Zambia’s Gay Rage
Lusaka – Zambia’s official status as a “Christian Nation” is at the centre of an emerging fractious debate on whether or not homosexuality should be legalised in the Southern African country.
Zambia is one of more than 50 countries in the world that have expressly outlawed homosexuality.
About a month ago, activist Paul Kasonkomona was arrested minutes after he appeared on a live television programme calling on the state to decriminalise homosexuality.
He was charged with “inciting the public to take part in indecent activities”, said police spokeswoman Elizabeth Kanjela. His case continues in the courts.
Over the Easter period, four gay couples attempted to register marriages with authorities knowing full well they would not succeed.
This has given rise to the belief that an underground movement is being quietly organised and Zambia could soon see a full-scale gay rights lobby exerting pressure on the government.
In mid-April, an advert issued by the European Union was run in the local Press stating availability of funding for organisations that promote gays rights in Zambia.
The cases in Zambia follow similar incidences in Malawi and Uganda, and came soon after a gay couple wedded in South Africa.
Chief Madzimawe, a traditional leader, says of homosexuality: “It is not a culture of Zambians, Africans, to practise homosexuality and gay people should be caged.”
The strong conservative stance of Zambia’s government, which mirrors that of many other African countries, has drawn criticism from South Africa-based groups.
South Africa recognises same sex marriages.
“We … urge your government to immediately start a process to decriminalise consensual sex between adults in private irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Ndifuna Ukwazi, a member of the group, said.
“This means repealing the laws introduced by the British colonial administration and codified in the Zambian penal code.”
Crimes such as sodomy and lesbianism carry a minimum sentence of 15 years and a maximum of life.
Indecent same-sex practices carry a minimum sentence of seven years and a maximum of 14 years.
According to one survey in 2010, more than 98 percent of Zambians said their country should continue to align with the more than 30 in Africa that outlaw homosexuality.
And Youth and Sports Minister, Chishimba Kambwili, even wants penalties against homosexuals to be stiffer.
“We don’t want Zambia’s children to be taught any vice. We will not tolerate homosexuality. Those who want to promote homosexuality in Zambia are wasting their time. If anything, we are planning to stiffen laws against homosexuality,” he said.
Evangelist Edward Chomba adds that there should not even be debate about the matter because “it will grow deep and derail our customs” as a Christian nation.
“If we say Zambia is a Christian nation, then we should stop doing secular things. All our actions should be based on what God is saying. So what does God say about homosexuality; he condemns it, we should condemn it too,” he said.
He argues that even in a liberal country like the United States, where he has spent more than two decades, very few people support homosexuality.
“It is a statement of fact that 88 percent of Americans don’t support homosexuality. I don’t see why Zambia should fall for such a vice…
“The US has its own laws; for example, you cannot be a polygamist there and we don’t interfere with their laws but why should homosexuality be forced (on us)? We shouldn’t think that good things come from the West.”
Islamic Supreme Council in Zambia treasurer Akidu Yusuf said tolerating homosexuality was the beginning of any nation’s downfall.
On the threat by the US and Britain last year to tie aid to observance of gay rights, Yusuf said: “To hell with their money.”
Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu has directed the police to bring to book all people who break the law.
This was after four Zambian students and their four foreign partners approached a marriage registrar at the Lusaka City Council to try and formalise their unions.
But Lusaka Province Police Commissioner, Joyce Kasosa, said they would not go on a witch-hunt and would only make arrests on the basis of reasonable formal complaints.
So strident is anti-gay sentiment in the country that in 1999, an NGO called Zambia Against People with Abnormal Sexual Acts was formed to denounce homosexuality and homosexuals.