PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has performed a U-turn on gay rights, and now wants to see homosexuality decriminalised in a new constitution currently being drafted.
Only last March, Tsvangirai came out in support of President Robert Mugabe’s hostile stance on gays, charging: “Women make up 52% of the population... There are more women than men, so why should men be proposing to men?"
Homosexual acts are currently illegal in Zimbabwe. Mugabe once said gays were "worse than pigs and dogs", sparking international condemnation.
But on a visit to London last week, Tsvangirai sat down for an interview with BBC Newsnight, which was due to air on Monday night, in which he withdrew his objections to constitutional recognition of gay rights.
Admitting that homosexuality was a “very controversial subject in my part of the world”, Tsvangirai went on to say: “My attitude is that I hope the constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation.
“For as long as it does not interfere with anybody, who am I to define what individual opinion would be as far as their sexual preferences are concerned?”
Asked if he thought gay rights will be recognised in the new constitution, he replied: “I think it’s going to come out. Of course there is a very strong cultural feeling towards gays but to me it’s a human right. It’s something that individuals must be allowed to make a choice.”
President Mugabe has vowed there would be no easing of laws on homosexuality.
He declared on International Women's Day last year: “That issue is not debatable, it's not up for discussion.
"It’s just madness, insanity. The ancestors will turn in their graves should we allow this to happen."
Tsvangirai's U-turn comes after Botswana's former President Festus Mogae told the BBC last week that his country should decriminalise homosexuality and prostitution to prevent the spread of HIV.
Mogae, who heads the Botswana government-backed Aids Council, said it was difficult to promote safe sex when the two practices were illegal.
He also called for condoms to be distributed in prisons.
"I don't understand it [homosexuality]. I am a heterosexual," Mogae told the BBC's Network Africa programme.
"I look at women. I don't look at other men. But there are men who look at other men. These are citizens."
His views are controversial as many conservative Batswana frown upon homosexuality and prostitution.
A Botswana government spokesman on HIV/Aids told the BBC homosexuality and prostitution would remain illlegal until the government concluded wide-ranging consultations to see whether there was a need to change the law.