Zimbabwe’s vice president says the government will block a scholarship for LGBTQ people

Sex between men carries a potential sentence of up to a year in prison in Zimbabwe, and the country’s constitution bans same-sex marriages.

Zimbabwe's Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga in 2018.

Zimbabwe’s powerful vice president, Constantino Chiwenga, said a university scholarship for LGBTQ people, which started in 2018, is “a direct challenge” to the government’s authority. Jekesai Njikizana / AFP via Getty Images file

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s powerful vice president said the government will block a university scholarship for young LGBTQ people, a move that human rights groups described Friday as a perpetuation of the African country’s homophobic practices.

The state university scholarship for people between the ages of 18 and 35 is sponsored by GALZ, a membership organization for LGBTQ people in Zimbabwe. The association started offering it in 2018 without incident. But a recent online advertisement inviting applications attracted a harsh response from Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, a self-proclaimed devout Catholic and former army commander.

In a strongly worded statement Thursday night, Chiwenga claimed the scholarship was “a direct challenge” to the government’s authority.

“Our schools and institutions of higher learning will not entertain applicants, let alone enroll persons associated with such alien, anti-life, un-African and un-Christian values which are being promoted and cultivated by, as well as practiced in decadent societies with whom we share no moral or cultural affinities,” he said.

GALZ has previously said the scholarship seeks to provide equal access to state universities for LGBTQ people who are often ostracized by their families and struggle to pay for higher education. It did not comment on the vice president’s statement.

However, a coalition of human rights groups that GALZ belongs to said it demonstrated that sexual and gender minorities are endangered in Zimbabwe.

“We are extremely concerned about the statement from the second-highest office in the land because it exhibits intolerance, especially taking into account that the advertisement opens young people to so many opportunities,” Wilbert Mandinde, the programs coordinator at Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, told The Associated Press on Friday.

Like many African countries, Zimbabwe has laws criminalizing homosexual activity. Sex between men carries a potential sentence of up to a year in prison, and the country’s constitution bans same-sex marriages.

Chiwenga said Zimbabwe’s anti-gay laws make “any (scholarship) offers predicated on the same aberrations both unlawful and criminal, and a grave and gross affront on our national values and ethos as a Christian nation.”

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