Human Rights and Homosexuality in Southern Africa

Human Rights and Homosexuality in Southern Africa

Human Rights and Homosexuality in Southern Africa

Human Rights and Homosexuality in Southern Africa


At the 1995 Zimbabwe International Bookfair the organisation of Gays and Lesbians in Zimbabwe was prevented from taking part. This opened up an unprecedented debate in southern Africa, which is conveyed in this report, together with a survey of African views on homosexuality, a global overview on homosexuality and the law, and an address list of human rights organizations and organi-zations working for gay and lesbian rights. A first-hand report and analysis of the new book fair drama in Harare 1996 is included in the new edition.


On May 8, 1996 South Africa adopted a new constitution, which in its Bill of Rights prohibits discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. South Africa was the first country in the world to adopt such a sexual orientation clause in its constitution. This is an important stride in the development of a human rights culture.

The title of this booklet refers to human rights in general rather than to gay and lesbian rights, specifically. This is deliberate. Abuse and discrimination are unacceptable whether they are directed towards gays and lesbians, heterosexual women, children, members of minority ethnic groups, whoever. This being the case, the inclusion in the new South African constitution of a clause prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation should be a cause of celebration to everyone. and the campaign of the Zimbabwean leadership against homosexuals should, for the same reason, be a cause of concern to everyone.

This booklet was prompted by events at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair of 1995, when one of the exhibitors, the organisation Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ), were prevented from taking part. Their exclusion was carried out under instructions from the Zimbabwean government. President Robert Mugabe himself made a speech in which he was brutally dismissive of gays and lesbians and of the very idea that this community should be allowed human rights. Since then Mugabe has reiterated his views on a number of occasions, in terms that invite outright discrimination against gays and lesbians. His campaign has opened up a wide debate on homosexuality and human rights.

There was a new confrontation at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair of 1996. This time the clash was also between the government and civil society, as the book fair organisers had taken a principled stand on galz' right to take part. the revised edition of this booklet includes a first-hand report on the 1996 book fair drama.

We feel that in the context of Mugabe's intervention and in the context of vigorous efforts to assert their rights, gays and lesbians in southern Africa have arrived at a crucial historical moment in the development of their community. As with all sexuality, however, homosexuality is seldom discussed openly in southern Africa. We hope our booklet will have a documentary and informative function, and that it will provide a resource for human rights organisations and for gay and lesbian activists, hoping to stimulate awareness and debate.

We wish to thank the Swedish ngo Foundation for Human Rights for their financial support for this documentation.

We also wish to thank Pieter van Gylswyk for help in locating interventions in the southern African debate, Björn Skolander for his steady stream of useful material, and Peter Nobel, Christer Krokfors, Ingrid Fandrych and Ingela Ösgård for constructive criticism of the drafts. For the assistance with material at the 1996 Book Fair we want to extend our deep gratitude to all those who generously shared their time, information and insights.

A final note: We have used footnotes to provide sources for any reader who wishes to check our quotations. We shall be very happy to receive comments and to provide . . .

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