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Tsvangirai hammered over gay call
25/10/2011 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter
 
Isolated ... Tsvangirai disowned by own party
 
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PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was in the middle of a gay storm on Tuesday after calling for constitutional reforms that favour homosexuals on a visit to London.

Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa claimed Tsvangirai’s call was dishonest, insisting: “I know personally he doesn't believe it. He has said so many times in the Cabinet.”

Tsvangirai's MDC-T party refused to back him, and his spokesman appeared to beat a retreat, suggesting that the Prime Minister's position expressed in an interview with the BBC had been “misrepresented”.
 
But in the fall-out, Tsvangirai received backing from the Gays and Lesbians Association of Zimbabwe (GALZ) which said in a statement it wanted him to “take positive action to support his most recent statement on the indivisibility of human rights.”

Zimbabwe’s new constitution is at drafting stage, and GALZ has been leading the push for the decriminalisation of homosexual acts – a lobby which is hugely unpopular in conservative Zimbabwe.

In March last year, President Robert Mugabe told a gathering to commemorate Women’s Day that gay rights were “not up for discussion”, adding: “The issue is not debatable... It’s just madness, insanity. The ancestors will turn in their graves should we allow this to happen."

And Tsvangirai, speaking after Mugabe, told the women: “I totally agree with the president. Women make up 52% of the population... There are more women than men, so why should men be proposing to men?"

Tsvangirai was strongly condemned for his position, particularly by foreign rights groups. A warning came from Britain’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell that his country would “cut aid” to African nations that “persecute gays”.

Aides say Tsvangirai was “ambushed” with the gay question by BBC Newsnight which elicited a volte-face from the Prime Minister.

“My attitude is that I hope the constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation,” Tsvangirai said.

“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.”



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But after Zimbabweans took to internet social forums and his MDC-T party pulled back from endorsing his stance, Tsvangirai spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka was wheeled out to do damage limitation.

“There has been a lot of misrepresentation about the Prime Minister’s position regarding that issue, and I am talking about the Prime Minister’s position and not the position of the party,” Tamborinyoka told the Voice of America last night.

“His current position, which has been misrepresented, is that the people of Zimbabwe are currently writing their own constitution and the expression of the people of Zimbabwe in the current constitution will dictate Zimbabwe’s position regarding gay rights, and the Prime Minister has no power to impose or determine the position of the people of Zimbabwe regarding that process.”

Tamborinyoka's line appeared in sync with comments by MDC-T spokesman Douglas Mwonzora who said earlier Tuesday that the party would be guided by what emerges in the new constitution – barely an endorsement of Tsvangirai’s emphatic views as expressed in London.

President Mugabe’s Zanu PF party wasted no time laying into the MDC leader, portraying him as a man who is out of touch and prepared to say whatever his party's financiers demand.

"He thinks Zimbabwe is Europe. This is Africa,” said party spokesman Rugare Gumbo. “He is misguided and unfortunately he does not understand what is happening in Zimbabwe.”

The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, which is stridently loyal to Zanu PF, said in a report: “While many might be wondering how a man who wants to lead Zimbabwe can lack such basic principles such as consistency, those who know him can testify that as far as blundering is concerned, he is legendary.”

Chinamasa accused Tsvangirai of saying one thing in private and adopting different positions in public.

"We all know what people said about gay rights (during constitutional outreach) - it's a total no; an almost 100% no," Chinamasa said on Tuesday.

"We can't smuggle [into the constitution] the views of a Prime Minister who wants to please a certain audience basically, I suppose, to mobilise resources for his party."

GALZ was the lone voice in welcoming Tsvangirai’ stance, saying in a statement: “Gay rights are a controversial issue in Zimbabwe, where many people view homosexuality as ‘uncultural’. GALZ does not expect every individual Zimbabwean to embrace gay rights or the issue of homosexuality.

"But we do expect Zimbabweans - and our political leaders in particular - to understand and promote the fundamental, inalienable and indivisible nature of human rights, including non-discrimination on the basis of race, gender, tribe, culture, sexual orientation or political affiliation.

“Zimbabwe's new, democratic constitution must enshrine these human rights, which are inherent to every human being, and are not determined by majority opinion. We encourage the Prime Minister to take positive action to support his most recent statement on the indivisibility of human rights.

“Further, we urge him to have the courage to stand by his laudable respect for human rights in the face of the propaganda and unpopularity that will be generated by the Zimbabwean media around his position. True leadership remains steadfast in the pursuit of justice and equality.”


 
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