Our Bulawayo reporter sat down for an interview with Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (Galz) director Chesterfield Samba, to find more about the operations of this organisation which for years has somehow operated underground owing to the homophobic climate in the country.
Q: Who is Chesterfield Samba?
A: Chester was born in Gweru Zimbabwe, several years ago, being the first in a family of four. As a gay activist, he is involved in advocacy and ensuring Galz’s visibility in a number of sectors.
He spends his time analysing as far as possible, political developments and their implications on citizens with particular interest in LGBTI communities.
He has become the Galz face and voice in the media and ensures continued visibility of Galz nationally and internationally as a legitimate player in the human rights arena.
Q: Tell us more about Galz
A: Galz exists primarily to provide a service to lesbian women, gay men, bisexual, transgender and transsexual men and women, and intersex persons (LGBTI persons).
Galz provides practical support, guidance and assistance to the LGBT community in relation to various matters, including (but not limited to) law, security, health and general wellbeing.
Galz supports and exercises direct action, when required, to protect members of the LGBTI community in Zimbabwe. Galz strives for the fullest participation of all members of the community in influencing policy making, achieving equity and attaining full and equal human, social and economic rights in all aspects of life for LGBTI persons.
Membership of Galz is open to anyone who is interested and committed to the achievement of its objective and is willing to abide by the rules of the organisation provided that the individual has attained the legal age of majority and has been accepted as a member.
Q: How did you become a member of Galz?
A: Wow, I reached out to an LGBTI organisation in the UK which linked me to Galz, I had been linked to this organisation by a penpal that I confided in; at the time I had a strong interest in letter writing.
Q: How did you rise to become the director of the organisation?
A: I signed up to volunteer at the 1995 Book Fair stand, unfortunately due to a ban, I did not get an opportunity to volunteer at this event, when I moved to Harare in 1996, I took an active interest in supporting Galz, In 2001, I became an administrator with Galz and rose through the ranks. In 2010 I was appointed director after the death of Keith Goddard
Q: There is a belief among many that there is lots of money circulating in the gay community which has seen some joining for the sake of money, can you elaborate on that?
A: This remains a perception that people have and is one of the stereotypes that we try to correct and have society understand that as in every society we have different classes of people, the membership of Galz is also drawn largely from high-density and peri-urban areas.
As with the general population, many have been adversely affected by the on-going Zimbabwean crisis and are unemployed, sometimes homeless.
But they also live with the additional social stigma of being gay, lesbian or trans. We do not have high-ranking people in our membership for the obvious reasons of fear of association and the prevailing climate of homophobia in Zimbabwe. It would be difficult for them to come out in support of Galz as they have so much to lose at the end of the day.
Q: How have your members managed to survive in an environment where they are seen as outcast due to their sexual orientation?
A: Matters of health, rights, physical and emotional wellbeing for LGBTI are a central focus within Galz. Galz has designed programmes to support its membership and the community to cope.
We believe the programming is important in a country where there is strong prejudice against LGBTI people. Galz Affinity Group Programme: caters for members in areas where there is no Galz office. Affinity Groups provide essential services such as counselling, and organise events such as workshops and social events
Q: For years under former President Robert Mugabe, you operated under cover as he didn’t tolerate your existence, how did that affect you as an organisation?
A: … Mugabe’s pronouncements against LGBT people have, to a large extent, defined the enduring public discourse regarding homosexuality among Zimbabwean citizens, and for LGBT people, the effects of his statements remain palpable.
Mugabe has proscribed the environments and attitudes of the nation towards LGBT people. The former president’s statements, as well as statements by other political and religious leaders, resulted in placing homosexuality in the public domain in a manner that even if Galz had set out to create public awareness, it would not have been able reach.
Q: Mugabe once described gays as worse than pigs and dogs, what do you make of this statement?
A: The double standards of naming the universality of human rights in the same breath as denying others the right to freedom of expression was laid bare when Mugabe made his infamous dogs and pigs speech, a statement that still haunts the community to this day.
Until that moment, Galz had failed to get even a counselling advert into a State-controlled newspaper and ironically, it was Mugabe who launched the gay rights movement publicly in Zimbabwe.
Even with the best of resources, Galz would never have been able to bring so much attention to the situation of LGBT people in Zimbabwe in the way Mugabe had done.
For LGBT people in Zimbabwe this meant another strategy in State-sanctioned homophobia. We continue to advocate for the eradication and outlawing of hate speech.
Q: Would you mind comparing Mugabe and President Emmerson Mnangagwa with regards to the way gays are treated in Zimbabwe
A: I wouldn’t want to compare the two but would hope that the actions of the past administration stay in the past and that the president understands that we have suffered a history of purposeful discrimination.
This discrimination embodies a gross unfairness that is sufficiently inconsistent with the ideals of equal protection in Zimbabwe.
Q: Lately, gays have been venturing into spaces trying to create widespread accommodation into the society how far have you gone in that regard?
A: LBGTIs are subject to the same rights and duties as every other citizen in Zimbabwe. The Constitution generally does not distinguish citizens on the basis of sexual preference or orientation.
The only such distinction is with respect to marriage. Assuming that there are gay rights is misleading as it suggests a rights regiment for LGBTI’s that is different from all other rights holders.
This is not the case; we thus should actively participate in rebuilding Zimbabwe as equal citizens
Q: What kind of laws do you want created, to accommodate the gay community?
A: We do not demand greater rights than the heterosexual community. We simply want equality of treatment.
Q: Over a month ago Galz signed a Mou with Zuj, to recognise the work of journalists covering LGBTI issues, what influenced such a decision?
A: We would want to continue to find ways of working together with the Media. Media is an important partner to our work hence we recognise the work of media professionals, sometimes in difficult circumstances they have managed to amplify our voice.
Q: About two months ago, we saw a St Johns’ deputy head being forced to resign after he came out publicly that he was gay, what’s your view on that?
A: With the intense climate of homophobia existing in Zimbabwe and the restrictive legislation that makes it difficult for LBGTI people to be open about their sexuality and to use public space in safety, coming out is a display of immense courage and boldness.
We salute those that are brave to come out and hope that such incidents will inspire us all to come out and celebrate our lives despite the very difficult circumstances we live in.
All LGBTI people in Zimbabwe must be allowed to exercise their constitutional freedoms and rights within the provisions of laws that are compatible with democratic principles.
Q: Lastly, what are your wishes as an organisation?
A: Like I said earlier, our wish is to have a repeal of section 73 of the criminal code and we will propel our efforts towards making this a reality and creating a society where LGBTI people lead a respectable and dignified life without fear.