Alexander Matthews
Alexander Matthews

Is Tsvangirai an anti-gay bigot?

On Friday, the BBC reported that Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s prime minister and head of the opposition MDC, had declared support for Robert Mugabe’s refusal to protect gay rights in Zimbabwe’s new constitution. If his comments are accurate, they represent yet another step backwards in the long walk towards tolerance and respect for human rights in Zimbabwe.

According to The Zambia Post, Tsvangirai said: “The President has spoken about gay rights, about some men who want to breathe into other men’s ears. I don’t agree with that. Why would you look for men when our women make up 52% of our population? Men are much fewer than women.” The two leaders were sharing the platform at an International Women’s Day celebration. Mugabe had declared that protecting gay rights in the constitution “is not debatable, it’s not up for discussion”.

As in many African countries, homosexual activity is still illegal in Zimbabwe and gay and lesbian Zimbabweans have faced decades of repression, persecution, blackmail and assault. Mugabe has had a long history of homophobia, describing gays as “worse than pigs and dogs” in 1995. His recent pronouncements on the constitution, while inexcusable, are therefore unsurprising.

Tsvangirai’s endorsement of Mugabe’s view, however, is bitterly disappointing. He is, after all, the leader of an organisation supposedly fighting for constitutional democracy and a respect for human rights. Showing contempt for sexual minorities and the suffering they face in Zimbabwe on a daily basis, his comments undermine the credibility of his stated commitment to human rights, and reinforce an already bleak climate of discrimination and intolerance.

Tsvangirai’s remarks also contradict his very own party’s stance on sexual-orientation rights. According to the Post:

Under the Bill of Rights section, the MDC position paper states that: “In addition, the right to freedom from discrimination, given our history of discrimination and intolerance, must be broad to include the protection of personal preferences, that is gays and lesbians should be protected by the constitution.”

I’m curious about the man’s motives. Did he think a spot of gay-bashing was an easy way to reach common ground with his (not so) erstwhile foe? Or does he really believe that gays are fair game, and that depriving them of their rights is the best way to ensure they conform to prevailing cultural “norms”. Perhaps he believes by letting persecution flourish — a good beating, the occasional raid and some punitive fines — they will be “cured” of what he apparently sees as an “abnormality”.

One would have expected more empathy from a man in charge of a movement whose members face ongoing harassment — including arbitrary torture, kidnappings and arrests.

Tsvangirai has let the Zimbabwean people, and not merely its gays and lesbians, down. This is because, a country cannot be truly free unless the rights of all those who live in it are respected and protected. The first step towards that, albeit by no means the only one, is to have those rights enshrined in a constitution. He should be ashamed.

  • Simon

    Well said Mr Matthews. Evidently, Tsvangarai is using human right s as a bargaining tool, which means he doesn’t appreciate how important they actually are.

  • haiwa tigere

    Agree with everything you have said Alex problem is Zimbabwe is a truly homophobic haven. Mugabe is not stupid. He said it just to provoke Morgan to say the opposite. Let me say had morgan Tswangirai supported gays in that speech he would have never garnered another vote in any future election. would have been the end of MDC.
    I have never seen such homophobic people as Zimbabweans.
    They had I think Africas first black gay president in Caanan Banana and they seem to want to avenge this stain on them by really pushing gays into the dirt.Zimbabweans en masse hate gays with a passion.
    A zimbabwean would ask Botswana , SA, UK USA australia to intervene on their behalf to remove oppression from the despot Mugabe.
    Because of help from these countries their arms are now free to swing a left hook onto gays.
    Tswangirais children are in SA and Australia living in relative splendour and free to copulate with anybody male or female they wish to.Of course this is too good for any zimbabwean to have such choices so Morgan wants to limit these choices.

  • merceds45

    Well said. Its true Tsvangirai is an anti-gay bigot. He flip flops when it suits him. He has forgotten the promise of Democracy which he has been preaching for the past ten years to all Zimbabweans irrespective of race, colour, sexual orientation etc. He enjoys a lot of support from the Gay community and takes their money to support the MDC Party. Where is his conscience. If this is true, then Zimbabweans watch out for this man. He cannot be trusted. He will dump us when it suits him.

  • nzs

    Leave Morgan “not-so-independent-minded” Tsvangirai alone. Everyone in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, SADC, AU, 10 Downing Street, Washington and anywhere else in the world knows that Morgan, just like one polygamous buffoon from our shores, does not have his own opinion on anything. He swings to whichever direction the wind blows (just like the reeds).

    Ask him any question (be it on land repossessed from the farmers in Zimbabwe – whether this land would ever be returned to the farmers in the [highly improbable] eventuality of him taking the reigns in Zimbabwe): Morgan just recycles what has been said by ZANU-PF – that the land will never be given back to the farmers.

    Or, have the 10 Downing Street barking instructions on what Morgan should say the SADC or AU (or about former President Thabo Mbeki’s mediation efforts), and Morgan eagerly sings from the hymn sheet. It’s a pity no one believed Uncle Bob when he said 10 Downing Street want nothing other than effecting a regime change in Zimbabwe – with the puppet (Tsvangirai) at the helm.

    All those who failed to see the political novice in Tsvangirai must now have the eggs on their faces. Never rely on Tsvangirai (tomorrow he is going to speak on a different platform, fervently preaching about the gay rights – depending, of course, on who had barked instructions at him just before taking to the podium).

    And that’s Tsvangirai for you!

  • Peter Joffe

    Morgan will give in to the things that do not worry him to much, in the hope that Mugabe will give in to a few of the MDC’s needs. Think again, Morgan! Mugabe stole the last election and he alone rules. With the assistance of the ANC and SADEC, Mugabe will steal the next election as well. Zimbabwe is a dictatorship and its going to stay that way for a long time. Its disturbing to note that our wood worker expert Julius is getting advice from Mugabe on how to screw up a country in order to get votes and stay in power. The great Chinese Dictator said, “The only way to get rid of a party that came to power through revolution, is to have another revolution”. Morgan does not have the support outside of Zimbabwe to do this. Why the ANC and SADEC support Mugabe is a mystery to us all because Mugabe’s Zimbabwe has nothing to do with freedom of any kind.The damage Mugabe has done is there for all to see.

  • mundundu

    i wouldn’t say that morgan is homophobic. i’d call him homo-indifferent. there’s a major difference between the two.

    and, to be honest, the “but we have a shortage of men, why would anyone want to be gay” bit sounds exactly like my brother, to be honest.

    now if he parroted the “pigs and donkeys know what to do” thing that would be something else. but what he actually said is something far closer to the “more women for me” that is the realm of the homo-indifferent.

    just as there is a broad spectrum regarding sexual orientation, there is an equally broad spectrum regarding caring about someone else’s sexual orientation.

    i would ask if people lived in their own gay little worlds, but then i remembered that i’ve lived in london, washington and now live in cape town and already know that answer. eish.

  • Jeff Jones 80

    Why the hell would anyone care about anyone else’s sexual orientation? Unless one want’s to date them it’s none of their business. Personally I couldn’t care less about a person’s sexual orientation. Of course in Africa it’s important, because there are no other problems to worry about. The whole continent is heaven on earth if only the could solve the “gay problem”.

  • being gay

    I believe Morgan made this “silly” statement for a tactical reason, knowing that his supporters don’t buy it, and not to be targeted for his liberal views. I’m sure he will amend the constitution once the ZANU-PF circus is gone.

  • haiwa tigere

    @mundundu- thats a new one on me – homo indifferent come on bend over backwards for the villager Tswangirai. Now I dont hate gays , i dont love gays either. I dont mind sharing my house car stories work etc. I know their sexual orientation will never affect me. they are just another block off the street. I want them to get everything I can get freedoms , right to say things demonstrate etc. They leave me alone I leave them alone. I am now claiming to be Gay indifferent.

    But but but Morgan is not gay indifferent.People wanted a statement in the constitution to say Freedom for all – race religion, sexual orientation and religious orientation.
    Morgan is going to take the sexual orientation out of that occasion. Gays and lesbians have no rights in Zimbabwe. Have no right to be gay and lesbians and therefore is illegal and will remain so under tswangirai- Gay neutral- indifferent. I dont think so.

    He is a homophobic buffon

  • http://yahoo Kwaedza Kusile

    Look at your five fingers on your right hand. They are different. Are they not? And think of your kids or brother and sisters. I am really hoping they think like you, eat like, homosexual like you, or perhaps heterosexual like you. Well maybe they are just buffoons like Tsvangirayi. No one is entitled to his or her opinion except your honourable selves. The verdict of the wise ones on such matters is the guilty of being an anti gay bigot. I am really very impressed.