A recent news article about South African celebrity Somizi Mhlongo being barred from entering Zimbabwe, has prompted the question, ‘Are African countries homophobic?’
The Oxford English Dictionary simply defines ‘homophobia’ as (dislike of or prejudice against gay people).
Indeed, homophobia is an ambiguous and not entirely satisfactory term, though I don’t propose to unpack that ambiguity except to say that the sense in which I’m using it is roughly descriptive of a manifest phenomenon: the hatred, fear and persecution of, the raging at, homosexuality, The question, is ‘are African countries more homophobic?’ And that is by no means suggesting that homophobia is restricted to African countries alone.
Homophobia is found in many parts of African societies. It varies according to gender, age, education, place of residence, and political affiliation. The overwhelming majority of people have no contact with homosexuals and know nothing about homosexuality.
The issues to do with homophobia are normally exacerbated by the involvement of the church and the political establishment.
The reason why Somizi Mhlongo’s visit to Zimbabwe became an issue is because the church got involved.
The Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe wrote a letter to the President’s Office petitioning for political pressure to stop Somizi from coming into Zimbabwe.
The reasoning behind this is not only is being a homosexual against the Zimbabwean constitution but also that the church felt that Somizi would influence young Zimbabweans into becoming homosexuals.
Part of the statement by Apostolic Christian Council read as follows:
“Somizi is a homosexual, hence according to our people’s driven constitution, Zimbabwe doesn’t tolerate homosexuality. It is therefore our question, if we allow Somizi to come to our land, spiritually we would have disturbed a lot, and physically we would have openly accepted homosexuality in Zimbabwe hence affecting our children.”
But how justified is the last part of that reasoning? Can anyone influence someone to be homosexual? Others will argue that sexual orientation is not a taught habit but something that is genetic thus, sexual preference has a genetic component.
Undeniably your culture affects your views on homosexuality.
In some societies, homosexuality is accepted, in others, it is frowned upon but tolerated, in yet others, it is a serious criminal offense, possibly punishable by death.
Male homosexual behavior was expected in ancient Athens. Today, ritual male homosexuality plays an important role in some cultures in New Guinea.
Your upbringing can influence what you find desirable and what you find repulsive. Most Africans would be probably be nauseated if they learned that, when they thought they had been eating beef, they were, in fact, eating dog, even though there is nothing inherently unhealthy about dog meat.
What you have learned about homosexuality as you were growing up will affect whether you consider engaging in homosexual acts to be desirable or disgusting.
Some people might argue that if you are “genetically gay” but the thought of homosexuality nauseates you, then you just haven’t accepted the fact that you really are gay. That argument is based on the assumption that sexual preference is purely biological; therefore, it has no place in a discussion about the possible causes of homosexuality.
Homophobia one the other hand appeals especially to those who are fundamentally anti-democratic in attitude and make claims of national and religious exclusivity. Thus, homophobia is often accompanied by other forms of xenophobia. A specific feature of homophobia in Parts of if not all of Africa is that it expresses anti-Western attitudes.
In more and more African countries, politicians and public officials are shamelessly targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people for political gain, fuelling prejudice and hate. In so doing, public officials – sometimes at the highest level – are failing in their duty to promote equal dignity and human rights for all.
I realise that it sometimes takes real political courage and wisdom to tackle deep-rooted homophobia in Africa. Standing up for a minority group’s human rights may not always be popular with one’s political base. But we need politicians who are not afraid to lead by example.
South Africa is given to more tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality but it seems the rest of southern African countries if not all of Africa has a long way to go in terms of acceptance and tolerance with regards Homosexuality.