Joyline Maenzanise, a queer writer based in Zimbabwe, responds to the resignation of the country’s long-serving homophobic President Robert Mugabe.
I must say, I never thought I would see the day when President Mugabe would be removed from office. I sincerely hope that this can only mean the dawn of a brighter era.
The ordinary Zimbabwean has borne the brunt of his tyrannical Presidency and we all hope that his successor will fulfill the promises they are making during their campaigns leading up to the elections next year.
We want a leader who will uphold our right to hold their conduct to account; a leader who will serve the people and not one who will place their own interests and those of loyalists above the ordinary citizenry. But yes, there seems to be a glimmer of light at the end of what has been very long and very dark tunnel for the ordinary cisgender, heterosexual Zimbabweans.
As a queer person based in Zimbabwe, I would be lying if I said I share the same excitement that has been exuded by fellow countryfolk. Zimbabwe is a country that is generally homophobic. Homosexuality is not only a punishable crime but is also frowned upon as being un-African, a Western neo-colonial imposition, an act of sin against the deity or an illness requiring conversion therapy.
President Mugabe is known for his blatant homophobic utterances where he compared queer folks to pigs and dogs. Unsurprisingly, many Zimbabweans applauded him when he uttered such vitriol which only served to strengthen the hatred targeted towards the LGBT+ community.
No amount of activism – or warnings of conditional aid from the West – has worked to change the old man’s stance regarding the queer community. I’m sure many will agree with me that President Mugabe is diehard and defiant – he is not one to be easily swayed into relinquishing his deeply-held beliefs. It is this defiance which has been seen at play as he brazenly held on to his Presidential seat.
It makes for an interesting speculation how the same people who would stand with him in condemning the LGBT+ community are the ones who now call for his resignation.
One would think that since it is crystal clear that it is not the interests of the ordinary Zimbabwean (queer or not) that this old man had at heart, it would be easier for the masses to see how we all need to stand together and help each other eradicate the different forms of oppression that we have all endured informed by class, gender or sexual orientation. Sadly, that has not been the case.
The issues faced by the queer community are regarded as unimportant and not needing urgent attention. It is clear that the cause at the forefront is to fight for the liberation of cis heterosexual folks from the tyrannical rule of despots such as President Mugabe. And Zimbabwe being a “Christian nation”, many folks also remain adamant about their stance concerning the queer community. We are still seen as sinners in need of religious intervention. We are not regarded as humans whose existence needs to be acknowledged and whose rights need to be upheld.
As Zimbabwe looks set to start a new chapter with a new face at the helm of the country, what happens going forward – especially the upcoming Presidential elections – makes for an interesting analysis. However, even as a registered voter, I am still unconvinced by the candidates vying for the Presidential seat. As a Zimbabwean, I do not trust any of them. I have learnt not to trust politicians. History has shown us that politicians will sell us a dream in exchange for our votes only to crush those dreams before our eyes once they are in power.
As a queer person, my deepest fear is that we may only be replacing one homophobe with another, even if they may not be as dramatic. I highly doubt that the new leader will express sentiments that are any different from what President Mugabe has staunchly believed about the LGBT+ folks.
They may not publicly condemn us and compare us to animals – which have also been shown to have homosexual species, thus refuting the dehumanising comparison – but they will, most likely, not be a champion for the queer community.
I know none of those candidates have the best interests of people like me at heart. I know that if I am ever attacked by queerphobes or if I am refused a job because of my gender identity, none of those candidates will come out to publicly condemn oppression of others on the grounds of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
Until Zimbabwe has a leader who will recognise the rights of the LGBT+ community, I am always going to feel like an alien in my own country; a part of me will always feel caged even as I have accepted my queerness. I am always going to worry about possible eviction by landowners who mind having a queer person under their roof.
I am always going to harbour a fear of finding myself as just another victim of queerphobic attacks. And should what I fear happen, I wonder what the chances are that the justice system will fail me as a queer person. I am always going to be looking over my shoulder; one can never be sure what people will do out of hate.
I am always going to wonder if getting married is a dream I can afford to have. Sadly, a part of me is also going to wonder if being true to myself is worth it.
While I may not see a brighter future for my life as a queer person living in Zimbabwe, I can only hope that whoever succeeds President Mugabe will work to improve the current cash crisis. I would love to stop waking up at 3 AM to prepare for my trip to the bank.
Joyline Maenzanise is a queer, gender non-conforming writer and poet based in Zimbabwe.