Government Role in the Violation Rights of LGBT People in Southern Africa

Note: this paper is also published in my lecturer’s blog: Dina Listiorini

Generally people would acknowledge the violation of LGBT (Lesbian,Gay,Bisexual and Transgender) as merely a fault of stigma among the society. Other people would also claim about the role of media exposure. But the truth is, another culprit behind all that happened these years is the role of the government, altough, perhaps it is not as obvious as other catalyst. Or in a different perspective, we could also say that the government, as the third factor, is the one behind the scene of the other two factors. In the matter of fact, the
relations between the role of the governments in Southern Africa has
a strong red thread with the fact that most countries in Southern
Africa had just got their independency around the 1990s. But we must
also see, who was been actually blamed for the stigma of society and
the ‘entrance’ of LGBT people in southern Africa: the western
imperialism. Is the western imperialism really a significant factor
who contributed much for the LGBTs case, or is it just merely a
scapegoat? We will see on how this factor play in the history of
Southern Africa, and the relations with the bad track record of LGBT
rights. And then, finally we would be able to see how this issue
goes, starting from how the stigma shaped the paradigm of people in
countries of Southern Africa.

As we know, the continent of Southern Africa, based on UN data1,
consist of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, South
Africa and Lesotho. And also, as additional, Angola (also included in
Central Africa), Mozambique and Madagascar (also included in East
Africa), Malawi-Zambia-Zimbabwe (in other versions also added in
Southern Africa territory), and also
Comoros-Mauritius-Seychelles-Mayotte-Reunion (small islands near
Indian ocean and mainland of East Africa). The close continent within
countries, despite of some geographical condition, allows quite good
relations among the countries of Southern Africa. But it may be
because of these good relation that almost all of these countries
share the same negative stigma of LGBT’s: the homophobic law. It is
only Botswana and Namibia who start to had tolerance toward LGBT
rights, along with some NGO’s, the Christian churces campaign against
intolerance for the LGBTs. But later on, recently South Africa had
start a quite significant progress and had became the fifth country
in the world approving same sex marriage, after Netherland, Canada,
Belgium and Spain2.
Later on at the end of the paper we will discuss more about the issue
in South Africa. But the main point here is, as we know, the
homophobic law in Southern Africa continent had two main catalyst:
the HIV issue and the media exposure.

It is first because of the media, that the paradigm of women and men among the society had been shaped in such way: a women should act as a “women” and men as a “men”. Literally we could see them in
the media, such as commercials, magazines. There are a lot of
statements which is undirectly describing what is a woman or men
like, or what they should do, and thus the society sooner or later
will follow. For example, in some magazines we could see on how a
woman should behave to be a “lady”, how they should dress or wear
make up, etc. Second, it is because of the high rate of AIDS death
among the society that has been rising year by year, and in a vicious
cycle of issue that HIV was spread by doing sex, when we couldn’t
actually know how it started or how it could be ended, and somehow
the LGBTs are the one who was blamed for. People may think, it is
because the unnormal sex relations between men and men or women and
women, it may be the main cause of HIV, or it also could be because
the lack of information that sex is the only main reason of the HIV
spreading. So we could say, first people already got the ideal image
of men and women, as had been transmitted from generation from
generation, plus the effect of media exposure. LGBTs consider gender
as a role, and general people describe gender as sex itself
(biologically men or women). Then comes the HIV issue and there goes
the trigger of LGBT rights discrimination. Nowadays AIDS issue is
still a very serious issue in Africa, especially because the antidote
is very expensive, and most countries in Africa are poor countries
with less resources.

Next, we will see on how western imperialism is related to the issue, but first, to make the linkback easier, we have to start with noting that the role of media in Southern Africa are generally controlled under the government. Later we will also see on how this is also linked to the imperialism issue. For the citizens of Southern Africa, as what they perceive from their government, the entrance of the LGBT people was the fault of the European people when the imperialism’s influence start to shows it’s effect in Africa, especially during the cold war. Since the Suez, the trade route, was closed for around six days during the cold war, then the Europeans had begun to seek another route. The result is the discovery of the Cape Sea route by the East Indian Companies (EIC)3.
After then, the access from Europe to Africa is widely opened. Speaking of which, we must see the entrance of the Europeans not as
merely a newcoming race to a certain territorry, but also a newcoming
system, beliefs, multistructure (including media and even
possibly-more or less-governmental system), etc. As one example, we
could see on how president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, abolish GALZ
(Gay And Lesbian of Zimbabwe) activities and any contents related to
LGBTs, like what happened in the Zimbabwe International Book Fair
(ZIBF), 1st August 1995, held in Harare3.
The theme was “human rights and justice”, and the books published
during the fair included LGBT content books, while in the other hand
the campaign for intolerance of LGBTs had been launched for around
seven years. The government, who realized the existence of LGBT
related contents in the books launched in the book fair, forced GALZ
to withdraw from the event4.

In the other side, the abolishment of media contented with LGBT related are quite common in countries around Southern Africa. It is not just Zimbabwe who are exercising the government power to do so, but also in other countries, including the country led by Sam Nujoma, Namibia. We could also see the same point, speaking of the LGBT genocide in Rwanda a few years ago5, which was justified by the government himself. The point is, the role of the media is indeed very important toward the influence of people’s paradigm, and if the media is too much controlled by the government, it means that the government undirectly had a very strong control over the society, even for justifying the actions taken by the government or some other power source within the country. A paradigm is a very vital state of taking over people’s mind in order to control them. And when this issue comes to a critique, that the government had too much power toward the press, the government had stated it’s reply: this tradition is brought by the imperialism, and even in European countries such as UK, there are no newspaper or other press critisizing the government, so this kind of actions inside their country in Southern Africa is justified, since it was merely “a tradition brought by the western imperialism”. And so
we could say, that the press in Southern Africa were also used by the
government to attack the white people, as a scapegoat behind the
reason of bringing LGBT people to enter African countries6.

Anyhow, now we will see how the government and the identity of countries take place in this issue. As we may predict, a lot of foreign NGO’s were trying to attempt to give a hand for solving the violation problem upon LGBTs. LGBTs in most of Southern Africa countries have no
constitution rights, but without cooperation of the government, these
effort would be difficult. Some Southern African governments,
especially Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, is one of those
who keeps insisting that LGBT people are destroying the unity of the
country. In other word, he is demonizing LGBT people. LGBT people in
Southern Africa has been violated, isolated and exiled from the
society and have difficulties for like searching jobs. They don’t
have any constitutional rights even in their homeland, even the
communities supporting them, such as local NGOs are threaten by the
denial of their legal status. Moreover, when the situation gets into
chaos, the LGBTs will be hunted and murdered, just like what happened
in South Africa during the celebrations of women day: lesbians were
hunted and executed massively. Up until now, the president of South
Africa, Thabo Mbeki, still stand idly by. It is only the police who
start to investigate the case, but seems like they didn’t consider
the case as a serious crime7.

to see the historical background of Southern Africa countries, most
of them had just got their independency around the 1990s. This means
that most countries in Southern Africa is still a young country, thus
the biggest probability is they are not settled in the governmental
system, including the system for the LGBT rights. But this is not the
main problem. Since the unsettled government system would likely be a
handycap toward the unity of the country, some of the Southern Africa
government would make preference toward the settlement of the
country, in order to avoid chaos. This is merely not a problem, if
the homophobic law didn’t exist in the first place. Robert Mugabe for
example, seems has been aware of this situation. Knowing that
homophobic law has grown very strong among the society, he use this
situation to gain power. As we know that the situation of the
unsettled governmental system and chaos among people would anyway
force the government to gain more power, whether it is for abuse
purpose or unity purpose, and therefore they had to find settlement
by approach toward former and traditional power that already exist
among the society. And since the society were likely having a
gigantic fear toward LGBT people, especially because of the HIV
issue, this is a chance for the government to solve the problem,
follow the stream and gain more power. All along the governments are
trying to gain supports from social groups and Christian church, in
order to emphasize that LGBTs are a sin, and therefore the society
shall not give any mercy or tolerance. Even campaigns are held
everywhere, some country leader were even giving open speech, saying
that LGBT people is a disease toward the country’s union, they are
deviant people who never deserve equal right from the very beginning.
So now we just see on how the government take place in rising the
homophobic law among the society.

Mugabe, in his open speech during one of his campaign, said8:
” Homosexuality degrades human dignity. It’s unnatural and there’s
no question even of allowing these people to behave worse than dogs
and pigs.” And in other speech he also stated: ” What we are
being persuaded to accept sub-animal behaviour and we we will never
allow it here. If you see people parading themselves as lesbians and
gays, arrest them and hand them over to the police.” These is how
the leaders of Southern African country dig a hole to plant the root
of homophobic law within the society’s mindset. Other Southern
African leader such as Sam Nujoma also did the same9,
and supported what Mugabe had stated in the very first place. So it
is now clearly seen and described on how the government plays a very
important role and how it is contributed toward the violation rights
of the LGBT people in Southern Africa.

since there are no such draft of constitutional rights of LGBTs, it
is very hard to solve their violation rights cases, and even more, to
equalize their constitutinal rights with the other ‘straight’
citizens, since all the constitution are built based on the old
system of relationship between men and women. But the next problem
here is, even international law cannot be relied on. As been
mentioned and discussed by Roger Alford, a professor from Pepperdine
University of Law, California, in his opinio juris blog10,
” The (international) court emphasize that international law is
only for expanding rights, not to contract them.” It means, that
there are no such international law who could be fully relied on for
such right, nor to prohibit them, and this we could also see that
there are no such perfect law. The path usually taken by some
countries is usually ratifying the international law, but in the
other hand it takes time to legalize the law within the local
country, and even more, to plant them within the society’s mindset.
It would be very difficult without the support of the government,
especially when the society is still haunted by the homophobic law,
then the government would just simply said: “the society don’t want

In times like this, it is very difficult for us to say that the rights of LGBT people in countries could be restored properly. Although some progress had been seen in Namibia, and Botswana who had the
cooperation of the church, but generally the people still believe in
the homophobic law, and therefore left the Southern Africa countries
with the majority of homophobia society. However, South Africa, these
days had start a new resolution for the LGBT people by approving the
same sex marriage and had been the fifth country applying the system.
President Thabo Mbeki had accept and implement homosexual policy and
the legislation2, and planned to ratify the international law, altough the support is unoutspoken, and therefore there are no full guarantee that this law would be effectively implemented. Foreign NGO’s are trying to lay a hand of these problems, approaching the governments to solve the LGBT problems, but anyway if there are no such cooperation from the government any effort would be useless, especially if the government abolish such LGBT right campaign inside their territory. But since progress had been made, hopefully it could slow but sure spread among the society.





[4] Letter from the Ministry
of Information, Posts, and Telecommunications’ director of
information, Bornwell Chakaodza, to Mrs. Trish Mbanga, executive
director of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, July 24, 1995.



“Zimbabwe President renews
attack on homosexuals,” Ecumenical News International, April 29,

African News Agency SAPA, BBC summary of World Broadcast,
August 3, 1995.




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