Uproar over Mugabe's bigotry


By Norm Dixon
Zimbabwe Prime Minister Robert Mugabe has outraged supporters of human rights and gay and lesbian organisations with his refusal to allow a gay and lesbian group to participate in a book fair in Harare. More than 1000 demonstrators objecting to that and to subsequent homophobic statements greeted Mugabe as he arrived in Johannesburg on August 27 to attend a summit of the South African Development Community. Zimbabwe tourist offices in Johannesburg have been picketed by supporters of lesbian and gay rights several times since the Zimbabwe government insisted that the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe group (GALZ) be excluded from Zimbabwe's International Book Fair in the first week of August. Ironically, the fair's theme was human rights and freedom of expression.
Zimbabwe director of information Bornwell Chakaodza told the fair's organisers in a letter that "Zimbabwean society and government do not accept the public display of homosexual literature". He warned that the government would withdraw its cooperation; Mugabe would open the fair, he reminded the organisers. Pointing to the "impossible situation" this created, the fair organisers cancelled GALZ's registration.
GALZ said the organisers' decision was "an abject surrender to political pressure". Fair participants protested at the government's attitude and the organisers' spinelessness.
Nobel Prize-winning South African author Nadine Gordimer was prominent in the protests. She helped draft a resolution — which was carried overwhelmingly by fair participants — describing the government's pressure as a contravention of freedom of expression and urging that GALZ be reinstated.
The Publishers Association of South Africa suspended discussions with the Zimbabwe book fair authorities on a joint southern African book fair, and four prominent publishers resigned as trustees for the fair. Amnesty International described the ban as a "heavy-handed attack upon the fundamental human right to freedom of expression".
At the book fair opening on August 1, Mugabe was unrepentant about his government's repressive bigotry. Unlike the ground-breaking South African constitution, which specifically outlaws discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual preference, the Zimbabwean constitution does not specify what is covered in its clause relating to anti-discrimination.