Just a year ago, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai shocked the universe (my choice of the word “universe” is deliberate for purposes of dramatic effect) when he uttered those famous words – "I totally agree with the President" – words that no doubt, most Zimbabweans never thought they’d live to hear.
It is clearly an event the ordinary Zimbabwean could not easily forget because it was a spectacle as rare as witnessing a solar eclipse.
Since then it is hard to mention even one policy matter on which the pair wholeheartedly, categorically, unequivocally and unrepentantly agreed on – never mind that it hardly has anything to do with turning around the country’s fortunes.
But the Prime Minister appears to have had a change of heart and now the issue of gay rights has become just one more thing that the pair can happily disagree on following the PM’s latest stance on homosexuality: – "To me, it's a human right,"
For the record, my thoughts on the matter are neatly summed up in an article I wrote last year in which I posed the question – they are gay so what?. I am yet to get a satisfactory answer to that and am very open to persuasion regarding how homophobia could possibly enrich my life. But I digress.
Tsvangirai’s latest remarks come at a time when Britain has threatened to withhold UK aid from governments that do not reform legislation banning homosexuality. This is a matter close to David Cameron’s heart and he has asserted that the Commonwealth must have strong values and those values apparently include ensuring that homosexuality thrives nicely in Africa and elsewhere in the world.
Those who care to speculate about such things now postulate that the issue of gay rights is likely to gain prominence on the election trail whenever the elections will be held.
What I am certain of though, is that the issue will no longer be regarded as a discreet and taboo conversation but is now very much a part of the public domain. It will not simply go away.
With a significant portion of the population having studied, worked or even permanently domiciled in South Africa and the Diaspora where homosexuality is tolerated – there are enough liberal-minded Zimbabweans who might not care enough to get their panties in a knot over the matter.
Add to this diaspora-based or diaspora-exposed populace; the Zimbabweans who consume South African media products via satellite in the comfort of their Zimbabwean homes – passively or actively – engaging with questions around homosexuality. They watch shows that depict gay or lesbian couples and get drawn into the struggles and passions of these characters – it may not be so easy after all to make monsters out of other human beings on the basis of sexual orientation.
Keeping in mind that election campaigns tend to seek out the youth as a means of garnering votes; I doubt that homophobia will find enthusiastic takers among young people – who have been fed a consistent diet of gay and lesbian soapies and films via satellite. Never mind the fact that they are so susceptible to experimenting and might not even find homosexuality to be such a strange thing.
Unlike some of us; they (younger people) are growing up in a world where the issue of gay rights has become prevalent in various discourses. And against the background of the constitution-making process – the issue of gay rights has found an opportune springboard from which it can catapult into our nation’s discourse around human rights.
I recently came across what I considered to be one of the most sober and commonsensical articles interrogating the homophobic sentiment prevalent in Zimbabwe, discussing how hard keeping society out of our bedrooms seems to be.
And just a couple of weeks ago; there was a minor spat on my Facebook wall after I posted an article by a dear friend of mine – Natasha Msonza – in which she critiqued a newspaper article that carried extreme homophobic undercurrents. She argued that the article was A hallmark of bad journalism. I did not have the chance to read the article she was making reference to; but I agreed and still agree that media should ideally be facilitating a debate and not seemingly spearheading a hate campaign against any social group.
It is little wonder, that having endured so much scorn, ridicule and insults, gay people are now reportedly considering exposing talkative gay politicians in the country.
In an interview with one South African publication I pointed out that:
Homophobic sentiment in Zimbabwe is very much a knee-jerk reaction; those who find it abhorrent often premise their revulsion on how it is un-African and how it is un-Christian.
Religion and culture.
But I dare say not many Zimbabweans would care enough to abandon the cocoons of their nonchalance in order to actively devote themselves to sustaining an attitude of hostility because frankly, in a country as bedeviled with troubles as ours; the debate about homosexuality is almost a luxurious diversion many would not care to take part in.
That being said – I would say Tsvangirai played his hand well because whatever people may think – it is money not collectivized morality that wins elections.
The homophobic sentiment swirling so fiercely in Zimbabwe at the moment only serves to make Tsvangirai seem like a progressive leader who is possibly ahead of his time in advancing the cause of human rights but that is just appearance and sometimes appearance is enough especially at a time when Britain has declared that it will cut aid to countries that persecute gay people.
Unwittingly or intentionally, Tsvangirai’s remarks have set him up as potential beneficiary of British monetary munificence especially since he now appears as someone who put his political career on the line to advance human rights of gay people.
From this side of the shore, Tsvangirai now represents a persecuted progressive leader who’s prepared to be politically martyred in order to protect the rights of sexual minorities in a continent that is hostile, homophobic and largely resisting attempts of being shown “the way”.
The irony of it cannot be escaped – the same nation that brought us bible-thumping missionaries now brings the gospel of homosexuality – and of course it is expected that people “see the light” regarding the rights of gay people.
Come election time; if Tsvangirai’s gamble pays off and he receives the kind of money that gay rights now attracts – it is possible that Zimbabweans will have to demonstrate at the polls what their price will be.
Anything can be bought, especially votes and if Tsvangirai has the money; there might not be enough Zimbabweans willing to turn up their noses at money just to demonstrate how much they resent his anti-gay sentiments; quite frankly, I don’t think enough Zimbabweans give a damn!
You’re looking at a populace that has endured everything, every kind of suffering, torment, lack, struggle and fear over the last decade – why would they have enough resources (moral, cultural, emotional or otherwise) left to fight a battle so far removed from their urgent and pressing every day needs?
Tsvangirai needs money because elections require money.
If he gets it; whatever damage his sentiments may have wrought; there is a very real possibility that he will tide this homophobic storm quite nicely because elections are about money and not necessarily morals.