THE OUSTING of Robert Mugabe as president of Zimbabwe in November 2017 was a cause for jubilation for many people, including members of the LGBT community. The hope and expectation was that the end of Mugabe’s thirty-year dictatorship would usher in a new era with brighter futures for ordinary citizens. Some LGBT folks shared in the euphoria, as their community has long borne the brunt of so much intolerance fueled by our leaders.
A few days into the post-Mugabe era, one of the nation’s leaders, army chief Phillip Valerio Sibanda, was reported to have urged graduating recruits to “protect the nation against homosexuality—a Western imposition and threat to the nation’s conservative culture.” It is not clear what prompted these utterances, but it may have been a deliberate move to dampen the hopes of the LGBT community and to send a message that the fight for equal rights is far from over. The general’s utterances are tantamount to hate speech and an incitement to violence. And yet, much of the citizenry didn’t bat an eye at these remarks.
In 2016, Mark Gevisser, a South African author and journalist, carried out a survey to assess the extent to which LGBT people experience social exclusion in ten southern African countries, including Zimbabwe. Part of the survey included asking participants if they would mind having a gay neighbor. A majority of the Zimbabweans interviewed answered in the affirmative.