Zambia – LGBTI Community under attack as scapegoats- as government discusses contentious issues in the draft constitution…
By Melanie Nathan, April 09, 2013.
This evening, prominent HIV/Aids activist Paul Kasonkomona was picked up from Muvi TV station in Lusaka’s mass media area by Woodlands police for questioning after his appearance on a live program called ‘The Assignment’.
This followed his appearance on Muvi Television to discuss the importance of access to health for sex-workers, prisoners and LGBTI people. A week to this day, he had appeared on the same program to discuss the contentious issue of gay-marriage raised by the recent purported reports of 4 gay couples who had allegedly appeared at Lusaka’s Civic Centre to register for marriage during the Easter period, going by the names Ritch Hemman, 64 and George Nsama, 26, Clive Reeves, 48, and Bruce Lianda, 22, Jones MacPherson, 36, and Sylvester Sichilima 30 and Humphrey Ray, 53 and Caleb Muswema, 34., a story allegedly told to the Daily Mail by Lusaka City Council marriage registrar, Henry Kapata.
But a few non-governmental organizations which campaign for the rights of LGBTIs has implored Zambians to critically reflect on human rights and for Christians to redefine their roles. It’s against this back ground that HIV/Aids activist Paul Kasonkomona has constantly made appearances on national television to garner support for LGBTI rights leading up to his detention at Woodlands Police in Lusaka today.
As the drama unfolds, Police have launched a man hunt for LGBTI activists and have called on the general populace to report any suspected homosexuals to the police for further investigation. To this effect, the LGBTI community in Zambia is existing under extreme fear and pressure and so far, suspected plain clothed police visited homes and offices of some LGBTI organisations in an attempt to destabilise their work.
On the 25th of March 2013, The Zambia Daily mail published an editorial titled, ‘We say no to gay marriage’ in response to a call for proposals initiated by the European Union Delegation to Zambia and Comesa. http://www.daily-mail.co.zm/?p=1715.
Against this background, Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu issued a statement on April 3rd, 2013 to the Times of Zambia headlined ‘Gays in tight corner’ http://www.daily-mail.co.zm/?p=3012 and implored the police to investigate the matter as homosexuality remains illegal in Zambia.
“If the men are found to have committed any offense, action should be taken accordingly,” he said. “It is a pity that foreigners have started bringing this thing to us now. We are on dangerous ground where people are bringing new things to us and we are watching.
“The police must do their work…same-sex marriages are not a normal thing and we do tolerate such,” he said. The minister said Zambian law does not support same-sex marriages and it is shocking that some people can come out in the open and attempt to register an illegal practice.
Meanwhile, Mr. Henry Kapata allegedly reported the attempt by the four male couples to register their marriages during the Easter holiday to the police which was confirmed by Lusaka Province police commissioner Joyce Kasosa in a separate interview that Mr. Kapata called her to discuss the matters and said that her office is still waiting for “details” so that police can launch an investigation.
On Friday April 6th, 2013 the Zambia daily mail carried a story called ‘Report Homos-Police’ http://www.daily-mail.co.zm/?p=3209 where they quoted police spokesperson Elizabeth Kanjela as allegedly saying that:
“The offence of homosexuality attracts a sentence of not less than five years imprisonment, and therefore anyone who will be found wanting will face the wrath of the law.”
Yesterday April 7th, 2013, the Zambia Daily Mail carried a story titled ‘Cage gays, chiefs urge State’ http://www.daily-mail.co.zm/?p=3352 where two traditional chiefs Madzimawe of the Ngoni and Shakumbila of Mumbwa urged government to arrest gay couples in the country. Speaking in two separate interviews, Chief Madzimawe said:
“It is not a culture of Zambians, Africans and Ngonis to practice homosexuality and gay people should be caged.”
He said he would not allow the lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and intersex (LGBTIs) in his area and that if found, he would hand them over to the police. He also urged politicians not to condone gay rights but look beyond political popularity whilst his counterpart; Chief Shakumbila of Mumbwa said Zambia is a Christian nation and has no room for gay rights and urged human rights activists pushing for gay rights to stop as they will corrupt young people’s minds.
On April 7th, 2013, Lusaka Times carried an article by renowned Zambian US based Reverend Kapya Kaoma titled: Does God Make Mistakes? Addressing the issue of Gays http://www.lusakatimes.com/2013/04/07/does-god-make-mistakes-addressing-the-issue-of-gays/ where he challenged the statement made by Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia Rev. Mwanza carried by Lusaka times on April 4th, 2012 condemning the European Union on their call for proposals to protect human rights defenders including those that work to advance LGBTI rights http://www.lusakatimes.com/2013/04/04/efz-condemns-eu-on-promoting-homosexuality-in-zambia/ – ‘EFZ condemns EU on promoting homosexuality in Zambia.’
Rev. Kaoma in his moving letter argues:
‘Rev Mwanza claimed that homosexuality is against “fundamental Christian values, as well as African and traditional beliefs and practices,” and that democracy means the “interest of the majority must supersede those of the minority.” I think this argument is flawed. Christian and African values, like all values, change over time. By the way, does democracy mean denial of minority rights? Should Muslim be banned or Bemba becomes the official language simply because the majority of Zambians identifies as Bemba? From Nazi German to Rwanda, we have seen how such thinking can destroy a nation and people’s lives.’
Friends of RAINKA, Zambia (see bellow) welcome support from other civil society organizations and ordinary members of the community who have come out in full support of the LGBTI community regardless of race, religion, gender or other status and note that although this may appear to be an inopportune time, in an intolerant Zambia, that opportune time, may never come and therefore, they note:
“We stand in solidarity with Paul Kasonkomona and all the other activists tirelessly working to change the current status- quo.”
The Human Rights Commission of Zambia has been clear about their position as witnessed in their scathing remarks made through their spokesperson Samuel Kasanka:
“The position of the Human Rights Commission on the issue of same sex marriages has not changed. It’s abnormal and as a country, we cannot accept that.”
LGBTI activists may be safe for now, but remain in hiding for fear of persecution and have appealed to members of the LGBTI community to exercise extreme caution and care when dealing with any unknown people as we stand in solidarity with detained activist, Paul Kasonkomona.
To this day, activists in Zambia report that they are yet to receive confirmed reports of the whereabouts of the four gay couples who were purported to have appeared before the Lusaka marriage registrar as they remain unknown to anyone else in the community and are believed to be part of a fictitious ploy employed by enemies of the community in a quest to distract the nation from discussing ongoing social, economic and political challenges.
The LGBTI activists, in hiding, appeal:
“To all our partners and friends around the country – please come out in full support of the LGBTI activists on the ground who are feeling the brunt of the current state sponsored homophobia and transphobia fueled by continued hate and scape-goating of LGBTI people as a ruse to fool the public into discussing trivial matters as opposed to the ongoing constitution making process as reported by the Zambia Daily Mail on April 5th, 2013 in a story headlined – ‘Contentious constitutional issues tabled’ http://www.daily-mail.co.zm/?p=3033.”
It is believed and has been reported to me that whilst the majority of the Zambian public remains fixated with the question of the LGBTI community, and hence distracted, the government and a select few are discussing the constitution that; when adopted, will become the supreme law of the land and will determine the fate of all Zambians without exception.
The Friends of RAINKA, Zambia have condemned these current acts of oppression. They note:
“It’s immoral for a majority to oppress an already marginalized community in the name of ‘culture’ and or ‘christianity’. In our blinded quest to challenge the west, let’s not lose sight of our common humanity. All Zambians deserve protection from harassment be they black or white, yellow or green, Jew or gentile homosexual or heterosexual.
The European Union is not asking Zambia to legitimise same-sex marriage but is working to aid the very people who continue to exist on the fringes of society – cast as social and economic pariahs owing to the rigidity and intolerance of our borrowed ‘culture.’ The will of the majority shall not supersede that of the minority and isn’t it true that a person more right than the other, consists a majority of one?
Let’s keep in mind that the slave owners in the United States and the apartheid government in South Africa were operating within the confines of the law of the day too. In the words of St Augustine, an unjust law is no law at all and therefore we all have a moral obligation to challenge that law.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex Zambians are tax payers who contribute to the national development of this country, they are brothers, sisters, children, uncles, aunts and are your friends and neighbours who live, love and would give their lives for their beloved country.
Homosexuality and Transsexuality are not the alien norms; it is Homophobia and transphobia which have no place in Zambia as our existence has always been extended by our ability to co-exist, to remain tolerant and respectful despite our perceived differences and often times competing agendas. Our humanity is intricately bound and we cannot escape it whether we like it or not.”
The Friends of RAINKA, Zambia: