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View from Zimbabwe

The Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ) started in 1990 and rose to international prominence in 1995 when it applied to attend the Zimbabwe International Book Fair which had as its theme that year “Human Rights and Justice”. The government banned the group's appearance and, at the opening of the fair, President Mugabe, uttered the first in a long line of vitriolic attacks on gays and lesbians which include the famous epithet, gays are “worse than dogs and pigs”. GALZ stood its ground and took the government to court for trying to ban GALZ from the 1996 Book Fair. GALZ won!

Attacks on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community have diminished in recent years. With loss of popularity in the cities, Mugabe moved to try to maintain influence with the rural electorate. He did this in a hurried, violent and chaotic manner by evicting nearly all white commercial farmers from their land and resettling black peasant farmers on the vacant farms. This correction of an historical injustice may have been laudible in principle but the killing, torture, intimidation, the flagrant disregard for the rule of the law, the economic ruin and the starving of millions of people it has caused, cannot be justified.

In a hostile climate where the regime does not hesitate to use brutal force to suppress any opposition, open resistance is difficult. Zimbabweans often talk of taking to the streets but calls for mass action are seen by many as irresponsible since they would invite immediate violent reprisals by the police and army. The government even withholds food aid to those areas known to be opposition strongholds.

GALZ's response of late has been to avoid useless public attention and to remain politically neutral. Over the past two years it has concentrated on community-building exercises aimed at improving the social opportunities of members and equipping them with survival skills. This is being done through the affinity-group programme, an idea which sprang to mind in India when I went to the WRI conference and visited the South India AIDS project (SIAP). The basic philosophy is that groups outside the capital are encouraged to organise independently. GALZ's role is to equip groups with the tools they need to combat the violence that they may face. A full nonviolence training programme through WRI is planned for affinity groups in 2003.

Mugabe has tried to manipulate the war on terror idea by calling the political opposition here terrorists - nobody bought that at all and he had to drop it in the end. Basically 9/11 has been virtually irrelevant to us - we have too many of our own problems. Where it has affected us, however, is when we want to travel, because getting a visa if you are black is now much more difficult.

GALZ, P Bag A6131, Avondale, Harare, Zimbabwe (+263 4 741 736; fax 740 614; email galz@mweb.co.zw).

Keith Goddard is the Director for Programming, Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ).