Zim man applauded for championing African gay rights

A gay Zimbabwean man, who is one of three black Africans to make history by entering the international Mr. Gay World competition, has been applauded for this ‘bold’ decision that pressure group say champions the rights of homosexuals in Africa.

Taurai Zhanje will be taking part in the fourth annual Mr. Gay World competition in South Africa in April, where he will be representing Zimbabwe and for the first time in the competition’s short history there will be black African entrants. The black delegates representing Africa are Taurai, Robel Gizaw Hailu from Ethiopia, Wendelinus Hamutenya from Namibia, while South Africa is being represented by Lance Weyer.

Homosexuality is illegal in 38 African countries, including Zimbabwe, with Mauritania, Sudan and northern Nigeria using the death penalty as punishment if this law is broken.

"It's a major development. It's the first time that black Africans will participate, which sends out a powerful message of hope to LGBTI people in Africa. A message that there are role models and that one can live as a successful and open LGBTI person," said Coenie Kukkuk, Africa Director for Mr. Gay World.

Kukkuk noted: "It's significant that an Ethiopian delegate is participating. The capital city Addis Ababa is the seat of the African Union, so it sends a strong political message.”

In Zimbabwe where homosexuality is widely frowned on, Taurai’s decision is being welcomed by pressure groups trying to advance gay rights in the country. Chesterfield Samba, the Director of the homosexual rights group, Gays and Lesbians Zimbabwe (GALZ), told SW Radio Africa on Friday that Taurai’s decision is a bold one that must be applauded.

“Given the difficult situation in which gay rights in Africa is in at the moment, we really applaud and support Taurai for this bold decision,” Samba said.

Samba meanwhile said it is too early to be confident that change regarding gay rights is sweeping through Africa, saying, “we have a very long way to go.”

Samba expressed sadness that there is still so much reluctance in Africa, and particularly in Zimbabwe, to even discuss the issue: “It’s very worrying that people still hold to their beliefs that gay rights are not important.”

This belief has been shored up for years by rhetoric from Robert Mugabe, who recently repeated anti-gay sentiments, in a sign that things will not change while he is in power.

Earlier this month Mugabe told supporters in Zvishavane: “I have no words to describe gays, you can’t call them dogs because even the dogs themselves will not be happy to be associated with such acts of paganism . . . what I have not heard is what vows they exchange with each other when they marry, who do they say they have married and to bear what kind of fruits?”

GALZ’s Samba meanwhile said such sentiments are why people like Taurai are so important, “because he stepping out and being open about his sexuality in a positive way.” Samba added that he considers Taurai a good role model to keep championing gay rights in Zimbabwe. – SW Radio Africa News

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