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Zimbabwe contestant pulls out of Mr Gay World
09/04/2012 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter
 
Cold feet ... Taurai Zhanje claims pressured to pull out
 
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A ZIMBABWEAN contestant to the Mr Gay World pageant was a no-show at the finals held in Cape Town over the weekend.

Taurai Zhanje sparked outrage in conservative Zimbabwe in February after he was short-listed as one of only four African contestants taking part at the annual event.

Gay rights activist were hoping to use his participation to deliver a blow against Zimbabwe’s anti-homosexual laws.
 
Organisers say contestants to Mr Gay World “represent their nation... and embody the spirit of their nation”.

But Zhanje appears to have had second thoughts about being a poster boy for gay international activists who are critical of Zimbabwe’s refusal to reform legislation to recognise gay rights.

Explaining Zhanje’s sudden cold feet, the contest’s Africa director Coenie Kukkuk said: “There was relentless pressure on the delegate from Zimbabwe to withdraw.

"His family was followed by agents of the regime in Zimbabwe. His mother is employed by the government; she surely would have lost her job. And with 80 percent unemployment, she was looking after a lot of people.”

Only in its fourth edition, South Africans have won Mr Gay World twice – both times by white men.

Andreas Derleth, a towering German who lives in New Zealand, took the title late Sunday. He beat 21 other men, including the first black African contestants, whose participation brought its own difficulties.

The Ethiopian delegate, Robel Hailu, is a student in South Africa but was disinherited after a radio station in Addis Ababa announced his title.

The contrast between the rest of the continent and South Africa couldn't be greater. Gay rights are enshrined in the constitution, and gays can legally marry and adopt.

South Africa’s contestant this year, Lance Weyer, is an elected local councillor for the opposition Democratic Alliance in the coastal city of East London.

He praised South Africa for supporting gay rights in forums like the UN Human Rights Council, even in the face of opposition from many other African countries.

"We need to be working with those governments to educate them," he said from the stage. "You can't just decide that you're going to support certain rights and not others."

Most of the contestants came from Europe and the Americas, with none from the Muslim world and few from Africa and Asia.

And while the competition features extravagant costumes and skimpy swimwear, Kukkuk said such contests can be a force for change.



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"It's the search for a global (gay) ambassador who can represent human rights," he said.
 
"Beautiful men yes, but beautiful with a purpose."


 
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