata is reportedly leading in Zambia's Presidential elections despite a bitter campaign that has involved persistent anti-gay slurs.

Update, 23 September: Sata has won the Presidential election.

As counting moved beyond the halfway point, Sata was maintaining his lead over incumbent President Rupiah Banda. Sata is reported to have a big lead amongst younger and urban voters.

Banda supporters have tried to used Sata's supposed support for LGBT human rights as a wedge issue in the election.

The government run Times of Zambia has run front page stories on a weekly basis, quoting pastors and politicians who say decriminalising homosexuality would "encourage the practice" and harm Zambian society. Sata's party has refused to state its position, saying it would "not preoccupy itself with less pressing issues because it was currently more concerned with the welfare of the people."

After persistent questioning, Sata broke his silence in January, saying that meetings he had been reported to have held with foreign diplomats were 'in order to explain to them what Zambia’s standpoint on homosexuality was so that they would understand.'

Religious leaders had previously accused Sata of "having meetings with donors where he was assuring them that he would legalise homosexuality and revert the country to a secular state provided they backed his candidacy."

The Danish Ambassador was forced to deny accusations in May that Sata was soliciting for funds from that country in return for Zambia’s recognition of gay rights once the opposition forms government.

Sata told Danish journalists in March that:
"Some people are saying I am talking to you people because I want to bring back gays and I tell them that listen, the laws of Zambia recognise the gays. The laws of Zambia recognise the lesbians."
This led to strong attacks on Sata by Church leaders and government ministers. Government-supporting media have been accusing the Catholic Church of 'promoting homosexuality' alongside supporting the opposition. However some Zambian Church leaders have said that LGBT should not be discriminated against.

Just before the election United Progressive Party (UPP) President, Savior Chishimba, a former member of Sata's party, claimed that he had video evidence of gay politicians and journalists, video showing 'why some sections of the media support leaders (Sata) with alleged pro-homosexuality policies', and urged support for Banda. The videos were never produced.

During the campaign, Dora Siliya, a former broadcaster and Education Minister, was accused in The Post of handing out pictures of two men kissing to make her point against homosexuality and encouraging men 'to admire her soft buttocks'.
“You men here, are you not admiring me?” she was quoted as asking. “Are you admiring each other’s beards? You women, can you get pregnant from a fellow woman? Isn’t that the end of the world? You men can you enjoy touching each other’s hard bums instead of a woman’s?”
The men in the crowd evidently replied in unison: “We admire a lot, especially your buttocks!”
According to Caledonian Mercury, at first, Sata did condemn Siliya for distributing “pornographic pictures” of the two men. However, when he started to be characterised as a supporter of homosexuality, felt compelled to deny that he in any way supports gay rights.
“Police should arrest the two men in Siliya’s picture”, Sata then said.
In May Sata was attacked by Banda and government supporters for a speech at Oxford University.

Henry Mulenga, the Executive Director of The Gallant Youths of Zambia told the Zambian Watchdog:
“We are very disappointed to hear that Mr Sata has travelled to London to seek money from gay activists for his political campaigns. This is very sad news for a Christian nation like Zambia.”
Zambian LGBTI group Friends of Rainka says that the government is unpopular and using homosexuality as a 'wedge issue' in the elections.

They say that there is a mounting "witch hunt" against the gay community and an "eerie silence from Zambia's civil society and the international community."

A 2010 survey revealed that only 2% of Zambians find homosexuality to be morally acceptable; nine points below the figure recorded in Uganda (11% acceptance).

Zambia's elder statesman former President Dr Kenneth Kaunda has spoken in favour of decriminalising homosexuality as part of a group of African elder statesmen whose 'HIV Free Generation' has increasingly spoken out against such laws for the role the play in exacerbating the HIV epidemic in Africa.

Said Kaunda:
“We are not only condemning African leaders who are criminalizing same sex marriage, but we are urging them to start recognising these people, just for the sake of HIV and AIDS.”
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