Anxiety grips LGBTQI+ community ahead of elections

Mary Mundeya / Regina Pasipanodya

“I could not register to vote, due to a situation that I have no control over,” said Charlie Madamutsa*, narrating how pained they were, when they were denied a right that is exercised by every citizen of Zimbabwe above 18, ahead of the August 23, 2023 elections.

Charlie (23), who lives in Chitungwiza, was born intersex but was assigned a female just after birth.

“I grew up as a girl; mingling, dressing, and behaving just like any other normal girl in my society,” they said.

“The circumstances, which I believe have become the biggest threat to my liberty and safety is that I was born an intersex.”

Although Charlie was assigned a female at birth, their genetics, biological traits, and sex characteristics have been changing over time, and do not typically distinguish between ‘male’ or ‘female’.

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They have a diversity of body features that cannot be identified as either male or female.

“When I went through surgery after birth, I was assigned as a girl but the male characteristics developed on my body later during puberty and have made my life a living hell,” they said.

They managed to acquire their National Identification Card at the age of 16 as a girl but their physical features changed when they were around the age of 17-18 when they developed beard among other things.

This year, Charlie cannot take part in the elections as they failed to register to vote since their physical features do not match with the sex identification on the ID.

“When I engaged the electoral officers during the mobile registration process, I was refused to register to vote accusing me of stolen identity. When I told them that I am intersex, they were stunned and started to tease me saying “ndongochani dzachoka idzi” (these are the homosexuals that we always talk about),” they said.

“I felt bad and just walked away, heartbroken with so much pain as I did not choose to be who I am but I was born like this.”

Charlie is not the only person in Zimbabwe who is going through this predicament.

Challenges faced by LGBTQI+ Community in Zimbabwe

Being part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Intersex (LGBTQI+) community which is considered one of the minority groups in Zimbabwe has seen most people from this category being discriminated against and victimised by society.

Zimbabwe is part of the many countries in Africa with poor reputations when it comes to LGBTQI+ rights.

LGBTI persons in Zimbabwe face legal challenges that are not experienced by non-LGBTQI+ residents.

Since 1995, the government has carried out campaigns against LGBTQI+ rights. The president of the first republic, the late Robert Mugabe strongly condemned the community.

Human Dignity Trust report (2018) highlighted that 50% of gay men in Zimbabwe had been physically assaulted and 64% had been disowned by their families. Twenty seven percent of lesbians also reported disownment.

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Key priorities of the LGBTQI+ community during elections

The 2023 virtual survey conducted in June by GALZ an universitas, voluntary membership-based organisation that serves the needs of people with diverse sexual orientations in Zimbabwe, to identify key priorities for the LGBTQI+ community before and after elections showed that this minority group is anxious about how the government that will win the election will treat them.

One of the participants in the survey outlined that as a trans-identifying individual it is important for them to be given an opportunity to exercise their right to vote.

“Due to our identification documents that have a sex marker, not a gender marker, it then becomes an issue for our appearance that doesn’t match the sex marked on the documents. If we can get a way of voting without being discriminated based on our looks and we also want to be protected equally as all the citizens,” they said.

Another participant was keen to know what the winning party would do about the rights and criminalisation of people with diverse sexual orientation.

The issue of safety and security during the electoral process, regardless of identity, but inclusive involvement in contributing to the electoral process was also raised as a key priority.

“We are hoping that the winners in the upcoming polls are open to engaging and recognition of the LGBTIQ+ rights,” said a participant.

For many years members of the LGBTIQ+ community have been shying away from the electoral process as they feel intimidated by society and electoral officers who play around with their emotions when they realise their sexual orientation.

A member of the LGBTQI+ community, Talent Chuma* has been enduring all kinds of insults, violence, and victimisation by the people in their community, Chitungwiza.

Talent was also born intersex but assigned a boy at birth.

They are faced the same predicament like that of Charlie as they started developing female features at puberty.

On July 07, 2023, Talent woke up to a can-sprayed wall saying, ‘Kill gays and intersex’.

This led to them being given an eviction notice by the owner of the house where they were renting. The landlord felt her home was no longer safe with Talent around.

“I have always experienced both verbal violence and physical violence as they come in different packages. I have come to understand that the politics of Zimbabwe tends to weaponise anything to help them campaign or de-campaign their opponents. When it comes to this election period, as an intersex person, I have seen it all, being labelled as mutengesi (traitor) among other things and I cannot even imagine the election aftermath,” said Talent.

When they went to make a report for assault to the police Talent was ridiculed by the law enforcers.

“They made fun of me while taking my statement. It made me feel mocked so I just left without saying anything,” said Talent.

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Conflict of African Culture and the Constitution

Chairperson of Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, Dr Elasto Hillarious Mugwadi told She Corresponds Africa that the problem with the rights and protection of the minority groups is a matter of conflict between the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the African culture.

“African culture and belief have always segregated minority groups from enjoying the liberties of the majority. Society has been discriminative in a manner that minority groups such as the LGBTQI+ have been isolated and victimised at every turn,” Mugwadi said.

“The rights of the LGBTQI+ community have been neglected making it easier for any person in the society to violate them without being reprimanded by either the tradition or the law itself.”

Mugwadi emphasised that the government should give legal recognition of the minority groups and put in place policies that protect and promote the rights of all vulnerable sex and gender minorities in Zimbabwe as per their commitment to respect all human rights and non-discrimination for all.

Section 56 (6) of the Constitution itself states that: “The State must take reasonable legislative and other measures to promote the achievement of equality and to protect or advance people or classes of people who have been disadvantaged by unfair discrimination…”

Out of all the four political parties we reached out to, in order to establish what the manifestos say about LGBTQI+ rights, only the United African Union Council (UAUC) party President and Reverend of the United Methodist Church Gwinyai Muzorewa responded and stated that if elected into power,  his government is not going to discriminate against anyone including the LGBTQI+ community.

“I do not have a problem with any created being, including the LGBTQI+ community because I am not God and I do not create people. What I can do to help people is to influence people to have a better attitude towards anybody and everybody despite their sexual orientation. This business of judging people is not right. As the clergyman, my first line of duty is to help people and treat every human being as God’s child, with respect regardless of their condition,” said Rev. Muzorewa.

GALZ Communications Officer, Tanatswa Gumbo expressed concern over how political parties and candidates have previously used derogatory language and made discriminatory statements against the LGBTQI+ community before or during electoral campaigns to appeal to conservative voters, contributing to a hostile environment for LGBTIQ individuals.

“I believe that this hostility has discouraged a lot of LGBTQI+ citizens from voting for fear of violence or discrimination,” said Gumbo.

He urged the government and law enforcement to ensure that all citizens feel safe and protected regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.

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